The Need for a trusted Dispensational Resource Center

A piece I wrote for a new venture: http://dispensationalpublishing.com/

 

The expression of theology known, for better or for worse as Dispensationalism, has always had important things to say to the Church, and to the world.  To the Church it has commended an approach to the text of the Bible which prioritizes what is properly called, despite some caveats, the “literal” method.  Taking this approach to the reading of the Testaments does not mean that there is a one-sided understanding of the text to which all must acquiesce: a kind of hermeneutical flatland which we should all find ourselves in if we are fully onboard with this school of thought.  No, although there are always small-minded people who will expect us not to break step; a vibrant and healthy theology will entertain the considered viewpoints of various contributors who, because they are less than perfect, because they cannot see everything, employ a prima facie interpretation and bring their best efforts before their peers and move the conversation forwards within its parameters.

Dispensationalism also speaks to the Body of Christ about the relative importance of the two Testaments.  In an era when more and more the voice of the Old Testament is being all but muted by theological pre-understandings of the New Testament in influential circles, a robust alternative which gives no preference to either part of Scripture is pertinent now more than ever.  What we need is a group of well-informed sophisticated yet humble contrarians to assure us that God means what He says in both to whomever He is talking, and that faith trusts that God will fulfill His Word despite the obstacles which finite reason and historical vicissitude use to fuel their objections to the plain-sense.  Faith cannot but resign itself to believing the words as they are spoken.  If it tries to reinterpret the words as different words it is never quite sure if it has gotten the translation right.  And so it is never sure just what it is to believe.  A vibrant Dispensational (but I would want to say “biblical-covenantal”) theology will always start us off with the plain-sense and will always return us there.

Dispensationalists have not always done themselves many favors.  They have sometimes squandered the opportunity to make profound long term contributions to the Church via detailed commentaries, biblical and systematic theologies and the like, for the sake of short term pragmatic and populist goals.    Dispensationalists are not, or should not be, fixated on the defense of a system.  Any approach to theology must be concerned with only one thing – its adequacy as an explanation of the whole Bible.  We may be persuaded that we have gotten certain things right.  That is a good thing.  But the last word will not be said in this life.  We must take seriously the obligation to explore and expound the Scriptures as we try to improve on what we know (and what we think we know).  The explanatory power of Dispensationalism has often been concealed behind the well-meaning but rather myopic views of its defenders.  Not that it does not need some trained defenders, but much more it needs knowledgeable and courageous exponents.  We have work to do to make dispensational theology more prescriptive.  We like to call it a system, but we have often been less than adventurous in our proposals for a systematic expression of the Dispensational outlook in all areas of theology and its attendant disciplines (e.g. worldview and apologetics; biblical counseling).  “Why reinvent the wheel?” the satisfied objector complains.  Okay, but can’t we improve the wheel a bit?  Can’t we look the whole thing over and tighten things up here and iron out a problem or two there?  Can’t we make it run better and farther?

This is what I want to be a part of.  I want to read brothers and sisters with whom I agree.  But I need to be disagreed with, and I want to feel free to disagree and then explore our disagreements in a convivial setting.  That is what I hope this Dispensational Publishing House will allow us to do.  Perhaps then we may read about the relevance of the biblical covenants for the Christian understanding of God?  Or the debate about the New covenant will ask whether the same principles which attach it to the nation of Israel in Jeremiah 31 are being employed when attach it to the Church in 1 Corinthians 11?  Do we have any thoughts about the prevalent “Cosmic temple” motif which has galvanized amillennialism of late?  What are the limits of “literal” interpretation?  In fact, are we sure we comprehend any working definition of what “Dispensational-ism” is and should be?  And how can we be Christological without piously imagining we find Him in every verse of Scripture?  These are big questions and there are many more.

That there is a need for such a center as this is clear enough.  Speaking personally (as I have been throughout), I wish Randy White and Paul Scharf well.  May the Lord bless and be honored by their project!  Having had edifying correspondence with Paul Scharf in the past I am only too happy to recommend the Dispensational Publishing House.  I truly hope contributors will find the freedom to explore all the big questions from within the hermeneutical and theological scope provided by that oft maligned but comprehensive approach to Holy Scripture we have always called “literal”.

 

Paul Martin Henebury

President, Telos Ministries & Telos Institute

 

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13 comments

  1. PS — I realize he explicitly is not advocating KJVO. But that he’d make a point of this odd position? As if he’d said, “Oh, and by the way, while we’re talking about distinctive fundamental convictions, I prefer to watch TV with two layers of aluminum foil wrapped around my head.”

