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New Covenant Theology Paperback – March 21, 2002
If there is any hope of a meeting of minds, let alone of a resolution of the issues, it takes time, patience, intellectual humility, a willingness to be corrected, and thoughtful and empathetic listening combined with accurate and understated articulation of each partys understanding. And those are the values of this book. perhaps, in the mercy of God, we will discover, in time, that some genuine steps have been taken toward theological agreement. D. A. Carson
Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel have moved us along the road of profitable discussion. They have shown unity with their contending brethren on many points while making clear the leading principles of NCT and setting in bold relief some of the major implications of those principles. Some of us who may not agree with all aspects of the position as articulated here, nevertheless hope that this book gains a wide and respectful reading. Tom Nettles
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About the Author
Fred G. Zaspel is Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Church of Skippack, PA, following many years as Senior Pastor of Word of Life Baptist Church in Pottsville, PA. He is also adjunct Lecturer in Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University, Schuylkill Campus. He holds two M.A. degrees, a Th.M., and is currently a Ph.D. candidate. He lives in Orwigsburg, PA, with his wife and their two children.
- Publisher : New Covenant Media (March 21, 2002)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 324 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1928965113
- ISBN-13 : 978-1928965114
- Item Weight : 15.2 ounces
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,132,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #457,282 in Religion & Spirituality (Books)
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About the author
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Over and over again throughout the book you’ll hear about how Jesus did not come to restore the rightful understanding of the moral law but to give a new law – over against Moses, but with some overlap to be sure. While you’ll hear that repeatedly, you’ll never really see it exegetically (though attempts are made).
There are four chapters in the book devoted to Matthew 5:17-20 and how the historical Reformed and Dispensational understandings of that passage are wrong (though the NCT interpretation leans toward Dispensationalism). There are several intricacies in this section of the book that would be too involved to examine one-by-one in a short review. However, the main take away regarding law is that Jesus fulfilled the whole Mosaic Law in such a sense that, when there is a standard we obey which somehow aligns with the Mosaic law – it’s because Christ has re-introduced that standard Himself, after having fulfilled it (?). Consequently, the ethical standards in NCT are that unless something is repeated in the New Testament, we ought to assume it is null and void.
In four chapters of strained exegesis and theological argument, I was not left convinced of this view that Jesus is somehow giving a brand-new law by which regenerate covenant-children are to live. Jesus certainly got to the heart of the matter to be sure (giving more precise understanding of the original intent of the law). But that does not mean the law as presented in Moses did not have that original intent in the first place.
Despite Zaspel’s attempt to show that the law of Moses (or more broadly the Old Testament) never commanded love toward one’s enemy (neighbor sure, Lev. 19:18; but not enemy), I think we’d be hard pressed not to interpret Exodus 23:4-5 as acts of loving our enemy (commanded straight from the law!), not to mention Proverbs 25:21.
Furthermore, Wells presents a very interesting line of reasoning by going down a narrowing criteria to show that every time the New Covenant is mentioned in the New Testament it’s speaking of discontinuity and not continuity between it and the old.
Very well. But how that means our operating principle should be to assume discontinuity baffles me. Could it not be that the reason why every time the New Covenant is mentioned by a New Testament author or authority, discontinuity is emphasized precisely because the author assumes continuity unless otherwise specified? That surely makes more sense to me, given that we ought not to think God must repeat Himself in order for us to really take Him seriously.
Again, I greatly appreciate the gracious tone of the authors as well as their intentions of trying to understand the Scriptures better and present their findings. However, I’m having a very hard time accepting these arguments as plausible (which is to say Biblical).
From a practical standpoint, they take the most dearly held belief of Dispensationalism (distinction of Israel and the Church) and side with Covenant Theology (so called “replacement theology” as it pertains to this specific doctrine); and at the same time take a hallmark of Covenant Theology (assume continuity unless specified otherwise in further revelation) and side with Dispensationalists (assume discontinuity unless a commandment is repeated in the New Testament). I don’t see how this will bridge the gap at all.
On the Biblical/Theological side, I just find it very hard to accept that in reading Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17-20 (despite the four chapters devoted to such a unique perspective of interpretation), and in reading Paul, Peter, and John, that any New Testament author or authority somehow held to this kind of thinking. If they really assumed discontinuity, why would they ever (as they so often did) cite Old Testament texts as their authority for what they were saying?
While I appreciate these men and what they’ve done for Christ and His church in other areas, I can’t help but to be completely baffled by the type of hermeneutics presented in this book. When applied consistently, it creates many more questions than it does answers; and it does not, in my understanding of the Word, hold up to Biblical or Theological scrutiny.
Aside from all that, when a system of theology is so dependent for its survival on such a new understanding of one specific passage of Scripture that has somehow been overlooked by virtually everyone else in the roughly 2,000 year history of the church, it should at least raise a red flag or two.
All in all, this book was a good description and definition, as far as it goes, for NCT; and the authors are exemplary in their dealing with other brothers in Christ in matters of doctrinal differences. However, when it comes to a defense of their views, I was not convinced in the least.
They seemingly wrote this book as a rebuttal to Richard Barcello’s In Defense of the Decalogue. For my part I don’t see how they refuted any of his arguments.
Either way, whatever gap may need to be bridged between Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology (and I'm not convinced such a gap needs to be bridged more so than complete conversion from one school to the other), NCT does not bridge that gap. If anything, unfortunately, I feel it just adds more confusion to the understanding of God's Word rather than being a helpful resource to the church.
The New Covenant binds the church with new laws, deserves logical priority in theological discussion, and is generally distinct from the previous revelation.
1. Jesus Christ replaces Moses as a law-giver in the same way that He replaces Aaron as a priest.
2. The Sermon on the Mount (as well as the rest of the epistles) obviously presented new ethical demands that were not in the OT.
3. Covenant discussed in the NT usually emphasizes discontinuity.
4. This is not a new argument since it is found in the church fathers and some Puritans as well as some contemporary theologians.
Insightful comments punctuated their work, and overall I found the fewest difficulties with this hybrid—especially in light of the difficulty of incorporating OT law with its capital punishment for religious offences into the NT command for preaching the gospel to every nation.
1. Should we obey the laws of the OT? All the laws? Capital punishment for teachers of false religion?
Pages 157-160 attempted to answer this most difficult of all questions, and though he said it could be “easily” done, his four examples (158-159), are the same as other hermeneutical systems. Nor did he deal with the most difficult cases involving the death penalty in the OT. This is the great difficulty that must be grappled with. In fairness, Bahnsen’s Theonomy does not do much better.
2. Jesus explicitly summarizes the entire OT with love for God and neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39). They should have discussed this amazing statement of continuity at length since they are arguing that the NT advances and changes the laws of the OT.
Those weaknesses still admitted, the book presented a system with fewer weaknesses—or weaknesses of lesser import—than classic dispensationalism or Covenant Theology.
Top reviews from other countries
The authors don't quite have the theological acumen of others who hold similar views, such as D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo. Nevertheless, their work is scholarly and competent.
They spend considerable time discussing the concept of law, and convincingly argue that Christians are not directly bound by any of the Law of Moses today. They seem to see the law of Christ (Gal 6:2) as a kind of holy mutation of and outgrowth from the Law of Moses, and this is helpful. They are right too that Christians are not under obligation to observe any day of the week as a special day, although we may do this if we choose.
There are some faults with the book. Despite the title, it has surprisingly little discussion of biblical covenants. There would certainly be a place for a second volume that deals with this topic (in case the authors ever read my review). The King James Version is also used in some quotations, which is unhelpful, although this is a minor complaint.
Basically, this book is on the right lines theologically and I recommend it.