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Posts Tagged ‘dispensationalism’

Biblical Prophecies and Fulfillment: Michael Barrett Series

May 15, 2017 4 comments

The later messages in Michael Barrett’s “Refuting Dispensationalism” series  (see this previous post) consider another of Charles Ryrie’s distinctives of dispensationalism –  literal interpretation of prophecy – with a detailed look at some actual prophetic texts that have been fulfilled, to note some interesting features.  A key point here is that, contrary to the claim made by some, prophecy is NOT “as clear as yesterday’s newspaper.”

  • Prophecies Are Not Clear in the Details

The prophecy in 2 Kings 7:1-2 – Elisha, to the king’s captain who doubted Elisha’s prophecy about food in Samaria, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it,” had its fulfillment the next day, described in verses 17 through 20.  Yet the prophecy lacked details.  Surely, if the man had known the details, he would have taken steps to prevent its fulfillment!

  • Prophecies Fulfilled, but not Exact Date-Specific

Jeremiah’s prophecy of the 70 years captivity in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:10) also had its fulfillment. About 70 years later, the people did return to the land of Israel.  But what was the starting point?  The deportation occurred in three stages:  605 B.C., 597 B.C. and finally, with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.  Yet if we try to date the 70 years from any of these three points, to the later decree of Cyrus, none of these starting points matches exactly to 70 years.

  • Prophecies Fulfilled, But In Different Ways

Jacob’s last words to his twelve sons, in Genesis 49, includes a prophecy about Simeon and Levi in verses 5-7:

“Simeon and Levi are brothers;
weapons of violence are their swords.
Let my soul come not into their council;
O my glory, be not joined to their company.
For in their anger they killed men,
and in their willfulness they hamstrung oxen.
Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce,
and their wrath, for it is cruel!
I will divide them in Jacob
and scatter them in Israel.

The later history of Israel proved the truth of this prophecy.  Yet though we might expect the same outcome for both tribes, the details proved otherwise.  Levi was scattered and not given a portion of land, but in a positive way – the Lord was their portion, they did not inherit a specific piece of land.  Simeon, though, was given land – land that was within the territory of Judah, such that they later lost their specific identity and are infrequently mentioned as a distinct tribe.  One prophecy about both sons and their descendants, meant fulfillment in very different ways.

Along with these interesting observations, in this series Dr. Barrett also provides guidelines for the proper interpretation of prophecies, including explanation of “progressive prediction” or “prophetic telescoping.”  Of particular note, Barrett disagrees with the “double fulfillment” or “multiple fulfillment” view of prophecy; a particular prophecy only has one meaning and thus one corresponding fulfillment; a particular scripture cannot mean one thing and also mean something else.  Yet we can see a progression in the fulfillment of a prophecy.  Isaiah 61:1-2 is a classic example; Jesus quoted verse 1 through the first phrase of verse 2, as being fulfilled at that time (His First Coming); He did not read the rest of verse 2, though – because that part refers to His Second Coming.

Overall I found this series helpful: a good overview of a few key issues identified by Ryrie as distinctives of dispensationalism, and considering specific points of scripture, and examples from scripture as a contrast to these points.

Inductive Reasoning and Doctrinal Error: The Mosaic Covenant

April 19, 2017 2 comments

I have appreciated recent books from covenantal premillennialist Michael Barrett, and so now I’m listening to some of his lessons available on Sermon Audio.  Currently I’m going through his 10-part series, “Refuting Dispensationalism.”  This series was done in the 1980s, and so he interacted with the classic and revised dispensationalism of that time, particularly quoting from Charles Ryrie as well as Darby and the Old Scofield Reference Bible.  The issues dealt with are the ideas that originated with dispensationalism, such as the two peoples of God, the law of God versus law of Christ, and the postponement theory of the “Kingdom of Heaven.”

The second lesson brings out an interesting point, which really goes back to the problem of inductive reasoning:  reasoning from a specific case to a general conclusion.  In the case noted by Barrett: the idea, taught by Scofield and others (including full NCT in our age), that the Mosaic law was a “works covenant” that Israel was placed under, as works-salvation with stringent focus on keeping the law and the ceremonial observances; therefore, per this reasoning, since all of this law was a works-salvation for them, none of it is relevant or applicable to us today; we in the church age are under the “law of Christ” which is different from the law revealed in the Old Testament era.

This idea (Israel placed under a works covenant) comes from something else that is true:  many Jews, in the apostle Paul’s day as well as previously, did view the Mosaic covenant as something external, to be kept and performed as a means to salvation.  As Dr. Barrett points out here, though: just because some people believed that a certain thing to be true, and believed that the Mosaic arrangement established by God meant works-salvation–does not mean that God actually intended it that way.  And numerous passages throughout the Old Testament prophetic books make it clear that God was not at all pleased with the Israelites’ external, outward compliance with the Mosaic rituals and ceremony–it was always about the heart intention, not merely the outward observance.  Here, as Barrett points out, a similar comparison could be made in our day.  Some people in our age really do read the Bible (misread it) and think that salvation is based on some type of works, what they do and what they contribute to their salvation.  Yet, just because some people believe that, does not make the actual idea, of actual salvation by works, true.  Both of these could be considered examples of inductive reasoning—reasoning from a specific case (what some people believe about a particular teaching) to the general, and thus concluding what the general, true belief is, based on what some people erroneously think.

Another, similar case I recall — a Bible teacher who reads Acts 8, the account of the Ethiopian Eunuch, including the man’s question to Philip about what he is reading in Isaiah 53 – who was the prophet referring to, himself, or someone else?  — and has concluded that because the Ethiopian eunuch (a specific case, a specific individual) did not understand Isaiah 53, that therefore all people in the Old Testament age (a general conclusion), all those people who lived before the New Testament age (which made everything clear), were all just as confused and unable to understand Isaiah 53, no different from the Ethiopian eunuch. But nothing in the Acts 8 case demands such a general, widespread conclusion; it simply recognizes that this man was studying the text and was still confused.  Other New Testament texts — notably, 1 Peter 1:10-11 — make it clear that in the Old Testament age at least some of them, by “the Spirit of Christ in them”  recognized “when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories

In a post several years ago, I referenced S. Lewis Johnson’s observations regarding the problem with inductive reasoning.  His point was particularly in reference to an appeal to science, and how inductive reasoning will fail.  The same points made here, though, apply to any case of inductive reasoning:

You can never know anything from induction.  In fact, science has done such a great job of propaganda that people say, the way to study the Bible is by inductive Bible study.  Would anybody question that?  Well, they ought to.  You can never know anything by induction.  You can never actually know anything by induction.  In the first place you can never know you have all of the facts necessary for the induction.  You can never know that your hypothesis is the hypothesis that explains the facts as you see them.  So, you can in never know that your hypothesis is the only possible hypothesis.  You can never know anything by induction.  People ought to know things like this, but they don’t, unfortunately.

 

Extreme Replacement Theology: Treatment of James 1:1

October 28, 2016 3 comments

Summer continues to extend itself into now late October (I’ve never before seen temperatures in the mid-80s at the end of October), and the two Bible study series I was following are also extending their summer break.  So while continuing the adventures in Middle Earth (and Frodo and Sam have left the black gate of Mordor, soon to meet Faramir), I’m still looking for another good sermon audio series.  One possibility has been a study of the book of James, from a Reformed/covenantal view of the law, and a few weeks ago I began one such series, from a 1689 Reformed Baptist/historic premillennial church.

The first lesson started out well, an introduction to the book of the Bible, covering the basic points of any good Bible book introduction.  As noted, this is likely the earliest of the epistles, written by James the brother of our Lord.  But then, abruptly the reasoning changed, from plain sense to a non-literal idea completely unsupported by the words of the text:  the audience, “the twelve tribes in the dispersion.”  In what can only be understood as an extreme reaction against traditional dispensationalism’s “two peoples of God” idea, the teacher veered away from the plain sense, literal, historical understanding and went to great lengths (including reference to Galatians 6, “the Israel of God” and Romans 4 about “true Jews”) to assert that the book of James was actually written to all true believers, to the one people of God, and that these people were not at all Jewish but generically believers.  After this, I found another sermon on this text, from another Reformed Baptist church; its style was more preaching than Bible-study/teaching, but it also took this non-literal view that the audience is really the one people of God and not any particular audience in the mid-1st century.

One obvious problem is that, as already established by this point, the book of James was written so early in the New Testament age – at a point in time when, as is also well-known, the early church was predominantly Jewish–those early years before the Gentiles came in, long before the Gentile population of believers outnumbered the Jewish believers.

