In this post I will summarize the two presentations on Israel and the church in Progressive Covenantalism (my review). Though I very much appreciated both chapters (and the book as a whole), I want to respond to two shortcomings.
Jason DeRouchie’s chapter “considers some OT roots to new covenant ecclesiology, specifically from the perspective of the language of ‘seed’” (p9). Primarily, DeRouchie focuses on Genesis 17 and passages from Isaiah that indicate Abraham’s seed would not just include physical offspring, but in a later time of fulfillment, the nations would also be adopted. As the nations are spiritually adopted into Abraham’s family, they would not undergo circumcision and the genealogical principle does not apply (contra covenant theology) and since the nations are considered Abraham’s seed, they are equal heirs with Israel of the promise (contra dispensationalism). Isaiah speaks similarly, that the “kings” and “many” (Isa 52:13-15; 53:11-12) will benefit from the Servant’s work and be considered His “offspring” (Isa 53:10). It’s through Christ that the nations are adopted. Thus, Christ’s offspring are Abraham’s offspring (Gal 3:29). This results in a new covenant community of born again members (Isa 54:1, 3), consisting of Jew and Gentile in Christ, who share in the same inheritance (Gal 3:18).
Brent Parker’s chapter takes a slightly different route, one that argues that “the biblical covenants and typological structures converge and climax in Christ” (p44). Therefore, since Christ fulfills Israel’s role and promises, His church (His body) fulfill Israel. Brent’s argument, in other words, explains that “Jesus typologically fulfills OT Israel [and the] church, through Christ, inherits the promises of Israel” (p47).
Both chapters are eloquent and compelling presentations of the Progressive Covenantal viewpoint of Israel and the church that is distinct from both Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism. However, I see two shortcomings in these chapters.
First, both DeRouchie and Parker affirm the current equality and inheritance with Jew and Gentile in Christ. However, what (if any) significance has national Israel, whether presently and/or eschatologically? What of OT passages such as Ezekiel 37-39 or Zechariah 12-14 that indicate eschatological battle against the nation of Israel in the land of Israel? Are these to be re-read as spiritual attack and apostasy against the church? I’m not sure how the authors fit these pieces in the puzzle.
Second, the question of whether there is any present distinction in the church between Jew and Gentile – not of equality, but identity and role (similar to that of husband and wife) – is also unaddressed. What are PC proponents to make of Paul’s regular distinction between Jew and Gentile in passages such as Rom 15:26-27, Rom 11:13-24, and Rom 1:16? Here are two such texts from Romans:
For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.
Whether one agrees with DeRouchie and Parker that Paul holds an equality of status and inheritance with Jew and Gentile in Christ, it seems clear that Paul still affirms “Jewish believer” as a category of itself. What of Jews who want to retain their Jewishness and follow the Levitical calendar, for example? What of the Jerusalem church that met in the temple? Paul addresses the issue of Torah-keeping (Rom 14-15), and does not denounce it. Though the PC model lifts up the Gentiles to receive Israel’s promises as fellow-heirs, by indicating no distinct place for Jews within the body of Christ, it ironically appears to require Jewish Christians to become Gentiles. Surprisingly, I see similar from traditional Dispensationalists who hold that only end-times Jews who repent during the 7-year tribulation receive the promises for Israel.
As for the first point, one can see a unity of Jew and Gentile believer in Christ and still maintain prophecies concerning the nation of Israel. Second, DeRouchie’s argument that Abraham inherits the nations without them becoming Israel does not necessarily require that the church is the “new Israel”, though he concludes as much (p27). Rather, doesn’t the promise that Abraham will be the father to many nations indicate that “seed of Abraham” is a larger category than “Israel”? Could the church not consist of true, faithful Jews alongside believing Gentiles; both being equal seed of Abraham, but remaining somewhat distinct? It appears that this would gel with DeRouchie’s presentation though it doesn’t work with Parker’s typological argument.
Both DeRouchie and Parker move the discussion forward on Israel and the church, and their chapters are a welcome replacement to the Progressive Covenantal chapter in the recent B&H book. This viewpoint has much to commend, as it appears to resolve some issues in other systems. However, it overlooks that an ecclesiological role for faithful Jews in Christ and eschatological role for national Israel remains.