Covenant Theology

"Replacement Theology" - Is It Wrong to Use the Term? (Part 1)

Recently I have been reminded of the Reformed community’s aversion to the label of supercessionism, or worse, replacement theology. In the last decade or so particularly I have read repeated disavowals of this term from covenant theologians. Not wanting to misrepresent or smear brethren with whom I disagree, I have to say that I struggle a bit with these protests.

“We are not replacement theologians” we are told, “but rather we believe in transformation or expansion.” By some of the objectors we are told that the church does not replace Israel because it actually is Israel — well, “true Israel” — the two designations are really one. This move is legitimate, they say, because the “true Israel” or “new Israel” is in direct continuity with Israel in the Old Testament.

In this series of posts I want to investigate the question of whether it is right; if I am right, to brand this outlook as replacement theology and supercessionism.

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The Covenant in Classical Covenant Theology (Part 2)

(Read Part 1.)

If we turn to Covenant theology’s own explanations of their system we find a curious dualism of frankness and subterfuge. I do not use “frankness” in the ethical sense, just in the sense that there is sometimes a willingness to face the text and deal with what it actually says.

Likewise, by “subterfuge” I am not saying there is an unethical motive in these men, but that they almost instinctively avoid the clear implications of passages which undermine their teaching. Robertson, for example, when dealing with the inauguration of the Abrahamic covenant, carefully picks his way through Genesis 15 (and 12:1) without mentioning God’s land-promise (The Christ of the Covenants, ch. 8). He first constructs his thesis with the help of certain NT texts, and then deals with the land issue once he has a typological framework to put it in.

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The Covenant in Classical Covenant Theology (Part 1)

I think it is fair to say that the whole impetus for the covenants of redemption, works and grace in the Reformed Confessions stems from the assumption that the Old Testament must be read through the lens of the extra light of the New. If that assumption is flawed, as I believe it certainly is, then the whole project is in serious trouble.

The release of the Westminster Confession of 1647, although it was preceded by over a century of formative thinking about the covenant, stands out as the principal document of what is known as Covenant Theology.1 Covenant is employed as a fillip to understand and arrange the “doctrines of grace,” and is central to the Confession’s portrayal of redemption.2 This means that the concept takes on a deliberate soteriological hue. The WCF treats its concept of covenant as principally a gracious relationship; a condescension. And there is no doubt that in this it is correct. The Westminster Divines did not lay stress on a pre-creational ‘covenant of redemption’, although their anticipatory language of salvation for the elect in the ‘covenant of grace’ is in tune with it,3 and it is there in WCF 7:3.

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Book Review - Perspectives on Israel and the Church

Perhaps there is no issue which more clearly divides conservative Evangelicals, than the question of the relationship between Israel and the Church. Subsumed beneath that overriding concern are the intramural debates over soteriology (Calvinism, Arminianism or “neither”), eschatology (premillennial or amillennial and pre-trib or post-trib), and ecclesiology (paedobaptism or credobaptism).

These questions are not minor. The baptism question divides the Protestant church into denominations. The millennial question bars the entry into parachurch organizations, mission boards and educational institutions. Yet most agree that people from all perspectives on this issue take the Bible seriously: this is a Christian debate, separating fellow believers.

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Promises to Israel: We Should Expect Literal Fulfillment

If Israel has been chosen to perform a special role in the divine plan, what promises have been given to Israel that will enable that ancient people to fulfill that role?

The Apostle Paul is clear on the great privileges that God has granted Israel. He wrote in Romans 9:4: “who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises.” Paul nowhere intimates that these great privileges have been annulled, forfeited, or cancelled. As a matter of fact the three chapters of which this verse is a part (Rom. 9-11) have as one of their purposes to emphasize that God has not cancelled His promises to Israel or transferred them to some other people! What says Paul in Romans 11:1?: “I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.”

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Fidelity-to-Jacob Theology

When it comes to interpreting Scripture, there are a number of common paradigms in use within the evangelical world. Traditional Dispensationalism, Progressive Dispensationalism, Olive Tree Theology, Covenant Theology, New Covenant Theology, Replacement Theology, and Supersessionism are among them.

Some of us fall in between the cracks. For example, I am somewhere between Traditional Dispensationalism, Progressive Dispensationalism, and Olive Tree Theology (developed by Messianic Jew David Stern in Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel).

I am suggesting we need a new, broader term to help make the major division between these viewpoints clear. So I am proposing that those of us who believe that God will fulfill the promises he made to ethnic Israel embrace the clear-cut label, “Fidelity-to-Jacob Theology.” This grouping should include many traditional and progressive dispensationalists, those who embrace olive tree theology, and some others.

This dividing line is an important one and significantly influences how we interpret Scripture. The points of this broad hermeneutic are:

1. The promises God made to Israel (Jacob) will stand.

Since replacement theologians and others sometimes refer to the church as “spiritual Israel” or “the new Israel,” I have chosen the term “Jacob” to emphasize the national and ethnic nature of these promises. God will faithfully keep the promises to the people with whom he made the promises—with the terms understood as they would have been understood at the time. There is no slight of hand, no change of definition, no alterations or added conditions, no “drop-in” coded replacement of words. Instead, God’s promises are completely transparent and God’s integrity certain. Because He is sovereign, even human unbelief cannot inhibit His determinations.

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Rules of Affinity, Part 4: Negative Application Continued

Posted courtesy of Dr Reluctant. Catch up on the series so far.

1. In this piece I shall match up more theological beliefs with these “Rules of Affinity” in order to show the negative use of those rules. I have tried to find respected sources to interact with so as not to be accused of soft-targeting. This is from G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 32:

Adam was to be God’s obedient servant in maintaining both the physical and spiritual welfare of the garden abode, which included dutifully keeping evil influences from invading the arboreal sanctuary…(my emphasis)

Beale gives Adam a responsibility to guard the original creation from “evil influences.” But there is nothing in Genesis 2 or 3 which encourages this (the verb shamar in 2:15 can mean “guard” or “protect” and could have the serpent in mind, but nothing is said about “influences” plural). Certainly, God allowed the serpent into the Garden, but the only warning given to the man is the prohibition in Gen. 2:16-17. The serpent tempts Eve and Eve tempts Adam. It is Adam’s capitulation to his wife which is given as the reason he disobeyed God’s command (see Gen. 3:17. cf. 1 Tim. 2:14). Could Adam have ejected Satan out of Eden? Where is that indicated? And what of this talk of a plurality of “evil influences”? One will look in vain for such things in the texts Beale employs. We thus give the statement above a C4 rating.

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