Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies: Four Views on the Continuity of Scripture | Book Review

Parker, Brent E., and Richard J. Lucas, eds. Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies: Four Views on the Continuity of Scripture. Spectrum Multiview Books. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2022. (266 pp.)

The book is set to release February 8th. You can preorder it now.

I received an advanced copy of this book from the editors in request for a review. In addition, I’ll be publishing some podcast episodes with editors covering the topic of this book. So be on the look out for those as well.

The editors did a great job. Their introduction gives a solid primer of the views and helpfully situates the reader to the primary issues at stake in this debate.

They also picked a top roster to represent each view:

  • Covenant Theology – Michael Horton.
  • Progressive Covenantalism – Stephen Wellum.
  • Progressive Dispensationalism – Darrell Bock.
  • Traditional Dispensationalism – Mark Snoeberger.
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Herman Bavinck on a Hermeneutic of New Testament Fulfillment (Contra. Chiliasm)

In the following quotations, taken from the final section of his chapter on “Visions of the End,” Bavinck offers an extended critique of what is sometimes referred to as chiliasm, i.e., the belief in a future millennial messianic reign prior to the very end of all things (eschaton). And although he does not use this particular label for what he’s describing, Bavinck’s critique would quite fittingly apply to what is often referred to as dispensationalism.


“Now it is true that that future is depicted in images derived from the historical circumstances that then prevailed, so that Zion and Jerusalem, temple and altar, sacrifice and priesthood, continue to occupy a large place in it. But we must remember that we ourselves do the same thing and can only speak of God and divine things in sensuous, earthly forms. One reason God instituted Old Testament worship as he did was that we would be able to speak of heavenly things, not in self-made images but in the correct images given us by God himself. The New Testament, accordingly, takes over this language and in speaking about the future kingdom of God refers to Zion and Jerusalem, to temple and altar, to prophets and priests. …

Nor must we forget that all prophecy is poetry that must be interpreted in terms of its own character. The error of the older exegesis was not spiritualization as such but the fact that it sought to assign a spiritual meaning to all the illustrative details, in the process … often losing sight of the main thought. … 

[E]veryone senses that in these lines one has to do with poetic descriptions that cannot and may not be taken literally. The realistic interpretation here becomes self-contradictory and misjudges the nature of prophecy.

It is also incorrect to say that the prophets themselves were totally unconscious of the distinction between the thing [they asserted] and the image [in which they clothed it]. …

[I]n Old Testament exegesis the question is not whether the prophets were totally or partially conscious of the symbolic nature of their predictions, for even in the words of classic authors there is more than they themselves thought or intended. It is a question, rather, what the Spirit of Christ who was in them wished to declare and reveal by them. And that is decided by the New Testament, which is the completion, fulfillment, and therefore interpretation of the Old. The nature of a tree is revealed by its fruit. … [N]ot Judaism but Christianity is the full realization of the religion of the prophets.

The New Testament views itself—and there can certainly be no doubt about this—as the spiritual and therefore complete and authentic fulfillment of the Old Testament. … 

The peculiar nature of the old dispensation consisted precisely in the fact that the covenant of grace was presented in graphic images and clothed in national and sensuous forms. Sin was symbolized by levitical impurity. Atonement was effected by the sacrifice of a slain animal. Purification was adumbrated by physical washings. Communion with God was connected with the journey to Jerusalem. The desire for God’s favor and closeness was expressed in the longing for his courts. Eternal life was conceived as a long life on earth, and so forth. In keeping with Israel’s level of understanding, placed as Israel was under the tutelage of the law, all that is spiritual, heavenly, and eternal was veiled in earthly shadows. … 

The shadow, while not itself the body, does point to the body but vanishes when the body itself appears. The New Testament is the truth, the essence, the core, and the actual content of the Old Testament. The Old Testament is revealed in the New, while the New Testament is concealed in the Old (Vetus Testamentum in Novo patet, Novum Testamentum in Vetere latet). … The benefits of salvation promised and foreshadowed under the Old Testament have become manifest in Christ as eternal and authentic reality. All the promises of God are “yes” and “amen” in him (2 Cor. 1:20). The Old Testament was not abolished but fulfilled in the new dispensation, is still consistently being fulfilled, and will be fulfilled, until the parousia of Christ. …

[T]he New Testament itself has given to the particularistic ideas of the Old Testament a universal and cosmic meaning.

Totally wrong, therefore, is the chiliastic view according to which the New Testament, along with the church composed of Gentiles, is an intermezzo, a detour taken by God because Israel rejected its Messiah, so that the actual continuation and fulfillment of the Old Testament can begin only with Christ’s second coming. The opposite, rather, is true. Not the New Testament but the Old is an intermezzo. The covenant with Israel is temporary; the law has been inserted in between the promise to Abraham and its fulfillment in Christ….

In the days of the Old Testament the people of Israel were chosen for a time that salvation might later, in the fullness of time, be a blessing for the whole world. Israel was chosen, not to the detriment of but for the benefit of the nations. From its earliest beginning the promise to Adam and Noah had a universal thrust….

Therefore the New Testament is not an intermezzo or interlude, neither a detour nor a departure from the line of the old covenant, but the long-aimed-for goal, the direct continuation and the genuine fulfillment of the Old Testament. Chiliasm, judging otherwise, comes in conflict with Christianity itself. In principle it is one with Judaism and must get to where it attributes a temporary, passing value to Christianity, the historical person of Christ, and his suffering and death, and it only first expects real salvation from Christ’s second coming, his appearance in glory. … 

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4, ch. 15 (pp. 659-662).

