The preceding review of the Progressive Covenantalist view of the land has affirmed, nuanced, and then challenged various different aspects of the Progressive Covenantalist thesis.
The central thesis of the Progressive Covenantalist view of the land, namely, that the land promise expands to encompass all of the new creation and all of the redeemed, is affirmed. This agreement rests on a shared belief that the material creation is significant in God’s redemptive plan. In addition, Progressive Covenantalists are correct in rooting the land theme in Eden. It is also correct to posit that the origins of this theme prior to the giving of the Abrahamic covenant point to a worldwide fulfillment of the theme in the new creation. Further, there is no disagreement with Progressive Covenantalists regarding the way the rest theme in Scripture points to the fulfilment of the land theme in the entire new creation.
These are points of genuine agreement, rather than concessions. My own thoughts on the land promise expanding to encompass the entire world developed in late 2010 and through 2011, prior to the publication of works by Progressive Covenantalists, as I worked through Scripture passages that speak of Israel possessing the nations and through a study on the theme of land in Joshua.
Some Progressive Covenantalist arguments need nuancing. it is best to not see Eden as the primeval temple or the New Jerusalem as the entire new creation. It is possible to see the roots of Scripture’s temple theme in Eden without actually making the exegetically dubious claim that Eden was a temple. Likewise it is possible to see the temple theme fulfilled in the entire new creation without making the New Jerusalem be the entire new creation.
Progressive Covenantalists would also do well to reconsider their views regarding conditional and unconditional covenants. While they are correct that all covenants are made graciously and that all covenants have covenantal requirements, the labels conditional or unconditional refer to whether or not in some covenants God guarantees the covenant promises will come to pass even apart from the human fulfillment of the covenant. For instance, the Noahic covenant is not dependent on the obedience of its human partners for the covenant promises (no worldwide Flood until the end) to come to fruition.
More significantly, Progressive Covenantalists would do well to give more prominence to the way the kingdom promises in the Old Testament themselves expand the land promise to include the entire earth and the nations. Better recognition that their central thesis is explicitly presented in the Old Testament would alleviate some of the problems that arise when Progressive Covenantalists rest their argument primarily on typology.
Progressive Covenantalist arguments from typology have two problems. First, it is not accurate to say that the land of Israel is a type. The land of Israel was a type at certain points in history, but not at others. Once this is realized the argument that the land promised to Abraham has no future significance because it is a type of the new creation falls apart. Second, it is problematic to claim that typology overrides specific promises made to specific people. Once it is recognized that the land of Israel was only a type at certain points in history, it becomes possible for the specific promises to Israel regarding its land be fulfilled as part of the larger fulfillment that encompasses the whole new creation. This is not a request for Progressive covenantalists to become dispensationalists. They could accept this adjustment while maintaining that Israel was a type fulfilled in Christ and while denying “that national Israel in terms of its role, vocation, calling, and identity” has “a future…role…in the plan of God” (Parker, “The Israel-Christ-Church Relationship,” Progressive Covenantalism, 52). On another occasion I would want to challenge that understanding, but it is not being challenged in this critique.
Finally, Progressive Covenantalists are being asked to take more seriously the theme of nations in Scripture and to allow this theme to come to full fruition in the biblical storyline. Their failure to reckon with the creational nature of nations and for the full development of nations within the Creation, Fall, Redemption structure of the biblical storyline is perhaps the most significant defect in the Progressive Covenantal view of the land.
The argument here is not that Progressive Covenantalists should become dispensationalists. The way the argument has been framed, Progressive Covenantalists have not been asked to alter their view of typology or even alter their view that Israel plays no special role as a nation in the future. Since Progressive Covenantalist viewpoints on one or both of these issues are not acceptable to dispensationalists, the Progressive Covenantalists who adopted this paper’s argument would maintain their mediating position between covenant theology and dispensationalism.
All that is being asked is to recognize that promises of land to Abraham and his physical seed be fulfilled for national Israel in the new creation as part of the wider fulfillment of the land theme.
While maintaining their distinctiveness, Progressive Covenantalists would open up an area of substantial agreement with dispensationalism while maintaining substantial agreement with covenant theologians. In doing so they could pave the way for greater unity of thought about the land them among dispensationalists, covenant theologians, and those who hold to mediating positions. This would be an advance akin to the one promoted by Anthony Hoekema. Hoekema conceded that dispensationalists were correct to critique certain amillennialists for spiritualizing the Old Testament prophecies that predicted abundant fertility on the earth, long life for people, and harmony between among animal creation. Hoekema saw many of these promises fulfilled in the new creation. Disagreements remain, but the greater agreement secured is nonetheless significant.
Progressive Covenantalists have advanced the discussion of the land theme with their proposal. With some adjustments their proposal could move from being merely a distinctive for the theological position they are seeking to carve out for themselves to a widely held position across theological systems.
This is the conclusion to a series of posts on Progressive Covenantalism and the land theme in Scripture: