Progressively Sneaky Terminology

I’ve gotten several questions in my email box and phone line about some terminology that has been bandied about as of late resulting in some serious confusion. It’s not the fault of the person listening to the terminology either since, I think, the terminology has been employed in such a way that it sneaks extra information into the discussion without proper cause.

Progressive Dispensationalism
If there is a category 1 offender, it is this one. When people hear the term, in-and-outside Dispensational circles, they hear “This is a New Form of Dispensationalism that has progressed in a lot of its understanding”. In fact, some Covenantal Theologians on the popular level have made a point of hanging on to the terminology in their effort to prove Traditional Dispensationalism wrong.

But Progressive Dispensationalism is still very much Dispensationalist—the reason they use the term “Progressive” is to speak about how their view of the dispensations (most count four) progress instead of having the crisp ending that some dispensationalists would underscore on their charts. The reason? The Covenants have some underlying connection that find their root in the promises to Abraham.

What’s funny about this is that most Dispensationalists say the same thing but have balked at some of the conclusions the PD’s have been making.

Indeed, academia was so upset with the terminology from Blaising and Bock that they started using Normative Dispensationalism and Traditional Dispensationalsm while fudging the detail that they were already a revised version of Scoffieldien Dispensationalism and that Darby Dispensationalism.

New Covenant Theology
Folk hear this and they tend to assume that this is a new version of Covenant Theology. Quickly, when Cocceius drew his conclusions defining Covenant Theology, he did not say that the Covenants in Scripture are the way history is divided (I say this because some have mistakningly thought that because Covenant Theology uses the word “covenant” that therefore Dispensationalists don’t use that term.): instead he saw a Covenant of Works (in the Garden) which resulted in the fall and a Covenant of Grace exemplified in each Covenant—including the Mosaic Covenant—for redemptive.

New  Covenant Theology, noting the redemptive language of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 33) draws a distinction in regards to the Mosaic Law. That, they might say, is part of the Covenant of Works—it is not redemptive; the New Covenant is. Sure, their underlying structure looks more like Covenant Theology but it’s not a new version of CT.

New Calvinism
This is used mostly on the popular level and honestly, I don’t know why. They’re just as Calvinistic as any Puritan, they emphasize the sovereignty of God just like any of them, they’re strict five-to-seven pointers with the best of them and yet, they try to differentiate themselves by wearing jeans, talking about how they interact with society and some of them using foul language. I guess Marc Driscoll tried to make some big difference but the stuff he’s talking about doesn’t affect the central tenants of Calvinism…so why use the label “New” at all? At least the labels up top made sense in their usage and wound up not being about advancing the system—but this one just ignores the system altogether and says something about the adherents.

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8 thoughts on “Progressively Sneaky Terminology

I’m pretty sure those who started calling them The New Calvinists were doing so disparagingly, as if Calvinism had been roundly defeated but was now strangely making a comeback in the form of some young whippersnappers with more cultural sensitivity. The first people I saw using that term certainly held such a view.

As far as I know, the term New Covenant Theology came about because there was this view that fit between progressive dispensationalism and covenant theology that had no name. There were lots of people who were defending this sort of view before the name ever appeared (e.g. D.A. Carson, John Piper, Craig Blomberg, and as far as I can tell Francis Schaeffer). But it was named by people who actually hold the view.

On the other hand, progressive dispensationalism was named by its most prominent defenders. So the three terms actually have very different kinds of origins.

D.A. Carson is NCT?

I was listening to him speak one time and it got to the Q&A bit. Someone asked him what he thinks about dispensationalism and the man, God bless him, gave this extremely careful answer which was a careful no answer.

Essentially he said that it wasn’t fair to the audience or dispensationalism to answer the question in a five minute block but he did so in such a way that revealed (to me anyway) real depth in thought.

Carson definitely is not a dispensationalist. His Matthew commentary is the best place to look on this stuff (round about ch.24). Part of why he doesn’t want to get into this stuff is that he’s just careful and doesn’t want to say something that might be perceived to have implications that he doesn’t intend.

Someone once told me (and I’m not sure I believe it) that he’s an amillenialist teaching at an institution that’s premillenial and therefore not allowed to comment on or publish anything on that issue. The person who was claiming this said that he privately told them that he’s sort of premillenial, but I don’t think he’s the type to sign a statement of faith that he doesn’t accept fully and then agree not to publish or comment publicly on the issue he disagrees with Trinity about. But if that person is correct, then there’s another reason he stays away from these issues.

I guess another place he discusses it is on Jesus’ statements about fulfilling the law in the Sermon on the Mount (and his introductory comments on the Sermon on the Mount). This is both in his Matthew commentary and his book on the Sermon on the Mount.

Oh I’m not surprised about his non-dispensationalism. I just thought he would be CT.

I read his Matthew commentary some years ago but that’s before really thinking about the authors who wrote the commentaries, so I don’t own it. I have to correct that.

He’s supposed to be putting out a revised version at some point, so it might be worth waiting. I don’t know how soon it will be.

One thing to keep in mind about him is that he’s a Baptist. He’s a credobaptist, in particular, which means he strongly disagrees with one thing covenant theology holds about who belongs to the covenant (i.e. children who have not expressed saving faith are in the covenant). That’s one of the biggest sticking points for me, too. I just can’t see how someone can be in the covenant once baptized as a child and then not be in the covenant later if they reject the faith, given the doctrine of perseverance of the saints. And yet Calvinist after Calvinist will say such things. It just baffles me. It seems that a Calvinist ought to say that someone who is never saved was never in the covenant.

Oh, and I have a feeling Tom Schreiner and is also NCT. He’s another Reformed Baptist who used to be closely associated with Piper, but he went on to get a Ph.D. and did his own work, and now he’s contributed more to biblical studies and theology than Piper ever did (although Piper will always be more influential at the popular level, I’d say).

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