A New Covenant Mistake

“We are not permitted to draw contrasts where the New Testament draws parallels. The Corinthians were tempted to put on airs over against the Jews. We have spiritual food. We have spiritual drink. So did the Jews, Paul replies bluntly. You can have religious ceremonial, God-given ritual, whole burnt offerings and sacrifices, baptism in the cloud and sea, and still be overthrown in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:5). You can have a degree in liturgics and still not have the one thing needful (Heb. 4:2). Not only is it possible to do this, it is easy to do this. The human soul likes making this mistake” (Against the Church, pp. 20-21).

Theology That Bites Back



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  1. Eric Stampher says

    Tim H — I think he’s highlighting the Corinthian sophisticants in-your-face eating of shamble meats (chapter 8, 10) as show-off behavior to the weaker stuck-in-the-ceremonial law brother.  Like the reformed pastor winking at a visiting baptist while he takes an eye-dropper out to administer single-drop baptism, you know, just to push the point home.  Having the “correct” take on the theory, without love, makes the “allowed” practice worse than outright idol worship.  

  2. Douglas Wilson says

    Tim, it is woven throughout 1 Cor. 10, but take a close look at v. 6, v. 11 and v. 13. The apostle makes a point of emphasizing the spiritual privileges of the Jews in vv. 1-5, which I think the Corinthians were overlooking.

  3. says

    The other mistake is to see something as a direct parallel rather than a typological one, as you do. Circumcision was a social distinction with an ethical goal. Baptism is an ethical transformation with a social outcome. But this actually supports your statement: The New Covenant requires more maturity, not less.

  4. BJ says

    So does the NT equate OT Israel with the church (i.e. covenant theology)? Or does it leave a contrast (i.e. dispensationalism)? This issue of parallels and contrasts seems to be the divide here? I know this issue is complicated so I apologize for the oversimplification,  but it seemed like this would be a good time to ask. I guess the issue would be to decide if the covenant with Abraham applies to only believers in Christ (parallel) were only those who are genetically Hebrew (contrast).

  5. Eric Stampher says

    Hi BY — did you first decide that the cov with Abe apply to Abe because he himself was a believer in Christ or was it because he was genetically Hebrew (meaning genetically himself, I guess)?

  6. Tim Mullet says

    BJ, yes the most significant difference between systems of theology involves understanding the relationship between the church and Israel.  Covenant theologians are not arguing that there are no differences between the church and Israel, however, typically the covenant theologian is going to say, the church is the new Israel.  There is one people of God.  On the other end, the Dispensationalist is going to argue that the church is not Israel.  Therefore, essentially the fight is over continuity and discontinuity between the church and Israel and the new covenant and old covenant.  Dispensationalism is not monolithic so it is often helpful to think of the various systems of theology along a spectrum of continuity and discontinuity.  Classic and Revised dispensationalists would argue that the church represents a parenthesis or intercalation in the prophetic timetable for Israel, therefore they are both arguing for virtually no continuity.  The primary difference between the two is going to be on points of application.  Progressive dispensationalists would argue for much greater continuity.  They would argue for one people of God.  However, they would explain that comparing the church to Israel is like comparing apples to cars.  New Covenant Theologians would argue that the church is not the New Israel, however from the perspective of history, old testament saints will prove to be members of the church, in that they are grafted into the church at a specific point in time.  The church is a New Testament entity with a New Testament origin.  So it may be helpful to think of the various systems of theology along the following spectrum: Discontinuity – Classic Dispensationalism -> Revised Dispensationalism -> Progressive Dispensationalism -> New Covenant Theology -> Covenant Theology – Continuity.  

  7. Tim Mullet says

    BJ, can you rephrase this question, ” I guess the issue would be to decide if the covenant with Abraham applies to only believers in Christ (parallel) were only those who are genetically Hebrew (contrast).” I am having trouble understanding it.  

  8. Eric Stampher says

    What’s the position called that says the church is an Old Testament entity with an Old Testament origin?  That says Abel was one of the first known members of the church?  (I think Adam & Eve, too.  Not Cain though.)  And that it was the church that Noah was part of; and it was the church that Moses led in the wilderness (Acts 7:38)? 

