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Book Review: Heirs of Promise: The Church as the New Israel in Romans

This is a brief review of a brief (107 pgs), but very compelling book.

The book is Heirs of Promise: The Church as the New Israel in Romans, by P. Chase Sears. It is on the new book shelves of the library.

It is the first in a new series titled Snapshots, edited by theologian Michael Bird. The series will engage significant themes in contemporary biblical and theological scholarship in a relatively brief “snapshot” manner, making them accessible to busy students of the Word and applicable in the life of the church.

Within evangelicalism, the issue that separates dispensationalism from non-dispensational (amillennnial, postmillennial, historic premillennial) schools of thought is primarily the relation of Israel and the church.

Dispensationalism. In framing the debate, he makes a distinction between three varieties of dispensationalism.

Classic dispensationalism ( John Nelson Darby, Lewis Sperry Chafer). The church is a parenthesis in God’s plan. OT kingdom promises put on hold until God’s purposes in the church are complete. Believes Israel and the church will be eternally separated. Israel as God’s earthly people, the church as God’s heavenly people.

Revised dispensationalism (Charles Ryrie and John Walvoord). Veered away from eternal separation, but still maintains a sharp distinction. OT kingdom promises put on hold until God’ purposes in the church are complete. At that time, God will resume his plan with Israel, which will receive the promised kingdom.

Progressive dispensationalism (Darrell Bock, Robert Saucy, Craig Blaising). The church is no longer viewed as a parenthesis in God’s plan. Believers in the church have come to share in the present messianic salvation along with Jews, and the church is serving God’s kingdom purpose. However, they still expect the nation of Israel to be restored and to fulfill a future role in the millennial kingdom privileged over Gentile believers.

 

Non-Dispensational Views. On the other hand, non-dispensationalists see more continuity between Israel and the church. While some older non-dispensationalists were left open to the charge of supersessionism (replacement theology), a more nuanced approach emerged, in which the church is not a replacement for Israel, but rather a continuation or expansion or fulfillment of Israel, reconstituted in Christ,  to include the Gentiles. In short, the church is the New Israel. And some non-dispensationalists (such as Tom Schreiner), but not all, still see a future salvation for ethnic  Israel; this will be fully discussed in chapter 5 with different perspectives on Romans 11.

In recommending this book, Thomas Schreiner (who is historic premillennial) says:

Chase Sears demonstrates in a study of Romans, one which draws on the Old Testament witness, that the Church is identified as the new Israel In Paul. Such conclusion does not rule out a future salvation of ethnic Israel. Here is a careful study of a theological topic informed by and rooted in careful exegesis. At the same time, Sears’ work displays a keen understanding of redemptive history, I commend this work with enthusiasm.  

So the author says that as the Son of God, Jesus is the true Israel, through whom all of god’s purposes for Israel and creation are realized. Through faith in Christ, the Church is in union with Christ, and therefore becomes God’s new covenant people and heirs of all of God’s saving promises.

Sears therefore takes a biblical theological approach to the book of Romans. A biblical theological  approach is 1) exegetically driven; sensitive to the diversity of literature within the Canon, while conscious of the Bible as a unified whole); 2) concerned with redemptive history (with the development of theological themes along the biblical timeline, finding its culmination in the Messiah); and 3) the Bible is understood on its own terms (i.e. allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture). This approach is very sensitive to the OT types, and how they are fulfilled in the NT.

Sears unfolds his argument logically in 6 chapters:

  1. INTRODUCTION (a biblical theological approach; tracing the New Israel motif in Romans)
  2. JESUS AS GOD’S TRUE SON, ISRAEL
  3. THE INAUGURATION OF THE NEW CREATION (including the New Exodus, the New Covenant, and The Abrahamic Covenant)
  4. ISRAELITE LANGUAGE APPLIED TO THE CHURCH (titles for Believers, the Family of Abraham, the Family of God)
  5. IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF ISRAEL IN ROMANS 11 (does Israel refer to the church? Does Israel refer to elect Jews? Does Israel refer to the nation? The nature of Israel’s future).
  6. CONCLUSION

This book is commended as an opportunity to read a well-constructed argument of the New Israel position, in only 107 pages. Though you may disagree with the conclusion, you will  have a better understanding of the issues involved.

Ron Maness

CBC Library