An Interview on the State of Contemporary Dispensationalism

Editor’s note: This interview dates back to last fall, but I only recently discovered it—and found it quite interesting. The interview was conducted by Adrian Isaacs, M.Rel., Th.D (Cand.). He interviewed Dr. Christopher Cone for dissertation research at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto.

Isaacs: In your estimation, how would you describe the current level of scholarly, academic discussion regarding dispensationalism within the overall evangelical academic community (eg. virtually non-existent, some discussion exists, still a fair amount of discussion)?

Cone: Dispensationalism has always been a grassroots movement, more centered on the folks than on the ivory towers. Still there has been and is quite a bit of academic discussion of dispensationalism. Currently, the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, the Pre-Trib Study Group, and the Journal of Dispensational Theology are just a few of the numerous entities committed to academically handling dispensational issues. I assess that academic discussion is actually increasing in dispensational circles, as dispensationalists seek to become even more biblically consistent, and as we seek to provide better (more biblical) answers to the critiques.

Because dispensationalism is not a hermeneutic in itself, but is actually the result of applying the literal grammatical-historical hermeneutic to the Bible, any context in which biblical hermeneutics is on the table is a context in which dispensational issues come into play. Hermeneutics is the key.

Isaacs: Darrell Bock and Craig Blaising pioneered “progressive dispensationalism” a few decades ago. Some, both within dispensationalism and outside of it have questioned whether this form of dispensationalism is really dispensationalism at all. Do you believe Bock and Blaising’s system merits the “dispensational” designation, or is the normative vs. progressive argument blown out of proportion (i.e. it’s really not a major issue at all)?

Cone: In a sense, we are all dispensationalists—if you aren’t taking a sacrifice to the temple in Jerusalem, then you hold to some dispensational distinctives. The question is to what degree does the Bible speak of different administrations or economies in God’s working.

Darrell Bock, Craig Blaising, and Robert Saucy were (and still are) all very influential in the popularization of progressive dispensationalism. It is a very significant development, because it is the result of a subtle departure from the literal grammatical-historical hermeneutic in favor of a canonical hermeneutic (similar to that of Brevard Childs) that has been referred to as the complementary hermeneutic. Essentially the complementary hermeneutic reads (at least aspects of) the OT through the lens of the NT, rather than reading the NT through the lens of the OT (the latter is consistent with the literal grammatical-historical hermeneutic). The resulting “already not yet” of progressive dispensationalism is a substantial shift from historical dispensational understandings—though I readily admit (and critique) that traditional dispensationalists have not been entirely consistent either in how we handle some of these things. Still, the differences between traditional and progressive dispensationalism are primarily grounded in that hermeneutic device (primacy of the NT over the OT), and are therefore very significant, I believe.

Because of the hermeneutic departure, I do not see progressive dispensationalism as akin to traditional dispensationalism, per se—I agree with Ryrie’s assessment that the system more resembles covenant premillennialism.

Isaacs: The nation of Israel has always had a key eschatological role in dispensationalism. Do you think the establishment of the modern, secular state of Israel in 1948 vindicates—or at least adds more credibility to—dispensational premillennialism over the other millennial systems (amillennialism, postmillennialism, historic premillennialism)?

Cone: 1948 was a significant date for Israel, of course, but it isn’t necessarily a prophetically significant date. Some suggest that 1948 could be a fulfillment of the first part of the Ezekiel 37 prophecy (flesh on bone, with no breath), but I think that is a tough connection to make. Still, it is significant that Israel is in the land, but if God so desires, He could allow her to be removed again. I don’t expect that to happen, but it wouldn’t violate biblical prophecy if it did.

We see that associated with God’s fulfilling His new covenant with Israel, Israel will return to the land—will be brought back by God to the land—and will not just be physically restored, but also will receive a spiritual restoration. The two go hand in hand. We expect literal future fulfillments of these promises.

In the meantime, clearly God is working with Israel, and the pieces are moving into place for literal fulfillments of the prophecies of Revelation, for example, but I am very cautious about trying to connect prophecy with snapshots in time. I suggest that events of our time don’t add to or detract from the credibility of dispensational premillennialism—it is either a correct understanding of Scripture or it isn’t. If it is, then there is a timeline of future events we can map out, but date setting is never wise (or biblical)—nor is trying to build an eschatology from the news of the day.

Isaacs: Dispensationalism has often been looked down upon—sometimes with ferocious contempt—by the wider evangelical academic community. In your opinion, what do you think might be some reasons for this attitude of contempt?

