Home > Christian Authors, Covenant Theology, dispensationalism, eschatology, premillennialism > “Israel and the Church” Views (4): Progressive Covenantalism

“Israel and the Church” Views (4): Progressive Covenantalism

April 21, 2015

Continuing in this series, the last view presented in this book is “Progressive Covenantalism,” by Brand and Pratt. I was unfamiliar with this view, which attempts a hybrid between covenant theology and Progressive Dispensationalism, and thus found the essay not as easy to follow.  The main points, as I understood by the end: one people of God, the promises to Israel fulfilled in Christ (and thus no future restoration of ethnic Israel), and yet post-trib premillennialism with a futurist view of the Great Tribulation. Perhaps the overall “progressive covenantal” view fits with some current-day premillennial teachers, such as Douglas Moo (referenced in this essay), though I do not know of any specifically connected with this view other than the two authors.  The essay is organized in three main sections:  the meaning of “biblical righteousness” for the people of God; Israel’s own experience in history “of that righteousness in her worship of the Lord;” and last, future eschatology.

As noted in the TD response, nothing is said here about hermeneutics; this system is based on an abstract idea of righteousness (along with a lot of discussion about the importance of the Holy Spirit, that “the marker of the people is the internal presence of the Holy Spirit”) coupled with N.T. Wright-group historical analysis of the Jews in the Intertestamental period through the 2nd century AD, along with reference to current-day premillennialists including Douglas Moo, Ladd, (and also Hoekema, a non-premill) that the future Great Tribulation does not involve anything to do with the nation Israel.  The first section is hard to follow at least the first time through, but starts with some basic errors in approach:  first, its claim that dispensationalism “virtually requires multiple pathways to this salvation” (a misunderstanding and misrepresentation of dispensationalism), and secondly, that CT “requires some form of halfway inclusion of those still unjustified in the visible people of God” — a reference to traditional paedo-baptist CT, but again, CT does not require this at all, as well-observed in the 17th century Covenantal Baptists (including John Bunyan plus many other lesser-known names), 18th century John Gill and 19th century Charles Spurgeon.

Responses: Robert Reymond’s response here mainly notes areas of agreement as well as his (again repeated) rejection of premillennialism, and stating his view of Preterism (regarding the Great Tribulation). Along the way he declares that all who reject infant baptism – including all “covenantal Baptists” –are really dispensational, again showing his ignorance in this complete falsehood that ignores the existence of non-dispensational, covenantal, confessional (Reformed) Baptists.

The responses from the two dispensational authors (Thomas and Saucy) help clarify this original essay, as they reference and correct the misunderstanding about dispensationalism requiring different pathways to salvation, and note inconsistencies in the essay, such as Thomas’ observation that they struggle with terminology to portray the church’s relation to Israel, suggesting and then rejecting such terms as “replacement,” “transformation,” “new creation,” and “age of the Spirit.” They seem to prefer the “new creation” terminology, but that puts them in opposition to their own “new creation” of the future.  Again I find Saucy the best at explaining and defending the biblical teaching of the future restoration of ethnic Israel, with good insights concerning Romans 11 such as the following, regarding the apostle Paul’s whole point about “has the word of God failed? (because Israel has rejected their Messiah):

if the NT writers taught that the church was the new or reconstituted Israel, everyone would have known that the Word of God has not failed.  For the church was now the new Israel and the promises of salvation for Israel were now being fulfilled in the Israel of the church.  But this is clearly not Paul’s response in these chapters.

In overall conclusion regarding this book, I find it only average or so-so, in that its scope is quite limited to only four views, of which only three are adequately represented — and yet the theological spectrum includes several more views on the issue, including at least two other “covenant theology” views, the amillennial NCT view and perhaps a few other views.  The author selected for the CT view is, frankly, a very poor choice, one who represents only one of many CT views and yet refuses to really engage the other views but is content with misrepresenting (and a rather arrogant and insulting attitude) the other views and only interacting with caricatures of dispensationalism while insisting that premillennialism CANNOT be true.