Foundational Principles and Basic Frameworks for Redemptive History and Biblical Theology (LDBC Recap 2/7/16)

Explanation

logo-lake-drive-baptist-churchOn Sunday, January 24th, 2016, I began a Core Seminar on Redemptive History & Biblical Theology at my church, Lake Drive Baptist Church. During the course of this series I’ll be sending out emails recapping lessons and directing recipients to resources for further study.

Rather than just share these recaps with my church family, I’ve decided to share them here on the blog for anyone else who might be interested. I will be posting them occasionally over the next couple of months on a weekly basis or so.

See previous posts:

Recap / review

This week we began closing up our survey of foundational matters by surveying foundational principles and key frameworks for understanding Biblical theology and piecing together redemptive history. These foundational matters are incredibly important because they have a direct effect on how we go about interpreting scripture (hermeneutics), doing Biblical theology, and piecing together redemptive history.

Foundational principles

We laid out 4 foundational principles for understanding redemptive history and doing Biblical theology.

1. Scripture’s unity. Amidst its diversity of human authors, themes, settings, occasions, purposes, etc., scripture is ultimately one book, with a unified author (God), about a unified subject.

2. Scripture’s theme. That one unified subject or theme we defined as “The outworking of God’s salvation accomplished through Jesus Christ in history on behalf of his people to the glory of God.”

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RECOMMENDED: “Mystery and Fulfillment: Toward a More Comprehensive Paradigm of Paul’s Understanding of the Old and the New” by D.A. Carson

I just finished reading D.A. Carson’s chapter “Mystery and Fulfillment: Toward a More Comprehensive Paradigm of Paul’s Understanding of the Old and the New” in Justification and Variegated Nomism, volume 2 subtitled “The Paradoxes of Paul.” These two volumes, the first of which deals with the variegated nature of 1st century/Second Temple Judaism while the second addresses the interpretation of Paul himself, are a collection of essays which seek to respond to the claims made by what has been called the New Perspective on Paul (or better: New Perspectives [plural] on Paul).

The following is my attempt to summarize the main argument of the chapter:

Carson presents the “coherent tension” between mystery (which entails some degree of discontinuity) and fulfillment (which entails some element of preceding anticipation and thus continuity) in Paul’s thought and applies to a response to the proposals of the New Perspective.

He argues that the New Perspective on Paul, which in many ways views Paul as not diverting from Judaism but, rather, in essence advancing what could be understood as a sect of Judaism in continuity with Judaism and as fitting the criteria of “covenantal nomism,” fails to grapple with the way in which Paul’s thought, although containing a strong sense of continuity with the Old Testament and its religion, which is evidenced by Paul’s pervasive “fulfillment”-framework, nonetheless has strong currents of discontinuity, which are evidenced by his inclusion of mystery concepts alongside his “fulfillment”-framework.

In other words, he argues that the New Perspective on Paul, which stresses significant continuity between Paul and  Judaism and/or “covenantal nomism,” fails to handle with integrity the continuity and discontinuity framework in Paul, a framework evidenced by the existence of “mystery” and “fulfillment” concepts in Paul.

Although I have significant interest in the conversations and debates inspired by the proposals of New Perspective, I actually set out to read this chapter because of its interaction with matters pertaining to redemptive history, issues continuity and discontinuity, typology, the role of the law, the relationship between the Testaments, the concept of mystery in Paul and the NT, etc. Carson provides some helpful insights into these matters as he “utilizes” them in his interaction with the New Perspective.

In other words, if either the New Perspective or any of the other topics interests you, I’d add this essay to your reading list.

Duane Garrett on the Nature of Biblical Prophecy

The following is from an excursus entitled “The Use of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15” by Duane Garrett. He makes some helpful observations that are too often overlooked in much contemporary discussion regarding Biblical prophecy.

To put it more pointedly, did Hosea suppose that this verse looked ahead to the Messiah? It is, of course, difficult if not impossible to show that Hosea intended readers to discern from this passage that the Messiah would come out of Egypt. This question, however, is the wrong question to ask of Hos 11:1. The real issue is not, Did Hosea intend this verse to be read messianically? but What did Hosea understand to be the nature of prophecy? In answer to this question, we must assert that Hosea, like all biblical prophets, saw prophecy not so much as the making of specific, individual predictions (which are actually quite rare among the writing prophets), but as the application of the Word of God to historical situations. In doing this the prophets brought to light certain patterns that occur repeatedly in the relationship between God and his people [typologies]. These patterns or themes have repeated fulfillments or manifestations until the arrival of the final, absolute fulfillment. Thus, for example, the conquest of the land “fulfilled” the promises to the patriarchs but did not fulfill those promises finally or in their ultimate form. The inheritance of the “new earth” is the ultimate conclusion of this prophetic theme. All of the prophets were, to some degree, “like Moses” (Deut 18:5), but the ultimate prophet like Moses can only be the Messiah. Each of the kings of the line of David was a fulfillment of the promise that God would build him a “house” (2 Sam 7), but the Messiah is again the final fulfillment of this theme. Thus prophecy gives us not so much specific predictions but types or patterns by which God works in the world. We need look no further than Hosea 11 to understand that Hosea, too, believed that God followed patterns in working with his people. Here the slavery in Egypt is the pattern for a second period of enslavement in an alien land (v. 5), and the exodus from Egypt is the type for a new exodus (vv. 10–11).

Duane A. Garrett. Hosea, Joel. The New American Commentary. Vol. 19A. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997, 221-22.

We often think of Biblical prophecy as essentially predictions of the future. But is that accurate? It would be better to understand most of Biblical prophecy as actually the application of the past to the present and future. We might think of it like this–God’s past acts serve as models, paradigms, or types for His future dealings.