Review: 40 Questions About Biblical Theology

A Review of 40 Questions about Biblical Theology by Jason S. DeRouchie, Oren R. Martin, and Andrew David Naselli, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2020, 400 pages, paperback.

How does one review a well-written and well researched book on Biblical Studies that one disagrees with almost entirely? That is the position I find myself in with this book. DeRouchie, Martin, and Naselli are all subscribers to the fast-spreading approach to the Bible called “Progressive Covenantalism”; an approach first annunciated for most people by Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum’s Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, which I reviewed here.

What this means is that fans of New Covenant Theology are going to really like this book, fans of Covenant Theology are going to approve of much in it (even though CT draws some criticisms), “Essentialist” (to use Joseph Parle’s word) and Progressive Dispensationalists are going to like it a lot less, and “Biblical Covenantalists” (that’s me) are going to really take issue with it. I say this so that my biases will be clear.

Now that I’ve made that point, I do want to say that the authors have done a very good job of explaining their positions. The 40 questions they pose are extremely well chosen. Moreover, their tag-team works in unison throughout the proceedings. They also write clearly and persuasively. I am sure this book will convert many to their side. I am half inclined to do a series on how the Biblical Covenantalist would answer the questions (although don’t expect 40 responses).

So before going off on what I disagree with about this book, I want to state that if a person wants to know about Progressive Covenantalism (PC), or if they want to know how evangelicals in the American academy generally (whether PC or CT) do Biblical Theology, look no further. This is a book you should get. If you want to know some reasons why I don’t like it, read on. Understand that my space is limited. My copy is literally filled with question marks, objections, and the like.

40 Questions About Biblical Theology is broken down into five parts. Part One has nine questions on “Defining Biblical Theology.” Part Two has ten questions about method, including descriptions and critiques of Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism, both of which are well done. Part Three is about themes such as “Mystery” (Q.21), “the Covenants” (Q.22), “the People of God” (Q.24), and “the Land” (Q.29). Part Four has some examples of the use of earlier passages by later authors, and Part Five is about Application. I shall not be dealing with the latter two sections here.

Part One includes agenda setting questions like, “How Does Biblical Theology Help Us See Christ in the OT?” and “How Should Biblical Theology Approach Typology?” The longer definition of what they are doing is as follows:

“Biblical theology is a way of analyzing and synthesizing the Bible that makes organic, salvation-historical connections with the whole canon on its own terms, especially regarding how the Old and New Testaments progress, integrate, and climax in Christ.” – 20.

I am going to utilize this definition for most of the comments which follow.

Okay, the first thing I look for (and expect to find) in such definitions is a statement of how the approach climaxes with Christ, or is fulfilled in Christ. Once I see that I ask one question: does it climax in Christ’s first coming or second coming? I know the answer before I pose the question, but the response will determine how they will argue and what they will have to resort to in order to argue that way. The answer comes back as expected; the climax they are speaking of is at the first coming (e.g. 29, 51, 52, 59, 67, 68 n. 14, 225, etc.).

Now if you take the first coming as the “climax” of most of the Bible’s storyline you are going to have to find ways of packing an awful lot of pesky OT covenant prophecy into the first half of the first century A.D. When you have done that you are free to declare things like, “Every significant whole-Bible theme climaxes in the person and work of Jesus the Messiah” (59), and, “God designed some types to repeat and develop through the progressive covenants before they climaxed in Jesus” (85), and “The age of eschatological fulfillment has come in Christ” (96). Hence, “if God gives you eyes to see” (86) this first coming fulfillment, you will agree with the authors. If you don’t think most of the OT covenants are fulfilled at the first advent then you have “missed the point” and are not interpreting Scripture like Jesus did (see 53).

The definition given above also (and typically) focuses in on redemptive history, which is there called “salvation-history.” Redemption is what the story is all about. Salvation spectacles are what you should be wearing (20, 43. 58-62, 193, etc). The basic outlook is this: “In Christ [i.e. at His first coming], God fulfills what he promised. Christ realizes what the OT anticipates.” (225). But this position is simply assumed, and it not coincidentally aligns well with a first coming approach. Conversely, a second coming approach, where many of the covenanted promises of God are awaiting fulfillment, is not just focused on redemption. Of course redemption is important, but so is the judgment of Satan and the demons; so is the Kingdom; and so is the glory of God. Even redemption does not always refer to the first coming, as the books of Hebrews and 1 Peter make clear (e.g. Heb. 1:13-14; 5:9; 9:28; 1 Pet. 1:3-9 ; cf. Rom. 13:11).

I have already quoted this above, but it deserves another airing. The authors all believe: “The age of eschatological fulfillment has come in Christ” (96). How does this effect their interpretations? Here’s how they continue:

“As a consequence of the preceding presupposition, it follows that later parts of biblical history function as the broader context for interpreting earlier parts… One deduction from this premise is that Christ [at His first coming] is the goal toward which the OT pointed and is the end-time center of redemptive history, which is the key to interpreting the earlier portions of the OT and its promises.” (96-97, emphasis in original).

So “the broader context” has the final say, but only if it is understood to mean that the earlier parts of the Bible must find their telos in the first advent. This necessitates any covenant or prophetic oracle in the OT, no matter what it states, being brought under submission to the hermeneutical requirements of the Cross and Resurrection (the progress. integration, and climax parts of their definition of biblical theology above). How is this done? The old way was via spiritualizing and supercessionism, but today’s amillennialists repudiate such terms (240). No, the big gun in the armory is typology (85)! Here are some samples:

“[P]rogressive covenantalism does not see the church as directly extending or fulfilling Israel. Rather, Christ is the antitype of Israel, who fulfills Israel’s identity, purpose, and mission such that in Christ the church inherits all the covenant blessings.” (68)

“Paul argues that Adam is a type of Christ: Adam is the covenantal head of the original creation, and Christ is the covenantal head of the new creation (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45-49).” (82-83).

