Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism, Part 8

Republished with permission from Dr. Reluctant. In this series, Dr. Henebury responds to a collection of criticisms of dispensationalism entitled “95 Theses against Dispensationalism” written by a group called “The Nicene Council.” Read parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

Thesis 37

Despite the dispensationalists’ claim regarding “the unconditional character of the [Abrahamic] covenant” (J. Dwight Pentecost), which claim is essential for maintaining separate programs for Israel and the Church, the Bible in Deuteronomy 30 and other passages presents it as conditional; consequently not all of Abraham’s descendants possess the land and the covenantal blessings but only those who, by having the same faith as Abraham, become heirs through Christ.

Response: Of course there are conditional elements in the Abrahamic Covenant. In Genesis 17, for example, there is circumcision. The question is whether the conditional aspects of the covenants can be reconciled with the unconditional aspects. Our objectors direct us to Deuteronomy 30, and we are happy to go there! But we shall have to read it more carefully than the “Nicene” brethren appear to have done.

Deuteronomy 30 is of course the locus classicus for the Land or “Palestinian” Covenant. The reader is urged to study the whole chapter carefully. Notice God predicts an apostasy based upon the blessings and curses in the previous three chapters (vv.1,17-18), but He also predicts a regathering (vv.2-5) and regeneration (vv.6-8). The wording of verse 19 calls to mind chapter 4:26, where Moses again predicts an apostasy (vv.25-28), and again predicts a regathering (v.29) when “you seek Him with all your heart and all your soul” (NKJV).

Question: Will any sinner in any Testament fulfill Deut. 4:29 on their own? No! What has to happen in order for us to truly seek God as described in this verse?

Answer: Deuteronomy 30:6-8.

Question: When will this “seeking” of God occur according to Deut. 4:30?

Answer: “In the latter days.” But let’s read the next verse: “(for the LORD your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, not forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them” (italics added). He cannot forget the covenant because He made it unconditionally (e.g. Gen. 15). While Israel as a people remained faithful to the theocratic law of God they were safe in the land. When they became apostate they were cast out (e.g. 2 Chron.36:14f.). But one day God will convert the nation en masse so that they will never again apostasize (Please read Ezekiel 36:26-38)! Then read J. D. Pentecost, Things to Come (p. 68)!

By the way, there is a whole book that deals with God’s “on-off” relationship to Israel. It is Hosea. Hosea was written after Joshua (we are waiting for that one).

Christ is the Mediator of the New Covenant and is the One through whom all this will be consummated! There is no reason to make the nation of Israel into the Church.

Thesis 38

Despite the dispensationalists’ necessary claim that the Abrahamic covenant is unconditional, they inconsistently teach that Esau is not included in the inheritance of Canaan and Abraham’s blessings, even though he was as much the son of Isaac (Abraham’s son) as was Jacob, his twin (Gen 25:21-25), because he sold his birthright and thus was excluded from the allegedly “unconditional” term of the inheritance.

Response: First, in view of Genesis 15:7-17, Leviticus 26:24, Ezekiel 20:37, etc., the onus is those who teach the complete conditionality of the covenants to set forth their case. On Jacob and Esau see Genesis 25:22-23, 28:3-4, 32:28. The line is God ordained and is Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!

Not to be uncharitable, but it is extraordinary what lengths disbelief of the plain text will drive people to!

Thesis 39

Despite the dispensationalists’ claim that the Abrahamic covenant involved an unconditional land promise, which serves as one of the bases for the future hope of a millennium, the Bible teaches that Abraham “was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10), and that the city, the “new Jerusalem,” will “descend from God, out of Heaven” (Rev. 21:2).

Response: We are mixing our referents here. Abraham went to glory so it is not surprising that he looked for something to go to. How does that void the land covenant of Deut. 30? Further, the zeal of the Nicene Council to overthrow the terms of the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 15) produces an anachronism. For in Abraham’s time there was no such place as “Jerusalem.” How could he know of New Jerusalem if he hadn’t heard of old Jerusalem?

This is what happens when one abandons plain-sense hermeneutics. One can link Heb. 11:10 with Rev. 21:2 without a second’s thought. Some will not see the import of this observation. But it may cause some to think again.

Finally, we are pleased to see the acknowledgment that there is more than one basis for a future Millennial kingdom (usually the strategy is to state that Rev. 20 is the only basis for this teaching).

Thesis 40

Despite the dispensationalists’ commitment to the “holy land” as a “perpetual title to the land of promise” for Israel (J. D. Pentecost), the New Testament expands the promises of the land to include the whole world, involving the expanded people of God, for Paul speaks of “the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world” (Rom 4:13a).

Response: In Romans 4 Paul is referring to the justification of Abraham by faith (see 4:3 quoting Gen. 15:6). The same faith by which Abraham’s personal salvation was secured also secures the REST of the covenant provisions (Gen. 15:7ff.). This thesis skews Romans 4:13. The verse says: “For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.”

Notice that the Apostle does NOT say the land provisions were “expanded.” He only points out how the covenant (see Gen. 12:3) makes Abraham the father of all those, whether Israel or the Church, who trust God after his example.

A word about this “expansion” language: this is a recent ploy by CT’s to fend off the charge of supercessionism or replacement theology. (In the same way they now refuse to be labeled “spiritualizers” of the text, preferring to speak of “typological” or “symbolic” interpretation). But unfortunately for them their forebears were not so politically correct. Here is Herman Bavinck to set the record straight:

“The community of believers has in all respects replaced carnal, national Israel” (The Last Things, 97).

Scores of similar statements from leading CT’s can be produced. But we are told by CT’s today, “We do not believe the church replaces Israel,” while in the same breath the Church is called “the New Israel” (then what of the one in Israel right now?).

To boil things down to their essence I shall simply say that the Israel to whom the covenants were made in the OT was a geopolitical, cultic and ethnic entity separate from the nations around it. The church is a spiritual, multi-ethnic community with no geopolitical homeland. One cannot just transform the one into the other with the magic word “expansion.” In this case, the expansion is a clear and radical alteration. And since the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (not just spiritual children of Abraham) have land promises given to them which they expect to be fulfilled literally (Luke 1:32-33, Acts 1:6), one cannot “expand” the land to refer to heaven (so Palmer Robertson, Reymond) without replacing the ethnic people group who need a physical geographical location with one that does not require it.

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