Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (13) – Theses 49-52

49. Contrary to dispensationalism’s claim that Christ sincerely offered “the covenanted kingdom to Israel” as a political reality in literal fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (J. D. Pentecost), the Gospels tell us that when his Jewish followers were “intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king” that he “withdrew” from them (John 6:15), and that he stated that “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36).

Response: This charge is easily answered.  The Jews who would make Him king by force in John 6 did not have the right idea of who Jesus was or of the purpose of His mission.  This is made clear by reading the rest of the chapter, where Jesus ends up with only His original twelve followers.  Therefore, the kingdom we read being offered to the Jews by the Baptist (Matt. 3:1-2) and Jesus (Matt. 4:17) was sincerely offered on the condition of repentance and faith.  This repentance was not forthcoming from the nation at large, but the offer was there nonetheless.

But our brothers seem to have forgotten their own theology here.  Surely these men believe in the “well-meant offer of the Gospel” to all people (unless they belong to the PRC), even though not everyone who is offered salvation in the Crucified One will accept it?  If it is not duplicitous of God to offer a non-elect person the Gospel, why is it thought strange when the kingdom is offered to those whom He knows will refuse it?

In order for an individual to be brought into the sphere of the new covenant “in Christ” it is necessary for them to believe in Christ (I do not tarry here to deal with the oddities of some Reformed ecclesiologies).  One can tell the gospel over and over to an unregenerate soul, but unless God opens their heart they will not believe it – however well intentioned the evangelist be.  In the same way the kingdom was offered to national Israel but they rejected it at the first coming (see Rom. 11:13-29).  This will not be the case at the Second Coming (e.g. Zech. 12:10-13:1).  What will be the difference?  Clearly God will open the hearts of His people Israel (see e.g., Deut. 4:29-31; 30:1-10; Ezek. 36:22-37:28; Zeph. 3:9-20) so that they will believe and be saved and changed, thus making them able to fulfill the conditions of blessing within their covenants.   The quotation of John 18:36 pertains to “the present evil world” as Paul calls it, and does not abrogate or spiritualize the literal promises God made to the Patriarchs and the Prophets.

50. Despite the dispensationalists’ belief that Christ sincerely offered a political kingdom to Israel while he was on earth (J. D. Pentecost), Israel could not have accepted the offer, since God sent Christ to die for sin (John 12:27); and His death was prophesied so clearly that those who missed the point are called “foolish” (Luke 24:25-27).  Christ frequently informed His hearers that He came to die, as when He said that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28;) and Scripture clearly teaches that His death was by the decree of God (Acts 2:23) before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8).  Thus, dispensationalism’s claim about this offer implicitly involves God in duplicity and Christ in deception.

Response: I have already addressed some of these charges in the previous answer.  It is true that “Israel could not have accepted the offer, since God sent Christ to die for sin,” but this does not excuse those to whom the offer of the kingdom was made.  According to Romans 1:18-27 and 3:1-3 the Jews had more than enough revelation to respond to the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus and His disciples.  Thus, this question cannot be understood without considering the whole issue of God’s sovereignty and mans responsibility.  That these Jews rejected the message of John and Jesus was their fault, not God’s.

Hypothetically one might ask “what if all the Jews had repented and been born again prior to Christ’s death?  How could Jesus have been condemned by His own people (cf. Jn. 1:11; Mk. 10:33; 1 Thess. 2:14-15)?  How then would Acts 2:23 be fulfilled?  It is true that Christ would still have needed to die for men’s sins, but this produces only an apparent paradox of the relationship between Divine calling and human culpability described above.  Nobody can accept the offer today, even when Christ has died and been raised again, unless God work in them to bring them to salvation.  But whether Christ has come or not the responsibility for a faith-response to God’s revelation is always ours.

All this is hypothetical, but it is not contradictory.  The fact remains the Jews did first have the kingdom preached to them (Matt. 10:5-7) before Christ died for their sins.

51. Contrary to the dispensationalists’ belief that Christ “withdrew the offer of the kingdom” and postponed it until He returns (J. D. Pentecost), Christ tells Israel, “I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it” (Matt 21:43) and “I say to you, that many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 8:11-12).

Response: What an interesting phenomenon it is to see just when non-dispensationalists decide to take the Bible literally!  The rule seems to be: ‘If it is against the nation of Israel is is literal.  If it promises that nation blessing it is symbolic.’

Examining the context of these two passages will help us.  Matthew 21:23 tells us to whom Jesus is speaking.  It is “the chief priests and the elders of the people,” (read v.45) not the whole nation.  [In passing, it is curious to note how men like John Gill escape the implications of Matthew 23:37 by arguing that Jerusalem refers to the Jewish leaders only.  One can do anything with such hermeneutics].

