The Significance of Covenant Theology in Reformed Eschatology

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Due to the most recent upheaval in the Gaza Strip, I am reposting this paper I wrote about covenant theology in relation to eschatology during my first year at seminary in 2001.

Reformed Eschatology BooksBecause of the pervasiveness of dispensationalism, Reformed theologians and pastors may be tempted to give up trying to extract believers from the grip of premillennial dispensationalism. Evidences of the popularity of this view are plenty. Left Behind books are always on the bestseller lists. Many believers study eschatology with the Bible in one hand and the news of the latest Middle East upheaval in the other. Even in Reformed and Presbyterian churches, Bible study and Sunday school teachers expound on what the 144,000 Jews will be doing during the Great Tribulation. Colleges which advocate the pretribulational, premillennial view far outnumber Reformed, covenantal ones.

Many books, articles, and essays have offered challenges to dispensationalism, but it appears that they have produced very modest results. Why is this so? Haven’t Reformed theologians done their exegesis well enough? Is there any other approach that may offer a solution to the seemingly insurmountable problem of persuading dispensationalists to turn away from what we believe are errant views? This article will not try to present arguments against dispensationalism. Rather, it will explore the option of teaching covenant theology as the foundational approach in successfully tackling the most popular brand of dispensationalism in the evangelical lay community today.

Why should we as Reformed, covenantal believers try to tackle such a seemingly insurmountable system? In addition to its questionable use of Scripture, one of the major influences of popular dispensationalism has global implications in recent history, and should encourage us to persist “against all odds.” Even before a part of Palestine was carved out for the state of Israel in 1948, American evangelicals had always seen Israel as the prophetic key to endtime events. They strongly believe, with some fear included, that God is still fulfilling his promises to Abraham in Israel today when he said, “I will bless those who bless you [Abraham], and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen.12:3). Why do Americans have this unwavering support for Israel? Timothy P. Weber traces the reason all the way back to popular dispensationalism,

Obviously, many evangelicals do not want to do anything to put themselves at cross purposes with God over Israel and the end times. The tendency is for many evangelicals to idealize Israel and believe that it can do no wrong. Some evangelicals have demonized the Palestinians: because they are the enemies of the modern State of Israel, they are also the enemies of God and the servants of Satan.1

This marriage of American evangelicals to Israel has fostered an unhealthy, almost one-sided U. S. Mideast policy in which support for Israel is unconditional, while any assistance to its poor Arab neighbors is given only to suit America’s oil interests. Instead of being peacemakers, many are resigned to pessimism. Jerry Falwell remarked after the Camp David peace accords were signed in 1979, “You and I know that there’s not going to be any real peace in the Middle East until the Lord Jesus sits down upon the throne of David in Jerusalem.”2 Until American Mideast policy is reshaped, perhaps by the influence of Reformed covenantalists, wouldn’t Palestinian terrorists be endlessly raised from homes bulldozed or blown up by a people who believe, together with their American evangelical supporters, that they have an inalienable, God-given right to the land as the “chosen people”?

Dispensational pessimism has also resulted in an indifferent attitude towards evil in the world. Instead of working to turn hearts towards God, dispensationalists work towards ideological activism, believing that what the world needs are Christian political leaders and legislation. Instead of being “light and salt” in the world, they turn into “otherworldliness,” and worse, into “oftheworldliness,” believing that salvation is divorced from their behavior.3

Various Dispensational Positions

Because dispensationalism is relatively new compared with covenantalism, it is still a developing doctrine. Within the contemporary dispensational camp, there are two views: the classic and the progressive. The core doctrine of classic dispensationalism, as propagated by John Nelson Darby, C. I. Scofield, and Lewis Sperry Chafer, is God’s two distinct redemptive plans in past, present, and future – history one for Israel and one for the church. This classic dispensationalism was modified into “revised dispensationalism” starting in the 1960s. It is essentially the same as classic dispensationalism except for its revision of the Scofield Reference Bible, and thus will not be addressed here. Its main proponents are Charles Ryrie, John Walvoord, and J. Dwight Pentecost. Revised dispensationalism, in turn, developed more recently into “progressive dispensationalism.”

Progressive dispensationalists such as Craig A. Blaising, Darrell L. Bock, and Robert L. Saucy, on the other hand, have moved closer to covenantalism and teach that God has a single redemptive plan for his people composed of Jews and Gentiles “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9). However, they still adhere to dispensational premillennialism in which Christ will come again and set up an earthly millennial kingdom for all nations, but “fulfill[ing] for [Israel] the promises covenanted to her, and He will rule over all nations so that through Him all nations might be blessed.”4 This view is in contrast with historic premillennialism, the premillennial view before classic dispensationalism started in the early nineteenth century. Although historic premillennialists believe in a future millennial kingdom of Christ, they do not teach a divided people of God during any period of redemptive history. Most dispensationalist lay people will be surprised that their seminaries today do not teach the classic view that their pastors and teachers taught them in the past, but the progressive view that is presently evolving among dispensationalist theologians.5 Thus, our focus in this article will be on how to address classic dispensationalist pastors and lay people, rather than theologians. Unless progressive dispensationalism is the subject in view, we will thus use the word dispensationalism in this article to refer to classic dispensationalism.

Why is Dispensationalism Pervasive?

Since we are dealing with how covenantalists are to persuade dispensationalists successfully, we will first briefly examine the history of dispensationalism6 so we can place its popularity in proper perspective. Then we will explore some of the reasons why this view is by far more popular and pervasive than covenantalism. After we determine what these reasons are, we can then offer some reasons why teaching covenant theology may offer the best appeal to dispensationalists.

Dispensationalism arose within the Plymouth Brethren movement in Great Britain in the early nineteenth century. John Nelson Darby, an Anglican priest, became the leading proponent of this system after his disaffection with the externalism, liberalism, and worldliness in the church. His teachings spread throughout Europe and made their way to America through his visits in the 1860s. Dr. James H. Brookes, a Presbyterian pastor from St. Louis, became one of his leading students. Under Brookes’ discipleship, C. I. Scofield, a lawyer from Kansas, published the ubiquitous Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. This Bible edition became one of the most influential books in the history of American evangelicalism.

Dispensationalism spread not just through publications, but also by: (1) establishing Bible schools and seminaries, (2) conducting regular Bible prophecy conferences, and (3) by sending missionaries worldwide. Some of its most prominent leaders were D. L. Moody, Chafer, A. B. Simpson, R. A. Torrey, and Ryrie. Its most influential schools include Moody Bible Institute, Dallas Theological Seminary, Biola University, and Wheaton College. Evangelistic and missionary organizations such as Billy Graham Crusades, Campus Crusade for Christ, Wycliffe Bible Translators, and Overseas Missionary Fellowship (formerly China Inland Mission) are mostly made up of dispensationalists. Dispensationalist mega-churches include Saddleback Community Church, Willow Creek Community Church, and Potter’s House. The grip of dispensationalism on almost all evangelical institutions today leaves the covenantalist wondering how a relatively new and unorthodox system made such rapid gains. John Gerstner observes,

[D]ispensational premillennialism represents quite an innovation over against historic premillennialism and traditional Christian eschatology in general…. It has a new theology, anthropology, soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology, and a new systematic arrangement of all of these as well.7

If dispensationalism is historically unorthodox, why did it spread so rapidly? Granting that its proponents had the missionary zeal to spread its doctrines rapidly, wouldn’t evangelicals reject it if they perceive it as unorthodox, unscriptural and innovative? Christian history is replete with examples of movements and doctrines such as Montanism and Arianism, which faded away because believers were knowledgeable of the movement’s unorthodoxy, heresy, and lack of Biblical basis. On the other hand, many unorthodox doctrines, such as semi-Pelagianism, spread rapidly and overcame orthodoxy not just because of the zeal of their teachers, but because their system appeals to man’s sinfulness, self-centeredness, and lack of interest in studying God’s word diligently.

Dispensationalism is one such doctrine. The antinomian teachings of Darby, Scofield, Chafer and Ryrie, in its emphasis on new covenant grace devoid of obedience to the law,8 are very convenient to those who indulge in present worldliness without worrying about God’s coming wrath. Its emphasis on futurism is attractive to man’s inherent desire to know what the future holds. In asking Jesus, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”, the disciples foreshadowed the hunger of all future generations for the “signs of the times” (Mat. 24:3). And who would not want to be taken out of this world before the coming seven-year period of unbridled evil, persecution and suffering, and after that, enjoy heaven on earth with all his loved ones and material possessions for the next one thousand years? When believers read that “they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:6) over a perfect earth, images of dispensing power from thrones over lands of milk and honey populated by perfect, holy subjects are difficult to reject, even if these images are scripturally dubious.

Dispensationalist BooksThe heaven on earth imagery of dispensationalism is a powerful salve for a pessimistic world of continuous evil, corruption, and crisis. In recent decades, the Cold War, the Balkan Wars, the Persian Gulf War, and the continuing Middle East conflict have produced despair and uncertainty and fed the need for end time prophecies and the escapism of the Rapture view. For dispensationalists, all of these conflicts point to one of the signs of the Second Coming and of the end of the age in Matt. 24:6,7 – “wars and rumors of wars” and “nation will rise against nation.” And since famines, earthquakes, and lawlessness are on the increase, believers can look forward to the picture in Matt. 24:40 of two men who are in the field from which “one will be taken” by Christ to enjoy heaven, “and one left” behind to suffer God’s wrath on unrepentant mankind. Michael Horton observes: “For many conservative Christians, the ‘Great Escape’ – a popular term for the so-called ‘Rapture’ – does not refer to an escape from the wrath of God but to an escape from ‘the late great planet earth.'”9

The “plain, literal” meaning of Scripture is the dispensationalists’ response to figurative and typological interpretation, which they equate to liberalism. Doesn’t Rev. 20:1-6 plainly state that there will be a millennial reign of Christ? Doesn’t Rev. 14:1-8 plainly list the tribes of Israel who make up the 144,000 millennial evangelists? But this kind of interpretation may also be an indication of a lack of diligence in trying to understand Scripture. Weber observes this phenomenon in American evangelicalism,

In his recent study of prophecy belief in modern American culture, historian Paul Boyer found that in addition to the relatively small number of committed “experts” who study Bible prophecy and seem to have everything figured out, there are millions of others who are not so well informed but still believe the Bible contains valuable clues about the future. Such people are susceptible to popularizers who “confidently weave Bible passages into highly imaginative end-time scenarios, or who promulgate particular schemes of prophetic interpretation.”10

Grammatical-historical, typological, and redemptive-historical analyses and understanding of unclear passages require a more comprehensive and lengthy analysis, which modern evangelicals are not inclined to do. Instead, because of the reluctance to do diligent study, dispensationalists often lay the charge against those who differ that their view is liberal, new, or worse, unscriptural.11 Moreover, dispensationalist churches and schools are unwilling to teach differing eschatological views. Many evangelicals are amazed to learn that amillennial and postmillennial views exist, never having heard of them from their churches, bookstores, or their favorite radio programs. Vern S. Poythress writes about his dialogues with dispensationalists: “Too frequently nondispensationalists meet lay dispensationalists who are shocked to discover that anyone would hold views different from theirs. Their first reaction may be to wonder whether the nondispensationalist is a genuine Christian.”12

Failure of Argumentative Approaches

Seeing that dispensationalism is a system that is so entrenched in the evangelical mind, how then will covenantalists be able to persuade dispensationalists away from their position? When we look at the multitude of literature that covenantalists have produced in order to confront dispensationalism, and their obvious failure in dissuading dispensationalism, we are left to conclude that perhaps we should just leave them alone. Knowing the negative influences of dispensationalism in a believer’s life, this indifference is unacceptable to the Reformed believer.

Because covenantalists are generally well trained in exegeting Scripture, they have traditionally challenged dispensationalism in this way. However, dispensationalism, like covenantalism, has also developed into a thoroughly coherent system. Dispensationalists are able to produce a different passage or interpretation, right or wrong, for every passage or interpretation that covenantalists use to present them. The argument then becomes an endless point and counterpoint without producing any positive result. Dispensationalists also employ two complementary hermeneutical techniques. One is producing multiple distinctions from passages that others have not seen. Examples of this technique are the idea of the second coming in two stages, a secret Rapture and then the second coming, and the idea of multiple “gospels” in different dispensations, distinctions that are not easily found in Scripture. The other technique is doubling the application of a single prophetical text – an earthly fulfillment in the nation of Israel, and a spiritual fulfillment in the church.13 Is it likely then for covenantalists to cite passages and their interpretation, however sound they are, which dispensationalists will not be able to refute with these techniques?

Another approach which covenantalists use in this debate is to appeal to the unorthodoxy and newness of dispensationalism, pointing out that this system started less than two centuries out of two thousand years of Christian history, and was never conceived of until Darby’s time about 1830. Realizing the historical indefensibility of their position, dispensationalists usually teach that some early church fathers held a premillennial view, but they fail to distinguish between the dispensational and historical kinds. However, in the present evangelical scene, innovation and newness, e.g., contemporary elements of worship, are perceived as measures of success, relevancy, and knowledge. What was true in a particular earlier period and culture may not be true in the contemporary scene; the present generation is by far more sophisticated and intelligent than the past generations. Thus, in the sight of today’s evangelicals, the secret Rapture, the rebuilding of the temple, and the identity of the Antichrist are new ideas that were discovered through superior and more refined hermeneutics.

The Significance of Covenant Theology

If exegetical and historical arguments are not effective in persuading dispensationalists to change their position, what is left for covenantalists to use? Isn’t sound interpretation of scripture, using the analogy of faith, and dependence on the work of the Holy Spirit, sufficient to disprove dispensationalism? When combined with a disjointed system of argumentation, sound interpretation will nevertheless have minimal effect in persuasion, especially if it is used against a coherent, harmonious, and flexible system such as dispensationalism. Covenant theology is one such harmonious system, and we will explore what it can offer as an alternative approach in challenging dispensationalism.

In Scriptures, God’s covenant with man is: (1) a “bond in blood sovereignly-administered,”14 that is, God alone determines the conditions, (2) with promises of blessing for obedience and curses for rebellion, and (3) signs and seals to confirm it. Although the idea of the covenant existed since the early church, particularly in Irenaeus, Justin Martyr and Augustine, covenant theology was first systematized during the Reformation. Ulrich Zwingli, Henry Bullinger, Zacharias Ursinus, Caspar Olevianus, Francis Turretin, John Preston, and William Ames were some of the early Reformation and post-Reformation covenant scholars. The Westminster Divines recognized that God’s transactions with man were revealed through covenants in declaring that “the distance between God and the creature is so great that…. they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God ‘s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant,” and recognized both covenants of works and grace.15

These covenant theologians affirmed that God deals with man through these two basic covenants. Despite the lack of an explicit covenant of works with Adam, the Reformers concluded that all the elements of a covenant are nevertheless present in God’s charge to Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17): (1) a bond between God and his creature, (2) promise of eternal life for obedience and curse of death for disobedience, and (3) the tree of life as the sign, symbolizing the second Adam who would give the eternal life to his covenant people who would partake of him.

Because Adam failed his probation in Eden when the serpent tempted him, all his descendants share the curse of sin and death with him (Rom. 5:12). “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us” (Eph. 2:4), promised that Adam’s descendants would be released from the bondage of the tempter by his seed (Gen. 3:15). The covenant God will “make us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:5), the tree of life who will abolish the curse in the restored holy city (Rev. 22:2,3). Thus was the first revelation of the covenant of grace made by God, and throughout redemptive history, he made his covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, each time revealing more about the second Adam who is coming – Jesus Christ the True Man who will fulfill all the covenants that God made with man. In Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promise in the covenant of grace: “And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:34).

1. Covenant theology is the foundation of Reformed doctrines.

Although it does not have the unity of the covenant system, dispensationalism has “a new theology, anthropology, soteriology, ecclesiology, [and] eschatology.” Covenantalism, long neglected by the Reformed and Presbyterian community, also has its own system that may be the most important tool in challenging dispensationalism. John Murray affirmed God’s dealings with man through covenants, saying that covenant theology is “a distinguishing feature of the Reformed tradition because the idea of covenant came to be an organizing principle in terms of which the relations of God to men were construed.”16 Since covenantalism was developed by the early Reformers, it became strongly connected and foundational to Reformed doctrines. Geerhardus Vos affirms the concept of covenant as distinctively Reformed and is at the core of Scriptures,

To what, then, does one attribute the fact that from the beginning this concept of the covenant appears so much in the foreground of Reformed theology?…. The doctrine of the covenant is taken from the Scriptures. It came with the Reformation’s return to the Scriptures… Because Reformed theology took hold of the Scriptures in their deepest root idea, it was in a position to work through them more fully from this central point and to let each part of their content come to its own.17

Thus, covenantalism and dispensationalism are divided cleanly in their doctrines, without much overlap. In anthropology and soteriology, dispensationalists are mostly Arminian, while covenantalists are always Calvinist. In ecclesiology, dispensationalists adhere to the dualistic view of the people of God, while covenantalists support the unity of the church in redemptive history. And lastly, while dispensationalists are always dispensational premillennialists, covenantalists are always non-dispensational in their eschatology.

