Thursday, May 26, 2011

Father Abraham

Part 1 of this series based on Steve Wellum's chapter, "Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants" [PDF], in Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright's Believer's Baptism, provided a brief summary of main contours in Covenant Theology. Part 2 focused on the "seed" theme in the Bible, reaching the conclusion that the term is used in four related but distinct ways. Part 3 traced Wellum's argument that Christ fulfills ALL the OT covenants.

Now, I want to highlight two of Wellum's conclusions, which are rooted in what we've considered so far (and by "we" I mean me and the two other people reading this). First:
To be a member of Abraham’s family now is not tied to a specific physical lineage, nor circumcision, nor any kind of physical links to other believers. Rather, one becomes a part of Abraham’s family only through faith union in Christ brought about by the Spirit (Gal 3:26–29). Thus, in the coming of Christ, a new era of redemptive history has dawned where the structures, types, and shadows of the old have given way to the reality and fulfillment of what the OT was all along pointing to (pg 143-144 in the PDF).
And another conclusion:
[Equating the Abrahamic Covenant with the New Covenant] not only fails to do justice to the diverse aspects of the Abrahamic covenant, but also to the way that covenant is ultimately fulfilled in Christ. So Israel, as a nation, is a type of the church. But this is the case, not because the church is merely the replacement of Israel, but because Christ, as the true seed of Abraham and the fulfillment of Israel, unites in himself both spiritual Jews and Gentiles as the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16). There is continuity, but also important discontinuity. . . . The new covenant people of God are all those, regardless of ethnicity or circumcision, who have confessed Christ as Lord, the true/spiritual seed of Abraham. It includes all those who believe in Christ and who have been born of his Spirit (pg. 144 in the PDF).
What's most intriguing to me about Wellum's arguments is that they're targeted at a flawed presupposition of Covenant Theology, but they also critique Dispensational conclusions. (And I've only quoted the passages that apply most directly to both systems.) Covenant Theology denies differences between the biblical covenants; Dispensationalism denies that the Church is a full participant in the New Covenant—or even a participant at all. More on that, as well as ironic similarities between CT and D, to come.


d4v34x said...

"Dispensationalism denies that the Church is a full participant in the New Covenant—or even a participant at all."

Say what?

Ben said...

Some Dispensationalists don't believe that the New Covenant has anything whatsoever to do with the Church, despite passages like Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25; Heb 7-8; 12:18-24 (esp 22-24). Others believe that the Church is connected to the NC, but certain aspects of it are reserved for ethnic/political Israel and Judah, typically in the Millennium. Check out the last two links on this page.

Baptist Bible Seminary prof Rod Decker: "I do not contend that the Church fulfills any aspect of the NC promises given to Israel in Jeremiah 31. I do, however, believe that the Church must have an intimate connection with the NC. It is not possible, I think, to understand this 4-chapter argument in Hebrews 7-10 any other way."

In the last link, Central prof Roy Beacham defends this position (which he concedes is an extreme minority): "The NC is not in force. It has not been ratified. We do not participate as the church in any form or fashion of the NC. Though we partake of blessings like are promised Israel in the NC, we do not partake of the NC."

Progressive Dispensationalism may see the Church as more fully incorporated into the NC than even Decker would, possibly even a full participant. I can't remember how that all shakes out.

Ben said...

Just to clarify, I don't agree with either position, though I probably have more in common with Decker. I do suspect that Beacham and I might agree that the NC is all-or-nothing. The Church can't get part of it without getting all of it.

Anonymous said...

I think that DT who hold the view of Beacham is indeed an extreme minority. DT does not demand his position at all.

Nonprogressive DT such as those at The Master's Seminary would embrace a view that incorporates the church into the NC nicely.

The NC has many elements to it. With the exception of political/land issues, the church is enjoying them right now. As has been argued, the church's connection to the NC is not simply some sharing of what is by nature Israel's, but because the church is joined to Christ, Abraham's greatest son.

Anonymous said...

Haven't read all of these posts carefully, and I'm not sure exactly what you're getting at. So, apologies in advance for my likely misunderstanding. However . . .

The following sounds just like the covenant theology I hear preached:

"So Israel, as a nation, is a type of the church. But this is the case, not because the church is merely the replacement of Israel, but because Christ, as the true seed of Abraham and the fulfillment of Israel, unites in himself both spiritual Jews and Gentiles as the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16)."

As I've said here before, I have never ever heard a real covenantalist talk about "replacement theology". When I hear that, it is almost always non-covenantalist polemic or someone who has read the polemic and now fancies himself an expert on covenantalism.

Anyway, keep on reading. You're walking away from the right things in my opinion.


Bruce said...

Isn't this much less complicated if we recognize the promises were always focused on the elect/believers of Abraham's line, not "national Israel" or all physical descendants.

If faith is the key, the paradigm shift of Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, etc. starts to make sense: God can include Gentiles who believe in Christ along with Jews who have trusted Christ. And the inclusion of the Gentiles into the covenant people isn't taking anything away from God's covenant people who were prior to Christ.

Anonymous said...

Keith, even a somewhat clumsy look into the covenantalists in history would reveal "replacement" language. It isn't something DTers made up and lobbed at CTers.

The discontinuity emphasis is as important as the continuity.

The argument that Israel is a type of the church is rather weak though, especially since the NT speaks of Israel alongside and having a future after the creation of the church. That is another topic though.

Ben said...

Keith, "replacement" isn't the central point of Wellum's critique. And though my experience of living, breathing CT people not using that terminology is like yours, it is in publication—possibly less in recent years.

Wellum's really getting more at what we went around about a few weeks ago—the NC is a new covenant not merely a new administration of the OC. He's also making the argument that CT misconstrues the parties to the covenants. But that's all in the article. I'd be curious to see your response.

Ben said...

Bruce, yes, though I think what Wellum's doing better than I'm doing in representing him is accounting for the four biblical usages of "seed" and their relationship to the covenants, rather than focusing exclusively on ultimate fulfillment.

Andrew Suttles said...

Too bad Wellum isn't bright enough to critique the Reformed, rather than covenant theology. After all, all of our Baptist forefathers were covenant theologians.

Have you read AW Pink's book on the Divine Covenants yet?

CTs DO distinguish the covenants. That is a misnomer and a foul. CTs see a single plan of salvation behind all the covenants and see all the covenants as God's outworking of that one plan.

Regarding 'Israel', not defining terms always creates a lot of confusion. When you say Israel, are you talking about the Hebrew race or the nation. When I say someone is French, am I referring to a race or a nationality. Both? Either? Israelites, as a race, will be grafted back into the nation of Israel. All elect believers are presently a part of the nation of Israel.

Eph 2 -

"12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, ... 19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God..."

Does this mean that Gentiles are Jews? No. Does it mean that Gentiles are citizens of Israel? Yes, that is what the text says.