This is an the final part in my review of Continuity and Discontinuity, edited by John S. Feinberg. Read the previous posts here.
Last, but certainly not least, is the showdown between heavyweights Bruce Waltke and Walter Kaiser, Old Testament style. These men both have a great amount of respect for each other (Kaiser recently endorsed a recent work of Waltke’s), and yet they strongly disagree on this final issue in Continuity and Discontinuity. What is the issue? It is the question of whether God’s kingdom promises are spiritual (Waltke) or spiritual and physical (Kaiser). For example, are God’s promises to Israel spiritually fulfilled in the church (Waltke), or also physically fulfilled to the nation Israel (Kaiser)? As you can see, this is no insignificant matter.
In this post I’ll offer a brief review of these two chapters and then a summary of Continuity and Discontinuity as a whole.
Continuity and Discontinuity
Kingdom Promises as Spiritual, or Spiritual and Physical?
Since this is such a complex issue and one that I don’t hope to summarize fairly, I want to summarize the views and then raise a few related questions.
Both chapters were very clear and easy to follow; it was nice to read a section with equally strong chapters. Both were excellently argued and persuasive in their own ways. Waltke argues for a spiritual thread running through the Old Testament to show that God’s promises are primarily spiritual, beginning in the OT, and then clarified in the NT. Kaiser, on the other hand, sees the Old Testament promises unfolding spiritually now, but still awaiting a future physical fulfillment. Interestingly enough, Kaiser is not a dispensationalist, and disagrees with them on a number of points in his chapter, despite landing on similar conclusions regarding the future of national Israel.
Unfortunately, neither author had the space to display their positions with a test case. This would have been helpful. I would want to ask Waltke how he would see certain OT prophecies fulfilled spiritually without abusing the text. I would want to ask Kaiser how he sees certain OT prophecies to be physical in light of what looks like an exclusively spiritual application by the NT authors. Basically, both chapters were strong on explaining their methodology, rationale, and conclusions, but a little weak on providing examples of how they work.
After reading both chapters I was left with a lingering rhetorical question from each position, which I need to ponder more. From Waltke (spiritual position), the question was something like this: ‘can God not fulfill His promises in a way that surprises and exceeds the expectations of the recipients?’ so that something like the land promise was a hint of the exceedingly better new heavens and earth, and therefore superseded by that fulfillment. The power of this question is that God has clearly surprised and exceeded our expectations again and again, just look at the person of Christ and His work.
From Kaiser, the question was more like this: ‘Wouldn’t God be deceitful if He made clear promises that He didn’t fulfill just as He said He would, so that promises that were clearly given to national Israel are suddenly not ‘reinterpreted’ as being fulfilled in the church?’. The power of this question is that if God’s seemingly clear promises to Israel are not fulfilled in the way we expect them, then what hope do we have in having our expectations fulfilled? What if God fulfills His clear promises to us in such a way? Can we even hope to understand prophecy and eschatology?
My final thoughts on Continuity and Discontinuity
Continuity and Discontinuity certainly met and in many ways exceeded my expectations! I was hoping to hear the best arguments for these respective positions and on the whole I wasn’t disappointed. I do feel that the discontinuity chapters were stronger overall, but maybe some of that is due to my upbringing and exposure to that position. But it seemed that the discontinuity chapters were more text-based and inductive, with a few exceptions of course.
I’ve said many times now that this book would have been much stronger had each contributor been given the opportunity to respond to the other presentations. It wasn’t always clear where the positions differed, and this would have made it more obvious. Also it would have prevented oversimplifications of one’s position or brought attention to poor argumentation.
It was also difficult to know exactly where each contributor would place themselves in the spectrum of continuity and discontinuity positions. While each chapter was intended to show the general differences between continuity and discontinuity positions, it would have been helpful to know if one identified themselves as a Covenant Theologian, or a Progressive Dispensationalist, or whatever. I suppose these two criticisms reveal that I really just want a Zondervan “# Views on ____” book on these topics!
Leaving behind my complaints, all in all, Continuity and Discontinuity is highly recommended for those wanting to study these positions in a deeper way and hear solid representations of both sides. This serves as a great summary of the relevant issues involved with each position, and while each of these topics could easily require their own book, what we have here is a great go-to source. The scholarship is solid and charitable, free of the unhelpful and misleading rhetoric that is so prominent in discussions on these thorny issues. If only there were more books like this and more books devoted to these topics.
This concludes my review of Continuity and Discontinuity. I hope this was as beneficial for you as for me!
Many thanks to Crossway for providing a copy of this book in return for review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.