Archive for May, 2008
This is a paper that I wrote for my Theology of Christian Community and Ministry class at Fuller.
I would argue that the statement “The Church was born at Pentecost of the Spirit and exists by grace. Therefore, the promise of God to Israel in the Old Testament as well as much of the early teachings of Jesus relating to the Kingdom of God do not apply to the Church” to be a rationale of Dispensational Theology. Dispensational Theology breaks up the bible or history of God into different periods of time or “dispensations”[i] when given by God ends in frailer. The dispensation of Law is when Jesus came to earth and offered Jews the Kingdom (Davidic Kingdom) and was rejected by them. This rejection then caused God to postpone the fulfillment of the Kingdom promise. Because of this postponement of the Kingdom, Dispensational Theology teaches that the Church born at Pentecost and the Kingdom promised by God are mutually exclusive. Because of the mutually exclusive nature of this Theology it has divided the nation of Israel from any connection with the Church of Christ or the Body of Christ. It can be easy to see that this separation of Israel and the Church facilitates discorrespondence between the dispensation of Grace and the dispensation of Law[ii].
Because the issue at hand is that the teaching of the Old Testament and the early teachings of Christ do not apply to the Church, then I would have to argue on the side of Covenantal Theology or the Christological critique. Covenant Theology teaches that a single covenant of grace is the overarching principle in understanding God’s plan for the Church and salvation. In Covenant Theology Genesis 17:7,13, and 19 is used as the foundation of the single and unified covenant[iii]. It is found that within Covenantal Theology that Law and Grace are able to co-exist. If the Law (the covenant given to Israel by God) and Grace (the covenant given by Christ) can co-exist then we can conclude that the promise of God to Israel and the early teachings of Christ can apply to the Church. Covenantal Theology argues that the people of God are unified under this covenant. Under this covenant we are one collective and corporate unity under the presence of God. Because of our unity under the overarching covenant we can see that because we are all God’s people we have been baptized into one body under the redemption of Christ. As Fowler notes “Israel and the Church are in essence the same entity, the ‘elect people’ of God”[iv].
Another way we can look at the teaching of the Old Testament and those of Christ in relation to the Church is through a Christological critique. Because it can be said that Dispensationalists make too much of a separation between Israel and the Church and the Covenantal approach can often identify the church as the spiritual Israel, a Christological approach to this problem can provide a bridge between the two. In this approach it is not about what theological benefits we receive, but it is about the very purpose or being of Christ. The Christological critique argues that Jesus is the fulfillment of Messianic promises in the Old Testament, All of God’s redemptive and Salvific actions are centered in the expression of Jesus Christ, and finally God continues to act in grace in the life of Jesus. Barth states that “confessing Jesus Christ, it [the church] confesses the fulfillment of everything that is pledged to Israel as promise, the substance of all the hope of the fathers, of all the exhortations and threats of Moses and the prophets, of all the sacrifice in the tabernacle and the temple, of every letter in the sacred book of Israel”[v]. The Apostle Paul took this type of approach in writing his letters to various churches. In Galatians chapter 3 and Ephesians chapter 3 Paul uses election and the calling of the church as heirs to God and the promise given by Him to Israel. Paul also makes a case for this argument in Romans chapter 9 when he argues that the promise has not been nullified.
I believe that there are strengths and weaknesses to both Dispensational and Covenantal Theology. As I mentioned before Dispensational Theology can view the relation of God’s promise to Israel and the fulfillment of the church to be mutually exclusive, where as Covenantal Theology tends not to see a future for the Jews or for the restoration of God’s Kingdom based in Jerusalem. From examination of these different types of theology I have found that the Christological critique seems to be a mesh of both Dispensational and Covenantal. The Christological critique heavily focuses on Christ and His mission/purpose for humanity. This critique seems to be the breath of fresh air in this conversation. My argument is that Christ has come to fulfill the promises of God (Matthew 5:17) and that through He has sent us the Holy Spirit which enabled the birth of the Church. I believe that it can be easy to get mixed up in all types of theological ideology, which is why we must keep Christ as our focus.
[i] Fowler, James A, Dispensational Theology, Covenant Theology, and Christocentric Theology. (1999, 7). Fowler notes that a dispensation might be a period of time wherein (1) a distinctive idea of revelation is given by God, (2) a specific test of obedience is given based on that revelation, (3) man fails the test of obedience, (4) God judges man for his disobedience, and then establishes another dispensation.
[ii] Anderson, Ray, ST516 Expanded Lecture Syllabus. (2008, 39). Progressive dispensationalism is a more recent approach to dispensational theology. This view of dispensationalism argues that each dispensation represents a different “administrative” period. Each new period draws from the previous dispensation so that there is more of continuity between Israel and the Church.
[iii] Fowler, James A, Dispensational Theology, Covenant Theology, and Christocentric Theology. (1999, 7). It is important to note that Fowler points out that while “Genesis 17:7,13,19 serves as the basis for the single, unified covenant, within which a series of subordinate covenants are said to build upon one another so as to culminate in the “new covenant.” Even so, the old and the new covenants are not viewed as two separate covenants, but only as two forms of the one “covenant of grace.”
[iv] Ibid. P. 4.
[v] Barth, Karl, C.D., II/2, p.199 in ST516 Expanded Lecture Syllabus (40).
There will be no amount of textual variants, grammatical or syntactical issues that will bring me closer in understanding. The Dispensational and Covenantal has only left me confused. Expectations of self have wrought disillusionment and failed deadlines have solidified my need for others.
In these hours I long for the vast tea fields and the reflection of cumulus upon the rice paddies. It is in these hours that I long to touch the fragile Bloodgood and examine its wondrous shades of crimson.
I always seem to forget that the earth rotates without my permission. I forget that I am sustained by grace and that while depraved I am simultaneously made new. I must remember that the first step of silence starts by listening.
The learning curve is exponential.