We are working through B&H’s Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views. See my introduction and other posts in this series. This post presents the Progressive Covenantalist viewpoint of Tom Pratt and Chad Brand.
Chad Brand and Tom Pratt Jr. develop a viewpoint termed progressive covenantalism, which has some relation to new covenant theology and the work of Gentry and Wellum in Kingdom Through Covenant, though the book was unavailable to them at the time.
The chapter begins by raising the question of God’s righteous congregation, “‘Who or what are the genuine people of God?’” (p236). For the authors, neither dispensationalism nor covenant theology answer this question satisfactorily. For one, dispensationalism “virtually requires multiple pathways to this salvation”, while, in baptism, the “traditional covenantal approach requires some form of halfway inclusion of those still unjustified” (p236). Brand and Pratt aim to offer another way that bypasses the unbiblical dichotomy of Israel and the church.
The authors present five steps to seeing a unity in the people of God throughout the centuries.
- The oneness of God demands one people
- This people must be born into his people “from above”
- This one people is unified through its relationship to Abraham
- The marker for this people is not external (circumcision, baptism) but the presence and power of the Holy Spirit
- The “body of Christ” fulfils Jewish expectations and represents the new creation
Early believers in Christ were considered an element within the early Judaism of the first century, not a radically distinct group separate from Israel as is often assumed today. As the church has a more natural relationship to Israel, so the question is raised of when “ethnic Israel experienced irreparable separation from the messianic community” who worshiped in the temple of Jerusalem (p259).
The present state of national Israel is considered next. The authors ask whether the modern political entity of Israel is “somehow the recipient of the promise(s) made to Abraham” and answer that “we cannot conceive of and have not seen such an argument in our treatment” (p267). However, they are “disposed to view benevolently” the desire to settle the Jews in their own land, and “repudiate all attempts in the history of the church to treat Jews contemptuously” (p267). The authors support the right for modern Israel to exist, but do so “without resort to any biblical warrant other than the need for justice and protection of the innocent” (p267).
Unfortunately, this essay did not reach its potential.
First, this view lacked a clear thesis statement. This is unfortunate especially considering it is the newcomer on the scene. For what, exactly, are the authors arguing? As far as I could tell, the closest thing they provide is on p233:
We will attempt to establish the position that Jesus came as the fulfillments of all Old Testament expectations. He established a community of the Spirit that will endure through the ages, a community in whom his righteousness will be manifested through all eternity.
However, this is vague and generic; a statement that I doubt any of the other authors would reject.
Second, the argumentation was meandering and lacked clarity. I had hoped for more Scriptural foundation and argumentation, as well as direct engagement and clarity with where the authors differ from the other three positions. It was difficult at times to understand where the authors were going and why. The section that traced the separation of the church from Israel from the early days of the church spans over 8 pages and, to my mind, is (relatively) unimportant to the author’s argument, beyond simply pointing out that from the earliest days, the messianic movement was not considered an entirely distinct entity from Israel.
Third, Brand and Pratt, in an earlier response, argued that while the church does not replace Israel, “Christ has fulfilled Israel. He is the antitype of both Adam and Israel” (p152). This is a provocative point, and one that deserves more investigation, but is completely absent from their chapter and thus remains unexplained and undeveloped.
This is a disappointing missed opportunity, as it was a prime opportunity for progressive covenantalists to introduce themselves and establish theirs as a viable alternative. Instead, the chapter gave the impression that this “new” viewpoint is still finding itself. Whether or not that is the case, I await a clearer articulation. Perhaps the upcoming Progressive Covenantalism, edited by Brent Parker and Kingdom Through Covenant author Stephen Wellum, will fill in some gaps. This is not to say that this chapter is terrible, but that in all it was a missed opportunity.
Many thanks to B&H Academic for providing a review copy of this book. Next post will summarize the responses.