  9. Tim Mullet says

    Basically, all the the Dispensational scheme’s and New Covenant Theology are unified in that they believe, over and against Covenant Theology, that the Church originated in history post Pentacost.  

  10. Eric Stampher says

    Why must we use the term “covenant theology” — I’m especially nervous about the “covenant” part and what folks seem to be importing.  Or are we, in the use of that term, trying to recapture a meaning of the basic historical foundation of our relationship to God?  All of our history proceeding from that time when God offered His grand bargain:  “Enjoy it!  Thrive!  Just don’t eat from that one over there.” — that all of our lives are playing out to show that He can make us into creatures which can keep that “covenant” in Christ as Eve was not able to keep it when she went solo?

  11. Tim Mullet says

    Typing these responses on a phone… so make all charitable allowances lol. Covenant Theologians speak of three basic covenants by which we summarize the basic story of the Bible. Thus they would say that in the garden, Adam was offered eternal life on the contingency of perfect obedience. They would describe this offer as a Covenant of Works. Adam failed to perform his covenantal obligation, therefore man is condemned. CT’s would also speak of a Covenant  ofRedemption and a Covenant of Grace. The former is anok intra-Trinitarian covenant made with himself before the foundation of the world to make a Covenant ofGrace with a fallen people. The COG is the ONE covenant that stands behind all of the biblical covenants (Noaic, Mosaic, Abrahamic, Davidic, New). Thus, all the biblical covenants are seen as not differing on substance, as they are all manifestations of the covenant of Grace. Hope that helps you understand where CT’s are coming from. 

  12. Tim Mullet says

    Basically the COG condemns, the COR represents a decision to save the condemned, the COG saves. I’m sure that’s an obnoxious oversimplification.

  13. Tim Mullet says

    If  you believe in the COW, the COR, and the COG, then you believe in Covenant Theology. If you do not recognize the three covenants you shouldn’t describe your theology as Covenant Theology.

  14. BJ says

    Eric, Tim, 
    Hey, thanks for the thoughtful responses guys. I feel like this issue is very important one that seems to be brushed over it a lot anymore. It either becomes an argument about the modern State of Israel or a devolved into an esoteric argument about inheritance. To your first question,  Eric, I believe that Abraham was picked by God and the Covenant was accepted by faith. So I guess, agreeing with Paul in Romans 9, that it would apply to all of those who have faith in Christ. The problem I don’t into this is how you would consider the relationship with current modern day Jews. I essentially understand myself as being a covenant see your lotion in the way that I think Calvin understood himself to be a covenant theology, at least that’s the way I try. 

  15. BJ says

    Tim, I have no problem assenting to belief in those three covenants, but I have been called anti-semitic for holding that belief.  I was told it if I were going to believe in the bible, I have to call the modern day Jews God’s people. This is the reason I asked question when this popped up, the nature of the covenant with Abraham in the New Testament matters a great deal depending on how you look at the relationship between the Old and New Testament. Anyway, I am just trying to work out some of my questions I’m currently battling with.

  16. Tim Mullet says

     BJ, there’s definitely no necessary relationship between anti-Semitism and Covenant Theology. So ignore that bit of unhelpful rhetoric.

  17. BJ says

    Tim, I did, but the claim has been made more than once. Both times they said that I was claiming that God forsook the Jews and abandoned His covenant with Abraham. Apparently this is a common claim.

  18. Tim Mullet says

    I’m not a CT, but just ask the dispensationalist who says that to define anti-Semitism.  Ask them to point to any dictionary definition that would validate that claim. The issues of whether or not you are claiming that God has forsaken the Jews and whether he has abandoned  his covenant made with Abraham are two separate questions and unrelated to the anti-Semitism question. I don’t know how you would answer either.

  19. Tim Mullet says

    This seems to be as good a definition of anti-Semitism as any, “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.” I think virtually all CT’s would say that Jews are not excluded from membership in the Church by virtue of their Jewishness. If the Church includes the redeemed of all ages, then there are many Jews who are members of the Church. Any Jew can enjoy the blessings of the Abraham covenant by repenting of their sins and believing in Christ. Whether or not a particular CT will personally hate Jews is a different issue not linked to the system.

