Saturday, October 24, 2009

Oh!: The Difference Between Instinct and Typology

I remember when it was cool to see Jesus in The Matrix. When that five minutes was over, and even your father in law was reading up in 2 Kings to figure out the significance of Neo's spaceship, the whole thing was a joke. The tide had turned from a Lewisian seeing of celestial beauty in the jungle of filth and imbecility that is Myth to a marketable spotting of Christian symbolism in every pop cultural artifact imaginable. Jesus became Waldo.

I remember when it first hit me to see Christ at the center of the Old Testament narratives. It was only a few years ago—I'm a late bloomer, so sue me—listening to a sermon by Tim Keller given at the inaugural Gospel Coalition Conference. I mean, I wasn't so dense not to see Jesus in the story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac, and of course I knew about the messianic psalms and prophecies, but Keller's address, replete with appeals to Jonathan Edwards's non-allegorical homiletical beauty, outlining of the gospel as news not advice, and laser accurate delineation of what constitutes Gospel-Centered Ministry (the name of the sermon, actually), didn't just blow the rockface off of my understanding. To borrow one of his own illustrations, it burrowed in, planted dynamite, and devastated me. In a good way.

In his message, Keller presented the following:
* Jesus is the true and better Adam, who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us.
* Jesus is the true and better Abel, who, though innocently slain, has blood now that cries out not for our condemnation, but for our acquittal.
* Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar, and go out into the void, not knowing whither he went, to create a new people of God.
* Jesus is the true and better Isaac, who was not just offered up by his Father on the mount,but was truly sacrificed for us. And when God said to Abraham, “now I know you love me, because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from me, now we can look at God, taking his son up the mountain and sacrificing Him, and say,” now we know that you love us, because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from us.”
* Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserve, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.
* Jesus is the true and better Joseph, who at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold Him, and uses His new power to save them.
* Jesus is the true and better Moses, who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.
* Jesus is the true and better rock of Moses who was struck with the rod of God’s justice, and now gives us water in the desert.
* Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.
* Jesus is the true and better David, whose victory becomes his people’s victory though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.
* Jesus is the true and better Esther, who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace, but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.
* Jesus is the true and better Jonah, who was cast out into the storm so we could be brought in.
* He is the real passover lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so that the angel of death would pass over us

That'll preach. And it did.

But Keller says something curious after his recitation of this list (which I've seen attributed to everyone from Sinclair Ferguson to Martyn Lloyd-Jones to Keller himself and to nobody) that still sticks with me: "That's not typology," he said, "that's an instinct."

Well, what's the difference? How do you see Christ in the Old Testament—or in The Matrix or Harry Potter or the actual greats of film and literature—and in the face of a hobo or street urchin in an instinctual way, not a typological way?

My best guess is that gospel-wakefulness makes the difference. Typology is mechanical. Instinct is supernatural.

I think this is one reason why, for all my appreciation (and utilization) of good scholarship, when a blogger goes academic about the Christian life and ministry, my eyes glaze over. It is why something John Piper said at the last Gospel Coalition Conference resonated with me so strongly: "Commentaries can be sermon killers. No commentary has the word Oh! in it."

I think that's the difference between Christian instinct and Christian typology: the word "Oh!"


Veronica said...

That's awesome. I'm going to be savoring that for a few days now.

richard said...

That's wonderful, Jarred. Instinct. The thing about instinct is it can't really be taught or explained. It has to be acquired by long and patient contact with scripture and Christian tradition - through such disciplines as daily and abundant bible reading and meditation, along (for me, anyway) with stuff like the Book of Common Prayer, liturgy, etc. One has to be patient and take the long view. I know people who can see hints of Christ in movies but not in the OT. That's because they know movies really well but not the Bible.

Jared said...

Richard, yep.

My recipe for gospel wakefulness is here:

Related to your words on patient acquisition, it reminds me of something Ray Ortlund has said: "Stare at the glory of God until you see it."

Randi Jo :) said...

wow that's awesome.

good words richard too... can see hints of Him in movies because they know them real well.... that hit me like a ton of bricks.

Brian said...

That's great preaching, Jared! Thanks also for the audio from Tim Keller's sermon.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I was at Mars Hill just after The Matrix got released and ... ouch the typology was flying fast and loose and usually without any grounding. I thought Agent Smith had a more accurate assessment of the human condition than Morpheus or Neo. Typology quickly devolved, almost immediately, really, into simply insisting on reading a Christian typology or idea on to something just because someone liked something. Thankfully cooler heads have eventually prevailed. I don't mean to say typologies don't ever work--a friend of mine was partly won over to the Christian faith by being shown that Christ embodied the virtues and qualities he saw in pop culture figures in the genre fiction he liked. The altar to the unknown god evangelism is still effective. :) But it's nice to see some corrective on how typology should and shouldn't be use. I can't read Deutoronomy now without seeing how it points forward to Christ but a lot of people won't be bothered to read it. And, being a Keller fan, of course I'm going to give the sermon a listen.