Two Ways in Which Kingdom through Covenant Misrepresents Traditional Covenant Theology
For the most part, Gentry and Wellum, the brothers who wrote the new "alternative" (pg. 23) to Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism, really attempt to be fair in the characterizations of the two systems they critique. Their overall purpose seems genuine enough in trying to arbitrate between the two systems, and bring them together, however much we may disagree with their conclusions. Which is why I was truly suprised (no, stunned) to find them somehow associating Covenant Theology with "Replacement" theology throughout its pages. The first time I ran across this term (.pg 42) I was taken aback, but then I saw it again (pg. 125) and again (pg. 685). In fact it uses this term multiple times throughout the book and serves as as basis for one of their main points of contention with covenant theology regarding the distinction between the church and Israel and the progressive nature of grace in redemptive history.
Frankly, I don’t know of a single Reformed Covenant theologian who would identify themselves as believing in "replacement" theology or who would own up to this term in any way (that, of course, does not mean such a person does not exist). I checked around with my CT friends in ministry to confirm this. In fact, it is almost exclusively the terminology of aspersion found among theological opponents of CT who are attempting to score rhetorical points. In many discussions I have witnessed on "replacement" theology it is a term used to denigrate, and usually used by opponents to associate CT with a theology which gives rise to anti-semitism. Strange since trying to show Jews from their own OT Scriptures that Jesus Christ was their promised messiah and fulfills all the promises made to them is somehow anti-semetic is really quite beyond me. Replacement theology is a term we have never used to identity ourselves with which leads me to wonder why it is used so frequently in the book. Perhaps it will rhetorically score points with its Dispensational readers?. I don't know. I truly do not believe it was because Gentry and Wellum were trying to be malicious, nor (given their great learning) do I think they could be completely ignorant of the negative connotations this term holds. Which leads me to conclude that maybe this is simply a provincial thing ... something so commonly used in their circles that it just passed them by as a term which would be appropriate to use without considering its consequences. But the only thing has done is serve to alienate a whole group of people it is trying to reach.
Lets be perfectly clear. Covenant Theology does not believe that the church replaces Israel ... it expands upon it organically. Not only does the NT teach that Gentiles are grafted in to the same tree (Rom 11:17) but the following passage goes even deeper and makes up the heart of Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians. Here the Spirit reveals a great mystery which was hidden in previous ages:
"Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ ... So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord."
Notice in this passage that Paul speaks to Gentiles as having been previously separate and alienated from Israel and the covenants of promise, but in Christ, Gentiles have also become citizens of Israel. The phrase "brought near" was their modern day parlance for Jewish proselytes. According to this passage we Gentiles now partake of the same promises (now fulfilled) and are no longer strangers to the commonwealth of Israel, but citizens of it. Notice the clear reference to Jesus Christ as the true Israel, and this includes are all who are joined to His body. Let’s have a closer look: Verse 12 "alienated from the commonwealth of Israel" Paul now joins Gentiles when he says (vr. 19) "you are no longer strangers and aliens". No longer aliens to what? No longer aliens to the commonwealth of Israel. That means that Gentiles who are in Christ are now "citizens" (v. 19) of Israel built as a house with Christ as the chief cornerstone. "Commonwealth" is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good which, in this context, means that both Jews and Gentiles who are joined to Jesus Christ are all citizens of the same commonwealth (Israel). In other words, Jesus Christ is the True Israel of God (its fulfillment and foundation) as are all who are joined in union to Him. Likewise According to Ephesians 3: 4-6, God made known a mystery to Paul "...the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." Partakers of what promise? The promises first given to Israel to Abraham. Did not God promise to Abraham that through him all the nations would be blessed? And since the Paul elsewhere asserts that the gospel was preached to Abraham beforehand (Gal 3:8), the OT and NT saints were both saved by the same grace in Christ and are members of the same body .... partakers of the same covenant promises. The difference is simply (if you think about it organically) that one was a mere seedling or immature branch and the other a fully mature fruit-bearing tree, but both are inseparably part of the same tree. Just as revelation increased, grace increased. The OT saints saw Christ from a distance in promises and shadows, yet in God's economy those regenerate were, even then, united to Christ, part of the same body and saved by the same blood ... the blood which the signposts of the temple sacrifices pointed to.
“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” (Heb 11: 39, 40)
And this touches upon another closely related subject in which KTC also misrepresents Covenant Theology. One of KTCs main arguments against CT is that it declares that we reject any idea that there is a "qualitative progression in the manifestation of grace through redemptive history" or that grace in the OT was exactly the same as grace in the NT without any increase... which is actually quite wrong and puzzling that such a charge should be made. In fact, it badly misrepresents our theology to the degree where it is, frankly, unrecognizable. Not only do we declare that the church expands upon Israel to now include, not only Jews but Gentiles as well, but grace qualitatively increases by order of magnitude in every area. Special revelation between the testaments in Covenant theology is not merely "promise and fulfillment" as the authors suggest ...we believe the degree of light dispensed from Christ's incarnation (from OT to NT) is a change which is beyond measure. Consider the land promises given to Abraham ... these are now, promises in Christ, which not only includes the land of Israel, but promises expanded to include the whole earth (Matt 5:5; Romans 4:13). And as Dr. Kim Riddlebarger says so well:
"... the national/temporal promises of a land, a temple, a priesthood, the sacrifices and so on, made to Israel under the old covenant actually point to something far greater (heavenly promises) and which are fulfilled in Christ. Thus under the New Covenant believers are now called out from among all nations (including Israel) to belong to Christ's church, which is the visible manifestation of the New Covenant people of God.
Therefore, Israel is not “replaced” by the church. Rather, the people of God (believing Jews and Gentiles) in the Old Covenant era are vastly supplemented by believers from every nation tribe and tongue in the New Covenant. This is not “replacement theology.” It should be called “expansion theology” since the people of God become so numerous after the coming of Christ that the multitude in heaven cannot be counted (Revelation 7:9-10). In fact, that multitude encompasses people from the ends of the earth, including many ethnic Jews who are among the elect and believe in Jesus, because Jesus Christ has been revealed to them by a gracious God."
With regard to the outgrowth of grace through redemptive history, we believe the Bible emphasizes a deeply organic connection between the Old and New Testaments. In other words, the light and grace found in the Old Testament are like a seed which grows up over time, and in the NT reaches full maturity and fruitfulness. The peoples of the OT were saved by the same grace of God in Jesus Christ as we were, but was then viewed and dispensed "darkly" and in types, but it was just as real, even though in less measure... and that grace was hardly "flat" as KTC alleges. The degree of grace was then in seedling or sprout form, yet it was more than enough to provide for their redemption. But now, like the addition of multitudes of Gentile nations (Rev 5:9) in the NT, God's grace is poured out is much greater measure.
In conclusion, since replacement theology is not how we identify ourselves and is almost universally used as a term of derision, it is sad that this same charge now comes from Gentry and Wellum. I would like to believe this was not done out of bad motives and perhaps more in eagerness to promote their new theology. But the use of the term serves to discredit, marginalize and alienate half of its intended readers.