Progressive Covenantalists claim that the land promised to Israel in the Old Testament is a type of the new creation that will be received by all of God’s people (see more here).
There are two important problems with this claim.
First, the land is not a type in and of itself but only at certain periods of Israel’s history. Thus one cannot conclude on the basis of typology that the land of Israel is only a shadow with no future significance. The shadow would be the land in the time of Joshua or in the time of Solomon. The substance would be the Davidic Messiah ruling from that land over the nations in the new earth. Thus there is no logical contradiction in the land being a type at certain periods of history and Israel receiving the land in fulfillment of the promises (see more here).
The second difficulty with the Progressive Covenantalist argument from typology is the identification of the land promise as a type. Perhaps this is simply an imprecise statement or a mistaken statement since more commonly they identify the land as the type. Be that as it may, the identification of the promise as a type is problematic. As Craig Blaising notes,
“A promise entails an obligation. When somebody makes a promise, they’re not just stating something, they are doing something. They are forming a relationship and creating an expectation that carries moral obligation. Failure to complete a promise is a violation of one’s word. It is a serious matter.” [Craig A. Blaising, “Israel and Hermeneutics,” in The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel, 160.]
Indeed, “the promise and the oath are referred to as ‘two unchangeable things’ (Heb. 6:18)” (Ibid., 161). Blaising also points out that promises of the Abrahamic covenant is tied to the central storyline of Scripture. “God’s promise, covenant and oath to Abraham is not a peripheral element in the story of the Bible. It is a key structural component in the central plot line” (Ibid.). He concludes, “To posit a ‘fulfillment’ of these covenant promises by means of a reality shift in the thing promised overlooks the performative nature of the word of promise, violates the legitimate expectations of the recipients, and brings the integrity of God into question” (Ibid.).
Certain statements of Wellum’s would seem to be in agreement with Blaising. In distinguishing their approach to canonical interpretation from “most proponents of sensus plenior,” Wellum writes, “God says more than the individual authors may have known, yet he does not contravene what the authors wrote and intended” (Kingdom through Covenant, 85, bn. 11). If by this he means that that the promise to Israel of the land would be expanded (as even the Old Testament indicated) to include the nations dwelling in the world earth—without denying that Israel, as one of these nations, receives the particular land promised―then all would be well. The integrity of the promise would be maintained alongside the expansion of the promise.
But Wellum, and other Progressive Covenantalists, do deny that Israel, as one of these nations, receives the particular land promised to it. The reason they do not see this denial as contradicting Wellum’s statement in the previous paragraph or as violating the integrity of God’s promise is likely due to the fact that Progressive Covenantalists see Israel as typological. For Progressive Covenantalists Christ is the antitype of Israel. As the church is in Christ, it can receive the promises made to Israel (Brent E. Parker, “The Israel-Christ-Church Relationship,” in Progressive Covenantalism, 63-64. 67-68). Making the argument that Israel cannot be reduced to a type is far beyond the scope of these posts, and yet something must be said for argument I’m making to cohere.
Perhaps all that needs to be noted is what Brent Parker says about the ways in which Israel is and is not a type in the Progressive Covenantal view:
[I]t is important to recognize that when a person or entity is identified as typological, this does not include every aspect of the person or entity. . . . Israel as an ethnic group is not a type, but our claim is that national Israel in terms of its role, vocation, calling, and identity is typological of Christ and thus rules out the notion of a future national role of Israel in the plan of God. Ethnic Jews and Gentiles in Christ are co-heirs and fellow partakers of promise.” [Ibid., 52.]
The distinction Parker draws between Israel as an ethnic group and Israel as typological of Christ is necessary since the New Testament continues to recognize the Israel as an ethnic group. For instance, one must be able to continue to speak of Israel as an ethnic group to speak of them as branches that will be grafted back into the olive tree (Rom. 11).
For the premise of these posts to hold, one does not need to ascribe to ethnic Israel a special role, vocation, or calling. The simple acknowledgement of that Israel as an ethnic group continues and could receive land in the eternal state is all that needs to be acknowledged.
This is part of a series of posts on Progressive Covenantalism and the land promise in Scripture: