Overview of “A Father Who Keeps His Promises.” By Professor Scott Hahn
[to our Resurrection Book Study followers] Overview and chapter one.
I went to a retreat last Summer led by Scott Hahn and two others, as we clergy looked at the major prophets for a few days. It was great. Many years ago I heard about Scott and his wife Kimberly converting to Catholicism, and how they were bringing insights along of which converted them over from Evangelical Christianity. One of the key agents of conversion for them was in understanding covenant theology and its part in salvation history and its role in the Catholic Church. It was more than a theological illumination for them, but it was a love story to them of a promise-keeping God. That is the two-fold attraction of this book. It teaches deep information of our covenantal relationship with God in Christ, in how Catholics see their faith and see the whole of life: it’s ‘”covenant.”
The author explains the purpose of his book as “the story of God’s love near the beginning.” (And I think he meant to add, “and through to its present wondrous reality.”) He then says in summation: “The story of that unfailing love is the story of this book. We’ll examine together what God has done in history to make us his family and to save us from the wretched misery of our own sin and selfishness. Along the way, we’ll discover anew how passionately he seeks us, how firm is his intention to make us whole again and how deserving he is to receive our gratitude, trust and obedience.” (17)
Hahn does all this through the lens of God’s covenant. As he’ll say: “Once you begin looking for what was important to the biblical writers themselves, you’ll find that the concept of covenant is a central thread woven throughout Scripture. The dramas that we’ll examine describe how God the Father, through a series of covenants, has moved from dealing with one couple—Adam and Eve—to the whole world. Each step along the way has moved us further up the pathway to heaven, providing yet one more crucial component in God’s plan to form a family of faith. Viewing the history of salvation through the lens of covenant helps us to see the fatherly wisdom and power of God, and will offer a clearer perspective on the human family.” (23)
Let’s peek at the table of contents. It is thirteen chapters. It is not exactly easy reading, as Hahn has many good things in his mind, but he has a little difficulty getting it into words. So, bear in mind, Hahn has very good things to say, and work with his words. He tries to break each chapter into bite size paragraphs with witty headings, just to keep it earthly. You’ll either like that levity, or you will get punned out or get crazy by his creativity. (I personally liked it, by the way.)”
- Kinship by Covenant: The Master Plan for God’s Family in Scripture
- Creation Covenant and Cosmic Temple: God’s Habitat for Humanity
- Splitting the Adam: From Creation to Desecration
- Shape Up or Ship Out: A Broken Covenant Renewed With Noah
- How Do You Spell Belief? The Faith of Father Abraham
- “The Elder Shall Serve the Younger!” Firstborn Failures and Family Feuds
- “Let My People Go!” Israel’s Exodus From Egypt
- Israel’s Calf-Hearted Response: The Mosaic Covenant at Mount Sinai
- Beloved Backsliders: Israel in the Wilderness
- “Choose This Day Whom You Will Serve!” From Conquest to Kingdom
- “Thou Art the Man!” From Kingdom to Exile
- “It Is Finished!” The Son Fulfills the Father’s Promises
- Here Comes the Bride: The Son Rises Over the New Jerusalem
So, you can notice that it starts with a biblical overview of God and Revelation, and goes into the Creation account, Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham and Jacob in the first six chapters, all staying within the Genesis story, where the bible lays its groundwork (or, does God). Then, we move on to Moses and then Moses and the Wanderers (‘sounds like a traveling Jewish band). In chapter ten, we are with Joshua in the Holy Land (again, as we were with Abraham to Jacob). Then, the last three chapters lead us from the Hebrew Covenant (Old Testament) into the fulfillment of Christ Jesus in His final and New Covenant, which is where we are today. So, do we know where we are on this Covenant Road? That’s Hahn’s point. Many of us don’t know our salvation history, so then, don’t appreciate where we are or of what we’ve got.
Chapter 1 – Kinship by Covenant
(someone else’s remarks are below, they’re not mine)
The first chapter outlines his basic ideas about covenant and how it works in the narrative of scripture.
Hahn points out the close association of covenant and oath (Duet. 29:11-12): a covenant is typically ratified by an oath, which is both an invocation of the deity for help and a conditional self-curse; the oath is expressed in words like Gen. 22:16-18 and/or by a ritual oath-sign such as an animal sacrifice like Genesis 15:9-21.
“First, a contract is made with a promise, while a covenant is made by swearing an oath. In a promise, you make a pledge (“I give you my word”). A contract is made binding by your signature, your name. In oath-swearing a promise is transformed by invoking God’s holy name for assistance or blessing (“so help me God”). The oath-swearer places himself under divine judgment and a conditional self-curse (“I’ll be damned”). The oath is thus a much stronger and more sacred form of commitment.” (24)
Also comparing the difference between contracts and covenants, Hahn argues a covenant is a means of establishing (kinship) relationship between two parties.
“Another major difference between contracts and covenants may be discovered in their very distinctive forms of exchange. A contract is the exchange of property in the form of goods and services (“That is mine and this is yours”); whereas a covenant calls for the exchange of persons (“I am yours and you are mine”), creating a shared bond of interpersonal communion.
For ancient Israelites, a covenant differed from a contract about as much as marriage differed from prostitution. When a man and woman marry, they declare before God their undying love to one another until death, but a prostitute sells her body to the highest bidder and then moves on to the next customer. So contracts make people customers, employees, clients; whereas covenants turn them into spouses, parents, children, siblings. In short, covenants are made to forge bonds of sacred kinship.” (26)
Lastly and a little strangely, Hahn says “‘covenant’ is what God does because ‘covenant’ is who God is’.
“The Trinity is the eternal source and perfect standard of the covenant; when God makes and keeps covenants with his people, he’s just being true to himself. In short, “covenant” is what God does because “covenant” is who God is. From a sinful, shameful couple cast out of paradise, to God’s glorious, redeemed worldwide family of saints at home forever in heaven—that miraculous transformation is the covenant story of the Scripture.” (36)
I find this a little strange because saying ‘God is covenant’ is the same as saying ‘God is a relationship between two parties’. Hahn needed to explain himself a little better here.
Back to my words, now. (Fr. Barry)
People in the opening study on Saturday were commenting on where the book was going. Several had read far into the book, up to Moses. Some surprises were found by our readers about covenant and all that God has had to endure from us. We’ve been unfaithful. We’ve wanted pleasures or worldly life more than friendship with God, all too often.
One person was sorry for Moses and all that he had to deal with from the people, and they think he got a bad deal in coming short on seeing the promised land. Another person was wondering about the multi-partnered men in the Bible (e.g. Jacob, David) and how that would affect their judgment about God—since they were spread out in their own affections as men. It was wondered aloud about polygamy or concubine living in the Old Testament.
I shared in the parish staff meeting how Hahn is so much a “growth by oath” teacher. He sees that covenant oath is so central to our proper understanding of God. We thought that the Old Testament God and New Testament God looked a bit different, especially in things allowed or not allowed, in punishments or in asking Israel to war versus its ungodly neighbors. It was a people getting formed over time, and changes would come in the New Covenant. All along, God was forming a people unto Himself, that was a clear constant. The Father’s Love is a constant in Scripture, and the opening story of a father looking for his boy in the earthquake rubble, and the boy’s expecting his father to make a thorough and faithful (loving) search was touching.
The reference in the chapter to time, that with the chant for Christmas (16) tells of a God working through the millennia with us. Somehow, Jesus the Lord and Son comes at “the right time.”
Hahn quotes St. Irenaeus to show the long-knowing reality of covenant mindset in the Church. Hahn shows how the Book of Hebrews is teaching covenant faith. Hahn shows a “family tree” going on and all the gravity of spiritual oaths and promises made or broken.
Our study group saw the interesting charts of how covenants took steps. Pg. 35. There was something reasonable and sensible and leading/guiding going on in all of it. God is a God of relationship, and that’s how They are relating to us (Trinity).
The initial chapter is leading us to a cosmic Creation understanding, with covenants laid out.