Key to every worldview is a larger story, and all who proclaim a Christian worldview must consider how accurately the storyline of their worldview corresponds to the storyline of the Bible. Although all Christians agree on basics, we disagree in details over how the Bible is “put together.” Central to Kingdom through Covenant (KTC) is the construction of a metanarrative that we believe corresponds to Scripture better than that propounded by either covenant theology (CT) or dispensational theology (DT). We also sought to establish a methodology to determine which metanarrative is truer to Scripture. Moo rightly notes that our book attempts “to erect the scaffolding needed to guide the reader through the storyline of the Bible” but possibly misunderstands us when he thinks we claim that “covenant” is the structuring element of the biblical storyline. More accurately, we claim that the progression of the covenants is the backbone of the biblical storyline and that apart from understanding how the covenants unfold and relate to each other, we will not fully grasp the “whole counsel of God.”
As humans, our minds work by using analysis and synthesis in tandem. The same is true in biblical exegesis and theological construction. We create understandings of the whole by dissecting and studying its parts, and conversely we understand the parts in the light of the whole. As we go back and forth between analysis and synthesis, we refine our understandings of both the parts and the whole.
Interestingly enough, our reviewers, particularly Bock and Horton, have proven the thesis of our work. We contend that both DT and CT, in their distinctive points, do not do adequate justice to the progression and interrelationships of the biblical covenants as they find their fulfillment in Christ. Both appeal to aspects of the Abrahamic covenant—specifically the land promise for DT and the genealogical principle and the nature of the covenant communities for CT—and argue that these points remain the same across the biblical covenants, including the new covenant. Yet we contend that this is not correct. We seek to demonstrate that, as one works through the covenants, from creation to Christ, the distinctive points of CT and DT are not as their advocates claim. Not surprisingly, Bock and Horton disagree with us, but they do so by assuming the validity of their respective systems and then rejecting our proposal without addressing the evidence we present. We illustrate this point with each reviewer in turn.
As expected, Bock centers on our understanding of the land. He laments the omission of detailed treatments of Romans 9-11 and Luke-Acts because to him these texts affirm a future for ethnic Israel in the land of Israel alongside the church during the millennium. However, these texts do not prove his point. For example, where is the mention of the future role of Israel in Jerusalem during the millennium in Romans 9-11? In order to appeal to these texts the way he does, Bock must first assume the truthfulness of the dispensational storyline. The same may be said about his appeal to Acts 1:6-8. No doubt our book could be strengthened by a full treatment of all of these texts, but Bock never engages our argument that DT’s understanding of the Abrahamic covenant, the land, and the future for ethnic Israel is not how Scripture presents it.
Bock knows we cannot determine the meaning of Romans 9-11 and Luke-Acts from exegesis based on cultural setting, linguistic data, and literary structure alone. The metanarrative we bring to these texts determines our exegetical outcomes, and we are questioning DT’s storyline. Furthermore, we argue that already in the OT, especially in the prophets, the land is viewed as a type that looks back to Eden and forward to the new creation. The people of Israel, as God’s chosen people, serve as the privileged means by which God brings about his redemptive purposes to the nations. Even now, God is not finished with them, as Romans 9-11 makes plain. At the same time, the meaning of Israel and Jerusalem is being transformed to speak of the people of God, which will include both ethnic Jews and Gentiles.
Thus, in the OT, the nations will come to Jerusalem (e.g. Isa. 2:1-4) in fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise. Sometimes the prophets speak of the nations living in the midst of a renewed Israel as in Jeremiah 12, but elsewhere, the nations are integrated into a transformed Israel as in Isaiah 19 and 56 and in Jerermiah 16. Isaiah 55:3 is only one of many such passages (Bock does not explain why he is unsure of our reading nor lists any of his evidence from the OT). Within the OT, there is transformation, which is precisely how the NT understands it, even though the disciples took a while to grasp this point. So, for example, in Acts 1:6-8 Bock says “that nothing suggests that the disciples’ expectation of a restoration was wrong” (one possible interpretation of several, see Alan Thompson, The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus, 103-24). Yet Peter had it drummed through his head by repeated visions that his expectations were not true to Scripture; he even had to be rebuked by Paul concerning this issue. Indeed, Acts 15 is central in showing that the rebuilt house of David, in both OT senses—royal dynasty and temple—includes the nations. To be sure, this includes ethnic Israel in a locale called Jerusalem in the new creation, in an “already and not yet” sense. This is why the nations can come to Jerusalem and Jerusalem is also co-extensive with the new creation. Zion is both a people and a place. And in the dawning of the new creation in Christ, the people are created before the place.
In sum, to argue, as Bock does, that the land promise must be fulfilled to ethnic Israel in the millennial age, and to contend that we undermine God’s faithfulness to Israel simply begs the question. Let us be clear: we do maintain a future for ethnic Israel, but that future is not as DT conceives it. Instead it is found in a massive end-time salvation of ethnic Jews brought to faith in their Messiah (Rom. 9-11) and then incorporated into the one new man, the church (Eph. 2:11-22). This is the true hope for Israel that Scripture holds out in all of his glory and grace.
