This volume, when published in 1992, signaled a new era for dispensational theology. While dispensationalism, as framed by John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie and Dwight Pentecost, had already been altered in many ways from its original form as developed and popularized by Charles Darby, Lewis Chafer and C. I. Scofield, this new understanding, known by most as “progressive dispensationalism” restructured the system’s approach to Scripture in radical new directions. Bruce Waltke’s response to David Turner’s chapter on the New Jerusalem, which portrays Israel and the church as one people of God, states, “This position is closer to covenant theology than to dispensationalism” (p. 348). This comment could serve as a summary for the entire book.
Written by ten theologians who have credentials in the dispensational camp, and responded to by three Reformed scholars, Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church is a heavy read. Subjects covered include the present reign of Christ, the New Covenant, the future of ethnic Israel, the role of the Mosaic Law in the church and the Sermon on the Mount. And while a number of helpful insights can be gleaned and some excellent theological discussion is found, these men are modifying dispensationalism beyond recognition as the Reformed responders recognized. Waltke identifies numerous reconstructions of traditional dispensational thought including:
• Christ inaugurated the fulfillment of Israel’s covenants and promises and the church actualizes them with Israel;
• the church making up the one people of God;
• Christ is presently sitting on David’s throne;
• a shift in consistent literalistic hermeneutics (a recognized sine qua non of the system);
• allowing for an already—not yet model of the kingdom;
• the Gentiles now share with Israel in their covenants and promises; and
• the Mosaic Law is applicable to the church (pp. 347-349).
While all the authors are not in total agreement with every issue, when all the dust has settled the one remaining feature left standing in this dispensational system is that God still has a plan for ethnic Israel and the nation will yet inherit the land (p. 304). While the kingdom age has dawned (“already”), the millennial kingdom, with its land promises to the Jews, is yet to come (“not yet”).
To the extent that the authors (and they differ on a number of matters) still cling to this one essential feature of dispensational thought they could be still recognized as dispensationists. But the distinctions which separate progressive dispensationalism and covenantalism are extremely thin.
Waltke summarizes my reaction to the book when he writes, “If the book augurs well for the future of dispensational schools, it does not augur well for the future of dispensationalism. What remains distinctive to dispensationalism pertains to the “not-yet” aspect of the kingdom” (p. 354).