Post Number: 82
|Posted on Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 9:42 pm: || |
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I want to begin with a thanks to Colleen and Richard for a wonderfully organized conference. I was blessed to meet some of you and hope to see more of you in the future.
My question is with respect to New Covenant Theology (NCT), which I understand to be a relatively new kind of middle ground between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism. As a former Adventist, I find much of it very appealing. In contrast to Covenant Theology, for example, I like NCT's emphasis that the sabbath and other elements in the Mosaic law are a unit and have been done away with through fulfillment in Christ. On the other side, I still am struggling to understand the sharp distinction that Dispensationalism draws between the church and Israel, in light of the amazing New Covenant inaugurated by Jesus. I say this as a TMS student who loves my school and still has much to learn about covenants and especially eschatology :-). I found this very helpful summary of the distinctives of NCT: http://wv4g.org/new-covenant-theology-interview-blake-white/
What are your thoughts?
Post Number: 490
|Posted on Thursday, March 16, 2017 - 4:25 pm: || |
I bookmarked that site, looks interesting. I didn't read it all but far enough to recognize, I think, that it's an amillennial position. John MacArthur is a premillennial emphatically.
Post Number: 15477
|Posted on Friday, March 17, 2017 - 11:14 pm: || |
Kaspars, I haven't read the site you linked, but I can say this. New Covenant theology as a paradigm is considered an outgrowth of Covenant Theology. It tends, as a systematic theology, to be amillennial because of that connection.
I emphatically consider myself a "new covenant theology endorser", but I don't necessarily understand it from the organized perspective of those who are making it an "official" systematic theology. I simply see the new covenant clearly taught in the Bible.
Dispensationalism, though, is a different issue. As a system of theology, it has many problems. The Inrigs, for example, are not classic dispensationalists. There are understandings of "eras" or "ages" that the Bible describes, but the details of classic dispensationalism are simply not, as I understand it, found in Scripture. There are modified forms of dispensationalism that see the successive ages, or "dispensations", in Scripture without the split between salvation for Israel as contrasted with salvation for the church. That split is artificial and is not the natural outgrowth of reading Scripture.
I will post below something Gary Inrig emailed to me a few years ago when I asked him about this issue when the conversation on this forum grew heated over this topic:
The issue of the future of Israel is, as you've discovered, one that is hotly debated, and I can hardly deal with it extensively. But there are several things to note.
1. The connection of the issue with dispensationalism is a red herring.
While dispensationalists certainly believe in a restoration of national
Israel, the idea certainly didn't originate with them. Postmillennialists such as Jonathan Edwards were speaking of such a thing a hundred years before. Premillennialism has a far more ancient heritage than that.
2. The entire issue is tinged with a sad history of anti-Semitism on the part of the Christian church, that has roots back into the early church. The Jewish rejection of Christ, the Jewish revolt in the second century and the desire of early Christians to distance themselves from the Jewish people led to a spiritualizing and de-Judaizing of the Biblical record. Sadly, this led to replacement theology and a "supercessionist" viewpoint (the church gets Israel's blessings; they get to keep the curses) which bedeviled "Christian" theology down through the centuries. Much of what was done by Christians to Jews was utterly shameful.
3. The modern secular nation of Israel remains in a state of unbelief
and rebellion against God, just as the United States, Canada and all
nations do. The time of national salvation has not come. That means that Christians cannot and ought not mindlessly defend Israel's actions. But the reemergence of the nation after 1900 years of dispersion is a remarkable event, especially in the light of OT promises, that it is foolish to deny.
4. It is well and good to be suspicious of the novel. However, the
ultimate question must be, Is it Biblical? After all, some of those who
most ardently profess the novelty of dispensationalism ardently defend the Reformation or Reformed theology, which are only 250 years earlier. The fact is, as James Orr showed in a book called The Progress of Dogma, certainly issues have come to the forefront in Christian history at different points in history. So the deity of Christ and the Trinity were of central importance in the early centuries, and then concern shifted to the nature of the person of Christ (what did it mean that he was God and man). Issues of the nature of the church formed the next period (with sad conclusions), and soteriology came to the fore during the Reformation. Eschatology wasn't on the front burners for most until the 18th and 19th centuries.
Hope this helps a bit.
