GOSPEL AND LAW, CONTRAST OR CONTINUUM? The Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology, by Daniel P. Fuller; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980; 217 pp., $10.95 (paper). (Review by Prof. H. Hanko)
Donald Fuller is professor of Hermeneutics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He has written, in this volume, a rather important book in which he examines the hermeneutics of Dispensationalists and of “Covenant Theologians” on the question of the unity of the Old and New Testaments. In this examination he finds that the hermeneutics of both are wrong in important respects. It is as if he says, “A plague on both your houses.” With regard to covenant theology, he argues that it is wrong because it sets grace and law in antithesis and denies that good works proceed from faith. In this way covenant theologians make a bifurcation of Old Testament law and New Testament grace.
But his biggest guns are aimed at Dispensational hermeneutics, which he examines in detail and criticizes at length. He points out very clearly that Dispensationalism teaches two ways of salvation: for the Jew, the works of the law; faith for the Gentile. This remains true even though later Dispensationalism attempts to repudiate this notion. Dispensationalism claims to keep the church free from legalism and Galatianism, but it only seems to do this by putting Israel under the law and making salvation dependent on the law. The result is that, essentially, covenant theologians and Dispensationalists make the same mistake: they both teach that Scripture runs law and grace alongside each other—alternating between them.
The real meat of this book, therefore, is a lengthy exegesis of Galatians 3:12 and Romans 10:5-8. His position is that all the promises of God are fulfilled on the basis of satisfying the condition which Scripture calls the obedience of faith.
There are certain areas in the book where I would dissent from the writer’s position. While his criticism of covenant theology is to the point, the fact is that his criticism is really leveled against those covenant theologians who hold to a conditional covenant. I wonder what his criticism would be of the covenant theology which was developed by Hoeksema with its unconditional emphasis. Secondly, by his emphasis on the obedience of faith, it seems to me that Fuller does not himself succeed in escaping the criticisms which he levels against other covenant theologians. Thirdly, there is insufficient attention paid to the real relation between the law in the Old Testament and the, promise, i.e., that the law also pointed ahead to Christ and was the schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Only within a proper understanding of this view (and there were many theologians within the Reformed tradition who had such a proper understanding), is it possible to come to a correct answer to this question. Fuller has not done this.
Nevertheless, his book is valuable in that it calls attention to a difficult problem, suggests a line of solution and points out with clarity the basic weaknesses of Dispensational hermeneutics. Because the argument is somewhat involved, we recommend this book to those who are willing to put forth some mental effort to understand what is sometimes difficult reading.