In reviewing Progressive Covenantalism’s arguments regarding the expansion of the land promise, I have registered substantive agreement on several points. First, the land promises are connected to Eden and to the temple, rest, and kingdom themes. Second, that the land theme, in its fulfillment, will encompass the entire new creation and the entire people of God. Though there has been some disagreement on details, these agreements are significant.
However, there are some significant differences from Progressive Covenantalism as well. First, the inclusion of the entire new creation and all the people of God in the fulfillment of the land theme does not negate the specific promises made to the nation of Israel. Related to this, it has been argued that the expansion of the land theme from Israel to the entire new creation and to all the people of God comes through the Messiah, who remains the Davidic king over Israel as well as the king over all nations. Finally, the expansion of the land promise is based not primarily in typology but in explicit and implicit promises found in the Old Testament.
Progressive Covenantalists rest their argument for the expansion of the land promise primarily on typology. Before reviewing that argument, it must first be presented.
Typology and Land in Progressive Covenantalism
Progressive Covenantalism presents itself as a mediating system between Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology, and Wellum describes the difference between the two systems on the land promise in terms of a different understanding of the typology:
In the case of dispensational theology, if they viewed as typological both the land of Israel and the nation itself, then their view, at its core, would no longer be valid. Why? For the reason that the land promise would not require a future, ‘literal’ fulfillment in the millennial age; the land itself is a type and pattern of Eden and thus the entire creation, which reaches its fulfillment in the dawning of a new creation. Christ, then, as the antitype of Israel, receives the land promise and fulfills it by his inauguration of a new covenant which is organically locked to new creation. [Kingdom through Covenant, 122.]
Wellum says “the New Testament helps us understand that the land promise is . . . typological of the new creation” (Ibid., 86). He concedes that dispensationalists would be correct “as long as one can demonstrate that the land promise, in the Abrahamic covenant and throughout the biblical covenants, is not better viewed as typological of the creation” (Ibid., 609). (Though Progressive Covenantalism is a mediating position, on the matter of land typology, Wellum notes that it is in agreement with covenant theology. Ibid., 114, n. 75.)
Martin summarizes how this typology works:
The Promised Land in the Old Testament—when situated within the kingdom and covenantal framework of Scripture as it progressively unfolds—was designed by God to serve as a type or pattern of a greater future reality. Every fulfillment is followed by failure and, although the promise is fulfilled at various points, it anticipates a greater and final fulfillment. . . . Therefore the promise of land to the nation of Israel is understood within the broader context of God’s programmatic agenda that begins with Adam, progresses from Abraham to Israel, and culminates in an international community living in a new creation. In other words, the national dimension involving the geographical territory of Israel should be viewed as a transitional stage in the outworking of God’s redemptive plan, a plan that spans from creation to new creation and ultimately includes people from every nation filling the entire earth. [Bound for the Promised Land, 115.]
Wellum argues the same point: “Thus the ‘land promise’ associated with the Abrahamic covenant cannot be understood apart from a backward and forward look: backward to the archetype reality of Eden and the entire creation, and forward, though the covenants, to its antitypical fulfillment in the new creation that Jesus has inaugurated in the new covenant” (Kingdom through Covenant, 607).