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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Yes, "Reinterpret" Is Sometimes Used By Non-dispensationalists

Sometimes I get complaints for claiming that non-dispensationalists believe that the NT “reinterprets” the OT. While I certainly acknowledge that some do not use that specific term, we must be honest and acknowledge that some have. Here is a sample of those who explicitly use “reinterpret” language (note that the emphases below are mine):

George Ladd:   “The Old Testament must be interpreted by the New Testament. In principle it is quite possible that the prophecies addressed originally to literal Israel describing physical blessings have their fulfillment exclusively in the spiritual blessings enjoyed by the church. It is also possible that the Old Testament expectation of a kingdom on earth could be reinterpreted by the New Testament altogether of blessings in the spiritual realm.”(George E. Ladd, “Revelation 20 and the Millennium,” Review and Expositor 57 (1960): 167. Emphasis mine.)

Kim Riddlebarger: “But eschatological themes are reinterpreted in the New Testament, where we are told these Old Testament images are types and shadows of the glorious realities that are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. (Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003, 37).

Kim Riddlebarger: “This [literal interpretation of the Bible] leaves dispensationalists frequently stuck in the awkward position of insisting on an Old Testament interpretation of a prophetic theme that has been reinterpreted in the New Testament in the light of the messianic age which dawned in Jesus Christ.”(Ibid., 38.).

Stephen Sizer: “Jesus and the apostles reinterpreted the Old Testament.” (Stephen Sizer, Zion’s Christian Soldiers: The Bible, Israel and the Church (Nottingham, England: InterVarsity, 2008, 36.)

Gary Burge: “For as we shall see (and as commentators regularly show) while the land itself had a concrete application for most in Judaism, Jesus and his followers reinterpreted the promises that came to those in his kingdom.” (Gary M. Burge, Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to “Holy Land” Theology Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010, 35).

My purpose in offering these quotations is not to claim that all non-dispensationalists use this terminology, but many have and it is right to point this out. If others want to use “interpret,” “transcend,” “fulfill,” etc. that is okay. But let’s be clear that several key non-dispensationalists use “reinterpret” to explain their view. Thus, it is a legitimate term to bring up in the discussion.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Eschatology Seminar Wrapup

Yesterday I shared some thoughts on the Dispensationalism seminar that we completed at The Master’s Seminary. Today another seminar came to an end—Seminar on Eschatology. This, too, was a Th.M. seminar done in a roundtable-discussion format. This course had eleven students. This course was broader than the Dispensationalism seminar and included study of the following issues:

--Models of eschatology (New Creation Model vs. Spiritual Vision Model)
--Premillennialism vs. Amillennialism and Postmillennialism
--Futurism vs. Preterism
--Rapture views
--Olivet Discourse
--Daniel 9:24-27
--Zech 12–14
--Rev 20 and the Millennium

There were also research papers from the students. These included a discussion of the kingdom's relationship to mercy ministries; a theology of water in the eschaton; the literary structure of Revelation; the lake of fire; Jeremiah in the book of Revelation; Premillennialism in the OT; Acts 15’s use of Amos 9; the Eternal State; and the practical importance of eschatological hope.

One issue that came up over and over again was the importance of understanding the relationship between the New Testament and the Old Testament. As with the Dispensationalism seminar there was a strong rejection of the idea that the NT reinterprets or changes the meaning of OT texts. We also observed that there is strong continuity between the OT prophetic expectation and the NT expectation. There are things promised in the OT that even from the standpoint of NT eschatology are still future such as: (a) a coming abomination of desolation (Matt 24:15); (b) a coming salvation and restoration of Israel (Matt 19:28; Rom 11:25-26); a coming antichrist and desolation of the Jewish temple (2 Thess 2); a coming Day of the Lord (1 Thess 5; 2 Thess 2; 2 Peter 3); a future for Jerusalem (Luke 21:24); and the restoration of the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Thus, the student of the Bible must properly discern which aspects of eschatology have been fulfilled and which parts are still future from our standpoint.

In sum, the class concluded that the key to properly understanding eschatology is a sound hermeneutic and a New Creation Model approach that shakes off any remnants of Spiritual Vision Model thinking. God’s plans include spiritual and physical matters, and individual and national matters.

I am excited about the sound theology that these men in this Eschatology seminary will be taking to their pulpits and ministries.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dispensationalism Seminar Wrapup: Some Thoughts on Dispensationalism from a Class on Dispensationalism

 Today we finished a 15-week course on Dispensationalism at The Master’s Seminary. This was a Th.M. course with a roundtable-discussion format (actually our table was rectangular but you get the idea).

The students and I worked through several books both pro and con about Dispensationalism. We spent considerable time evaluating the works of dispensationalists like Charles Ryrie, Robert Saucy, and Craig Blaising and Darrell Bock. We also read a negative book by Keith Mathison in which he launches some serious soteriological charges against Dispensationalism. The guys also had opportunities to interact with others who were negative toward Dispensationalism. Several read Vern Poythress’s book Understanding Dispensationalists. Some read Sam Waldron’s, MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto. One interacted with Kim Riddlebarger’s, A Case for Amillennialism. Yet another read a book by Ronald Henzel that evaluates John Nelson Darby, the father of systematized Dispensationalism. Another offered a strong critique of John Gerstner’s book against Dispensationalism.

