What is Progressive Coventantalism?

Monday Musings for December 19, 2016

Good morning, Musers,

Many of you, my Monday Musings subscribers, are not from a Reformed religious tradition, so many of you would not agree that Covenant Theology represents Scripture’s “big picture” ... even though the term Covenant Theology might send you to Theopedia. That's okay; we cannot help but go over some definitions today. But generally speaking, Presbyterians and the Reformed churches (like Dutch Reformed) have strong and long ties to traditional Covenant Theology, while a somewhat different form is found among the Reformed Baptists and many others.

Those of us who are not from a Reformed tradition have likely been taught a dispensational view of the Bible; this system is the one usually contrasted with Covenant Theology because these are the heavy-weights in evangelical hermeneutics. But is there a big difference between the two? After all, both traditions are driven by God’s redeeming work through Jesus Christ.

There are many significant differences between these views, but the cardinal difference is how they see the nation Israel. Dispensationalists see Israel as eternally separate from the Church, whereas covenant people see Israel as merely among God’s one people who are going to one place under one plan. Now, Covenant theologians do indeed understand that Israel and the Church are distinct revelations of God’s people through time… just not in essence.

Unfortunately, Dispensationalists often use the term “replacement theology” as a dispersion against covenantal ideas… which is a category error. There is a difference between affirming that God has “one people” and asserting that Israel becomes the Church… and I suspect that this error comes from Dispensationalists protecting their core — an eternally separate Israel. Since Dispensationalists have this prior commitment to the eschatological (and even sometimes salvific) separation of Israel and the Church (that Israel will have an earth-bound eternity under one plan, while the Church will occupy the New Jerusalem under another plan), any violation of that is seen as an attack on Israel. That’s simply not the case. Covenant people do not steal Israel’s mantle — they share it… and that honors Israel’s contribution.

Logically speaking, classical Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism cannot both be right… and this is why we have an issue. But since these are merely models that we use to organize the Bible’s story (both of which support an orthodox view of salvation), they are secondary issues… a discussion among brethren. In fact, these are merely platforms for understanding Scripture. As such, both sides are exploring how redemption has worked through the ages — and this is honorable work! It’s just that they find themselves at variance. So, can we find some middle ground?

Progressive Covenantalism purports to do just that; it is a “middle way” to see God’s redemptive plan. PC combines a high view of Scripture while emphasizing that the covenants should be seen as connecting linearly to tell the great story of the Bible… and this is welcome new ground for me. You see, I stopped propping-up Dispensationalism years ago — finally fleeing to a less template-driven hermeneutic… still untitled… and PC seems to be heading in that same direction.

Now, don’t panic… I’m still that lovable Evangelical who holds to the inerrancy of God’s word and to the libertarian free-will of humankind. It’s just that I must make sense of it all end-to-end. And in doing so, there are certain things that I have… well… left behind. You see, I don’t let people get away with placing their ideas before their exegesis. So I’m just holding myself to that same standard… and the study continues.

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