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Classic Premillennialism: Andrew Bonar’s “Redemption Drawing Nigh”

April 29, 2015 10 comments
Andrew Bonar

Andrew Bonar

In my ongoing study of historic premillennialism, here is another classic premillennial work from one of the covenantal premillennialists, Andrew Bonar (1810-1892, youngest brother of Horatius Bonar) – perhaps best known today for his biography of his friend and fellow Scotsman, Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

Redemption Drawing Nigh, A Defense of the Premillennial Advent was published in 1847. Its availability today is limited: through Google Play, which also has a PDF downloadable file. However, the PDF file is not of the OCR/text type (only image). No kindle book files exist, nor any print used copies from Amazon or other sites. Thankfully, the reading through Google Play is of good quality, and brings out the now-forgotten treasures from Andrew Bonar.

Similar to other works from the 19th century on this topic (as for instance J.C. Ryle), Bonar begins with consideration of the overall question of the Second Coming: why we should be interested in it, and what benefits it brings to the growing Christian. He bolsters his case with quotes from a then-contemporary antimillenarian scholar who likewise agreed regarding the importance of considering Christ’s Second Advent. Bonar also shows his mastery of scripture, with a chapter citing many oft-ignored references to the Second Coming (general references not specific to the millennial era), with several interesting references from the Old Testament –the Psalms, Proverbs, the Prophets, and even from the Song of Solomon (seen typologically as about Christ, the traditional/historic view of that book).

Later chapters deal more in-depth with topics still relevant today, including great quotes about hermeneutics and affirming the literal hermeneutic—and what that hermeneutic actually means.  So far the book is interesting, with strong emphasis on the importance of this doctrine (premillennialism and the Second Coming generally), references to the future of Israel, and insights on the Christian life and holiness.

A few excerpts to share:

 Holiness is “living soberly,” or occupying the position which a calm consideration of our gifts shows us to be fitted for; “righteously,” regarding our neighbor’s rights, loving him as ourselves; “godly,” regarding God’s demands, living in fellowship with Him. But even this, done under the motive of “grace,” is not all. Along with all this, a truly holy man sits loose to the world and longs for glory. … Uneasy at every remaining imperfection, troubled by every unattained degree of grace, vexed at a low state of feeling, the man who walks on the highway of holiness is ever looking forward into the bosom of the future— beyond even death, which only brings partial deliverance—to “that blessed hope.” This unceasing regard to the Lord’s Coming is surely one scriptural ingredient in all real holiness.

 

It is not enough that the lesson itself is Divine, we must also have a Divine instructor; not only a sharp sword, but an Almighty hand to wield it. It is so with respect to this doctrine of the Lord’s Coming. It may be learnt by carnal men as any other piece of knowledge; and it may be received and assented to by spiritual men among the other articles of their creed. But there is a spiritual reception of it which is the effect of the Holy Ghost’s teaching. As in conversion we need resurrection-power—the same power that raised up Jesus—to remove the barriers in our soul that hid a full salvation from our view; so ever after, when any new truth of a spiritual nature is to be taught us, it seems declared to us (Phil. 3: 15) that we need the very same power to remove the scale that blinded us to it.

and, on the topic of hermeneutics, the primary meaning and its application to us:

Let the man not be lazy and easy-minded in the things of God. Let him not say, “O it will do well to let the Assyrian stand as an Algebraic sign for ‘our spiritual enemy.’” Let him rather take the words literally, as referring to some national Jewish event yet future; and then let him say, “But he who is able to be Israel’s peace in that day, may well be mine now!”

“Israel and the Church” Views (4): Progressive Covenantalism

April 21, 2015 12 comments

Continuing in this series, the last view presented in this book is “Progressive Covenantalism,” by Brand and Pratt. I was unfamiliar with this view, which attempts a hybrid between covenant theology and Progressive Dispensationalism, and thus found the essay not as easy to follow.  The main points, as I understood by the end: one people of God, the promises to Israel fulfilled in Christ (and thus no future restoration of ethnic Israel), and yet post-trib premillennialism with a futurist view of the Great Tribulation. Perhaps the overall “progressive covenantal” view fits with some current-day premillennial teachers, such as Douglas Moo (referenced in this essay), though I do not know of any specifically connected with this view other than the two authors.  The essay is organized in three main sections:  the meaning of “biblical righteousness” for the people of God; Israel’s own experience in history “of that righteousness in her worship of the Lord;” and last, future eschatology.

As noted in the TD response, nothing is said here about hermeneutics; this system is based on an abstract idea of righteousness (along with a lot of discussion about the importance of the Holy Spirit, that “the marker of the people is the internal presence of the Holy Spirit”) coupled with N.T. Wright-group historical analysis of the Jews in the Intertestamental period through the 2nd century AD, along with reference to current-day premillennialists including Douglas Moo, Ladd, (and also Hoekema, a non-premill) that the future Great Tribulation does not involve anything to do with the nation Israel.  The first section is hard to follow at least the first time through, but starts with some basic errors in approach:  first, its claim that dispensationalism “virtually requires multiple pathways to this salvation” (a misunderstanding and misrepresentation of dispensationalism), and secondly, that CT “requires some form of halfway inclusion of those still unjustified in the visible people of God” — a reference to traditional paedo-baptist CT, but again, CT does not require this at all, as well-observed in the 17th century Covenantal Baptists (including John Bunyan plus many other lesser-known names), 18th century John Gill and 19th century Charles Spurgeon.

