A Comparison of the Hermeneutics Concerning Covenant Theology & Classical Dispensationalism (Part One)

A Comparison of the Hermeneutics Concerning Covenant Theology & Classical Dispensationalism (Part One)

In greater evangelical Christianity there are two major systems of theology: Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. Although there is a common thread between the systems (i.e., the glory of God), there is a major difference in how the glory of God is ultimately displayed. For the Covenant theological system, the glory of God is primarily redemptive. This redemptive plan according to Covenant theology is observed by God establishing two (or possibly three) covenants with mankind: The covenant of redemption, the covenant of works, and the covenant of grace. In Dispensationalism, there are three qualities that govern the system: the doxological purpose of God (which this author would argue governs the two other  qualities), consistently observing the words of Scripture in their plain and normal sense (i.e., the consistent normal historical-grammatical reading), and the distinction between Israel and the Church (in plan and purpose). From a dispensational view, the glory of God in all of His works is the focus and not only the salvation of mankind. 

One of the common criticism from those who adhere to Covenant theology is dispensational thinkers have an Israel-centered hermeneutic rather than Christocentric hermeneutic, as one such website notes

The very category of “replacement” is foreign to Reformed theology because it assumes a dispensational, Israeleo-centric way of thinking. It assumes that the temporary, national people was, in fact, intended to be the permanent arrangement.

The Hidelblog.com. Covenant theology is not replacement theology. Retrieved from: https://heidelblog.net/2013/08/covenant-theology-is-not-replacement-theology/

Even though the word “replacement” has not been used in the past, this particular use of the word has not been without reason. There have been theologians throughout history that have stated that Israel as a nation, in comparison with the church, is now irrelevant. Justin Martyr (130-202 A.D.) in Dialogue with Trypho wrote:

Then is it Jacob the patriarch in whom the Gentiles and yourselves shall trust? or is it not Christ? As, therefore, Christ is the Israel and the Jacob, even so we, who have been quarried out from the bowels of Christ, are the true Israelitic race.

Justin Marytr. Dialogue with trypho. Retrived from https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.iv.cxxxv.html.

Tertullian (160-220 A.D.), another early theologian in his work An Answer to The Jews made a similar comment about Israel, using the historical narrative of Jacob and Esau he commented:

Accordingly, since the people or nation of the Jews is anterior in time, and greater through the grace of primary favour in the Law, whereas ours is understood to be less in the age of times, as having in the last era of the world attained the knowledge of divine mercy: beyond doubt, through the edict of the divine utterance, the prior and greater people — that is, the Jewish — must necessarily serve the less; and the less people — that is, the Christian— overcome the greater.

Tertullian. New Advent. An answer to the Jews.  Retreived from http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0308.htm

Those who subscribe to Covenant theology connect their hermeneutic back to the early church fathers (e.g., Justin Martyr, Tertullian, etc.), as one author noted:

In the history of theology, the elements of what we know as covenant theology; the covenant of redemption before time between the persons of the Trinity, the covenant of works with Adam, and the covenant of grace after the fall; have existed since the early church…Indeed, Reformed readers who turn to the early church fathers (c. 100–500 AD) might be surprised to see how frequently they used language and thought patterns that we find very familiar.

Clark., S (2006). The history of covenant theology. Retrieved from https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/history-covenant-theology/

However, when a person observes Scripture in its plain meaning there are promises that are explicitly given to national Israel. For example, God promised Abraham’s descendants physical land that stretches from Egypt to the River Euphrates (as far as Egypt to what is now modern day Iraq) (Gen. 15:18). 

future-map5
The future borders of Israel outlined in Gen. 15:18. Retrieved from http://www.ahavat-israel.com/eretz/future.

In addition, God promised David a physical King that would come from his line and rule Israel on his throne to usher in an everlasting righteousness (2 Sam. 7:8-14). Furthermore, the promise of the new covenant is given specifically “to the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Ezek. 31:31). The future promises that are given to national Israel are associated with the consistency of creation itself described by the prophet Jeremiah!

Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar;
The Lord of hosts is His name: “If this fixed order departs From before Me,” declares the Lord, “Then the offspring of Israel also will cease. From being a nation before Me forever.” Thus says the Lord, “If the heavens above can be measured And the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel For all that they have done,” declares the Lord

Jer. 31:35-37 NASB

How would a Covenant theologian explain the land promise found in Genesis 16:18? John Calvin in his works does not even comment on how much land Abraham’s descendants would receive but he comments the covenant in this specific text is essentially a shadow of the sacraments of the church. John Gill, another prominent theologian mentioned in his commentary that the River Euphrates was the boundary line during the rule of King David. However, there has never been a time in history where Abraham, nor Abraham’s descendants have received land by the Nile River in Egypt. The Covenant theologian, based upon a predominant “ecclesiastical” hermeneutic at the most replaces the promises given to Israel to the church, or at the least supersedes the promises of God that are given to Israel to the church.

By contrast, the dispensational view, consistently observing Israel in the plain normal sense, would recognize that these things mentioned above (land, king, and spiritual renewal) are given directly to this nation whom God has promised these things to. If God fails to give these things to those whom He has addressed, or if He exclusively transfers these promises to another group of people in effect this would diminish His very glory.  In short, the method a person uses to read the Bible (i.e., hermeneutic) is how one is going to explain the Scriptures.

The critique that dispensational thought employs an Israelological grid to explain the Scriptures is false. The system of dispensationalism has at its very core a doxological focus. It must be noted that Israel does figure prominently in the Old Testament and even the New Testament Scriptures. However, this is due to the promises God gave to them as a nation, and these promises are directly associated with His glory. 

There is no denying God’s redemptive work for mankind. Both Covenant and Dispensational systems acknowledge this. Both systems also recognize the glory of God as the ultimate end. How God’s glory is understood in relation to human history is determined on the method that is employed by each system. For the Covenant theologian due to the hermeneutic they use they observe the glory of God primarily in the salvific act of Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. For the dispensationalist, the glory of God is observed in all His works, and this includes not only the salvation of those who are part of the church but God fulfilling the future promises to the people who will receive them, which is Israel.

Yet there are those who subscribe to Covenant theology that believe dispensationalists juxtapose Israel and the church. In the next article, this author will demonstrate from the Book of Ephesians that this is not the case.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

 

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Human Growth & Development, & The Biblical Worldview

Human Growth & Development, & The Biblical Worldview

Human growth and development is a significant subject to observe in the discipline of psychology. How a human being changes across the lifespan and how they develop cognitively, physically, biologically, and socially is important. There have been many that have observed the behaviors that occur at certain periods of human development. Such examples include Erik Erickson, who developed what was known as eight stages of psychosocial development. Erik Erickson posited that each developmental stage had two developmental outcomes (a positive outcome and a negative outcome) and a crisis that one needed to overcome. If one did not overcome the crisis at each particular development they would lack positive qualities and outcomes in their life. However if one could overcome the crisis in that particular stage of development they would develop these characteristics as shown below:

McLeod, S (2018). Erik erickson eight stages of psychosocial development. Retrieved from  https://www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html.

Erik Erickson’s theoretical model has greatly influenced human growth and development and has been significant in writing countless textbooks, articles, and other resources on the subject. In addition, there was Jean Piaget, who observed how human beings, specifically young children and preadolescence, build their perception of the world. His model became known as the cognitive developmental model. He theorized that a human being, from the time they are an infant, makes sense of the world predominantly through the use of their five senses. Over the course of time as they continue to grow they acquire more skills in their development. The stages in Jean Piaget’s theory are shown below:


Life span development: psychologist and their contributions. Retrieved from https://ysglifespanpsychologists.weebly.com/jean-piaget.html.

Jean Piaget’s theory has also had a significant impact on psychology, specifically in the discipline of primary education. Many have developed teaching styles and instructional models based on his theory. However, despite the influence these men had in observing human growth and development there was one area of their observations that was missing, and this was the spiritual quality of mankind. For Erik Erikson, he believed that Christianity was a coping strategy one used to resolve the crisis that they were to face at a particular stage of development:

[Erik Erikson] used [Martin] Luther’s example to discuss in much greater detail than before the fifth stage of his eight-stage psychosocial schema, Ego Identity versus Role Confusion, as it culminates in an identity crisis. Martin Luther resolved his identity crisis, according to Erikson, by advancing a new concept of man’s relationship to God, thus initiating the Protestant Reformation.