I do not want to speak for everyone in the class but I want to offer some general observations about how the class viewed Dispensationalism. These observations are based on comments made throughout the semester, comments in our final two-hour session today, and position papers on Dispensationalism. Again, these are general observations based on the class as a whole. Individual exceptions may apply:

  1. Dispensationalism has undergone significant developments throughout the years but Dispensationalism has a core set of beliefs that have remained stable, namely: (1) historical-grammatical hermeneutics should be applied to all aspects of Scripture including both testaments; (2) the NT does not reinterpret the OT; (3) OT promises and covenants that have not been fulfilled yet must be literally fulfilled in the future; and (4) there will be both a salvation and restoration of the nation Israel in the future.

  1. There is debate among dispensationalists whether the New Covenant and the Davidic Covenant are being partially fulfilled today. But differing views on these covenants does not overturn the major areas of agreement as found in #1 above. Thus the various forms of Dispensationalism whether Traditional, Modified, or Progressive, have more in common than they do differences.

  1. A dispensationalist can be somewhat eclectic in holding to elements of Traditional, Modified, or Progressive Dispensationalism. One does not have to accept one form only and totally reject the others.

  1. Dispensationalism, especially Progressive Dispensationalism, is in strong agreement with a New Creation Model understanding of God’s purposes. Thus, God’s purposes include both spiritual and physical matters. They include both individuals and national entities (including Israel). Dispensationalism does a great job of emphasizing both unity and diversity in God’s plans.

  1. The critics of Dispensationalism err greatly when they attack secondary and non-essential elements of Dispensationalism (rapture or a particular view of the Sermon on the Mount) or treat Dispensationalism as a soteriological system. Thus, the criticisms of Gerstner and Mathison show an utter lack of understanding of dispensational theology. Harsh language and sharp rhetoric may appease some non-dispensationalists but they fall flat on dispensationalists who understand the issues.

  1. Several (not all) critiques of Dispensationalism show an utter lack of familiarity with more recent dispensationalists and tend to focus almost exclusively on early dispensationalists and picking out the 'worst of the worst' statements from these people.

  1. The strength of Dispensationalism is found in its hermeneutic of a historical-grammatical approach to all Scripture including the OT, and its rejection of NT reinterpretation of the OT.

  1. Another strength of Dispensationalism is found in its holistic understanding of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New covenants and how these intertwine with each other. It is better to base one’s theology on covenants explicitly discussed in the Bible than covenants that are not clearly seen or emphasized in Scripture.

  1. Later forms of Dispensationalism that emphasize the importance of the Eternal State along with a Millennium are recognized and applauded.

  1. The barrage of negative critiques from Covenant theologians has caused dispensationalists to examine and reexamine their views, but these negative critiques have not defeated Dispensationalism. In fact, Dispensationalism may actually be stronger now as a result of them. The knockout blow has not come and Dispensationalism is alive and well.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Models of Eschatology Part 7: The Significance of Nations on the New Earth

A New Creation Model affirms the presence of nations not only in the Millennium, but also in the Eternal State. Three references indicate this:

Rev 21:24-26: The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.

Rev 22:3: in the middle of its street On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

It is significant that when we arrive at the final two chapters of the Bible, the ‘people of God’ are called “the nations.” This happens three times. These “nations” were probably in mind in Rev 21:3 when it was stated “and they shall be My peoples” (while many translations have “my people” the better manuscripts have “my peoples” which is laoi in Greek).

These references to nations cannot simply be references to Gentiles in a generic sense since Rev 21:24 mentions “kings of the earth.” These nations have leaders known as “kings” which implies that the nations have leaders that rule over specific nations with geographical territories. These kings bring their “glory” into the New Jerusalem which probably includes cultural contributions. (art, music, food, perhaps?) The fact that the kings of the nations bring their cultural contributions into the New Jerusalem suggests that nations exist outside of the New Jerusalem.

The declaration of Rev 22:3 that “the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” may indicate that the nations in the Eternal State have continuity with nations during this present age. The nations that once warred with each other now experience continual healing and they exist in harmony. If there were no continuity with our present nations why would there be a need to mention “healing”?

The presence of nations also indicates that there is diversity in the Eternal State amidst the unity of salvation that all experience in Christ. Ethnic and functional diversity can exist alongside the unity of salvation in Christ just as men and women can be distinct in gender and function while still experiencing the same salvation in Jesus. The Trinity itself evidences both unity (one God) and diversity (three persons with differing roles). Yes, unity and diversity can exist in perfect harmony!

If one recognizes that “nations” exist in eternity, then certainly there should be no problem recognizing Israel’s role as a distinct nation among the nations. Thus, the presence of nations in eternity gives further evidence for national Israel’s existence into eternity.  Would it not be odd to have differing nations on the New Earth with no nation of Israel present? Isa 66:22 affirms Israel’s perpetuity on the New Earth:

“For just as the new heavens and the new earth
              Which I make will endure before Me,” declares the LORD,
             “So your [Israel’s] offspring and your name will endure.”

While the New Earth will certainly be filled with corporate worship of God, the presence of nations and kings outside of the New Jerusalem indicates that the people of God are involved in more than an eternal church service. The New Earth is full of diversity and activity. One of the greatest miracles which will bring glory to God is the unity that will take place among different ethnic groups and nations as they exist in peaceful harmony and work together to bring glory to our great God.