Responses: Robert Reymond’s response here mainly notes areas of agreement as well as his (again repeated) rejection of premillennialism, and stating his view of Preterism (regarding the Great Tribulation). Along the way he declares that all who reject infant baptism – including all “covenantal Baptists” –are really dispensational, again showing his ignorance in this complete falsehood that ignores the existence of non-dispensational, covenantal, confessional (Reformed) Baptists.

The responses from the two dispensational authors (Thomas and Saucy) help clarify this original essay, as they reference and correct the misunderstanding about dispensationalism requiring different pathways to salvation, and note inconsistencies in the essay, such as Thomas’ observation that they struggle with terminology to portray the church’s relation to Israel, suggesting and then rejecting such terms as “replacement,” “transformation,” “new creation,” and “age of the Spirit.” They seem to prefer the “new creation” terminology, but that puts them in opposition to their own “new creation” of the future.  Again I find Saucy the best at explaining and defending the biblical teaching of the future restoration of ethnic Israel, with good insights concerning Romans 11 such as the following, regarding the apostle Paul’s whole point about “has the word of God failed? (because Israel has rejected their Messiah):

if the NT writers taught that the church was the new or reconstituted Israel, everyone would have known that the Word of God has not failed.  For the church was now the new Israel and the promises of salvation for Israel were now being fulfilled in the Israel of the church.  But this is clearly not Paul’s response in these chapters.

In overall conclusion regarding this book, I find it only average or so-so, in that its scope is quite limited to only four views, of which only three are adequately represented — and yet the theological spectrum includes several more views on the issue, including at least two other “covenant theology” views, the amillennial NCT view and perhaps a few other views.  The author selected for the CT view is, frankly, a very poor choice, one who represents only one of many CT views and yet refuses to really engage the other views but is content with misrepresenting (and a rather arrogant and insulting attitude) the other views and only interacting with caricatures of dispensationalism while insisting that premillennialism CANNOT be true.

As a side-note: both Robert Reymond and Robert Saucy have passed away since their essays were written, before this collection was published.  So Reymond now “has his eschatology right,” and both men now surely have greater understanding of the issue than any of us still here.

The book was available at a discounted price on Kindle when I purchased it ($2.99).  Amazon currently lists it for $9.99, and I am not sure it is worth that price, at least for me.  For those interested in learning more about Progressive Dispensationalism, though, Robert Saucy’s essay and responses are particularly worthwhile reading, the best part of the overall content.

The Church and the World: Post-Modern Responses to Modernism

April 13, 2015 5 comments

As I near the end of an RTS iTunes University course, a few thoughts on the material presented.  The later lectures include topics such as Liberation Theology, and the development of post-modernism and several ideas within post-modernism: post-liberal theology, radical orthodoxy, and post-evangelicalism. I had a basic understanding of post-modernism, but was unfamiliar with the particular names of the three latter movements.

Error takes on many varieties, yet all have the common root of unbelief, and rejection of the doctrine of inerrancy.  All of these “alternatives” to conservative evangelical Christianity (broadly defined as the basics of Christianity, everything from Reformed Theology to Arminian fundamentalism) are selective with the Bible, choosing certain favored doctrines while rejecting others, along with contextualizing and “accommodating” the Bible to our modern world.  Non-modernist philosophy and Barthian influence are also common themes.

Liberation theology, which cherry picks the Bible theme of liberation from slavery and expands the idea into a political ideology, was apparently the first idea that emphasized Bible contextualization for certain cultures, beginning among Catholics working in Latin America in the late 1960s through the 1970s. Another cultural variation of Black Liberation theology developed independently at about the same time.

The other ideas come from the post-modern worldview, as reactions against modernism.

Post-liberal theology sounds like an idea I heard of as a young Christian in the late 1980s, when the local Sunday School teacher referenced a then-recently published book (Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth) which taught that Christianity was nice as stories or myth, but it didn’t matter if the story was true or not, just the story itself mattered. Post-liberalism focuses on “the narrative” and theme of stories in the Bible, but apart from any basis in objective truth outside of the story. As the professor observed, why not just as easily pick “The Lord of the Rings” or “Harry Potter” as your narrative story to live by?

Radical orthodoxy has been a recent movement at least in England – a post-modern view that supposedly goes back to Augustinian, pre-modern theology, in reaction to modernism: but with the knowledge of modernism and our world today, thus a post-modern approach, embracing also neo-platonism (which did also influence Augustine). Similar to other ideas, it rejects mainstream Christianity’s response to modernism including classical or evidentialist apologetics. (The liberal alternatives to Christianity are generally unaware of presuppositional apologetics.)