  2. “They have sometimes squandered the opportunity to make profound long term contributions to the Church via detailed commentaries, biblical and systematic theologies and the like, for the sake of short term pragmatic and populist goals.”– Can you give an example or 2 please.

    “We must take seriously the obligation to explore and expound the Scriptures as we try to improve on what we know (and what we think we know).”

    As I understand it the development of dispensationalism is understood to be generally headed in the right direction (Dan 12:4) as it respectss everal area’s of theology

    Do you mean “prescriptive” in this way: ? ot in a different manner. :
    (of a right, title, or institution) having become legally established or accepted by long usage or the passage of time.

    “Cosmic Temple” — new to the term is this what you are talking about?:

    The Cosmic Temple Inauguration View of Genesis One
    ________________________________________

    ________________________________________
    By John Walton | Friday 28 October 2011
    Understanding an ancient text such as Genesis 1 requires us to consider issues the way they would have. A foundational issue is how they thought about existence. Ancient peoples believed that something existed when it had a function. This is in contrast to our belief that existence is tied to material properties. This position views Genesis 1 as an account of functional origins rather than an account of material origins. We must also recognize the cosmos functions as sacred space�a cosmic temple concept, which conveys the idea that God has established order in the cosmos which has become his dwelling place. The seven days concern the inauguration of the functional cosmic temple rather than the time over which the material cosmos came into existence.

    1. Well Doug, those are quite a few questions. Here are some short answers:

      1. Squandered opportunities – When Dispensationalism had the ear of evangelicals more than it does today, they were content to proceed along populist and pragmatic lines irrespective of the longer term reaction and the inevitable compromises (with e.g. charismatics) that ensued. Then there is the awful stagnation which DT got stuck in due to resting on its laurels. No new and noteworthy work since the 70’s.

      2. I have addressed this before at this blog. Dispensationalism is resistant to critique and improvement, yet the nature of dispensations, not to say the question of what weight the Bible actually lends them, has not been explored. My complaint has been that DT must either be able to produce a full theology or it cannot qualify as a theology.

      3. By “prescriptive” I mean that DT does not prescribe a way forward. It does not suggest paths to go down or trajectories for the theology to treat. Reason? Because it does not have those suggestions to make!

      4. By “Cosmic Temple” i have in mind the work of Levenson, Beale etc has caught on in Reformed Biblical Theology. Walton’s concerns are more of an apology for his theistic evolutionism than the eschatological program of Beale. I do not deny some Cosmic Temple possibilities, but I think they are stretched much too far. Still, how would a DT utilize this motif?

      God bless,

      P

      1. Quote: “Walton’s concerns are more of an apology for his theistic evolutionism than the eschatological program of Beale. ”

        I hadn’t come across the Cosmic Temple concept before, but I am seeing some innovative interpretations of Genesis. One popular scholar suggests Adam wasn’t the first or only created being. These people obviously want to rescue Genesis from science.

  3. Paul, I thought it is good that you are taking part in Randy White’s initiative. There is a trend that Dan Phillips’ end of dispensationalism (Reformed-ish) refuses to talk with the Randy White end (he is conservative Southern Baptist, I think he is a moderate Independent Fundamentalist Baptist-type), and vice versa. From my observation the Reformed-ish end has a good theological understanding over why Jesus’ death on the cross is paramount and the importance of the church in this dispensation, but is seriously deficient over the role of morals in society and non-believers in particular (again I’m fellow billing at a toe kingdom theology end of reformed circle, and as the likes of Fred Butler as advocated, better to talk about the gospel than morality when engaging with non-believers), the world as an enemy of the Christians, God’s kingdom outside the gospel, and Creation. This is where I think the fundamentalists have lot to teach us. I know a number of my friends are deeply uncomfortable with Reformed teachers because they are unwilling to talk about morality in social issues and take a stance over separation (surely exceptions exist such as Bill Muelenberg, but for every Muelenberg you have ten Matt Chandler or Mark Driscoll).

    Okay enough of a soapbox, you don’t have to agree with everything I said above, but this is what a lot of dispensationalism a further removes from the reformed circle think in general. I thought Paul being a bridgto both ends could help redress the divide, and change the whole dispensationalism camp for the better.

    1. ” I’m fellow billing at a toe kingdom theology end of reformed circle”

      Should be ” I’m fellowshipping at a two kingdom theology end of the reformed circle”

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