Foundational to the Progressive Covenantal view of the land is the belief that the land and the land promise in the Old Testament serve as a type of the new creation. Wellum writes:
[W]e will argue in our exposition of the biblical covenants, the Old Testament text does present the land and the nation as types and patterns of something greater. From the covenant of creation with Adam, Eden is presented as the archetype, which the ‘land’ later on looks back to and forward to in anticipation of the recovery of the new creation. Furthermore, Adam as a covenant head is typological of the ‘last Adam’ to come, and as we move across the covenants, Adam and the land is developed in terms of Noah, Abraham and his seed, the nation of Israel and her land, and ultimately in the Davidic King who will rule the entire creation. [Kingdom through Covenant, 124; see also pp. 633-34, 707-13 and Martin, Bound for the Promised Land, 118-19]
In this view the typological nature of the land promise disassociates future fulfillment from the nation of Israel. Martin writes:
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. . . . 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. [Martin, 115; see 169-70]
Related to its typological view of the land, Progressive Covenantalism understands national Israel as a type of Christ and of the new covenant people of God. Martin notes that in 1 Peter the church is “identified with the Israel of God” (2:9) (149). Wellum comments, “Israel as a people serves a number of purposes in God’s plan. It is a physical nation that is the means by which God brings about his promises; it is typological of a greater Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; and within it the true people of God are found . . . , yet it also anticipates, through Christ, the church” (646). Wellum seeks to differentiate his position from both covenant theology and dispensational theology. He rejects covenant theology’s equation of the church and Israel, noting that there are “redemptive-historical and covenantal differences,” and he denies that they “are the same kind of covenant communities” (Ibid., 646). His main point is that Israel included both believers and unbelievers “while the church is a regenerate community” (Ibid.). Wellum also distinguishes his view from dispensational theology: “One cannot separate Israel and the church too much, i.e., ontologically as much of dispensationalism does.” (Ibid.).
The typology the Progressive Covenantalists argue for is tied to an understanding of the covenants in which the “new covenant supersedes all the previous covenants in redemptive-history” (Ibid., 604). On their view the new covenant in the New Testament “is applied to Christ and the church” rather than being “viewed as both national . . . and international,” as it was in the Old Testament (Ibid., 645-46).
Progressive Covenantalists also address an obvious counter-argument, namely, that the land promise is part of an unconditional promise. They argue that the claim that some covenants are conditional while others are unconditional “is not quite right” since all covenants have both conditional and unconditional elements to them (Ibid., 609; cf. 120-21, 610, 634, 705). Wellum states, “There is a sense in which we agree with Michael Horton that Israel forfeited the promise of the land because of her disobedience, hence the reason for the exile.” In another sense, however, Jesus as the “greater than Israel” will bring the land promise to pass in the new creation as a whole (Ibid., 706; cf. Martin, 164).
The main point of Progressive Covenantalism’s theology of the land is that the promised land is not limited to the boundaries given to Abraham and Israel (Martin, 73). Martin in particular argues that Matthew 5:5; 19:27-28; Romans 4:13; 8:18-25; Ephesians 6:2-3 all universalize the land promise and that they do so on the basis of Old Testament texts (Gen. 22:17; Ps. 37:11; Isa. 61:1-2, 7) that were already pointing toward the universalization of the promise (Ibid., 125-26, 134-35, 137; cf. 96).
In making their argument Progressive Covenantalists tie together a variety of theological themes: (1) Eden as a primeval sanctuary, (2) the temple, (3) the new creation as a restoration of Eden, (4) rest, and (5) the kingdom of God. The logic works like this: if the land promise is tied back to restoring what was lost in Eden, and if Eden was a primeval temple, and if the new creation is viewed in terms of temple symbolism, then the land should be viewed as coterminous with the new creation (Gentry and Wellum, 481, cf. 213-17, 709-13; Martin, 17-18, 155). Similarly, if the land is tied to the kingdom theme and the realm of the kingdom is the new earth, then the land promise encompasses the entire new earth (Martin, 137; cf. Gentry and Wellum, 598 for a different line of argumentation). The connection with the rest theme works somewhat differently: rest in the land serves as a type of eschatological rest. Since this eschatological rest is fulfilled in the new creation, the land promise is not confined to Canaan but extends to the entire new creation (Martin, 143).
I will argue that Progressive Covenantalists are correct to see the land theme in Scripture as rooted in Eden, intertwined with the temple, kingdom, and rest themes and culminating in the new creation but wrong to think that the expansion of the land theme beyond the borders and people of Israel entails a denial that redeemed ethnic Israelites will receive the land promised to them.