O. Palmer Robertson On The Church in the Wilderness

There are certain theologians who have such a remarkable grasp on the biblical theological themes of Scripture that each and every new work is eagerly anticipated and joyfully welcomed. O. Palmer Robertson is one such theologian. With the release of his newest publication, God’s People in the Wilderness: The Church in Hebrews, Robertson has produced a succinct yet substantive treatment of the significance of the wilderness theme in the book of Hebrews, and specifically with regard to the New Testament church. Robertson’s articulation of the relationship between Israel and the NT church, as understood by the wilderness paradigm in the book of Hebrews, is an important contribution to the further establishment of a robust and coherent biblico-theological approach to ecclesiology and soteriology. The following chapters should spark interest in this particular volume:

1. The Wilderness Theme Throughout Scripture

2. A New People of the Wilderness–A People of the Covenant

3. A New People of the Wilderness–A Unified People

4. A New People of the Wilderness–The Tension of Life in the Wilderness

5. The New Wilderness Community in Worship

6. The Final Goal of the Wilderness People

7. Practical Implications for God’s People in the Wilderness Today.

God’s People in the Wilderness is also a valuable resource to help make sense of the various themes of the book of Hebrews that sometimes seem disassociated. My understanding of Hebrews 13:7 in the context of the book was expanded by what Robertson says in the chapter, “A New People in the Wilderness–A Unified People.” He writes:

A ‘people of the wilderness’ must remain unified to survive the challenges involved in crossing the desert. If they are to complete their wilderness trek across the desert successfully, they cannot do it as lone individuals. Clearly a community traveling across a desert land cannot afford to be at odds with one another. They must make their progress in harmonious unity.

As a religious community, harmony in the basic relationship with their God must always remain at the forefront. At the same time, unity in a spirit of submission to their God appointed leadership is necessary if they are to make progress in their trek across the desert. These essential elements of unity with their God and their leader can then provide a firm basis for unity among the membership of the community itself.

While this is first and foremost applied to our unity with Christ, the mediator of the New Covenant, as it was to be manifest in Israel’s relationship with Moses, the mediator of the Old Covenant, so also is it to be true of our relationship to ministers of the Gospel who represent Christ in their leadership of His people. The wilderness theme, as an essential structuring element of the book of Hebrews and the entirety of God’s revelation, is tantamount to a proper understanding of the  experience of the church in the New Covenant. Palmer Robertson does a masterful job (to say the least!) of pulling the various details and features of the book of Hebrews together with the wilderness theme. We joyfully welcome this volume to the corpus of wonderful works Robertson has produced for the benefit of the people of God in the wilderness.

5 Responses

  1. Chris,

    I think it is safe to say that Robertson would conclude that this is the church universal, including all visible and eschatological dimensions of it. The warning passages of Hebrews would lead us to that conclusion. It is the church made up of believers and unbelievers, traveling through the wilderness of this world. But, I believe that we would have to say that it is the church marked by the faithful ministry of the word. “The Gospel was preached to us as well as to them” the writer explained. The book opens with that glorious statement about the ministry of the word of God revealing Jesus Christ, first through the prophets of the OT and now through the Son Himself. If the Gospel is not being preached in any given local church setting then it is not part of the church mentioned in the book of Hebrews. Would this be a fair conclusion?

  2. Yes, I think so, and I’m glad to see some proper attention given to this theme, for the sake of Christ’s church (it seems I’m always wanting [lately] to understand what somebody’s saying through the grid of one’s presupposed nature of the church). Thanks also for taking the time to put together this quick review.

  3. Chris,

    I do find it a difficult question to answer on another level, namely, the fact that there are true believers who are part of the eschatological (or invisible) church who are not part of a true visible church, per se. What I mean is, there are people who are savingly united to the Lord Jesus Christ who are members of an apostate visible church (or no visible church at all), albeit who are not themselves apostate. While this is a rare case, it certainly makes things difficult. The book would certainly have them in view, but, it seems to me, in a somewhat reduced way. The writer is writing the book to those who are part of the visible church, the worshiping community here in the wilderness of this world. I actually agree with those who understand it to be a sermon being delivered on the Lord’ Day (ch. 4) to those gathered as a worshiping community (ch. 12).

  4. Pingback : Feeding on Christ » Blog Archive » O. Palmer Robertson On The Church in the Wilderness - Thomas Manton

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