The battle between Covenant Theology (CT) and Dispensational Theology (DT) is notoriously intense and shows no signs of calming down. Over time, however, the emergence of mediating positions has blurred the sharp distinction. On such “via media” is dubbed Progressive Covenantalism, first articulated in Kingdom Through Covenant (KTC). This new book, Progressive Covenantalism, is considered “a continuation of KTC” (p4) by consisting of essays collected from like-minded scholars that address issues “underdeveloped and not discussed” (p4) in KTC.
What is Progressive Covenantalism (PC)? It is progressive in seeking to “underscore the unfolding nature of God’s revelation over time”, and is covenantal by emphasizing that “God’s plan unfolds through the covenants and that all of the covenants find their fulfillment, telos, and terminus in Christ” (p2). Progressive Covenantalism unfolds logically over ten chapters, arranged in relationship to the CT/DT binary.
In chapter 1, Jason DeRouchie holds that by tracing the development of Abraham’s seed across the two testaments, particularly in Isaianic passages, one must reject both CT’s and DT’s views of new covenant ecclesiology and hold a more nuanced and biblical ecclesiology.
A key question in the debate is the relationship between Israel and the church, and in chapter 2 Brent Parker enters the ring by arguing that both positions are incorrect. For Parker, CT incorrectly blurs the distinction between the two, while DT pulls them apart. Where CT may present the relationship as = and DT as ≠, PC sees a relationship of typological development from Israel to Christ to church.
Chapter 3 finds Jason Meyer contrasting PC with DT and CT in the various understandings of the Mosaic law and its role for the Christian.
Ardel Caneday in Chapter 4 attempts to undermine the division of covenants into either being entirely unconditional or conditional. Such a simplistic distinction does not hold; instead, covenant fidelity is always required from both parties, and recognizing this reinforces Christ’s faithfulness.
A particular relationship between circumcision and baptism undergirds CT’s case for infant baptism, but in chapter 5 John Meade comes to another conclusion by tracing the development of circumcision and heart circumcision across the testaments with fresh historical work.
In chapter 6, Tom Schreiner lays out the purpose of Sabbath and its transformation in light of fulfillment by Christ, concluding that Sabbath observance is not required in the New Covenant.
Chris Cowan in chapter 7 defends the regeneration of all New Covenant believers by responding to CT’s insistence that the warning passages reveal a mixed covenant body of believers and unbelievers.
Important for CT is the tripartite division of the law (moral, civil, ceremonial) and that believers are under at least the moral elements of the Mosaic law. In chapter 8, Stephen Wellum rejects the tripartite division while upholding that the entire Bible is the believers’ ethical standard.
In chapter 9, Richard Lucas challenges dispensational use of Romans 11 that argue for a restoration and particular role for national Israel in the millennium. Whether one holds to a future mass salvation of Jews in Rom 11, DT overloads the passage with expectations of national restoration not found in the text.
Closing off the book with chapter 10, Oren Martin places the Abrahamic land promise in the larger Biblical narrative of Eden to new creation, revealing that the land promise is broadened and fulfilled in the new creation.
Overall, the chapters in Progressive Covenantalism are provocative and move the discussion forward. In particular, DeRouchie, Caneday, Meade, and Wellum all present fresh and rigorous thought in their respective topics. Although less constructive, Schreiner, Martin, Parker and Lucas’ chapters all provide helpful responses to key distinctives of DT and CT. Parker’s chapter was thankfully a far superior presentation of PC’s view on the Israel/church relationship than seen in the recent four-views book on Israel and the church; that said, I found DeRouchie’s chapter more stimulating, exegetically driven and compelling than Parker’s. In fact, DeRouchie’s was possibly the best chapter in the book.
However, there were a few shortfalls. Meyer’s chapter was a little aimless compared to his work on the Law elsewhere. Also, while Chris Cowan’s chapter was a strong presentation of the “means of perseverance” view of warning passages, it was largely a re-presentation of Schreiner and Caneday’s work elsewhere.
If one does not hold to PC, the issues in these chapters are still important. Even if for this reason alone, Progressive Covenantalism deserves to be read. It presents a comprehensive, theological, and exegetical approach to answering these difficult questions. In doing so, Progressive Covenantalism establishes itself as a valid and fresh contender among the old dogs and deserves a place at the table. I eagerly await future development and critiques of the system. The fresh insights and arguments from Progressive Covenantalism will require responses and hopefully provoke fresh work from both CT and DT.
Buy Progressive Covenantalism from Amazon
Many thanks to B&H Academic for providing a review copy in exchange for an unbiased review.