Perspectives of Israel and the Church: 4 Views – A Review

Chad O. Brand is the editor of Perspectives of Israel and the Church: 4 Views (the book).  Brand is a former associate dean of biblical and theological studies and professor of Christian Theology at Boyce College.  As the book’s title indicates, it presents four views of the biblical concepts of Israel and the Church: the Covenantal View, the Traditional Dispensational View, the Progressive Dispensational View, and the Progressive Dispensational View.  In addition to Brand there are four contributors to the book.  Robert Reymond, now deceased, was a professor of Theology emeritus at Knox College; Reymond presents and defends the Covenantal View.  Robert L. Thomas is a professor of New Testament Emeritus at the Masters Seminary; Thomas presented and defended the Traditional Dispensational View.  Robert L. Saucy, now deceased, was a distinguished professor of Systematic Theology at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University; he presented and defended the Progressive Dispensational View.  Brand, along with Tom Pratt Jr., presented and defended the Progressive Covenantal View. Pratt has no bona fide theological credentials of which to speak but attended Denver Seminary for a time and is (along with Brand) a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Faith, World, & Economics.  All of these men are evangelical Christian scholars and write from the perspective that the Bible is accurate and authoritative.

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary provost, Steve Lemke, has quite rightly said (as printed on the book’s back cover), “The issue of the relation of Israel and the Church is crucial in New Testament interpretation for soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology.”  In the book, the various authors attempted to present their individual conclusions about this relation.  Brand began the book with an introduction that presents a historical survey of Christian views on the subject matter.  After that, a chapter was dedicated to each view, with each author presenting his view and responding to the objections of that view from the book’s other contributors.

The first view presented in the book was Reymond’s Covenantal View.  This view is the predominant view of Presbyterianism.  According to this view, God has one covenant people which includes in its members all who have faith in Him.  Thus, there is no current distinction between Israel and the Church.  The “Israel” of God is not limited to or inclusive of all ethnic Jews.  Rather, Israel includes all those who are heirs according to God’s covenant promises.  Under this view, infant baptism replaces circumcision as a covenant sign for New Testament-Era people.  The role of infant baptism in Christian life was heavily critiqued by the other contributors; it is the weakest point of Reymond’s case.

The second view presented in the book was Thomas’ Traditional Dispensational view.  This view was popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible in the early 1990s and remains very popular with non-reformed Baptists and Pentecostals (Thomas, notably, is a professor emeritus at a reformed Baptist Seminary).  Dispensational views posit that ethnic Jews represent a separate people from gentile Christians.  In other words, Israel and the Church are not the same.  The soundness of this view is dependent on the continuing applicability of God’s land promises to the Jewish people – that the Promised Land is the rightful property of ethnic Jews.  Given that covenantal views reject the continuing applicability of these land promises, Thomas spent significant time in his chapter arguing that the land promises do in fact still apply.  To do so, he utilized several arguments from silence which refered to times when Jesus could have “cancelled” these promises but didn’t.  His method of argumentation provided a weak case which did not stand up to the rebuttal of Reymond who cited the parable of the wicked tenants as definitive scriptural evidence that ethnic Jews no longer hold rights to the land of Canaan.  The Progressive Dispensational View of Saucy was presented after the Traditional Dispensational View.  Save for some differences in hermeneutical method, the Progressive Dispensational and Traditional Dispensational Views are not discernibly different.

The final view presented in the book was the Progressive Covenantal View of Brand and Pratt.  This view is effectively the Baptist version of the Covenantal View given that it does not dependent on infant baptism as a replacement for circumcision as a covenantal sign.  “Replacement” is, in fact, a term which Brand and Pratt made a point of disassociating with their view.   According to the Progressive Covenantal View, rather than replacing Israel, the church has always been Israel and Israel has always been the church – the oneness of God logically demands one people of God who have always been His in accordance with divine election.  As its editor, Brand had the advantage of placing his view at the end of the book.  The other contributors did the heavy lifting, as it were, of battering one another’s views while making the best points of Brand’s.  In a sense, Brand had the same advantage that William of Normandy had over the beleaguered Harold Godwinson at the battle of Hastings – his opponents were already worn down from pervious battle.

Overall, the book is a very informative and fair one.  The scholars chosen to present each view are experts in their theological fields; there are no jobbers in the bunch.  Each man, with the exception of Thomas, held his own.  Christians who want to better understand the relationship between Israel and the Church would do well to read the book and engage in their own follow-up studies.  There are many potentially helpful sources referenced by the book’s contributors.  The ecclesiological and even political outlook of an individual Christian can hinge upon this issue.  That alone is enough to justify further study of the subject matter.

[Contributed by Seth Dunn, host of The Christian Commute]

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

**As a matter of disclosure, I received a free copy of the book in exchange for the promise to review it.

Other reviews of the book can be found here, here, and here.

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