Tag Archives: Dispensationalism

Eschatology Rewind

Much like a stream meandering through an open field, I’ve somehow managed to digress off of a topic I began several months ago, namely the study of end times (eschatology) and slowly work my way back around to it.  What began with a review of The Meaning of Millennium: 4 Views migrated into some areas of what is known as Covenant Theology (of the Reformed Baptist variety, not to be confused with the Paedobaptist variety of which most people are familiar).  The reason for my unintentional deviation was twofold: 1) In the book review I started, I came to the section on dispensational premillennialism and realized that because it is so much more than a particular view of the end times, and is in fact a system of Biblical interpretation, some background needed to be laid down first. 2) My own personal study needed time to work through these issues and return time and again to Scripture.  Far from exhausting the subject, I’m also halfway through my seminary course on Eschatology (MCTS link) which has proved extremely helpful in clearing up some blurred lines I had.  With all that said, below is a summary of links for blog posts that I’ve scattered around over the last few months which deal specifically with end times, or related topics such as New Covenant membership. 

My hope is to proceed next, in this series, with a review of Herman Hoyt’s position of dispensational premillennialism found in The Meaning of Millennium and then perhaps offer a more direct critique of the view he espouses.  This will likely lead to related post topics such as the distinction between Israel and the Church, the land promise, Abrahamic Covenant, etc.  Lord willing I’ll be able to learn as I go and stay on task, but still have other posts sprinkled through.  Grace and Peace!

Eschatology

Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology

You can find these and other related posts by selecting a category from the drop down list to the left.

Christ: Mediator of the New Covenant, Part 1

In my last few posts here, we’ve been looking at eschatology, or the study of end things.  We’ve taken a parenthesis in this study to examine some thoughts on what the Bible says about covenants.  This is necessary because of the eschatological system that we paused at, dispensationalism.  If you need a quick review of that system, see here Understanding Dispensationalism.  Dispensationalism is more than just a particular view of the end times.  As stated before, it’s actually a hermeneutic, or science of interpretation.  While hermeneutic might sound like a technical, complicated word, it’s really not.  It’s simply describing the way in which one interprets a particular literary work.  As it relates to the Bible, it is the way, or science/system, of interpreting the Bible.  For a more thorough discussion, see here http://www.bible-researcher.com/baugh1.html

In this post, we continue our look at the New Covenant and its membership by concentrating on the Mediator of this covenant, the Lord Jesus Christ (For an excellent summary of Christ as Mediator see this post: 1689 Chapter 8)  By Mediator, it is meant that Christ “mediates” or acts as an arbitrator, between God (the Father) and man.  1 Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”.  John Owen, in his commentary on Hebrews, writes “A mediator must be a middle person between both parties entering into the covenant; and if they be of different natures, a perfect complete mediator ought to partake of each of their natures in the same person.”

We are first introduced to this idea of the mediatorial work of Christ in Mark 14 during the upper room Passover meal of Jesus and His disciples,

“And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.  And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.  Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”  And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”

From this passage we can begin to see the connection between the covenant (New) and the death of Christ, i.e. the shedding of His blood.  This is even more explicitly stated in Luke 22:20, “And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”  Here we see Jesus making specific reference to the New Covenant and its direct connection to His death.

Similarly the Apostle Paul references this connection outlined by our Lord in his first letter to the Church at Corinth,

“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-30

In this particular passage, Paul also references Jesus’ words from the Passover prior to His death.  We see not only the relationship between the New Covenant and Jesus’ death, but also the association with communion, or the Lord’s Supper, with both the New Covenant and remembering Jesus’ death.  This will be important in helping to determine the membership of this covenant.  We have previously asserted (Regeneration) that membership of the New Covenant is limited to the regenerate as evidenced by their repentance and faith in Christ and at this point we must return to that particular question from several posts ago specifically regarding membership in the New Covenant.  As previously stated, only the regenerate belongs to the New Covenant, as seen in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 (It is common language, particularly within Reformed Baptist tradition to assert membership of the New Covenant is limited to the elect, but it would seem clear that it should be more specific, i.e. the regenerate elect).

