Presbyterian Theology and Judaism Part One

Presbyterian Theology and Judaism Part One May 3, 2019

Terry Mattingly asks journalists to keep digging deeper into the “Calvinist” theology that may have informed the alleged shooter at the Poway, California synagogue last Saturday. One place for journalists to go is to the pastor at Escondido, OPC, who co-authored a book on covenant theology, a subject that bears directly on the relationship between Israel and the church in Christian teaching. Here is that part of that book on the difference between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants:

Contrary to dispensationalism, however, the Abrahamic covenant did not end with the inauguration of the Mosaic covenant: “This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void” (Gal 3:17). Rather, the promise was fulfilled in the offspring of Abraham, whom Paul identifies as Christ (3:16). All those who are in Christ by faith alone are also called Abraham’s offspring (3:29). Thus, the new covenant is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. There are not two peoples of God, Israel and the church. Rather, God has only one people: the offspring of Abraham, that is, all believers of God’s promise in Christ. God’s promise to Abraham that he would be a blessing to the nations has been fulfilled, for Israel’s boundaries have been expanded to include the nations. (145)

The pastor goes on to explain differences in Israel’s own history that allow Paul to claim that Christians are children of Abraham and where the real tension between Christianity and Judaism is (according to Paul):

But if there is such tight continuity between the Abrahamic and new covenants, it leads us to ask, “why then the law?” Why did God bother making his covenant at Mount Sinai if it was only temporary and did not annul the Abrahamic covenant? Paul anticipates this question and answers, “It was added because of the transgressions, until the offspring (read: Christ] should come to whom the promise had been made” (3:19a). The Mosaic Law was like a babysitter for Israel, “a guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (3:24). It was only temporary,m in order to drive God’s people to Christ. “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian” (3:25). (145)

Later in this chapter, the pastor (with his co-author) tries to draw out the implications of this teaching for the Christian life:

The doctrine of the new covenant guards us against triumphalism. The new covenant shows us that the kingdom of God is no longer identified with any geopolitical nation on earth. This is particularly critical to grasp in American culture, where there is a tendency to confuse the kingdom of God with the United States. Americas, however, is not in covenant with God as a nation. It had no representative on Mount Sinai. The only nation in covenant with God is God’s new global nation, that is, his new covenant church. “But you are a chosen race,” says the apostle Peter, “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). In the new covenant, the church is no longer limited to the physical descendants of Abraham but is made up of all the nations of the earth, people of every race, color, and language. While the old covenant was an era of driving the nations out of God’s holy land, the new covenant is an era of believers living side by side with unbelievers in patience and love. Today is the day of salvation, not judgment. God’s judgment is delayed until his return. (148)

These are just some of the reasons why “replacement theology,” as John Fea put it, does not quite capture Reformed covenant theology.

It also suggests that those who have commented on the Presbyterian identity of the shooter and tried to connect dots to the teaching of the congregation or denomination have not really done much digging. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church has taken covenant theology seriously because the covenant is such a big part of the Bible, a book that the OPC really takes seriously by requiring pastors to know Hebrew and Greek. If journalists and academics want to explore the OPC’s various explorations into covenant theology, they will need to find a wetsuit, mask, and air tank.


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