In his excellent book, Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths, Michael J. Vlach laments the fact that many critics of dispensationalism seem to believe that dispensational thought was frozen in place by 1950. In reality, the past thirty years in particular have seen much development within this theological system. Unfortunately, many covenantalists are either unaware of these developments or simply choose to ignore them.
For example, over at Fide-o, blogger Jason Robertson recently wrote an extremely condescending article entitled “If Only Peter Knew as Much as Dispys.” About half-way through the article, Robertson makes the following claim:
Some of you may not be aware that Dispensationalists do not believe that the church today is in the New Covenant. Sadly, they don’t. For proof read this document recently published by The Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics.
Fortunately, one of the very first commenters, Aaron Blumer from SharperIron.org, corrected Robertson and told him that many dispensationalists actually do believe that the church is in the New Covenant. Unfortunately, Robertson simply ignored Blumer’s correction. At this point, I should have rolled my eyes and moved on, but instead I left the following comment to Robertson:
[Jason Robertson wrote:] “Some of you may not be aware that Dispensationalists do not believe that the church today is in the New Covenant. Sadly, they don’t. For proof read this document recently published by The Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics.”
I guess it all depends on what you mean by the phrase “in the New Covenant.” Ironically, in the very article you linked as proof that dispensationalists do not believe that the church is in the New Covenant, Rodney Decker refers to four different dispensational views on the church’s relationship to the New Covenant, and two of the four affirm that the church is indeed in the New Covenant. Admittedly, this is not as clear in the article you linked, primarily because that was not the purpose of the article, and, as Decker himself states on the first page, he is assuming that these various positions are generally understood by his readers (keep in mind that he presented this paper to a dispensational study group). But if you read the articles he refers to as setting forth these various views at length—his articles in The Dictionary of Premillennial Theology and BibSac—this is abundantly clear. In light of this, you may want to revise your statement to say that “some” (or even more accurately, “a few”) dispensationalists do not believe that the church today is in the New Covenant. Or, if you stand by your statement, you may want to clarify precisely what you mean by the phrase “in the New Covenant.” Otherwise, your statement may not be taken seriously by those who are well-read on this issue and may end up misleading those who are not.
The reality is that very few dispensationalists today fall into the category of the two positions which deny that the church is in the New Covenant. This was the view of Chafer and Darby, but you would be hard pressed to list very many today that hold this view. I can only think of two, and one of them is an old friend of mine who has never published a thing in his life. In contrast, there is tons of stuff out there by dispensationalists who are specifically writing on the New Covenant and who specifically affirm that the church is in the New Covenant (e.g., Decker, Compton, Kent, Saucy, Pettegrew, Ware, Alexander, not to mention progressives like Bock and Hoch).
At this point, I honestly thought Robertson would respond by either (a) clarifying the phrase “in the New Covenant” in such a way that would add some credibility to his original assertion (which I invited him to do, if that were indeed the case), or (b) simply conceding that he had indeed misrepresented dispensationalism. Instead, Robertson responded to me with this:
Matt, Thanks for your comments and the further insight to our readers that the linked article was only Lead Balloon Theology.
Then, in a later comment, Robertson continued to address me with this:
And don’t forget…for 15 years in the ministry I was Dispensational…. So anytime someone says that I am misrepresenting Dispensationalism it is because they are frustrated with the fact I know as much about it than any of them.
Amazing analysis: Any time someone says that Jason Robertson is misrepresenting dispensationalism it is because that person is frustrated with the fact that Robertson knows as much about dispensationalism as that person does? Wow. No wonder he is not open to correction. Frankly, the question of whether Robertson knows as much about dispensationalism as I do never even crossed my mind. Nor would it frustrate me if he does. I was just trying to help him represent dispensationalism more accurately, something I thought he would have been eager to do.
Anyway, the main purpose of this post is to follow up on that interaction and provide some resources for those who may want to study and think through this issue further. I invite you to make other suggestions in the comment section, but here are some of the resources that I found most helpful as I’ve wrestled with this question of the church’s relationship to the New Covenant:
Alexander, Ralph H. “A New Covenant—An Eternal People (Jeremiah 31).” In Israel, the Land and the People: An Evangelical Affirmation of God’s Promises, ed. H. Wayne House, 169–206. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1998.
Compton, R. Bruce. “Dispensationalism, the Church, and the New Covenant.” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal (2003) 8:3-48.
Decker, Rodney J. “The New Covenant and the Church.” Bibliotheca Sacra (1995) 152:290-305, 431-56 (two-part series).
Kent, Homer A. Jr. “The New Covenant and the Church.” Grace Theological Journal (1985) 6:289–98.
Pettegrew, Larry D. “The New Covenant.” The Master’s Seminary Journal (1999) 10:251–70.
Saucy, Robert L. “The New Covenant and the Salvation of the Gentiles.” In The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, Robert L. Saucy, 111-39. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993.
Ware, Bruce A. “The New Covenant and the People(s) of God.” In Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition, ed. Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, 68–97. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.