Does Typology Require Sovereignty?

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If Greg Boyd held to a classically orthodox view of God, he’d be my favorite contemporary systematic theologian. Boyd, a pastor in Minnesota, gets something that I think is crucially central in the Bible, what he calls a “warfare worldview” of the triumph of Christ over the demonic powers. Unfortunately, Boyd also holds (falsely, in my view) that God doesn’t know all the future decisions of his free human and angelic creatures. When it comes to war, he’s dead on. When it comes to precisely how that war is waged, I think he’s off.

But my appreciation for Boyd is what led me to pay attention to his recent dialogue (via, of all things, the social medium of Twitter) with Graeme Goldsworthy’s works on gospel-centered hermeneutics. Boyd was interacting particularly with Goldsworthy’s treatment of typology. In the middle of all of this, my doctoral student (and now colleague) Phillip Bethancourt asked (again, via Twitter) how typology could fit in an open theist scheme. Boyd replied, “In Open Theism future is PARTLY open and PARTLY SETTLED and God controls the parameters and anticipates the outcomes.”

That’s, of course, true. And, thus, even the title of this post is a little misleading due to its shorthand nature. Boyd, and other revisionist theists, believe in sovereignty; they don’t believe in a meticulous sovereignty over the details, whether that sovereignty is based primarily on God’s exhaustive wisdom or on God’s exhaustive power.

But the partly settled nature of the future doesn’t get at the real matter when it comes to typology. Typology, of course, is God’s working in history, in which persons or nations or structures or institutions point forward to a historical fulfillment in the future. The Temple is a type of Christ because there God dwells with his people. David is a type of Christ because he is a shepherd, a warrior king, is anointed with the Holy Spirit, and so on.

As far as it goes, many of the types of Christ in the Old Testament narrative are workable in an open theist framework. After all, God is always planning an Incarnation (Eph. 1:10), and much of what it means for Jesus to be Jesus is based solely on his own character and his own mission. But there’s more to typology.

It is not just Jesus himself who is typified in the Old Testament. It is instead specific narrative arcs in the life of Christ, which are dependent on free human decisions. The slaughter of the innocents of Bethlehem, for instance, is the result of one man’s sinful decision, that of King Herod of Judea (Matt. 2:16). And yet, the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt is a typological fulfillment. Israel, God’s son, went into Egypt, surviving there the certain death of famine back in Canaan, and then returned to the land of promise. Jesus is taken into Egypt for a season, and then returns. All this happened, Matthew tells us, “to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son'” (Matt. 2:15).

Moreover, the New Testament typology extends to, for example, Judas Iscariot, who is a type of Ahithopel, the “trusted friend” David lost to betrayal, the one who ate bread with the king and then turned his heel against him (2 Sam. 15:12; Ps. 41:9). The historical structure of all of this, including David’s lament over it all in the Psalms (Ps. 55:12-14), comes to fulfillment in the Judas betrayal, which is said to be a fulfillment of the Scriptures (Acts 1:16). And yet, the whole thing is dependent on the free decision of Judas. If Judas had counted the cost better, and decided the kingdom of God is worth more than thirty pieces of silver, the typological pattern is broken.

What’s more, most of the prophecies of the cross are rooted not in mere foretelling, but in typology. Psalm 22, for instance, arises out of David’s own experience of dereliction and defeat by enemies. But this historical experience points forward to the ultimate dereliction of Golgotha. And these prophecies, rooted in David’s own experience, are based on pretty specific acts of human decision. The soldiers had to decide to gamble for Jesus’ clothes. Jesus’ bones were not broken, in keeping with the typology of Scripture (John 19:36). This wasn’t because they were physically indestructible. It’s because, in the mysterious sovereignty of God, no centurion chose to snap them.

Greg Boyd is right about the ancient warfare worldview. And he knows how to write and teach with a passion and clarity appropriate to the biblical revelation. I think he’s wrong though that this warfare requires an “open” future for God, and typology is one more reason why.

The culture is changing but it can be good news for the church.


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About Russell Moore

Russell Moore

Russell Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency 
of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

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