Myths and Misnomers about the New Covenant

Jason Robertson left a comment under Matt’s post that raised more questions than it answered. You can read it in it’s entirety here. He continues to make the same tired point that is factually untrue which in sum is:

Regardless of how you try to parse my words or divert attention away from the theological issues the fact remains that at its core Dispensational Theology (DT) denies the fact that the Church is in the New Covenant.

In dealing with myths about Dispensationalism, Michael Vlach makes the point that “Most books [blogs?] critical of dispensationalism often emphasize the dispensationalism of the early twentieth century and do not adequately deal with more recent dispensational scholars” (Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths, 53). A similar point is made by John Feinberg, that such are “reacting to what they think dispensationalists hold rather than to the logic of the system itself” (Salvation in the Old Testament, 48).

In addition to the resources Matt mentioned in his post, I would also recommend Robert Saucy’s The Church in God’s Program. Here Saucy writes:

The Scriptures, however, do not reveal a separate new covenant. The blessings for the church of the indwelling Spirit and the inward law (2 Cor 3:3-6) are the same as those promised to Israel (Jer 31:33-34). Moreover, as has been indicated, Jeremiah’s prophecy is directly applied to believers in the book of Hebrews. The fact of only one new covenant does not, however, necessitate that the church is fulfilling Israel’s prophecy in her place. Rather, both Israel and the church share in this covenant, as in the Abrahamic covenant, for the new covenant is the realization of the salvation of the Abrahamic promise” (78).

I think Saucy is making an excellent point that is often overlooked in many discussions about the New Covenant. The New Covenant is a progressive manifestation of the Abrahamic Covenant. Here is why dispensationalists of all types and stripes see a remaining ethical distinction between Israel and the Church (note: not a salvific distinction!). It is because “progressive revelation from the New Testament does not interpret or reinterpret Old Testament passages in a way that changes or cancels the original meaning of the Old Testament writers as determined by historical-grammatical hermeneutics” (Vlach, 60). Therefore the fact that the Church is now saved by the New Covenant in no way cancels previous promises made to Israel such as those of the Abrahamic Covenant.

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22 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Scott Christensen on February 11, 2009 at 11:43 am

    It is hard to know how to respond when someone claims you don’t believe in something that you clearly do. Even as a dispensationalist that moved from the more classic position to that of a more progressive one, I have never believed that the Church was not in the NC. Since Jason seems to know more about what I believe than I myself do I am at a loss for words.

    Romans 11 clears up a lot of this for me. The tree of God’s promises and covenants made to the Jewish Patriarchs and fathers are intended for the natural branches that grow out of that tree, ethnic and national Israel. God has temporarily rejected Israel (vs. 15) and has grafted in wild branches – Gentiles who together with a remanant of Israel form the Church. So we Gentile believers in the Church get to benefit as unnatural branches from promises made to the natural branches. I am thinking, grace of God here. Who am I to despise the natural branches and think I am better than they (vss. 20-21)?

    God will restore Israel again to her natural place in her own tree of promises (vs. 24) because “from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers [i.e. those to whom the promises and covenants were made]; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:28-29). It seems pretty clear to me, Christianity is thoroughly Jewish (i.e. salvation is from the Jews) and without God’s promises that find their immediate recipients in the nation he created through Abraham, the Church is nothing.

  2. Posted by Chris Pixley on February 11, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    PSL: The New Covenant is a progressive manifestation of the Abrahamic Covenant. Here is why dispensationalists of all types and stripes see a remaining ethical distinction between Israel and the Church (note: not a salvific distinction!). It is because “progressive revelation from the New Testament does not interpret or reinterpret Old Testament passages in a way that changes or cancels the original meaning of the Old Testament writers as determined by historical-grammatical hermeneutics” (Vlach, 60). Therefore the fact that the Church is now saved by the New Covenant in no way cancels previous promises made to Israel such as those of the Abrahamic Covenant.

    BINGO!

  3. Posted by bobby grow on February 11, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Paul,

    and the points you make through the quote (Vlach) is exactly what’s at stake here (apart from the anecdotal sensationalist assertions from some); it is the LGH vs. the so called “Christocentric hermeneutic” of Amillers (and other “Alexandrians”).

