I just received this commentary in the mail having ordered it about a week ago. I normally wouldn’t write a post about how excited I am about my latest book purchase. But this one is a bit special because it fits with the particularly trajectory I’ve been on regarding how I understand the 66 books of the Bible fit together in terms of God’s outworking of his redemptive history.
In a separate post, I’m writing about my departure from dispensationalism a couple of years ago. Now, if you’re not familiar with the term but have spent a significant amount of time in non-denominational churches with baptistic, pentacostal or charismatic leanings, my guess is that you are a dispensationalist and probably don’t realize it. Dispensationalism is a system of seeing the Bible as segmented into separate and distinct dispensations in which God is outworking his purpose with his creation. Dispensationalism considers that Bible prophecies are fulfilled in a literal, historic way such there is a distinction between Israel and the Church. A natural consequence of this distinction is viewing the book of Revelation in exclusively futurist terms in which God will bring certain events to pass in order to save Israel before Jesus’ final return but not before taking the church out of the way through the Rapture. If that is how you read the book of Revelation and believe that God is bringing about a separate plan for Israel than the church, congratulations, you are a dispensationalist.
Now this is a very brief and generalized sketch since dispensational theology has evolved since it’s formal articulation with John Nelson Darby in the latter 19th century. Following Darby’s work, earlier articulations treated God’s distinct treatment of the Israel vs the church in such disparate ways that it left Bible students and scholars thereafter to continually pursue how these distinctions related to God’s redemptive plan through Christ. Earlier articulations, such as under C.I. Schofield and Lewis Sperry Chafer (founder of Dallas Theological Seminary) considered the church as an interruption (or intercalation as Chafer proclaimed) of God’s plan for Israel such that the kingdom of God was deferred until the millennium reign from Jerusalem since it was at that time Jesus would fulfill the Davidic covenant (Rev. 20–interpreting of course that Rev. 20 refers to a literal 1,000 earthly reign). It’s easy to see the charged of two-ways of salvation, especially with Chafer’s dual covenantalism (the reference of new covenant in the NT as something different than the reference in the OT). Revised dispensationalists, such as Charles Ryrie brought some correction to the unnatural dualistic nature of God’s outworking but still considered a future for the millennial kingdom in which God would bring salvation for Israel. Continue reading
Anyone who knows me, knows that I care that doctrinal positions be articulated fairly even if you don’t hold to that position. When we don’t agree with a position, it’s easy for us to make sloppy and sweeping statements or otherwise eliminate distinctions that should be there for a thoughtful discussion. We can tend to paint with broad strokes.
This happens a lot with charges against Dispensationalism, but I won’t go there. No matter whether or how much I move away from Dispensationalism, I will always care that it be treated fairly and will defend correct articulations especially given the modifications that have occurred over time.
So it pains me to raise this charge. One broad stroke, lack-of-distinction statement that I hear made, mainly from Dispensationalists who won’t take the time to understand the church/Israel relationship from a Covenant Theology perspective (there are many thoughtful dispies who do), is that Covenant theology teaches that the church replaces Israel. However, it is certainly not confined to Dispensationalists. In fact, what prompted this post was this article here. I also find that when concepts filter down to a popular level broad strokes and mis-definitions can occur. Even when I more aligned with Dispensationalism, this particular mis-statement made me scream because it does not accurately reflect the difference in positions between replacement and continuity.
Replacement theology advocates for just as it says, that the church replaces Israel because the Jews rejected Christ, they are judged by God. Israel no longer exists. All promises are now transferred over to the church and do not benefit them. It is a minority view and rightly brings up concerns of anti-Semitism.
Covenant theology advocates for continuity between Israel and the church. The church did not replace Israel but is one of the same organism, beginning with Abraham. Under the new covenant it has expanded to include believing Gentiles. According to CT advocates, it is the new Israel. Continue reading
Ask Christians about end times – how will God wrap up this earthly program – and you will get a variety of answers. One answer that I think needs examining is when any response is prefaced with “the Bible clearly says”. I’m going to suggest that such a response ignores the complexities involved in covenant fulfillment, how Old Testament prophecies are related to Christ, Israel and the church, whether Israel and the church are distinct entities, whether there is a literal millennium, how we understand use of the Old Testament in the New Testament, how apocalyptic language is interpreted in relation to covenant fulfillment (however THAT gets interpreted).
We also don’t want to isolate passages and make stringent conclusions without examining how it fits in with the overall fulfillment program. Scott over at Prodigal Thought wrote this piece on the rapture and why he does not believe 1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:7 and Matt. 24 speak to a pre-tribulational event. He makes some valid points. But, this passage may get interpreted as a pre-trib rapture depending on how Revelation is interpreted in relation to Old Testament prophecies, depending on how hermeneutics are employed in reading the OT in the NT, depending on how this relates to covenant fulfillment. Craig Blaising has written much on this topic from his progressive dispensationalist perspective and makes good points as well.
I recently took an Old Testament elective, A Theology of Biblical Covenants. Aside from meeting elective requirements for my degree, I was motivated to take the class to assist with the wrestling I’ve been doing related to covenant fulfillment and how Old Testament promises related to Christ and his body. By the time we got to the new covenant this is what the board looked like.
Simple, right? Class discussion and reading, professor’s statements regarding humility in learning and my own wrestling with the text, reinforced the reality that the Bible does not clearly say how all this works together though we can come to some reasonable convictions. I am grateful for good and godly people who have spent years in study and production of literature to help understand this better both from a dispensational and covenantal perspective. They help bring understanding to these complex issues and will spit us out somewhere in either the dispensational or covenant camp.
Although as one stuck in the middle I am warm to progressive covenantalism as an alternate option. I’ve moved towards a more Christo-centric fulfillment in the present and seeing no distinction between Israel and the church in agreement with the Covenant folks but disagree with them related to new covenant continuity and eschatalogical fulfillment (i.e. amillennialsim). That puts me somewhere in historic pre-mill camp but away from dispensationalism.
So I continue to investigate and wrestle. I’m taking the stand expressed by one of my classmates who’s kind of in the same wrestling boat – “I’m a free agent”. I like that because it frees me from being forced to identify with a particular system. I’ve discovered that the more I study and investigate the more complex these relationships are. The one thing we shouldn’t do is to consider these matters superficially or align with camps simply because of identification. That is when we might err in making the statement “the Bible clearly says”. I have found too that hard lines are drawn too hard and too fast, typically because of alignment with one camp or the other and lack of consideration for alternate perspectives. Reading broadly helps.