As a side-note: both Robert Reymond and Robert Saucy have passed away since their essays were written, before this collection was published.  So Reymond now “has his eschatology right,” and both men now surely have greater understanding of the issue than any of us still here.

The book was available at a discounted price on Kindle when I purchased it ($2.99).  Amazon currently lists it for $9.99, and I am not sure it is worth that price, at least for me.  For those interested in learning more about Progressive Dispensationalism, though, Robert Saucy’s essay and responses are particularly worthwhile reading, the best part of the overall content.

  1. April 21, 2015 at 6:35 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

  2. johntjeffery
    April 21, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Perhaps, to be fair to Progressive Covenantalism/New Covenant Theology, and with all due respect to Brand and Pratt, the view would be better served if it had been presented by proponents equal to the stature of Reymond, Saucy, and Thomas, i.e., Wells and Zaspel, or Wellum and Gentry. The term “Progressive Covenantalism” was not widely used until the publication of Kingdom Through Covenant, by Stephen J. Wellum and Peter J. Gentry
    (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012). I have gathered an extensive list of reviews and blog interactions on this publication. This MS Word file (.docx format) is available in the Public folder of my Dropbox at https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/13946111/Kingdom%20Through%20Covenant%20by%20Wellum%20and%20Gentry%20-%20Reviews%20and%20Blog%20Posts.docx. If it is needed in another format please let me know.

    For those who would like to engage Saucy’s “full treatment” see the following: Robert L. Saucy, The Case For Progressive Dispensationalism: The Interface Between Dispensational & Non-Dispensational Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), 336 pp.

    For more on Progressive Dispensationalism:

    Significant Books

    Craig A. Blaising, and Darrell L. Bock, eds. Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 402 pp.
    Note: Includes responses by non-dispensationalists Willem A. VanGemeren, Bruce Waltke, and Walter C. Kaiser.

    Craig A. Blaising & Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 336 pp.

    Carl B. Hoch, Jr., All Things New: The Significance of Newness for Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), 365 pp.
    Note: This is perhaps the finest example in print of Biblical Theology done from a progressive dispensational perspective. As a result this work has earned respect beyond the bounds of dispensational circles. An extensive bibliography is provided by the author (pp. 319-343) whose scholarship is evident throughout this challenging work.

    Herbert W. Bateman IV, gen. ed. Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism: A Comparison of Traditional and Progressive Views (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1999), 345 pp.
    Note: This is a multi-author work that presents interaction between leaders representing both progressive and traditional dispensationalism (Darrell L. Bock, J. Lanier Burns, Elliott E. Johnson, and Stanley D. Toussaint). The “Select Bibliography” found on pages 319-328 is one of the most helpful in the literature on this subject.

    Sample Articles

    Gerry Breshears, “New Directions In Dispensationalism”, paper presented to the Evangelical Theological Society, November 23, 1991; available at Western Seminary, http://www.westernseminary.edu/papers/index_Breshears.htm [accessed 15 MAY 2010], and New Testament Resources, http://ntresources.com/dsg.html [accessed 15 MAY 2010].

    Tony T. Maalouf, “An Appraisal of the New Covenant in Progressive Dispensationalism”, Thesis, M. Th., Dallas Theological Seminary (December 1993); available at Theological Research Exchange Network (TREN) as TREN 001-0572 at http://www.tren.com [accessed 15 MAY 2010].

    Craig A. Blaising, “Changing Patterns In American Dispensational Theology”, Wesleyan Theological Journal 29, Spring-Fall 1994, pp. 149-164, available at Wesley Center for Applied Theology, http://wesley.nnu.edu/wesleyan_theology/wesleyjournal/1994-wtj-29.pdf
    [accessed 15 MAY 2010], and at Shakin and Shinin, http://shakinandshinin.org/ChangingPatternsInAmericanDispensationalTheology-CraigBlaising.pdf [accessed 15 MAY 2010].

    Darrell L. Bock, “Why I am a dispensationalist with a small “d””, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41:3, September 1998, pp. 383-96, available at Find Articles,
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3817/is_199809/ai_n8809843/ [accessed 15 MAY 2010].