Where covenantalism is taught, there is knowledge of Reformed doctrines; where dispensationalism is taught, non-Reformed doctrines are also prevalent. Peter Y. De Jong states that “wherever the Reformed religion made its appearance, the idea of the covenant became prominent.”18 It is not surprising then that covenantalists are usually found in Reformed and Presbyterian churches and institutions, and dispensationalists find it hard to accept Reformed doctrines. R. Scott Clark states the importance of the covenant: “We cannot understand what God is doing in history apart from understanding one of the most important terms in Scripture: covenant.”19 Thus, we can more systematically teach reformed eschatology through covenantalism, its foundational theology.

2. Covenant theology emphasizes a comprehensive and unified study of Scripture, thereby appealing to dispensationalism’s apparent high view of Scripture.

The Bible is often called the book of the covenant – God’s covenant with man. Reformed theologians throughout history are united in their conclusion that the overarching theme of Scriptures is the redemptive history of man established by God from everlasting to everlasting through the “everlasting covenant.” John Calvin compares the old and new covenants in that “the covenant made with all the patriarchs is so much like ours in substance and reality that the two are actually one and the same.”20 Herman Witsius, the great Dutch covenant theologian, says that “the Old Testament saints had the same promises of eternal life with us, to be obtained by the same Christ and the same faith in him, and consequently also had the same covenant of grace with us.”21 J. I. Packer sees the unity of all sixty-six books of the Bible through Reformed covenantalism,

The books of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, are…. God’s own record of the progressive unfolding of his purpose to have a people in covenant with himself here on earth…. Covenant relationships between God and men…. are in fact the pervasive themes of the whole Bible; and it compels thoughtful readers to take note of the covenant as being central to God’s concern.22

Would this overarching theme be attractive to dispensationalists? Dispensationalism arose from the desire of its founders to oppose higher criticism and liberal interpretation of Scripture, and they also treasure them as God’s inerrant, infallible Word. They too see their system as a unified, harmonious theological system. If presented with a system which emphasizes the harmony of God’s redemptive plan in history and the continuity of his covenants with his people, wouldn’t dispensationalists be able to compare the two systems, and realize their system, although claiming to be coherent and unified, is actually a system of disconnected dispensations? Dispensationalists are often surprised and receive with joy the teaching that Eden’s tree of life, the rainbow after the flood, Abraham’s circumcision, the Law of Moses, and the throne of David all point to, are types of, and fulfilled in Christ, the mediator of the new and better covenant (Heb. 8:6).

3. Covenant theology lends itself to a non-aggressive, non-offensive methodology, especially when taught within a redemptive-historical context.

During the course of teaching covenant theology in churches, Bible schools, seminaries and conferences, the deep-rooted ideas of dispensationalism and its eschatology can be slowly pulled up. Starting from the covenant of works in Genesis, to the covenant of grace with Noah, Abraham, Moses and David in the Old Testament, and consummating with Christ the mediator of the new covenant, a diligent study of God’s harmonious covenants with man will slowly whittle away a system of disjointed dispensations of different means of salvation. Kim Riddlebarger relates Christ to all redemptive history,

Therefore, the new creation and the covenant of grace are forever joined together in the person and work of Jesus Christ…. This reminds us that the basic panorama of redemptive history is creation, fall, and redemption…. play[ing] themselves out in redemptive history in terms of God’s dealing with his creatures in terms of the covenants of both testaments. This means that Jesus Christ is the sum and substance of all biblical prophecy.23

Such a study may even be accomplished without direct references to dispensationalism in order to avoid being aggressive and offensive in our goal of friendly persuasion. It may even produce secondary results in addition to Reformed eschatology. Because covenant theology is the unifying system of Scripture, Reformed doctrines, e.g., Calvinism, sanctification, infant baptism, and the regulative principle, may come up in the discussions. Packer states that studying the Bible from a covenantal view will produce an overall Biblical outlook on life,

[B]iblical doctrine, first to last, has to do with covenantal relationships between God and man; biblical ethics has to do with expressing God’s covenantal relationships between ourselves and others; and Christian religion has the nature of covenant life, in which God is the direct object of our faith, hope, love, worship, and service, all animated by gratitude for grace.24

4. Covenant theology’s “already and not yet” eschatology appeals to the dispensationalist’s concerns about the future, salvation by grace alone, and redemption from God’s wrath.

Because they are used to listening to the latest progress of the Mideast peace process in prophecy seminars and understanding the book of Revelation from the futurist viewpoint, most evangelicals are disappointed and baffled when they hear that the “last days” of Acts 2:16-17 and Heb. 1:1, and most chapters of Revelation encompass the period between the two comings of Jesus Christ, and not the seven-year tribulation period before the Rapture. Even more baffling to them is the teaching that the “signs of the times” are to continue within the inter-advental period, no matter how many centuries it takes for this period to come to its fullness.

However, if these passages are presented as part of God’s redemptive-historical plan beginning with the Roman persecution of believers, they may be more easily acceptable to dispensationalists. Believers today who are being saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone will be like those saints who persevered or were martyred during the Roman persecution. They are now subjects in the kingdom of Christ, who was crowned King of Kings at his ascension. Most dispensationalists are surprised when taught that Jesus Christ is now and already “ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5), “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” (Rev. 11:5), and believers are now reigning with him in these last days. But redemption has not yet come to its fullness. They too, like the first century saints, will be invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven, but they will have to wait for this feast at the consummation of the ages, or death if it comes before the end.

5. Dispensationalism is moving closer to covenant theology.

It is not easy for dispensationalists to deny the consistency of covenantalism, with its emphasis on God’s single redemptive-historical plan for man. Many covenant theologians were former dispensationalists who struggled with the inconsistencies of their old system, and we see that in developing recent ideas, progressive dispensationalists are moving closer to covenantalist doctrines. They have acknowledged the unity of the people of God and the present reign of Christ from heaven.25 In the exchanges between the two camps, most of the “give” is with the dispensationalists’ view of the church and Israel. John Feinberg observes that dispensationalism has moved more towards continuity of Scripture from its classic view of radical discontinuity, resulting in closer concurrence with covenantalism.26 On the other hand, covenantalism has remained essentially unchanged since its development. Consider the following statements by Blaising and Bock,

Progressive dispensationalists understand the dispensations not simply as different arrangements between God and humankind, but as successive arrangements in the progressive revelation and accomplishment of redemption…. Because they all have the same goal, there is a real, progressive relationship between them. As each leads to the goal of final redemption, Scripture draws various connections between them which relate them together in a truly progressive fashion.27

We can replace “progressive dispensationalists” with “covenantalists” and “dispensations” with “covenants” in the above quote and come up with a truly covenantal passage. Such a change has led erstwhile dispensationalist Bruce Waltke to question whether the label “dispensationalism” is still valid to “progressive dispensationalism,” if it concedes that “ethnic Israel’s role is only its remnant status in a permanent equality with the Gentiles in the one true people of God….”28 However, a survey of the evangelical landscape will result in a very different reality: the academic world of progressive dispensationalism has a long way to go in weeding out classic dispensationalism from bookstores, schools and churches. Blaising and Bock acknowledge the “speculations and sensationalism which do not build up the body of Christ,”29 an oblique reference to such books as Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth and more recently, the Left Behind book series of Tim Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Although Blaising and Bock admit that this brand of sensationalism has fallen into disrepute among scholars, we can easily observe that classic dispensationalism is still much more widely popular than progressive dispensationalism in the non-academic evangelical world.


We have seen how classic dispensationalism is pervasive and deep-rooted in modern evangelicalism, and how it is seemingly futile to persuade its adherents to change their position. Many covenantalist scholars have attempted to challenge dispensationalism using sound exegesis and hermeneutics, and by showing its fairly recent deviation from historical Christian eschatology. We may conclude that these challenges have been mostly unsuccessful, since the resulting conversions to covenantalism are very few. The reader may be questioning the use of the covenant theology approach since many of the conversions are the result of the argumentative approaches we have previously mentioned.

Will the covenant theology approach do any better? I believe it will, based on the reasons discussed above. However, some qualifications may be in order, not that they are proven, but as a caution in teaching covenantalism. Firstly, classic dispensationalism is addressed here and not progressive dispensationalism, because of the latter’s state of flux at present. Secondly, covenantalism may be more effective when combined with exegetical and historical appeals, being careful not to be aggressive or offensive, and in not getting entangled in endless and uncontrolled exegetical disputes. Granted that covenant theology may not have been a factor in the persuasion of many to come to the Reformed camp, there is evidence to show, from many conversations and informal surveys, that it reinforces and affirms their newly found eschatological view.

Finally, a word of both encouragement and caution to us Reformed believers to be faithful “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…. that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine…. but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head” (Eph. 4:13-15). O. Palmer Robertson writes about how covenantalists and dispensationalists can work together in the spirit of love and respect:

[I]t should not be forgotten that covenant theologians and dispensationalists stand side by side in affirming the essentials of the Christian faith. Very often these two groups within Christendom stand alone in opposition to the inroads of modernism, neo-evangelicalism, and emotionalism…. It may be hoped that continuing interchange may be based on love and respect.30

May we Reformed covenantalists “rightly divide the Word” with prayer and diligence so that we, or our covenant children, may see the day when dispensationalism finally moves to covenantalism and fade away from bookstores, schools, and local churches.

End Notes:

1 Timothy P. Weber, “On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend,” Christianity Today, October 5, 1998, 49.

2 Weber, “How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend,” 49.

3 Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back into Grace (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 247.

4 Craig A. Blasing and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 283.

5 Keith A. Mathison, Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God? (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1995), 137.

6 John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Brentwood: Wolgemuth and Hyatt Publications, 1991), 38-55.

7 Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, 17-18.

8 Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, 214-21.

9 Michael S. Horton, “Back to the Future, Rightly Understood,” Modern Reformation, September/October 2001, 18.

10 Weber, “How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend,” 40.

11 Mathison, Dispensationalism, 115.

12 Vern S. Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists (bottom of page), 2d ed., (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1994), 59.

13 Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists, 52-57.

14 O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 15.

15 Westminster Confession of Faith, VII.

16 John Murray, “Covenant Theology,” The Encyclopedia of Christianity, ed. Philip E. Hughes, III (1972), 200; quoted in Carl W. Bogue, Jonathan Edwards and the Covenant of Grace (Cherry Hill: Mack Publishing Company, 1975), 55.

17 Geerhardus Vos, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., ed., (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980), 241.

18 Peter Y. De Jong, The Covenant Idea in New England Theology, 1620-1847 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1945), 24.

19 R. Scott Clark, “The Israel of God,” 2003. Available [Online]: [28 Nov. 2001].

20 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.10.2.

21 Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man: Comprehending a Complete Body of Divinity, 1677 (reprint Escondido: The den Dulk Christian Foundation: 1990), 306.

22 J. I. Packer, “Introduction: On Covenant Theology,” introduction to Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man.

23 Kim Riddlebarger, “Jesus Christ: The Sum and Substance of Biblical Prophecy,” Modern Reformation, September/October 2001, 37.

24 Packer, “Introduction: On Covenant Theology.”

25 Mathison, Dispensationalism, 135.

26 John S. Feinberg, “Theological Systems and the Testaments: Systems of Discontinuity,” John S. Feinberg, ed., Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments (Westchester: Crossway, 1988), 64, 310.

27 Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 48-49.

28 Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, eds., Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 354.

29 Blaising and Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, 294.

30 O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, 201-2.

Works Cited

Blaising, Craig A. and Bock, Darrell L., eds. Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.

Blaising, Craig A. and Bock, Darrell L. Progressive Dispensationalism. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993.

Bogue, Carl W. Jonathan Edwards and the Covenant of Grace. Cherry Hill: Mack Publishing Company, 1975.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion.

R. Scott Clark, “The Israel of God,” 2001. Available [Online]: [28 Nov. 2001].

De Jong, Peter Y. The Covenant Idea in New England Theology, 1620-1847. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1945.

Feinberg, John S., ed. “Theological Systems and the Testaments: Systems of Discontinuity,” Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments. Westchester: Crossway, 1988

Gerstner, John H. Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism. Brentwood: Wolgemuth and Hyatt Publications, 1991.

Horton, Michael S. “Back to the Future, Rightly Understood,” Modern Reformation, September/October 2001

Mathison, Keith A. Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God? Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1995.

Murray, John. “Covenant Theology,” The Encyclopedia of Christianity, ed. Philip E. Hughes, III. 1972. Quoted in Carl W. Bogue, Jonathan Edwards and the Covenant of Grace.

Packer, J. I. “Introduction: On Covenant Theology.” Introduction to Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man.

Poythress, Vern S. Understanding Dispensationalists (bottom of page), 2nd ed. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1994.

Riddlebarger, Kim. “Jesus Christ: The Sum and Substance of Biblical Prophecy,” Modern Reformation, September/October 2001.

Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980.

Vos, Geerhardus. Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., ed. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980.

Weber, Timothy P. “On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend,” Christianity Today, October 5, 1998.

Westminster Confession of Faith, 1647.

Witsius, Herman. The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man: Comprehending a Complete Body of Divinity, 1677. Reprint, Escondido: The den Dulk Christian Foundation, 1990.

Favorite Eschatology Books:
Beale, G. K. 1-2 Thessalonians. IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Downers Grove, IL: IVPress, 2003.
Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.
Demar, Gary. Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church. Atlanta: American Vision, 1999.
Johnson, Dennis E. Triumph of the Lamb. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001.
Hoekema, Anthony. The Bible and the Future. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.
Koester, Craig R. Revelation and the End of All Things. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.
Mathison, Keith. From Age to Age: The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2009.
Poythress, Vern S. The Returning King. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000. (This book is published online by permission of publisher.)
Riddlebarger, Kim. The Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth About the Antichrist. Grand Rapids: Baker, June 2006.
Venema, Cornelis. The Promise of the Future. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2000.


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48 thoughts on “The Significance of Covenant Theology in Reformed Eschatology”

  1. Mitchell A. Raab

    If grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, then Jesus Christ, who has always existed is grace and truth.  Gods grace was extended in the creation (John 1:17).
    Your answer then is grace was given to Adam and Eve before they sinned.  I would say extended rather than given because the Word of God does not specifically say that Adam brought the blood sacrifice signifying that they agreed with God regarding their sin.  The Word of God does say that God did not accept Cain’s sacrifice so the conclusion is that all the others brought the correct sacrifice pointing to Christ.  Therefore, yes would be the response because God in the form of The Son is grace and that is the source of life.  If it were not for the Lord Jesus we would not exist.  Not sure where you are going with this thought.  Looks like this might be so sort of “gotcha”.  Just because The Lord Jesus is Grace, Truth, Life & The Way does not mean everyone will find it as the Word of God states (Acts 17:28).

    So I repeat my very old question to you: what does “grace” mean in the Bible?  Grace must mean something very different to you other than The Lord Jesus.  Anyway you view Grace, Grace is the Lord Jesus and The Lord Jesus is Grace as the Word of God clearly states except, I suppose, to you as you seem to be lost in this question.  Do you not understand the Word of God? (John 1:14, 17).
    Titus 2:11 makes it abundantly clear that the grace of God appeared to all men.  Do you not believe that Adam was a man?  If grace appeared to all men, is your position that grace only can follow Adam’s disobedience?  The Lord Jesus is the “Grace of God” and has always existed.  Jesus is Salvation, is He not?  Jesus is both grace and truth as the Word of God makes abundantly clear, does it not? (John 14:6) The Lord Jesus is Grace as mentioned in the Word of God.  The Lord Jesus is also Truth, the Way & the Life.  What is it that you do not understand about the person of my Lord?
    Three other questions from your last comment that you haven’t answered:  I will get to these.


  2. Mitchell A. Raab

    Nollie, apparently you don’t read what is written:
    Again, my question: Was there grace before Adam sinned?
    Tts 2:11 ¶ For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 
    Titus 2:11 makes it abundantly clear that the grace of God appeared to all men.  Do you not believe that Adam was a man?  If grace appeared to all men, is your position that grace only can follow Adam’s disobedience?  The Lord Jesus is the “Grace of God” and has always existed.  Jesus is Salvation, is He not?

    1. Your answer then is this: grace was given to Adam and Eve before they sinned. So I repeat my very old question to you: what does “grace” mean in the Bible?