Cone: While it is true that the “wider evangelical academic community” has recently been largely non-dispensational, the actual evangelical community has been more dispensational than you might think. What you are observing, I think, is an ongoing struggle by those in the academy to attain respect within the academy.

Here’s what I mean: the literal grammatical-historical hermeneutic is for the most part very simple to apply. There is not much room there for scholarly advances, at least in comparison with newer hermeneutic theories, which can sometimes offer a whole new perspective on texts. On the one hand, scholarship in general is very receptive to novelty. On the other, biblical scholars have a challenge to handle the Bible accurately—knowing that we are dealing with finite quantities (i.e., ancient texts) without being caught up in the search for theological baubles. Certainly, sometimes we discover things we have missed and we have to recalibrate our understanding, but for the most part the first two-thousand years of history (Genesis 1-12) models a very clear biblical hermeneutic. So, while we learn much about the relevant cultures and manuscripts through archaeology and textual disciplines, not a whole lot of new information has been added over the years that would dramatically effect our interpretations of the Bible. Instead, we primarily have confirmations of what is already there (e.g., the Dead Sea Scrolls).

Every time a dissertation is written, there is a quest for at least some degree of novelty, lest the readers question the necessity and validity of the research. It’s kind of boring to just do what has already been done. So there is an appeal to newness. We need to be very careful regarding that temptation when we are handling Scripture, and we need to be certain we are not complicating what God has made simple. Again, it is a hermeneutic thing.

If you change the rules to the game, you change the game. The theological disagreements between non-dispensational and dispensational systems are rooted in hermeneutics. When those hard headed dispensationalists refuse to “progress” in their hermeneutic thinking, and consequently hold to ideas like God fulfilling promises to national Israel literally, that arouses passions in some people.

Just as we see groups of people trying to inherit the covenant promises of Israel through Islam—with one brother (Ishmael) trying to take the blessings of another (Isaac)—I think we sometimes see the same thing in the church. The amillennial and postmillennial systems represent, I believe, attempts for the church to displace Israel and claim Israel’s promises for the church.

When you have two little kids fighting over the same toy, sometimes things get heated. God promised Ishmael his own blessings, and He promised Isaac others. Likewise, God promised Israel blessings, and he promised the church other blessings. God has the right to determine who gets what toys, and we should be able to rejoice for each other in the fact that God has given us each our own toys. But we prove time and time again that we aren’t mature enough to do that. Praise God for His patience and grace.

Isaacs: Dispensationalism’s treatment of Israel and the church is probably what most sets it apart from other interpretive systems. How would you respond to critics of dispensationalism who say that dispensationalists have drawn too sharp a distinction between Israel and the church?

Cone: Once again, this is a hermeneutic issue. If the Bible, literally understood, draws a clear and complete distinction between Israel and the church, then we can’t deny the distinction. Typically those that deny such a distinction admit that the literal hermeneutic results in such a distinction, but they don’t agree theologically with such a distinction so they prefer another hermeneutic. This maneuver—preferring a theological hermeneutic over a literal grammatical-historical one is not uncommon, and dispensationalists are often guilty of the same error.

For example, some dispensationalists have gone beyond what is written and speculated on some aspects of the distinction, such as the theological idea that New Jerusalem remains forever suspended above the new earth, lest somehow OT saints and church age saints actually have some interaction. There is no biblical grounding for that concept, but yet it has been a prominent teaching in traditional dispensationalism.

The simple question here is what does the Bible teach, and you cannot answer that question without first resolving the hermeneutic issue—without acknowledging the rules to the game.

Isaacs: Normative dispensationalism speaks of a distinct church age in which Israel has been temporarily set aside, suspending the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy spoken by Israel’s prophets. How then is one to understand passages like Acts 2:14-21—where Peter identifies the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with that which was prophesied in Joel?

Cone: Acts 2:16-21 is a direct reference by Peter to Joel 2:28-29. There are a few keys in these passages to help us understand what Peter’s hearers would have understood-–primarily, it is vital to realize that Peter never uses fulfillment language. He never cites Joel 2:28-29 as being fulfilled by the events at Pentecost. Rather Peter appeals to his hearers’ expectation that God would one day pour out His Spirit, and Peter explains that this is “the having been spoken through the prophet Joel.”

This is the pouring out of His Spirit—clearly not the same event as Joel prophesied (that event would be accompanied by other cataclysmic events as described in Acts 2:19-20) that would directly precede the day of the Lord, but it is nonetheless an outpouring of His Spirit. Peter’s hearers should not have been surprised at what they were observing, as it was not out of character for God to work that way. He would pour out His Spirit before the day of the Lord, so He could choose to pour out His Spirit in a similar way earlier, if He so desired. The response of Peter’s listeners (at the end of Acts 2) illustrates that they did not perceive the event to be a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy—they were not expecting heavenly cataclysms at that moment. Instead, they seemed focused on simple devotion—as Peter was exhorting them.

Had Peter said that Joel’s words were actually fulfilled, that would have been a different statement altogether—and a huge, huge issue. But he didn’t. In fact, nothing in Joel 2:28-29 fits what happened in Acts 2, accept that the Spirit was working in a very unique way (Acts 2:4). Thus Joel’s prophecy remains still yet unfulfilled.

As for Israel’s current role, Romans 11:25 is pretty straightforward. But then again, so is 11:26.

Isaacs: A few years ago, a book was published by Alistair Donaldson entitled “The Last Days of Dispensationalism.” Do you think dispensationalism has seen its “final days,” or is there reason to be hopeful about the future of dispensational theology?

Cone: If dispensationalism is not an accurate understanding of Scripture, then I would hope it would fade away quickly. I would welcome its demise. However if it is essentially representative of the biblical revelation, then it will stick around for a while.

I have no concern whatsoever for the future of dispensational theology, other than that those of us who hold to it continue to refine and be sure that we are being biblical in our theology—the same concerns I would have for those adhering to any theological system. We need not be defenders of theological systems—even biblical ones. His word can take care of itself. Our job is to learn it, to do it, and to teach others as He provides opportunity.

To put it another way, we should not be loyal to theological systems. We must be loyal to God’s word, and we need to understand it as He intended us to. And that is the basic question posed by the non-dispensationalism/dispensationalism debate: “What did God really mean when He said…?” My prayer is that we each simply grow more and more submissive to His word, allowing the Bible to speak for itself, and avoiding reading our own theological concepts into the text. It’s about Him, not us!

Isaacs: Thanks again for your time and contributions!

Cone: Absolutely, Adrian, hopefully this has been helpful!

Christopher Cone 2015 Bio


Dr. Christopher Cone serves as Chief Academic Officer and Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Southern California Seminary. He formerly served as President of Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, Professor of Bible and Theology, and as a Pastor of Tyndale Bible Church. He has also held several teaching positions and is the author and general editor of several books. He blogs regularly at drcone.com.

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Ed Vasicek's picture

 it is the result of a subtle departure from the literal grammatical-historical hermeneutic in favor of a canonical hermeneutic (similar to that of Brevard Childs) that has been referred to as the complementary hermeneutic. Essentially the complementary hermeneutic reads (at least aspects of) the OT through the lens of the NT, rather than reading the NT through the lens of the OT (the latter is consistent with the literal grammatical-historical hermeneutic).

I beg to differ.  Covenant theology looks at the OT through the lens of the NT, dispensationalism looks at the NT through the lens of the OT, but Progressive Dispensationalism (of the Saucy style) does BOTH.  

"The Midrash Detective"

DanStar's picture

My reading of Dr. Bock indicates that he makes three points regarding the progress of revelation from OT to NT. First, in the light of Jesus' life the apostles had a new understanding of the OT texts that caused them to reinterpret the OT such that they saw some things as prophetic fulfillment which were not apparently prophetic in the OT. Second, that the referent of some prophetic texts was disputed or unknown in the OT but the NT recognizes as references to Jesus. Third, and this is the more controversial assertion, that intertestamental Jewish theology and hermeneutics can be brought to bear in understanding NT texts. Particularly, he asserts that some texts essential to PD use Jewish pesher and midrash techniques to link together texts that, for example, result in placing Jesus on David's throne now. So, I think in all these cases the OT is being reread and reinterpreted in light of the New.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Does anyone find it strange, that CT interprets the New Testament in light of the Old when the subject is baptism, but not in regard to Israel and the Church?  And DT interprets the New Testament in light of the Old when it comes to Israel and the Church, but not when the subject is baptism?

I can't escape the concept that the New Testament is the latest and final revelation, and that the only way to interpret the Old Testament is in light of the New for every subject.  (Am I missing something here?)

G. N. Barkman

Ed Vasicek's picture

Saucy is a more moderate than Bock, and does not believe Jesus is reigning from David's throne now (though he possesses it).

Saucy suggests the same pattern we see with the Tabernacle, for example.  It literally existed, but has a spiritual implication now. Israel's future, he suggests, is the same thing in reverse: we see some spiritual applications of the Millennium, for example, to the church now -- but this does not negate the literal fulfillment to Israel later.

It is truly BOTH/AND, not EITHER/OR.  I am not that fluent with Bock, but Saucy's PD is a better form of PD, IMO.  It fits what we see in Scripture in both regards: the Kingdom will be restored to Israel (Acts 1:6) and also allows for a use of Millennial prophecies for the church  (Acts 26:3).    I do agree that Midrash plays a big role in understanding the New Testament use of hte Old, but Midrash is known by its ability to develop numerous teachings from a text, none of which claim to be the complete meaning or implication.

"The Midrash Detective"

Rob Fall's picture

Yes, the English speaking Baptist position on Believers Immersion predates the systematizing of dispensationalism by about 150 years.

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Does anyone find it strange, that CT interprets the New Testament in light of the Old when the subject is baptism, but not in regard to Israel and the Church?  And DT interprets the New Testament in light of the Old when it comes to Israel and the Church, but not when the subject is baptism?

I can't escape the concept that the New Testament is the latest and final revelation, and that the only way to interpret the Old Testament is in light of the New for every subject.  (Am I missing something here?)

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

TylerR's picture

Editor

I'm not sure what kind of dispensationalist I am anymore:

  • I believe Israel and the Church have distinct, but complementary purposes in God's plan to redeem people
  • I believe the New Covenant is right here, right now, in full effect, but that it will also be applied to Israel at the beginning of the Millennium
  • I don't think the guarantee of Israel's land promises are part of the New Covenant per se, but are the result of it. I essentially believe the NC is a pseudonym for Christ's finished work - applied to the Church today and Israel later. 
  • I don't believe the Millennial Kingdom is the highlight of God's plan for the ages; after all - it ends in man's rebellion against Christ
  • I don't believe the New Jerusalem will be hovering above the earth during the Millennium, or any such silliness. 
  • I don't believe this present creation will be purified or cleansed, but utterly destroyed and replaced by a completely new creation. This means I am tempted to say that Israel won't have the promised land in eternity and Christ won't rule as the Israelite King in eternity - the promised land will have been destroyed. 
  • I don't believe there will be a real distinction between the two peoples of God in eternity on the new earth. Both groups will be represented on the foundation stones and gates of the New Jerusalem, but these distinctions will be essentially meaningless. It will be like acknowledging, "You're from Los Angeles and I'm from Seattle." Good to know, but ultimately meaningless. In the same way, in eternity, it won't matter whether you're an Israelite or part of the Church. 
  • I am very troubled with some dispensationalist's fascination with the Millennial Kingdom, and their corresponding neglect of the eternal Kingdom. After all, Jesus and the Father will share a throne in this Kingdom - why are we so obsessed with the millennial reign (which ends in man's rebellion), at the expense of the eternal kingdom?!

What kind of dispensationalst am I? Even I'm not sure. I'm kind of drifting right now. At this point, I am not a slave to the dispensationalist framework. I see that it has some really excellent insights, but I don't feel the need to toe the Ryrie line. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ron Bean's picture

Watch it Tyler! Your over simplified eschatology may get you excommunicated from the True Dispensationlist Club and you'll have to turn in your decoder ring. 

My eschatology is probably more simplified than yours. I too could never figure why Abraham was going to have to wait until I finished eating dinner.

Knowing the intricate details of Christ's return might be useful if there's a final exam when we all get there.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Larry's picture

Moderator

And DT interprets the New Testament in light of the Old when it comes to Israel and the Church, but not when the subject is baptism?

What part of the OT should we interpret Christian baptism in light of?

I can't escape the concept that the New Testament is the latest and final revelation, and that the only way to interpret the Old Testament is in light of the New for every subject.  (Am I missing something here?)

It seems that Jesus held people responsible for believing the OT without the NT, which means that the OT has meaning in and of itself that those who were under it were responsible to believe and were held responsible for not believing. The OT was not some inferior revelation. It was the perfect revelation of God, sufficient for its purposes. To say that it needed the NT to be interpreted properly is contrary to the NT. Consider Nicodemus who was rebuked by Jesus for not knowing about the new birth from the OT. Or the two men on the road to Emmaus who were foolish and slow of heart because they didn't believe the OT on its own. Jesus didn't give them a pass because they didn't have the NT. He said they should have believed the OT on its own.

Ed Vasicek's picture

TylerR wrote:

I'm not sure what kind of dispensationalist I am anymore:

  • I believe Israel and the Church have distinct, but complementary purposes in God's plan to redeem people
  • I believe the New Covenant is right here, right now, in full effect, but that it will also be applied to Israel at the beginning of the Millennium
  • I don't think the guarantee of Israel's land promises are part of the New Covenant per se, but are the result of it. I essentially believe the NC is a pseudonym for Christ's finished work - applied to the Church today and Israel later. 
  • I don't believe the Millennial Kingdom is the highlight of God's plan for the ages; after all - it ends in man's rebellion against Christ
  • I don't believe the New Jerusalem will be hovering above the earth during the Millennium, or any such silliness. 
  • I don't believe this present creation will be purified or cleansed, but utterly destroyed and replaced by a completely new creation. This means I am tempted to say that Israel won't have the promised land in eternity and Christ won't rule as the Israelite King in eternity - the promised land will have been destroyed. 
  • I don't believe there will be a real distinction between the two peoples of God in eternity on the new earth. Both groups will be represented on the foundation stones and gates of the New Jerusalem, but these distinctions will be essentially meaningless. It will be like acknowledging, "You're from Los Angeles and I'm from Seattle." Good to know, but ultimately meaningless. In the same way, in eternity, it won't matter whether you're an Israelite or part of the Church. 
  • I am very troubled with some dispensationalist's fascination with the Millennial Kingdom, and their corresponding neglect of the eternal Kingdom. After all, Jesus and the Father will share a throne in this Kingdom - why are we so obsessed with the millennial reign (which ends in man's rebellion), at the expense of the eternal kingdom?!

What kind of dispensationalst am I? Even I'm not sure. I'm kind of drifting right now. At this point, I am not a slave to the dispensationalist framework. I see that it has some really excellent insights, but I don't feel the need to toe the Ryrie line. 

Tyler, it is easy to develop a somewhat negative attitude because we get frustrated at imbalances or abuses.  For example, the question about why dispensationalists put so much emphasis on the Millennium is quite obvious: the Scriptures say an awful lot about it, but very little about the eternal state!  Think of Isaiah or Ezekiel's temple measurements, for example. Amazing detail.  Think of the few chapters we have about the eternal state and the dozens about the millennium.

Progressive Dispensationalists --like me -- generally believe we are under the New Covenant NOW.  Indeed, this is one reason why some traditional dispensationalists have become Progressive D's.  About the only thing I see differently from you is the New Jerusalem, which is already hovering, IMO, and always has, above physical Jerusalem.  The mystical connection between the two Jerusalems are seen in the OT, IMO.  A close study of Psalm 87 shows a connection between current Jerusalem, Millennial Jerusalem, and, I believe, the New Jerusalem.

You would probably enjoy my book, The Amazing Doctrines of Paul As Midrash.  I address almost all of these issues there (and come out agreeing with you on most points), and develop this theme in unique ways.  From my book (introducing Psalm 87)

Zion, City of Our God

Mount Zion (or Zion) is used in Scripture to refer to a hill in Jerusalem upon which the Temple sat. But “Zion” carries with it an atmosphere, a mystique, because it not only represents a physical location, but is associated with amazing spiritual realities. Zion is a symbol not only of Israel's past and future, but also of the born-again believer's citizenship in God's Kingdom.

In Romans 11:26, Paul points out that Zion is the source of God's deliverer; even the Messiah (who, at his second coming) will make Zion his home: “And in this way all Israel

will be saved, as it is written, 'The Deliverer will come from

Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.'”

The writer to the Hebrews compares heaven to a spiritual Mount Zion (Hebrews 12:22), perhaps connected to the heavenly temple, to which the earthly temple corresponds (Hebrews 8:1-5).

My assertion is that a spiritual, perhaps mystical relationship exists between the earthly temple located on a plot of earthly ground call Mount Zion and the corresponding temple in heaven.  We might even suggest that – in the mind of the Biblical authors – the geographical Mount Zion serves as a portal to the heavenly Mount Zion. This heavenly Mount Zion is God's throne room above. 

