Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments. John S. Feinberg ed., Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1988. 410 pp. Paper, $17.50.
Although escaping the notice of some, it is widely acknowledged that dispensational theology has undergone progressive stages of development in the last century (see, for example, Craig A. Blaising, “Development of Dispensationalism by Contemporary Dispensationalists,” Bibliotheca Sacra 145 [July-September, 1988]: 254-80). The same can be said for Reformed theology; it too, as a theological system, is scarcely static and monolithic. In fact, over the course of several decades of careful formulation and refinement, Reformed and dispensational theology have come to a meeting of minds in articulating given points of doctrine. The most recent attestation of this doctrinal convergence between the two systems is Continuity and Discontinuity, a compendium of theological essays prepared in honor of S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., former NT Chairman of Dallas Theological Seminary and former Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
In essence, Continuity and Discontinuity is an interface between dispensational and Reformed theologians on the long-contested issues of hermeneutics, theological systems, salvation, the Law of God, and Kingdom promises. The title of this book is drawn from the overarching distinctives that are characteristic of the two systems of thought. “Continuity,” an emphasis of Reformed theology, argues for the unbroken interrelated connection of the administrations of God. On the other hand, “discontinuity,” an emphasis of dispensationalism, speaks of the distinction, cessation, and abrogation of given programmatic outworkings of God. However, as is carefully noted throughout this book, both positions agree to measures of continuity and discontinuity within their systems.
While the bulk of the essays concern the technical issues relative to the differing theological viewpoints, there are pragmatic implications that flow from the conclusions presented. As Saucy notes in “Israel and the Church: A Case for Discontinuity,” one’s view of “Israel” affects evangelistic attitudes toward the Jew (e.g., if the present state of Israel has been totally removed from the sphere of God’s covenantal blessing, should one even concern himself with missionary outreach to Jews in general and the nation of Israel in particular?), and one’s view of “the Kingdom” determines the extent of influence the Church is to exert upon society (e.g., if the Church is “the kingdom of God,” as suggested by proponents of the Christian Reconstruction Movement, then the present duty of the Church is to transform society into a theocracy [pp. 258–59]). Soteriological views are likewise affected by one’s view of the Mosaic Law and salvation in the OT. In this connection, four essays relate directly to salvation issues, and as such, summon special attention.
In “Salvation and the Testaments,” the Reformed essayist Klooster and the dispensational essayist Ross are in agreement regarding the method of salvation in the two Testaments: “Salvation has always been by grace through faith” (p. 161; cf. p. 133). Both authors interact with an earlier published essay of John S. Feinberg (“Salvation in the Old Testament,” Tradition and History. Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, Moody Press, 1981) and draw the following points of agreement regarding salvation in the OT: “(1) the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is the sole basis or ground of salvation; (2) faith in the living God as He revealed Himself is the sole requirement for salvation in each period of biblical history; and (3) the living God Himself is the ultimate object of faith” (p. 137). Where the two interpreters appear to disagree is: first, “how to understand what is specifically revealed by God in each period of biblical history,” and second, “how a believer is to express his or her salvation in that period of biblical history” (p. 137). While Ross and Klooster agree on point (2), even among dispensationalists this point has been subject to differing opinion. Some believe that as early as Genesis, a rudimentary messianic concept of salvation was held by the patriarchs. Others hold that specific messianic concepts of salvation emerge and develop at later junctures in Scripture.
From Ross’s essay emerge two salutary, yet often overlooked features of OT salvation. First, “the salvation or deliverance that Israel sought or enjoyed seems mostly concerned with the promises of the Covenant as they related to life in this world as the people of God” (p. 163). Second, law-keeping was not a means of eternal salvation, but instead, as Ross notes, “living under the Law was to the believer the natural response to the gracious covenant God and the means of enjoying continued blessings as the theocratic people” (p. 167).
The essays of Chamblin and Moo evoke interest inasmuch as the issue of law figures heavily in current evangelical discussion of the Gospel. For example, there are a number of evangelicals who believe that the Law of Christ in the NT includes “the moral law” of the OT. Understood accordingly, the essence of saving faith is said to be obedience to the moral precepts contained in the NT. Consequently, “the moral law” is that universal aspect of law that is said to have abiding force in both Testaments. Obedience to “the moral law” serves as a condition for salvation in both Reformed and Lordship Salvation theology.
