Series - 95 Theses

Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism, Part 7

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

Thesis 31

Despite the dispensationalists’ strong commitment to the “plain interpretation” of Scripture (Charles Ryrie) and its dependence on Daniel’s Seventy Weeks as “of major importance to premillennialism” (John Walvoord), they have to insert into the otherwise chronological progress of the singular period of “Seventy Weeks” (Dan 9:24) a gap in order to make their system work; and that gap is already four times longer than the whole Seventy Weeks (490 year) period.

Response

The 70 Weeks prophecy is not at all unusual in containing a long time-gap between one aspect of its fulfillment and its final consummation. As with so many other OT prophetic passages, one often finds predictions of the first and second advents sandwiched together without any apparent time lapse. An example is Micah 5:2:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.

Nobody doubts the literal truth of this prophecy when it speaks about (a) the place of Messiah’s birth, or, (b) the pre-existence of Messiah. But there is a hermeneutical decision that has to be made about the prediction regarding, “the one to be Ruler in Israel.” Those who prefer what might be called the “selective-allegorical” approach will say that Christ is now ruling spiritually over the Church, the “New spiritual Israel.” Dispensationalists will look for a more literal interpretation of this part of the prophecy in line with the two other parts. They are encouraged to do this because this is not the only prophecy of an actual Messianic Rule over ethnic Israel; a prophecy that is yet to be fulfilled (cf. Isa. 9:6-7; Jer. 33:14-17; Lk. 1:31-33).

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Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism, Part 6

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

Thesis 27

Contrary to the dispensationalists’ claim that “prophecies in the Old Testament concerning the first coming of Christ … were all fulfilled ‘literally’ ” (Charles Ryrie), many such prophecies were not fulfilled in a “plain” (Ryrie) literal fashion, such as the famous Psalm 22 prophecy that speaks of bulls and dogs surrounding Christ at his crucifixion (Psa 22:12, 16), and the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy regarding the virgin, that “she will call His name Immanuel” (cf. Luke 2:21), and others.

Response: The premise behind this objection is that since the Bible employs figures of speech and imagery it cannot be interpreted “literally.” The beasts in Psalm 22:12, 16 are literal men. They symbolize the animosity of the people towards David, and, prophetically, towards Christ on the Cross. The poetic use of these beasts only intensifies the literal predicament being expressed.

The Isaiah prophecy is fulfilled in Christ since He is, literally, “God with us.” But here at last we are presented with an issue which might give us pause. Mary called Him “Jesus.” Does this mean that we are to infer that Mary did not call Him “Immanuel”? It is true that on the basis of this passage some may have expected the Messiah would receive the proper name “Immanuel,” when in fact, this was a descriptive identification of Christ’s person.

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Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism, Part 5

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

Thesis 24

Despite the dispensationalists’ partial defense of their so-called literalism in pointing out that “the prevailing method of interpretation among the Jews at the time of Christ was certainly this same method” (J. D. Pentecost), they overlook the problem that this led those Jews to misunderstand Christ and to reject him as their Messiah because he did not come as the king which their method of interpretation predicted.

Response: It is not advisable to refer to dispensational interpretation as “literalism”—so-called or otherwise, since this leads to misunderstandings and misrepresentations (see below). It is far better to treat the Bible the same way one would treat any other book. It seems preposterous to us to scout around for an alternative hermeneutics just because the Bible is the Word of God. In fact, it is precisely because the Bible is the Word of God to man that one would expect it not to require some esoteric interpretation unless very good reasons could be given for doing so.

Although some evangelicals would disagree, we think there is great wisdom contained in these words of Peters:

If God has really intended to make known His will to man, it follows that to secure knowledge on our part, He must convey His truth to us in accordance with the well-known rules of language. He must adapt Himself to our mode of communicating thought and ideas. If His words were given to be understood, it follows that He must have employed language to convey the sense intended, agreeably to the laws grammatically expressed, controlling all language; and that, instead of seeking a sense which the words in themselves do not contain, we are primarily to obtain the sense that the words obviously embrace, making due allowance for the existence of figures of speech when indicated by the context, scope or construction of the passage. (George N. H. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, 1.47)

That many Jews in the time of Jesus expected Him to fulfill the Word by setting up His literal (not spiritual) messianic kingdom at His first advent was due in part to their not realizing that He must first suffer and become “sin for us” (Isa. 53) before He would come as king (e.g. Matt. 26:64, 27:11 with Dan. 7:13-14) They did not see that there would be a time-gap between the first and second advents (see Mic. 5:2, Isa. 61:1-2, Lk. 1:31-33).

Unless they are heretics, all Christians believe in a time gap between the advents. And they do this, not by employing some allegorizing hermeneutic (which would be suspicious as an apologetic), but rather, by believing what the Bible says. Christ will come again (Lk. 18:8, Jn. 14:1-3, Acts 1:11, Rev. 22:20).

Finally, how strange it was that those who were closest to Him, who heard more of His teaching than anyone else, should ask Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Apparently not only did they expect a literal earthly kingdom in line with OT predictions, but they also appeared not to think the Church was the “New Israel”! And Jesus said nothing to alter their expectation!

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Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism, Part 4

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

Thesis 18

Contrary to the dispensationalists’ structuring of law and grace as “antithetical concepts” (Charles Ryrie) with the result that “the doctrines of grace are to be sought in the Epistles, not in the Gospels” (Scofield Reference Bible—SRB, p. 989), the Gospels do declare the doctrines of grace, as we read in John 1:17, “For the law was given by Moses; but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ,” and in the Bible’s most famous verse: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

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Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism, Part 3

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

10. Contrary to the dispensationalists’ commitment to compartmentalizing each of the self-contained, distinct dispensations, the Bible presents an organic unfolding of history as the Bible traces out the flow of redemptive history, so that the New Testament speaks of “the covenants [plural] of the [singular] promise” (Eph 2:12) and uses metaphors that require the unity of redemptive history; accordingly, the New Testament people of God are one olive tree rooted in the Old Testament (Rom 11:17-24).

Response: Dispensationalists see the dispensations (divine economies) as a biblical way of viewing the history of providence (See e.g. Renald Showers, There Really is a Difference). They believe these dispensations, or at least some of them, can be derived inductively from the Scriptures (e.g. Eph. 1:10, 3:2. cf. Jn. 1:17, Rom. 5:13, Gal. 4:1-5).

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Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism, Part 2

Republished with permission from Dr. Reluctant. In this series, Dr. Henebury responds to a collection of criticisms of dispensationalism entitled “95 Theses against Dispensationalism” written by a group called “The Nicene Council.” Read Part 1.

7. Despite the dispensationalists’ general orthodoxy, the historic ecumenical creeds of the Christian Church affirm eschatological events that are contrary to fundamental tenets of premillennialism, such as: (1) only one return of Christ, rather than dispensationalism’s two returns, separating the “rapture” and “second coming” by seven years; (2) a single, general resurrection of all the dead, both saved and lost; and (3) a general judgment of all men rather than two distinct judgments separated by one thousand years.

Response: We have commented above (see Response to #6) on the the fact that the major creeds were written after chiliasm (early premillennialism) preponderated in the early centuries. (G.N.H. Peters’ great work, The Theocratic Kingdom, 1. 494-495 mentions 15 early chiliast sources). For example, Victorinus of Pettau’s (d. 304) Commentary on Revelation was definately chiliast according to David L. Larsen, The Company of Hope, 70-71.

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Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism, Part 1

Republished with permission from Dr. Reluctant.

Series introduction

Monergism.com, that excellent source for all things Reformed and Covenantal, has posted rebuttals of Dispensational Theology on its website. Included is a set of sixteen lectures by James Grier and a series of “95 Theses Against Dispensationalism” brought together by a group of believers (most—if not all—of them Partial Preterists) calling themselves by the collective nom-de-plume, “The Nicene Council.” There is also a DVD out criticizing this pernicious doctrine that I and many others hold.

From other posts, I have made it clear that I believe the title “Dispensationalism” is unfortunate in that it focuses attention more on the proposed economies within the history of revelation and away from the identification and outworking of the biblical covenants. This leads to misunderstandings and some lack of priority even within the ranks of adherents of the system.

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