  20. says

    Wow – you guys sure complicate things. There is certainly continuity in Covenant history but it is also a process — a sacrificial process:
    1) Sacrifice chosen – Adam to Noah 2) Sacrifice cut – Abraham to Moses 3) Sacrifice put on the Altar/Land – Moses to Jesus 4) Sacrifice set alight – Jesus/Pentecost 5) Holy (pleasing) smoke – Apostolic witness and destruction of Jerusalem 6) God cleanses the world – Gospel age 7) Rest and Rule – Final judgment. The problem with paedobaptism is that it confuses the cutting of the substitute for Adam with the acceptance of the pleasing savor. I’ve presented this argument (and many others) over the past few years but everybody either brings up “pastoral concerns” (as if having a church full of baptized unregenerates isn’t a pastoral concern) or they quote the Reformers, who were confused, or Federal Vision books, which contain a lot of great stuff but are also confused. If baptized babies are regenerate, why does Doug make such a fuss about an “internal baptism”? Seen as a sacrificial process the solution is simple. The New Covenant people is as different from the Old as fragrant smoke is to flesh. And there’s a reason the unbelieving first century Judaizers are pictured in Revelation as a cloud of sulfur. Like Lazarus, it had been “four days” and behold, they stank.

  21. Tim Mullet says

    Mike Bull, most people criticize CT for being an oversimplication (i.e. reductionistic), they do not criticize it for being complicated.  If you look at your scheme it is clearly more complicated than CT’s scheme.  The CT can summarize redemptive history quickly and easily by referring to the Covenant of Redemption, Covenant of Works, and Covenant of Grace.  Your scheme is much more complicated.  My criticism of CT is that it is necessarily reductionistic.  Why do you conclude that the problem with paedobaptism is that it confuses the cutting of the substitute for Adam with the acceptance of the pleasing savor?  If have never heard anyone argue this.  When Doug says that baptized babies are regenerate, he is not using regeneration in the sense of effectual call or “made alive.”  He is speaking of regeneration in a different sense.  Therefore, to make a fuss about “internal baptism,” would be an attempt to speak of regeneration in a different sense than we typically use it.  Not all outward Covenant members are recipients of the effectual call, i.e. members of God’s saving elect.  When you say, “The New Covenant people is as different from the Old as fragrant smoke is to flesh,” are you saying that you are a dispensationalist?  

  22. Eric Stampher says

    Jews today:  I don’t know if there are any.  If there are, they need to listen to the appeal Paul makes.  They should be jealous of us white trash showing more faith and attachment to God than they have — and they had the advantage of God forming and dealing directly with them as a community of folks.

  23. Eric Stampher says

    Mr. Bull, your analogies are confusing to my pea brain.  They feel esoteric and loaded with a lot meaning I’m not yet privy to.  Please walk us slowly down this isle.  First, you say our history is a history of sacrificial process.  First a sacrifice must be chosen (presumably by God).  You say this process of choosing a sacrifice occurred from Adam to Noah?  I’m baffled.  When God told Eve her seed would come to take out the snake, wasn’t all the choosing shown to be done already?  Please enlighten!

  24. BJ says

    The issue of anti-antisemitism stems, I think, from the idea that if the Jews (genetically speaking) are not God’s people, they have no right to the land of Palestine. I think it is more properly labeled anti-Zionism. Semantics aside, the issue is whether the covenant made with Abraham was meant to be applied to those who trust the Messiah (Christ) or to the genetic descendents of Abraham (whether believers or not). That hits directly at the issue of this post. I would argue that the covenant with Abraham (which is part of what Covenant Theologians call the Covenant of Grace) connects directly to the promise in Genesis 3:15 and runs throughout the OT into the NT. Essentially, the various “dispensations” are really just re-commitments (so to speak) by God of this same covenant. Christ fulfilled this one, singular covenant. I realize that Romans 9-11 are complex, but I think what Paul is doing is trying to understand this relationship. It is this connection by Paul that most Presbyterians make and use as a defense of paedobaptism (which I do not hold to). In any case, this relationship is interesting and very important for our theological understanding in many areas.