Chamblin argues, in principle at least, for the continuation of the Mosaic Law as a regulatory code for believers in the present age. The Law of Moses is said to have coalesced into the Law of Christ so that “the law is now newly administered and more deeply expounded [by Christ] than ever before” (p. 182). Chamblin suggests, “there is indeed discontinuity, but it pertains to the form or the shape of the law rather than its being or essence, and it occurs within a framework of continuity” (p. 182). The author is to be applauded for his correct assessment of the “civil, ceremonial, and moral” as “three dimensions of the one law [Mosaic] rather than three kinds of law” (p. 183). Typically this qualification safeguards against the widely-circulating belief that Christians are under “the moral law” of the OT. Notwithstanding, there are difficulties with the position that Chamblin advances. First, the author appeals to a theological category of law as the basis of his argument: “In this essay, law denotes the rule of life which God gives to His people, that way in which they are to walk, those commandmentswhich they are to obey” (p.181). Rather than establishing the meaning of the Mosaic Law exegetically, the author employs a universal application of law as the touchstone for his argument. As a result of employing a methodology that is based upon constructs of systematic theology, the author’s argument becomes tediously labored and at times difficult to follow. Second, while Chamblin admits that the moral dimension of the Mosaic Law is not a kind of law, it is likewise difficult to distinguish between his proposed model of Mosaic Law, which contains many OT moralistic carry-overs, and traditional Reformed interpretations of “the moral law.” To be consistent, Chamblin would have to argue that the moral dimension of the Mosaic Law becomes law in kind through subsequent administration and explanation of Christ. Third and finally, in order to delimit the use of the Mosaic Law for believers of the present age, Chamblin admits that certain “epochal,” “cultural,” “hermeneutical,” and “personal” factors need to be taken into consideration (pp. 200–201). However, Chamblin’s suggested streamlining of the Mosaic Law, to this reviewer at least, is analogous to repairing a dilapidated axe by replacing its head and handle!
Although Chamblin’s argument is well-defended, there is an undutiful absence of discussion concerning the Reformed concept of tertius usus legis (“the third use of the law,” also known as usus normativus). In Reformed thought, this third use is generally defined as that function of the Mosaic Law which instructs believers how to live in accordance with God’s prescriptive will, i.e., “reminding them of their duties, and leading them in the way of life and salvation” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th ed., revised and enlarged [Grand Rapids: Win. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1969], 615). In a footnote, the author refers the reader to a number of scholarly works that deal specifically with this issue (p. 364). However, if substantive dialogue is to occur between Reformed and dispensational theologians, “the third use of the law” and its relationship to salvation must be surfaced and robustly discussed at the theological roundtable. For according to Reformed tradition, the purpose of “the third use of the law” is to demonstrate, in conjunction with good works, the genuineness of faith. Needless to say, many dispensationalists would find themselves spiritedly at odds with the Reformed notion of tertius usus legis.
A more convincing approach to this complex discussion is that advocated by Moo, namely, that the Mosaic Law in toto has ceased as an administrative code for present day believers. Moo elaborates: “‘Fulfilling’ the law in Paul is attached not to the obedience of precepts, but to the attitude of love and the work of the Spirit. For even in Rom 8:4 the meaning is not that the Spirit enables us to do the law, but because we are indwelt by the Spirit, the law has been fulfilled in us” (p. 210). While it is agreed that Moo’s interpretation of Rom 8:4 is correct, he does not adequately explain the meaning of this text in light of the broader context of Romans. This reviewer suggests that by virtue of the believer’s union with Christ, Himself the fulfillment and telos of the Mosaic Law, the believer who lives by the Spirit has, in himself, already fulfilled the Mosaic Law. Moo’s explanation of “the Law of Christ” in 1 Cor 9:20–21 is especially appreciated: “What Paul has in mind is his lifestyle, and he makes plain that he is not under obligation to pursue a lifestyle dictated by the precepts of the law” (p. 215). In order to clear himself from the disparaging charge of antinomianism, Moo supplies the following qualifying statement, “… the Christian is bound to ‘God’s law’ (1 Cor 9:20–21; cf. ‘God’s commands’ in 1 Cor 7:19 and 1 John (passim). ‘God’s law’ is not, however, the Mosaic Law, but ‘Christ’s law’ (1 Cor 9:20–21; Gal 6:2), because it is to Christ, the fulfiller, the telos of the law (Rom 10:4) that the Christian is bound” (p. 217). The discontinuity approach outlined in Moo’s essay lays to rest the notion that a person is saved by a faith that obeys “the moral law” of the OT. Moreover, this whole discussion of the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ carries decided weight in distinguishing between the positional and experiential aspects of sanctification. In brief, the essays of Chamblin and Moo justly distinguish the intricacies that separate Reformed and dispensational interpretations of the Law.
In the final analysis, Continuity and Discontinuity is a repository of theological scholarship that provides ample fuel for future study. This stimulating dialogue between Reformed and dispensational theologians is must reading for those seeking an up-to-date understanding of the distinguishing features of the two major theological systems that occupy evangelical Christianity. This Festschriftalso serves as a respectable testimony to the painstaking development of evangelical doctrine. From the reviewer’s point of view, the doctrinal developments contained in this book significantly add to the cogency and magnetism of dispensationalism as a competing system of evangelical theology. Finally, the discontinuity essays devoted to salvation-sanctification issues cast penetrating light on the theological fog that has blanketed a significant portion of recent presentations of the Gospel.
Gary L. Nebeker
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society