Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My Promise / Fulfillment Theology

One of the reasons I cannot hold to Classical Covenant Theology, and much more prefer New Covenant Theology or what I call Promise / Fulfillment Theology is that I cannot buy into the idea of "covenant children" within the New covenant since the Bible is clear to me that only regenerate believers are included in the New Covenant (Yes I am a Baptist).  Though I highly respect some great Christian teachers who espouse the idea of "covenant children," it (in my humble opinion - IMHO) is derived from theological preunderstandings and presuppositions rather than from proper exegesis. It may come from a desire to see those (all or some) who die in infancy saved.  The only thing I can say concerning the salvation of infants who die in infancy is that they are in the hands of a loving and just God.  My personal hope is that all infants who die will be saved, but that is a opinion level belief. The one thing that I know is that God always does what is right, good, and just regardless if we understand it.  

In my humble opinion (and I am also working this out as well), many today need to reconsider biblically (as I continually strive to do every time to open the bible to study in testing my preunderstandings and theological values) the presupposition that particular physical promises and particular spiritual promises must be exclusively interpreted to be for physical Israel today when the covenant was ultimately made with Christ (the seed of Abraham) and those in Christ (both Old and New Testament saints - Jew and Gentile) and not ultimately with a physical people according to Galatians 3:16.  It may be that we are studying Scripture at a myopic or atomistic level where we cannot see the forest but are only looking at blades of grass. Individuals scriptures must be put in their cannonical contexts (of the entire Bible as a unified true story and history) if we are to understand the plan of God, God's plan of salvation, and Biblical theology.   I believe that many today suffer by not having a Christ-centered theology but divide the focus of the Bible - God's revelation to man - between different referents to his promises and commands. 1 Corinthians 1:20 says: "For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him.  That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God."  In Christ all the promises are fully, ultimately and finally fulfilled.  When Christians don't believe the scriptural revelation on this they end up not living under the preeminence of Christ.  

We must remember that Physical Israel as a whole (the unbelieving people of God) did share in privileges (as Abraham's seed is used to indicate different peoples in Scripture since it doesn't always have a unequivocal meaning) of the covenant as God was unfolding his plan of redemption to the entire world, but they (physical Israel as a whole) never possessed the covenant by faith (of course there has always been a remnant of Israel who did posses the covenant by faith). Since God has made both Jew and Gentile one new man (Ephesians 2:15) and one Olive tree (Romans 11:24), there is only one people of God, "True Israel" (actually Jesus is the "True Israel" and all those in Christ by faith become part of "True Israel") or "Spiritual Israel" (of which Christians are a part of by adoption).  The New Covenant is the fulfillment of the promises of the Abrahamaic Covenant (which for example even Abraham understood concerning the land in Hebrews 11:8-16).  I personally believe that because of the unity of God's plan of Salvation, God will visit the physical Jewish people again with his grace of salvation (in the Gospel of Jesus Christ) in opening up their harden hearts so as to draw them into the Olive tree once again at end of the present age by faith in Christ (Romans 11) and not by any other means of atonement.  There is no other Gospel or hope for either Jew or Gentile than salvation through Christ.  No other sacrifice is needed, no other temple is needed, no other head is needed, no other rescue is needed. Jesus Christ is the true king, true priest, true prophet, true temple, true man ... Christ is our all and all!.      

Just as God has already initially fulfilled all his promises to physical Israel (Joshua 21:43-45) - realizing that God's promises (prophecies in the broadest sense of the term) typically have multiple horizons of fulfillment which is occurs not only later in time but is of greater in significance both theologically and historically -, he will continue to work out his one plan of redemption toward all peoples including physical Israel.  Any modern-day Jew who claims to believe the Old Testament and yet rejects Christ Jesus as Lord and God rejects the Old Testament also (and will never understand it apart from pointing to Christ).  This is consistent with the dual authorship of Scripture that gives rise to the hermeneutical rule that says that "Previous revelation must always be interpreted by later revelation due to the progressive nature of the Revelation of God in the Bible."  Thus the best commentary on the Old Testament is the New Testament.  Or as I hear someone say.  "the" New Testament is the footnotes to the Old Testament."  Today, a Christian should insist (in all forms of proclamation and speaking the word) that the Old Testament proclaims Christ, as the Messiah, the King, the Prophet, the Priest in all that it reveals as Jesus did on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:27).  All scripture in the Old Testament (and the New Testament) point to Christ and His Gospel when interpreted correctly as Christian Scriptures.  This truth is also compatible with Premillennialism, Amillennialism, Postmillennialism, and Multi-chronistic Millennialism - so it is not position driven.  This is exciting in that I have greater and greater confidence to preach the gospel in every sermon (not just attaching it on the end) through expositions of the whole counsel of God's word (Old Testament and New Testament).  (see New Testament use of the Old Testament - Test your view).