  25. Tim Mullet says

    Yes absolutely some dispensationalists equate anti-zionism with anti-Semitism… but that’s a serious and slanderous error.  Ultimately how you define the relationship between the Church and Israel demonstrates how you put your Bible together.

  26. Tim Mullet says

    It’s all based on the belief in an earthly/heavenly dualism.  Classic and Revised Dispensationalists believe that God has two redemptive peoples with different redemptive purposes.  He has an earthly people (Israel) to accomplish his earthly purposes and a heavenly people (the Church) to accomplish his heavenly purposes.  The Church age is a parenthesis or intercalation in the prophetic timetable for Israel.  God has 70 weeks (of years) for Israel, 69 of which have already occurred, the final week (of years) has been postponed until after the church age.  The church age is a parenthesis inserted into the timetable for Israel, which is completely unrelated to God’s plan for Israel.  The church age was completely unforseen in the pages of the Old Testament.  Therefore, the Abrahamic Covenant is part of God’s earthly purposes for his earthly people and the church is not included in those earthly promises.  To make a long answer short, if a person believes everything I just said, then they will have a difficult time avoiding the conclusion that the Jews are entitled to the land.  They are God’s earthly people.  God’s earthly purposes have not been completed, or so the argument goes.

  27. Eric Stampher says

    Tim, succinctly put.  I’m also wondering if the “they” includes those who didn’t believe what Moses said — especially about Jesus.  As I read the OT, God tends to kick the folks off the promise land when they don’t believe.  Do we rejoice, according to your layout, that He’s brought back in folks that believe even less?

  28. Eric Stampher says

    Tim — also, what does the dispensation folks make of all the believers before Christ who weren’t jews?  Starting at least with Abel.

  29. Tim Mullet says

    That is the difficulty, however not all dispensationalist go that direction.  For instance, MacArthur a self described leaky dispensationalist would be the first to warn people against assuming too much from the brute fact that Israel has returned to the land.  He would caution people to remember that right now unbelieving Jews are objects of God’s wrath.  The fact that they have returned to the land is no indication that they might not be removed from the land again before the 2nd coming.  He wouldn’t be a Classic or Revised dispensationalists.  Many dispensationalists seem to forget that time in the land is not an end in of itself and linked with obedience.

  30. Tim Mullet says

    Classic Dispensationalists (Chafer, Scofield, Pentacost) and Revised Dispensationalists (Ryrie) believe in dualistic redemption.  I am certain of this in the case of Scofield and pretty confident that it is the case with Ryrie.  Dualistic redemption is very compatible with the earthly/duaism teaching, i.e. there are the two different peoples with two different purposes, one related to the earth with earthly objectives and one related to heaven with heavenly objectives.  So Dispesationalists who hold to dualistic redemption are going to spend a lot of time talking about “before the cross” and “after the cross.”  “Before the cross” salvation was by works, “after the cross” salvation is by grace through faith.  MacArthur and the Progressives would be absolutely clear, salvation has always been by grace through faith.  

  31. BJ says

    Tim, MacArthur has made much ado about the land being occupied by the Israelites. In a sermon called, “Why every self-respecting Calvinist is a premillenialist” he makes the claim that their being in the land is an apologetic proof that they are the people of God. So MacArthur is talking out of both sides of his mouth (which he rather often does in this area of theology) if he has in other places cautioned against making too much of it. The reason he calls himself a leaky dispensationalist is that he is trying to avoid the rather obvious conclusion of dual covenant theology. After all if the covenant is “an everlasting covenant” and it only applies to genetic Jews, then they do not need Christ. That is the flaw of all dispensational systems. John MacArthur is just trying to have it both ways, thus the double speak. John Hagee is at least consistent in this sense. This is ultimately the main reason I am not a dispensationalist. I have respect for them and am sympathetic to some of their positions, but they are inconsistent in this area.

