Covenant Theology

Literal or Figurative?

One of the biggest debates among Christians is how to interpret the Bible. Liberals accuse conservatives of taking the Bible too literally. Conservatives accuse liberals of not taking the Bible seriously enough, often by declaring controversial sections to be figurative. That seems to be a handy way to avoid passages that teach what you don’t want to believe.

But even conservative Christians divide over the issue of literal verses figurative. For example, Dispensationalists often accuse the Reformed of spiritualizing certain sections of Scripture, and the Reformed frequently fault Dispensationalists for their “wooden literalism” by awkwardly forcing literal interpretations upon passages that are intended to be figurative.

Dispensationalists charge the Reformed with “Replacement Theology,” which means interpreting Old Testament prophecies made to Israel as fulfilled in the New Testament Church, and the Reformed return the favor by charging Dispensationalists with interpretive myopia; focusing too narrowly upon the immediate context, and failing to see the forest for the trees.

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Contrasting Dispensationalism and Biblical Covenantalism

A Little Backstory

As many of my readers will know, I have spent a lot of time and energy trying to place Dispensational theology on what I believe is a more secure footing. Dispensationalism has not produced many top-line academic works, especially in the last half century, and with only one or two exceptions it presents itself as static and unwilling to improve. In the meantime it has been frozen out of mainstream evangelical scholarship and its influence has dwindled.

One example among many will suffice: The huge 8 volume IVP Dictionaries, which cover the entire Bible, and are written by hundreds of top scholars across the broad sweep of evangelicalism, include scarcely any contribution by dispensational scholars. The Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets has (as far as I can tell) only one entry by one dispensationalist (Robert Chisholm on “Retribution,” and I’m not sure Chisholm is much of a dispensationalist).

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A Baptist Perspective on Reformed Theology, Part 2

From Faith Pulpit. Read Part 1.

II. The origin and nature of the church evaluated from Ephesians 2:11-15

Reformed theology sees all the elect from Adam onward as part of the universal church.

The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all. (LBCF, XXVI:1)

Israel in the Old Testament is called “the Jewish church” (LBCF, XXI:1).

Many Baptists do not see either the universal Body of Christ or the local church in the Old Testament. Here is one reason why:

In Ephesians 2:11-15 Paul states:

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A Baptist Perspective on Reformed Theology, Part 1

From Faith Pulpit, Spring 2019. Used with permission.

The term Reformed theology means different things to different people. For some, this term simply refers to the “doctrines of grace” which are also known as the five points of Calvinism. The five points of Calvinism are:

  • Total depravity: Sin has affected all areas of our personality so that no one seeks after God.
  • Unconditional election: God’s choice of some to be saved was not based on foreseen merit or faith.
  • Limited atonement: God’s purpose in sending His Son was to actually save and preserve the elect.
  • Irresistible grace: Sooner or later, all who have been chosen will come to faith in Christ.
  • Perseverance of the saints: Those who are truly elect and thus saved will persevere.

For others, in addition to Calvinism, Reformed theology includes Covenant theology. This view is taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith, adopted in AD 1646, which was produced by and authoritative for Presbyterians.

Certain Calvinistic Baptists in London wanted the dominant Presbyterians to know they were not a sect, but rather very similar to them, so they produced a modified Baptist edition of the Westminster Confession, known as the Second London Confession of Faith (LBCF) which was adopted in AD 1689. Here is a website that compares these two Confessions, noting differences and similarities: www.proginosko.com.

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Forty Reasons for Not Reinterpreting the OT by the NT: The First Twenty

Introduction

It seems to be almost an axiom within contemporary, evangelical Bible interpretation that the New Testament must be allowed to reinterpret the Old Testament. That is, the New Testament is believed to have revelatory priority over the Old Testament, so that it is considered the greatest and final revelation. And because the NT is the final revelation of Jesus Christ, the only proper way to understand the OT is with the Christ of the NT directing us. Though proponents of this hermeneutic may define “reinterpret” with slippery words like “expansion” or “foreshadowing,” they are still insisting the OT can be, and in some cases, should be, reinterpreted through the lens of the NT.

Not unusually the admission is made that the original recipients of the OT covenants and promises would not have conceived of God fulfilling His Word to them in the ways in which we are often told the NT demands they were fulfilled. This belief in the interpretative priory of the NT over the OT is accepted as “received truth” by a great many evangelical scholars and students today. But there are corollaries which are often left unexplored or ill-considered. Did the prophets of the OT speak and write in a sort of Bible Code which had to be picked through and deciphered by Apostolic authors resulting in hazy allusions and unanticipated concretizations of what seemed to be unambiguous language? Did God speak to men in times past in symbolic language so that we today could unravel what He really meant? Doesn’t this strongly imply that the OT was not really for them, but for us?

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