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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

 

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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.