Despite the promise of the New Covenant in these Old Testament passages, we do not see the inauguration of this covenant until the New Testament, specifically through the death of Christ as noted in the passages above.  So while Jeremiah and Ezekiel inform our understanding of what is to come, it really is incomplete without seeing greater detail that the New Testament provides.  Which brings us to our passage earlier from Paul.  Paul not only quotes Jesus’ statement about his blood and body represented by the wine and bread, but specifically references the New Covenant connection to this communion time.  He follows with this warning, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”  Paul is writing to the Church, i.e. believers, and he is warning them against partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.  Just what this unworthy manner has been of some debate, but what is clear is that Paul is exhorting believer’s to do a spiritual examination of their hearts before they share in communion with Christ, remembering His death and longing for His second coming.  This is important guidance for determining who should partake in Lord’s Supper, which has been identified as a sign of membership in the New Covenant.  By way of implication of this passage, it must be exclusive of believers only, those we have who have been regenerated in their hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Some have argued that membership in the New Covenant is extended to all Israel or all those who are believers and their children.  But this cannot be.  We’ve seen that the New Covenant benefits are for the regenerate and now, on the basis of the New Covenant purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ, we see again that only believers are to partake in the Lord’s Supper because for them and them alone it is a sign of their inclusion in the New Covenant.

Understanding Dispensationalism

Tom_Nelson_Dispensationalism Video is available here: http://dbcmedia.org/sermons/dispensationalism-key-to-the-whole-story-of-god/

The sermon above is by Tommy Nelson of Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas. First let me say that Tommy Nelson is an excellent preacher who is knowledgeable and passionate about God’s Word. His study on Song of Solomon is worth the price and his sermon on Romans 9 is par excellence. However, for as much respect as I have for Pastor Nelson’s preaching, in this particular message on dispensationalism I must disagree.

As a hermeneutic (system or “science” of interpretation), dispensationalism has migrated quite a bit from its inception by Plymouth Brethren, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) and the reference Bible of C.I. Scofield (1843 – 1921). From the work of these early dispensationalists or what might best be called Classic Dispensationalism the system moved to something called Revised Dispensationalism and really began to grow under the influence of Lewis Sperry Chafer, who founded Dallas Theological Seminary. This revised system (which was a gradual shift) is what most people, at least in this country, have been exposed to. So it’s likely that you are familiar with the interpretation of the Bible from the dispensational perspective, but are simply unfamiliar (as I was) with its major tenets and general view of Scripture.

Using the overwhelming popularity of the Scofield Reference Bible, the volumes of systematic theology published by Chafer, and the development of pastors from Dallas Theological Seminary, dispensationalism flourished in the 1900’s and rightly so. It offered a corrective to the liberalism that was taking over the seminary at Princeton, which eventually led to a split and the formation of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. More current works, such as those by Charles Ryrie, John Walvoord, Dwight Pentecost, and perhaps the most well-known modern dispensationalist (though self-described as a “leaky” dispensationalist), John MacArthur[1], have led to the continuation of these beliefs. Today however, another shift has been taking place from this revised dispensationalism to what is called Progressive Dispensationalism. It’s a lot to digest, but I think Church history is extremely important in understanding doctrinal development. It’s also important to be able to understand and recognize what you may hear or read and be able to understand how it fits the larger scope of biblical interpretation.

Below are some key distinctives[2] for dispensationalism:

