The Hole in Adventism (part 3)



In the previous post we examined the oldest systems of Protestant covenantal thought. The two systems to emerge we labeled "Category A: Covenantalism" and include both the Westminster Confession (WCC) and the 2nd London Baptist Confession(2LBC). We also had the opportunity to see that in many ways, Adventist theology has a lot of similarities with these two systems of thought. In the next post we will explore those similarities more closely, but for now we will turn our attention over to the alternate covenant views present in Category B.


Category A
Category B
Covenantalism
1) Westminster Confession
2) 2nd London Baptist Confession
(Embrace Perpetuity of Law and Sabbath)
Alternate views to Covenantalism
1) Dispensationalism
2) New Covenant Theology
(Reject Perpetuity of Law and Sabbath)

"Dispensationalism & New Covenant Theology"

Dispensationalism
Dispensationalism was the next development to emerge in Protestant covenantal thought and was popularized in the United States during the 1830's. Dispensationalism owes much of its development to Futurism's hermeneutic for interpreting Bible prophecy and Bible teacher John Nelson Darby (1800-1882)[6]. Dispensationalism affirms sola scriptura, holds to Trinitarian doctrine, all the principles of the Protestant reformation, and an Arminian soteriological tradition[7]. It also contends that the imparted and imputed righteousness of Christ are essential elements of the gospel and that good works are the natural outflow of genuine faith. Unlike Covenantalism it rejects the interpretive priority of the NT over the OT and is committed to a distinction between Israel and the church. In addition, unlike Covenantalism which unites the story of scripture via the covenants (with the Covenant of Grace being the unifier of the redemption narrative), Dispensationalism strings the story of scripture via dispensations (different administrations of grace throughout different ages). "It considers Biblical history as divided deliberately by God into defined periods or ages to each of which God has allotted distinctive administrative principles[8]." From here this system takes two routes. Classic Dispensationalism and Progressive Dispensationalism[9]. Due to the the minor differences between the two systems we will only review the classic view below.

Classic Dispensationalism 
Salvation: Classic Dispensationalism (henceforth CDM) mostly holds to the view that God has always had a plan of salvation that mankind is free to either embrace or reject. According to this view, mankind is too sinful to seek God, but God seeks man and enables us to respond to his grace. Salvation can never be earned, aided, or deserved. It is always a free gift of God. While Calvinist soteriology is not foreign in the CDM world, CDM remains primarily an Arminian view of redemptive history with most proponents of CDM holding to the doctrine of eternal security (One-Saved-Always-Saved).

Covenant Narrative: In order to fully comprehend CDM we must first realize that it is best defined as having a "Dispensational Narrative" as opposed to a "Covenant Narrative". To put it simply, while Covenantalism breaks the story of scripture down from covenant to covenant, Dispensationalism breaks the story down from one period of administration (dispensation) to the next (note that in Dispensationalism the terms administrate and dispensate are interchangeable). As a result, CDM sees God administering his saving grace in different ways (dispensations) throughout human history. However, the New Covenant is the covenant in which grace can be said to administer, or dispensate, itself.

Because CDM divides redemptive history via dispensations (rather than covenants) all of which took place at different intervals in human history,  it is necessary to see what these "dispensations" are. CDM divides them into seven distinct categories[10].
1) Innocence - This is the period of time in the Garden of Eden. During this time mankind was responsible to obey Gods commands in childlike innocence. It was through obedience that they maintained their relationship with God. 
2) Conscience - This is the period of time from the Edenic expulsion until the flood (approximately 1600 years). During this time men follow their conscience in order to do right and the end result is the need for God to destroy the world with a flood. 
3) Civil Government - This is the post-diluvian period from the reentry of Noah's family into the world until the tower of Babel was built (approximately 320 years). This is also the time in which the Noahic Covenant was instituted. 
4) Promise - This is the period from Gods call to Abraham, continued through the patriarchal age, and ended at about the time of the Exodus (about 430 years). During this dispensation, God developed the nation of Israel as a partial fulfillment of his promise to Abraham (Abrahamic Covenant) that his descendants would be as the stars of the sky.  
5) Law - This is the period of time from the Exodus up until the death of Jesus (approximately 1500 years). This dispensation is basically the period of time in which the Mosaic Covenant was in effect (followed by the Davidic Covenant). During this time God dealt with the descendants of Abraham (Israel) via the law.  
6) Grace - This is the period of time from the death of Jesus up until the rapture of the church. After the rapture, a period of seven years of tribulation will commence on the earth in which God pours out his judgments. Those who were not raptured will have a second opportunity to place their faith in Christ and be saved when he returns again. 
7) Kingdom - This period of time begins with Christ's literal return to earth and will last a millennium (1000 years). It will end with the final judgment of Satan and all who have rejected Christ.
Covenant Continuity/ Discontinuity: Due to CDM separating the covenants into temporary/ local administrations that pass away with the arrival of a new administration, they do not see any continuity from Old Testament covenants into the New. For example, whereas the law may have been that which administered grace in the Mosaic Covenant, in the New Covenant grace is administered via the finished work of Jesus. As a result, CDM sees the New Covenant, not as a different method of salvation, but as the clearest and fullest dispensation of Gods redemptive grace. Because of this, there is no longer any need for the other covenants which are essentially "lesser administrations" of grace during different periods of time. The greater administration is now here and it's Christ himself. 