I have come to see that the issue of a future for Israel and the nature of the millennium are the issues that are really important, because those are the things Scripture describes. If we say that the specific promises God made to Israel through the Old Testament prophets are now null and void, spiritualized into a future reality for the new heaven and earth or even spiritualized for the church, then we are tampering with the unconditional promises of God. If God does not keep His promises to Israel, we cannot trust Him to keep His promises to the church, either.
If we spiritualize the Old Testament prophecies and morph them into promises to the church, then in a sense we have to dismiss a great deal of the Old Testament as symbolic while we simultaneously attempt to take the New Testament literally.
In Romans 9 through 11 (especially 11), Paul explains that the church is grafted into God's tree. The Israelites are His natural branches; the gentiles are the wild branches who must not be proud lest they find themselves cut off through unbelief as many of the natural branches were cut off. Yet, in a remarkable reversal of nature, God promises (Rom 11 still!), that God can cause those natural branches to be grafted back into the tree.
Yes, the wall that divides the Jews and the gentiles is cut down in Christ. The church is both Jew and gentile. Nevertheless, Romans 11 explains that Israel is hardened in part until the full number of gentiles comes in. There will come a day when God will fulfill not only His spiritual promises to Israel but also His physical ones.
Revelation 20 is a remarkable chapter that clearly identifies the events and timing of the millennium. First, it is on the earth, not in heaven. Second, the righteous are resurrected to reign with Christ for a thousand years...and it says He (and those reigning with Him) will reign over the "nations". It also clearly says the resurrection of the wicked will not occur until the end of that millennium. The great white throne judgment will be the end of that era.
Amillennialists say that the first resurrection described in Revelation 20 is the new birth of believers, and that the millennium is now, culminating in Christ's return and the establishment of the new heaven and earth. Nevertheless, the context of Revelation 20 and the descriptions of the resurrection as found in 1 Thessalonians 4, 1 Corinthians 15, and even John 5:25-30 make that explanation implausible. A resurrection is bodily, not a spiritual new birth with a still-mortal body.
The timing of Christ's return is, I believe, the least clear aspect of the whole question. I believe, though, that the truly important details that have rocked my understanding are the fact that God has not subsumed Israel into the gentiles. He will keep His promises to them. There is a future for Israel, and the millennium will be the time when those promises are fulfilled.
At least that's how I see it at the moment. There are some excellent books and discussions about this topic, but I tend not to look to the systematic "isms" of theology for the answers, because most "isms" have assumptions involved that hold them together.
The thing that continues to impress me is that God does not tell us how these things "work". Just as He is 100% sovereign over every detail of creation and the events of human history, we are also 100% responsible, concurrently, for our choices and decisions which have eternal consequences. I cannot explain that mystery.
In the same way I cannot explain how God concurrently keeps His promises to Israel as well as bringing gentiles into the church and calling us His bride and His body...roles that Israel never had.
I do not have comprehensive answers...but I'm willing to discuss these ideas further!
Post Number: 21
|Posted on Monday, March 20, 2017 - 4:43 pm: || |
I agree that NCT's approach to understanding the role of the mosaic law in redemptive history is a big advantage over confessional reformed theology aka covenant theology (eg, westminster confession). I don't have enough familiarity with NCT thought to be able to assess all the ins and outs of its future eschatology. My professed ignorance notwithstanding, one thing I've noticed is that all three systems (disp, CT, NCT) have grown to have adherents who hold to very different emphases in terms of eschatology, so it's difficult to pigeonhole different views as simply (pre/a)millennial or what ethnic israel's future will look like, or to use terms like "supercession/replacement" or "literal interpretation" or "spiritual" without clearly defining their usage. There are many (nondispensational) premillennialists who are essentially a-millennial in their emphases (eg George Ladd who said he'd be amillennial if it weren't for Revelation) for example, and there's amillennialists/postmillennialists who see some sort of movement of ethnic israel in the future (eg John Murray).
One resource that was really helpful for me, personally, in understanding the history of the distinctions between dispensational and traditional reformed eschatology, and especially how they have changed, is Russell Moore's "Kingdom of Christ" (it is his republished dissertation). He makes the point quite fairly that framing one's eschatological schemes in terms of inaugurated eschatology has created a significant rapprochement between the two systems (and I think correctly so).