Post-evangelicalism is a reaction against mainstream evangelicalism, with a description rather similar to today’s relativistic culture of no absolutes and multi-culturalism. It seems to be mainly known by its rejection of evangelical ideas (or at least what it perceives of evangelicals) such as certainty of doctrine, emphasis on having correct doctrine; for some it means a move toward Anglicanism or Catholicism with their emphasis on liturgy.

This RTS course has been interesting and informative, and sometimes quite detailed — and some of the ideas, especially earlier lectures about Christian existentialism, difficult for me to completely grasp and understand. The professor himself occasionally noted such difficulties, that with some of this stuff, if you are normal, you are probably not going to “get it” and not going to see it as so wonderful as those who espouse it. As part of the teaching approach, after presenting each view, the professor often asks “where have we seen this before?” – and previous liberal ideas are mentioned again, showing how later liberals are influenced by earlier thinkers. Also, to consider the “positive” points in each of these ideas; false ideas usually get a few things correct, but they tend to put even correct ideas out of balance with other orthodox teaching plus mixing in non-biblical ideas.

I recommend this course, as a type of worldview, apologetics and history course with good information.  I am also looking forward to starting another RTS series soon, probably the topic of early church history.

Israel and the Church, Part 3: Progressive Dispensationalism

April 8, 2015 1 comment

Continuing in “Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views,” Robert Saucy’s essay provides a good description of Progressive Dispensationalism as it relates to hermeneutics, partial fulfillments and “already/not yet,” and PD’s ideas concerning Israel and the Church.

Part of the essay addresses the question of Israel’s future restoration and the millennial age, and here I observe that the PD view, on this point, is similar to classic historic / covenantal premillennialism. Addressing Romans 11, Saucy also includes quotes from non-dispensationalist, CT author John Murray, that affirm Israel’s future, as with Murray’s commentary on Romans 11:12, “Gospel blessing [for Gentiles] far surpassing anything experienced during the period of Israel’s apostasy… occasioned by the conversion of Israel on a scale commensurate with that of their earlier disobedience.”

Saucy emphasizes on the one hand, unity and “one people of God,” while on the other hand stressing that the church is not Israel, with discussion of the NT texts which indeed never describe the church as “Israel” or “New Israel,” as he further notes that this idea only began with Justin Martyr in the 2nd century.  As with other non-CT views, PD thinks of the church as beginning in Acts: the standard discontinuity view rooted in the notion that Old Testament saints did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit. In this essay at least, Saucy denies to the OT saints anything of regeneration, indwelling of the Holy Spirit, or descriptions such as “born again” or “a new creation” to believers prior to Pentecost. My study on this issue agrees with the historic Reformed view, as noted in this previous post and well expressed in John Gill’s commentary on John 7:39: the apostles, and others, that had believed in Christ, and had received the Spirit, as a spirit of regeneration and sanctification; as a spirit of illumination and conversion; as a spirit of faith and adoption; but on the day of Pentecost they were to receive a larger, even an extraordinary measure of his gifts and grace, to qualify them for greater work and service. 

One serious blunder Saucy commits, is his incorrect assumption that CT only exists in paedo-baptist form, such that he asserts that the distinction between Israel as a nation and the church leads to a clear distinction with regard to entrance into the covenantal communities. The obvious problem here is that the 17th century Covenantal Baptists figured this out (who should and should not be baptized), long before dispensationalism arrived on the scene–and they didn’t need any special understanding about Israel and the Church to do so.

Responses:

Robert Reymond’s CT response is again, predictably, a disappointment: not interacting with the specifics of Saucy’s essay, but repeating his denial of premillennialism, only showing his own ignorance by his claims that only one text (Revelation 20) teaches premillennialism (even referencing premillennialists who agree with that idea, a limited group). His response sets forth the standard scripture interpretations for amillennialism including amillennial ideas regarding the “first resurrection.”  Again, though, the essay Reymond is responding to treats issues far more specific than the basics of premillennialism.  Seriously, this book should have had a better representative for CT, at least someone at the level of the many confessional CT believers (found in online Reformed groups) who recognize that the covenantal approach allows for three millennial views, one of which is (historic) premillennialism. Given the abilities of the other three writers, this is a serious drawback to this book. A solid CT writer could have interacted with the other positions and given good response concerning, for instance, the dispensational idea about OT saints not having the Holy Spirit.  Instead, such answers must come from other sources, and I continue to find these out in the reading of covenantal premillennialists.

The other two responses are adequate enough, from the viewpoint of each of their views and addressing areas of difference: for Thomas (traditional dispensationalist) the hermeneutical inconsistencies of PD; for Brand/Pratt, the presuppositions of PD they disagree with, in their idea that focuses on Christ as the fulfillment of Israel.

Next: the last essay, for the Progressive Covenantalism view.