A Birthless Argument
I am starting my way through Progressive Covenantalism edited by Stephen J. Wellum and Brent E. Parker. Charting a course between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism, "Progressive Covenantalism" presents a strong covenant emphasis with strong discontinuity between the old and new covenants.
Myself being a "covenant theologian," I was interested in seeing how the authors distinguished themselves from progressive dispensationalism (another attempted blending of covenant and dispensational theologies). The opening chapter by Jason DeRouchie on Abarham as Father/King of the nations is very good. However, there were two portions of exegesis in the book of Isaiah that struck me as quite the stretch and I'd like to look at the passages and quotations now.
The Unmarried Messiah
The first of the quotations from DeRouchie is a type of matter-of-fact quotation about the life of Jesus Christ being without children,
"Significantly, Messiah Jesus neither married nor father physical children. His 'offspring' in whom he delights (Isa 53:10), therefore, must be identified with spiritual adoption. This means the 'offspring' of the new covenant community will only include the 'many to be accounted righteous' in Christ (53:11 ESV)." (20)
This quote took me back at first reading. That Christ was not married is true. That he lacked children was also true. But to read this analogy — so literally — into a prophetically charged book like Isaiah was surprising.
The driving point is obvious — covenant theology is wrong for baptizing infants. The proof for DeRouchie is in the outstanding "newness" of the new covenant under its new — Messiah Jesus replaces Father Abraham. I appreciate the emphasis on Christ being a greater Abraham, but the quote is really just setting up a potential knock down later on. DeRouchie hopes to pit the depiction of Abraham and Sarah over against the New Covenant established in the marriage-less Jesus Christ,
"First, in contrast to previous covenants, the 'seed' of the new covenant are not physically born into covenant membership. Even Sarah ultimately experienced labor in pain at Isaacs birth (Isa 51:2), but the 'barren ones's' lack of labor and childbearing in 54:1 suggest that spiritual adoption, not physical birth, would characterize the identity of the new children." (22)
I appreciate the analysis. These are elements of Isaiah that I had not previously detected. God's new covenant surpasses the "barrenness" of Israel. This is the remarkable revelation of God "remembering Israel" just as he "remembered Rachel" (Gen 30:22). This is a remarkable theme of the Patriarchs. Isaac too has to pray for his barren wife (Gen 25:21). God throughout the Patriarchs is bringing children from barrenness. In Romans, Paul refers to this as the fundamental element of faith in Abraham (Rom 4:17-21).
But this remains just that — remembrance of a past covenant. As DeRouchie correctly notes, progressive covenantalism is distinct from covenant theology because they do not see the OT covenant as progressive administrations of the one covenant of grace. However, this loses sight of how often God redeems from destruction based on a past covenant. Shortly after the symbolic texts quoted by DeRouchie, Isaiah lays out a theme of God's departing from Israel and "remembering" His covenant (Isa 54:7-10). By separating Isaiah from the rest of Israel's covenantal history, DeRouchie finds the very discontinuity he seeks to affirm.
Instead, Isaiah 54 should be read as a re-treading of Israel's barrenness due to sin. In this barrenness, God remembers Israel and turns back to them on the basis of His covenant of grace. This remembrance carries with it a clear articulation of biological covenant inclusion in Isaiah,
"Then all your children will be taught by the Lord, their prosperity will be great" - Isaiah 54:13
“As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit who is on you, and My words that I have put in your mouth, will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouth of your children, or from the mouth of your children’s children, from now on and forever,” says the Lord. - Isaiah 59:21 (HCSB)
This language of "children's children" is not speaking to multiple generation of spiritual adoption. This is Biblical language for God's generational promises (Psa 128). Despite DeRouchie's many advancements in reading covenant identity of Jesus Christ through Abraham, he foils himself by reading his own affirmations against a backdrop of his own making.