Israel and the Church (Book): The Covenantal View And Responses

March 26, 2015 3 comments

Following up on this previous post, my summary thoughts on the presentation of – and responses to – the first view, of (paedobaptist type) Covenant Theology.

I found this essay disappointing in several ways, most notably in its presentation of only one particular variation of CT (of which there are a few other variations) and its interaction with a non-standard version of dispensationalism.

As previously noted, this book omits the Baptist CT view. However, the CT view presented here is more specifically the paedobaptist, amillennial with no future for Israel (Romans 11 refers only to the salvation of Jews during this age) variety. This may be the most common view today (since most who hold to CT are paedo and amill), but more knowledgeable readers are aware of the variations within each of the systems, including the views held earlier in Reformed history. Yet this essay gives no indication of other variations, instead presenting just the one view and grouping together unrelated issues including even arguments against premillennialism itself (which is really a separate topic unrelated to the question of Israel and the Church).  Indeed, given that separate essays are provided for the three other views, all of which have a common starting point and certain things in common, I suggest that this book would have been better done as “Six Views,” with three “Covenant Theology” views: Paedobaptist CT, Baptist CT, and Covenantal Premill (its features unrelated to whether infant or believer’s baptism).

The CT essay further hinders its case – in terms of acceptance by those from a dispensational background – by addressing only a non-standard view of dispensationalism: the John Hagee view that current-day Israel is the fulfillment of OT biblical prophecy. Several paragraphs “refute” Hagee’s idea with the “answer” that those OT prophecies were fulfilled in the post-exilic period. The mention of Hagee, and no mention of or interaction with other notable dispensational teachers (as for instance John MacArthur), is a likely turn-off to the majority of dispensationalists, who do not agree with Hagee’s dispensationalism to begin with.

Responses to the CT essay

I find Robert Saucy’s response (Progressive Dispensational) the best written, both in its explanation of what PD believes and in addressing the CT essay misrepresentations. His scriptural references related to the future for ethnic Israel and basic premillennialism are explained well, and without reference to a “system” with “standard responses” – as contrasted with the Classic Disp response, which includes many such “standard response” statements, of “events” that “will transpire after the rapture of the church.”

Of interest, Saucy has no problem with the actual construction of the theological covenants of CT in and of themselves —  and further identifies the problem with the current-day paedo-construct of CT: the problem comes up when these theological covenants, which are essentially timeless—they apply to all human history—are made to level out all of the history of salvation. Though not dealt with in more detail, as I understand this is indeed the current-day paedo-CT approach, going beyond even what is stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith (which references only the Old, Mosaic covenant): that all of the biblical covenants of the Old Testament are administrations of the covenant of grace, thus flattening all of Old Testament history to put undue emphasis only on soteriology. I do not agree with all of Saucy’s views, including what is implied in his statements about what OT saints did or did not understand, but his response-essay is excellent in its explanations regarding several topics of what PD believes, including the future restoration of Israel, premillenialism itself, and the PD understanding of Israel and the Church with emphasis on their functions (instead of strict and exclusive reference to salvation of both groups) within God’s purposes.

The “Progressive Covenantal” (New Covenant Theology) response was the least helpful, as it mainly focused on the issue of infant baptism, providing scriptural reasons in support of believers’ baptism and rejecting CT for its “genealogical principle,” a topic that the CT essay only briefly mentioned.  This response does briefly state its position regarding the church as neither a replacement nor the continuation of Israel “but as something unique, which requires that we think of ethnic Israel as distinct from the church,” an idea undoubtedly developed more fully in their own essay later in the book.  Still, with the main focus on refuting infant baptism, this group continues a pattern I have observed (as have others): a persistent unwillingness to engage the Baptist Covenant Theology view, an incorrect idea that CT is synonymous with paedobaptism (and thus CT does not exist apart from infant baptism), refusing to acknowledge that CT also exists in the credo-baptist form yet with the same basic ideas regarding the one people of God and continuance of the moral law.

Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views (New Book Available)

March 19, 2015 6 comments

4viewsbookA new book on an interesting topic, which I recently purchased for my Kindle:  Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views

The four views dealt with in this book: traditional (paedobaptist) Covenant Theology, classic dispensationalism, progressive dispensationalism, and a type of “New Covenant Theology” variation, the “Progressive Covenantal” view. The book consists of four essays, one from the proponent of each of the views, along with three responses to each essay, one from each of the other three scholars. The scholars are not all that well-known, though Robert Saucy for the progressive dispensational view is a well-known name.

So far I have only read through the introduction and part of the first chapter; more posts to follow concerning any interesting points in the later reading.

It would have been nice to see the Baptist Covenant Theology view included: a traditional covenantal view that does not include the “genealogical principle” often mentioned in this book. As usual, the dispensational and NCT views here only interact with the paedo-baptist type of CT, with valid points in response to the covenant-child / infant baptism theology – yet ignoring the just as well-developed Baptist covenant theology. Other sources must supply the answer to that question (Israel and the Church) for CT baptists, such as the writings of Charles Spurgeon for one view, or Pascal Denault’s “The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology”  (which does briefly present an amillennial replacement idea, the Baptist CT “system” that rejects the literal fulfillment of the land promises).

Aside from the noted shortcoming, the book so far appears to be a good resource for general overview of this question: how do each of these “four views” think of Israel and the church and their relationship to each other?

The Church and the World: Early 20th Century Responses to Liberalism

March 3, 2015 4 comments

I am enjoying and learning a lot from ITunes University theological seminary series: first Carl Trueman’s (Westminster Theological Seminary) Reformation History series, and now “The Church and the World” from Reformed Theological Seminary (professor James Anderson). More in-depth and focused than even the best local-church “church history” series (as to be expected from Seminary courses), I especially appreciate the presentation of material that would otherwise be learned (from available online material) only in various fragments and pieces, but here all put together in sequence, to gain the overall perspective as well as how each piece relates to the topic itself.

From my recent listening in the “Church and the World” series, the following highlights:

Though the modernist view began in the 17th century and especially by the late 18th century, its impact really reached the church in the early 20th century, with significant responses to liberal Christianity from about 1910 to 1930, from three different groups:

The Fundamentals was published in 1910, by BIOLA (Bible Institute of Los Angeles): a large collection by many conservative Christian authors, sponsored by two wealthy conservative Christians. This publication drew the line in the sand, pointing out that liberalism is not Christianity, and affirming the important and essential truths of the Christian faith including the Trinity, the virgin birth of Christ (which has major implications for other significant doctrines) and supernaturalism and miracles. Those who sponsored the work, and many of its writers, were of the classic dispensational view — some contributors, such as B.B. Warfield, being notable exceptions. The work itself did not really address issues which later became more identified with “Fundamentalism,” such as its dispensationalism. Later fundamentalism also tended to separatism and anti-intellectualism, again ideas not reflected in The Fundamentals.

J. Gresham Machen: Reformed / Presbyterian Response. Machen was exposed to classic liberal theology in his education, and faced with its challenges, especially in the form of real liberal individuals who really were devout, “pious liberals,” something Machen had not expected. An interesting note regarding parenting here: Machen’s father was supportive, not combative, during Machen’s youth and this time of questions and doubts, and Machen came through that experience, strengthened in his reformed faith – the opposite experience of Friedrich Schleiermacher of the late 18th and early 19th century, another young man faced with the liberal ideas taught at university. Schleiermacher’s father took a very negative, confrontational attitude toward his son during this time – and Schleiermacher became one of the three leading influential figures in 19th century classic liberalism, setting the trend followed by later liberal leaders including Albrecht Ritschl and Adolf Harnack.

Machen later founded Westminster Theological Seminary (1920s) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church denomination in the 1930s. Though Machen was briefly taught by the same liberal teachers as Karl Barth (below), Machen and Barth did not personally or directly interact – it was for Machen’s successor, Cornelius Van Til, to confront Barth and his errors.

Neo-Orthodox movement (Karl Barth)

Neo-orthodox movement, of which Karl Barth was a well-known influential figure. Barth was trained in classic liberalism, taught by Willhelm Herrmann and Adolf Harnack, and seen as the promising star of the “next generation” of liberalism.  He then rebelled against liberalism, seeing from his pastoral ministry experience that liberal Christianity was empty and did not offer anything to real people in real life; also, his liberal teachers siding with the German state in WWI and German nationalism. Barth was expelled from Germany by Hitler in 1935, for his participation in the 1934 “Barmen Declaration” against Hitler and the national church (Nazi party) movement.

