Recently, a group of 18 students from a nearby Baptist college asked me for an audience on many topics. Foremost on their minds is covenant theology versus the dispensational theology being taught at their school. They asked many questions such as: When did the church start? Were the OT saints also saved by faith? What about Daniel 9, Matthew 24, and Revelation 20? How many resurrections and judgments are there?
I realize (and they as well) that these are important questions, and it would take months to explain these things, especially since absolutely nothing else is taught there except dispensationalism. Because the overarching theme of Scripture is God’s covenants with man, I would use covenant theology as the framework of these discussions.
In my discussions with dispensationalists, one of the most FAQ’s is: Is covenant theology “replacement theology”? According to dispensationalists, Reformed covenantalists teach that the church replaces national Israel in the purposes of God, leading to two wicked amillennial teachings: a non-literal interpretation of the Bible and anti-Semitism. This caricature is fully embraced by dispensationalists who have little or no understanding about covenant theology, such as John MacArthur who says:
Dr. MacArthur, what’s so wrong about interpreting the Old Testament with the New Testament? Isn’t this the age-old Scripture-interprets-Scripture hermeneutic? And why do dispensationalists like you make Jesus and other New Testament writers liars? When Jesus spoke with the two disciples on the day of his resurrection, did Luke say:
If Jesus himself says he is the New Temple (John 2:18-21), and if the writer of Hebrews says that the OT temple is an obsolete and vanishing copy and shadow of the real temple (Heb 8:5, 13), and if Zion, ”the heavenly Jerusalem, is where Christians now worship (Heb 12:22), why insist on rebuilding Solomon’s temple?
If Jesus affirms, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), why force him to reign over an earthly millennial kingdom like those misguided first century Jews wanted to do?Â If Paul says that when Christ comes the righteous will be glorified and the wicked will be sent to hell at the same time (2Thess 1:6-10), why insert a 1,000-year interval between these two simultaneous events?
If Paul says all Christians are Abraham’s children who then are heirs of the promises (Rom 9:6-8; Gal 3:29), and if Peter says Christians are the “elect exiles of the Dispersion” (1Pet 1:1), why insist on Israel as God’s chosen people? And if Paul says,
why do you insist in rebuilding the “dividing wall of hostility” between Israel and the church and creating two chosen peoples of God instead of the “one new man” that he clearly affirms? You and all other dispensationalists are making Paul a liar!
As Dr. Kim Riddlebarger says:
Please, Dr. MacArthur, tell me how it is that preaching Christ to Jews and showing them from their own Scriptures that Christ was the promised one, is anti-Semitic and undercuts biblical authority? Please tell me how preaching that Jesus Christ fulfills all the promises made to God’s people somehow weakens biblical authority and our witness to Jews? Is Christ not the light of the world, and the one in whom is found all the riches and treasures of heaven? How does preaching that God keeps his promises in Christ, undermine Jewish evangelism?
In fact, is this not what precisely Peter did on Pentecost Sunday when he showed the Jews how the Davidic kingship in the Old Testament (2 Samuel 7) pointed ahead to Christ’s Ascension to God’s right hand? So much for Jesus returning to the types of the Old Testament and sitting on a throne in Jerusalem in an earthly millennium–Peter sees the events of Pentecost as the fulfillment of a number of Old Testament promises. There is no hint here of a return to types and shadows in a future millennium.
This is not “replacement theology.” It should be called “expansion theology” since the people of God become so numerous after the coming of Christ that the multitude in heaven cannot be counted (Rev 7:9-10).
Here is Dr. Scott Clark’s complete post in his Heidelblog on September 14, 2008:
Recently I had a question asking whether “covenant theology” is so-called “replacement theology.” Those dispensational critics of Reformed covenant theology who accuse it of teaching that the New Covenant church has “replaced” Israel do not understand historic Reformed covenant theology. They are imputing to Reformed theology a way of thinking about redemptive history that has more in common with dispensationalism than it does with Reformed theology.
First, 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. Such a way of thinking is contrary to the promise in Gen. 3:15. The promise was that there would be a Savior. The national people was only a means to that end, not an end in itself. According to Paul in Ephesians 2:11-22, in Christ the dividing wall has been destroyed. It cannot be rebuilt. The two peoples (Jews and Gentiles) have been made one in Christ. Among those who are united to Christ by grace alone, through faith alone, there is no Jew nor Gentile (Rom. 10:12; Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11).
At least some forms of dispensationalism have suggested that God intended the national covenant with Israel to be permanent. According to Reformed theology, the Mosaic covenant was never intended to be permanent. According to Galatians 3 (and chapter 4), the Mosaic covenant was a codicil to the Abrahamic covenant. A codicil is added to an existing document. It doesn’t replace the existing document. Dispensationalism reverses things. It makes the Abrahamic covenant a codicil to the Mosaic. Hebrews 3 says that Moses was a worker in Jesus’ house. Dispensationalism makes Jesus a worker in Moses’ house.
Second, with respect to salvation, Reformed covenant theology does not juxtapose Israel and the church. For Reformed theology, the church has always been the Israel of God and the Israel of God has always been the church. Reformed covenant theology distinguishes the old and new covenants (2Cor 3; Heb. 7-10). It recognizes that the church was temporarily administered through a typological, national people, but the church has existed since Adam, Noah, and Abraham; and it existed under Moses and David; and it exists under Christ.
Third, the church has always been one, under various administrations, under types, shadows, and now under the reality in Christ, because the object of faith has always been one. Jesus the Messiah was the object of faith of the typological church (Heb. 11; Luke 24; 2 Cor. 3), and he remains the object of faith.
Fourth, despite the abrogation of the national covenant by the obedience, death, and resurrection of Christ (Col. 2:14), the NT church has not “replaced” the Jews. Paul says that God “grafted” the Gentiles into the people of God. Grafting is not replacement, it is addition.
It has been widely held by Reformed theologians that there will be a great conversion of Jews. Some call this “anti-semitism.” This isn’t anti-semitism, it is Christianity. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The alternative to Jesus’ exclusivist claim is universalism, which is nothing less than an assault on the person and finished work of Christ. Other Reformed writers understand the promises in Rom. 11 to refer only to the salvation of all the elect (Rom. 2:28) rather than to a future conversion of Jews. In any event, Reformed theology is not anti-semitic. We have always hoped and prayed for the salvation, in Christ, sola gratia et sola fide, of all of God’s elect, Jew and Gentile alike.