For myself, I appreciate that Romans 9-11 does indicate some sort of jewish movement towards christ. However, I don't (currently) see a problem if this is not accompanied with a national israel inheriting the physical location of palestine. If believing Jews ultimately inherit the new heavens and new earth along with the rest of God's people, then it seems like God kept His promise, and then some. I can see the merits of the amillennial organization of A.D. history, even their take on Rev 20, but I haven't yet bought the idea of different theological covenants (eg cov grace vs cov works), and am a credobaptist.
Post Number: 22
|Posted on Monday, March 20, 2017 - 5:04 pm: || |
PS - That is a fantastic interview, thanks for posting it.
Post Number: 83
|Posted on Sunday, March 26, 2017 - 1:46 pm: || |
Thanks very much for your overview and thoughts It's my understanding that the originators of NCT were Reformed Baptists, i.e., adherents to covenant theology. But I don't know how a ystem that does away with an overall covenant of works and a covenant of grace can qualify as a subset of covenant theology (though you did say "outgrowth"; I can kind of see that).
Amen to your comment about being a New Covenant theology endorser I would say that the discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants has maybe been downplayed somewhat in church history (of course part of that is covenant theology).
When you are talking about classic Dispensationalism, I assume you're referring to the -- what is it --- seven dispensations? That "baggage" I guess is what John MacArthur is sometimes saddled with.
I think I've seen you post that comment from Pastor Inrig before...seems very balanced (as usual from Gary!).
Some of the key questions I'd like to resolve before completing my studies are things like the issue of hermeneutics. I understand from a Grammatical-Historical perspective that the Old Testament should be allowed to speak for itself, and that it is clear in whatever it says. However, I am also sympathetic to the idea that the New Testament "clarifies" issues in the Old Testament, and we shouldn't be afraid of using it on some level to interpret the OT. I understand the potential dangers of spiritualizing many passages, but I still, for example, have questions about how the NT authors used the great New Covenant passages such as Ezekiel 36 and Jeremiah 31. The context of those passages makes it clear that the author intended national Israel to be the recipient of those promises...however the NT authors seem to have no qualms about applying those to any New Covenant believers. What one of my professors has said is that those prophecies have a partial fulfillment today, or rather, that we see a glimpse of them today, but that it cannot be said that they have been completely fulfilled beginning at Pentecost. Then there are questions who is meant by Elijah in Malachi 4:5. From a Grammatical-Historical perspective, this can be none other than Elijah the prophet. But Jesus seems to say in the NT that Elijah has already come, and that he was John the Baptist (Matt 11:13-14). In other words, are the New Testament authors "expanding" the original meaning of these Old Testament passages in some way?
Then there is the whole issue of Ezekiel's extensive temple visions...are we to understand that there will still be animal sacrifices post-New Covenant? It's part of the tension I'm trying to resolve...on the one hand I resonate with what you're saying...that the promises given to Israel are so numerous and so concrete, that it would be wrong to spiritualize them. On the other hand, sometimes I get the feeling that the Church in the eyes of some is just a parenthesis in redemptive history...instead of the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim 3:15), the true Israel of God (Gal 6:16).
I've been reading through Romans as part of my reading plan and I went through Rom 9-11 and can certainly agree with your assessment that there appears to be a future for Israel (though Paul does seem to use the word in varying ways...for example he says that not all are Israel).
The other thing that I have struggled to grasp is what would be the purpose for Satan to be bound for 1000 literal years, only to be released. It all seems so complex. Of course, if that's what God's Word says, I have to be prepared to accept it! I'm also wondering about the separation of the Rapture from the second coming and how scriptural that is.
Anyways, lots to study up on! I think it's finally time for me to tackle eschatology and not hide from it as a former SDA
Post Number: 84
|Posted on Sunday, March 26, 2017 - 1:48 pm: || |
And Ignoblebearean, thanks for your thoughts, I actually resonate a lot with what you are saying.
Post Number: 23
|Posted on Monday, March 27, 2017 - 3:16 pm: || |
I've found a lot of the stuff coming out of Southern Seminary (dubbed 'progressive covenantelism') as well as Greg Beale's writings (eg his NT theology) helpful for organizing biblical themes with an eye towards eschatology, though I am far from settled in my understanding.