Matthew 8:11-12 does have in view the people in general, but any reader of Matthew who is not bent on damning the Jews using this text will read on and see that the Lord was not through with Israel (Matt. 9:35-38; 10:5-7; 23:39).  It is hardly stretching credulity to believe that “the sons of the kingdom” does not include every Israelite in inter-advent history.  And if that is so – and who would deny it? – then using Matthew 8 this way proves too much.  Is it too much to suggest these brethren study Romans 11:11-12, 15, 20-25 without viewing it through some supposed covenant of grace?

52. Despite dispensationalism’s commitment to Christ’s atoning sacrifice, their doctrine legally justifies the crucifixion by declaring that he really did offer a political kingdom that would compete with Rome and made him guilty of revolting against Rome, even though Christ specifically informed Pilate that his type of kingship simply was “to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37), leading this Roman-appointed procurator to declare “I find no guilt in Him” (John 18:38).

Response: First, a slight consideration of passages like John 1:3, 10; Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 1:2-3 will bring this objection into perspective.  This world is rightfully Christ’s, to do with as He wills.

Second, Christ’s kingdom is the one spoken of in Daniel 2:34, 44-45 which see.  It doesn’t “compete” with any other kingdom!

Third, as obeying Christ’s command in Matthew 28:18-20 involves many of His followers in breaking the laws of their countries one might suppose the Nicene Council would apply their logic to evangelism and missions.  After all, isn’t Christ the One who commands us to obey Him rather than the law of the land if that law runs contrary to His will?

Why would anyone think this was a serious objection to Dispensationalism?

In responding to these Theses so far I am more and more impressed with the fact that these objectors are determined to see nothing in Scripture but their own precommitments.  This is the only explanation I can think of for the inanity of such criticisms of Dispensationalism.

I am not against solid criticism.  We all need it, and “Classic” Dispensationalists are not good at self-criticism and hence development of their system.  But some of the theses remind me of certain atheist objections to Christianity or evolutionist objections to creationism.  They are fueled by antipathy rather than sound reason.



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15 comments

  1. It’s interesting to me that many, if not most, of the alleged difficulties proclaimed by the authors of the “95 Theses Against Dispensationalism” have already been answered somewhere in dispensational literature. My observation is that disp has been misunderstood, misrepresented and ridiculed – often by people who haven’t even opened a page of Ryrie’s “Dispensationalism”.

    Appreciate your efforts.

    1. I do agree almost all the answers to the objections are already found in leading dispensational scholars writings that have been in print for a very long time.

  2. You are spot on. There is a lot of willful ignorance of Dispensationalism, even among those calling themselves “Progressives.”

    From the Reformed perspective this is understandable. It doesn’t fit with Covenant theology. As I have said many times before, it does not gel with their “Covenant of Grace” so it must be wrong. I also believe their is some (not always) hidden anti-Semitism involved. It’s the only way I can explain some of their antipathy to a “Jewish” millennium.

  3. Paul,

    Based on one’s exegesis (whether respected or not) and the subsequent supremacy of Christ seen in the progress of revelation you bring the charge of “…anti-Semitism…”

    In a word? YIKES One of the blessings of leaving DT for CT was the passion I experienced for those not only living but defending the gospel. In fact, I am convinced those most faithful (and successful) at defending the purity of the gospel are CT (i.e. Ferguson, Sproul, etc.)

    As another word of caution, for the integrity of gospel ministry, let your exegesis drive your arguments . . .

    JCH

  4. JCH,

    My two cents; tho Paul is well able to respond for himself.

    I guess I’m still wet behind the ears but the very reason I follow Paul’s blog is that I think he’s capably shown that exegesis drives his responses to the 95 Theses.

    As for a passion for the gospel, I don’t know how one is able to objectively quantify that a CTer is more passionate than a dispy.

  5. JCH,

    Once more your remarks appear to be aimed, not at my responses themselves, but at something said in the comments section. I have been careful to state a number of times that many CT’s are not anti-Semitic. Still, a reading of Barry Horner’s book “Future Israel” would be a sobering lesson about CT anti-Judaism as he calls it. Knox Seminary’s “Open Letter to Evangelicals” on Israel and the Church presents Israel as the aggressor and accuses it of “seizing Palestinian land. And if you want a gathering of CT’s to go quiet suddenly all you have to do is start talking about Israel. “The Church is Israel Now” as one book has it. Really? Then I suppose the nation of Israel is NOT Israel anymore? That may sound a tad anti-Semitic in the ears of a Jew.

    I am glad for you that you experienced “passion…for those not only living but defending the gospel” when you went over to CT, though I’m not exactly sure I know what you mean by that statement. And your impressions about the success of Ferguson & Sproul are noted. But this is all pretty subjective isn’t it?

    You leave off by cautioning me for the sake of “gospel integrity” to “let your exegesis drive your arguments.” Well, I agree with that sentiment, which is why my arguments against the non-exegetical propositions of the 95 Theses were indeed exegetically based (I make reference to the “sloppy exegesis” of the Nicene Council in my Reflections on the 95 Theses (2) which you may care to peruse).

    Perhaps you will take your own advice to heart next time you comment and write something less subjective and more exegetical? Then I can interact with you at a different level. This dearth of exegetical reasoning is evident in the 95 Theses themselves. Maybe you could supply what is lacking? If so, I look forward to hearing from you. Perhaps you have seen some things I have not?

  6. Paul,

    You are corrent as my reference is to your comments in what you have entitled “musings.”

    When you comment “…I also believe their is some hidden anti-Semitism involved…It’s the only way I can explain some of their antipathy to a ‘Jewish’ millennium…”, you have taken the work of men (whose commitment to the gospel far exceeds what I have experienced in my lifetime) and leveled sinful (anti-gospel) motives. And thus my “yikes” comment.

    While you and I have disagreement in interpretation and hermeneutics (and subsequent understanding of Israel/Church), I believe it is best for the integrity of our discussions that we allow our study to determine our positions.

    I hope your challenge for me to write something more exegetical was not an attempt to skirt the issue. As you have stated my challenge is to your comments and not your theological positions. I have heard the “racist” arguments before and they (as you failed to cite) are ridiculous. The most faithful men to the gospel are those who happen to hold a different eschatological views than you hold. This is why I challenged your quip.

    Keep in mind, the same thing could be said of DT. Why is it that with the growth of dispensationalism we have seen great support for groups like “Jews For Jesus” and not “Muslims For Jesus”? Silly example? Yep. But who really are the racists? The Church? Maybe… I will leave that to those involved in pastoral ministry to give an account.

    May He increase . . . and (you and) I decrease,
    JCH

  7. JCH (whoever you are),

    Please read the books I recommended above (re: anti-Israel views of SOME CT’s) and actually do some exegesis I can respond to.

    Your “faithful men” statement above is quite subjective and beside the point. Truth is not decided by counting noses.

  8. You are missing my challenge to you. One last response and I will give you the last word:

    (1) My challenge to you has nothing to do with your exegesis (though I disagree with your hermeneutic and subsequent interpretations). You continue to ask for exegesis while my comments are centered on your supposition that some CT are anti semitic and are not directed toward your theology.

    (2)The faithful men I refer to are those on the front lines defending and living the gospel. Sinclair Ferguson, R.C. Sproul, Horton, Duncan, Bridges, Keller, etc. This has nothing to do with nose counting but men who in my study have a gospel understanding, passion, and priority second to none. There is nothing subjective about this and you simply are missing/skirting the point that exegesis drives these men and not the sin of racism.

    (3) Bringing in the anti-semitic argument has nothing to do with strenthening your position and in my view only confuses the issues at hand. Beware, the tables could easily be turned on this point and I doubt you want them to (i.e. muslims for jesus).

    (4) You, like myself, have blind spots and errors in our lives and theology. It doesn’t appear in your “comments” section that you understand this. It is my conviction that if you continue to create straw men arguments (CT are racists) you will lose integrity in your “scholarship.”

    (5) Finally, I challenge you to examine your heart. Pride comes through in your comments and it’s easy to be blind to this (especially as me who desire to want to understand and live the truth). As one brother to another, my desire is not to win arguments but see you become more like our Lord Jesus in your theology and discussions.

    Only in Christ,
    J. Christian Harris (fellow granburian and family friend)

  9. Christian (I am glad I now know I am not dealing with someone who just likes to argue),

    Let me respond to you in order:

    1. You say your challenge had nothing to do with exegesis. But your initial comment challenged me to “let exegesis drive [my] arguments.” This is how mac took it, whose comment follows yours. I picked up on that line because I so heartily agree with it and felt “yikes” when you seemed to accuse me of not doing it. Likewise, in your second comment you write: “I believe it is best for the integrity of our discussions that we allow our study to determine our positions.” Again, I took this as you suggesting I did not study. If this was NOT your challenge I apologize, but it did come across that way to me.

    2. Yes, these men are committed gospel men – and I applaud them (you are aware that I could enlarge the list considerably). But your original comment was that you think these men are the most faithful and successful at defeding gospel purity, and I question the objective basis for your opinion (that is what you were giving). Are you saying these men are more godly than their non-CT counterparts? If so, how do you know?

