June 25, 2023 Book Review

Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies: Four Views on the Continuity of Scripture

Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies: Four Views on the Continuity of Scripture

Brent E. Parker and Richard J. Lucas, Eds..

Reviewed by: Harrison Perkins

Covenantal and Dispensational Theologies: Four Views on the Continuity of Scripture, edited by Brent E. Parker and Richard J. Lucas. IVP Academic, 2022. Paperback, 280 pages, $22.99 (Amazon). Reviewed by OP pastor Harrison Perkins.

In the OPC, officers take a vow that we believe that we receive the Westminster Standards “as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures,” expressing our belief that biblical truth can be summarized into a coherent body of teaching. The vow’s point, however, is to confess that we believe Scripture is accurately summarized by the particular system elaborated in the Westminster Standards. Many Christians share the view that scriptural truth can be digested into a doctrinal system but disagree about what that system is. Brent Parker and Richard Lucas have edited a collection of essays addressing the differences among doctrinal systems in regard to the continuity between the Old and New Testaments, focusing on two types of covenant theology and two types of dispensational theology.

Although the increasingly prevalent multi-view books are often unevenly helpful, Parker and Lucas assembled a collection of highly informative and thoroughly rich essays with authors from the four perspectives each contributing an initial essay arguing for their position and an essay responding to the other three positions. Michael Horton argues for Reformed covenant theology, surveying the distinction between the covenant of works and covenant of grace, articulating how these two covenants express the Reformed formulation of the law-gospel distinction, and pointing to the unity of the covenant of grace across redemptive history in that its each administration ultimately grounds the believer’s relationship with God upon grace alone. Stephen Wellum argues “progressive covenantalism,” contending that the covenants drive the narrative backbone of God’s saving plan that culminates in Christ, which entails a redemptive-historical hermeneutic aware of good typology and that national Israel and the church are not distinct peoples in God’s ultimate plan.

In the two essays about dispensationalism, Darrell Bock and Mark Snoeberger argue respectively for progressive and traditional perspectives, contending in different ways for dispensationalism’s central concern: national Israel’s abiding distinct role in God’s plan. Bock makes greater concessions to typology and argues that God does have one people with internal distinctions of “structure” between Israel and other nations. Interestingly, Snoeberger mounts a case that dispensationalism was born, historically speaking, from a consistent concern for the Presbyterian doctrine of the church’s spirituality. His argument will not carry the day for this magazine’s readers but does provide fascinating insight into one of the more rigorously doctrinal explanations of dispensationalism. Perhaps even more interesting, Snoeberger faults progressive dispensationalism for being too concerned with political and social involvement, perhaps providing fruitful fodder for analysis of American generic evangelicalism. Nonetheless, both forms of dispensationalism still miss that all God’s promises find their yes and amen in Christ as the climax of redemptive history.

The responsive essays highlight two critical issues that divide all these positions: the covenant of works and Israel’s place in God’s plan. Although Horton and Wellum both argue for a covenant between God and Adam, they part ways on how to understand its nature. They also agree on the church’s unity with Israel as God’s new covenant people but (expectedly) disagree about how Israel’s typology affects the issues of church membership and baptism’s recipients. Bock and Snoeberger equally fault both Horton and Wellum for their use of typological exegesis, claiming that it does not do justice to God’s promises to national Israel in their original context, which must remain true to what Scripture’s human author could have known according to grammatical-historical exegesis.

With varying degrees and areas of agreement, these essays highlight the critical issues of the nature of biblical interpretation, the implications of Scripture’s divine authorship, the relationship of salvation in Old and New Testaments (since questions are not always answered even when agreement is asserted), and particularly the intersection of works and grace. Wellum, Bock, and Snoeberger all fault Horton for having a pre-fall covenant of works resting on a different premise than God’s post-fall dealings with humanity in grace. This particular disagreement highlights the strength and theological consistency of the Reformed system for making clearest sense of our standing before and walk with God.



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