A Major New Defense of a More Biblical Way than Dispensationalism or Covenant Theology
There’s a major new work coming out soon that has the potential to change the conversation and shift some paradigms as we think about a biblical theology of the covenants.
In your initial chapter you coin a new term to describe the theological system you are developing: “progressive covenantalism.” What do you want conveyed by this term?
In teaching KTC, students often ask: “what do you call this ‘new’ position that is neither dispensational theology nor what we would associate with Reformed, covenant theology?” I have struggled to answer such a question since any label you give often can be misunderstood. I say in the book that our view is a species of “New Covenant Theology” but unfortunately that label can mean many things to many people. Teaching at a Baptist seminary I often humorously describe the position as “Baptist theology” but of course, given that Baptists differ widely on a whole host of issues and that some Baptists are dispensational and some more covenantal, that label will not work either. So, a student at Southern Seminary, Richard Lucas, suggested “progressive covenantalism” which has affinities to “progressive dispensationalism” but also distinguishes our view from it. By adopting this label, we are trying to convey the fact that to grasp God’s unfolding plan and thus the metanarrative of Scripture, we must attend to the biblical covenants. In addition, we must not only understand the covenants in a synchronic way, we must think through how the biblical covenants unfold the biblical storyline diachronically. Given that God reveals himself to us over time, and Scripture does not come to us all at once, it is absolutely necessary to trace out God’s plan from creation to new creation by unpacking how the biblical covenants reveal in a progressive, unfolding way who our Triune covenant Lord is, and most importantly, how all the biblical covenants find their culmination, telos, and fulfillment in our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Covenantalism” stresses that apart from the biblical covenants we will not understand fully the plan of God and the glory of what our Lord Jesus has accomplished in his inauguration of the New Covenant. “Progressive” emphasizes that God’s one, eternal plan which we now come to know and participate in due to his sovereign and gracious actions on the stage of human history, has come to us over time and that it is crucial to think through the “before” and “after” in God’s plan centered in the biblical covenants if we are going to properly interpret and apply the Bible to us today.
Typology is clearly an integral component of the promise-fulfillment pattern in Scripture. How does tethering typology to the covenants help mitigate against rogue figural exegesis (e.g., Scarlet thread of Rahab points to Jesus; Absalom caught in a tree points to Jesus; tent pegs in Tabernacle point to Jesus, etc.)?
Most people admit that typology is one means by which God unfolds his plan and brings all of his sovereign purposes to pass in Christ. As various persons, events, and institutions are introduced into history, they point beyond themselves and find their fulfillment in Christ, with then further application to us as Christ’s people. In working through the biblical covenants we were struck with the fact that most, if not all, of the typological patterns of Scripture are organically related to the covenants. So, if we are talking about various persons—Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, priests, and so on—each of these persons is developed covenantally. The same may be said about various events such as the Exodus, or institutions such as the priesthood and the tabernacle/temple, kingship, and so on; these too are unpacked across the Bible’s storyline in relation to the biblical covenants. What also struck us is that in tethering typology to the covenants this provides the needed biblical warrant for these typological patterns which avoids rogue figural interpretation. By thinking through how these typological patterns are developed covenantally, we discover better the intertexual development which is crucial in providing proper biblical warrant for typology.