As a result, CDM is credobaptist and denies the continuity of the Decalogue into the New Covenant. The only nuance would be that, unlike Covenantalism which holds that any command not explicitly nullified in the NT remains, CDM argues that any command not explicitly repeated in the NT is automatically nullified.

Likewise, CDM does not distinguish between moral, ceremonial, or civic law. According to CDM, the Mosaic law is one unit and the abrogation of this law at the cross includes the entire thing. In addition, CDM does not see the law as trans-covenantal therefore, the abrogation of the law in the New Covenant means it has been completely annulled for anyone under the New Covenant. However, this does not mean CDM is antinomian. Recall that the CDM camp still maintains that the imparted and imputed righteousness of Christ are essential elements of the gospel, and that good works are the natural outflow of genuine faith. Thus, CDM would concur that 1) The indwelling Spirit leads us to holy living apart from the written law and, 2) that the law written in our hearts is the law of other-centered love which is the fulfillment of the law. As a result, CDM still upholds obedience to the 10 commandments only they would see it as living by the Spirit, not the law. Even the Sabbath remains as a command, only CDM would argue that one keeps the Sabbath under the New Covenant by resting in Christ, not by keeping a 24 hour period holy.

Israel/ Church Relationship: The CDM view of the Israel/ Church relationship is the major distinction between it and Covenantalism. According to CDM God has always had two redemptive plans: Israel and the Church. These two redemptive plans are distinct therefore the church is not the continuation of Israel. The two are to remain separate forever. As a result, the dispensation of Grace - which is meant for the church - will end at the rapture of the church and the dispensation of Law - which is meant for Israel - will once again become the administrative covenant though still under the New Covenant banner (so there will be some distinctions). In this way God will fulfill all of his promises to Israel. While Covenantalists view those promises to Israel as being fulfilled via the church, CDM would disagree and argue for a fulfillment of those promises to literal, not spiritual, Israel.

Eschatology: As a result, CDM sees national Israel as playing a central role in eschatology. CDM uses a Futurist hermeneutic for interpreting Bible prophecy which in turn provides them with a narrative quite distinct from the Historicism/ Preterism of Covenant theologians. According to this narrative, Jesus will return in two stages: an invisible and a visible. The invisible return will be the rapture of the church which will mark the beginning of the seven years tribulation. During the tribulation, the Jewish temple will be rebuilt and the cultic sacrifices of the Old Testament will commence once more. There will be a total and complete restoration of national Israel, the arrival and reign of the antichrist, and the judgments of God will be poured out during this time. At the end of the seven years will be the visible return of Jesus which will mark the start of the Millennial kingdom (Premillennialism). During this time Jesus will fulfill all of his promises to National Israel. These thousand years will end with the final judgment of the wicked and the New Heavens/ New Earth.[11]

Other: In closing, here are some brief mentions of other elements inherent to CDM. 1) Sign of the New Covenant is baptism. 2) Immersion is the only acceptable method of baptism. 3) Some spiritual gifts have ceased, others remain. 4) Separation of church and state. 5) Lords Supper is only an act of remembrance.

Note: Dispensationalism is a view held by some Pentecostal, Wesleyan, Messianic and Non-Denominational churches. However, the view is not directly tied to any denomination and is also held by some Calvinists.