“The antitype eclipses the type. The type is but the shadow; the antitype is the substance.” (85).

“The Rest God gave His old covenant people on Saturdays is a type, and the Rest Jesus gives His New covenant people every day is the antitype.” (262. This is a sub-heading).

“[H]ow the NT fulfills the OT promises strongly influences the progressive covenantal understanding of typology, which sees Christ [in His first coming] as the ultimate antitype of all previous types.” (192).

That last quote is revealing as regards method, but it ought to read: “The progressive covenantal understanding of typology, which sees Christ [in His first coming] as the ultimate antitype of all previous types, strongly influences [our view of] how the NT fulfills the OT.” That spells it out better I think.

In light of this, to calmly claim, “Sometimes significant connections between promise and fulfillment involve typology” (74) is a massive understatement. Symbolism and typology are where it’s at when it comes to understanding the story of the Bible. But observe; if types are but shadows, and OT Israel is a type, and the Church “inherits all the covenant blessings,” isn’t this just replacement theology with a smile? Truly, what chance does an OT covenant promise to national Israel (like Isa. 11:11-12; 62:1-12; Jer. 12:14-17; 31:27-40; Ezek. 34:11-31; Zech. 14:16-21; Zeph. 3:9-20) have under these conditions? None! Only those which “fit” the prescribed first coming telos are admitted. The others will be dealt with by the “first coming hermeneutic” as I like to call it.

The authors wish to engage the whole canon of Scripture “on its own terms.” What does this part of their definition mean? Again, for anyone familiar with this form of Biblical Theology (it makes little difference whether it is PC or CT), the answer is that the whole of the Bible is the “final context” (52). Perhaps the clearest declaration of this is found on page 144:

“Meaning is not limited exclusively to what the human author intended, but also to what God intended, which becomes clearer as revelation progresses until it reaches it fulfillment at the canonical level.”

We are advised that “biblical theology should keep the whole canon in view even when studying the various parts.” (145). So while we are trying to do exegesis of a particular passage “we must read every passage in the context of the completed canon” (Ibid). Surely I cannot be the only person to see that what is being recommended here is precisely backwards? Just when is a person in a properly qualified position to know the whole Bible entirely correctly so that he can accurately exegete a single passage of it? Where is the place for inductive exegesis in this arrangement?

One can accomplish virtually anything by these means. For instance, you can chop up the Abrahamic covenant to make some troublesome part – the land promise to ethnic Israel – go away. On page 225 the authors insist that the “Mosaic covenant fulfills stage one of the Abrahamic covenant: single nation, Israel, occupies the Promised Land.” (cf. 194). Did DeRouchie, Martin, and Naselli read Jeremiah 31:23-36 or 33:14-26? Yes, they cite some of these verses (e.g. 190; 286). They cite Jeremiah 33 but are careful to dance around God’s unconditional promise to the Levites in 33:18, 21-22, or God’s warning in verse 24:

Have you not considered what these people have spoken, saying, ‘The two families which the LORD has chosen, He has also cast them off’? Thus they have despised My people, as if they should no more be a nation before them. – Jeremiah 33:24.

But that’s alright, “progressive revelation” culminating at the first advent will furnish the real meaning to those with “the eye of faith” (145).

There is simply too much to critique in one small review, but before leaving I want to say that despite the show of scholarship, the overall impression made upon me was of a lack of definition and precision on crucial questions; questions such as these:

What precisely do the authors think covenants are meant to do?

If covenants can change their meaning what is the point of making one? Especially if one swears an oath to do something for another and ends up doing something different?

How can faith flourish when false expectations are raised based on what God promises to do?

How can there be “five major salvation-historical covenants” (43) when only one of them (the New covenant) contains any elements of salvation terminology in its terms? Isn’t the constraints of a salvation-historical straight-jacket making them salvific when they are not?

Why was there no discussion of the covenant with Phinehas?

How can you use typology as a driving mechanism for your system when typologies depend upon and corroborate that very system?

Since the OT prophecies regarding Christ emphasize what we know as His second coming above His first coming, shouldn’t we just believe those texts literally without cramming everything into a first century fulfillment? Can’t we just throttle down on the question-begging typology and believe that what God has covenanted to do He will indeed do?

A “Must-Read” Booklist For Those Who Want To Study Theology (2)

Part One

I said in the last post that I would continue where I left off, so let me say something about books covering other aspects of Systematic Theology first.

The doctrine of man and sin require some strong representation in these days. Since the books by Ryrie, Stott. Lightner and Boice already mentioned treat these issues well I shall not add any other books to the list with the exception of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s The Plight of Man and the Power of God, and Jeremiah Burroughs’s The Evil of Evils. Yes he’s a Puritan, but he is one of the easiest Puritans to read so there’s no excuse. Thomas Watson (another Puritan!) wrote a small book called The Mischief of Sin which I also recommend. For those who want to think through the craziness that is gender and body politics today and want to be grounded in truth I recommend Nancey Pearcey’s Love Thy Body.

What about the Church? I don’t much care for Mark Dever, but his little book on The Church is good. If a person wanted one book on the doctrine of the church I would direct them to Robert Saucy, The Church in God’s Program.

Now we get to the End Times!!! I am a Dispensational premillennialist so my bias is towards books which teach a literal seven-year Tribulation followed by a literal thousand-year reign of Christ, after which comes the Great Judgment and then the New Heaven and Earth. I also believe that Israel and the Church are distinct entities or peoples, who together with the Nations will comprise the one and many people of God in eternity. That was a mouthful, but the following works aren’t. Robert Lightner’s The Last Days Handbook and Paul Benware’s Understanding End Times Prophecy both fit the bill very well.

I said last time that I would include some books on the Christian Life, Biblical Studies, and Apologetics, and so I shall. My picks for the Christian Life are C. H. Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening , Arthur W. Pink’s Practical Christianity or Life of Faith. J. C. Ryle’s Holiness or Practical Religion and William Wilberforce’s Practical Christianity. I do not recommend everything Pink wrote because of his early habit of emphasizing things like types and ‘law of first mention’, and also his overly strident Calvinism and sometime tendency to criticize, but he is a great author. Perhaps balance him with J. Sidlow Baxter’s His Part and Ours. Ryle is brilliant and practical; Wilberforce is fervent and sensible.

There are many other great books on the subject, but there are a truckload of plain awful ones too. one more I would put in there for those who experience struggle in their sojourn is Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s ill-titled Spiritual Depression. None of these books are particularly easy reading, but neither should they be. All are read-able.

Up next are a few books in the broad category of biblical studies. Here are several books on diverse subjects: first I think Michael Vlach’s He Will Reign Forever is a must. It is a grand tour through the storyline of the Bible. It will repay your effort. Then there is Creation and Change by Douglas Kelly, which is an excellent defense of six day creation. Of course, one must add to that a work like Thousands not Billions edited by Donald DeYoung. but I’m getting into Apologetics now, so let me briefly draw back long enough to recommend Peter Lewis’s The Glory of Christ, Understanding Spiritual Gifts by Robert Thomas. and, believe it or not, 40 Questions About Heaven and Hell by Alan Gomes.

And so to Apologetics or the defense of the Christian Faith. I think the first thing I want to say is that it is wise to watch out for the perspective of the apologist. What I mean is that you should ask yourself whether the author is writing from the position where the divine nature or Scripture is presupposed or not. As a Christian you have been saved from the darkness and transferred to the light. It is unwise to think as though that has not happened to you. Therefore, while commending them, I will indicate below by an (<) where the author steps out of a Biblical outlook to argue back into it. Anyway, here goes:

For the right apologetics approach I recommend Greg Bahnsen’s book Always Ready. It is invaluable. I ought to include here that Bahnsen’s lectures are all now available for free through Covenant Media Foundation. While I do not subscribe to his Covenant Theology or his views on the Law, I think Bahnsen’s skills as a Christian apologist and philosopher are first rate. Get busy! Two books by J. P. Moreland (<) are Scientism and Secularism and Scaling the Secular City. Then the British publications Genesis For Today by Andy MacIntosh and Hallmarks of Design by Stuart Burgess are warmly recommended. J. Warner Wallace’s (<) Cold-Case Christianity and James R. Edwards’ (<) Is Jesus the Only Savior? are both good (Edwards’s book is somewhat challenging), and James Spiegel’s (<) The Making of An Atheist is very good. Speaking of Jesus, it may be written by a Roman Catholic but I really like The Case for Jesus by Brant Pitre (<). Something like Ron Rhodes’s (<) Big Book of Bible Answers is a worthwhile compendium of “facts.”

To finish off this post I want to put in a punt for Jason Lisle and his book The Ultimate Proof of Creation; a first class orientation to thinking from the Bible while defending it.

Next time I shall say something about Worldview, including thoughts on Francis Schaeffer and C. S. Lewis. I shall then end the proceedings by turning to Church History and biography.

A “Must-Read” Booklist For Those Who Want To Study Theology (1)

I received this question recently:

“Thank you for all the material you put out. I have benefitted quite a bit. Do you have a list of books/reading that you would recommend as “must read” for someone wanting to grow theologically? I am a part-time worship pastor and full-time elementary music teacher. Previous experience as lay/part-time church planter, youth pastor, and young adult pastor. No seminary, relatively studied, conservative theologically.”

As it’s nice to receive such requests (I remember doing the same thing many years ago) and I want to encourage study I thought I would respond in full.  I intend to split my lists between “Introductory” and more “Advanced.”  I know that not everyone is drawn to study or even read theology (there is a difference). I am pretty useless at many things, but it appears I have some ability to do Theology. I love it, my bookshelves are full of it, and I have taught it at various levels from Sunday School to Graduate level for years.  But how to write a decent list of books for those interested in it? I have already provided some help on Systematic Theology here (but that list badly requires updating), and Biblical Theology here (I need to add a few more volumes), and I did a booklist for Dispensationalism too.

What I have decided to do is jabber. I hope that decision is not the wrong one, but here we go. Naturally, there are books that could be in the list but aren’t, either because I have to be limited or because I have forgotten them (I am writing this away from my library). I will give my selections on the various topics with a little banter added.

For Those Beginning Their Theological Journey:

The first book any believer ought to be studying constantly is of course THE BIBLE!  Get to know it. That means you will have to be discipled to read a lot every week. When I started out I was blessed to be challenged by a missionary by the name of Dean McClain to read ten pages of the Bible per day. That came out as going through the Word of God about four times a year. There is no substitute. Commentaries won’t do it. Seminary won’t do it (since when did students read the Bible constantly at Seminary?). I don’t know how many graduate students (yes, Masters degree students) I have asked about their Bible reading who put their hands down once I reached “5 times” reading it through. I don’t think anyone has any business doing a Masters in Bible or Theology until they have read the whole Bible at least 10 times. You will have to do it. Not only will your soul be fed and your mind properly furnished, you will develop a sense of whether what you read elsewhere has any merit. It won’t turn you into a great theologian, but there is nothing like it for honing your theological chops.

Be careful which Bible you choose. Don’t have anything to do with paraphrases. Neither mess around with dynamic equivalence translations like the NIV. I recommend the NKJV or the NASB or the old KJV. The ESV is alright, although it has its problems, particularly in various prophetic passages. As far as Study Bibles go, there are several good ones if you wish. For a start, as a budding theologian you want one which will give you the cross-references that help you link the doctrines together. For this reason I personally don’t recommend the Scofield Bible. It is good, but it is geared toward Dispensationalism, not so much for Theology, which means that it often fails to provide the cross-references to study Systematic Theology. Better is the Ryrie Study Bible, and the MacArthur Study Bible. But I don’t want to get into Study Bibles here, so I will move on. I’m actually not a big fan.