  32. Tim Mullet says

    BJ I am not a dispensationalist, but I have listened to over 1000 MacArthur sermons.  I have listened to everything he has ever done on the issue of echatology, and probably have listed to every Q&A that he has recorded.  MacArthur has unquestably been my primary influence in many areas.  Therefore, I would caution you against some of your statements.  You do not understand MacArthur :)  The reason why he calls himself a leaky dispensationalist is because he believes that dispensationalism is a system that has gotten out of control.  Most of what I say is almost verbatim quotes from him.  When he says that dispensationalism has gotten out of control, he is talking about the endless distinctions (kingdom of heaven/kingdom of God, dualistic redemption, earthly people/heavenly people, etc).  The only thing that he wishes to take from the dispensational system is the belief that there is a distinction between the Church and Israel, that is it.  He believes that this distinction is the key to Eschatology.  You have to understand his primary influence at this point is THE dispensationalist scholar Charles Feinburg.  Feinburg knew over 30 languages and personally mentored MacArthur.  MacArthur was close friends with Charles and his sons John and Paul who are both theologians.  MacArthur never wished to approach the Bible from the standpoint of a system.  He believed that you should start with the text and work your way up to a system of theology.  In many ways, in his early years he built his theology from the ground up.  He is very clear in all of his discussions of eschatology, that he never approached the subject from the standpoint of a system, but sought to explain the whole one passage at a time.  In the early days of his ministry, he was very clear that when he came to the subject of eschatology, he leaned heavily on his friends.  His friends were dispensationalists.  Thus, if you observe any inconsistencies in his eschatology, there are more favorable ways of understanding how this has come to be, provided that you know the history.  Many people are put off by MacArthur’s strong stand on the area of eschatology, however you have to understand who you are dealing with.  MacAthur is committed to fight with every breath anyone who denies the priority, authority, sufficiency, and clarity of Scripture.  He has an overwhelming  desire to know the truth.  One of his biggest critiques of the church today is their failure to speak to the issue of the second coming.  Remember he believes the Scriptures are clear (able to be understood) and authoratative.  Scripturally the second coming is presented as one of the main motivations that we have for obedience.  He is concerned that we have, in our attempt at avoiding the eschatology wars of the past generation, cowardly refused to speak about one of the primary motivations that we have for obedience.  His concern is valid, regardless of whether or not you agree with his position.  The church has avoided the subject of eschatology and it is a shame.  The times in my life when I have immersed myself in the subject have been times where I have longed to see the LORD returned and taken holiness very seriously. 

  33. Tim Mullet says

    Let me just say that he isn’t talking out of both sides of his mouth. Yes he clearly believes in a future literal 1000 year kingdom. He believes that Israel is still God’s people in a sense, but they are under God’s judgement at the moment. The fact that they are not exterminated like the gergishites, hitites, amorites, perishites, amalekites, however you spell any of those,  is evidence of God’s faithfulness to the Abrahamic blessing. God has always been faithful to his covenant, and Israel has always been unfaithful. God has always chastened them, I.e. most recently holocaust. I could elaborate, but he is not speaking unreasonably. He is trying to do justice to Scripture. Are his pressupositions correct? 

  34. BJ says

    Tim, I, too, have spent much time listening to MacArthur and I give him much credit for his scholarship. I was a member of a church in Monterey, CA whose pastor was a graduate of the Master’s. I know his work well and respect him immensely. /////I also know that his detailed scholarship falls inadequate in this area of theology. His descriptions of postmillenialism is pure straw man fallacy. He claims the Reformers never studied this area of theology in detail, which is ridiculous. He makes claims about statistics of premill adherents that are false. There are far more amill supporters than anything else (mainly due to Catholicism) but to hear him speak of it, the entire world is premill except a few who have an agenda. He claims that every Christian in China is premill. “There’s only one view in the church in China and it’s the pre-millenial view.” (This quote is from the sermon mentioned above). That is patently absurd. There are between 84 and 130 million Christians in China. He can’t possibly expect a reasonable person to believe this. China has Catholics, Orthodox, charismatics, reformed, evangelical, and indigenous protestant churches. Somehow they are uniformly dispensational, pre-tribulation premills? He makes very poor claims about the apologetic power of the Israelites in the land of Palestine. This is his proof that the Israelites are the chosen of God. This whole idea is problematic, apologetically speaking. The Han Dynasty in China has a Buddhist prophecy about their continued existence, which they used to their benefit during the communist take-over. Are they the people of God? Also, the Kurds have an Islamic prophecy about their continued existence. Both still exist. So which God is true? It is perhaps persuasive to the uninitiated, but it is not proof. /// My whole point here is not to bash MacArthur. I insist he is a very good scholar and a true man of God who has pushed me to love the Lord and His word all that much more. The problem is that he can’t seem to realize that staunchly dividing Israel and the church the way he does causes problems. It is fine, like I said I have respect for dispensationalists and many of their positions. But he is so bombastic and dogmatic that it becomes a problem when you have to resort to bad scholarship in its defense.