New Covenant Theology
New Covenant Theology is a relatively new system of covenant thought that has not yet been fully defined. It is, by far, the most recent development in this sphere. Its development cannot be boiled down to a particular person but it posits itself as the middle ground between Covenantalism and Dispensationalism (as you will soon see it appears to agree with a Dispensationalist interpretation of covenant continuity/ discontinuity while holding to a Covenantal view of the Israel/ Church relationship). It affirms sola scriptura, the interpretive priority of the NT over the OT, Trinitarian doctrine, holds to all the principles of the Protestant reformation and holds to Calvinist soteriological tradition. It also contends that the imparted and imputed righteousness of Christ are essential elements of the gospel and that good works are the natural outflow of genuine faith. Its uniqueness is derived from its hermeneutic which is essentially Christocentric meaning it seeks to understand the narrative of scripture from the position that Jesus is the center of the entire story and it can only be properly understood through that lens. From there this theological system takes two routes. The first is New Covenant Theology. The second view is even more modern and is known as Progressive Covenantalism[12]. Due to the minor differences in the two systems, we will only review the former system below.

Salvation: New Covenant Theology (henceforth NCT) maintains that salvation has always been only by grace and that the entire salvific narrative of scripture is centered on the person of Jesus Christ. Some would argue that all of these systems of covenant thought are Christ centered. While this may be true NCT uses this as its hermeneutical principle and claims to do so consistently while the other systems, it proposes, do not. According to NCT, God has only ever had one redemptive plan to secure the salvation of his elect and that plan was Jesus. Thus, all the saints of all time have been saved by grace through faith in Christ. NCT is also a Reformed/ Calvinist approach to soteriology.

Covenant Narrative: According to NCT redemptive history can be divided into three ages. The first is the pre-flood world. The second is the post-flood world (up to this day), and the third is the age to come (New Jerusalem). NCT also posits two covenant eras: the era of the Old Covenant - which ended at Jesus' death - and the era of the New Covenant - which began at Jesus' death. Unlike Dispensationalism, NCT sees only one redemptive plan and one people of God and rejects a Dispensational view of history. In regards to Covenantalism, NCT also rejects the covenant of redemption, works, and grace due to their lack of clear delineation in scripture. Instead, NCT recognizes the promise of a savior in Genesis 3:15 as the New Covenant which is then successively unfolded through the OT until it reaches its fulfillment in Christ in the NT and is then consummated at the second coming.

Covenant Continuity/ Discontinuity: Because NCT views the narrative of scripture in a Christocentric sense and sees the New Covenant as anticipated in Genesis and fulfilled in Christ it rejects any continuity from Old Covenant into New. Another way to put it would be that in NCT the Covenant of Grace was revealed in Genesis and each subsequent covenant was a progressive revelation that pointed forward to Christ. Now that Christ has come, there is no longer any need for the types and shadows that progressively pointed to him, therefore all of the OT covenants and everything associated with them has been fulfilled in Jesus and are no longer necessary. Thus, for example, NCT takes a credobaptist stance for it sees the Abrahamic covenant and all of its elements as pointing forward to and fulfilled in Christ.

NCT also rejects the tripartite distinction of the law and argues that the entire law was part of one system that typified Christ and thus the entire thing was fulfilled by the death of Jesus and no longer binding upon NT believers. NCT also rejects the Decalogue as being trans-covenantal by arguing that the 10 commandments are merely extensions of the two great commands Jesus advocated - to love God and neighbor. Thus, NCT maintains that the law of love is trans-covenantal but the 10 commandments were extensions related to the Mosaic covenant that no longer apply. Of course, this does not make them antinomian. Recall that the NCT camp maintains that the imparted and imputed righteousness of Christ are essential elements of the gospel, and that good works are the natural outflow of genuine faith. Thus, NCT would concur that 1) The indwelling Spirit leads us to holy living apart from the written law and, 2) that the law written in our hearts is the law of other-centered love which is the fulfillment of the Decalogue. As a result, NCT still upholds obedience to the 10 commandments only they would see it as obedience to the law of love as opposed to the written law. As is the case with Dispensationalism NCT also views the Sabbath command as still binding only it is kept by resting in Christ, not by keeping a 24 hour period holy. The 24 hour period, they argue, was a ceremonial command that symbolized rest in Jesus. Now that Jesus has come and given us his rest the Sabbath command has been fulfilled and is no longer binding to the NT believer.

