Dispensational Understanding of the New Covenant. By Mike Stallard, John Master, Dave Fredrickson, Roy E. Beacham, Elliott E. Johnson, Rodney J. Decker, and Bruce Compton. Editor Mike Stallard. Schaumburg, Ill.: Regular Baptist Press, 2012. 285 pages. Paper, $24.99.
This book presents three dispensationalist views of the Church’s relationship to Israel’s New Covenant. The non-dispensationalist view that the Church replaces national Israel, the progressive dispensationalist view that the Church partially fulfills the New Covenant, and the older dispensationalist view of Lewis Sperry Chafer that there are two New Covenants—one for Israel and one for the Church—are briefly mentioned and summarily dismissed. Thus, this is a book by traditional dispensationalists for traditional dispensationalists.
The three views presented in the book are: (1) Roy E. Beacham, the Church has no legal relationship to or participation in the New Covenant, (2) Elliot E. Johnson, the Church has an indirect relationship to the New Covenant, and (3) Rodney Decker, the Church has a direct relationship to the New Covenant.
The book is enhanced by a foreword by John Master that also espouses the “no relationship” view, and by an epilogue by Bruce Compton in which he sees a connection between the Church and the New Covenant.
The two introductory chapters are essential reading and themselves worth the price of the book.
Dave Fredrickson answers the question: “Which Are the New Covenant Passages in the Bible?” He does this by first examining various models that have been put forth for identifying the OT New Covenant passages and then proposing a new model for “surfacing” (p. 66) New Covenant passages in both Testaments. He finds “six primary elements and eleven primary passages regarding the new covenant in the Old Testament” (p. 61) and “seven primary elements and six primary passages regarding the new covenant in the New Testament” (p. 67). Two handy tables summarize his findings.
Mike Stallard, the book’s editor, contributes the second introductory chapter, “The Interpretation of the New Covenant in the History of Traditional Dispensationalism.” Here he surveys the thought of not only well-known dispensationalists like John Nelson Darby, William Kelly, Frederick William Grant, Arno C. Gaebelein, C. I. Scofield, H. A. Ironside, William Newell, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Charles Ryrie, John Walvoord, J. Dwight Pentecost, and Homer A. Kent, but also lesser-known figures such as Benjamin Wills Newton, Émile Guers, C. K. Imbrie, and W. R. Nicholson. He also refers to the views of the New Scofield Reference Bible. Unfortunately, however, he does not mention the early twentieth-century Baptist Clarence Larkin or the contemporary Renald Showers.
Of course, the meat of the book is the “debate” section.
First, Roy E. Beacham has the longest presentation where he defends the “no relationship” view. His coverage of the topic is much longer and more thorough than the other two views presented. Beacham’s perspective “negates a number of long-standing and rather significant misconceptions” (p. 108) with regard to the nature, purpose, extent, and chronology of the New Covenant. He rightly points out the fallacy of artificially bifurcating the New Covenant into “spiritual” benefits that are “applied to many, if not all, of the redeemed of mankind” and “physical” benefits that are “either eliminated or minimized and restricted in their application” to national Israel (p. 108). The only way the Church “relates” to the New Covenant is that “the blood of Christ was poured out not just to secure the future of Israel” (p. 110) and the Church “receives from God soteriological blessings like some of those promised to Israel under the new covenant” (p. 143) Beacham’s chapter should be supplemented by Master’s foreword, which also argues for the “no relationship” view. Master argues that “echoes of both Augustine and Jerome are found in some current dispensational teaching about the new covenant” (p. 25). Decker dismisses Beacham’s position as “controversial” (p. 152), “not the majority position” (p. 154), “not even a major position by some standards” (p. 154), and not “tenable” (p. 163), yet acknowledges that it is “the best defense of his position that I have read” (p. 163).
Second, Elliot E. Johnson’s presentation of the “indirect relationship view” is very brief in size—it is even shorter than Beacham’s response to it. It is also very brief in scope, mainly focusing on an exposition of Jeremiah 31:31-34. Even so, Johnson was bound to go astray in arguing for his view since he began by misconstruing Ephesians 2:12 and 22 as demonstrating Gentile inclusion in the “blessings of the new covenant” (p. 164).
Third, Rodney Decker’s treatment of the “direct relationship” view is exhaustive in detail, but incomplete in scope. He only address the New Covenant in Hebrews “and does not attempt integration with other texts” (p. 194). He concludes that “we are not only related to Jesus as our high priest, but the text seems to demand that we are related to the new covenant itself for it is on this basis that we draw near to God.” Decker’s statement that the writer of Hebrews “says nothing about a future covenant for Israel” (p. 219)—contrary to Hebrews 8:8 and 10:16—is immediately used against him by Johnson. Beacham concludes that Decker has “clearly confused ‘the covenant’ with ‘the Christ’ in the book of Hebrews” (p. 237).
The deficiencies in the presentations of Johnson and Decker are partially offset by the explanations of their views that appear in their responses to Beacham and each other. Overall, though, Dispensational Understanding of the New Covenant is an important work for dispensationalists that I highly recommend.
Laurence M. Vance