A famous quote from Barth, his response to liberalism:  One cannot speak of God simply by speaking of man in a loud voice.  However, Barth’s ideas were not traditional Reformed Christianity, but more in the area of existentialism and influence from 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant (discussed in an earlier lecture), emphasizing God as transcendent and unknowable. Barth rejected natural theology and failed to distinguish between the wrong uses of natural theology and the valid use and purpose in common grace.  He rejected inerrancy (claiming that the Bible contained historical errors) and took a subjective view of the “word of God” and God’s revelation. His “Christocentric” view went to excesses in his rejection of the Calvinist understanding of election, and his idea of the atonement — unlimited in both its scope and its effectiveness — left open the door for universalism, which possibility he left open, neither confirming nor denying universalism.

The series continues past these first ten lessons, and I look forward to upcoming lectures.

Premillennialism, the Historical Covenants, and Typology

February 24, 2015 1 comment

A recent article from a progressive dispensational viewpoint lists 12 points regarding the biblical (historical) covenants and how they should be understood. In a few online discussion groups, some people have interacted with the various points, citing their own responses to some of the points or noting areas of agreement and difference. From the question asked in a group for historic (classic) premillennialism, as to how historic premillennialism would agree or disagree with these points, come the following general observations regarding where historic (covenantal) premillennialism differs from this (at least what is stated in this particular post):

  • Difference regarding the “church age” (point 10).  The description here reflects dispensational ideas (contrary to the covenantal view) such as no indwelling of the Holy Spirit before Pentecost; this description implies that the Old Testament age did not have Holy Spirit indwelling or anyone with a new heart, and no Gentiles (non-Jews) ever saved before the “church age.”
  • Understanding of the historical covenants needs to start before the Noahic covenant – going all the way back to Genesis 3:15 (the proto-evangelium) and the basic covenant of works that Adam transgressed (reference Hosea 6:7).

The concluding statement certainly holds true: “Theological covenants should not be imposed on the biblical historical covenants in any way that alters the meaning of the biblical historical covenants.”  The term ‘historical covenants’ is preferred, the term used by teachers including S. Lewis Johnson — to distinguish these from the theological covenants, which also have biblical basis in the same manner as the word ‘Trinity’ is biblical though not explicitly stated as such in scripture.

The 19th century era of covenantal premillennialism certainly included some covenant theologians who used a full replacement “spiritualizing” hermeneutic, as seen in Horatius Bonar’s responses to spiritualizing Patrick Fairbairn.  Yet, as noted by at least a few historians, that era did not put as great of an emphasis on a system of covenants as today (as for instance, today’s paedo-style CT that has every historical covenant as an administration of the Covenant of Grace).  19th century covenantal premillennialists taught that Abraham and other OT saints were part of the church, the one body of Christ, and placed emphasis on other aspects of Covenant Theology, such as sanctification per the Puritan Reformed model (including observance of the fourth commandment, the Christian Sabbath).

The following amillennial response (to the above linked article) is a common generalization and part of a “system” that goes beyond actual scripture and the proper use of typology, reflecting the issue noted above, of theological covenants being imposed in a way that alters the meaning of the historical covenants.

“7. Collectively and individually, the covenants consist of dozens of specific promises including spiritual, national (Israel), international, and material blessings. These elements are all important and intertwined. All elements will be fulfilled literally through two comings of Jesus (no need to typologically interpret or spiritualize the covenants).”

You’re going to be incredibly confused if you don’t recognize typology in the Old Covenant. The material blessings were typological of the spiritual blessings in the New. They do not continue and they will not be fulfilled “literally.”

Here I recall S. Lewis Johnson’s lessons on typology and its definition — which includes specific correspondences between an OT person, event or institution, and a corresponding New Testament fulfillment.

A good example of typology related to the historical and theological covenants will provide specific point-by-point comparisons, instead of a general concept (without specific scripture texts) that “Israel is a type of the church,” therefore “the material blessings… will not be fulfilled ‘literally’.” I conclude with a Spurgeon sermon which illustrates such specific “type” comparisons: recognizing the historicity of the Noahic covenant, yet noting many ways in which it is similar to, a picture or type of, the (Baptist definition) Covenant of Grace:

Genesis 9, Rainbow:

  • reference Revelation 4:3 “rainbow around the throne.”  The rainbow is not a temporary symbol for earth only, but is a symbol of everlasting and heavenly things!
  • and Revelation 10:1, the mighty Angel whose head is crowned with a rainbow: our Lord Jesus Christ, in His mediatorial capacity, wears the symbol of the Covenant about His brow; and in the other passage, our Lord, as King, is represented as sitting upon the Throne, surrounded with the insignia of the Covenant of Grace which encompasses the Throne, so that there are no goings forth of His Majesty and His Power and His Grace, except in a covenant way, and after a covenant sort

The Tenor of the Covenant (features in common to both the Noahic covenant and the Covenant of Grace)

  • Pure grace
  • All of promise
  • Has up to now been faithfully kept
  • Does not depend in any degree upon man
  • An everlasting covenant

 

iTunes University: Theology Courses, Including History and Worldview Lectures

February 12, 2015 5 comments

Having enjoyed Carl Trueman’s Reformation history lectures, I recently learned about the full collections of audio lectures available from many theological seminaries — through iTunes University, a feature of iTunes software. Of particular interest: the available content from Westminster Theological Seminary, as well as Reformed Theological Seminary and Covenant Theological Seminary, cover many interesting topics: various periods of church history, Bible surveys, theology courses and more.

I have now started a “Church and the World” series, offered through Reformed Theological Seminary, with 28 lectures covering a topic I only know bits and pieces about: the history and development of liberal theology over the last few hundred years. The first messages provide general biographical and philosophical detail regarding the major figures of the Enlightenment, beginning with Descartes followed by the more radical David Hume and Immanuel Kant of the 18th century. Later lectures address such ideas as process theology, existentialist theology, liberation theology, as well as post-modernism, liberalism and fundamentalism, and the neo-orthodox reaction to liberalism, and I look forward to future lectures, to help put together more of the pieces concerning recent Christian and worldview history.

A few observations from what I’ve learned so far, and how it applies in current-day online theology discussions.

  • The Pre-Modern world (classic theism): A.D. 312 (the year of Constantine’s “conversion” to Christianity) through the 16th century – a time characterized by a theistic worldview, in which everyone understood and accepted the authority of God (and in extension the authority of the Roman Church) for understanding everything in life
  • The modern world: from 1600 to 1950, a time characterized by “a gradual but seismic shift” in understanding of human knowledge and relationship between humans and God, resulting in a worldview change. Major developments during this time included the 18th century Enlightenment and the 19th century Industrial Revolution.

These are categories we see in hindsight, not clear and sharp yet distinct gradual changes that establish themselves through a period of time. Of note, the 16th century Reformation Leaders held to more medieval-type thinking, at least to a greater extent than later Christian thinkers (here I recall Carl Trueman’s emphasis on this especially in relation to Martin Luther; Trueman saw Calvin and others as more of the then-emerging humanist mindset), and thus the “modern era” starts in the next century, though not in full swing until the 18th century. The modern era brought the ideas of rationalism and empiricism, a fundamental worldview shift in which man’s ideas dominate over the authority of God and His word, and where Christianity (and religion generally) is “proved” or disproved on the basis of man’s rational thoughts and experiences rather than from objective truth outside of ourselves.

This historical background helps in discussions regarding what past believers thought and how they expressed what they believed. As for example, in a recent discussion about the 1689 London Baptist Confession’s wording in chapter 4, regarding creation “in the space of six days,” one person suggested it was somehow of interest and special note that the confession authors “could have” specified more detail and “could have” been more precise and explicitly stated that the days were literal, normal 24 hour days – and therefore, because they did not, therefore that interpretation is left open and we can consider “six days” as meaning something other than really six days.

