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Israel and the Church (Book): the Second View (Dispensationalism)

March 31, 2015 3 comments

Continuing in “Perspectives on Israel and the Church,” the next view presented is “traditional dispensationalism.” This essay, by Robert Thomas, is well-written and presents Revised Dispensationalism, at least as it relates to the question of Israel and the Church. No mention is made of “classic dispensationalism” and its ideas such as the seven dispensations or two new covenants. The main points of the essay include a survey of various NT texts in support of the idea that Israel always means Israel and never “the church;” consideration of the historical covenants important to dispensationalism (Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants); and a look at several sections of the book of Revelation and how they reference both Israel and the Davidic covenant. Thomas also contrasts his ideas with those of three non-dispensational scholars – Greg Beale, David Aune, and Grant Osborne – with details concerning each of these men’s views of many texts in Revelation, often noting their inconsistent hermeneutics such as a mixture of futurism with idealism. More so than in Thomas’ response to the first (CT view) essay, this essay is well-grounded in scriptural references, with no generic phrases referencing dispensational presuppositions such as “the rapture of the church.” In fact, this essay makes no mention of the rapture or the dispensational idea regarding the Great Tribulation (the church gone and the separate group of “Tribulation” saints), instead writing only about the above topics.

For anyone interested in what traditional (revised) dispensationalism believes regarding Israel and the Church, I recommend reading of this essay, as one presenting the view positively and explaining its ideas with scripture references – as opposed to the many anti-dispensational presentations (as with the first essay, noted in the previous post) which only interact with ideas not even true of revised dispensationalism.

Responses to the Traditional Dispensationalism View

As before, I found the CT writer (Robert Reymond) rather disappointing: his response really did not interact with Thomas’ essay, but consisted of a look at the gospel passages which speak of Israel’s judgment for their unbelief, including some of Christ’s later parables, to “prove” that God is through with Israel, followed by general statements of theology (but really lacking in serious scripture references), as though saying it were enough to settle the matter, that nothing in the Bible agrees with and proves premillennialism or Israel’s future. This response ends with a “summary” of Jesus’ eschatology as envisioning two ages, including statements such as this one — this present (evil) age and the age to come of the new heaven and new earth—as comprehending the remainder of time as we know it. He said nothing about a third, intermediate period or millennial age following this age – followed by general statement about what is true and important regarding Christ’s return, and our hope is in the fact of Christ’s return.

Both the PD response (Robert Saucy) and the Progressive Covenantal response provide points of interest, notably regarding the idea of the One People of God. Both Saucy and Brand/Pratt note the inclusion of the Gentiles into the people of God, as with Ephesians 2-3, and disagree with the dispensational teaching that the Church is not presently participating in the New Covenant (only Israel in the future will participate in the New Covenant). The PD essay, predictably, notes the main point of difference between revised and progressive dispensationalism: the idea that Christ is presently reigning “in a spiritual sense” upon the Davidic throne – in addition to future literal fulfillment. Brand and Pratt give their reasons for why Christ in the gospel accounts did not mention the Old Testament land promises, point out the one people of God from Ephesians 2-3 as well as 1 Peter 2:9, and allow the possibility of a future millennial age and/or the eternal state, but emphasize Christ’s “fulfillment” of Old Testament Israel: The Servant who would bring about this transformation is the Lord, and that transformation is already-but-not-yet and will be finalized either in the millennium, the eternal state, or both. Another good point brought up in this response is one I noted from S. Lewis Johnson’s teaching a few years ago: in contrast to the dispensational view, the real “parenthesis” or intercalation is not the church age, but the Mosaic economy.

Next time:  Robert Saucy’s essay, the Progressive Dispensational View of Israel and the Church.

 

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.