Similarly, Horton’s review also proves the thesis of our work. Just as DT, in its distinctive points, is not the storyline that does justice to the outworking of God’s plan in the progression of the covenants, so neither is CT with its covenant of works and covenant of grace (in spite of Horton’s refinements, largely supported by common CT proof-texts). We are convinced that the covenant of works and covenant of grace are over-simplifications of the plan of God unfolded through the progression of the covenants in the biblical narrative as well as the passages in the Bible that state how they are to be integrated into a larger whole. Moreover, his distinctions between the basis and administration of a covenant or between law-covenant and grace-covenant are imposed on the Ancient Near Eastern cultural and linguistic data and the biblical texts, and not categories derived from the biblical data. Thus, our failure to address selected texts is not a problem, since they only prove CT when CT is assumed. Like Bock, Horton never addresses the enormous evidence we supply for what we claim is the metanarrative of Scripture; he cites only specially selected texts where he has already assumed a framework for understanding them. To advance conversation in this debate, we must become more aware of how the framework we bring to a passage conditions the exegetical results and whether this framework is easily and obviously derived from the biblical plot-structure.
For example, Horton dismisses our entire discussion of the new covenant and especially the transformation anticipated in the nature of the covenant community, both within OT expectation and NT fulfillment. He contends that “all will know me” in Jeremiah 31:34 simply means “all without distinction” in order to preserve the mixed nature of the new covenant community. This makes sense if one assumes that the nature of Israel and the church is basically the same, but it does not do justice to the massive number of texts that speak of new covenant members as not only those who know the Lord but also those who experience forgiveness of sins, have the Spirit, are joined to Christ, and are thus, part of a community that is unlike the previous community (Jer. 31:31-34). As we come to the NT this prophetic expectation is precisely what we see as Christ’s people are described as those who have been brought from death to life, born and indwelt by the Spirit, united to Christ and thus justified, adopted, and sanctified in him. It is hard to apply these truths to those who do not claim to experience these new covenant realities.
Again, Horton’s appeal to the warning passages of Scripture in order to justify the continuity between the covenant communities—Israel and the church—only make sense if one assumes his entire view. Again, we maintain that this is not the only way to interpret the warning passages. Moreover, his understanding of baptism, simply as God’s promises to a person, whether they believe the promise or not, is hard to square with the NT’s teaching that it signifies our faith-union with Christ and all that it entails (Rom. 6; Gal. 3:26-29; Col. 2:11-13). It makes sense within a CT perspective, but it is precisely this entire view that needs to be validated. Horton’s review summarizes CT well, especially in the points where it differs with our proposal, but he has not actually engaged the argument of the book.
We appreciated that Moo’s review actually considered the evidence we muster, and, in fact, discovered a hole in our argument at Ezekiel 16:59-62. We were attempting to be honest with the evidence, even if it appeared to contradict our thesis. Further reflection and study of this text has yielded a clear and simple solution. We wrote that the usage of heqîm bĕrît in Ezekiel 16:60 and 62 might equal that of kārat bĕrît as a result of changes in the language. This seems unlikely since Ezekiel uses both kārat bĕrît (3x) and heqîm bĕrît (2x), and a clear distinction between kārat bĕrît and heqîm bĕrît can be seen in Jeremiah 34, a writing close in time to that of Ezekiel. We should assume, then, that this distinction also works in Ezekiel. God is saying he will uphold a covenant that is already initiated.
The problem is in understanding “eternal covenant” in v. 60. We would now propose the following interpretation of Ezekiel 16: bĕrît in verse 59 is the Mosaic covenant. In v. 60, the first use of bĕrît is the Mosaic covenant (made in Israel’s youth) and the second use of bĕrît is the Abrahamic covenant. In v. 61, bĕrît is the Mosaic covenant while in v. 62 bĕrît is the Abrahamic covenant. Thus Yahweh is saying to Israel that both Samaria and Sodom will be given to her as daughters, not on the basis of the Mosaic covenant, but rather on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant. “Being given as daughters” means that the neighboring nations (Samaritans and Sodomites) are now family. God will uphold his promises to Abraham that through him the nations will be blessed, although the nations were not blessed through the Mosaic covenant, since Israel as a nation failed to be a light to the nations. After coming to this new interpretation, we found confirmation of it in the recent commentary on Ezekiel by Peter Naylor.
Thus, Ezekiel 16:59-62 is saying that the nations will be given to Israel on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant and not on the basis of the Mosaic covenant. Thus, when we get to the end of Ezekiel and see there a resurrected and renewed Israel (40-48), this renewed Israel must include the nations. Here is another OT text that would inform Romans 9-11.
Furthermore, in the covenant with Noah, God upholds his original promises to humanity, and in Genesis 17 he upholds his covenant initiated in Genesis 15. Nonetheless, in Deuteronomy 29:1 (EV), since the Mosaic covenant has been violated and the human partner who originally made the commitment is dead, a covenant has to be “cut” by a new generation in order for it to be renewed. This explains the use of kārat bĕrît there. In sum, we are convinced that there is now no text where one could even hesitate to see the lexical distinction clearly and simply. The newness of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 is also strengthened by this corrective interpretation of Ezekiel 16. It should be noted, however, that our thesis does not hang on this lexical distinction.