  35. Tim Mullet says

    Basically there’s a difference between saying, Israel’s return to the land despite a recent attempt at extermination is apologetic proof of the Abrahamic Covenant (I can say that as a non-dispensationalist who believes that Romans 11 teaches a mass future conversion of Jews, God is the only reason that hated people exist), and cautioning people against concluding that the end is near because Israel has returned to the land. They could be removed again. Who knows? That’s MacArthur’s point. Even some CT’s believe in a future conversion of Israelites to Christ, as MacArthur does. Any wouldn’t they conclude that God is responsible for preserving them so that that can one day convert.

  36. Tim Mullet says

    Sure I disagree with him in this area, but at least understand where he’s coming from. His four major convictions are the priority, authority, sufficiency, and clarity of Scripture. 

  37. Tim Mullet says

    He’s cranky about this subject because people are overreacting the the Eschatology wars and now no one will teach Revelation 5-22, because they are far too humble. This is a problem.  

  38. BJ says

    Tim, It looks like we agree more than disagree. What makes me love him is the same reason I appreciate Doug. They have passion and fire for the gospel and the word. I wish we had more preachers like him, honestly. Moreover, I am a postmill guy who also sees a future conversion of Jews in Romans 11, but that is far different than saying that unbelieving Jews are elect, which he does in no uncertain terms. Then he later condemns them for not believing. This is why I said he speaking out of both sides of his mouth. Are they elected or condemned? Perhaps I need to read up more on the eschatology wars that you mentioned. I came up through the ranks of the Church of the Nazarene hearing about the Left Behind views as dogmatic fact. When I began reading about eschatology, I began to see things differently. But rest assured, if I ever get a pulpit to from which to preach I will hit Revelations 5-22. Maybe I’ll get it wrong (God forbid), but I will work through it. What I don’t want to happen is what happened to me twice before. I was labeled anti-semitic for being postmill. That does keep people from teaching eschatology. I hope that those who are followers of MacArthur will not make this same mistake, but given his knuckledheadedness (actual word?) maybe not. In any case, if he makes people talk about this area of theology, it is definitely a good thing.

  39. Tim Mullet says

    Bj, I do admire him for his crankyness and hope the church turns the corner in this area. I do think we’ve gone from eschatology is everything to please nobody have a strong view or if you do dare to utter it. The antisemitic remarks made by some dispensationalists are unfortunate. You can’t understand how MacArthur could say that Israel is elect in asome nonsalvific sense? Elect just means chosen, not necessarily effectually called. Many biblical words have broader semantic range than our systematics allow. That’s why Doug gets in trouble for his use of words like justification and regeneration in what he would describe as Biblical ways. Sometimes our systematic theologys unnecessarily restrict the range of words like elektos or dikaiao.

  40. Eric Stampher says

    So you said some dispensationalists hold that “before the cross” salvation was by works.  Do they see any successes — anybody who’s works were acceptable?  Elijah went straight to heaven — was that by his works?  Which dispensationalists tend to soften what Jesus said:  “If you believed Moses, you would believe in me”?  I.e., the problem being the Jews were not believing in God to begin with; not accepting their own Scriptures.  That kind of dispensationalist reminds me of the ugly step child wishing more than anything they could be one of those real children.

  41. Tim Mullet says

    Most contemporary dispensationalists would not say that salvation was by works prior to the cross, that  position has been so rigorously critiqued. It definitely is easier to say things like that in the abstract than it is to get down to specifics. I can’t remember specifically their arguments, but I think it had to do with God overlooking former sins and requiring broad stream covenantal faithfulness and not perfect obedience.