Response to Paul S. Karleen’s Paper “Understanding Covenant Theologians” -- By: Vern S. Poythress

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 10:2 (Fall 1989)
Article: Response to Paul S. Karleen’s Paper “Understanding Covenant Theologians”
Author: Vern S. Poythress


Response to Paul S. Karleen’s Paper
“Understanding Covenant Theologians”

Vern S. Poythress

The Dispensational Study Group meeting November 16, 1989, in San Diego has chosen as a topic for discussion the book of Vern S. Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987). Paul S. Karleen and Robert Saucy were invited to prepare written responses to the book. Paul Karleens written response is found in his paper,Understanding Covenant Theologians: A Study in Presuppositions.” On the basis of the written paper, sent to me beforehand, I was invited to give a brief response during the meeting, November 16, 1989. The following written material constitutes the substance of my response.

It is understood that my response to this and to an analogous paper by Robert Saucy is to be followed by open discussion. Due to the circumstances, my response is tentative in nature, and open to correction in the light of the discussion.

* * *

I am delighted to be able to be at this meeting of the Study Group. Thank you to Drs. Craig Blaising and Gerry Breshears for inviting me to speak. I will be happy if my book may be of some use in furthering your discussions.

Now let me turn to Dr. Karleen’s paper. There is much in his paper with which I can agree. In particular, as Karleen affirms, consciousness of our presuppositions and larger systematic convictions can help in refining our interpretation of Scripture (pp. 2-5). We must be aware of the possibility of unjustified circular reasoning.

I might go on dealing with areas of agreement, but it will probably be most useful for me to concentrate on two areas of Karleen’s paper where there may be some remaining difficulty: what is the nature of “a physical kingdom on earth for Israel” (p. 6); and

whether “salvatory unity of the elect” implies “economic/historic/prophetic unity” (p. 9). On these points I now realize that my book was not as clear as it could be, and not nearly as fully developed as it could be. I think that Karleen has advanced the discussion, and has advanced my own understanding, by drawing attention to these points.

There is also a third issue, namely, whether covenant theology and dispensational theology represent a polarity or a continuum (p. 5). We can discuss this issue if there is time. For the moment, I want to concentrate on the primary questions.

A Physical Kingdom on Earth for Israel

First, Karleen argues that “the issue is a physical kingdom on earth for Israel” (p. 6). I agree. Unfortunately, Karleen misunderst...

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