More to the point, though:  what is wrong with just being honest with the text, acknowledging the historical context of who these early believers were, including their ethnicity?  And then point out the application, that the book does apply to all of us as believers.  As the early church well expressed it, the words of Peter at the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:11), “we  believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

These teachers have also departed from the teaching of the Reformed theologians of past centuries, as noted in the commentaries of men including Matthew Henry, John Gill, Thomas Manton, and Charles Spurgeon’s view (no commentary, but comments from Spurgeon can be found in this sermon).  All of these Reformed teachers (Thomas Manton’s commentary is listed in the top five for the book of James; commentary available online here) acknowledged the literal, plain sense meaning of James 1:1, and considered in detail the specifics of which dispersion the author (James) was referring to.  They note that some thought this was a reference to the dispersion that occurred after the persecution of Stephen (Acts 8) – yet this dispersion only reached to Judea and Samaria – and so more properly, James 1:1 referred to the dispersion that occurred in God’s judgment of exile first to the northern kingdom by Assyria, and then the southern kingdom exile to Babylon.  James’ audience was specifically those believing Jews who were part of the dispersion, and these commentators affirm God’s mercy and providence to His people in what happened to the Jews, as with this excerpt from Matthew Henry:

The greatest part indeed of ten of the twelve tribes were lost in captivity; but yet some of every tribe were preserved and they are still honoured with the ancient style of twelve tribes. These however were scattered and dispersed. 1. They were dispersed in mercy. Having the scriptures of the Old Testament, the providence of God so ordered it that they were scattered in several countries for the diffusing of the light of divine revelation. 2. They began now to be scattered in wrath. The Jewish nation was crumbling into parties and factions, and many were forced to leave their own country, as having now grown too hot for them. Even good people among them shared in the common calamity. 3. These Jews of the dispersion were those who had embraced the Christian faith. They were persecuted and forced to seek for shelter in other countries, the Gentiles being kinder to Christians than the Jews were. Note here, It is often the lot even of God’s own tribes to be scattered abroad.

As to be expected, the commentaries provide greater depth than even the best sermon/message, due to the overall format and expectations of commentaries versus the sermon preached at a local church.  Yet one ought to expect that the layperson-level sermon might at least touch on the issues brought up in the commentary:  instead of a tangent, a non-literal interpretation of the audience, harping about how we’re all one people of God, we’re all the “true Israel,” the better approach here would be to consider the true audience (believing Jews scattered throughout the Roman Empire), and the lessons to learn — what is applicable to us all — from these individuals and their circumstances.  As a sampling, some excerpts from Thomas Manton, for further consideration, regarding “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad”:

  • God looks after his afflicted servants: he moves James to write to the scattered tribes: the care of heaven flourisheth towards you when you wither. A man would have thought these had been driven away from God’s care, when they had been driven away from the sanctuary.
  • God’s own people may be dispersed, and driven from their countries and habitations. … Christ himself had not where to lay his head; and the apostle tells us of some `of whom the world was not worthy, that `they wandered in deserts, and mountains, and woods, and caves. … Many of the children of God in these times have been driven from their dwellings; but you see we have no reason to think the case strange.
  • There was something more in their scattering than ordinary: they were a people whom God for a long time had kept together under the wings of providence. That which is notable in their scattering is:—
  1. The severity of God’s justice; the twelve tribes are scattered—his own people. It is ill resting on any privileges, when God’s Israel may be made strangers.
  2. The infallibility of his truth; they were punished. In judicial dispensations, it is good to observe not only God’s justice, but God’s truth. No calamity befell Israel but what was in the letter foretold in the books of Moses; a man might have written their history out of the threatenings of the law.
  3. The tenderness of his love to the believers among them; he hath a James for the Christians of the scattered tribes, In the severest ways of his justice he doth not forget his own, and he hath special consolations for them when they lie under the common judgment. When other Jews were banished, John, amongst the rest, was banished out of Ephesus into Patmos, a barren, miserable rock or island; but there he had those high revelations. Well, then, wherever you are, you are near to God; he is a God at hand, and a God afar off: when you lose your dwelling, you do not lose your interest in Christ; and you are everywhere at home, but there where you are strangers to God.

Study: The Christian and the Moral Law

April 12, 2016 25 comments

The topic of the Law of God and its relationship to the Christian has come up frequently in my recent studies and daily life. Currently in the 1689 Confession Exposition series I’m in chapter 19, the Law of God, and now in the sixth commandment section of the “Ten Commandments” study from Tom Chantry.

Since last week, the blogosphere has been reacting to Stephen Furtick’s recent claim that “God broke the law for love.”  For reference here, I find Tom Chantry’s post the most helpful in response to the overall evangelical celebrity scandal issue.  His post includes links to several other responses, including the most helpful for the issue as this one from the “Mortification of Spin” blog, as well as Tim Challies’ response.

As I continue through the lessons in both the 1689 Confession and Ten Commandments series, studying various aspects in some detail, I am especially struck by the shallow and superficial (and just plain wrong) arguments and rhetoric of the New Calvinist / New Covenant Theology group, with its anti-Reformed view of the law.  As just a few examples, from a recent local-church NCT conference and some anti-Tim Challies / anti-covenant theology comments at a blog post:  1) rejection of any type of covenant made with Adam in Genesis 2, because “I don’t see the word covenant there” (really? is the word “Trinity” ever found in the Bible?), 2) dislike of Covenant Theology as “those baby baptizers” (will you ever consider that CT includes a credobaptist version, and decide to meaningfully interact with THAT form of CT?  No, it’s easier to resort to name-calling and broad-brushing about how CT is wrong because they’re baby baptizers…), and 3) the stated claim that the moral law was something that started (and ended) with Moses, and thus the only moral law for Christians is what is stated in the New Testament.

As just an aside on point #3:  I find this hermeneutic, that something can only be true for us in the NT era if it’s explicitly stated or “confirmed” in the New Testament, quite frankly, bizarre.  On the question of premillennialism and Israel’s future, dispensationalists (as well as classic/historic premillennialists) recognize the problem with this NT-priority hermeneutic and its implications: a God who changed His plan and changed His promises and His revelation, such that Old Testament believers did not have the same understanding of scripture as we do.  My problem with the NCT group is doubly-compounded in that they get both parts wrong: they apply the NT-only hermeneutic to the moral law (in agreement with dispensationalism) AND apply the NT-only hermeneutic to the question of Israel, rejecting anything of God’s future plans for Israel.  At least dispensationalists get half of it right; and confessional/CT amillennialists get the other half, about the moral law, correct.

Anyway… here are some interesting points from my studies on this topic:  scriptural considerations for why the Ten Commandments are different from the rest of the Mosaic law.

  1. The Ten Commandments were introduced before the rest of the law. They were given directly from God, literally inscribed by God onto the tablets.  These two tablets alone were placed into the Ark of the Covenant.  The civil and ceremonial laws were not put in the Ark.
  1. The summary content of the Ten Commandments is found in existence prior to Moses, going all the way back to creation.  The creation ordinances contain, at least implied, the basics of God’s moral law.  Marriage as a creation ordinance relates to the 7th commandment (adultery and other sexual sins), as well as the 8th commandment (not to steal another man’s wife) and the 10th commandment to not covet your neighbor’s wife.  Dominion over the earth pertains to the 5th commandment: God’s authority and our authority structure, in families and all of life’s social structures.  The seven day week pattern establishes the matter of a time for worship, which is the essence of the 4th commandment; and implied in the 4th commandment, of the schedule/time for worship, are the first three commandments about Who we are to worship, how to worship Him, and with what attitude.  The other part of the 4th commandment, the six days of labor, was also in place in the garden.  Adam was there to work the garden.  The part about working “by the sweat of the brow” was added after the fall, but work itself began before that.  Related to the labor part of the 4th commandment, comes the 8th commandment again:  work to provide your daily needs, and do not steal.  The 6th commandment is specifically referenced in Genesis 9, in God’s covenant with Noah after the flood, with the institution of capital punishment for murder.
  1. God’s moral law, as codified/summarized in the Decalogue, was always concerned about the heart. It was never just about the mere letter of the law.  Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount was not adding anything to that law, but was expositing and restoring the understanding of the law back to what it had always been–away from the Pharisees’ mistaken notion of an external compliance only.

Note here:  when the Israelites had so apostasized that God ejected them from the land, as described in the later prophets including Jeremiah and Ezekiel, it was their violation of the moral law (what is summarized/codified in the Ten Commandments) that angered God.  In fact, the Israelites in the time of Jeremiah (and even earlier, Isaiah’s day also)  were fully complying with the ceremonial law—in outward form.  It was their outward performance of the ceremonial law, without having the right heart attitude, that was the problem.

This point can also be seen in the Pentateuch, in God’s application of the moral law to the Israelites and their civil law.   Immediately after the giving of the Decalogue in Exodus 20, comes Exodus 21 with an interesting, detailed section of laws for Israel’s government.  Exodus 21:12-36 contains specific laws regarding cases where one person  is killed by another – application of the sixth commandment —  and distinction is made between killings done where the one person meant harm to the other, versus truly accidental deaths, including the provision of the cities of refuge which a person who had killed another could flee to—before the avenger of blood killed the man, and for the priest to judge the situation.  Understood throughout this section is that Israel would need a system of courts and judges, and that they would need to be able to investigate a crime and its circumstances.  This investigation would need to involve considering motives:  the motives and thoughts of the person who had killed another, as this is necessary information for determining if a death was accidental, or a case of what we would call 1st or 2nd degree murder.

The above is but a sampling, of scriptural issues to consider regarding the question of the moral law: what it was in the Old Testament era, and why it is God’s unchanging moral law from creation–and not something “only for Israel and the Mosaic administration” and thus no longer relevant to Christians in the New Testament age.

More next time:  the different usages/meanings of the term “law” in the New Testament.

 

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.

 

 

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.