To understand the mystical link between these two “Zions,” we need to understand “vertical space.” Dr. Thomas S. McCall discusses the unique Jewish concept of “vertical space” as

applied to the Most Holy Place and the Ark of the Covenant and its theorized location in the holy land:

  • At any rate, Rabbi Shlomo Goren and Rabbi Yehuda Getz, the rabbis in charge of the Western Wall area, are convinced that the Ark has been hidden in a cave in the Temple Mount directly under the site of the Holy of Holies, since the time of King Josiah. They probably represent the majority of Orthodox rabbis in their views. They have a concept of vertical air space, by which the space of the Holy of Holies sanctifies the ground directly below it. Thus, the ancient priests would have been careful to locate the cave repository for the Ark in the sanctified area below the Holy of Holies. The evidence for all of these suppositions about the location of the Ark, as Rabbi Getz concedes, comes more from the Talmud than the Scriptures. Nevertheless, there is a large and growing group of Orthodox Jewish adherents who believe that the Ark is in this cave below the Holy of Holies, and awaits the right time to be found.  [Source: www.levitt.com]

The same concept of vertical space applied upward. Thus, during the time of Yeshua, when the high priest sprinkled the Yom Kippur blood in the empty Holy of Holies (assuming the Ark of the Covenant is buried below), it would be equivalent to sprinkling the blood on the top of the Ark. We can apply the same concept to the two Mount Zions. The heavenly Zion thus sanctifies (or sets apart) the earthly Zion.

Whether the heavenly Mount Zion/New Jerusalem hovers in the heavenly realms over the earthly Zion/Jerusalem is not something we can prove or disprove. We can say, however, that this possibility is consistent with Jewish thinking.

Psalm 87 is crucial to these issues, IMO.

"The Midrash Detective"

DavidO's picture

In interesting take on the dispensational/covenant frameworks by a friend who moved from the former to the latter but is not enthralled with systems so much as something else.  

Mark_Smith's picture

TylerR wrote:

 

  • I believe the New Covenant is right here, right now, in full effect, but that it will also be applied to Israel at the beginning of the Millennium
  •  

Tyler, I appreciate your summary. Can you clarify the one above? I think I know what you mean, but I have known people who do not believe Jews are saved in the present day by believing in Jesus Christ, but by obedience to OT laws. So let me ask, by saying the NC isn't applied to Israel today, are you saying that a Jewish person cannot by the New Covenant offer of salvation believe in Jesus Christ to salvation, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and receive eternal life?

Mark

G. N. Barkman's picture

What part of the OT should we interpret Christian baptism in light of?  CT usually interprets Christian baptism in the light of OT circumcision.  That's the irony.  CT interprets baptism through the lens of the OT, but interprets Israel and the Church through the lens of the NT.  DT does the opposite.  It insists that Christian baptism cannot be understood in the light of the OT.  The NT is the new and final revelation, and Christian baptism is something new, not a slightly altered version of OT circumcision. (I agree)

But then DT turns around and says that way the writers of the NT, including Jesus, understood OT prophecy regarding Israel cannot be a reliable guide for OT interpretation.  The OT cannot be interpreted through the lens of the NT when it comes to Israel and Church.  Hmmm.  I find that hard to believe.

G. N. Barkman

Larry's picture

Moderator

CT usually interprets Christian baptism in the light of OT circumcision.

Not really. The image of circumcision was a spiritual one of the cutting away of the sin (Col 2). It really had nothing to do with the OT ritual apart from the image being used. 

It insists that Christian baptism cannot be understood in the light of the OT.  The NT is the new and final revelation, and Christian baptism is something new, not a slightly altered version of OT circumcision. (I agree)

So you agree, but talk about the irony of it? I am confused.

But then DT turns around and says that way the writers of the NT, including Jesus, understood OT prophecy regarding Israel cannot be a reliable guide for OT interpretation.  The OT cannot be interpreted through the lens of the NT when it comes to Israel and Church.  Hmmm.  I find that hard to believe.

Which dispensationalist says this? No one comes to mind. 

I find myself completely confused here. You talk about the irony of the dispensationalist view of OT circumcision and NT baptism, but seem to agree with them on it .Then you talk about dispensationalists who don't believe the words of Jesus and the apostles are reliable for the meaning of the OT passages they refer to. 

To quote someone, "I find that hard to believe."
 

alex o.'s picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

What part of the OT should we interpret Christian baptism in light of?  CT usually interprets Christian baptism in the light of OT circumcision.  That's the irony.  CT interprets baptism through the lens of the OT, but interprets Israel and the Church through the lens of the NT.  DT does the opposite.  It insists that Christian baptism cannot be understood in the light of the OT.  The NT is the new and final revelation, and Christian baptism is something new, not a slightly altered version of OT circumcision. (I agree)

 

CT is really out to lunch by equating circumcision with baptism, so is DT saying it is something new. Paul says that the Israelites were baptized into Moses-an almost selfless individual who spoke with God on a regular basis and explained things clearly to Moses. Baptism prefigured discipleship in that no reformation of the old was possible but a death sentence needed to be carried out per the original offense. In The Red Sea Crossing (Baptism) it is shown that identification with God provides deliverance while those that go alone (Pharaoh's Army) perish. They were living sacrifices (hence discipleship) as shown by all the redemptive imagery of the Passover and the sacrificial system in general. Baptism was again pictured in the Jordan crossing before entering God's Land under Joshua (same name as Jesus and meant to signify means to God's inheritance). It was all God's deliverance with no relying on human effort. 

 

Circumcision was an outward sign of what was needed: heart circumcision. This is plain under Moses' codification even though it began with Abraham. Circumcision is actually kind of similar in its picture of what baptism signifies but points to different realities. It brings the Spirit into focus: "we are the circumcision who worship in the Spirit and put no confidence in the flesh". Again, the complete uselessness of the flesh in service to God.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

alex o.'s picture

To me this is more nonsense I think. It puts too much weight on human activity, in this case preservation. I don't think God needs this at all. many Jewish folk conclude its all about them and what they do, when in reality its all about The God of Abraham, not Abraham. The Jews were a kind of First Fruits of humanity. The Jews were of whom came Christ and also were repositories of God's disclosure. It was nothing in themselves why they were chosen, it was a gracious choice.

This brings me to Melchizedek. He was not some Canaanite king. This was preincarnate Christ. 

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

TylerR's picture

Editor

You asked:

So let me ask, by saying the NC isn't applied to Israel today, are you saying that a Jewish person cannot by the New Covenant offer of salvation believe in Jesus Christ to salvation, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and receive eternal life?

No, a Jewish person can hear the Gospel, repent and believe, and be saved and filled with the Holy Spirit today, certainly. If you're interested, you can view the PDF notes for an excursus I did on Romans 11 here (Rom 11:1-7; 8-15; 16-24; 25-32) that explains my take on this. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Steve Davis's picture

TylerR wrote:

I'm not sure what kind of dispensationalist I am anymore:

  • I believe Israel and the Church have distinct, but complementary purposes in God's plan to redeem people
  • I believe the New Covenant is right here, right now, in full effect, but that it will also be applied to Israel at the beginning of the Millennium
  • I don't think the guarantee of Israel's land promises are part of the New Covenant per se, but are the result of it. I essentially believe the NC is a pseudonym for Christ's finished work - applied to the Church today and Israel later. 
  • I don't believe the Millennial Kingdom is the highlight of God's plan for the ages; after all - it ends in man's rebellion against Christ
  • I don't believe the New Jerusalem will be hovering above the earth during the Millennium, or any such silliness. 
  • I don't believe this present creation will be purified or cleansed, but utterly destroyed and replaced by a completely new creation. This means I am tempted to say that Israel won't have the promised land in eternity and Christ won't rule as the Israelite King in eternity - the promised land will have been destroyed. 
  • I don't believe there will be a real distinction between the two peoples of God in eternity on the new earth. Both groups will be represented on the foundation stones and gates of the New Jerusalem, but these distinctions will be essentially meaningless. It will be like acknowledging, "You're from Los Angeles and I'm from Seattle." Good to know, but ultimately meaningless. In the same way, in eternity, it won't matter whether you're an Israelite or part of the Church. 
  • I am very troubled with some dispensationalist's fascination with the Millennial Kingdom, and their corresponding neglect of the eternal Kingdom. After all, Jesus and the Father will share a throne in this Kingdom - why are we so obsessed with the millennial reign (which ends in man's rebellion), at the expense of the eternal kingdom?!

What kind of dispensationalst am I? Even I'm not sure. I'm kind of drifting right now. At this point, I am not a slave to the dispensationalist framework. I see that it has some really excellent insights, but I don't feel the need to toe the Ryrie line. 