      Three other questions from your last comment that you haven’t answered:

      1. In the Garden of Eden before the Fall, did God reveal to Adam and Eve that they would fall into sin, and that he has a plan to save him after he sinned?
      2. What does the Bible mean when it says that some people “walk with God”?
      3. Who are the children of Abraham after Christ came? And how are all the nations of the earth blessed through Abraham?

  3. Mitchell A. Raab

    The last time began when the Holy Spirit using the pen of John wrote that “it is the last time”
    When did the “last time” of 1 John 2:18  start, and when will it end?
    Jesus disciples asked the same question and were told that no man know the hour only the Father which is in heaven, Matt. 24.  You should know this.  What is the point here?

    1. You’re right again: the last days began with the first coming of Christ and will end when he returns. So you agree that when the NT says, “last days,” it’s talking about the so-called church age? I’ll leave it to you to think about it.

  4. Mitchell A. Raab

    This refers to God the Son offering His blood before God the Father in Heaven where the blood will be an everlasting memorial of Gods sacrifice for His redeemed.
    o        Read and think about this concerning the Temple:
    But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (Heb 9:11-12 ).
    What is the point here?  This does not refer to Herod’s temple that was in existence during the time of my Lords earthly ministry.

  5. Mitchell A. Raab

    Your questions were all previously answered in the portions of Gods Word that I placed in the material I gave you (4 that I could locate).  I am surprised that you do not recognize the answers from the Word of God.  God has only always had one way to same mankind, are you not aware of that?
    Was Adam saved by grace or by works? Gen 2:15-17.
    Tit 2:11 (God appeared to Adam); Rom 10:17; Rev 13:8
    Gen 2:16   And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:  (This verse clearly indicates that there was communication between God and Adam, the verse regarding the consequences of eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil simply refers to the occurrence of spiritual, physical, and eternal death.  Eternal death is conquered in the death of Christ who is …”the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”)
    If Adam did not disobey God, would Christ have come down to earth from heaven as a human being?  (See above …”of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”  God is not bounded by time and this was the eternal plan of the omnipotent, omniscient, triune God.) 
    Was Christ revealed to Adam before or after the Fall?
    Gen 2:16   And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:  God clearly communicated with Adam via the Son in the form of the preincarnate Christ
    John 1:1, 2, 18
    It is clear that in Gen 3:8a “And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day:” the preincarnate Christ met with Adam in the garden and since no man hath seen God (the Father) then the preincarnate Christ communed with Adam prior to the incident of Gen 3:8b.  I am not sure you have spent any time meditating on the Word of God since you are asking me to read the Bible to you.  Enoch also walked with God in the form of the preincarnate Christ based on Jn 1.  Also see Genesis 18, specifically meditate on these verses: Gen 18:17, 18
    All of your questions were previously answered – See again Titus 2:11.  However to reinforce the answer (How are we saved?),  here is a more concise answer from Ephesians 2:8,9.
    There is no authority except the Word of God and anything that you or I write is not worth the words that are written.

    1. Again, my questions: What does “grace” mean? Was there grace before Adam sinned?

      In the Garden of Eden before the Fall, did God reveal to Adam and Eve that they would fall into sin, and that he has a plan to save him after he sinned?

      What does the Bible mean when it says that some people “walk with God”?

      Who are the children of Abraham after Christ came? And how are all the nations of the earth blessed through Abraham?

  6. Mitchell A. Raab

    Let me help you with this comment:
    o        “Proof that dispensationalists interpret Scripture with the newspapers: every bit of little news from Israel and the Mideast sends all of you scurrying to your Bible looking for texts that relate to the latest news.”
    Israel is not back in the Land according to promise and most likely other than 1Jo 2:18.
    Satan is not omniscient so as the Holy Spirit writing by John states even now there are many antichrists, Satan has had his man ready in every generation.  Since the Holy Spirit said it was the last time in John’s day, how much closer are we today?
    This is no characteristic of Israel today: Eze 34:28; Eze 38:11.
    I trust that you are not going to tell me that your heart is the holy place referred to in the following Scriptures: 2 Chr 35:5; Mat 24:15; Mark 13:14.
    Have you seen the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet?  In order to see the abomination of desolation standing in the Holy Place, there needs to be a Holy Place.  The only nation that has ever had a Holy Place referred to by the Lord Jesus is the nation of Israel.  If the temple is not rebuilt at some point in time, when or where does this happen.
    We are the temple of God in a metaphorical sense as noted below but the abomination of desolation can not enter this temple because the Holy Spirit is always present in the believer.  However, should a believe do something to dishonor God, God will remove his lamp stand.  See Acts 5:1-10 &  1 Cor. 11:30; 1 Cor 3:16.
    1Cor 3:17   If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which [temple] ye are.  “metaph. the spiritual temple consisting of the saints of all ages joined together by and in Christ”

    1. You’re a classic example of prooftexting. All you do is extract Scripture from its context, without any sound study and exegesis. This is because you read Scripture with your presupposition that there are two peoples of God, making liars of the New Testament authors.

      Read and think about this concerning the Temple:

      But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (Heb 9:11-12).

      For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf (Heb 9:24).

      When did the “last time” of 1 John 2:18 start, and when will it end?

      What is the context of Ezek 34 and Ezek 38? How do the NT writers interpret these prophecies?

      Please explain what the “abomination of desolation” means? Is he already past, or he a future personality? Who is the “abomination of desolation” being referred to in Matt 24:15 and Mark 13:14? What events were Jesus talking about in Matthew 24?

      So, even with the New Testament writers all saying that God’s chosen people is the church, do you still insist on making Israel the chosen people? This is what I mean when I say that dispensationalists like you make liars of the NT writers.

      Note: You don’t have to type in the Scripture texts. If you hover your mouse over the Scripture reference, the text will show.

  7. Mitchell A. Raab

    Scripture teaches:
    Tit 2:11-15: For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,
    Adam was a man and the grace of God is said to have appeared to all men, not just Nollie.
    When God walked with Adam in the garden, the grace of God appeared to him in his innocence. 
    It appears you have trouble with the Word of God and the use of the Word of God to support your points as you have contempt for the Word of God, i.e., “So I’ve heard all of the tired prooftexting”.
    The only authority we have is God’s Holy word not some book written by another sinner. 

  8. Mitchell A. Raab

    Nollie, your writing is all about you which typical of those spoken of in Titus 3:9 But avoid foolish questions and genealogies, and contentions and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. You seem to take particular pleasure in mentioning that you do not refer to the Word of God – seems to be what is meant by “prooftexting” yet you say you search the scripture.  You also suggest that those who do not hold your view have received this view from the newspaper or from presuppositions.  You seem to be identified by:  1Jo 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would [no doubt] have continued with us: but [they went out], that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
    Doesn’t 1Jhn 2:19 really characterize yourself as you describe yourself below?
    “As I said, I was a dispensationalist most of my life, was swayed for a period of time by Baptists, but all that before I searched the Scriptures better. I read and studied Scriptures, yes, but imposed all the presuppositions I had been taught in evangelical circles before I ever knew anything else. So I’ve heard all of the tired prooftexting and arguments that dispensationalists, Arminians and Baptists have to offer, and have found that covenantal, Reformed and paedobaptism to be most consistent with Scriptures.”

  9. Mitchell A. Raab

    It is unclear how to arrive at this statement:
    “The only two eras in Biblical history that are clearly distinguishable concerning the way of salvation is before and after Adam’s Fall. God had a covenant of works before, and a covenant of grace after the Fall. Mary also found favor with God.”
    Salvation has always been by one way and this is by our Lords death on the cross.  God is not bounded by time so the sacrifice that Able brought pointed to Christ’s death on the cross that took away Abel’s sin following Abel’s death.  Job, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, etc. all brought a sacrifice for sin but in bringing the sacrifice each of them demonstrated that they believed God and as James 2:23 tells us.
    Until the death of Christ in human time people were saved looking forward to Christ’s death. Gal 4:4; Jhn. 1:14; Jhn 1:17; Rom 5:14; Rom 5:17.
    The covenant that I find in the scripture that begins the covenant with a specific people is the Abrahamic covenant: Gen 15:9-18.
    It seems that there is a single covenant with mankind referred to as the everlasting covenant: Isa 24:5.   
    Are the times of the Gentiles fulfilled?  Has the fullness of the Gentiles come in yet? Luk 21:24; Rom 11:25.