Spiritual and physical promises of the Abrahamic covenant are for the unified people of God (Jew and Gentile).  I don't hold to replacement theology - nor do I believe that anyone does, as the church today is always made up of both Jews and Gentiles and represent the complete people of God today. While I do believe that Romans 11 applies to physical Israel and there will be a revival of physical Jews to faith in Christ, there has always been only one way of salvation and that is by grace through faith in the Messiah - Jesus Christ.  The only way anyone was ever a true offspring of Abraham was and is by faith alone.  The church is not Gentile in character, but is comprised of all peoples (Jew and Gentile) of the world.  No one has replace anybody, but the people of God (the church) has expanded to include all peoples of the earth.    In fact the term "Replacement Theology" is a pejorative term created by some Classical Dispensationalists of which I could pejoratively call their belief "gap and hole theology"or "anti-exegetical theology"  since they admittedly get contused about how to make their system work (separating Israel and the Church in the fulfillment of both spiritual and physical prophecies) (admitting that it is full of holes), and when they cannot explain a eschatological text they declare: "there is a gap."  But would that promote good dialog?  I think not!  When you are saying what someone else holds to, please say what that person really says and don’t put words in their mouths.  Sure, you can say “This is what I think a person who hold to a particular position SHOULD say even if it doesn't.  Let us not fall short of complete honesty and violate a basic rule of engagement between those that hold to different theological positions: Always express the other view the way people who hold it express it and only then say what’s wrong with that.“  For instance "Person B" should say that "Person A" denies that the church has replaced Israel in God's plan, but I (Person B) think their (Person A's) theology implies that.”  Okay.  "Person A" may  say: "I disagree, but I can respect that.  Let me help you understand my position more correct."  Person A would have no right to protest that even though Person A would argue against Person B.  Good, Godly and helpful dialog then is possible in this instance and maybe each (Person A and Person B) will come to a new position (or positions) because of this kind of helpful engagement.   When are evangelicals going to stop the uncharitable and even unChristian habit of setting up straw men out of others’ theologies and then chopping them or burning them down as if they had really scored a point or two?  Well enough - let me get down off my soapbox and continue. 

A couple of years ago I coined a term called "Expansion Theology" (and I found out later that others use it too) that helped me define and label the Biblical reality that Gentiles now have been included in the commonwealth of Israel as full heirs to all the promises that God made to Abraham.  One example of this would be the New Testament's re-evaluation of the temple and the city of Jerusalem by Jesus Christ. Jesus was critical of the Jews who felt devoted to the temple of God without recognizing the Lord of the temple. He was “greater than the temple” and greater than the Solomon” the builder of the temple (Matt 12:6, 42). Moreover “by forgiving the paralytic his sins, he implicitly set up a challenge to the temple as the unique place for the assurance of sin forgiven” (Mark 2:1-12). The tension between Jesus and the temple is heightened by Jesus' statement: “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up" (John 2:19). In light of the resurrection (v. 22) John was convinced that Jesus himself, in his own body was a new 'temple.'  The physical Temple has been eclipsed  by the advent of a new Temple – namely Jesus.  

I can sum a Christ-Centered, Grammatical, Historical, Literal hermeneutic and Biblical Theology up by quoting the last sentence of Article 1 on the Bible in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message which I affirm: All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.


  1. Good... now go the next step and reflect on how this applies missiologically to those of other faiths. Is Christ the fulfillment of Judaism alone, or is he also the fulfillment of of other religious systems and traditional religions? Did God also plant "the promise" that you see so clearly in the OT in other religions? Can the expansion that you speak of in regard to who can be the people of God also be an "ontic" expansion, an expansion of the truth of God as he has revealed himself in infinite contexts, in which Christ is the fulfillment? This would be an expansion/fulfillment theology I could get excited about-- one that actually deals with other religions.
    Peace of Christ,

  2. Howdy KL --
    The main issues are that the god of other faiths (and even religious Judaism) are different gods (because they deny the deity of Christ, the doctrine of the trinity, etc.) than the one revealed in the Scriptures, and the promises are specifically given to Abraham and his seed and not other world religions. The Gospel of Christ as presented throughout the Bible requires a repentance from people's man-made religion system (and that includes even atheism) that someone affirms to the God-revealed truths of Christianity (category 1 beliefs - see for explanation of Category 1 beliefs).

    This special revelation is found in the Bible alone which makes it the preeminent authority on the stage of truth. Other authorities such as tradition, reason, experience, emotion (which all start in man) are authorities, but must submit their discoveries to the one and preeminent authority - the Bible. All people and other religions have to borrow from a Christian worldview in order to live in this world, and make up their own religions systems and/or worldview.