“Erikson, Erik Homburger.” Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Retrieved November 14, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/erikson-erik-homburger

For Jean Piaget, he did not deny the existence of God and rejected Darwinian evolution. However, Piaget saw God as a creative force or energy and saw knowledge as the highest pursuit. Both theorists missed an important spiritual quality of the human being. How would this specific aspect in the context of the lifespan be observed from a biblical worldview? 

Sacred Scripture reveals that human beings begin in the mind of God. This truth is highlighted in the Book of Jeremiah concerning the prophet Jeremiah when God says:

 Before I formed you in the womb I knew youAnd before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.

Jer. 1:5 NASB emphasis mine

Before Jeremiah physically existed God had intimate knowledge of who he was as a person. In addition, the sacred Scripture also highlights human beings are not just physical beings, but spiritual beings, as seen in Genesis 2:5-7:

Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. 6 But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

Genesis 2:5-7 NASB emphasis mine

The sacred Scripture also underscores that God fashioned (or built) Eve from the rib of Adam (Gen. 2:22-24). David emphasized in the Psalms that it is God, by the means of conception, who had knit (or wove) David in the womb of his mother (Ps. 139:13). In short, man’s origin does not begin with the physical aspect of man, but from the biblical worldview, it begins with God.

The development of human beings across the physical lifespan is nothing short than amazing. In fact, mankind was created during day six of creation week and was marked as the capstone of God’s creation (c.f., Gen. 1:26-31). It is the physical development of mankind to grow and develop from childhood, adolescence, and adulthood that reveals, along with the rest of creation, in clear detail God’s invisible attributes, power, and divine nature (c.f., Rom. 1:18-20). Human growth and development also shows the reality of the curse of the Fall of man. Since all of mankind is affected by this curse this is the reason mankind grows old and eventually physically dies (c.f., Gen. 3:1-19; Ecc. 12:1-7; Ps. 51:5; Rom. 6:23). 

Although Erik Erikson and Jean Piaget observe some of the developmental changes in mankind they, due to their worldview cannot account the development after one dies physically. However, the biblical worldview does account for this aspect of mankind. Sacred Scripture revealed that one exists beyond their physical bodies, with complete cognition, intuition, and volition. For the one who believes in what God has said concerning Himself and His Son has eternal life, that is, they know God and His Son whom He has sent (Jn. 3:15-16; 17:1-3). When one physically dies the believer is carried into Paradise (c.f., Lk. 23:29-43), and is in the presence of the Lord (c.f., 2 Cor. 5:6-9). For living saints, the imminent appearing of Christ is in view with the reality of the rapture of the Church-Age saints (1 Thess. 4:12-19). Believers will be given a new body that will match their spiritual identity (1 Cor. 15:20-57). By contrast, a person who does not have eternal life will be ushered into what is known as outer darkness (c.f., Lk. 16:19-31). Prior to the start of the Eternal state, they will be resurrected, pronounced eternally condemned, and cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10-15). The precise finality of man, from a biblical worldview, is not when one physically expires, but just like the origin of mankind began it will end with God. 

Both Erik Erikson and Jean Piaget contributed much to human growth and development in the discipline of psychology. However, both theories when compared to a biblical worldview are incomplete. They acknowledge mankind has the ability to learn and grow however they fail to observe the origin of why mankind does this: Because mankind comes from a Creator who has made mankind with these qualities. By this development, this underscores the invisible attributes and divine nature of God in creation. Both Erik Erikson and Jean Piaget acknowledge the reality of growing old, however, they fail to know the reason why human beings grow old. This is due to the curse of the Fall that all mankind is subjected to. Finally, both theorists acknowledge the physical expiration of man but they fell short in providing an answer as to what happens after man physically dies. It is the word of God that gives a complete overview of how mankind is to view human growth and development.

Let us as believers in Christ observe the study of the whole man in light of what God’s word has revealed. It is here that mankind is more than just a physical body, but a spiritual being whose purpose is to make much of His Creator. Amen.

Until next time…

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. L.S.

For more resources please visit: www.drluthermsith.com

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