My Journey Out of Dispensationalism

My friends have often heard me say, “The more I read my Bible the less dispensational I become.” This statement comes from someone who was spiritually nurtured in churches with dispensational theology, who graduated from a Christian university steeped in dispensational theology, who received his first graduate degree from a dispensational seminary, and who—for twelve years—preached sermons that reflected dispensational theology. For the first sixteen years of my Christian life, I rarely questioned the fundamental distinctions of dispensational theology. What are those distinctions? In his discussion of what he called the “sine qua non of dispensationalism,” Ryrie asserted:

A dispensationalist keeps Israel and the Church distinct …  This is probably the most basic theological test of whether or not a man is a dispensationalist, and it is undoubtedly the most practical and conclusive (Ryrie 44-45).

Later he concluded, “the essence of dispensationalism, then, is the distinction between Israel and the Church” (Ryrie 47).

As a dispensationalist I studied my Bible with the understanding that God had dual and separate plans for Israel and the church. I understood this “church age” to be somewhat parenthetical until God resumed His plan with the nation of Israel. I believed that the Abrahamic covenant and all the other Old Testament covenants were essentially for national Israel, and that only the soteriological benefits of the covenants belonged to the church.

As I continued to pastor and preach, I realized that my training in the Old Testament was weak. I decided to pursue a Master of Theology in Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary. My dispensational comrades in ministry assured me that Westminster would ruin my theology. I suppose many of them believe that has happened. Nevertheless, I was drawn to Westminster primarily because Bruce Waltke was teaching there. I had read books and articles by Dr. Waltke and had profited immensely from them.

While at Westminster I had the privilege of learning from Vern Poythress, Tremper Longman, and Raymond Dillard, along with Bruce Waltke. At first I listened as an antagonist, but I was soon won over by their personal graciousness and their commitment to Scripture. I began to experience discomfort as I realized that my commitment to dispensationalism was often unyielding, even when contradicted by the results of exegesis. These words from the introduction to my Th.M thesis summarize my response at that time:

Exegesis often eviscerates one’s theological presuppositions. When a theological bulwark withstands the penetration of biblical exegesis, its tenets remain secure. However, if its walls crumble beneath the weight of incisive and precise exegesis, then one must abandon the fortress and construct a better one (Davis, 1990, 1).

During the course of my study at Westminster, Bruce Waltke was my faculty advisor. I was privileged to have a number of personal discussions with him regarding the uneasiness I felt in questioning dispensationalism. As I considered what to research for my Th.M thesis, he suggested a topic that would be beneficial to me on my journey and helpful to others. I wrote “A Critical Evaluation of the Use of the Abrahamic Covenant in Dispensationalism.” The writing of that thesis opened a door and gave me a gentle push toward my eventual departure from dispensationalism.

As I worked through the exegesis of the Abrahamic Covenant and the hermeneutical issues surrounding it, I came to this conclusion:

Through an inductive study, this paper has arrived at a position that approximates covenant theology, namely, that that covenants confirm and explicate the program by which God redeems a people for Himself. It has been established that Israel and the church need to be perceived as sub-categories of a larger concept, i.e. the people of God. The Abrahamic covenant is not the beginning of the people of God, but rather God’s redemptive means, after the rebellion at Babel and the dispersion, to reclaim a fallen world to Himself. The Abrahamic covenant needs to be viewed in its relation to God’s purposes for the entire world, not simply His purposes for a nation. The Abrahamic covenant needs to viewed in light of the inauguration of eschatological times with the first advent of Jesus Christ, as well as the consummation of eschatology at the second advent (Davis 109).

Since those years at Westminster, I have continued to think about these issues and have become more and more convinced that exegesis and biblical theology do not support the sine qua non of dispensationalism (i.e., the distinction between Israel and the church). Since Christ is the final and fullest revelation of God, I now see that the Old Testament anticipated Christ and finds its interpretation and fulfillment in Christ.

In the New Testament—apart from well-debated text in Romans 11:25-27—there is not even a hint of a future restoration of the nation of Israel to the land. Of the seventy four references to Abraham in the New Testament, not one clearly focuses on the “earthly” elements of the covenant. Even the acceptance of a mass conversion of Israelites at some future time does not demand a return to a former order of things.

Take, for example, the Apostle Paul’s discussion of the relationship of the law to saving faith, in Galatians 3. He introduces Abraham as a paradigm of saving faith and of inclusion in the promises of God. In the course of his discussion, the apostle makes interpretive statements based on his understanding of the Genesis passages. These reflect on the Abrahamic covenant. These statements are as follows:

  1. “Those who believe are children of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7).
  2. “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ’All nations will be blessed through you’” (Gal. 3:8).
  3. “Those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham” (Gal. 3:9).
  4. “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Jesus Christ” (Gal. 3:14).
  5. “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ” (Gal. 3:16).
  6. “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe” (Gal. 3:22).

Paramount in these verses is the redemptive significance of the Abrahamic covenant as it finds its consummation in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ, as the quintessential seed of Abraham, is both the guarantor and inheritor of the promises of the covenant.

Relationship with Christ, established by emulating the faith of Abraham, guarantees one’s participation in the promises of the covenant. It is not the keeping of the law or physical descent from Abraham that constitutes one as a child of Abraham, but rather faith in Jesus Christ.

These verses sanction the redemptive nature of the Abrahamic covenant. They confirm that covenant as the unifying factor between Jews and Gentiles, and they substantiate the view that there is one people of God of all ages that share the covenants of Scripture which find their consummation in Christ.

Strikingly, Paul perceives redemption in Christ to be the dominant, though not exclusive, feature of the Abrahamic covenant. He finds the consummation of the covenant in Christ and participation in the covenant to be predicated on relationship to Christ. Though, admittedly,  I argue from silence here, the “material” nature of the promises to Abraham appears to be somewhat idealized in Christ. Though not necessarily removing those “material” elements of the Abrahamic covenant, Paul’s treatment certainly places them in a new light.

Consequently, due to the advent of Christ as the seed of Abraham, the New Testament sees a semi-realized fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant in New Testament believers and the church and an ultimate eternal fulfillment in the New Heavens and Earth for all those who are “seed” of Abraham by faith.

In Christ we have our “landedness” as we are “blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ,” (Eph. 1:3) and are assured that we have “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade kept in heaven” (1 Pet. 1:3).

The New Testament texts that consider the question, “Who are the legitimate heirs of the Abrahamic Covenant?” unequivocally answer, “All of those who are in Christ Jesus.” In reference to the unity of believing Jews and Gentiles, George N. H. Peters cogently concludes:

Both elect are the seed, the children of Abraham; both sets of branches are on the same stock, on the same root, on the same olive tree; both constitute the same Israel of God, the members of the same body, fellow-citizens of the same commonwealth; both are Jews “inwardly” (Romans 2:29), and of the true “circumcision” (Phil. 3:3), forming the same “peculiar people,” “holy nation,” and “royal priesthood”; both are interested in the same promises, covenants, and kingdom; both inherit and realize the same blessings at the same time (Peters 404).

In conclusion, may we all continue to “do theology” rooted in humility, exegesis, biblical theology, and community. Though I do not agree with many of Clark Pinnock’s theological conclusions, I do appreciate his delightful approach to the theological enterprise. He said,

I approach theology in a spirit of adventure, being always curious about what I may find. For me theology is like a rich feast, with many dishes to enjoy and delicacies to taste. It is like a centuries-old conversation that I am privileged to take part in, a conversation replete with innumerable voices to listen to…. More like a pilgrim than a settler, I tread the path of discovery and do my theology en route (quoted in Grenz 134).

Works Cited

Davis, John P. “A Critical Examination of the Use of the Abrahamic Covenant in Dispensationalism.” Master of Theology Thesis, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990.
Grenz, Stanley J. Renewing the Center. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000.
Peters, George N. H. The Theocratic Kingdom. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, Kregel Publications, 1952.
Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. Dispensationalism Today. Chicago: Moody Press, 1965.


Dr. John P. Davis is currently planting a church in Sunnyside (Queens), New York. Grace Fellowship Church is a gospel-centered city church seeking to reach people of all nations. John received the Bachelor of Arts in Bible with a minor in Greek at Bob Jones University, a Master of Divinity from Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary, the Master of Theology in Old Testament from Westminster Theological Seminary, and the Doctor of Ministry from Biblical Theological Seminary. His Th.M. thesis was A Critical Evaluation of the Use of the Abrahamic Covenant in Dispensationalism. His D.Min. project/dissertation was Common Factors in the Practice of Ongoing Personal Evangelism. In addition to Sunnyside, NY John has pastored churches in Buckingham, Pennsylvania, in Brooklyn, New York, and in Roslyn, Pennsylvania. Two of the churches were new church-plants.

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C.S. Gates's picture

John,
Thank you for your essay. Having grown up in a moderately dispensational home and having attended a dispensational college and seminary, I identify with your journey. I have come to many of the same conclusions. I must admit to jealousy is reading that you were able to study under Walke, Longman, and Poythress. Smile Is it possible to get a copy of your Th.M. Thesis? While I do not identify myself with Covenant Theology, I empathize with many of its tenets, in particular its Christocentric nature. I still cannot swallow classic Covenant Theology's Theological covenants (Works and Grace). I think I understand how these theologians arrived at these conclusions, but I can find no exegetical support for them. From an exegetical standpoint, I feel more comfortable with New Covenant theology.
I am curious if you have studied the teachings of the early church with regard to eschatology and the relationship between Israel and the Church. From my reading it appears the general consensus (I say this with fear and trepidation of reductionism) of the early church was to see the Church as the true Israel and true seed of Abraham, yet still take the physical provisions (aka land promises) of the Abrahamic covenant literally as being fulfilled in a future 1000 yr reign of Christ on the earth. For example Justin Martyr in his "Dialogue with Trypho" Chapter 119 said, "along with Abraham we shall inherit the holy land" (cf. Chapter 139). Passages such as Rom 4:13 (Abraham would be heir of the world) would seem to support this reading). The NT use of the inheritance motif would also seem to confirm this. Since these promises could theoretically be fulfilled in either a future millennium or in the new heavens and new earth, I realize it does not answer the millennial question. I am curious exactly how Waltke understands promises like these (I know he uses that term "landedness" a lot).
Thank you for your essay. I pray many people take what you say to heart. Again, please let me know if I can get a copy of your thesis.

Bob Hayton's picture

Thanks for sharing your journey in a careful and humble way. I've traveled a similar path, albeit without the benefits of a season at Westminster!

For me, Rom. 4:11-16 coupled with Gal. 3 was pivotal. In Rom. 4, it stresses: 1) Believer's are Abraham's true children, 2) Abraham was promised that he would be heir of the kosmos (world) 3) This precise promise (that Abraham would be heir of the world) is intended for all the spiritual children of Abraham.

The Old Testament background to 1 Pet. 2:9-10 and Eph. 6:1-3's claim that Gentile children can extend life "in the land" by obedience, are two of the other hugely influential texts that forced me to re-evaluate dispensationalism.

Thanks again, and God bless,

Bob Hayton

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

C.S. Gates wrote:
I must admit to jealousy is reading that you were able to study under Walke, Longman, and Poythress. Smile

Me too, LOL.

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.

Mike Harding's picture

I agree with John that a fundamental distinction between Israel and the Church is the "without which nothing" (sine qua non) of classic dispensationalism. Several other principles are also necessary to a dispensational approach to Scripture. Dispensationalism attempts to consistently use a literal/normal hermeneutic when interpeting OT passages without imputing allegory upon the text or spiritualizing the the literal, normal, historical, grammatical interpretation of the text. The challenge for dispensationalism or covenant theology is to maintain the univocal use of language when unfolding the authorial intent of the OT passages without bowing to the hermeneutics of sensus plenior. Additionally, it is important to realize that Christ did not re-define the KOG as anything different than that laid out in the major and minor prophets. The KOG has spiritual, political, geographical, social, and ecclesiastical aspects. These aspects include Israel, other nations, and the church. Certainly, redeemed Israel and the invisible church (which one day will gather in heaven) are "the people of God". However, the fact that God has made unique promises and given respective responsibilities to each does not diminish their elect status with God nor the unity of God's people. Finally, dispensationalism has often times been associated with anti-Lorship or anti-Calvinism. This is unfortuntate. There is nothing inherent within a dispensational approach to Scripture that necessitates these conclusions. A dispensational Calvinist can agree soteriologically with a covenant Calvinist.

Pastor Mike Harding

Ted Bigelow's picture

I have traveled the opposite path, from a covenantal approach to a dispensational awareness in Scripture. It would be nice to see someone with a background like mine write up his own theological understanding. I would love to, but am already too involved in ministry and other book projects. I even posses the same theological degrees on my wall you do. But since I'm here now, let me snipe in a little, OK, John Wink

You write: "In the New Testament—apart from well-debated text in Romans 11:25-27—there is not even a hint of a future restoration of the nation of Israel to the land. " Are you kidding, John?

Let me start with a more obscure text. Check out James 5:17-18 in context - written to godly Jews expereincing God's judgment on Israel by being removed out of the land of Israel - just like Elijah did, who also was removed out of the land of Israel for being faithful to the God of Israel (1 Kings 17:8ff). Notice the repeitiion of "land" in 17-18, and the promise at the end of v. 18 of future fruit. BTW, Elijah's removal from the land resulted in Getnile salvation, (widow from Sidon and family), even as the Jews being scattered (James 1:1) resulted in the same. The point of the text is to pray that God will end his judgment on Israel, just as Elijah prayed for an end to rain on the land of Israel. I trust you know the OT significance of rain in relation to God's cov't with Israel (Lev. 26:3-4, Deut 8, 1 Kings 8:35ff).

Or, moving to those texts we are more familiar with, check out Mark 9:9-12, in which Jesus assures the 3 disciples that Elijah does come and fulfill Malachi. 4. He came in John the Baptist, but the people rejected him. JB never did "restore the hearts of the father to the sons," etc., which in context is covenant promise to the nation, not merely families within the nation. Elijah's ministry is yet to be fulfilled, since the people did not receive John the Baptist any more than they received Jesus (c.f. Matthew 11:14). Elijah even shows up on the Mt. of Transfiguration in connection with the Kingdom in the promised land (Mark 9:1-4). The disciples recognize that Elijah, the future land of Israel, and bodily resurrection, all go together - and Jesus does not correct their understanding of this (Mark 9:9-13).

Perhaps the best known is the discussion of land in Acts 1:6ff. It is an assurance from the Lord that the kingdom will be restored to Israel, but not at this time. To see this, trace out what Jesus leaves out in 1:5 - "fire." He left it out since the baptism of fire is eschatological fire on Israel, not the tongues of fire at Pentecost (see Mat. 3:11-12, Luke 3:16-17). Since Jesus told the disciples that the only baptism coming was that of the Holy spirit, and not fire (eschatological fire) in Acts 1:5, it prompted their correct question of Acts 1:6 - an eschatological question.

That's enough for now. All that to answer a statement you made which has an apriori commitment you have about what you want the NT to say so it reflects the larger schema of theology that you embrace. Of course, if the apostles and NT prophets did not share your covenantal stance, they would see no reason to reiterate the land promise since they embraced it by the equally as inspired OT. They were writing to churches, were they not?

Apart from all that - may God send His Beloved Holy Spirit, in direct connection with the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, to draw sinners to Christ and thereby bless immensely the new church you are laboring to establish. All for His eternal glory.

Ted Bigelow, www.gracechurchministry.org

Mike Harding's picture

I agree with John that a fundamental distinction between Israel and the Church is the "without which nothing" (sine qua non) of classic dispensationalism. Several other principles are also necessary to a dispensational approach to Scripture. Dispensationalism attempts to consistently use a literal/normal hermeneutic when interpreting OT passages without imposing allegory upon the text or spiritualizing the the literal, normal, historical, grammatical interpretation of the text. The challenge for dispensationalism or covenant theology is to maintain the univocal use of language when unfolding the authorial intent of the OT passages without bowing to the hermeneutics of sensus plenior. Additionally, it is important to realize that Christ did not re-define the KOG as anything different than that laid out in the major and minor prophets. The KOG has spiritual, political, geographical, social, and ecclesiastical aspects. These aspects include Israel, other nations, and the church. Certainly, redeemed Israel and the invisible church (which one day will gather in heaven) are "the people of God". However, the fact that God has made unique promises and given respective responsibilities to each does not diminish their elect status with God nor the unity of God's people. Finally, dispensationalism has often times been associated with anti-Lordship or anti-Calvinism. This is unfortuntate. There is nothing inherent within a dispensational approach to Scripture that necessitates these conclusions. A dispensational Calvinist can agree soteriologically with a covenant Calvinist.

Pastor Mike Harding

Joseph's picture

I appreciated this article; I think I read a similar but longer essay by the author when he was a new member of SI, and I enjoyed reading this again.

I also experienced a transition out of dispensationalism, which had as key components a number of the Scriptural texts already mentioned as well a growing awareness of the, at best, provincial understanding of hermeneutics that dominated dispensationalism's self-understanding, certainly in its main propnents, like Chafer. Reading Hans Frei's The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative, as well some other works of a similar nature, helped me historically situate the kind of "literalism" that dispensationalism advocated. Frei also made centrally problematic for me the idea of a hermeneutic center, which I grew to find lacking or seriously inadequate in dispensationalism, largely because the problematic ideals of things like "univocality," as Mike has mentioned.

I have become convinced by my study of historical theology/church history that, had the early church adopted and successfully applied the kind of literalism advocated by Dispensationalists on paper, orthodox Christianity would not have come to exist.

Moreover, the kind of hermeneutical and theological positions and sensibilities that characterize dispensationalism's relationship to the history of the church's thought and Scriptural interpretation seems to me to be sub-sets of the deadly anti-traditional mentality that characterizes Americans especially but also modernity and late-modernity in particular. The factors (including populism and primitivism and their anti-historical, traditional, and intellectual corollaries) dealt with in Nathan Hatch's "The Democratization of American Christianity" partially explain why Dispensationalism was primarily an American phenomenon. It is these same factors, I think, that go a long way towards explaining the anti-Calvinist mentality of many dispensationalists; Confessional theology, from which Calvinism derives and to which it often leads, runs, in many ways, deeply against the grain of American culture, as D.G. Hart has shown in his work on the topic, whereas practical if not confessed Arminianism is deeply congruous with a number of defining elements of American culture that gained ascendancy in the nineteenth-century. As an illustration of this, Warren Susman in his brilliant essay, "Personality and the Making of Twentieth Century Culture" notes "the persistence in nineteenth century America of a predominantly Arminian vision."

I think, then, that many people come to question not merely the explicit underpinning of dispensationalism, which most people are not taught explicitly in their churches anyway, but more fundamentally the sensibilities and plausibility structure that render dispensationalism a natural or obvious and easy to believe view of Scripture, and this shift in sensibilities is often corellated with an appreciation of Reformed soteriology, the adoption of which often draws people towards historical theology and an appreciation of creeds and confessions. So while there may be no logically necessary connection between dispansationalism and Arminian theology, I think there is a connection in that both are usually attended and rendered plausible by the same family of cultural sensibilities and intellectual dispositions. (And I would argue that exceptions to this prove the general rule.)

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Personally, I was struck with now many of John's conclusions are
a) Things I've believed for as long as I can remember and
b) Not un-dispensationalist at all

Then I came to this and realized abruptly that he apparently means something different with several of the terms he uses...

John P. Davis wrote:
In Christ we have our “landedness” as we are “blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ,” (Eph. 1:3) and are assured that we have “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade kept in heaven” (1 Pet. 1:3).

Landedness?

I also found this pair of observations interesting.
In reference to his dispensational upbringing...

John P. Davis wrote:
I believed that the Abrahamic covenant and all the other Old Testament covenants were essentially for national Israel, and that only the soteriological benefits of the covenants belonged to the church.

Then later emphasizing the redemptive nature of the Abrahamic covenant as that which speaks to us today...
John P. Davis wrote:
These verses sanction the redemptive nature of the Abrahamic covenant. They confirm that covenant as the unifying factor between Jews and Gentiles....
Strikingly, Paul perceives redemption in Christ to be the dominant, though not exclusive, feature of the Abrahamic covenant.

The only difference here between John's before and his after (the disp years vs. the post-Waltke years) is what happens to the land idea in relation to ethnic Israel, which, in any case, is greatly strengthened and clarified by covenants that came after the Abrahamic.

That the two peoples of God are one in Christ is really not in dispute between CT and Disp. What's in dispute is whether the oneness in Christ results in an identicalness in Christ. For example, male and female are one in Christ as well, yet do not cease to be male and female (Gal. 3:28). So, on the one hand, there is a present and future unity of the people of God, yet we read of "the nations" in Rev. 21:24, for example (and Isaiah 60 and 66). So distinctions remain. My own view is that one huge distinction centers on the the land promises of the OT.

Bob Hayton's picture

For me it was thinking about the land promise that forced me to re-evaluate dispensationalism. I recommend the article on "land" in The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (IVP), and the little book The Israel of God: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow by O. Palmer Robertson (P&R).

One other note, about literal interpretation: in Mike Harding's comment above, he stresses a literal approach to the Old Testament. Often, the literal approach to the New Testament seems to me to be ignored. How does one literally interpret Eph. 6:3, and 1 Pet. 2:9-10 as addressed to Gentile Christians? A literal exegesis of Rom. 4:11-16 and Gal. 3 also would influence one's view on all of this.

I am aware how big a discussion this is, and that a forum is not the best venue to help change people's opinions. I also respect the care on both sides to follow the Bible's teaching. For anyone interested, I did a series on the land promise on my blog a while back, while I was going through Robertson's book.

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.

Charlie's picture

Joseph wrote:

I think, then, that many people come to question not merely the explicit underpinning of dispensationalism, which most people are not taught explicitly in their churches anyway, but more fundamentally the sensibilities and plausibility structure that render dispensationalism a natural or obvious and easy to believe view of Scripture, and this shift in sensibilities is often corellated with an appreciation of Reformed soteriology, the adoption of which often draws people towards historical theology and an appreciation of creeds and confessions. So while there may be no logically necessary connection between dispansationalism and Arminian theology, I think there is a connection in that both are usually attended and rendered plausible by the same family of cultural sensibilities and intellectual dispositions. (And I would argue that exceptions to this prove the general rule.)

I agree. (Classical) Dispensationalism, on the whole, is unsatisfying as an approach to hermeneutics, history, philosophy, and life in general. Just recently I read David Naugle' s Worldview: History of a Concept. In his introduction he states that he needed to shift from Dispensationalism to covenant theology in order to think in terms of worldview. How he works that out is quite interesting. The apologetic endeavors of Cornelius Van Til, so popular with some Calvinist Dispensationalists, are based squarely upon a Reformed (even Vossian) reading of the biblical storyline. As you pointed out, Joseph, ideas like "univocality" and the lack of a hermeneutical center are the reason that no higher level work of hermeneutics has been penned by a Dispensationalist. Robert Thomas for example, in his screed Evangelical Hermeneutics, repeatedly states that he is not a hermeneutician yet has no problem taking to task every prominent hermeneutician of the 20th century! (The great irony is that he suggests a return to Ramm and Milton, who were not Dispensationalists.)

Calvinism provides categories that make covenant theology plausible (or vice versa). As our author noted, the strongly Calvinist conception of union with Christ resolves difficulties concerning the recipient of the Abrahamic Covenant, as well as identifies a substratum of blessings that must be common to all believers in all times and places. Some concept of the Covenant of Works/Grace (call it what you will) underlies Christ as the 2nd Adam, the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness, and sola gratia. Also, once one takes an interest in historical theology, one can find thousands of pages of pre-Dispensational high quality theological material on the unfolding revelation of Scripture - Luther, Calvin, Turretin, Bavinck, Witsius, Cocceius, Owen, Edwards, a'Brakel, etc. These men all conceived of, considered, and refuted challenges to the unity of "the covenant of grace" (not always by that term). They answered Dispensationalism before it was invented.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

jpdsr51's picture

Ted Bigelow wrote:
I have traveled the opposite path, from a covenantal approach to a dispensational awareness in Scripture. It would be nice to see someone with a background like mine write up his own theological understanding. I would love to, but am already too involved in ministry and other book projects. I even posses the same theological degrees on my wall you do. But since I'm here now, let me snipe in a little, OK, John Wink

You write: "In the New Testament—apart from well-debated text in Romans 11:25-27—there is not even a hint of a future restoration of the nation of Israel to the land. " Are you kidding, John?

Let me start with a more obscure text. Check out James 5:17-18 in context - written to godly Jews expereincing God's judgment on Israel by being removed out of the land of Israel - just like Elijah did, who also was removed out of the land of Israel for being faithful to the God of Israel (1 Kings 17:8ff). Notice the repeitiion of "land" in 17-18, and the promise at the end of v. 18 of future fruit. BTW, Elijah's removal from the land resulted in Getnile salvation, (widow from Sidon and family), even as the Jews being scattered (James 1:1) resulted in the same. The point of the text is to pray that God will end his judgment on Israel, just as Elijah prayed for an end to rain on the land of Israel. I trust you know the OT significance of rain in relation to God's cov't with Israel (Lev. 26:3-4, Deut 8, 1 Kings 8:35ff).

Or, moving to those texts we are more familiar with, check out Mark 9:9-12, in which Jesus assures the 3 disciples that Elijah does come and fulfill Malachi. 4. He came in John the Baptist, but the people rejected him. JB never did "restore the hearts of the father to the sons," etc., which in context is covenant promise to the nation, not merely families within the nation. Elijah's ministry is yet to be fulfilled, since the people did not receive John the Baptist any more than they received Jesus (c.f. Matthew 11:14). Elijah even shows up on the Mt. of Transfiguration in connection with the Kingdom in the promised land (Mark 9:1-4). The disciples recognize that Elijah, the future land of Israel, and bodily resurrection, all go together - and Jesus does not correct their understanding of this (Mark 9:9-13).

Perhaps the best known is the discussion of land in Acts 1:6ff. It is an assurance from the Lord that the kingdom will be restored to Israel, but not at this time. To see this, trace out what Jesus leaves out in 1:5 - "fire." He left it out since the baptism of fire is eschatological fire on Israel, not the tongues of fire at Pentecost (see Mat. 3:11-12, Luke 3:16-17). Since Jesus told the disciples that the only baptism coming was that of the Holy spirit, and not fire (eschatological fire) in Acts 1:5, it prompted their correct question of Acts 1:6 - an eschatological question.

That's enough for now. All that to answer a statement you made which has an apriori commitment you have about what you want the NT to say so it reflects the larger schema of theology that you embrace. Of course, if the apostles and NT prophets did not share your covenantal stance, they would see no reason to reiterate the land promise since they embraced it by the equally as inspired OT. They were writing to churches, were they not?

Apart from all that - may God send His Beloved Holy Spirit, in direct connection with the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, to draw sinners to Christ and thereby bless immensely the new church you are laboring to establish. All for His eternal glory.

Ted Bigelow, www.gracechurchministry.org[/quote]

I fail to see what you see in these texts. To use your words, "are you kidding?" It is this kind of dispensational textual maneuvering that gives impetus to my journey.

church - www.gracechurchphilly.com blog - www.thegospelfirst.com twitter - @johnpdavis

Pastor Marc Monte's picture

Will there come a day when God gathers the Jews back to their land and when they believe on Christ? Zechariah thought so:

Zechariah 12:10-14--And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of JERUSALEM, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first born.

In that day shall there be a great mourning in JERUSALEM, a the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the vlley of Megiddon.

And the LAND shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart...

13:1--In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of JERUSALEM for sin and for uncleanness.

LET GOD BE TRUE, GENTLEMEN!

Just clinging to my guns and religion... www.faithbaptistavon.com

jpdsr51's picture

Pastor Marc Monte wrote:
Will there come a day when God gathers the Jews back to their land and when they believe on Christ? Zechariah thought so:

Zechariah 12:10-14--And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of JERUSALEM, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first born.

In that day shall there be a great mourning in JERUSALEM, a the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the vlley of Megiddon.

And the LAND shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart...

13:1--In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of JERUSALEM for sin and for uncleanness.

LET GOD BE TRUE, GENTLEMEN!

Of course, God is always true. The text you quote actaully says nothing about the Jews being gathered back to the land. In Zechariah they are already in the land. Neither does it say they will believe in Christ, only that a fountain is opened. I respect your understanding of Zechariah 12-14 as referring to the Second Coming of the Messiah, though others understand it to refer to the First Coming of the Messiah, as seen in what follows..

"It is important for us to make another point here. Some desire to understand chapters 12-14 to refer to the second coming of Christ and the events that will take place in the supposed millennial kingdom of Christ. Therefore, it is argued that the phrase “in that day�? refers to the second coming. Consider that this is not possible due to the content of things that will happen “in that day.�? If “in that day�? has not happened yet, then the fountain for forgiveness of sins has not been opened for all yet. Thus, we are dying in our sins and do not have forgiveness, if these are all future events. We must understand these events to be referring to the work of the Messiah in His first coming to the earth. (http://www.apocalypseproject.com/index.php/zechariah-13/)

church - www.gracechurchphilly.com blog - www.thegospelfirst.com twitter - @johnpdavis

TimothyJ's picture

I enjoyed reading this article and found it to be a thorough and concise story of a journey away from dispensationalism. Personally I questioned my strong dispensational roots simply through personal reading of Galatians and Romans. Though I'd always been taught that the church and Israel had continuing separate plans, several passages nagged at me as I read. I was struck with the repeated emphasis on Jews and Gentiles becoming one in Christ, and on us all being children of Abraham together. Though I wouldn't categorize myself as either dispensational or covenant, I would say I definitely lean more towards the covenant idea after seeing what Scripture has to say as opposed to theological ideas I'd been taught most of my life. I love the simplicity and beauty in covenant theology in focusing on one people of God throughout history and Christ's revealing the fullness of what God showed Israel in the OT. I've learned to read Scripture realizing that its focus is on revealing Jesus Christ and that the center point is His redemption on the cross.

David Huffstutler's picture

Pastor Davis (and others who have shared his "journey"):

I appreciate your deep commitment to Scripture and its message as indicated by your many years of study and ministry. I also appreciate the ending emphasis of your original post when you stated, "May we all continue to 'do theology' rooted in humility, exegesis, biblical theology, and community."

With respect to your studies and your road from dispensational to nondispensational theology, I was wondering if you could answer the following:

You realized after your MDiv training that your "training in the Old Testament was weak." Would you say this comment reflects either not being fully introduced to the pertinent issues between nondispensational and dispensational theologies or simply not having a good grasp on the Old Testament as it pertains to knowing the Scriptural content itself?

As a follow-up question to either answer (or another that you may suggest if my options fail to describe your experience), do you think you would have landed on the side of dispensationalism had you pursued a ThM at a seminary like Baptist Bible Seminary since you would have been strengthening yourself in these matters as taught from a dispensational perspective?

Last, what would you say have been the practical ramifications of your journey from nondispensational to dispensational theology? Have you had to move from one "camp" to the other as Fundamentalism is largely dispensational, or has your journey led to little to no practical consequences concerning these matters?

I ask these questions from the vantage of point of a "junior" seminary student at a traditional-dispensational seminary and thus see a point of similarity between you and myself in that sense. Your answers would be helpful.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
Neither does it say they will believe in Christ, only that a fountain is opened.
Curious as to what you believe the cause of their mourning is? John connects that first to the piercing at the crucifixion (John 10:37 where he is pierced) and at the second coming (Rev 1:7). It seems to me that their mourning, in the context, is because of their repentance and belief. When they see Jesus coming in power and glory, they will recognize who he is and finally submit to him whom they pierced. I don't see any legitimate way to make that his first coming, or AD 70, which seem to be the most common alternatives to seeing it at the end times.

Zech 13 says that the opening of the fountain is for cleansing of sin, which only comes at belief, which for the "house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem" seems unmistakeably a reference to national Israel. Some people say that the church is the new Israel or the continuation or some such, but this seems to indicate that Israel is something other than the church since it applies the promises of forgiveness to unbelieving Israel as Israel.

Quote:
Consider that this is not possible due to the content of things that will happen “in that day.�? If “in that day�? has not happened yet, then the fountain for forgiveness of sins has not been opened for all yet. Thus, we are dying in our sins and do not have forgiveness, if these are all future events. We must understand these events to be referring to the work of the Messiah in His first coming to the earth. (http://www.apocalypseproject.com/index.php/zechariah-13/)
To be honest, this article was one of the least convincing attempts at an argument I have read in a while. To say that because people aren't saved means that the fountain has not been opened for all yet is strange. I have never heard anyone make such a claim, and I doubt you would. The fact is that no matter one's eschatology, the fact that the fountain is opened does not mean that all who will be saved are already saved. There are clearly some who will be saved in the future, for whom the fountain is opened, but they have not yet repented and believed.

In Zech 13:1, the fountain "will be opened" in that day because of the repentance of "the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem." I don't see any exegetical way to make that refer to anything other than the nation of Israel, not the church. The church is never, to my knowledge, said to be the "house of David" or "the inhabitants of Jerusalem." I don't know how one could cogently make that argument.

So I realize that you did not intend a full treatment of this, and you may not even agree fully with the treatment of the article you cite, but suffice it to say that I think there are a number of holes in the argument that are deserving of more careful interaction, at least for us privately it not publicly here.

Charlie's picture

Larry wrote:

In Zech 13:1, the fountain "will be opened" in that day because of the repentance of "the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem." I don't see any exegetical way to make that refer to anything other than the nation of Israel, not the church. The church is never, to my knowledge, said to be .... "the inhabitants of Jerusalem." I don't know how one could cogently make that argument.

Hebrews 12:18-24 8 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned." 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear." 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Bob T.'s picture

Dispensationalism stands uniquely on Sola Scriptura.

Dispensationalism appears to be a theological perspective uniquely emerging from a Bible only ism (Sola Scriptura) approach to scripture.
1. The Japhetic (European) tradition of theology was inseparably entangled with Greek philosophy with the influence of Plato, Aristotle, and others being conveyed via Plotinus and emerging in Augustine. There is agreed consensus that the Reformers, especially Calvin, were influenced by Augustine. Yet Augustine was terribly wrong on Justification, sacraments, the church, and the Kingdom. He became the primary influence that resulted in replacement of Israel and the kingdom with the blessings and ceremonies reformed and transferred to the Gentile church. This centuries old European theology needed to be purged in order for theology to become sola scriptura.
2. The Puritans brought the entanglements of European theology to the new land of North America. Their devotion and exaltation of Christ is to be appreciated. However, their attempts to bring the European concept of the church in the state initially sought to suppress any emerging theology that saw sola scriptura leading to different perspectives. The great awakenings eventually over powered the old lights and new theological ideas emerged. Subsequent events in Revivalism, emerging denominations, and a desire for Bible truth without complicated philosophical ideas gave birth to new nuances in theology... European influences waned and sola scriptura prospered.
3. Approaching the Bible with minimal influences from the flow of Gentilized European Christian history resulted in the emergence of a true sola scriptura approach that rose above old historical prejudices. The attempt to approach scripture without old influences resulted in seeing the Bible through Shemitic (Hebraic) background rather than Japhetic background. The Hebraic nature of scripture, including the N.T., brought a better understanding of the plan of God. Jesus came as Israel’s Messiah. God's intent of blessing the Gentiles comes only through Israel. Dispensationalism finally systematized theology within the unique election of God for Israel.
4. Historical theology must be studied to understand our errors and appreciate our truth. However, it must not be considered as normative for truth or as an aid to truth. The reality of history must warn us. Why do we embrace a man's ideas yet find it constantly necessary to excuse the life style and actions of some whose ideas we embrace? It is because they are terribly flawed men who can easily teach error. This should lead us to pursue sola scriptura with passion. We certainly must learn from men who also have such a passion, but recognize our obligation to compare their guidance with that which alone has the authority a Holy God.
5. Dispensationalism seeks to take scripture in a normal literary manner (literal, historical, grammatical). This endeavor is made by flawed men but most with a sincere effort to honor the scriptures as the sole authoritative word from God. This is the sole issue involved. To bring in academics, tradition, and history is interesting but not relevant to the final truth of scripture. Many seek to obfuscate the issues with a pseudo intellectualism involving philosophy and history. These considerations are not the relevant issue that moves us forward to truth.
The concept of sola scriptura raises us above who we study under, personal misunderstandings, and intellectualism. We are living through a time of a rising pseudo intellectualism in some sections of Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism. There has arisen a tendency to minimize the apparent and simpler in order to embrace the more philosophical and complex. Alistair McGrath and other experts on the history of Calvinism acknowledge the highly philosophical nature of Reformed (Covenant) theology. Dispensationalism stands as based upon sola scriptura in the truest history and meaning of the term.
The first three centuries of the church saw the church leaders stand upon a future kingdom hope for Israel (Premillenism). Augustine, skewed by a haunting former immoral life and immersion in Greek philosophy, defended well against Pelagius, but got most everything else wrong. He was wrong on Justification, Baptismal regeneration, the sacraments, the church, Israel, and the kingdom. He laid the foundation for Roman Catholicism and centuries of bad theology. Israel was cast aside. The church replaced her. The ceremonies of the temple were modified for Christ and the mass emerged with a continuing sacrifice of Christ.
Covenant theology seeks to speak of the unity and continuity of salvation but rejects the mass and embraces the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ that emerged in the 11th century. They have no mass and carry no lamb to church for sacrifice. They have no continuing Levitical Priesthood and advocate the Priesthood of all believers, including Gentiles. They readily acknowledge the discontinuity of most of the Jewish ceremonies and all the penalties of the law. Yet they try to convince us that there are no Dispensational distinctions for we are all one saved people. The Dispensationalists readily acknowledges continuity in salvation but discontinuity in many aspects of God’s program starting with the entrance of sin and the casting out of the Garden of Eden. They also take at face value the promises of God through the Abrahamic covenant to Israel and find continuity for the saved of all ages and discontinuity that focuses on Israel. This hope of a land and a kingdom was separated as aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant. The Siniatic and Davidic Covenants reiterated these promise to Israel. This is discontinuity to the church. It explains God’s true election of his peoples and gives substance to the future hope we call “heaven” as involving an actual kingdom, king, land, and manifold responsibilities and blessings for all the saved.

Now comes one who in his “journey” casts aside not only Dispensationalism but evidently Premillennialism for Amillennialism. He goes back to the muddle of philosophy and prejudices of European theology. The reformers cried “Sola Scriptura” but were unable to untangle themselves from centuries of bad theology. In reality they did not have continuity and one people of God. They had the ultimate discontinuity of receiving Israel’s Messiah but rejecting the people he came through and to, and purposes of an established kingdom on earth involving elected peoples (plural).

One other observation about this journey. Based on prior articles by John Davis regarding creationism and Cessationism, this is a classic journey into classic New Evangelicalism and its resulting indifferent ism in discerning relationships. He went to Westminster and embraced the teaching of his teachers as he had before embraced the Dispensational teachers he studied under. I went to Fuller and learned from the well qualified scholars but embraced sola scriptura as standing above what the scholarship of men may often conclude. I found the teaching of McCune, Vanhetloo, Lovick, and others to be first class scholarship and closer to sola scriptura than more well known Evangelical scholars who appeared to be more philosophical and themselves working through personal problems and changing opinions.

jpdsr51's picture

[quote=Bob T. ]Dispensationalism stands uniquely on Sola Scriptura.

Based on prior articles by John Davis regarding creationism and Cessationism, this is a classic journey into classic New Evangelicalism and its resulting indifferent ism in discerning relationships. He went to Westminster and embraced the teaching of his teachers as he had before embraced the Dispensational teachers he studied under. quote ]

That's pretty funny, Bob. Thanks for the good laugh!!

church - www.gracechurchphilly.com blog - www.thegospelfirst.com twitter - @johnpdavis

jpdsr51's picture

David Huffstutler wrote:
Pastor Davis (and others who have shared his "journey"):

LET ME SAY AT THE OUTSET THAT WHERE YOU ARE ON YOUR JOURNEY IS NOT AS IMPORTANT AS THAT YOU ARE ON A JOURNEY TO KNOW AND UNDERSTAND WHAT IT MEANS TO FOLLOW CHRIST FULLY.

I appreciate your deep commitment to Scripture and its message as indicated by your many years of study and ministry. I also appreciate the ending emphasis of your original post when you stated, "May we all continue to 'do theology' rooted in humility, exegesis, biblical theology, and community."

With respect to your studies and your road from dispensational to nondispensational theology, I was wondering if you could answer the following:

You realized after your MDiv training that your "training in the Old Testament was weak." Would you say this comment reflects either not being fully introduced to the pertinent issues between nondispensational and dispensational theologies or simply not having a good grasp on the Old Testament as it pertains to knowing the Scriptural content itself?

I BELIEVE MY BIBLE COLLEGE AND SEMINARY TRAINING GAVE MY AN AQEQUATE GRASP OF THE OT AND NT FROM A DISPENSATIONAL PERSPECTIVE. BUT, ONE THAT LEFT ME WANTING MORE ESPECIALLY AS I HAD BEEN READING MUCH BY MEN LIKE BRUCE WALTKE. HE IS THE PRIMARY REASON I WENT TO WESTMINSTER. AT THE SAME TIME I WAS READING 'OUTSIDE THE BOX' AND WAS BEING CHALLENGED AND BLESSED BY NON-DISPENSATIONAL WRITIERS. ALSO, IN MY PREACHING AND TEACHIN, AS I EXGETED TEXT I BECAME MORE AWARE THAT MANY DON'T NEATLY FIT INTO ANY SYSTEM.

As a follow-up question to either answer (or another that you may suggest if my options fail to describe your experience), do you think you would have landed on the side of dispensationalism had you pursued a ThM at a seminary like Baptist Bible Seminary since you would have been strengthening yourself in these matters as taught from a dispensational perspective?

IF THAT'S WHAT THE THM PROGRAM IS DESIGNED FOR AT BB I WOULD HAVE RUN AWAY QUICKLY. i WOULD HOPE IT'S A PROGRAM DESIGNED TO SHARPEN YOUR TOOLS TO THINK FOR YOURSELF NOT TO PRODUCE DISPENSATIONAL CLONES. ALSO, MY JOURNEY OUT OF DISPENSATIONALISM IS NOT A JOURNEY INTO ANOTHER 'ISM' BUT THE FREEDOM TO DEVELOP AND BIBLICAL AND EXEGETICAL THEOLOGY THAT GLEANS FROM ALL THOSE COMMITTED TO THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE WHETHER THEY BE DISPENSATIONAL, COVENANT, OR OTHERWISE.

Last, what would you say have been the practical ramifications of your journey from nondispensational to dispensational theology? Have you had to move from one "camp" to the other as Fundamentalism is largely dispensational, or has your journey led to little to no practical consequences concerning these matters?

I DON''T THINK IN TERMS OF 'CAMPS'. SYSTEMS ARE MAN-MADE AND DO NOT DEFINE THE ESSENCE OF CHRISTIANITY. i AM IN THE 'CAMP' OF THOSE WHO LOVE THE GOSPEL AND I ENJOY THE FELLOWSHIP OF DISPENSATIONALISTS, COVENANT THEOLOGICANS, AND OTHERS WHO SHARE THE SAME LOVE FOR AND CENTRALITY OF THE GOSPEL. I CAN'T SAY THERE ARE NO CONSEQUENCES, ONLY THAT CONSEQUENCES ARE NOT THE CRITERION OF WHEHTER OR NOT TO LIVE WITH THE INTEGRITY OF YOUR BELIEF.

I ask these questions from the vantage of point of a "junior" seminary student at a traditional-dispensational seminary and thus see a point of similarity between you and myself in that sense. Your answers would be helpful.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU ON YOUR JOURNEY AND WHETHER YOU REMAIN A DISPENSATIONALIST OR NOT, I PRAY THAT YOU WILL HAVE A GOSPEL-CENTERED MINISTRY AND ENJOY THE FELLOWSHIP OF ALL THOSE WHO DO.

church - www.gracechurchphilly.com blog - www.thegospelfirst.com twitter - @johnpdavis

Greg Long's picture

John Davis wrote:
i WOULD HOPE IT'S A PROGRAM DESIGNED TO SHARPEN YOUR TOOLS TO THINK FOR YOURSELF NOT TO PRODUCE DISPENSATIONAL CLONES.
What exactly are you saying here, Dr. Davis? Are you saying that colleges and seminaries that teach dispensational theology do not sharpen the tools of their students to think for themselves but rather only produce dispensational clones? Is thinking for oneself and dispensational theology mutually exclusive?

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

jpdsr51's picture

Greg Long wrote:
John Davis wrote:
i WOULD HOPE IT'S A PROGRAM DESIGNED TO SHARPEN YOUR TOOLS TO THINK FOR YOURSELF NOT TO PRODUCE DISPENSATIONAL CLONES.
What exactly are you saying here, Dr. Davis? Are you saying that colleges and seminaries that teach dispensational theology do not sharpen the tools of their students to think for themselves but rather only produce dispensational clones? Is thinking for oneself and dispensational theology mutually exclusive?

The disucssion was on advanced studies (ThM programs) and on the INTENT of the program not the OUTCOME of the program. If the intent of advanced scholarly studies is to determine the outcome then I'd say the program is deficient. If the intent is to sharpen tools to think for one self then whether the outcome is dispenational theology or not is irrelevant. If advanced studies are INTENDED to produce 'covenant clones' then I'd say it's deficient.

church - www.gracechurchphilly.com blog - www.thegospelfirst.com twitter - @johnpdavis

Bob Hayton's picture

Charlie wrote:
Larry wrote:

In Zech 13:1, the fountain "will be opened" in that day because of the repentance of "the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem." I don't see any exegetical way to make that refer to anything other than the nation of Israel, not the church. The church is never, to my knowledge, said to be .... "the inhabitants of Jerusalem." I don't know how one could cogently make that argument.

Hebrews 12:18-24 8 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned." 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear." 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.


Larry wrote:
Not sure how that is relevant

Not sure how that is relevant here, Charlie. Perhaps you could explain.


The relevance seems to be that Hebrews addresses the church and says they have come to a heavenly Jerusalem. Revelation builds on this theme when the bride of Christ, is expressly described as the New Jerusalem. The inhabitants of that heavenly city are believers in Christ. Abraham, (going back to Hebrews) looked for that heavenly city, just as we do.

Regarding the house of David

Acts 15:13-18 has James describing Gentile conversions in terms of God's promise to rebuild the tent of David (quoting Amos 9:11-12).

This, to me, is where the literalism of dispensationalism falters. Literal statements in the New Testament are explained away on the basis of the presumed literal understanding of the Old Testament. We are a couple thousand years removed from those OT promises from the NT authors.

As one studies further, the OT itself often interprets itself in a non-woodenly-literal way. I am bound to interpret Scripture in the manner in which Scripture does. I think the apostles leave us a pattern. Anyway, just wanted to respond to Larry's comment above.

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.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Quote:
The relevance seems to be that Hebrews addresses the church and says they have come to a heavenly Jerusalem. Revelation builds on this theme when the bride of Christ, is expressly described as the New Jerusalem. The inhabitants of that heavenly city are believers in Christ. Abraham, (going back to Hebrews) looked for that heavenly city, just as we do.
Isn't Heb 12 making a list of different things, in which the church is distinguished as a part of that list? In that passage, it does not seem to say that the church is the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and in fact, that passage speaks of the heavenly Jerusalem which, whatever that is, is not what Zech 13 is speaking of, it seems to me.

Quote:
Regarding the house of David

Acts 15:13-18 [Open in Libronix (if available) ] has James describing Gentile conversions in terms of God's promise to rebuild the tent of David (quoting Amos 9:11-12 [Open in Libronix (if available) ] ).

Well, No. James says that what is going on "agrees with" Amos. In other words, based on Amos Jews should have expected the outpouring of grace to Gentiles. This should not have been a surprise or a problem for them, which in Acts 15 it obviously was. James does not say that what is going on there is the fulfillment of Amos 9. I think if we read Amos we can see that it wasn't fulfilled. The house of David was the ruling family that will be rebuilt. That isn't the church. You have a great outpouring of material blessings again, and the restoration of the captivity of Israel. The church was never captive, and so it wouldn't make much sense to refer to them as being restored from captivity. They will "rebuild the ruined cities," which only makes sense if ruined cities are rebuilt. That has absolutely no meaning in the church age. God will plant them on their land and they will be be rooted out again. Again, that makes no sense apart from a restoration of Israel to the land that was their. The word "again" refers to something that happened before. If you want to put that in the new Jerusalem or the church or some such, then you have to show how "again" makes sense. I can't see how does. The promise that no one will "again be rooted out" of the new Jerusalem or out of the church is a little too weird for me. I can't see that in the language. AGain, the exegesis of the passage just doesn't work, and James doesn't say that it does. I think you put James in the awkward place of meaning something that has no basis in the text. And if James can do that, and you follower their pattern, there is no limit to what might be preached or taught from the text. So I don't think James did that at all. I think it is inconsistent with the pattern of NT usage, inconsistent with the meaning and use of language itself, and inconsistent with the teaching of the OT.

As I said before, I think you guys tend to minimize the OT too much. I know you disagree, and that is fine, I suppose. I don't mean any ill will by that, but it seems to me that you rob the OT of any meaning in the text itself. I am uncomfortable with that.

Quote:
This, to me, is where the literalism of dispensationalism falters. Literal statements in the New Testament are explained away on the basis of the presumed literal understanding of the Old Testament. We are a couple thousand years removed from those OT promises from the NT authors.
I think you assume too much about James and not enough about Amos.

Quote:
As one studies further, the OT itself often interprets itself in a non-woodenly-literal way. I am bound to interpret Scripture in the manner in which Scripture does. I think the apostles leave us a pattern.
I agree. But I think that leads to dispensationalism when it is consistently applied. I don't see any place where the NT uses the OT as you suggest.

Thanks for your response.

Bob Hayton's picture

Thanks, Larry, I appreciate your response. I was just trying to show one way that people could see the church in Zech. I don't think justice has been done to the "fountain opened" in that day argument. Is the fountain open now or not? I can see your counter points on the specific passage in Acts/Amos. I think our views of all of Scripture influence our interpretation of those passages at hand. And I think they should. We don't see eye-to-eye but we can disagree charitably. I was just trying to explain the relevance of Heb. 12. I still think it is relevant to the discussion. I probably don't have time for an all out discussion on every facet of dispensationalism right now, and you probably don't either. I'm still growing in my knowledge of Scripture, but I think overall, dispensationalism has many weaknesses and fits Scripture into its own mold.

Blessings in Christ,

Bob

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.

Jay's picture

Joseph wrote:
I have become convinced by my study of historical theology/church history that, had the early church adopted and successfully applied the kind of literalism advocated by Dispensationalists on paper, orthodox Christianity would not have come to exist.

Moreover, the kind of hermeneutical and theological positions and sensibilities that characterize dispensationalism's relationship to the history of the church's thought and Scriptural interpretation seems to me to be sub-sets of the deadly anti-traditional mentality that characterizes Americans especially but also modernity and late-modernity in particular.


Joseph, are you being serious? Are you really arguing that Orthodox Christianity can only exist without dispensationalism? If that is what you're arguing, then what exactly do you mean by "Orthodox Christianity"? You've said several things to the effect of the flaws of a literal hermeneutic, so I'm more than a little concerned about your position, especially since you seem to be circling back to the same points over and over. Your position cannot come from strictly a Covenant theology, as there are many good men and women who hold to the Truth and yet disagree with us Dispensationalists.

I agree with one of your basic premises that the integration of American Culture and Christianity [especially the kind of 'patriotic Christianity' that exists, where Christ's Kingdom and the United States are inseparably linked ] has been a terrible thing. However, to argue that a literal hermeneutic prevents orthodoxy in doctrine indicates profound theological and biblical problems for the so called 'orthodox'.

Without a literal hermeneutic, there is no:

  • original sin
  • depravity of man / sin
  • redeeming work of Christ
  • inerrant, infallible Word of God
  • hope of Heaven

Indeed, without a literal hermeneutic, we are "of all men most to be pitied", as Paul said. While he was defending a literal resurrection of the dead and final judgment in I Corinthians, his words still ring true when applied to this question:

I Corinthians 15 wrote:
1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep...

...Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.


No, Joseph, a literal hermeneutic is the bedrock of Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy, not the death of it.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Joseph's picture

Jay C,

With respect to my posts, you seem to have the habit of responding with great concern prior to having ensured that you understand what I'm saying.

You naively assume that a "literal" hermeneutic is unproblematic, as if that is not precisely what would need to be argued about. You also ignore some of the very specific references I made. Frei's book is one of the of the most important for coming to understand what people such yourself mean when you say "literal," and the historical changes that account for such meaning.

Regarding Early Christianity, you can read Vol. 1 of Jaroslav Pelikan's History of Christian Doctrine, and Henry Chadwick's The Early Church, in which he mentions the connection between Marcion and "literalism," as well as any other good treatments of the development of early church doctrine. Arius, for example, was often very "literal." These kind of considerations are what justify people regarding Dispensationalsits's use of the word "literal" as very naive. The reason Dispensationalist's don't use the word they say they should (e.g. as Bauder has just pointed out) mean, which is "literary," or "historical grammatical" exegesis, which respects the literary character of the text, is because they couldn't unproblematically appeal to the "plan literary/historical-grammatical sense" as they can, conveniently, appeal to the far from obviously yet rhetorically brilliant "plain literal sense." I recommend that you read Poythress's chapter, "What is Literal Interpretation?" which is much shorter and easier reading than Frei's work, which is rather a demanding work which assumes a fair knowledge of hermeneutics, its history, and the history of theology in Europe from the Reformation to the 19C. Here is Poythress's chapter: http://www.the-highway.com/literal1_Poythress.html

For hermeneutics, a still classic introduction is Palmer's Hermeneutics, published by Northwestern UP. Also see Jean Grondin, Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics, which focuses on Gadamer.

Jay's picture

Joseph wrote:
Jay C,

With respect to my posts, you seem to have the habit of responding with great concern prior to having ensured that you understand what I'm saying.

You naively assume that a "literal" hermeneutic is unproblematic, as if that is not precisely what would need to be argued about. You also ignore some of the very specific references I made. Frei's book is one of the of the most important for coming to understand what people such yourself mean when you say "literal," and the historical changes that account for such meaning.


Joseph, If my questions were about Frei or his work, then I should think that I would have asked about Frei or at least checked into reading his book; you certainly provided enough information for an Inter-Library Loan request. I'm not asking about him; I'm asking about your disparagement of the literal hermeneutic.

Furthermore, Arianism and the Marcian heresies are not just a result of the literal hermeneutic, but of other causes as well. Blaming their error on a literal hermeneutic is to grossly oversimplify the root causes for their departure from orthodoxy.

Arianism taught [via Wikipedia ]:

Quote:
Arius endorsed the following doctrines about The Son/The Word (Logos, referring to Jesus, see the Gospel of John chapter 1):

1. that the Word (Logos) and the Father were not of the same essence (ousia);
2. that the Son was a created being (ktisma or poiema); and
3. that the worlds were created through him, so he must have existed before them and before all time.
4. However, there was a "once" [Arius did not use words meaning "time", such as chronos or aion ] when He did not exist, before he was begotten of the Father.

Marcion taught:

Quote:
Marcion affirmed Jesus Christ as the saviour sent by God (the Heavenly Father), and Paul as his chief apostle. In contrast to the nascent Christian church, Marcion declared that Christianity was distinct from and in opposition to Judaism, a radical view given that Christianity was not yet established as a fully-fledged religion separate from and independent of Judaism. Not only did Marcion reject the entire Hebrew Bible, he also argued for the existence of two Gods: Yahweh, who created the material universe, and the Heavenly Father of the New Testament, of which Jesus Christ was the living incarnation. Yahweh was viewed as a lesser demiurge, who had created the earth, and whose law, the Mosaic covenant, represented bare natural justice: i.e., an eye for an eye. Jesus was the living incarnation of a different God, a new God of compassion and love, sometimes called the Heavenly Father. The two Gods were thought of as having distinct personalities: Yahweh is petty, cruel and jealous, a tribal God who is only interested in the welfare of the Jews, while the Heavenly Father is a universal God who loves all of humanity, and looks upon His children with mercy and benevolence. This dual-God notion allowed Marcion to reconcile the apparent contradictions between the Old Testament and the tales of Jesus' life and ministry.

All of that is beside the point. If I misunderstand what you meant by "orthodox Christianity", or why a literal hermeneutic would have prevented the formation of it, then feel free to enlighten me. That's all I'm really after.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Joseph's picture

Jay C,

You can't legitimately be "really after" things I wasn't addressing. You can't snatch snippets of things I say, or phrases I use, and then write a responsible post about them. The meaning of those phrases is derived from the context in which they are used, so the context is not "beside the point.". I never said X and Y heresies are "just a result" of any specific hermeneutic, so you are tilting at windmills, which was the point of my last post. You should at least read the chapter by Poythress; it's quite brief, would probably take no more than ten or so minutes (I'm estimating roughly), and would clarify the kind of problems I was getting at with the naive use of the word "literal."

Furthermore, quoting Wikipedia is not helpful. I don't use or trust wikipedia for anything remotely important; you should consult scholarly sources, not wikipedia, which, even when it's right, is so by chance, not because it's a reliable source.

The claim I made about the early church was testimonial, of the form, "given my study of x, I have come to Y." There's nothing to contest in that. You can say I have come to wrong conclusions, but you would need to actually do comparable study to say so. The context of my original post was my offering a brief narrative of my way out of dispensationalism, it was not a list of theses nailed on the door for argument, so, again, you should be more sensitive to the context of the things you respond to and ask yourself, "What was the person trying to say, have I understood that, would they agree I've understood that, and is what I'm going to say a response to what they said? etc.".

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