 

Tyler,

I appreciate your candor. Ron is right. You are at risk of excommunication. As a former dispensationalist I think I understand some of the questions you raise. Follow the truth where it leads you. I still have questions but no longer feel the need to have answers to all of them. I do not hold to replacement theology but would lean more toward expansion theology. I believe the NT expands the land promise to the whole world in a renewed creation (or new) and that the covenants find their fulfillment in Jesus the quintessential Israelite. As for Ed's assertion concerning the space Scripture gives to the millennium that's true only with the dubious assumption that Ezekiel 40-48 refers to a millennial temple.Regardless, Revelation 21-22 end with eternity with the one people of God and a certain forever trumps speculative or debatable temporal. 

Steve Davis

 

Bob Hayton's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Does anyone find it strange, that CT interprets the New Testament in light of the Old when the subject is baptism, but not in regard to Israel and the Church?  And DT interprets the New Testament in light of the Old when it comes to Israel and the Church, but not when the subject is baptism?

I can't escape the concept that the New Testament is the latest and final revelation, and that the only way to interpret the Old Testament is in light of the New for every subject.  (Am I missing something here?)

Greg, 

That is the beauty of New Covenant Theology. Kingdom through Covenant by Stephen Wellum and Peter Gentry make exactly this point. They consistently prize the new covenant and show how it changes our perspective on the church/people of God as in the land promise and Israel herself is a type of the Church to come. And at the same time, the new covenant sign (baptism) is restricted to believers only.

I'm not doing it justice, but their work has much promise in my opinion. They attempt to chart a via media between CT and DT and are largely successful, in at least pointing the way.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Bob Hayton's picture

Steve makes a point on the land promise above. I think it wasn't just expanded to the "world" in the New Testament. Even in the Old Testament, there is a 1) conditionality surrounding the land promise and 2) an expansion of it. How does one view Psalm 37 which talks of the faithful "inheriting the land" when it is David writing the psalm to people already living in the land?

DT makes much of the fact that Hebrews 11 is inspired NT Scripture and thus not a true way of reading the OT. When the author of Hebrews says Abraham looked for a heavenly country and a heavenly city, and we (the Church) likewise await a heavenly inheritance, this is written off as just a kind of interpretation that only an inspired author of Scripture can undertake, not an inspired "how to" guide on how to do biblical theology and interpretation with regard to how the OT relates with the NT. I of course, disagree.  But with this in mind, look at this important text from 1 Chronicles 29:15:

"For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding." (ESV)

or as the NLT translates this:

"We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace." (NLT)

The Hebrew for "earth" is the same word for "land" as in "the promised land." David is connecting his experience with the patriarchs, and his assessment is strikingly similar to that of Hebrews. They are all sojourners and strangers - pilgrims. The land isn't the point! Blessing from God is. The land points to fellowship with God.  For David, there is a sense in which they haven't yet truly experienced or fully inherited the land - they haven't had full fellowship with God as he desires. Look at how David addresses this in Ps. 37:

"...those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land..." (Ps. 37:9)

"...the meek shall inherit the land..." (Ps. 37:11)

"...those blessed by the LORD shall inherit the land, but those cursed by him shall be cut off..." (Ps. 37:22)

"The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever." (Ps. 37:29)

"Wait for the LORD and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land..." (Ps. 37:34)

This is in keeping with David's words in Ps. 25:12-13, as well as Moses' teaching in Deut. 4:40 and Deut. 11:8-9. In fact, Lev. 25:23 makes a similar point:

"The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me."

Anyway, it is the land promise and tracing out how Joshua and Solomon declare it was fulfilled (see Josh. 21:43-45, 23:14-15, and also 1 Kings 8:56 and Neh. 9:24-25), and how Rom. 4 expands it to be a promise that Abraham would inherit the kosmos (world), and that this very promise is to the children of faith, to anyone "shares faith of Abraham" - (see Rom. 4:12-16 - and vs. 16 "the promise" hearkens back to the promise to be heir in vs. 13) - it is this study that led me to abandon a rigid DT system.

You can explore more of this topic in a series on my blog called "Understanding the Land Promise."

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Dr. Cone made this remark in the article (above):

I have no concern whatsoever for the future of dispensational theology, other than that those of us who hold to it continue to refine and be sure that we are being biblical in our theology—the same concerns I would have for those adhering to any theological system. We need not be defenders of theological systems—even biblical ones. His word can take care of itself. Our job is to learn it, to do it, and to teach others as He provides opportunity.

To put it another way, we should not be loyal to theological systems. We must be loyal to God’s word, and we need to understand it as He intended us to

These are good words. This is exactly why I am not comfortable toeing the line on some of the finer aspects of dispensationalism. Our loyalty shouldn't be to a system.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

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