After the Word of God itself there is one other book you must read: The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. This book hardly needs a recommendation from me, but it should be read and reread. There are many good editions. My favorite is the one edited by C. J. Lovik.  There’s a really well done Study Guide by Maureen Bradley.  

With that under our belts we are ready to push off from the shore. The first two subjects to look to are the doctrine of Scripture and the doctrine of God. On the former I recommend The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture by Rene Pache. This is a superb treatment for those investigating this essential doctrine for the first time. There is also a good book with the same title by A. W. Pink. Since it is arguably the most assailed doctrine of all, another good book to read is Noel Weeks’ The Sufficiency of Scripture.

Approaching the doctrine of God I would go for the inevitable Knowing God by J.I. Packer. I am not Packer’s biggest fan, mainly because he was too willing to compromise on issues (see also John Stott below). But this is a great book. I do have to say that I was very impressed when I heard Packer lecture on Laurence Chadderton in London years ago. He was very impressive as a scholar and as a humble man.  The Attributes of God by A. W. Pink contains great thoughts on God’s majesty and perfections. Books on the Names of God by Andrew Jukes or Nathan Stone ought to be purchased. Continue reading “A “Must-Read” Booklist For Those Who Want To Study Theology (1)”

God’s Actions Correspond With His Words (Pt. 2)

Part One

We see another instance of the constancy of God’s word in the intertextual links of the seventy years prophecies:

“Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove.” – Exodus 23:10-11 (cf. Lev. 25:3-5).

The seventy years captivity was an in-part fulfilment of the “fallow year” requirement:

And those who escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon, where they became servants to him and his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years. – 2 Chronicles 36:20-21.

Speaking of Jeremiah, this was what he said:

And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then it will come to pass, when seventy years are completed, that I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity,’ says the LORD; ‘and I will make it a perpetual desolation. – Jeremiah 25:11-12. (cf. Jer. 29:10).

And this in turn is what provoked Daniel to pray in Daniel 9:2.

I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the LORD through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.

If God’s actions did not follow His words Daniel could not have been certain about the seventy years’ coming to an end. Here we are reminded that faith must have something clear and constant to hold on to; it cannot cling to shadows and allegories by definition (Heb. 11:6). Additionally, even though the judgment was a long time coming, the seventy year rest for the land was the accumulation of its neglected sabbaths over the centuries (cf. Lev. 26:34-35). .

We may not consider it to be a significant example of God’s actions corresponding to those of His words, but Judges 7:7 should not be ignored:

“Then the LORD said to Gideon, “By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand. Let all the other people go, every man to his place.”

Under God’s instruction Gideon had whittled down a force of 32,000 men to just 300. God declared that those 300 men would do the job of defeating the Midianite army; which they did.

A Few New Testament Examples

I shall only provide a few examples from the NT of this same phenomenon. Again, all I am doing is calling attention to a basic truth about God that is overlooked by so many bible teachers. We shall look at the angelic message to the shepherds:

For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. – Luke 2:11-12.

The angels said more than this, but for my purposes I only need to highlight the directions they gave to the Christ-child. After the experience they returned to their charges.

Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. – Luke 2:20.

It is needless to itemize the various elements of the Gospel: the virgin birth, incarnation, crucifixion, substitutionary death, resurrection, and ascension. They all are to be believed for what they are; literally.

In the annunciation story to Zacharias (Lk. 1:5-25) the angel Gabriel tells him that he would be mute because he questioned the very words he was told (Lk. 1:20), which once more underlines that what God says He will do He will do.

I could reproduce a long list of examples, but this final one is perhaps my favorite:

Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?” – John 21:20-23.

Notice that what Jesus actually said about Peter in verse 22 is misunderstood by the disciples but restated exactly the same way in verse 23. The lesson is clear in all of this; God actions will comport with His words. Faith requires nothing less than that. It may be too mundane for many students to notice, but it is the most basic lesson in biblical hermeneutics.

God’s Actions Correspond To His Words (Pt. 1)

Introduction

Modern biblical hermeneutics has become increasingly sophisticated and complex. Yet with all of the subtlety of the “science of hermeneutics” it is easy to forget that the Bible is its own best interpreter. I do not advocate throwing contemporary hermeneutics manuals into the trash; I have benefit from many of them, but I do believe that we can blindly follow these manuals and not take thought for some of the simple lessons which Scripture presents us with. I think this is true because we all have a tendency to ignore the obvious (or what should be obvious), and to think that when we are getting more intricate and using more brain cells we are getting closer to the truth. But I suspect that quite often the opposite is true. The truth is staring us in the face. Indeed, although good things have been gleaned, we have perhaps been traveling interpretive paths which we have forged for ourselves only to discover that we are in the thick of the weeds, stickers and brambles of contradictory ideas and uncertain fads.

One Christian philosopher has well stated,

“Hermeneutics as a discipline is as wild and woolly as it has ever been, and its future shape and even its existence are impossible to predict.” – Greg Clark, “Contemporary Hermeneutics,” in Scot McKnight & Grant Osbourne, editors, The Face of New Testament Studies, (Apollos, 2004), 115.

I completely agree with that estimate. I have previously presented some work I have done in classifying the relationships between doctrines and their supporting texts (see The Rules of Affinity), where I demonstrated that, among other things, the fundamental doctrines of Christianity all possess strong affinity with the texts of Scripture that are commonly used to support them. The favored doctrines of different theological “cliques”, not so much.

But there is an important fact about the words of God Himself in Scripture that deserves a great deal more reflection and analysis. It is this:

God’s Actions Always Follow His Words

It may seem almost too basic for some people to swallow, but the God who tells us “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no'” (Matt. 5:36; Jam. 5:12), actually practices what He preaches.  More than that, with rare exceptions owing to a show of repentance (like in the case of Ahab or in the book of Jonah), if God says He will do something then He does it.  This can be sampled in any number pf places.  I’ll start things off in Genesis 1, but before I do I want to present a basic hermeneutical triad:   

A Theistic Interpretive Triad:

GOD SAYS – GOD DOES: God announces what He will do, then He does what He says.  His thoughts equate to his words, and His words equate to His works

GOD SAID – GOD DID: God predicted something, and He brought to pass what He predicted

GOD VOWED – GOD OBLIGATES HIMSELF TO DO: God covenanted something, and later writers still say He is covenanted to fulfill the specific terms of the covenant  

OLD TESTAMENT – The Early Chapters of Genesis

N.B. Please be sure to READ these passages so that my point hits home.  

