Reprinted with permission from Faith Pulpit (Oct-Dec, 2010).
New Covenant Theology (NCT) is a rather new theological movement.1 Its proponents come from the local church rather than academia, and the majority of its adherents are found within the local church. Its proponents include Tom Wells, Fred Zaspel, John Reisinger, and Steve Lehrer.
Some people within the movement have reacted against Dispensationalism or Covenant Theology, and sometimes both. John Reisinger writes, “As New Covenant Theologians, we believe that historic Dispensationalism, as a system, is not biblical…. We are also convinced that Covenant Theology, as a system, is just as unscriptural.”2
Several of its proponents come out of a Reformed Baptist position, abandoning the tripartite division of the law (moral, civil, and ceremonial), infant baptism, and the historic covenants of works and grace. While they abandon these aspects of Reformed theology, most also reject dispensational distinctives, such as the distinction between Israel and the church and dispensational hermeneutics.
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).
Read the series.
Recently the Old Testament scholar Daniel Block has vigorously challenged the whole Cosmic Temple thesis.1 Even if his counter-arguments are somewhat provisional,2 and he retains certain questionable positions on some matters (e.g. the presence of a covenant in Eden,3 violence beyond Eden,4 Jesus replacing the Jerusalem temple5), I think he has banged more than a couple of nails into the coffin. Allow me to set out several of his major criticisms:6
Read the series.
In Beale’s book The Temple and the Church’s Mission, both the garden of Eden and the Jerusalem temple are types of the Church, which is confusingly called the literal non-physical temple.1 Beale’s thesis, which is fed by many ingeniously interpreted though vague allusions – mainly reliant upon reinterpreting OT texts by privileged interpretations of the NT – is that the OT stories of Adam, Abraham, and Israel recapitulate the same story of failure to extend God’s spiritual kingdom throughout the world. Jesus, the final Adam, the final Israel, and the final temple (though apparently not the final Abraham), will set everything to rights when He comes, and then it’s a wrap as far as this present creation is concerned.2
Read Part 1.
Following the biblical narrative it appears that the design and furnishings of the tabernacle/temple have some correspondence with the Paradise which Adam forfeited. This “remembrance” would only increase the sense of what was lost and what the Promised One (Gen. 3:15) would restore. It would act as an encouragement to faith. And the expectation would only be heightened once it was also revealed that the sanctuary was modeled after one in heaven (Exod. 25:9; Heb. 8:1-5).1 These ideas taken together form the backdrop for viewing the earthly temple sanctuary as a place of meeting between God and (one) man.2 Once the Redeemer completes eventually His work3 however, all saints may enter the true Holy Place (cf. Rev. 21:21-26).
If this view is accepted then neither Eden nor the later temple should be seen, in the first place, as a model of the whole Cosmos, but as a “pattern” or “imitation” of “the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.” (Heb. 8:2).4 Of course, if the true sanctuary does model the Cosmos then so would the copy.5
"Sometimes NT writers cite or allude to the OT in ways which, at first blush, seem to disregard the context or, worse, to alter its meaning. This leads many readers of the NT to wonder if its authors were always faithful to the original intent of these passages." - DBTS Blog
Israel’s temple was a symbolic shadow pointing to the eschatological “greater and more perfect tabernacle” (Heb. 9:11) in which Christ and the church would dwell and would form a part. If so, it would seem to be the wrong approach for Christians to look in hope to the building of another temple in Jerusalem composed of earthly “bricks and mortar” as a fulfillment of the OT temple prophecies. (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 634)
The above quotation presents one of the logical outcomes of adopting the position that the garden of Eden was designed as a “temple,” which in turn symbolized the created cosmos, which needed to be subordinated to its Creator. This micro-cosmos Eden “temple” was to be expanded by mankind, we are told, until it covered the surface area of planet earth. The tabernacle and the temple of Israel were related to the Eden “temple” in that they too were mini-cosmoses; yet they also functioned as types of the final temple, the church in Jesus Christ. The church is the new and real temple which is to expand its “sacred space” until it spreads over the whole of creation.