    “For example, if you, like other dispensationalists (not sure I ever identified myself as belonging to one camp or the other, this is an assumption on your part), interpret Amos 9:11-12 as the Jerusalem temple being rebuilt, you’re making a liar of Acts 15:16 and Jesus himself is a liar in John 2:19.  This comment seems extraneous.
    Act 15:16   After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up:  Paul is quoting the prophet Amos speaking and giving credit for the temple that was in Jerusalem to David and stating that it would be rebilt.  Amo 9:11 ¶ In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old:  How does Amos 9:11 contradict the quotation of itself in Act 15:16?
    Jhn 2:19   Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.  Jhn 2:21   But he spake of the temple of his body.  Mat 12:40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
    Dispensationalist or not, other than the liberal, there isn’t anyone I know of that believes that Jhn 2:19 believes anything other than Jesus is speaking of his bodily resurrection from the dead.  Do you not believe in the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus?

    1. Was Adam saved by grace or by works? Gen 2:15-17. If Adam did not disobey God, would Christ have come down to earth from heaven as a human being? Was Christ revealed to Adam before or after the Fall?

      When God speaks of the “everlasting covenant,” he’s referring to all his covenants that involves all of mankind and lasting for eternity. The covenant of works with Adam is still in effect, “Do this and you shall live.” God did not tell Adam, “Have faith in Christ, and you shall not die.” Rather, he would have merited eternal life if he perfectly obeyed God’s law.

      How are we saved? By works–the perfect obedience of Christ–then by faith–in Christ alone. Christ came to fulfill what Adam failed to do, that is, to obey God’s word. This is from Romans 5:12-19 which you quoted.

      Amos 9:11 doesn’t contradict Acts 15:16. You make them contradict one another. Amos sees only the restoration of Israel from exile in his prophecy. When Christ was revealed to them, the apostles interpreted this and all other OT Scriptures as pointing to Christ. Read and re-read these two passages.

      Jesus uses his own bodily resurrection as prefiguring the destruction of the Temple. Jesus is speaking of himself as the Temple. You can read these: “Will the Real Temple Please Stand?” and “Will the True Israel Please Stand?”

    2. Where in the world did I take pleasure in not referring to the Word of God? Are you reading invisible text between the lines? Diligently searching the Scriptures, as the Bereans did in “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11), is not “foolishness.” Most evangelicals today are not Bereans, giving only lip service to the Bible, devoid of any understanding of what it says.

      Proof that dispensationalists interpret Scripture with the newspapers: every bit of little news from Israel and the Mideast sends all of you scurrying to your Bible looking for texts that relate to the latest news.

      I have to use my electron microscope to see how 1 John 2:19 applies to me. This is another one of your out-of-context quotes. Who is John pointing to when he says, “THEY went out from us?”

  10. Mitchell A. Raab

    The claim here is studying the Word of God.  However, it is clear from the comments that the only studies that are accepted are those with which Nollie agrees.  All other points of view, no matter how valid or widely held are incorrect.

    Did God and Adam have the exact same relationship as God and Noah?  I find that God states in His Word that Noah found grace in the eyes of God.  Similarly Abraham and God had a different relationship than Noah.  God called Amos to go and prophesy against the Northern Kingdom and at the end of the book, Amos discusses the regathering of the nation of Israel back to the land of Canaan.
    It appears that Nollie, believe the church has taken the place of Israel and that what is said in the Old Testament regarding Israel applies to the church.  So the concept that God is calling out a people to his name and that we are not to give offence to the Gentiles, Jews or the Church of God does not figure in to the concepts in any way.
    The Word of God clearly teaches that God has not forgotten his people Israel and that God will more from the Church of God to Israel at a point in the future.  I believe how that happens is clearly discussed in Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Matthew, etc.  Nollie on the other hand seems to believe that he and his camp are in the place of Israel.

    1. Mitchell, a doctrine being widely held doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s correct. What about the doctrines of the medieval church such as transubstantiation?

      The only two eras in Biblical history that are clearly distinguishable concerning the way of salvation is before and after Adam’s Fall. God had a covenant of works before, and a covenant of grace after the Fall. Mary also found favor with God.

      Covenant theology is called “replacement theology” by dispensationalists like you because you haven’t studied it well and therefore do not understand it. It is not that the Church replaces Israel, but that all of God’s promises to Abraham are fulfilled in Christ and the Church. The only valid reading of the prophets is through the lens of the New Testament. Fpr example, if you, like other dispensationalists, interpret Amos 9:11-12 as the Jerusalem temple being rebuilt, you’re making a liar of Acts 15:16 and Jesus himself is a liar in John 2:19. Scripture must interpret Scripture; we should not let new teachings or newspapers interpret Scripture.

      Read and study my other posts on this subject. Who knows, you might discover, as I did several years ago, that all my dispensationalist presuppositions had to be discarded before I could understand that the whole Bible points to Christ and not to Israel.

      For a good article on the difference between so-called replacement theology and covenant theology, see Dr. Scott Clark’s post here:

  11. Good grief, do you guys know how bad this looks?  Yeah, this is fantastic.  Not.  I’m a high school student who USED to be interested in eschatology.  This type of immature argument makes me sick.  You guys sound like the atheists I talk to on Youtube!  I have yet to find an actual Biblical disproof of any theological system mentioned here (besides arminianism, which is just plain crazy).  All I hear is a bunch of noisy people trying to “be right.”  All I see is a bunch of tiny little contradictions and nit-picky “problems” with the other side’s thinking.  All I see is either a “Case for why all premillenialists are total idiots” or “There really is a difference between what the Bible teaches and what Amillenialists (GASP!) teach”.  This is really frustrating.  Why does it have to be like this??  The Titus passage is a good one to bring up, although I’m not sure eschatology really applies there.
    ahem… “Everyone have it’s own beliefs so we should respect one another.. Like the Carholics they belienve in Jesus Christ and in Muslim they believe in Allah.. Respect is all we need..”
    On a side note, something worth actually talking about, I can belienve anything I want to but if it’s not a CORRECT worldview, all the respect in the world won’t make it right.  We don’t need respect.  We need love.  Real love.  Love that is committed to the Gospel.
    In conclusion, I will probably remain a “typical Baptist” (geez… thanks man.  First I start appreciating multiple Bible translations, then I realize that contemporary worship music is in fact not condemned by Scripture, then I start raising my hands in worship, then I start appreciating fellowship from the apparent heretics John MacArthur, Mark Dever, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Augustine, Calvin, ORIGEN (??? as in like the dude that founded the first BIBLE COLLEGE EVER??? ha), Luther, Apostle John, and Apostle Paul, who all either claim one of those views or the other (check out the run-on sentence… oh yeah.  It keeps going.)  and don’t reduce themselves to a bareknuckes-argument with other Christians about something that does not affect our relationship with Christ.  What am I??  I’m a Christian, man!  I know Jesus!  Rather than making more noise (which I’m probably just doing anyway) wouldn’t it be a good idea to realize that Jesus IS coming back??) but I have NEVER been encouraged in my walk with Christ (this is back on the Baptist thing) by arguing this subject down to the nitty gritty.  I don’t think any of you have all the answers, and I don’t think the internet is an effective place to have this little family quarrel.
    This whole thing has become just plain ridiculous.  Grow up!!!  What do you get from “winning” the argument?  A special eschatology genius badge in heaven?  Is our spiritual life a cosmic version of the Boy Scouts?
    Other than this pointless and quite random rant, I am totally speechless.

    1. Austin, the point is not winning arguments, but studying Scriptures. Otherwise, let’s just burn all our Bibles, commentaries, lexicons, geographies, etc., because we’re all going to heaven anyway. But that’s not the real world. We care so much in trying to make sure that our reading of Scriptures is right that we painstakingly think, study, meditate, research and pray.

      Anyone can say he’s a Christian, but like all the current surveys find out, most evangelicals are Biblically illiterate, and are “therapeutic, moralisstic deists,” a Christianity without Christ. And when someone professes to be a Christian without showing any proof of his/her faith in life, then that profession means nothing.

  12. Everyone have it’s own beliefs so we should respect one another.. Like the Carholics they belienve in Jesus Christ and in Muslim they believe in Allah.. Respect is all we need..