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light (Gen 1:3 NAS)

Simple isn’t it?  Too simple?  One thing’s for certain, modern hermeneutics books would be totally pointless in creation week.  

Let me drive it home:

Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”  And God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so (Gen 1:6-7 NAS)

Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with seed in them, on the earth”; and it was so.  And the earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.  (Gen 1:11-12 NAS)

Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years;  and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.  And God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. (Gen 1:14-16 NAS).

All through creation week this is the way God operates.  He states His intention and then He carries it out to the letter.  Now the creation of everything according to God’s will is no trifling matter, but this pattern of God doing what He said He would do is repeated all through the first chapter of the Bible.    

The same pattern continues in Genesis 2 and 3.  God commands man not to eat from the forbidden tree.  When he does he dies (in the real sense of being alienated from his Maker).  Then he signals His intent to make a companion for the man:

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him. (Gen 2:18 NAS)

And what did He do?

And the LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. (Gen 2:22 NAS)

What about Noah and the flood?

And the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”  But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD (Gen 6:7-8 NAS)

Notice that the “But Noah” clause makes no sense unless the Lord  really meant to do what He threatened to do.  Well, did God destroy all life from the face of the earth except for Noah and those in the Ark?  That would be a yes.  What about the Ark itself?  Noah could not have had anything approaching the experience that the Lord predicted to him, and the construction of such a huge craft on the basis of what God said was a real act of faith (Heb. 11:7).  Continue reading “God’s Actions Correspond To His Words (Pt. 1)”

Jesus the Jew – A Short Diatribe

Over the many years I have been reading and writing about the Christian Faith, I have become just a little irritated by those well meaning people who try to tell me that in order to really know about Jesus, or ‘Yeshua’ as they like to call Him, it is necessary to get a Jewish perspective on the Gospels. (Actually, “Yeshua” is Hebrew, and Hebrew was rarely spoken in Israel in His day. According to the esteemed Jewish historian David Flusser, “Yeshu” would have in all probability been His name in Galilee. – The Sage From Galilee, 6.).

Now no one is going to say that the Jesus of Scripture was not thoroughly Jewish, and no one is going to say that the Bible is not a Jewish Book. Still, there are several reasons for my irritation; one of them being the fact that Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, plus the other writers of the New Testament, did not deem it necessary to include within their narratives a great deal of information about the Jewish culture and tradition of their times. Luke wrote a Gospel to Gentiles (as most every scholar claims), and yet he did not appear to be as concerned to relate to us the exclusively Jewish flavor of the events of Jesus’ Life; not like, for example, one sees in the writings of Josephus a generation or so later.

In starting my rant I should say that my annoyance is not with those in the scholarly guild who have in the last generation taken Jesus’ Jewish heritage seriously. Rather it is with those who insist on interpreting Jesus through the lens of Rabbinic books and practices that hale from a different era than pre-70’s Israel, as if these much later sources give us an inside line on Christ. Indeed, it seems that simply being Jewish is enough to grant one this insider’s perspective. This despite the fact that Jesus was a very counter-cultural figure who often went contrary to the traditions of the day.

On the first page of the classic work Aspects of Rabbinic Theology, Solomon Schechter warns the reader of “the unsatisfactory state in which this [ancient Jewish] thought is preserved” and advises “caution and sobriety.” Apart from Josephus who wrote circa A. D. 90, and to a lesser extent his earlier contemporary Philo, the main source of information about Second Temple Judaism is the Mishnah, a collection of (often) disputes about the Law for study purposes. But the Mishnah was not compiled until the third century, of which, in an extended quote Schechter observes,

“There must have been some Rabbinic work or works composed long before our Mishnah, and perhaps as early as 30 C. E. This work, or collection, would clearly have provided a better means for a true understanding of the period when Rabbinism was still in an earlier stage of its formation… But whatever the cause, the effect is that we are almost entirely deprived of any real contemporary evidence from the most important period in the history of Rabbinic theology… They have not left the least trace in Jewish literature, and it is most probable that none of the great authorities we are acquainted with in the Talmud had ever read a single line of them, or even had heard their name.” (Ibid, 3-5).

There is a reason why experts like Flusser, E. P. Sanders, Sean Freyne, and J. D. G. Dunn do not spend much time citing the Talmud in connection with the Life of Jesus. Since it was compiled and written many centuries after Jesus lived it is not very relevant. There may be some bits of information that could be used for illustrative purposes, and these are supplied with a precautionary note in Craig A. Evans’s Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies, 220ff., but Schechter’s words of caution ought to be heeded. There is little to no “light” on Jesus to be shed by documents originating centuries after the fact and from contexts which included the re-imagining of Judaism (i.e. Rabbinic Judaism) after the devastation of Vespasian’s armies in A.D. 66-70, and the Roman response to the Bar Kokhba rebellion of A. D. 132-135. One may appreciate the pious and scholarly efforts of Alfred Edersheim’s The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, etc., but he was working with sources that were not contemporary to Jesus by any measure. Modern Messianic Jewish writers rely too much on Edersheim, although many modern scholars warn against it (e.g. Scot Mcknight’s strong warning in his essay, “Jesus of Nazareth,” in The Face of New Testament Studies, edited by Scot McKnight & Grant Osborne, 171). Claiming that “Jesus would have done this or that” on the basis of Rabbinic literature is a risky business. The Gospels are our avenue into His Life and times, and, as I have said, they do not bother to fill us in on many of the the customs of the time.

