Covenant Theology

Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism, Part 13

LookItUpRepublished 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 the series so far.

Thesis 57

Despite the dispensationalists’ claim that Christ could return at any minute because “there is no teaching of any intervening event” (John Walvoord), many of their leading spokesmen hold that the seven churches in Rev 2-3 “outline the present age in reference to the program in the church,” including “the Reformation” and our own age (J. D. Pentecost).

Response: It is true that some dispensationalists have regarded the seven churches as a kind of prophetic outline of church history. But not all have, and it is a mistake to think it is necessary to the dispensational system. Robert Thomas has a lengthy excursus on this teaching in the first volume of his Commentary on Revelation in which he rejects it. This view reflects an unhealthy admixture of speculative historicism to the futurism implicit in dispensational premillennialism.

Still, those who advocate the historical-prophetic view of Revelation 2-3 are careful to say that the churches are types of the visible church in every age, with one type predominating at one particular time. Thus, the prophetic portion is more in the way of application than strict hermeneutics.

As one who holds that it is often precarious to teach doctrine from types I would be glad to see this approach abandoned.

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Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism, Part 12

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 the series so far.

Thesis 53

Contrary to the dispensationalists’ urging Christians to live their lives expecting Christ’s return at any moment, “like people who don’t expect to be around much longer” (Hal Lindsey), Christ characterizes those who expect his soon return as “foolish” (Matt 25:1-9), telling us to “occupy until He comes,” (Luke 19:13 ) and even discouraging his disciples’ hope in Israel’s conversion “now” by noting that they will have to experience “times or epochs” of waiting which “the Father has fixed by His own authority” (Acts 1:6-7).

Response: (I shall address the specifics of the doctrine of imminence under the next Thesis). Let me begin by pointing out the obvious fact that the Nicene brethren run to parables to teach that imminence is unbiblical. The first thing which should be said is that one must first make sure that the parables in question have been rightly interpreted before their proposed teaching can be admitted.

Matthew 25 is within the Olivet Discourse, which some of these men would apply to the church, and the preterists among them would say was fulfilled in AD 70. We respectfully reply that a person could not find the church in Matthew 24-25 unless he was bound and determined to see it there. The passage addresses the Great Tribulation (24:21), which concerns a “holy place” (24:15), “Judah” (24:16), “housetops” (24:17), and the Jewish Sabbath (24:20). Notice the Jewish context!

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Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism, Part 10

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 the series so far.

Thesis 46

Contrary to dispensationalism’s claim that “the Church is a mystery, unrevealed in the Old Testament” (J. D. Pentecost), the New Testament writers look to the Old Testament for its divine purpose and role in the history of redemption and declare only that the mystery was not known “to the sons of men” at large, and was not known to the same degree “as” it is now revealed to all men in the New Testament (Eph 3:4-6), even noting that it fulfills Old Testament prophecy (Hos 1:10 / Rom 9:22-26), including even the beginning of the new covenant phase of the Church (Joel 2:28-32 / Acts 2:16-19).

Response: First, one does not have to be a dispensationalist to hold that the mystery of the Church as the Body of Christ was not known in OT times (see Bruce, O’Brien, Barth). The adverbial conjunction “as” in Ephesians 3:5 is best seen in a descriptive sense asserting the difference in kind which the mystery discloses, rather than a restrictive way whereby more is known now than was known before. Paul is speaking here of the entity which is the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ which is entered into through the Baptism of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). According to Acts 1:5 (cf. John 7:39) this baptism began at Pentecost. It is this new revelation of the Body of Christ which it is crucial to keep in mind since it is just not found in the OT. Further, the mystery was covered up, “hidden,” or “not made known” (3:5), but is now revealed. This surely supports the descriptive sense! It wasn’t half covered up!

Colossians 1:26, which is more emphatic, again refers to that which “was hidden from ages…but now has been revealed.” So there is a strong case against the view that Paul is talking about the amount or “degree” of the mystery that was known prior to the NT. Paul is rather saying that the Church was completely unknown.

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Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism, Part 9

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 the series so far.

Thesis 41

Despite the dispensationalists’ claim that the descendents of the patriarchs never inhabited all the land promised to them in the Abrahamic covenant and therefore, since God cannot lie, the possession of the land by the Jews is still in the future; on the contrary, Joshua wrote, “So the LORD gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it… Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass” (Joshua 21:43,45).

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The Continuity of Theological Concepts: A New Covenant Reading of Old Covenant Texts

While studying and teaching Zechariah 9-14 near Beirut, Lebanon I was challenged to think about the meaning and relevance of those chapters to Lebanese believers who often suffer because of the animosity between Lebanon and the very nation and people who are mentioned in those chapters. Does an alleged promised restoration of Israel and Jerusalem bring comfort or chagrin to believers in Lebanon? After all, are not Arabic speaking believers and Jewish believers in the Middle East the true people of God? Are they not the ones who should expect to share in the triumph of God? Does present day Israel have a “favored nation” status that trumps the “holy nation” of the church (1 Pet 2:9-10)?

Furthermore, does not a similar conundrum exist for those of us who live in North America? Do these texts have anything relevant to say to a largely Gentile church? Do we simply rejoice because ethnic Israel is to be restored or do we rejoice because the triumph which the old covenant nation expected is the triumph that belongs to all of those who are children of God through faith in Jesus Christ? Admittedly, the question of relevancy should not be determinative in the understanding of biblical texts but it does raise questions that might not be raised otherwise.

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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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