  13. The article about dispensationalism is somewhat misleading and inaccurate.     The antinomianism charge is answered by Paul in Galatians and Romans 7 where the believer is dead to the law.   How then can you place him under the law?   While “left behind” and such do paint a picture, the dispensationalist is looking for the blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, they aren’t looking to the Middle East or politics.    Calling dispensationalism unique and recent is a straw man.  The Catholic Church says Reformed Theology is recent, so an emphasis towards referring to “history” is an interesting way to attempt to combat what you disagree with. Rome used that with the Reformation.  Should you also use such techniques?   Dispensationalism arose as a system per se from study of scripture.   It takes eschatology literally as it does the other genres of doctrine, whereas Covenentalism changes its hermeneutic for things future, being inconsistent in its dual hermeneutic.  Finally there is a bit of attitude in the above study that dispensationalists don’t study the scripture thoroughly.  Dear friends, the history of the movement was grounded in extensive scripture exegesis.  The straw man falls.  Yes, Hal Lindsey and Left Behind and so forth are things to consider as “popular” rather than exegetical, but the background you associate them with differs greatly.   If you would spend time reading the writings of some of the old Plymouth Brethen for example, you would find refreshing love of Christ, scripture, exegesis, and a coherent approach to the scripture, doing exegesis instead of Covenental eisegesis.   In love, I am your servant.  Greg

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  15. Mitchell A. Raab

    It appears to me that everyone is riding his own hobby horse, i.e. covenant, reformed, pretribulation, etc.

    A better approach is given in Titus 2:12-13:

    Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;

    It seems the entire line of discussion is most aptly summarized by Titus 3:9: But avoid foolish questions and genealogies, and contentions and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.

    In conclusion we need to follow Titus 1:9-1:

    Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things that they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said the Cretians are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they be sound in the faith; Not giving head to Jewish bables and commandments of men, that turn from the truth. Unto the pure all things are pure but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny hime, bein abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.

      1. Mitchell A. Raab

        If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ,and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;

        He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of workds, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,

        Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.

        That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ:

        Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords;

        O Timothy, keep that wich is committed to ty trust, avoid profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so call:

        Which some professing have erred concering the Gaith. Grace be with thee. Amen. I Timothy Chapter 6 in part.

  16. (saw the following shocking article on the internet – Flora)

    The NEWEST Pretrib Calendar                         

    Hal (serial polygamist) Lindsey and other pretrib-rapture-trafficking and Mayan-Calendar-hugging hucksters deserve the following message: “2012 may be YOUR latest date. It isn’t MAYAN!” Actually, if it weren’t for the 179-year-old, fringe-British-invented, American-merchandised pretribulation rapture bunco scheme, Hal might still be piloting a tugboat on the Mississippi, roly-poly Thomas Ice (Tim LaHaye’s No. 1 strong-arm enforcer) might still be in his tiny folding-chair church which shares its firewall with a Texas saloon, Jack Van Impe might still be a jazz band musician, Tim LaHaye might still be titillating California matrons with his “Christian” sex manual, Grant Jeffrey might still be taking care of figures up in Canada, Chuck Missler might still be in mysterious hush-hush stuff that rocket scientists don’t dare talk about, John Hagee might be making – and eating – world-record pizzas, and Jimmy (“Bye You” Rapture) Swaggart might still be flying on a Ferriday flatbed!

    To read more details about the eschatological British import that leading British scholarship never adopted – the import that’s created some American multi-millionaires – Google “Pretrib Rapture Diehards” (note LaHaye’s hypocrisy under “1992”), “Hal Lindsey’s Many Divorces,” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers)” and “Thomas Ice (Hired Gun),” “LaHaye’s Temperament,” “Wily Jeffrey,” “Chuck Missler – Copyist,” “Open Letter to Todd Strandberg” and “The Rapture Index (Mad Theology),” “X-Raying Margaret,” “Humbug Huebner,” “Thieves’ Marketing,” “Appendix F: Thou Shalt Not Steal,” “The Unoriginal John Darby,” “Pretrib Hypocrisy,” “The Real Manuel Lacunza,” “Roots of (Warlike) Christian Zionism,” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” “Pretrib Rapture – Hidden Facts,” “Dolcino? Duh!” and “Scholars Weigh My Research.”

    Most of the above is written by journalist/historian Dave MacPherson who has focused on long-hidden pretrib rapture history for 35+ years. No one else has focused on it for 35 months or even 35 weeks. MacPherson has been a frequent radio talk show guest and he states that all of his royalties have always gone to a nonprofit group and not to any individual. His No. 1 book on all this is “The Rapture Plot” (see Armageddon Books online, etc.). The amazing thing is how long it has taken the mainstream media to finally notice and expose this unbelievably groundless yet extremely lucrative theological hoax!

  17. [Just ran into the follow web bit and would like to share it.      Lou Ann]


    Eschatological enforcer Thomas Ice claims that someone named Dolcino taught a pretribulation rapture in 1304 A.D. What Ice doesn’t like to reveal is that Dolcino’s “proof” DOESN’T EVEN EXIST! So what does Ice’s claim rest on? Well, LONG AFTER Dolcino’s death an ANONYMOUS person wrote a SECONDHAND history of what Dolcino reportedly penned – a history that was CHANGED SEVERAL TIMES between the 1300s and the 1900s! If you’re wondering about Thomas Ice’s qualifications as a scholar, Google “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers)” and “Thomas Ice (Hired Gun).”

    Many are unaware that after the Communists took over Russia and China, there were Christians in those countries who became violent with pastors who had constantly assured them that they would be raptured before anything resembling end-time horrors. Can Ice and other pretrib rapture merchandisers rest assured that if such scenarios occur in America and some other “rapturized” countries, Christians won’t be just as violent towards them?

  18. It appears we are still struggling to “work together in the spirit of love and respect” here. I take a covenantal view. However, I think sometimes, as important as rightly understanding scripture is, we need to agree to disagree. I also believe that there are some things we may never completely understand until Christ does return. Whether one takes a premillennial, postmillennial or amillennial view is not absolutely vital to salvation, even though it may be very important when it comes to shaping faith and influencing foreign policy. If it is causing someone to spew fountains of sarcasm at a fellow brother in Christ and receive not always respectful and kind retorts, it isn’t worth the argument.

    My husband will always support Israel, not because of his theological views, but because his father was a Jew and his grandfather was in the Israeli Air Force. I don’t think that either they or the Palestinians are blameless and in fact, I often think Israel’s approach is wrong. However, we just don’t discuss it. We agree to disagree and move on. It is not vital to our marriage or to our salvation and isn’t worth getting into an argument if said argument gets this biting.

    Here, I think it would be shameful if a non-believer came to this page and saw this comments section. I don’t think they would be persuaded to follow Christ.

    With all respect and love to both of you, my brothers in Christ,

  19. Bill, you may certainly use this paper in your studies.

    David, I’ve seen covenant theology work wonders with devoted dispensationalists when it is taught in-depth for several months. Pray that this method will work with many others.

  20. Many thanks for this article!  Understanding Covenant theology will help me share with my dear brothers that resist taking a second look at their  dispensational interpretation.
    I am in awkward situation because my church subscribes to MacArthur’s dispensationalism.  Over the past two years of study, I have become firmly convinced that dispensationalism is a significant error.  Please pray the Lord would give me His wisdom and guidence as to what I should do.  ~David
    The Nicene Council lectures DVD are an excellent critique of dispensationalim.

  21. May we apply this paper to the parable of Jesus on the “talents”?  Only with your permission, however.  We come into this with a slightly different view!

  22. Having read all that you have said, I still stick to my assessment that you haven’t studied the Reformers and Scriptures well enough.

    As a student of church history, you should know that torture and execution was the “spirit of the day” from the medieval all the way to the post-Reformation periods. Those who believe one way or the other and then impose their beliefs by execution does not mean that their beliefs are wrong (except of course some Muslims and sub-Christian cults).

    As I said, I was a dispensationalist most of my life, was swayed for a period of time by Baptists, but all that before I searched the Scriptures better. I read and studied Scriptures, yes, but imposed all the presuppositions I had been taught in evangelical circles before I ever knew anything else. So I’ve heard all of the tired prooftexting and arguments that dispensationalists, Arminians and Baptists have to offer, and have found that covenantal, Reformed and paedobaptism to be most consistent with Scriptures.

  23. Incidentally, regarding Ulrich Zwingli, does the fact that he ordered members of his own Bible study to be arrested, tortured, and executed by either burning at the stake or being drowned in the Danube for the “heresy” of opposing infant baptism give you the slightest bit of pause or hesitation in citing such a fellow as a reference? So, when it was the Muslims doing it to Christians, or the Catholics doing it to Protestants, it is wrong. But when it is the Reformers doing it to those who reject infant baptism, that makes it OK?

     But then again, my taking an issue in the first place with things such as this based on the “thou shalt not murder” of Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17 is probably a person whose theology is so obviously based on hearsay. Silly me for believing that paying attention to what the Bible says about killing innocent people was less important than protecting the political, economic, and social interests of these “New Jerusalem” states that the Reformers created in order to compete with the Catholic states. Revelation 21:8 and Revelation 22:15 talks about what is going to happen to people that violate the Sixth Commandment, and I do not believe that it should be interpreted figuratively, even to the Reformers who either personally killed other Christians, or for those who commanded or promoted it. 

  24. If reading Early Christian Doctrines by J.N.D. Kelly, The Story of Christianity Volumes I and II by Justo Gonzalez, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren by Leonard Verduin, The Trinity Guide to Eschatology by William J. La Due, The Jewish New Testament Commentary by David Stern, Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament by Julius Scott, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, A History of Christianity by Kenneth LaTourette among other books qualifies as “hearsay”, then I suppose that I am guilty.

    As far as my being “Baptist”, I fit your description of me only because of the little Baptist church that I joined barely 9 months ago. It was the first Baptist church that I ever joined in my life, and I had rarely ever set foot inside a Baptist church prior. I have been a member of a number of Protestant churches in my short life, and my true self – description is  nondenominational. But I am curious of your attitudes towards the many Reformed or Particular Baptists past and present, including but certainly not limited to John Bunyan and Charles Spurgeon.

    “As for the apostles teaching amillennialism, you should study more Riddlebarger’s Scriptural references in his article to find out if Matthew, John, Paul, Peter, and especially the writer of Hebrews were not “spiritualizing” Old Testament prophecies.”

    Acts 1:6 reads “When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” 

    The Jews were expecting the Messiah to literally take the throne of David, and to do so in their own time. They were expecting the Messianic passages in Isaiah, Psalms etc. to be fulfilled literally, or at least as literally as Jewish prophecies had always been fulfilled (in addition to my not quite comprehensive reading list above, add “Plowshares & Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic” by Sandy, which should completely destroy premillennial dispensationalist notions in any open – minded reader). I have not spotted a thing in my readings of the New Testament that would indicate that the Jewish expectations of the millennial era had been cast off or revised. Yet such a thing would have had to have happened, or else Revelation 20:1-6 would have had an entirely different meaning to its 1st and early 2nd century Jewish hearers (I am one of those who adheres to a relatively early date for Revelation, though I do believe that it was written after 70 AD) than it would have for people coming later, and that would violate the first rule of Bible interpretation as postulated by some loathsome book on hermeneutics that I so dislike that I will omit its name. 

    So, if you can make a case from scripture or from other writings that faithfully represent 1st or 2nd century Jewish Christian teachings and history that the apostolic Christian faith advanced amillennialism, please do so. It can be here, or if it suits better you – it would most certainly better suit me – please contact me at 

    I am more than capable of admitting that I am wrong and changing myself to positions that better conform to scripture, as I did both when I rejected Arminianism (which is not even a Protestant system, as Jacobus Arminius was merely parroting views advanced by the Roman Catholic apologist Dirck Coornhert) and also premillennial dispensationalism. Thank you. 

  25. Job King, yours is a malformed, uninformed view of amillennialism, you’re presupposition that it originated with Origen’s allegorizing the Bible.

    Like most Baptists, you also have the misconception that covenant theology started with the Reformation. You have to study Romans 5 to find out for yourself who started covenant theology.

    As for the apostles teaching amillennialism, you should study more Riddlebarger’s Scriptural references in his article to find out if Matthew, John, Paul, Peter, and especially the writer of Hebrews were not “spiritualizing” Old Testament prophecies.

    It’s obvious that, in addition to your theology, you also have your church history based on hearsay.

  26. I find amillennialism to be as erroneous as premillennial dispensationalism. What shred of evidence exists that Jewish Christians – which includes the apostles – were amillennial? Jewish Christianity was millennarian because the Judaism that preceded it was millenarian. Amillennialism came as the result of people like the heretic Origen allegorizing the Bible.

    Acknowledging that the Bible does not support a secret rapture and opposing the dual covenant theology that premillennial dispensationalism has to ultimately lead to is not the same as accepting amillennialism. And as to covenant theology … we have to acknowledge that people such as Augustine, Zwingli, etc. were defending church – states and infant baptism. As there is a difference between opposing the secret rapture and supporting amillennialism, there is also a difference between supporting predestination/election and supporting infant baptism and church states, which included among other things a resistance to actual evangelism (because of the lie that the great commission was only meant for the apostles and fulfilled in that time) and, oh yes, drowning Anabaptists and killing Donatists. 

  27. Pingback: Covenant Theology in Reformed Eschatology « Jesus Christology


    How can the “rapture” be “imminent”? Acts 3:21 says that Jesus “must” stay in heaven (He is now there with the Father) “until the times of restitution of all things” which includes, says Scofield, “the restoration of the theocracy under David’s Son” which obviously can’t begin before or during Antichrist’s reign. Since Jesus must personally participate in the rapture, and since He can’t even leave heaven before the tribulation ends, the rapture therefore cannot take place before the end of the trib!

    Paul explains the “times and the seasons” (I Thess. 5:1) of the catching up (I Thess. 4:17) as the “day of the Lord” (5:2) (which FOLLOWS the posttrib sun/moon darkening – Matt. 24:29; Acts 2:20) WHEN “sudden destruction” (1 Thess 5:3) of the wicked occurs! (If the wicked are destroyed before or during the trib, who would be left alive to serve the Antichrist?) Paul also ties the change-into-immortality “rapture” (I Cor. 15:52) to the posttrib end of “death” (1 Cor 15:54)! (Will death be ended before or during the trib?)

    If anyone wonders how long pretrib rapturism has been taught, he or she can Google “Pretrib Rapture Diehards.” Many are unaware that before 1830 all Christians had always viewed I Thess. 4’s “catching up” as an integral part of the final second coming to earth. In 1830 it was stretched forward and turned into a separate coming of Christ. To further strengthen their novel view, which the mass of evangelical scholars rejected throughout the 1800s, pretrib teachers in the early 1900s began to stretch forward the “day of the Lord” (what Darby and Scofield never dared to do) and hook it up with their already-stretched-forward “rapture.” Many leading evangelical scholars still weren’t convinced of pretrib, so pretrib teachers then began teaching that the “falling away” of II Thess. 2:3 is really a pretrib rapture (the same as saying that the “rapture” in 2:3 must happen before the “rapture” [“gathering”] in 1 Thess 2:1 can happen – the height of desperation!).

    Other Google articles throwing light on long-covered-up facts about the 178-year-old pretrib rapture view include “Famous Rapture Watchers,” “X-Raying Margaret,” “Revisers of Pretrib Rapture History,” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” “Wily Jeffrey,” “The Rapture Index (Mad Theology),” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” “Roots of (Warlike) Christian Zionism,” “Scholars Weigh My Research,” “Pretrib Hypocrisy,” “Pretrib Rapture Desperados” and “Deceiving and Being Deceived” – all by the author of the bestselling book “The Rapture Plot” which is available at Armageddon Books online. Just my two cents’ worth.        

  29. Thanks, Manfred. Like you and most other amillennialists, I too was an ardent dispensationalist. I was engrossed in my father’s Scofield Reference Bible given to him by our church. The first time I heard anything other than dispensational premillennialism was in the early 1990s, and I was so ashamed of myself that I could believe in such an unscriptural, illogical system.

    How could anyone believe that after 1,000 years of Christ’s reign from Jerusalem, there would be a great rebellion against God? How can glorified people co-exist with sinners in an Eden-like millennial paradise? Where would these sinners come from? If they are descendants of those glorified saints who came back with Christ from heaven, is it really possible for glorified saints from heaven to beget children with sinful nature?

    Anyone who wants to read more about this dispensational silliness, Dr. Kim Riddlebarger’s “A Present or Future Millennium?” would be a shocking revelation.

  30. I’ve recently read Kim Riddlebarger’s “A Case for Amillennialism”, left a dispensational SBC church for a solid, reformed SBC church, and find this article most helpful in making the case for the “already not yet” view of the reformed.  I shall point some of my friends who know not that they are dispensationalists (as they’ve not been told that’s what’s being preached and they’ve not taken care to study the Scrtipures), that the eyes of their understanding may be opened.

    Many thanks!

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