    I like Saucy, I like Bock better on this stuff though; clearly PD’s believe that the church is (in part, along with the remnant of ethnic Jews under the one person, Christ Eph 2) fulfilling the NC (II Cor 3) — nevertheless there remains distinction as you note (relative to the disparate and instrumental roles each “group” plays relative to the unfolding plan of God’s salvation in history).

    Robertson is just being disingenuous . . . I think. I think he just likes to argue for the sake of it, or maybe he really is deceived into believing that all dispensationalism is the same dispensationalism. It definitely plays well for his choir though.

  4. Since this conversation is now on two (or more) post I feel the necessity to repeat myself here (since my character is somewhat under attack). I don’t think anyone has ever claimed I preach to the choir until Bobby Grow did above. My blog is definitely isn’t a CT Choir. I spend way more time talking to people that disagree with me than not. I guess that is the blessing of blogging.

    And I realize that some of you “can’t take seriously” someone who points out the errors of Dispensationalism. I’ve been there. I too was pretty much closed-minded. I had an answer for almost every question. I too thought that Dispensationalism was tried and true even though I knew that it was constantly changing. In fact, I was so sure that Dispensationalism was right that the changes seemed to be a good thing — not a bad thing — because it only proved that the system was improving our understanding of Scripture.

    But one day I without even realizing it I began to allow myself to respect the arguments of Covenant Theologians. I stopped turning a deaf ear. I stopped trying to defend and started listening. I studied especially the theology of Baptists and Calvinists in Church history. I also studied everyone from Augustine to John Calvin to Charles Spurgeon. I then read the scholars of the 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries. And then I listened closely to such men as Mark Dever and Ligon Duncan.

    I realized that nowhere in Dispy circles is CT accurately defined. I had rejected something based on false information. Furthermore, upon listening to sound Calvinistic Baptist critique Dispensationalism I realized that the DT system could not survive biblical scrutiny no matter how many times it tried to improve. And the last thirty years of “improvements” have only made the system worse for now it is completely inconsistent with itself. (Of course, Dispys are blind to this because they see everything through the prism of the system.)

    I finally realized that DT is not consistent with itself, not consistent with Calvinism, and not consistent with the Gospel.

    So I will continue to put my good reputation on the line with my colleagues because I’ve been right where they are. Through the years, I had friends leave Dispensationalism and I would lose a little respect for them — as if they had lost the faith or had, at least, been duped by Presbyterians or something. In other words, I didn’t take them seriously any more.

    So I realize that I risk my reputation by talking about this stuff. But so be it.

    It is kind of like telling a brother not to talk about Calvinism or not say anything Calvinistic when he preaches — it is impossible! As much as Calvinism is intrinsically connected to soteriology, Covenant Theology (and Postmil) is connected to ecclessiology. In other words, if you can’t talk about salvation without talking about God’s grace, how can one talk about the church without talking about all the promises that God has given His people are now being fulfilled in Christ?

    Sure Dispys will throw arguments at me about Amil or paedobaptism or hyper-theonomy or hyper-preterism, but that is like Arminians throwing arguments at us about hyper-Calvinism or Calvin’s involvement with Servetus’s burning at the stake or babies going to Hell.

    Nevertheless, we keep talking about Calvinism. And most of us keep talking about Covenant Theology. The truth is worth it.

  5. Posted by bobby grow on February 11, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    Jason,

    that was just an quick little quip I shouldn’t have made . . . but I was actually thinking of your comrades in blogging vs. the folks who read you.

  6. Posted by bobby grow on February 11, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    I don’t see how your character is under attack at all . . . what happen to “sense of humor?”

  7. Robert Saucy’s defense of DT’s new attempts to revise itself still falls short of what the New Testament literally teaches — namely that God has kept His promise to establish a New Covenant with Israel.

    That was what my original post of FIDE-O was all about that got this little discussion started over here on ET.

    Peter’s first two sermons in Acts specifically declared to Israel that what they were seeing and hearing was God keeping his promises to Israel. Thus, only six chapters into Acts, we see thousands of Jews being converted into the New Covenant and multitudes of priests. In fact, many New Covenant churches met in synagogues.