If we turn to Josephus it must be said that he was a priest who portrayed the Pharisees in a positive light (hence his influence upon E. P. Sanders!), and who was sixty years removed from John the Baptist and Jesus.

What about the Dead Sea Scrolls? A Good question. But those who like to draw our attention to the Jewishness of Jesus seldom make much of them (Geza Vermes did, and his emphasis on Jesus’ Jewishness was welcome, but his works on Jesus are shot through with outdated Bultmannian bias). If the strictly segregated community at Qumran were Essenes (which view is not held universally), then we can say two things: first we can say that study of the scrolls help us to know that,

“Jesus’ engagement with his contemporaries, both supporters and opponents, reflects an understanding of Scripture and theology that we know, thanks to the Dead Sea Scrolls and related literature, to have been current in pre-70 Jewish Palestine.” – Craig A. Evans, Jesus and His World, 9.

The other thing that must be said is that,

“The Essenses, as far as we know, played no direct role in Jesus’ life and work.” – E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, 46.

If you wish to see the world through the Jewish eyes of Jesus, the books of Kenneth Bailey may be helpful, although just because a person has lived in the Middle East for half a century does not alter the fact that he is still two thousand years and very many upheavals removed from what he is writing about. Yes, Eastern societies had a pronounced outlook on honor and shame, similar in some respects to the Japanese in our own day. In Japan you don’t poke fun at people and their mishaps in the way one might do in the West. It isn’t funny. Even so in the Gospels one might understand Jesus’ answer to the Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10:18-19 as giving the man an opportunity to save face. The Lord may have been doing that; or then again He may not. Jesus didn’t seem too bothered about honor and shame when calling Peter “Satan” in Matthew 16:23, nor for that matter did the Pharisees when dealing with the man born blind in John 9:28, 34. Apparently the Pharisees had something else on their minds than the honor of the poor man they were haranguing.

Reading the likes of Bailey, Sanders, N. T. Wright, James Charlesworth and the rest, one thing keeps staring me in the face. It is that these writers, informative as they certainly are, agree upon many of the historical elements of the Gospels, but their reconstruction of the background of Jesus’ ministry hardly advances anything not already found in the Four Gospels, other than filling in details of the historical figures and places. Sanders seems miffed that Jesus appeared to bypass the major cities of Galilee (Sepphoris, Tiberias and Scythopolis), and he constructs opinions on that basis (The Historical Figure of Jesus, 103-107), but just because the Gospels don’t mention it doesn’t mean He didn’t frequent these venues.

If the student wants to gain a good idea of the present state of scholarship on Jesus’s First Century Jewish setting, let them read James D. G. Dunn’s excellent survey in his Jesus Remembered, 255-326. Dunn runs through the relevant sources and cites all the relevant scholars. If Dunn’s liberal tendencies are off-putting (although they don’t show much in those pages), I suggest Paul Barnett’s terrific Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity, 27-153. Not to be overlooked are the articles in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall. but let’s not fool ourselves that calling Jesus (Greek “Iesous“) by a Hebrew name and adding Talmudic interpolations to the Gospels, or even the fact that a Bible teacher is a Jew brings one closer to the Jesus of the Gospels. It doesn’t! It may even push the real Jesus further away. We all have one true source; the Four Gospels. End of rant.

The Writing of the Two Testaments: A Consideration

This is an update of an previous post. 

An interesting phenomenon in regard to the reading of the Old Testament and the New is the respective chronologies of the authorship of the canons.  Whereas the Old Testament was written over a period of approximately 1,300 years – taking Job as the earliest book (c.1750 B.C.) and Malachi as the last book (c. 450 B.C.), the New Testament was written within one average human lifetime.  This represents a vast difference which ought to be given more consideration than it has.

The Writing of the OT

If we consider the span of years for the writing of the Old Testament we get something like this (citing representative examples):

Job – 18th Century B.C.

The Pentateuch – Mid 15th Century B.C.

Many Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles – 10th Century B.C.

Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah – 8th Century B.C.

Isaiah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk – 8th to 7th Century B.C.

Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, 1 & 2 Kings – 6th Century B.C.

Zechariah, Ezra/Nehemiah, Malachi – 5th Century B.C.

During that time history witnessed the beginning of the nation of Israel under Moses, and the dominance and eventual waning of Egyptian and Babylonian dynasties, plus the Hittite, Assyrian, Persian empires, and the onset of the Greek empire.  Israel rose to become a powerful state in the days of David and Solomon; then split into two kingdoms until some centuries later both parts of those kingdoms went into captivity.

The story of Israel dominates the Old Testament, yet that book also includes the account of creation and fall.  It speaks of the world before the great flood – a world that is buried beneath the rocks and stones and seas.  The flood came some 2,500 years before the call of Abraham (although no one can date the flood precisely), which itself was around 500 years prior to the Exodus and the writing of the books of the Pentateuch.  That is to say that the Old Testament was not only written over a very long time period, but the history it records covers a far greater expanse of time than that.  Accordingly, there is a great mass of data that must be collocated and explained, and that is without introducing all of the prophetic content within the Hebrew Bible.

What this amounts to for progressive revelation is that if a person is going to truly track the development of God’s word chronologically he must situate himself within the various biblical milieus which pass before his eyes.  He will have to try to match the voice of the protagonist being described (e.g. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, etc) with what is being revealed about them and their times.  Moreover, since prophecy is such a significant part of that revelation any study of the progress of revelation will need to incorporate the cumulative impact of the prophetic word as it makes its transit through the different eras.

The Writing of the NT

But when we arrive in the New Testament we are up against a phenomenon that is much different; a decidedly condensed time-frame in which God discloses His Apostolic word.  For my part I believe that the Gospel of Matthew is very early: written in the 40’s A.D.  That was the view of the early Church.  I am not going to mount a defense of the date of Matthew here, but I believe John Wenham made a brilliant defense of Matthaen priority in his book Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke which I strongly recommend.  Here are the approximate datings of the NT books:

Matthew – 41-45 A.D.

