Dispensationalism

Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism, Part 23

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 rest of the series.

Below are my final thoughts on the “95 Theses Against Dispensationalism.” I could wish that these criticisms of dispensationalism were less hapless. The system itself is open to more piercing critical analysis than has been demonstrated by the “Nicene Council.” I do not really care whether I am this or that kind of theologian; I do care about being biblical! So if I am “dispensational” in my outlook rather than leaning to Covenant Theology, so be it. As I have said before, I prefer to be viewed as a “biblical covenantalist” and have done with the dispensational moniker altogether. For continuity’s sake I have started numbering where I left off last time.

5. Underlying covenant theology

Although the “95 Theses” make no explicit mention of covenant theology (CT), it is always lurking in the background, shaping the thinking behind the formulations of the Nicene Council. Now it is certainly not a crime to be a covenant theologian. Christians generally have benefitted greatly from some of the work of the Puritans and the Dutch Nadere Reformatie. None can read the works of Boston, Edwards, the Hodges, Warfield, Cunningham, Candlish, Kuyper, Bavinck, Murray, Van Til, and a host of others without benefitting. But I make bold to suggest that none of the really beneficial materials produced by these men—that is to say, nothing that can be shown to come directly from the text of Scripture—is reliant upon covenant theology for its existence, other than the fact that CT has a conceptual, and thus instrumental, genius for promoting abstract thought (no small complement coming from a dispensationalist).

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Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism, Part 22

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.

When I began answering the “Nicene Council’s” 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism I did so to help myself and other readers think through our position. I do not want to stand before God as a dispensationalist if God is against dispensationalism. And as a very fallible human being I hope I shall always be open to correction and reproof on that score.

Nonetheless, after trying to respond fairly in a concise but adequate fashion to the objections of these men I still find myself with both feet planted firmly in the soil of dispensationalism. May the Holy Spirit persuade me otherwise if I am in error in this matter! (I fear the Nicene Council’s work has left me very much where I was before). In that spirit then, I offer the following assorted reflections:

A word about my procedure

The responses I have written have been in line with a primary tenet of mine, which is that the Bible should be left alone to say what it says before the minds of men organize it into a systematic theology. As one who loves systematic theology I naturally want mine to be decidedly scriptural. I have a basic rule that I try to follow: “explication before application.” In simple terms this means that I do not deduce or infer doctrines or make theological connections unless and until I have completed my induction (or exegesis) of the text in hand. Further, I do not bring in the “analogy of faith” rule until I think I know what any given text is saying within its context. I want to give each passage of Scripture “breathing room” to say what it has to say before comparing it to another text or moving on to theological formulations based thereon.

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Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism, Part 21

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 90

Despite the dispensationalists’ affirmation of the gospel as the means of salvation, their evangelistic method and their foundational theology, both, encourage a presumptive faith (which is no faith at all) that can lead people into a false assurance of salvation when they are not truly converted, not recognizing that Christ did not so quickly accept professions of faith (e.g., when even though “many believed in His name,” Jesus, on His part, “was not entrusting Himself to them.”—John 2:23b-24a).

Response

It comes as news to many of us poor benighted dispensationalists that we have one “evangelistic method.” Reformed believers could be excused for giving someone a sideways look were they likewise accused. Similarly, it is a long stretch to throw “presumptive faith” at all of us because it is a symptom of our “foundational theology.” We believe our foundational theology is biblical (or should be). The Master’s Seminary faculty do not fit the description above. After being on a theological faculty at a dispensational seminary myself I can say truthfully that “easy-believism” was abhorred. Many dispensationalists hold the same position on faith as John Calvin; it is a receptacle put in the heart by God. As one African Christian memorably put it, “faith is the hand of the heart.” (in Godet’s Romans). Even those holding tenaciously to Covenant theology ought to take Paul’s advice in 2 Cor.13:5 now and again.

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Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism, Part 20

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 86

Despite the tendency of some dispensationalist scholars to interpret the Kingdom Parables negatively, so that they view the movement from hundredfold to sixty to thirty in Matt 13:8 as marking “the course of the age,” and in Matt 13:31-33 “the mustard seed refers to the perversion of God’s purpose in this age, while the leaven refers to the corruption of the divine agency” (J. D. Pentecost), Christ presents these parables as signifying “the kingdom of heaven” which He came to establish and which in other parables he presents as a treasure.

Response

It has to said that the composers of these 95 Theses have not proven themselves shining examples in rightly representing the opinions of dispensationalists. A quick perusal of several authors (e.g. Pentecost, Things To Come and the commentaries on Matthew by Toussaint and by Glasscock) revealed they believed nothing of the sort about Matthew 13:8, unless, of course, it is the standard view that the four soils represent four kinds of receptors (hearts) and their attitudes to the Word. Those whose hearts receive the Word grow in understanding (Toussaint). Is this objectionable?

On the “Mustard Seed,” Ed Glasscock wisely states, “Trying to identify the birds is useless speculation, and to build doctrine from such obscure analogy is dangerous” (292). He may well be right. Pentecost’s negative view is based upon the way the Lord used “birds” in the previous parable (13:4, 19) so it cannot be brushed aside simply because it is “negative.” Perhaps Pentecost’s interpretation is wrong? Some dispensationalists disagree with it (e.g. Toussaint and Glasscock). Christian interpreters get it wrong sometimes. What one must ask is whether they provide any decent textual and theological arguments for their view. At any rate, one would not expect to be at the pointed end of a “thesis” just because certain brethren didn’t like your “negative” explanation.

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Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism, Part 19

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 82

Despite the dispensationalists’ commitment to the Jews as important for the fulfillment of prophecy and their charge of “anti-Semitism” against evangelicals who do not see an exalted future for Israel (Hal Lindsey), they are presently urging Jews to return to Israel even though their understanding of the prophecy of Zech 13:8 teaches that “two-thirds of the children of Israel will perish” (Walvoord) once their return is completed.

Response

Two things: first, while some people like Lindsey (if we can trust the Nicene Council) do accuse other evangelicals of anti-Semitism, it is by no means all dispensationalists who do. Barry Horner’s Future Israel or David Larsen’s Jews, Gentiles and the Church ought to be consulted on this. Some of my former teachers are eminent dispensationalists (Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Robert Lightner, Thomas Ice) and they are all hesitant to use the term “anti-Semitism,” especially against most evangelicals who happen to hold to a different eschatology. However, a minority of dispensationalists do freely accuse other Christians of anti-Semitism. I have been accused of it myself, because I think our focus today needs to be where God’s focus is—on the Church! Still, I have also encountered mild anti-Semitism many times among some, not all, amillennialists and postmillennialists, who believe the Church is the “New Israel” and are thus eager to assign ethnic Israelites in present-day Israel to the status of a geopolitical anachronism. These people often believe what they hear on CBN about “Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.”

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Supersessionism Rising: Dispensationalism...? Part 2

Republished, with permission, from Voice magazine, Sept./Oct 2011.

Part 1 concluded with the observation that many young evangelicals in colleges and universities have decided eschatology is not very important and that many lay people share that opinion.

Scholarly embarrassment?

Furthermore, and perhaps this is in part the cause of the point just made, it is my impression that Christian scholars, even the biblical scholars and evangelical theologians, are not all that interested in pursuing issues related to eschatology or even in advocating a particular position on eschatology. This is becoming more pervasive among premillennial dispensationalists. This may be (and I think it is) caused by the embarrassment that many of them feel when rubbing elbows with the wider scholarly evangelical community. It is something of a long-standing fact of scholarly life (nearly a “tradition”) that when one enters the “serious academy,” matters of eschatology are relegated to relative insignificance.1

One could recount dozens of testimonies of scholars who grew up in or were saved in churches that regarded the New Scofield Reference Bible with the highest esteem, churches that held Prophecy Conferences regularly if not annually, churches whose libraries were well stocked with the books of Chafer, Walvoord, Ryrie, Pentecost, McClain, Feinberg and the other luminaries of classic dispensationalism. But when those young scholars went off to graduate school or seminary (even evangelical seminaries) they were disabused of those resources and enlightened to the profundities of Ladd, Dodd, Bruce, Barr, and Barth (!)…and these days James Dunn and N. T. Wright among others.

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Supersessionism Rising: Dispensationalism...? Part 1

Republished, with permission, from Voice magazine, Sept./Oct 2011.

In October, 2010 many in the evangelical world were focused on the third Lausanne Conference in Capetown, South Africa. The Lausanne Movement begun in 1974 by Billy Graham, John Stott and others in Lausanne, Switzerland has had only three such major conferences in its over sixty-year history.

The purpose of the movement was ostensibly to unite and focus the efforts of global evangelicalism for the task of global evangelization. The preparations for the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Capetown included papers from several study groups; one such group was the Lausanne Theology Working Group. This group produced a document entitled “The Whole Church Taking The Whole Gospel to The Whole World.” This document was published on the Lausanne website1 and in the January 2010 issue of Evangelical Review of Theology (vol. 34, no. 1, p. 4-13).

In one startling paragraph of that paper the members of the Theology Working Group at first affirmed the unity of the church: “We give thanks that the one Church that God has called into being in Christ is drawn from every nation, tribe, people and language,” but they then went on to assert that “no single ethnic identity can any longer claim to be ‘God’s chosen people.’” The theologians of the Lausanne Movement who produced this document further argued “God’s election of Old Testament Israel was for the sake of the eventual creation of this multi-national community of God’s people.” In other words, they assert that the purpose of the election of Israel was for the creation of the Church! This, of course, is a denial of God’s purposes for the ethnic descendants of Abraham and of a future for the nation of Israel.

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Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism, Part 18

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 80

Contrary to dispensationalism’s teaching that a physical temple will be rebuilt, the New Testament speaks of the building of the temple as the building of the Church in Christ, so that “the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph 2:21); the only temple seen in the book of Revelation is in Heaven, which is the real and eternal temple of which the earthly temporary temple was, according to the book of Hebrews, only a “shadow” or “copy” (Heb 8:5; 9:24).

Response: Note that this objection is a deduction from these passages, not a plain declaration of the texts themselves. Do these passages deny “that a physical temple will be rebuilt”? No they do not. But let’s take a look at some that do teach that a literal temple will be rebuilt in the future (italics added):

Matthew 24:15: Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place.

The geographical context is “Judea” (the next verse), and the eschatological context is “the end” (Matt.24:3, 6, 14, 21, 27, 29-30). The Nicene Council notwithstanding, these verses are not referring to AD 70! They are speaking about a time of “tribulation” (Matt.24:21, 29) occurring right before the Second Coming of Christ (Matt.24:29-31). The “holy place” of verse 15, then, is standing in Judea just prior to Christ’s return!

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