Such thinking of course reflects the modern and post-modern worldviews, and reading our own way of thinking into 17th century English Puritans. To see such qualifying and specific statements in 17th century documents would be an anachronism. Old-Earth views did not influence Christians until the 19th century, and no one in the 17th century thought in such terms regarding the definition of the days in Genesis 1. John Bunyan’s Genesis commentary (chapters 1 through 11)  indeed shows what Christians of that day were considering about Genesis 1 (chiliasm and the Millennial Week idea) as well as, by its absence, what they did not think about –because such ideas simply did not exist in their world.

Study: The Doctrine of the Trinity, and Its Practical Implications

February 4, 2015 2 comments

Continuing through Arden Hodgins’ exposition of the 1689 London Baptist confession, the “chapter two” content includes a helpful mini-series of 12 lectures on the doctrine of the Trinity: about the Trinitarian teaching itself, as well as implications of our understanding of the triune Godhead.

The early messages set forth the basics, addressing the common heresies of modalism, Arianism (or Unitarianism, Christ is a created being), and polytheism. Several “deep considerations” are next examined, including the truth of the Eternal Generation of the Son (sometimes called ”Eternal Sonship”), as well as the ideas described by two Latin words: filioque and perichoresis. These two points were new to me, and the study here was interesting, with discussion of the different views of the Eastern and Western church. The 1689 confession includes that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, referencing this term first referenced in the Nicene creed in the 6th century. The Eastern church rejected this idea, having the Spirit proceed only from the Father. This may not seem all that much of a distinction, until we consider the implications of the Eastern church view: an imbalanced Trinity where the Son and the Spirit are seen as both subordinate to the Father, such that the three are not in equal relationship with each other. The next term, perichoresis, means that each member of the trinity is present in the activities of the others. All were involved in creation. The Holy Spirit is present in us who believe, and also the Father and the Son. Here, the Western church had erred in its over-emphasis on the different roles of each member of the trinity, whereas the Eastern church saw the balancing point that – even though each member of the Godhead has specific roles and activity, we must also see their equality, unity and agreement, that the Father and Son and Spirit are all present and involved in all of God’s activities.

The practical implications are quite interesting, especially as they relate to political government structures, as well as for the family (the biblical understanding of submission, as referenced in this previous post), the corporate church experience, our salvation itself, and our worship. Our God is a relational God, one who has within Himself the perfect balance between individuals and their unity –unity and diversity. In our own fallen world, in human history, we see the continual back-and-forth between two extremes in society: hyper-individualism (what we have in America today) versus hyper-collectivism of totalitarian regimes. Of note here: the history of Athens (hyper-individual) and Sparta (hyper-collective), two cities which clashed to the point of war with each other. In nations, hyper-individualism leads to anarchy, which is replaced by totalitarian rule. The hyper-collective of totalitarian rule leads to revolution.

We also observe Islam as an example of a Unitarian system of belief. The Muslim God is a monad, a solitary being with no relationships with others. The Islamic system acts out the ideas of that type of god, the collectivist/totalitarian mindset, demonstrating (as with so many other non-Christian religions) that people do not rise above the level of the type of deity they worship.

The trinity has implications for family and church structure, such that the healthy family and the healthy church keep proper balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the community. Unhealthy churches include the hyper-individualism of churches with many and diverse programs for various age groups, different social demographics, the common problem of too many churches that minister to the “felt needs” of individuals. The other extreme church type may be less common, but can be seen in churches that over-emphasize unity such that everyone must believe the same way even on secondary, peripheral ideas. Hodgins provides examples here, of churches that say “home school only,” or churches that are economically based such that everyone here is of the higher social class, or only of a certain generation (only younger people in this church).

The final two lessons return to more directly doctrinal teaching:

  • The Trinity in Salvation – Redemption planned (Father – pactum salutis), Redemption accomplished (Son – historia salutis) and Redemption applied (the Holy Spirit – ordo salutis)
  • The Trinity in Worship: our proper worship of the triune God.

A biblical understanding of the Trinity gives us the correct understanding of the atonement (all members of the Trinity are working together to accomplish particular redemption) and will keep us from a man-centered gospel.