James – 45-47 A.D.

Galatians – 48-50 A.D.

1 & 2 Thessalonians – 49-52 A.D.

Mark – 50-53 A.D.

Romans – 56 A.D.

Luke/Acts, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians – 60-62 A.D.

Hebrews, 2 Peter – 65-67 A.D.

John – 80-90 A.D.

Revelation – 94-96 A.D.  

So if we start with a date of circa 41 A.D. for Matthew and end with the writing of John’s Revelation at circa 94-96 A.D., we get about a 55 year difference, although most of the NT books are packed into a 25 year window from Matthew to 2 Timothy (c. 65-67 A.D.).  When this 55 year timespan is brought alongside of the 1,300 year gap between the first and last books of the Old Testament the contrast is striking indeed.  There was plenty of time for the gradual unveiling of God’s revelation in the Hebrew Bible, but nothing comparable for the NT; this despite the sterling efforts of men like T. D. Bernard and his classic The Progress of Doctrine in the New Testament.

That there is doctrinal development from the Gospels and Acts to the Revelation is indisputable, and Bernard shows that the order of the NT books was not accidental.  But for the most part the progress is muted in comparison with the OT.  And just as the time covered by the Old Testament is longer than the time in which it was written (circa 3,500 years at least), so it is with the New Testament.  But the variance in time span is not nearly so pronounced.  The birth of Jesus was around 6 B.C. and John wrote Revelation in 95 or 96 A.D.  This means that the total time covered in the New Testament narrative is a mere century.  When progressive revelation is thought about within a window of 100 years, as opposed to 3,500 years, we again see huge disparity.  Whereas the Old Testament period allows for a prolonged progression, this is not the case with the New Testament.

Progressive revelation is either accelerated in the New Testament, or else it continues at about the same pace, or is slower than in the Old Testament.  As it turns out, I think a case can be made for all three ways, although an accelerated pace seems preferable.  If one looks at doctrines such as the deity of Christ, miracles, the birth, identity, and makeup of the Christian Church, and the coming of Christ again in power; all these things are crammed together in a relatively few pages and compounded in a brief span of time.

To sharpen the focus, a perusal of even the earlier writings of the New Testament: the Thessalonian Epistles (c. 49-52 A.D.), the Corinthian Letters (c. 52 & 56 A.D.), Romans (c. 56 A.D.), Ephesians and Colossians (c. 60-62 A.D.) speak to many of these things in a mature and profound way.  And this is all packed into a mere 15 years!

The Life of Jesus

There is one area where the emergence of doctrine must be emphasized, and that is in the Life of Jesus recorded in the Gospels and the overspill of that Life in the earliest chapters of the Book of Acts.

In the Gospels, the Synoptics especially, the onus is on Israel and its Messiah.  The annunciation passages in Matthew and Luke are borne out of the cumulative expectations created by the Prophets.  The fact that a messenger from heaven reinforces that expectation must not be glossed over by a hasty reading of the early chapters from the perspective of the Church.  This is true also of places such as the kingdom parables in Matthew 13, the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 (Mark 13), and the teaching in Luke 19, 21, and Acts 1 through 3.  Even though it is heavily dependent upon the cross-work of Christ, the Book of Hebrews might be very profitably interpreted within the same general atmosphere as these important chapters in the Gospels.

The doctrines of the Church are compressed within a very small time-frame.  It should not be assumed therefore that the last book of the Bible deals with only that short time-frame and the revelation it contains.  Since the Revelation alludes to the Old Testament more than the other New Testament book (although Hebrews quotes the OT more), it seems reasonable to think that it falls into line with those Old Testament books and the expectations raised in them.

The upshot of all this is that when considering things like the covenantal outlook highlighted in the Old Testament and bringing it alongside the chronological compression of data in the New, one should not carelessly use the latter too snuff out the expectations that were accumulated over many centuries by the various writers of the Old Testament.

Personal Thoughts About Commentaries (10): Daniel

As with the selections on the Book of Revelation, this list will display some bias towards Dispensational works, although I don’t want to fill it up with just those. One big reason for that is because Dispensationalists have not written many great commentaries on any book of the Bible. Often-as-not they have been content to furnish basic commentaries for the masses. The fact is that if a person wishes to go deep into an inspired author he will need to be conversant with many writers who he may not see eye to eye with. So here goes:

  1. Stephen Miller (NAC) – This is a mid-level Dispensational commentary that holds its own against the usual contenders (see below). Miller thinks through the text and asks the right questions. This is the most helpful interpretation of Daniel that I know.
  2. Leon Wood – Thorough and very competent. Good to have on hand when preaching through the book.
  3. John Goldingay (WBC) – He doesn’t believe the book was written in the 6th Century B.C. (he puts the author in the 2nd Century), and he comes up with some odd explanations (e.g. of the four kingdoms), so why have him so high on the list? Because he is an excellent exegete. Because he provides the depth one needs if the student is to know what mainline scholarship, plus much of evangelicalism, thinks about Daniel. And because it does contain a lot of insight.
  4. J. Paul Tanner (EEC) – I’m going out on a limb here, but by the looks of it Tanner’s forthcoming large commentary on Daniel is not to be missed. Tanner is a Hebrew specialist and careful scholar. I expect much from this work.
  5. Gleason Archer (old EBC) – Archer was a great OT scholar and linguist who wrote the still excellent A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. He makes very good use of his page limit and his work teems with insights.
  6. Andrew Steinmann (CC) – Steinmann is a Lutheran scholar you ought to know. He is very conservative and practical, but also analytical. I own several of his works and he seldom disappoints. This commentary is not brilliant on the prophetic portions, but is great on the early chapters and the authenticity of the Book. Focusses on the “Son of Man” theme.
  7. John Walvoord – A reliable, straightforward Dispensational commentary which does not interact much with other works. Walvoord was a top prophecy scholar.
  8. Peter Steveson – A very worthwhile effort from a conservative Dispensational scholar, with good word studies.
  9. Joyce Baldwin – Baldwin was well known for solid thinking and her pithy style. Again, the use of this work for the prophetic chapters is as a foil for the futurist view, but there is much helpful material in this little book.
  10. E. J. Young – Old, dogmatic, staunchly conservative amillennial work from a great OT scholar. This thorough commentary should not be overlooked.