    3. By definition “Muslims for Jesus” is nonsensical since Islam is strongly against the real Jesus. By contrast, Jews ought to embrace their Messiah. My comment about some (not all) CT’s entertaining a hidden anti-semitism stands and is documented in Horner’s book (as well as those by David Larsen and others). I called attention to Knox Seminariy’s “Open Letter” which seems slanted to Palestinians and depicts Israel as the aggressor. What is more, I have personally encounterered anti-Israel views when speaking with CT’s (recall I also attendind a CT seminary too).
    Let me ask you brother, is the Church the true Israel or is Israel still a nation before God? As I’m on the road I do not have access to works I would need to cite (one ref. I would cite would be H. C. Hoeksema’s “The Voice of Our Fathers” which contains a disparaging comment on the Jews).

    4. I appreciate the brotherly concern you express here Christian, but I did not say “CT’s are racists” I said some CT’s have a hidden anti-semitism which is true. I shall write a full post on this when I can to clarify my position. Again, the “Open Letter” at Knox’s Wittenberg Door gives the impression that DT’s are all overly pro-Israel and not concerned with Palestinians. Doubtless this is true of some DT’s.

    5. Again, I thank you for your sincere concern as expressed here. The “pride” you sensed in my comments was a defensive tone I sometimes take when criticized by those who do not identify themselves. Many bloggers would not allow an unidentified person to comment at all, since one does not know who one is communicating with). Yes, I do struggle with pride and I need to be made aware of it. For that I thank you. Still, I hope these replies help you see that it was not my intention to skirt your challenge.

    Your brother,

    Paul

  10. I told you that you would have the last word and I meant it (I don’t like to argue but I still believe your racism charge is a blind spot and only weakens your arguments) BUT you did ask a question and so I will answer.

    You asked, “…is the Church the true Israel or is Israel still a nation before God?” I assume you know my answer but I will respond by reference Ephesians 2:11ff – There is NO DISTINTION between Jew and Gentile. Only Christian. Obviously Israel is still a nation but physical, genetic, biological Jews do not nor will they play a special part in the progress of the Kingdom of God. And yes, I do believe that while the new covenant people of God can be referred to as the Israel of God, the household of God, the temple of God, the country of God . . . I prefer the Church.

    On a side note, whenever I explain my position to ethnic Jews . . . they agree with me! They are not offended. Nor do they think that I am a racist. Now when the church exalts the biological jew over the biological muslim in it’s gospel ministry . . . ahhh never mind. 😉

    1. JCH said:
      “Why is it that with the growth of dispensationalism we have seen great support for groups like “Jews For Jesus” and not “Muslims For Jesus”?”

      JCH said:
      “Now when the church exalts the biological jew over the biological muslim in it’s gospel ministry.”

      The Jews are a race of people. The muslims are NOT a race of people, they are adherents to a religion. Muslim is not a race. A “biological muslilm” is nonsense. “Muslims For Jesus” is an oxymoron. “Jews for Jesus” indicates biological members of the Jewish race who have trusted Jesus as their savior.

      JCH, your attempt to equate racism against Jews with opposition to the muslim religion is short-sighted and abrasive.

  11. Christian,

    I did not say CT’s were racists and I did not use any charge of anti-Semitism to bolster my argument. I replied to a comment that I have noted a hidden anti-Semitism (or anti-Israelism) in SOME CT’s writings. I have given you works to repair to where this is documented, and I have told you that I have encountered it. I hope my position is clear to you.

    I intend to write more on this subject to clarify my meaning, as well to address the recent shift by CT’s to speak in terms of “expansion” rather than “replacement”.

    Your brother,

    Paul

  12. My intent was to warn. I did. And if clarity abounds than praise His name. You and I have talked about the problems using extreme – fringe DT or CT – to defend our positions. In the circles I run, I wonder if you and I are reading the same guys. For years now I have NEVER heard the term “replacement” in Covenant cirles . . . only by DT in a prejorative sense. Weak. Why? It does not come close to defining what we believe.

    Love you!

    JCH

  13. Christian,

    I am not in the position right now to demonstrate why I and many others (including non-dispensationalists) prefer to speak of replacement rather than expansion. I have some notes for a better response which I hope to write later in the year. I have already cited a book by Provan called “The Church is Israel Now” subtititled “The Transfer of Conditional Privilege” published by Ross House. I do not intend to be pejorative (though I admit it could sound that way). If the term does not come close to describing you then you are not a replacement theologian, but it does come close to describing some others who are CT’s.

    Anyhow, perhaps we can pick this up after I write that article?

    Love you too brother

    Paul

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