It seems as if traditional Replacement Theology/simple supersessionism in the Reformed World is beginning to loose its dominance. However is there a soft supersessionism here as found in N.T. Wright? Here is article.
Reacting against a perceived tendency to reduce Paul’s teaching to answering the question, How can I be saved?, the trend today is to say that the real question that concerns Paul (as it did all first-century Jews) was, Who are the people of God? In other words, it’s a question of ecclesiology (defining “Israel”), not soteriology (how one gets in). However, Paul’s arguments in Romans 9 to 11 especially demonstrate that he is interested in both questions and that,in fact, neither can be successfully answered in isolation from the other. Thus far in Romans, Paul has emphasized that since all people, Jew and Gentile alike, are “in Adam,” condemned by the law, under the sentence of death and divine wrath, the only way to be saved is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Who Is Israel?
The problem is that the covenant that the people made with God at Sinai was being allowed to determine the answer to these questions. How are we saved? By fulfilling the law. Who is Israel? Those who fulfill the law. Paul held this view before his conversion, as a Pharisee and persecutor of the church, but on the Damascus Road everything was turned upside down when he encountered a vision of the very “cursed” one according to the law (“cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”) triumphantly seated at the Father’s right hand in glory. Now the questions receive different answers that are, in fact, perfectly consistent with the expectations of the prophets. How are we saved? We are saved in the same way that all of the saints in redemptive history were saved: by trusting in God’s promised Messiah. Who are the people of God? The children of promise-those who share Abraham’s faith. The heirs of the Sinai covenant (and thus of the earthly land) are those who are ethnic descendants of Abraham, circumcised in the flesh; the heirs of the Abrahamic covenant (fulfilled in the new covenant) are all people, Jew and Gentile, who are “in Christ” through faith alone, circumcised in heart.
Throughout his epistles, therefore, Paul labors the contrast between these “two covenants,” represented by two mothers (Sarah the free woman versus Hagar the slave), two mountains (Zion and Sinai), and two Jerusalems (heavenly and earthly) (see especially Gal. 4). Pulling together his teaching across these epistles, we can offer a list of contrasts (see chart below).
Paul has been unveiling the free grace of God in the Abrahamic covenant to all those who are “in Christ”: pre-destined, called, justified, glorified (8:30-31). He has stressed the un-conditional basis of this everlasting covenant. So now, especially for those who had confused the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants, the likely question is raised: So, Paul, is this election that you are talking about a new and different one from the election of Israel? Has God failed in his saving purposes for Israel, so that now he finds himself having to resort to “Plan B” (the church)?
To answer this question, the apostle does not invent a new theology of election. Rather, he shows that all along God has fulfilled his eternal electing purposes distinct from the election of Israel as a national theocracy designed to point all the nations to Christ. It was the Abrahamic covenant (made 430 years before the Sinai treaty) that promised blessing for the nations. It was Abraham’s sons, Ishmael and Isaac, who illustrate the prerogative of God’s sovereign grace in election. Although both were the fruit of his loins and outwardly members of the covenant of grace, circumcised in the flesh, God had already chosen Isaac and rejected Ishmael. “And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done anything good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him who calls), it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated’” (Rom. 9:10-13). God is not unjust in electing apart from any foreseen virtues. Since the elect are chosen out of a mass of perdition, God would only have foreseen sin and resistance in any case. The point could not be any clearer: “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (v. 16).
If this is the way God has always worked, then election and grace cannot be assimilated to the Sinai covenant. God’s eternal and unconditional election of individuals for salvation, hidden to us, cannot be confused with his conditional covenant with the nation of Israel. What remains unconditional in God’s promises to Israel is his utterly one-sided oath to bring the blessing of salvation to all nations through Abraham’s seed. The Sinai covenant, based on law, cannot annul the earlier Abrahamic covenant, based on promise (see Gal. 3:15-18).
So God is not unfaithful. His Word has not failed, even if we do not currently see the Jewish people embracing Christ en masse. The prophets consistently taught that Israel would be saved through a remnant, and that this Jewish remnant would also include a remnant from all the nations. Together, they would form “one flock with one shepherd,” in a “covenant of peace” (Ezek. 34:11-31). The people resulting from this unconditional election would constitute the true Israel. Paul is simply announcing that this remnant theology of the prophets has been finally realized in the history of redemption.
Many first-century sects saw themselves as this remnant (especially the Essenes); others regarded themselves and their party as a remnant that will purify the whole nation in preparation for Messiah (the Pharisees). Yet across the spectrum, the pattern is the renewal of the Sinaitic covenant. By contrast, with Hebrews 1:1-2, as Delbert Hillers describes, “Early Christians, even those of Jewish descent, did not look on themselves either as an unbroken continuation of the old Israel or as a group attempting to return to an ancient pattern of faith, like the Essenes. Instead, they stood over against the days ‘of old’ as men living in the ‘last days.’” Part of this “newness,” says Hebrews 1, is that the new covenant coalesces around a person-a Son, a “better covenant,” one “enacted on better promises.” Commenting on Jeremiah’s prophecy, the writer says, “In speaking of a new covenant, he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (8:13; cf. 9:11-23).
The Sinai covenant can become obsolete because it was a conditional treaty, intended by God to serve an important but temporary purpose of pointing forward to Christ. Once Christ (the reality) has come, the law covenant of Sinai (the shadows) becomes obsolete. If we don’t understand this covenantal background, we will either conclude that God has in fact reneged on his promises to Israel or we will build a whole theology around a future restoration of an earthly holy land, with a Davidic king, temple, priest, and sacrifices other than Christ (as in at least old-style dispensationalism).
Thus, the contrast between the Sinai covenant of law and the Abrahamic New Covenant of promise is drawn not merely by the Protestant reformers, nor even merely by Paul, but by the Hebrew prophets, Jesus, and his apostles. By justifying the wicked by faith apart from works of the law (how we are saved: soteriology), God will be able finally to realize the promise made to Abraham and heralded by the prophets (Isa. 9; 49; 60; 66; Jer. 4:2; Ezek. 39), that in him and his Seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed (who will be saved: ecclesiology).
Has God Failed?