Like Bock, Moo laments that we did not treat more of the NT. This is due to a number of reasons: (1) We wanted to deal thoroughly with the NT, but this would require another big book, as can be seen from the works of Beale and Hahn, which focus largely on the NT; (2) in circles of thought somewhat similar to our own, the OT is often neglected or people are relying upon exegesis that already assumes a specific theological system; (3) only when we correctly construct the OT scaffolding can we rightly understand what Paul is doing in Romans 9-11 and other NT texts. In fact, we argue that within the OT itself, the anticipation of the new covenant is already bringing the changes that the NT then announces and develops. In many ways, our debate with DT and CT is at this point, and hence appears the wisdom of showing from the OT how the plan of God unfolds through the sequence of covenants.
Charges of Reductionism and Irrelevance
Our reviewers seem to think that for us everything reduces to typology. Horton says, “the main argument of the authors is that dispensationalism and covenant theology both fail to read the Bible in a sufficiently typological way (pointing to Christ), though at different points.” More accurately, we would say: DT and CT fail to think through how the plan of God unfolds through the progress of the covenants and how the biblical covenants find their fulfillment in Christ, which includes within it typological structures.
By way of illustration, Bock reduces our understanding of the land to say that land is simply a type of the new creation, but our argument is more nuanced. We argue that the covenants begin with creation. Eden, as a temple sanctuary, is where the story begins, and as G. K. Beale has argued, Adam’s role is to expand the borders of Eden to the uttermost parts of the earth. In Adam’s sin, Eden is lost, rest is gone, and Adam and Eve are removed from the presence of God. However, in redemption, Eden is recovered slightly in the land of Israel, where the temple is built and some rest is regained. But as the prophets anticipate, the land points beyond itself to something greater, ultimately identified with the new creation, which Jesus himself, who, as true Israel and the last Adam, brings all of God’s promises to pass. This is why in the NT, the land is bound up with Christ as the one who inaugurates the new covenant and brings both Jews and Gentiles together as one new man in him. We are not simply making the land typological rather than literal, since it is both. The difference is that in Christ all the promises to Adam, Abraham, Israel, and David are realized.
Moo admits that he is not sure how we argue typologically for a regenerate new covenant community over against the mixed community of Israel. Possibly this is because we are not merely arguing typologically. We are arguing that in the progress of the covenants, Christ is the fulfillment of all the previous covenant mediators. He comes as the last Adam, the true son of Abraham, the true Israel, and David’s greater Son. However, unlike the previous covenants, the relationship with his people has been transformed. So, for example, in the Abrahamic covenant, Abraham functions as the covenant head in relationship to his children, which includes all of his children, some of whom are believers in the promises of God (Isaac) while others are not (Ishmael). In the case of Israel, as parents placed the covenant sign of circumcision on their male children, they were viewed as covenant members even though they may never have experienced saving faith. However, in the new covenant, those in union with Christ and thus participants in the new covenant are people of faith, born of the Spirit. There is no evidence that one is a member of the new covenant apart from repenting of sin and believing the gospel. Thus when it comes to the covenant communities, namely Israel and the church, under their respective covenants, the nature of the communities is not the same. No doubt this is an argument that includes typological structures, but it is grounded in a larger argument about how the covenants interrelate to each other, unfold, and find their telos in Christ.
Another charge is irrelevance. Moo fails to see how the argument of definite atonement is relevant to the thesis of the book. Similarly, Bock contends that our argument for particular redemption is one example among many of our overall reductionism. In brief, two points must be made. First, all of the illustrations in chapter 17 are simply that—illustrations. From our overall proposal of how the biblical covenants relate, we sought to show how our view can illuminate important areas in theology. When it comes to the argument for definite atonement, we admitted this is not the only argument, and that definite atonement must ultimately be argued on multiple fronts. How this can then serve as an example of reductionism is hard to fathom given the clear caveat we make.
Second, whatever one thinks of the argument, our challenge is simply this: one cannot discuss the extent of the atonement without wrestling with the biblical categories that Christ dies as our substitute and great High Priest and that his priestly work is a new covenant work. Once we admit this, we must then ask such questions as: Who are the members of the new covenant? If Christ has died for all people without exception, then should we view these people as under the new covenant? If so, then why do not all the benefits of the new covenant become theirs? If not, then what covenant are these people under? These are not irrelevant questions. Scripture interprets and explains our Lord’s cross within the context of the new covenant, and not to address these important issues is hard to understand.
In short, we are very thankful for the time spent by our reviewers to provide constructive criticism of our book. You have sharpened our thinking, and we thank the Lord for each one of you. May the conversation continue with the goal of bringing all of our thought captive to Christ and of rightly handling the word of truth for our good, the health of the church, and ultimately for the glory of our Triune Covenant Lord.