Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views. By Chad O. Brand, Tom Pratt, Jr., Robert L. Reymond, Robert L. Saucy, and Robert Thomas. Edited by Chad O. Brand. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2015. Vii + 317 pp. Paper, $29.99.
As Charles Ryrie explained in his classic work on Dispensationalism, the first aspect of the sine qua non of Dispensationalism is the distinction between Israel and the Church. This distinction is born out of a literal interpretation of Scripture and reflects an understanding that the underlying purpose of God in the world is the manifestation of His glory. The degree to which the distinction between Israel and the Church is consistently maintained determines the degree to which one is a Dispensationalist.
Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views includes the following four views of Israel and the Church: the late Robert Reymond (1932-2013) presents the traditional Covenantal view; Robert Thomas presents the traditional Dispensational view; Robert Saucy presents the Progressive Dispensational view; and Chad Brand and Tom Pratt present the Progressive Covenantal view.
Regarding the contributors, Thomas and Saucy are well known to those in Dispensationalist circles. Reymond (1932-2013) was professor emeritus of theology at Knox Theological Seminary. Brand has been a pastor and has taught theology and church history at three Baptist colleges and seminaries. Pratt is president of Eagle Rock Ministries and is a Bible teacher, preacher, and freelance writer.
The format of the book is typical of this genre. Each contributor presents the case for his view (50-54 pages each), followed by responses from the other contributors (averaging about six pages each). The book begins with a fair and balanced 15-page introduction by one of the contributors, Chad Brand. The book is enhanced by about 500 footnotes. There is scarcely a page without one, including the response sections. The book concludes with subject, name, and Scripture indexes.
Two questions immediately come to mind when reviewing a book of this nature: (1) Are the four views under consideration adequately presented in a book of this size, and (2) Does the author of the traditional Dispensationalist view do a good job of presenting Dispensationalism and responding to the other three views? Having carefully read the whole book, with a special focus on not only the presentation of traditional Dispensationalism by Thomas, but also the criticisms of it by Reymond, Saucy, and Brand/Pratt and Thomas’s responses to them, I can say unequivocally that both questions can be answered in the affirmative.
It is quite evident in his presentation of the traditional covenantal view that Reymond despises Dispensationalism. Here he castigates Dispensationalism almost as much as he promotes Covenant Theology. He gladly accepts “replacement theology” because “Jesus himself enunciated it” (p. 49). The land promises to ethnic Israel “are to be viewed in terms of shadow, type, and prophecy in contrast to the reality, substance, and fulfillment of which the NT speaks” because “it is we Christians as members of Christ’s messianic kingdom who are real heirs to the land promises of Holy Scripture, but in their fulfilled paradisiacal character” (p. 36). His authority for his covenant theology is the Westminster Confession of Faith (pp. 20-22, 25). Although Reymond mentions the New Scofield Reference Bible (p. 24) and the Dallas Theological Seminary doctrinal statement (pp. 23, 24, 31, 32), the only Dispensationalists he refers to are Charismatic showmen like John Hagee, Kenneth Copeland, and Pat Robertson (p. 35). Certainly, he could have found better representatives of Dispensationalism. The three replies to Reymond each focus on a different aspect of his argument for Covenant Theology. In one particular, Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views is three views against one because of Reymond’s acceptance of, and the other contributors’ rejection of, replacement theology, infant baptism, and amillennialism.
Thomas’s presentation of traditional Dispensationalism is unique as compared with the standard works on Dispensationalism. He divides his presentation into three parts: Israel in the OT, Israel in the NT, and Promises to Israel in the Apocalypse. In the first part of his presentation, Thomas introduces the Abrahamic, Palestinian, Davidic, and new covenants and then focuses on the land promise to Israel in the Pentateuch, the Psalms, and the Prophets. In the second part, Thomas maintains that the NT never reverses or spiritualizes the OT land promise. He discusses ten “occasions when Jesus might have canceled God’s promises to Abraham but did not” (p. 95) and six “occasions when the Apostles might have canceled God’s promises to Abraham but did not” (p. 109). In his third part, Thomas examines the book of Revelation as it relates to the Abrahamic (including the Palestinian), Davidic, and new covenants, using the commentaries on Revelation by Greg Beale, David Aune, and Grant Osborne to contrast their eclectic hermeneutical approaches with his literal hermeneutical principles. In his response to Thomas, Reymond rehashes much of what he writes in his presentation of the traditional covenantal view and fills two pages with extended quotes from Carl F. H. Henry. Naturally, Saucy is “in general agreement with the basic thesis of Thomas’s essay” (p. 143) and Brand/Pratt “have several major concerns about his exposition” (p. 149).
Because he doesn’t believe that the Church is the true, the new, or spiritual Israel, or has replaced Israel, there is much in Saucy’s presentation of the progressive Dispensational view that is valuable. However, as Thomas points out in his reply to Saucy: “He derived some of his hermeneutical principles from systems other than Dispensationalism” (p. 218). The relatively new progressive covenantal view presented by Brand/Pratt, because it derives partially from progressive Dispensationalism and partly from covenant theology, contains errors from both systems. In his reply to the Brand/Pratt perspective, Thomas (who says he was “unfamiliar” with the term “progressive covenantalism” until reading their essay [p. 286]) explains how it has an unfortunate understanding of Dispensationalism, a neglect of grammatical-historical principles of interpretation, and a distortion of the land promises to Abraham. It is, as I pointed out in a review of a book on this perspective (Kingdom through Covenant, by Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum) merely a baptized Covenant Theology.
Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views is an important book that I highly recommend. It gathers into one place a unique presentation of traditional Dispensationalism, viewpoints on Israel and the Church that oppose it and each other, and a Dispensationalist response to those contrary viewpoints. Seasoned Dispensationalists will sharpen their skills by reading and attempting to critique on the fly the covenantal, progressive Dispensational, and progressive covenantal views. This book belongs on the bookshelf of every Dispensationalist.
Laurence M. Vance