    W. Edward Glenny, “Gentiles and the People of God: A Study of Apostolic Hermeneutics and Theology in Acts 15”, paper presented to the Dispensational Study Group, Evangelical Theological Society, November 2006, available at New Testament Resources, http://ntresources.com/documents/Amos9inActs15b.pdf [accessed 15 MAY 2010].

    David L. Turner, “Matthew Among The Dispensationalists: A Progressive Dispensational Perspective on the Kingdom of God in Matthew”, paper presented to the Dispensational Study Group, Evangelical Theological Society, New Orleans, November 19, 2009, available at New Testament Resources, http://ntresources.com/documents/DSG2009_KgdmGodMatt_DTurner.pdf [accessed 15 MAY 2010].

    Soli Deo Gloria,

    John T. “Jack” Jeffery
    Pastor, Wayside Gospel Chapel
    Greentown, PA

    • April 21, 2015 at 10:09 am

      Thanks for the additional resources concerning this issue. And nice to see you around again — hadn’t seen you for a while. 🙂

      • johntjeffery
        April 21, 2015 at 11:00 am

        I have been “copying the mail,” but so engaged/busy with other things that no time allowed for commenting or interaction.

  3. April 21, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    While there are exceptions that could be noted, these types of books (perhaps especially on this subject) are typically going to include only the points of view that are espoused at prominent seminaries. Thus, even if few have heard the name before, because of its association with SBTS, Progressive Covenantalism is going to get the nod over NCT, “Historical (Classical) Premillennialism”, “1689 Federalism” and so on.

  4. johntjeffery
    April 21, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    At least 3 of Zondervan’s Counterpoint series cover 5 views and one includes 6, so it is regrettable that Historical Premillennialism wasn’t included in this volume. Perhaps it was thought that two covenantal views and two dispensational views would cover enough ground with both polar opposites and two in the “gray area” between going at it. As far as institutions go HP has been well represented at Denver with Blomberg, Chung, Dallaire, Hess, Payne, and Weber. I can only imagine that rather than millennial positions, hermeneutical schools of thought regarding Israel and the Church were the focus, so HP was not in the running. Brand does give a hat tip to Ladd in his “Introduction” (pp. 10-11, 15) as the forefather of NCT/Progressive Covenantalism. I am not sure that all proponents of either NCT or PC would buy that link. Be that as it may, I did not find a reference to Blomberg and Chung’s book, “A Case for Historic Premillennialism,” anywhere in this volume. That is perhaps a void that should not be there, since the authors who contributed to this work do address the issue of Israel and the Church. At the end of the day it might be said that neither HP nor the Reformed “1689” Baptists have a distinctive position on Israel and the Church other than at least one of those included in this book. Therefore they may not feel “left out” due to overlap with either the CT or PC position (despite Reymond’s hobby horse!).

  5. April 22, 2015 at 1:49 am

    Thank you for this review and your assessment of the book. There’s too many books to read out there, too little time and I think I will pass the book for now in light of your review.

    • April 22, 2015 at 7:00 am

      I understand about too many books out there (and so little time). For those already familiar with the views of revised and progressive dispensationalism, this book does not offer a lot more (other than the new ideas brought up in the 4th view of Brand/Pratt).

  6. April 22, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Given the fact that for most people, scholars included, HP means little more than nondispensational premillennialism, I’m pretty sure they would say that HP was indeed represented by the Brand/Pratt essay. Most “Historic Premillennialists” seem to agree with Grudem (basically a CT FWIW) that the church inherits the promises and that the Scriptures do not teach that national/ethnic Israel will be restored to the Promised Land. Would any of the contributors to the Blomberg and Chung book differ substantially from Grudem (and Brand/Pratt) on the question of a restoration to the land and the relationship between the church and Israel?

