Craig Blaising is Vice President and Provost, Professor of Theology, and the Jesse Hendley Chair of Biblical Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Blaising offered an evaluation and critique of Gentry and Wellum’s book Kingdom Through Covenant (KTC) Thursday afternoon at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in San Diego. Gentry and Wellum, who teach at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, represent “New Covenant Theology,” a variety of “Covenant Theology.” Blaising comes at the issue from a Progressive Dispensational standpoint.
Here is a bare summary of Blaising’s critique:
1. Structure of the Book.
The book fails to present a genuine biblical theological reading of Scripture since there is no direct treatment (“focused attention”) on the New Testament. This is a major weakness.
2. Hermeneutical and Theological Problems.
“While KTC offers a ‘thick’ exegetical analysis of some features of the biblical covenants in several OT texts, with respect to the overall canonical narrative, it offers a ‘thin’ rather than “thick” reading. It’s construal of the canonical narrative is not fully informed by crucial textual details, which when taken into account lead one, I believe, to a rich, holistic reading of the biblical text. Blaising proceeds to give specific criticisms to justify this claim.”
Wellum appeals to the categories of “continuity” and “discontinuity” to frame the hermeneutical options for reading Scripture. Blaising questions whether these categories are helpful or even suitable for narrative analysis. A consistent narrative analysis is needed.
Blaising asserts that KTC’s approach to typology fails since the authors never make it into the NT to show the connection they are assuming exist. Rather, the OT is used as the foundational “plot development” to reason to what must be the nature of type escalation in the NT.
As Blaising says,
“Failing to do this may very well lead, and it is my opinion that it does in fact lead, to exaggerated (read fallacious) claims about the nature of escalation in the NT, about the resolution of the story line, and about how biblical typology functions with respect to it.”
The “major change” in the plot line of the Bible where NT “higher” realities replace OT “lower realities” constitutes a change in the meaning of the OT promises according to Wellum and Gentry.
Blaising counters that
“Greater attention to textual detail is necessary to establish the claim. Actually, in my opinion, greater attention to detail demonstrates that the claim is superficial at best and actually wrong.”
3. Hermeneutical Concerns and Textual Details Calling for a “Thicker” and “More Biblical” Reading of the Canonical Narrative than KTC.
Gentry and Wellum maintain that the Covenants of the OT relate to each other in typical fashion, with all covenants being fulfilled in the New Covenant. Blaising argues this is not the case. The covenants are not related to each other as types.
“Rather, they are successive promises in the narrative of Scripture revealing and advancing the divine plan. They are best read as elements of an ongoing narrative not as type patterns that function to shift narrative reality.”
“Furthermore, reading the New Covenant as a mechanism for shifting the entire promise-fulfillment process to a ‘higher reality’ which in effect changes the meaning of ‘promise’ in that process is not only highly exaggerated but misreads the carefully detailed presentation of the New Covenant in Scripture, both OT and NT.”
Blaising makes the point, with respect to God’s promise to Abraham of a nation and a land, that
“to postulate a ‘fulfillment’ of these covenant promises by means of a reality shift in the thing promised overlooks the performative nature of the word of promise, violates the legitimate expectations of the recipients, and brings the integrity of God into question. This reading of the canonical metanarrative as we have in KTC is not congruent to the textual string of divine promises, covenants, and oaths….”
Gentry and Wellum redefine Israel such that God’s promise of the land is “substantively changed.”
Blaising argues this is
“not congruent with this line of prophetic reaffirmation and restated divine resolve. It is a thin, superficial, and actually subversive reading of the text. But even more, it creates a major theological problem for Progressive Covenantalism because it calls into question the integrity of God.”
The New Testament speaks of the restoration of national Israel in texts such as Acts 1, 3, and Romans 11.
Blaising states this
“is not to be dismissed as an anomaly needing hermeneutical correction by embarrassed theologians. Rather, it fits harmoniously in a holistic reading of the entire biblical story. It is a thin reading of the canonical narrative that misses these details. It is an unreliable reading that deliberately subverts them.”
Blaising asserts that
“a key argument in KTC can be seen to be fallacious. The argument is that the land promise is taken up in the biblical story in a type escalation from Eden to the Land of Israel to the New Earth, such that the land comes to be replaced by (fulfilled by) the new earth. The new earth, then, takes the place of the land promised to Israel in the consummation.”
This argument commits the logical fallacy of replacing the part with the whole. Gentry and Wellum argue that the biblical narrative moves from the particular (land) to the whole (the new earth) “by which they mean to say that the land somehow disappears and is replaced by the larger reality of the new earth.”
Blaising’s response is terse:
“In spite of its popularity, the statement is nonsense. A whole does not replace a part. A whole includes a part, along with other parts. A whole adds to and complements a part. But it is nonsense to say that a whole replaces a part in the sense that the part disappears when the whole arrives.”
“The fact that the land serves as a type of blessing to be extended to the earth does not logically call for the elimination or annihilation of that land in the renewal process! The renewal of the land and the renewal of the whole earth go together in biblical thought!”
According to Blaising, Gentry and Wellum’s thesis fails hermeneutically, exegetically, and theologically.