The Changing Face of Dispensationalism

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TylerR's picture

Editor

Take care. You are very passionate about this subject. I am not interested in going further into this topic in a comment thread. Along with the topic of fundamentalism, this is apparently another topic it's better to just not discuss online. I was not attempting to take a "cheap shot" to avoid making an argument, and I grow weary of feeling compelled to be "scholarly" in every comment I make on a flash-point topic. 

The tone of this discussion is not edifying to anyone reading, including me. I just disagree with you, Larry. I encourage folks reading here to consider alternatives to the standard, classical dispensational framework. 

I am going to spend the rest of my afternoon continuing a long-form article I'm writing on the Baptist distinctives. I wish all of you a Happy Easter, tomorrow. 

Caio. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

G. N. Barkman's picture

The blessings are here, they apply to spiritual Israel (ie. the church), and they are spiritual, not material.  The inauguration of the New Covenant reveals a surprising fulfillment of these promised blessings in ways unimagined by OT readers.  That doesn't categorically rule out future material blessings, but it does emphasize the fulfillment that matters most.  It is an example of OT types and shadows being fulfilled in New Covenant spiritual blessings.  I fully understand why DT has difficulty recognizing that the NC was inaugurated two thousand years ago.  It wreaks havoc with DT system.

Failing to acknowledge that the NC is operating presently seems strained to students who are not locked into DT.  NC fulfillment shows us the way to interpret many OT passages.  It is an example of the greater light of the NT bringing clarity to various aspects of the OT.  But that's a tough sell to committed Dispensationalists.

G. N. Barkman

Larry's picture

Moderator

Tyler, I am sorry to hear that. Aside from the comment about "embarrassing," I think it has been a good exchange. I think it has been edifying (again, aside from the comment about embarrassing). I have no idea why you would say it is unedifying.

We need more exegesis. More interaction on the topic. You don't have to be scholarly about it. Just root your views in the text and answer from the text.

I think this exchange does highlight how hard it is to get people to talk about texts, and I think that is a problem. Until we are willing to talk about Scripture, how we can talk about theology?

In the end, I still have no idea what you find embarrassing about Beacham's, Elliot's, and Compton's work. Decker, whom you like, speaks very highly of all of them. So I don't know why you would call it embarrassing. I still would like to know.

G. N. Barkman's picture

The "embarrassing" comment was Tyler's, but I will offer an explanation of why it looks that way to me.  It's because the denial that the New Covenant was inaugurated by Christ's crucifixion seems embarrassing.  It's embarrassing because it refuses to accept the plain reading of several texts in the Gospels and Epistles.  DT has difficulty explaining why the blessings of the NC promised in the Old Testament are now being fulfilled in the church.  To admit that would rock the foundations of DT.  It's embarrassing because DT champions the principle of the literal reading of Scripture, but is unable to read the NT texts about the New Covenant in a straightforward literal manner.  Obviously, something has to give.  If the OT texts, such as Jeremiah 31:31 are understood in the most literal way possible, NT texts will have to be explained in a less than literal and straightforward manner.  Conversely, if the NT texts are understood in the most literal way, some OT texts will have to be understood symbolically.  It's a thorny dilemma.  Everyone will have to come to his own conclusions, but it seems to me that the NT is supposed to be the greater light that illumines the OT.  That is the chasm between DT and CT, and I doubt it will be bridged until Heaven.

G. N. Barkman

Larry's picture

Moderator

The blessings are here, they apply to spiritual Israel (ie. the church), and they are spiritual, not material. 

Where in the NC texts are the NC blessings that are here now? What is your textual basis for calling the church "spiritual Israel" and why do you discount the clear OT identification of the other party to the NC?

The inauguration of the New Covenant reveals a surprising fulfillment of these promised blessings in ways unimagined by OT readers.

Wouldn't this be a problem? If they are unimagined, are they really a fulfillment? 

Walter Kaiser makes a point about this in the Three Views book when he points out that the apostles used the OT to persuade their hearers. If the Messianic meaning was hidden or less than obvious, “how could it have been persuasive for those considering whether Jesus was the one sent from God according to his plans for all eternity?” (Kaiser 2003, 22). If their intent was to convince people, particularly Jews, that the church was the next step in God’s plan (however that might be construed), it would not do to use the OT in a way that was unconvincing. The Scripture would need to be used straightforwardly, in a way that induced as little controversy
as possible.

I fully understand why DT has difficulty recognizing that the NC was inaugurated two thousand years ago.  It wreaks havoc with DT system.

Might you consider that the difficulty is the havoc it wreaks with the text? I can't speak for others, but my concern is not the system. My concern is the text. I would love to believe the NC is in effect now. But I struggle with that because of the text.

I don't think the NC view is integral to the system. (Remember, dispensationalists are supposed to be embarrassed that they are all over the map on this.) So the system doesn't rise or fall on the NC being inaugurated already.

Out of curiosity, can you highlight a few problems you see in Beacham's or Compton's views? Admittedly those are the two views (among the several dispensational views) that I am most persuaded by and partial to. I wonder what you object to in them.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Thanks Greg for your response.

It's embarrassing because it refuses to accept the plain reading of several texts in the Gospels and Epistles.

I wonder what texts you have in mind. The Lord's Supper is certainly a guarantee of the NC, but not a ratification or inauguration of it in any way. Beacham makes the point that covenants are ratified by oaths, not by sacrifices. Romans 11:25-32 places ratification or cutting of the NC after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, which means after the church is complete. 

DT has difficulty explaining why the blessings of the NC promised in the Old Testament are now being fulfilled in the church.

I don't see this one at all because I don't see the blessings being fulfilled in the church. I think your argument assumes that there is no forgiveness outside the NC. I don't think that is true because people in the OT were forgiven. The church is forgiven and, in some sense, participates in that aspect of the NC per Hebrews 8. But again, I find Beacham's critique of Decker (who would hold your position essentially) to be very insightful. 

So I think the burden on your is to show that the blessings the church experiences are only NC blessings (i.e., there is no other basis for them) and that they are an actual fulfillment of the covenant (meaning that only part of the covenant is fulfilled). 

It's embarrassing because DT champions the principle of the literal reading of Scripture, but is unable to read the NT texts about the New Covenant in a straightforward literal manner.

Again, I don't see this struggle. I think we can read the NT texts about the NC in a very straightforward literal manner. But I don't think we can separate it from the OT. The term "New Covenant" has a meaning in the NT that comes from the OT. We therefore have to start with the OT.

Anyway, thanks for the response and interaction.

CAWatson's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

“Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.”

― Isaac Newton

Old Isaac would have had a tough time with dispensationalism.

1. Newton definitely wasn't a dispensationalist. Or even a proto-dispensationalist. 

2. Have you read how convoluted his thinking is on prophecy - especially his work on Daniel and Revelation? While his explanations of physics were relatively simple, his explanations of the Bible were wild and grandiose. The world is ending in either 2016 (didn't happen) or 2060, according to his predictions. 

CAWatson's picture

And for what it is worth, I am of Beacham (He is my doktorvater after all). 

pvawter's picture

I remember finding Elliott's position the most compelling of the 3 views (actually 4 if you include Compton's contribution). I actually think Dave Frederickson's chapter on identifying NC passages is key b/c it clarifies the actual elements and benefits of the covenant. I thought that one of Beacham's weaknesses was his appeal to non-NC texts to make his case, and Decker's view seems to blur the very clear identity of the NC parties in those OT texts.

Rather than an embarrassment, I found the entire discussion to be interesting and thought-provoking. Of course CTs won't understand, because they see the NC in full force with the church. I wouldn't expect them to understand or appreciate the discussion, but the goal isn't to win popularity within the reformed community. It's to rightly understand the text of scripture.

Ron Bean's picture

As I observe dispensationalists discuss their varied views on the New Covenant and I think of similar discussions among them on other aspects of dispensationalism, I'll wthdraw my Isaac Newton quote and submit this one that was sometimes attributed to Bob Jones Sr.: "Simplicity is truth's most becoming garb."

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

TylerR's picture

Editor

I'll re-enter this fray to state I made my comment that the various DT attempts to deal with the NC throughout the past 100 years or so are "embarrassing" because the NT texts clearly apply the NC to the church. I don't believe an ordinary person, without a preconceived DT framework, would ever believe the NC had no application to the church.

  • The most responsible version I've seen is the "church = soteriological aspects" view, which at least acknowledges the force of the NT texts. 
  • The "two NCs" view also attempts to fairly deal with the fact that the NC is clearly for Israel in the future, but it's also for the church now, too. I'm not sure how many people still believe this anymore; Chafer and early Ryrie did.
  • The "church has no participation" view is the weakest and most exegeticaly untenable, in my opinion. My NT professor from Seminary holds this view, so he'd clearly disagree with me very strongly! 

So, I'll withdraw my blanket statement about DT views on the NC being embarrassing, and I'll restrict that to the "church = no participation" view. I think this position is very bad. The other positions attempt to handle the evidence in a fairer way. Basically, I think some DTs have a preconceived system, and sometimes go looking for ways to uphold their system. I understand Beacham would vehemently disagree with me, but I'm far too insignificant a figure for him to worry too much about! Perhaps CAWatson can fight for him ... 

I always remain skeptical about systematic conclusions until I see convincing exegesis. Decker, in his response to Beacham, remarked that dispensationalists (except Compton) have not produced any detailed exegetical work on the key NT passages that deliberately seek to answer why the NC seems to apply to the church. I believe this is still true. For me, that's the whole ball game. That's why, while I find Beacham's discussion of ANE covenants interesting, it doesn't seal the deal for me. The NT texts do. 

I'll use Decker's remark as a challenge for myself, and I'll provide some detailed analysis of these passages at SI as front-page articles, at periodic intervals, over the remainder of 2018. To be sure, they won't be formally published journal articles, but they'll likely approach them in quality. I look forward to the discussions we'll have about this. I want to "settle this" in my own mind once and for all, and look forward to interacting with the DT literature (and y'all) during this process. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

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