  7. April 22, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    With regard to Ladd being a forerunner of Progressive Covenantalism (PC), it makes sense. From what I understand, Dr. Schreiner is basically credited as being the “godfather” of PC. (While I can’t recall where I saw it, I remember reading a comment somewhere a few years ago that a graduate student at SBTS coined the term Progressive Covenantalism to describe Schreiner’s teaching. That was the first time I had seen the term.) The influence of Ladd’s “Already/Not Yet” approach on Schreiner’s theology is quite evident, as he acknowledges.

    Also, while there are obvious similarities, I think there are also some differences between Progressive Covenantalism (PC) and NCT. I think that PC sees the Mosaic Covenant as being a gracious covenant and not a legal covenant or covenant of works. That’s something that I don’t think any NCTer would ever say, at least in my experience. I’m basing this on this post: http://contrast2.wordpress.com/2012/08/07/non-dispensational-calvinistic-credobaptist-covenantalism-compass/

    • johntjeffery
      April 22, 2015 at 1:24 pm

      For the documentation regarding the source of the label, “Progressive Covenantalism,” see Wellum and Gentry, Kingdom Through Covenant, pg. 24, note 7 where the authors credit their student Richard Lucas with coining this term. I became friends with Richard’s brother Drew while he attended college and Wayside Gospel Chapel where I serve as pastor. Drew then went on to Southern Seminary.

      See also the following comment by Richard Lucas (24 AUG 2012), on Andy Naselli, “Progressive Covenantalism: A Via Media between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism”, posted 24 AUG 2012 to Andy Naselli Thoughts on Theology at
      http://andynaselli.com/progressive-covenantalism-a-viea-media-between-covenant-theology-and-dispensationalism/comment-page-1#comment-14684 [accessed 24 AUG 2012]:

      “I added this comment under Justin Taylor’s post to a related question:
      Students at SBTS have been using the term “Progressive Covenantalism” to describe the teaching by Wellum and Gentry since at least 2004 (that I can directly recall). It has no organic relation to any teaching by Michael Patton [or Dan Lioy]. In fact, Patton claims to still be a dispensationalist, with only two changes (in his mind).
      Wellum and Gentry are coming more from the reformed tradition (broadly speaking), not dispensationalism. Progressive Covenantalism seems to capture the essence of a covenantal theology which gives more weight to progressive revelation without letting the theological construct of a “Covenant of Grace” flatten out the redemptive historical progression which comes through the biblical covenants, climaxing ultimately in the New Covenant work of Jesus.
      In the parlance of Theological Systems in current Evangelicalism, the term “Progressive Covenantalism” serves very nicely as both a negative and positive term. Negative in saying what it is not, namely that it is not Progressive Dispensationalism nor is it Covenant Theology (classically constructed). Positively it describes the teaching in “Kingdom Through Covenant” by emphasizing that the progressive unfolding and sequential fulfillment of the biblical covenants themselves serve as the backbone of the story of redemption through which the kingdom of God comes.
      On that same page that you noted, Wellum identifies their teaching as “a species of ‘New Covenant Theology’” which gives fair deference to those who have wrestled with some of these ideas before them. However almost all who claim the NCT label would not want to acknowledge any pre-lapsarian covenant. As is clear to any casual reader of KTC, The Covenant of Creation is important for their argument. In fact, one of the purposes of including the 60 page lexical analysis of “covenant” as an appendix was to demonstrate the validity of the distinction between “to cut a covenant” and “to uphold a covenant” referenced on pages 155-161, 178, 550 of KTC.
      There is also a minority claiming the NCT label who would deny the positive imputation of the active obedience of Christ. This notion is clearly not what KTC advocates as Wellum makes a strong case for The Active Obedience of Christ on pages 663-670 of KTC.
      In my judgment, these differences, among others, provide sufficient warrant for the authors to employ a new label to describe their view, and hopefully will encourage readers to not dismiss their work (with a guilt by association) without first judging the merits of their actual argumentation.
      I would like to recommend being careful not to not associate an unpublished paper on the web with this 848 page book written by two careful scholars.”

  8. April 22, 2015 at 10:40 pm

    Pastor Jeffery, thank you for posting that helpful information.

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