    But DT, as seen in the arguments of Saucy, still has its base-truth that Israel of God and the Church are not the same.

    Since that base-truth is the foundation of DT then even when Dispys try to claim that they believe that the Church is in the New Covenant they still have to carefully make sure that they define the New Covenant for the Church as something different than the New Covenant for Israel.

    Thus my critique remains true: DT does not believe that the Church is in the New Covenant (as it is defined by Joel, David, Jeremiah, etc.)

  8. Fair enough, Bobby. I just wanted to make sure, because at the end of the day, I am only trying to keep up a debate that I think is helpful to all.

    So — no harm, no foul.

  9. Jason said: “I realized that nowhere in Dispy circles is CT accurately defined.”

    Do you really believe this? Nowhere? I’ll be glad to provide more examples for you but seeing you’ve practically ignored all the others I’m not sure it will be helpful to you.

    Jason said: “I finally realized that DT is not consistent with itself, not consistent with Calvinism, and not consistent with the Gospel.”

    First of all, please provide a “consistent” definition of Calvinism. Secondly, you’re making the bold claim (not unlike Pink and Gerstner before you) that what we have stated here poses a problem for the gospel. It is disingenuous for you to refer to any of us as your brothers in Christ yet level a veiled accusation of following another gospel.

    Again, you fail to understand the very nature of what you are arguing against. Feinberg answers such claims, “Some think salvation is at the heart of Dispensationalism, because they erroneously think Dispensationalism teaches multiple methods of salvation. Those who properly understand the position realize that its emphasis lies elsewhere.”

    Jason said: “But DT, as seen in the arguments of Saucy, still has its base-truth that Israel of God and the Church are not the same.”

    Has it occurred to you that maybe we believe functional (not salvific) distinctions exist for exegetical reasons rather than theological reasons? Would you believe that I could care less how many dispensations there are and it has no bearing on my view of passages like Gal 6:16; Rom 2:28-29; 9:6; 1 Pet 2:9-10; Gal 3:7, 29, etc.?

    Jason said: “Thus my critique remains true: DT does not believe that the Church is in the New Covenant (as it is defined by Joel, David, Jeremiah, etc.)”

    If only it were so.

  10. No, no, Paul. Don’t try to say that I am questioning your salvation just because I say that DT is inconsistent with the Gospel.

    You and I believe paedobaptism is inconsistent with the gospel, but we still believe Presbys are saved.

    You and I believe that hyper-Calvinism is inconsistent with the gospel, but we still believe that hyper-Calvinist are saved.

    You and I believe that Arminianism is inconsistent with the gospel, but we still believe that all of our brothers and sisters in the so many SBC churches in the South will persevere in the faith!

    No, Paul. I can believe that DT is inconsistent with the Gospel and still believe that Dispys are saved — WHY? Because such was I.

  11. Posted by Scott Christensen on February 11, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    I have heard the charge over and over again that Dispensationalism is inconsistent with Calvinism, yet I have never actually seen anyone make the argument. Maybe I have missed it in my limited reading. Jason, you now have a great opportunity to show how how Calvinsism and Dispensationalism are inconsistent with one another. I am truly curious about what the argument is.

  12. For an accurate portrayal of CT by a dispensationalist, see the series “The Divine Purpose” by S. Lewis Johnson:
    http://www.sljinstitute.net/sermons/doctrine/purpose/purpose_master.html

    There is also no monolithic CT. Whose CT is the real one? Kline’s, Murray’s, Shepherd’s, Bahnsen’s, Malone’s, Robertson’s, Lusk’s, Wilson’s etc.?

  13. Why keep ignoring an exposition of the passages that I dealt with in Acts? Why parse my statements and try to find new subjects to debate rather than actually deal with my original topic? In other words, why play defense? Give me, instead, your expository thoughts.

  14. Scott, it is late here. But I will answer your question. But I need sleep, having just returned from a long day of counseling.
    Good night.

  15. Jason, thank you for clearing up the fact that you perceive me to be a Christian even though I hold to a false system. I would still like to know how dispensational theology is out of step with a biblical understanding of soteriology since no one view of soteriology is unique to the “system.”