Triune worship includes mainly corporate worship, but private worship also, as we recognize that preaching the Word is part of worship, as well as our private worship of prayer, praises and practical obedience in our daily lives.  The first four commandments of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) are related to worship.  In closing, some final thoughts from this series regarding the Trinity and our worship:

Even as the Godhead has a perfect balance between the one and the many, we also in our worship have to have that balance. If we emphasize the Holy Spirit so much, we will go wrong, and our Christian lives will suffer for it. If we emphasize Christ to the exclusion of the Father and the Spirit, we will go off track. If we emphasize the Father and forget about the Son and the Spirit, we will also go off track. We need to be balanced in our worship, Trinitarian in our worship, consciously so. Let us delight in the Trinity. It’s not a problem to be solved, it’s a reality to be enjoyed. It’s a truth to be defended and proclaimed. It’s a relationship to be known and cherished.

Reformation History: Confessionalism and Its Relevance Today

January 28, 2015 1 comment

Continuing through Carl Trueman’s Reformation history lectures, later messages provide excellent background and teaching regarding the confessional era and the development in the 16th century of “confessional states” (geographical regions defined by their common confessional belief), as well as the overall historical background of confessions.  As Trueman points out in the introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism (lesson 27), confessions — and catechisms to teach doctrine — really began in early church history (the first few centuries), yet reached a peak during the 1560s with the development of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) and the Belgic Confession (1561), following the Anglican Church 39 Articles also in the mid-16th century.

This basic historical understanding (and its lack thereof) is very relevant today, as seen even in the Christian blog world recently.  Witness the many recent reviews-of-reviews-of-reviews regarding John Frame’s systematic theology and Frame’s revision of Reformed theology. Tom Chantry’s latest post this week, “Popping Interpretive Bubbles,” provides links to the other relevant posts – including the Triablogue’s rather anti-confessional (and lack of understanding) response to previous reviews of John Frame’s work — noting that “Somewhere in Orlando, John Frame must be chuckling.”

Chantry’s post provides a good synopsis, in written form, of this same background presented in Trueman’s audio lecture series, especially the following two points:

First, I wish confessional critics could understand and appreciate that confessions represent the settled opinion of a community of faith, not the fevered imaginations of any one Christian.

and

Second, recognize that the confessions paid great attention to earlier statements, from the Apostle’s Creed onward, in their summary of Christian doctrine. The Thirty-Nine articles are not original in the ordinary sense of the word; they are mainly a summary (in the English language) of the ancient and catholic teachings of the church. The Westminster Assembly set out to revise those articles because, in good conscience, the Divines could not continue to uphold episcopacy. Nevertheless, the Assembly retained the orthodox language of Anglicanism. The Savoy Declaration and the Second London Confession do not parrot the Westminster Confession because their authors lacked originality, but instead because they eschewed originality! Being conscience-bound to maintain a distinct baptismal practice, Baptists of the generation of 1689 nevertheless maintained the sound pattern of words already in use in the English language to express the catholic faith.

Trueman’s lectures #27 and 28, on the Heidelberg Catechism, provide this basic reference point along with further historical details, such as the beginnings of the Question-Answer catechism format during the High Middle Ages with a Catholic catechism developed in the 11th century and the pedagogical purpose, the very practical purpose that Martin Luther also experienced of needing to teach his young children.  Overall this series provides an in-depth look at society and politics and theology in the 16th century, lessons so needed in our very secular and individualistic culture.

Several posts from Tom Chantry have addressed the problems with the New Calvinism, (see especially the posts from summer 2014) which include the anti-confessionalism of those who disdain church history, its lessons and the importance of having creeds and confessions.  I highly recommend the “New Calvinism” posts also as quite instructive regarding the new Calvinism which puts the Doctrines of Grace in today’s culture of individualism.  As Chantry well observed:

Again we note that the Old Calvinism was serious about both ecclesiastical affiliation and confessional fidelity. Even where Old Calvinist fellowship has taken place across denominational and confessional lines, it has been between men who know both where they stand and who holds them accountable to stand there. It is hard to imagine how the Old Calvinism could have arrived where we are today.

and

The seeds of the newness of the New Calvinism are not, I believe, to be found in Calvinism at all. What has instead happened is that Calvinism has had its resurgence in the midst of an evangelical and secular culture which is profoundly different from that of Geneva or New Haven. Ours is a culture of individualism, and American evangelicalism is an individualistic form of Christianity. … New Calvinism has arisen where Calvin’s soteriology has been adopted without much challenge to the individualism of our age.

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