    There is no doubt that God has sufficiently revealed himself in different contexts in general revelation (of conscience and creation - see Rom. 1:18ff) but man because of sin suppresses the truth that they know in their heart of hearts for other gods of their own creation. So missiologically, the Bible does not give any room to say that Christ is fulfillment of other religious systems, though he is the fulfillment of all their longings and the real God that their false religious system have rejected for idols. This is why, when presenting the Gospel, we should always realize that the Gospel of Christ is asking people to give up their god(s), relgious system(s) and worldview (repentance) and believe in the true God as he has been revealed in the Scriptures (the Bible) alone (faith).
    Treasuring Christ for the joy of all peoples,

  3. How is the revelation found in the Bible able to avoid human tradition, reason, experience and emotion? You say:
    "This special revelation is found in the Bible alone which makes it the preeminent authority on the stage of truth."
    This is a very difficult statement because the Bible was not a heavenly document that floated from God to humanity, but came about through tradition, reason, experience, emotion and many years of different forms of human interpretation. For myself, the "special" revelation was Jesus, not the Bible.
    We have to be very careful when we start to say that there is "a" Biblical Worldview that all people must accept in rejection of their own. Who gets to pronounce what the specifics of that worldview are outside of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord? It seems to me that those with power tend to describe "the" Biblical Worldview in ways that somehow fit a little too nicely with their own security and way of living that has had very little theological reflection. How is it possible that Christians in Africa would define a "Biblical Worldview" that emphasizes community, relationships, corporate Bible reading and worship and suffering under the Lordship of Jesus, while an "evangelical" North American would emphasize individual commitment to God, personal daily Bible reading, and the blessings to be found in the Lordship of Jesus? Which of these "Biblical Worldviews" is the correct one? It could be that both of them need to continue to be readjusted and that no one ever has it completely correct. In that case, it would be difficult for one person to ever say authoritatively, "this is THE Biblical Worldview." Or, could it be that different people, in different times and contexts, respond to the same God in different ways... that God is providing a way for people to know and follow him, through Jesus, in different ways in different contexts? To think that our form of Christian "religion" in America is the ultimate form of what God intends as the Biblical Worldview seems very arrogant to me. I believe Christians in other contexts might have just as valid interpretations of what the Christian worldview should look like as we do. I'm not willing to say they are superior, but certainly not inferior. We're all trying to figure out what faith in Jesus Christ looks like in our context.
    In a world today in which the typical Christian (demographically) is an African woman, I doubt our intertwined American/Christian value system that defines "the" Biblical Worldview will be very relevant that woman, or a Hindu background believer in Jesus, or a Muslim background believer in Jesus.
    And so, I must say that God has not worked only among my ancestors just because we have a text that we have canonized. God has been working among all peoples at all times, preparing people for the good news of Jesus, even through their "scriptures", prophets and poets (think Paul in Athens). In this sense the Gods of other religions are only glimpses of the true God. To follow Jesus does not require rejection of a whole cultural system (which most religions are inextricably intertwined with), but a modification under the new reality that Jesus is Lord. And this modification needs to be continually evaluated (based on Spirit-led contextual interpretations of the Scriptures).
    I am worried that too often what we mean when we ask people to adopt a Biblical Worldview is that they should think and do things the way we do them, not realising ourselves how much of what we do and think is defined by our human culture and not by the Lordship of Jesus.

  4. KL, Thanks for your post.

    I agree with your attitude because much of what I have written is a about a process (NOT that God is in process) of sanctification or growth in my life.

    The reason the Bible must take center stage on our stage of truth is that we sinful humans do not have sufficient understanding from General Revelation to come to the truth (because we all have already rejected that God - the true God). Special Revelation found in Scripture helps us (by grace) to avoid the the humanism you are asking about by not starting our thinking about God, Christ, man, etc. with human emotion, human tradition, human reason, or Human experience. I always remember that the palatability of a doctrine doesn't determine it veracity. If we start with ourselves we end up making God in our image.

    Now I do believe that we use experience, tradition, reason and experience in our interpretations, but that is where a believer starts his thinking about the world and God. Believers start with God's self-revelation: the Scripture. How do we know what is authoritative about Jesus? Through the Scriptures today. I don't want to pit Jesus vs. the Bible. Both are essential, both are God's word (the Living Word and the Written Word).

    Now we don't want to end up worshiping the Bible either, but we want to worship Christ alone. Yes, Jesus is the revelation of God, but the only standard of knowing Christ is the Scriptures themselves.

    As far as the issue of a Biblical worldview, I would not desire to place one culture's view of things upon another's. The African and the American both need to build their worldview by placing the Scriptures as preeminent on the "stage of truth" while recognizing other lesser authorities do give insite into how the implementation of a particular truth or command may be carried out based on the contextualization in a particular environment and conceptualization of a particular truth.

    I agree that how this is implemented across cultures and time is contextualized. But God's Word is found not in starting with man but with God and what he has said in the Bible alone. We should not reject the a whole cultural system because our cultural system is also tainted with sin and needs correcting, but it does require a willingness to reject all idolatry and trust Christ.

    The gospel Call to salvation is a call to trust in Christ alone for eternal life and not just to add him to the set of gods we worship. All of this is done by God's gracious aid and not by our meritorious ability.

    Blessing to you as well.