    Jason said: “Why keep ignoring an exposition of the passages that I dealt with in Acts?”

    Jason, I think you have put your finger on one of the issues. You seem to think that you have provided some kind of exposition of Acts 2. However you failed to interact with ANY of the syntactical features in the text. Rather you used Acts 2 as a springboard to rail against what you “perceive” is dispensationalism.

    The title of your post was “If only Peter knew as much as Dispys” which seems unusual for an exposition of Scipture. The central feature/point of your post is conveniently laid out in a call out box which says:

    “Some of you may not be aware that Dispensationalist 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.”

    Matt Waymeyer then proceeded to point out for you how you had taken the document not only out of context but failed to understand the point of the article you cited.

    No one has parsed your words and no one has brought up anything apart from the issues you discussed in your post and in your comments defending it. Plenty of folks have responded to some of your charges. In your post you make charges like dispensationalists deny the church being a part of the New Covenant. Even more is that you accused dispensationalist of denying inerrancy. You have made additional charges in comments that dispensationalism is out of step with calvinism and worse, with the gospel.

    Jason, I do not speak for all comments here nor any at your blog but I would say that plenty of people have graciously pointed out the errors of your post. My one and only post on this matter is here and I have addressed the central claim of your entire post. It is obvious to me that you truly think you have provided some sort of defense of these points but you have not.

  16. The hermeneutic should be Redemptive-Historical and not historio-grammatical and it would then be clear that the whole trajectory of Scripture is Christ, the New Covenant, not Israel in the New Covenant.
    Brothers like Vlach are alarmed that many Dispensationalists, even the “Progressives” are leaving the fold.

  17. Posted by caleb kolstad on February 12, 2009 at 10:08 am

    Jason-

    I’m sure you’ve read it already…but the intro to Barry E. Horner’s Book “Future Isreal: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challanged” is a great read (as is the entire book). He talks about the Calvinism/Pre-Mill views relate, etc.

    Have you read this book?

  18. John MacArthur famously claimed at the Shepherd’s Conference in 2007 that the issues that divide DT from the eschatology of Covenant Theology is at its core a Calvinistic issue. Indeed, he entitled his sermon in such a way that nobody could miss it. Ironically, MacArthur was right that Calvinism (or more specifically the Gospel) is at stake even though MacArthur’s DT is what denies at its foundational presuppositions the tenets of Calvinism. Sam Waldron notes in his MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto that “the very modern age that marked the rise of Premillennialism also marked the fall of Calvinism” (p.17). Now I know that Dispys of all sorts will cry foul saying, “You can’t quote Chafer and Ryrie and project that on all DT! We’ve made mega-shifts in the last thirty years!” But I to that I say — it took Arminianism to even come up with the concept of DT. Now in recent years Calvinists may try to rearrange the deck chairs on this sinking ship, but everybody outside of your system sees the futility for what it is. In his commentary on Acts 1:6-8 John Calvin said: “Whereupon it followeth that he [Christ] doth reign spiritually, and not after any worldly manner. And that which the apostles had conceived of the carnal kingdom proceeded from the common error of their nation; neither was it marvel if they were deceived herein. For when we measure the same with our understanding, what else can we conceive but that which is gross and terrestrial? Hereupon it cometh, that, like brute beasts, we only desire that which is commodious for our flesh, and therefore we rather catch that which is present. Wherefore, we see that those which held opinion, that Christ should reign as a king in this world a thousand years fell into the like folly. Hereupon, also, they applied all such prophecies as did describe the kingdom of Christ figuratively by the similitude of earthly kingdoms unto the commodity of their flesh; whereas, notwithstanding, it was God’s purpose to lift up their minds higher. As for us, let us learn to apply our minds to hear the gospel preached, lest we be entangled in like errors, which prepareth a place in our hearts for the kingdom of Christ.” John Calvin understood how such “errors” worked against the true Gospel. Historically it is undeniable that most Dispensationalists (DT) do not believe in the Calvinistic definition of “total depravity” which leads them to call themselves at the most 3-point Calvinist. Sure there are some Calvinist Dispys of the MacArthur strand of DT, but the vast majority of DT’ers are Arminian in their theology. Many within DT will deny that saving faith is a gift given only to the elect. Someone in the comments on ET mentioned Mathison who documents the views of Ryrie, Chafer, Walvoord, and Basing who all viewed regeneration as God’s response to man’s faith (see Ryrie’s “The Holy Spirit” pg 64, and Chafer’s and Walvoord’s “Major Bible Themes” pg 99). Chafer in his “Systematic Theology” (3:187) teaches that “salvation… is conditioned on an individual’s reaction.” This is the complete opposite of what Calvinism teaches, which explains why DT has God acting and counter-acting based on the reactions of Jews. Ultimately this led DT to divide God’s elect according to ethnicity, but Calvinism teaches no such element in election. Chafer also taught that the atonement of Christ “saved no man actually or potentially but rendered all men savable.” (Systematic 3:185; even MacArthur was late on coming to affirm this important distinction of Calvinism). Thus DT at its foundation made the atonement something that gets very lose with what was happening at the Cross. For example, in an oversimplified description, DT teaches that God limited atonement to Israel but then opened atonement up to Gentiles after the Crucifixion of Christ for a short time during the dispensation of grace. Calvinism teaches no such additions made to the scope of the atonement. The same denials of Limited Atonement can be found in the beliefs of DT’s early founders. This allowed DT to develop a system of soteriology whereby elect Israel could resist and reject their Messiah. According to DT, Israel, even though they were elect, resisted the grace of God and rejected the Messiah. Calvinism teaches no such ability for elect people to reject the grace of God. Again, let me remind you, John MacArthur affirmed for us all that Calvinism is at the core of this debate. No system of theology, whether DT or CT, is disconnected or irrelevant to soteriology. Calvinism itself isn’t just about how to be saved but is intrinsically linked to the true definition of theology proper, anthropology, ecclesiology, eschatology, christology, etc. Since that is true, if CT is false at its core then it will be inconsistent with Calvinism. And if DT is false at its core then it is inconsistent with Calvinism. In short, the Gospel is at stake. And that is why we tirelessly discuss these issues – they have gospel implications! In fact, if they did not I would not waste my time discussing this because it be meaningless, foolish controversies.

