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One of a Kind: The Relationship between Old and New Covenants as the Hermeneutical Key for Christian Theology of Religions


oneAdam Sparks, One of a Kind: The Relationship between Old and New Covenants as the Hermeneutical Key for Christian Theology of Religions (Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick, 2010), 325 pages, ISBN 9781606083451.

In this book Reformed theologian Adam Sparks attempts to contribute to the theology of religions conversation by offering a critique of some of the most popular approaches within this discipline. Unlike other projects that focus upon soteriology, this author limits his conversation to the relationship between the old and new covenants as it is treated by inclusivist models. In short, inclusivism maintains that people of faith traditions outside of Christianity may experience salvation by being included in the saving work of Christ. Ultimately, this means that it is not always necessary for an individual to be within the Christian faith in order to be a part of God’s redemptive activity. A Hindu, for example, may experience salvation, if God chooses to do so. The Hindu faith is not redemptive, rather it is God’s work within or despite his religious background that saves. There are many different nuances of the inclusivist position, and Sparks points out that many inclusivists affirm the fulfillment model. The fulfillment model maintains that Christ “fills out” non-Christian religions where they fall short. In other words, where other religions are incomplete, Christ fills in the gaps. Many inclusivist theologians apply the fulfillment model to the relationship between the old and new covenants. Just as Christ’s new covenant is the fulfillment of the old covenant, analogously, Christ must also be the fulfillment of all other religions. Christ not only completes the Jewish faith, but he is the capstone for all non-Christian religions. However, Sparks disagrees. He states “[T]he Israel analogy and fulfillment model have failed to comprehend the organic, progressive nature of this salvation history….[F]urther…the Israel analogy and fulfillment model undermine the significance of the Christ-event in salvation history by failing to appreciate the decisive effect of this event on history and the nature of existence”, and it is this point that motivates Sparks’ objective (xxiv).

Sparks introduces his readers to basic concepts common within theology of religions, including the difference between exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism.

Sparks begins part one of his book by introducing his readers to basic concepts common within theology of religions, including the difference between exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism. Next he demonstrate contemporary understandings of the fulfillment model before examining sources within the early Church that are often used to support the fulfillment model. Finally, the author closes this section by summarizing noteworthy Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and Evangelical uses of the Israel analogy within the framework of fulfillment theology. In part two Sparks moves to defend the importance of Israel in relationship to Christianity without succumbing to the “incorrect handl[ing]” found within the fulfillment models. He concludes that God’s covenant with Israel has not been superseded but still remains intact alongside the new covenant. He is clear to point out, however, that this does not excuse the Jewish people from responding to the gospel. In the last section of his book Sparks attempts to elaborate upon his understanding of the role of Israel within the framework of covenantal theology. He concludes that the old covenant made with Israel has a unique relationship to Christianity that cannot be transposed upon other religions. Salvation history can only be understood as a continuous flow from Judaism to Christianity. Therefore, the Israel analogy commonly employed within fulfillment theology is fundamentally flawed.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2011

About the Author: David Bradnick, Ph.D. Theological Studies (Regent University School of Divinity), is an instructor in the philosophy department at Stevenson University and York College of Pennsylvania. His dissertation is titled "Loosing and Binding the Spirits: An Emergentist Theology of the Demonic" (2015).

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