Covenant Theology

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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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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Why I Am a Dispensationalist

I was reared in a conservative Lutheran church and school where dispensationalism was a term of derision and began life as a most unlikely candidate to become a teacher of dispensational theology. Today, however, I am deeply committed to classical dispensationalism and feel so strongly about this position that it affects every aspect of my belief and practice. Why am I now a dispensationalist? I offer seven introductory reasons.

1.  Dispensationalism understands the relevance of the entirety of Scripture.

Teachers in the denomination I grew up in employed several catch phrases when they came to difficult prophetic sections of Scripture. They would speak of “closing the Book” or talk of passages like Daniel 7-12 or Revelation 4-20 being “filled with mystery.” Preterists and other non-dispensationalists also cloud such portions of Scripture by speaking of them in terms of “apocalyptic language” which is incapable of clear, systematic interpretation (especially futurist) and fulfillment.

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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).

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