  19. Jason,

    It is very hard to follow your logic. First of all I stopped counting the factual and historical errors you made in the above comments (if you need an e.g., start with ” Historically it is undeniable that most Dispensationalists (DT) do not believe in the Calvinistic definition of “total depravity” which leads them to call themselves at the most 3-point Calvinist.”).

    Secondly, you referenced “Calvin” or “calvinsim” 18 times in your comment as if it’s some settled monolithic body of doctrine. I would differ with you on this point. Anyone’s conception of Calvin or calvinism is not the centerpiece of this discussion.

    Finally, you originally said and your main point was those who favor discontinuity do not believe the church is in the New Covenant. You made NO exegetical argument from any passage to defend your conclusion. It was also pointed out that your claim does not stand up factually to both recent and older scholarship. The quote I gave was 1972 by the way.

    Just to be clear, I don’t believe I am the guardian of all things dispensational. You can call it whatever you want. I do believe that exegesis should determine theological conclusions and that someone should make their case from Scripture first and foremost. In no way have you substantiated your original claim.

  20. I get the feeling that I could write from now till my death and never satisfy your wants. So my brief statements in the comments section of ET and my little posts on FIDE-O will have to do. Such small drops in the bucket but such is the nature of the task. God bless.

  21. Jason said: “I get the feeling that I could write from now till my death and never satisfy your wants.”

    My “wants” in this discussion are:

    1) For you to accurately handle the Word of God on this matter and follow the conclusions of the Text (My commitment as well).

    2) For you to represent others accurately, especially those who you disagree with, which I have attempted to do here as well. I made sure that you had every opportunity to defend your initial claims.

    I still hope you will strive for this with me.

  22. Posted by Scott Christensen on February 12, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Jason,
    Your argument to me sounds like a classic guilty by association along with fair bits of peripheral issues that don’t appear to be germane to the topic at hand. I want to know what is distinctively foundational about DT that must inevitably flow from Arminianism. I am interested in a theological/ Biblical argument not historical antidotes

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