  1. A distinction between Israel and the Church. As you will hear Pastor Nelson say, this is the sine qua non of dispensationalism. This is probably their most recognizable distinction, but also where I probably have the most disagreement. Some classic dispensationalists went so far as to declare 2 ways of salvation, one for Jew and one for Gentile (a belief that has been alive and well in every Bible study I’ve ever taught). Revised dispy’s moved off of this position, but still maintained a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church in the plan of God. It often necessarily followed that the Church would be removed or “raptured” from the earth while the Jews would remain, allowing for Christ to establish His earthly kingdom and take His rightful place on the Davidic throne. Note how this division necessarily forces a premillennial view of the end times.
  2. A literal interpretation of Scripture. If I’ve heard this once, I’ve heard it a thousand times (and you’ll hear it also in Pastor Nelson’s sermon), only dispensationalist take the Bible literally, at face value for what it is saying. All others spiritualize or allegorize or flatten their interpretation. This is the nailing Jello to the wall argument. This has been the consistent view from classic to progressive dispensationalism (though the latter has backed away some and now rightly prefers the phrase grammatical-historical interpretation)[3]. The problem is that I don’t know anyone who truly desires to be faithful to Scripture who doesn’t take the Bible literally. The difference is that hard-line dispensationalists say the Bible says what it means and means what it says and therefore must be taken at its plain, face-value meaning or what has been termed “literal”. The non-dispy agrees with the sentiments that the Bible means what it says and is the literal Word of God, but understands that the Bible uses genre, figures of speech, types, and shadows and therefore must be understood narrowly in context and broadly in God’s plan of redemption as revealed in the entire Bible not forced into external guidelines. Does Revelation 12:3 refer to a literal “enormous red dragon with seven heads ten horns and seven crowns” or is the Apostle John using a figure of speech to represent an idea. Does God own the “cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10), while someone else owns the cattle on hill #1001? Or is this a figure of speech used to convey a significantly large number of hills, i.e. all of them? Using the phrase literal or plain meaning is not helpful. As Vern Poythress has pointed out, the term is vague and “is a useful watchword…precisely because it can become a vehicle for sliding into a flat interpretation or plain interpretation when it is convenient to do so”.[4]
  3. The glory of God as the primary goal of history. Similar to the literal interpretation statement, this one seems to imply that dispy’s are the only one’s seeking the glory of God, though I’m quite sure that Soli Deo Gloria was around centuries before the development of dispensationalism. As a non-dispensationalist, I see the glory of God as a primary goal of history as well and that doesn’t align me with dispy, it aligns me with the Bible. This really isn’t a good distinction for dispy’s to claim and though I do not want to speculate on motive, one has to wonder if it was expressed with the hopes of creating a (false) paradigm that dispy’s hold to the glory of God and non-dispy’s do not.
  4. Interpreting the NT in light of the OT. Up to this point, the distinctives mentioned are those outlined by Charles Ryrie in his book Dispensationalism (see footnote 2). But there is a fourth distinction that I must include, because as will be shown in the review of Herman Hoyt’s dispensational premillennialism, it, perhaps more than any above, is the chief difference between dispy and non-dispy. If we were to examine the 3 characteristics listed above, #1 would be a matter of trading Bible verses on both sides, #2 would be a matter of clarifying terms, and there would be virtually no disagreement on #3, so dispensationalism would really have no cause to rethink their position, nor would the non-dispy be given any real reason to change their own. However, if it is a matter of hermeneutics, the basics behind all biblical interpretation, then it will either have to be an “agree to disagree” or a very real challenge to the interpretation of either side. The black and white distinctions would be drawn more clearly.

As you listen to Tommy Nelson’s sermon, pay special attention to those 4 characteristics above and do not fail to be Berean-like and test the things he’s saying with Scripture.

I’ll close with a quote from Ernest Reisinger in the Founders Journal:

“This is a Southern Baptist journal, therefore, I must say something about Dispensationalism in Southern Baptist churches. Historically, the Southern Baptist churches were not Dispensational in theology. None of our leading seminaries or colleges ever taught Dispensationalism and to the present day they do not teach Dispensationalism.

I believe I am safe in saying that Dr. Wally Amos Criswell has been the most influential and articulate Southern Baptist Dispensationalists. Dr. Criswell is one of the great, esteemed and respected leaders of our denomination and every Southern Baptist is deeply indebted to him as a defender of the Bible and conservative Christianity. Where and how this great leader got his Dispensationalism I do not know. I do know that he did not get it at Baylor in his college days. He did not get it at Southern in his seminary days, and he did not get it from his great predecessor, George W. Truett, who pastored the First Baptist Church in Dallas, for 47 years before Dr. Criswell. George W. Truett was a postmillennialist.

There are other good men in the Southern Baptist Convention who have Dispensational views, but they did not get these views in our schools or seminaries. They did not get them from our Baptist fathers or from our Baptist historical roots.

We cannot overlook the accomplishments of Dispensationalism. It has given rise to Bible colleges and independent churches all over the land. It has spawned numerous independent missions, independent preachers and missionaries.

The issue before us is not a few minor differences or disagreements between those who hold basically the same position. It is not just a difference in eschatology. It is the whole system of theology that touches every major doctrine of Christianity. What is at stake is the saving gospel of Jesus Christ and the sinner’s assurance that he is living according to God’s plan for history.”

For additional resources on the history of dispensationalism see:

http://www.theologicalstudies.org/resource-library/dispensationalism/421-what-is-dispensationalism

http://www.founders.org/journal/fj09/article1.html

http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/Bad-Theology/Dispensationalism/

 


[1] This is not to say that we all cannot read and learn from these men. Personally I have learned much from the ministry of Pastor MacArthur, both through his sermons and writings, including his study Bible.

[2] The first 3 distinctives are outlined by Charles Ryrie in his book Dispensationalism. You can see them summarized here: http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/Bad-Theology/Dispensationalism/

[3] A consideration of the language as used by a text under investigation in its original, historical context. Grammatical-historical interpretation concentrates on the words, phrases, clauses, sentences, pericopes, book, genre, and historical context – author, recipients, place of writing and circumstances, destination, etc.

[4] http://www.the-highway.com/literal1_Poythress.html