Israel/ Church Relationship: NCT holds that Israel typified the church and that the church is the eschatological Israel. It disagrees with Dispensationalism with regards to the Davidic covenant by maintaining that God's covenant with David has been fulfilled by Jesus enthronement in heaven. Therefore, it does not see national Israel as playing any central role in end time events.

Eschatology: NCT rejects rapture theology and holds to a visible return of Jesus at the end of the age. Some NCT proponents hold to a Preterist hermeneutic for eschatology while others hold to Futurism or a blend of the two. They reject the papacy as antichrist view of Classic Covenantalism and hold to a one world government scenario as identifying the antichrist (though they refrain from specifics as to who that may represent). NCT does see Israel playing a role in end time events, but not apart from the church. Rather, an in-gathering of Jews into the church is held making the church, not Israel, the central character. NCT also rejects the millennial rule of Christ and sees it as symbolic of the interadvent period (Amillennialism). The narrative ends with the final judgment for the non-elect to eternal hell, and renewal of the heavens and earth for the elect.

Other: In closing, here are some brief mentions of other elements inherent to NCT. 1) Sign of the New Covenant is the cup of the Lords supper. 2) Immersion is the only acceptable method of baptism. 3) Cessation of spiritual gifts. 4) Separation of church and state. 5) Lords Supper is both an act of remembrance and communion with God.

Note: NCT is the view held by some Calvinist Baptists.

For the sake of clarity I have added a condensed table below that looks at each of these systems side by side. Please note that this chart is a very simplified summary. For more details compare them to the descriptions above. You can also review the following more detailed charts: http://nct-blog.ptstn.org/comparison-charts/  



Brief Nuances
The covenantal thought systems above are the major systems of covenant thought within the Protestant world. Nevertheless, be mindful that endless nuances exist which would require an encyclopedia to explore. Some nuances fall within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy and others fall outside of it. The most prominent to fall on the outside would be 1) Antinomianism (has existed in every system of thought and takes a very hostile posture towards the law), and 2) Hyper-grace (Also known as anti-Lordship theology - a relatively new nuance that seeks to reject human effort to such an extent that is denies the need for confession, repentance, or striving for holiness for the believer by positing that such activities are only for unbelievers. At times, proponents of this view have gone as far as to say that it is not simply the OT that is no longer binding upon believers but even the very words of Jesus for he lived in an Old Covenant context[13]).

Moving Forward
Those familiar with Adventist theology will see an immediate difference between the views espoused in Category B and Adventism. In fact, most attacks which label Adventist theology heretical, legalistic or "Old Covenant" come from those who affirm the views under Category B. However, as was seen in the previous post, Adventism's covenant thought most closely resembles the views held by the reformers. Thus, to accuse Adventists of legalism is to accuse the reformers and all who hold to WCC and 2LBC of the same. This is clearly an unsustainable position for anyone who wishes to defend the core tenets of the Protestant faith.

Now that we have done a brief overview of Protestant covenantal thought the question we will turn to is, Where does Adventism sit in this continuum? Although we have explored this in brief, we will now do so in detail. Do we have a view of salvation, the covenants, the law, and eschatology that is wholly and entirely distinct from anything found in historic and contemporary protestant thought? Do we hold to a view that can be defined by one of the aforementioned systems? Do we have a view that is both rooted in historic and contemporary protestant thought and yet distinct enough to merit the introduction of a whole new system? And lastly, do we actually have anything helpful to offer the world of Christian theology that deserves theological and scholarly reflection? We will look at these questions in the next two posts.


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[6] On futurism see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Futurism_(Christianity); On Darby see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Nelson_Darby
[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dispensationalism#History
[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arminianism
[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_dispensationalism
[10] https://gotquestions.org/seven-dispensations.html
[11] to understand Dispensational eschatology visit https://gotquestions.org and search their articles on the topic.
[12] See: "Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course Between Dispensational and Covenantal Theologies" by Stephen J. Wellum and Brent E. Parker.

[13] see "The Naked Gospel: The Truth You May Never Hear in Church" by Andrew Farley.