The above list will not impress those readers who must have the latest cutting edge commentaries, but I stand by it. Of other works I like Zoeckler’s contribution to the Lange set. He is liberal but he is surprisingly useful. Keil’s work in the Keil and Delitzsch set is good. J. J. Collins is an expert on “apocalyptic” (for what it’s worth) and writes clearly, but he also writes as one who doesn’t believe the text he is writing about. E. C. Lucas can’t seem to make up his mind what the Book of Daniel is about, while Sinclair Ferguson is not as good as Young. J. A. Motyer is a great scholar and his small commentary on Daniel nearly squeezed out Baldwin’s.

Finally, Tony Garland is writing a massive commentary on Daniel, which, if he isn’t careful, will remain unfinished until we’re in the Kingdom. He’s just beginning chapter 5. A wise person would get to know this work and its numerous appended studies as soon as he can.

I forgot to add Robert D. Culver’s fine Daniel and the Latter Days. It is not a commentary, but a study of premillennial eschatology with emphasis on Daniel.

Review of ‘The New Testament Commentary Guide’

A Review of Nijay K. Gupta, The New Testament Commentary Guide: A Brief Handbook for Students and Pastors, Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020, 124 pages, pbk.

Nijay Gupta is a Professor of NT at Northern Seminary and a busy author.  This little book is his attempt at writing a NT Commentary survey that is up to date and judicious.  No attention has been given to NT Introductions or NT Theologies, only commentaries are included.  Gupta’s introduction covers several questions about commentary sets, one-volume works, and Study Bibles.  When speaking about one-volume NT works the author says that he knows of no non-technical ones.  I find this surprising as Robert Gundry’s Commentary on the New Testament is very worthy attention.

The rest of the Introduction provides a survey of the commentary sets (e.g. Anchor, ICC, Baker, NICNT, Pillar, etc.). The author puts in a good word for the Smyth & Helwys series, which I am not familiar with. I have always thought it was a bit pricey.

The main part of the book is entitled “Commentary Recommendations.” These are separated into Technical, Semi-Technical, and Non-Technical, with an additional category called Hidden Gems. Gupta writes from the perspective of the evangelical left. His knowledge of the choices is extensive, but more conservative shoppers (like me) will need to augment this guide to ensure the right balance. Only modern commentaries are listed.

So what about the commentary recommendations themselves? As might be expected Davies and Allison gets top billing on Matthew for scholars. Among others on Matthew, Craig Keener’s volume fairs better than he does in many lists. Hagner does well, as does R. T. France. There is no place for Grant Osborne or D. A. Carson (whose commentary on John also doesn’t make it).

On Mark’s Gospel, R. T. France, A. Y. Collins, and Mark Strauss are among the top picks. I appreciated the inclusion of Larry Hurtado’s short commentary, but where oh where is James Edwards? The same applies to Luke. Edwards is nowhere to be seen, although his commentary is excellent. Darrell Bock, Joel Green, and David Garland are among the books that Gupta commends.

Moving on to Romans, the top choice is C. E. B. Cranfield’s classic, with his successor at Durham J. D. G. Dunn next. I have a high opinion of Dunn, not because he is conservative (he is not), but because he asks the right questions and, in lucid prose, has such fertile suggestions for exploration. Moo makes the cut. Schreiner does not.

Elsewhere, I thought that Gupta’s suggestions for 2 Corinthians were very good. On Ephesians he tells us which interpreters believe the epistle is authentic or pseudonymous. Rather astonishingly, there is no place for Harold Hoehner’s massively detailed work! Gupta’s recommendations on Hebrews were overall a disappointment.

At the back Gupta includes a list of “Commentaries by Women and People of Color.” I have no time for such politically correct nonsense. Either a commentary is good or it isn’t. The “accidental” characteristics of the writer are hardly relevant.

At $18.99 this Handbook may be priced a little above what some people are willing to pay. Since I received my copy free from the publisher I didn’t have to come up with the money. Would I have done otherwise? Possibly. It’s good to have an alternative to Carson. I thought many of Gupta’s comments were informative.

   

 

Renewing Dispensational Theology – Revised (Pt. 2)

Part One

This completes the thoughts offered previously.

4. Systematic Theology

Coming now to Systematic Theology the first thing that must be said is that the pretended stand for a partial system must be summarily dropped. Dispensational Theology cannot be switched out for the term Dispensational Premillennialism. In point of fact, I make bold to say that the notion of Dispensational Premillennialism is a bit of an odd bird without a full-orbed system to back it up. Most Dispensationalists have been blithely content to append their eschatology on to the end of another system – most often the Reformed position. But this is a dubious, and, let us admit it, halfsighted maneuver.

When DT is tagged onto an already developed system of theology it can only present itself as a correction to certain aspects of that system of theology. In so doing it tangles with the methodological presuppositions of that theology. But because it allies itself so often to say, Reformed theology, it must act deferentially towards Reformed formulations in areas other than ecclesiology and eschatology. For if it failed to acknowledge Reformed theology’s right to assert itself in these other areas – the doctrine of God, the doctrine of man and sin, the doctrine of salvation, for example – it could not think of itself as Reformed. This is because in claiming its right to question Reformed assumptions in any theological corpora, save in regard to the Last Things (and perhaps the Church), Dispensational theology would be asserting its right to formulate ALL its own doctrines independently of other theologies – just as Reformed Covenant Theology does! It would grow to dislike its assumed role as a beneficial parasite, cleaning up areas of another theological system, and would wish to be “Dispensational” in every area! Ergo, even if its formulations of all the theological corpora were closely aligned with Reformed theology here and there, they would be Dispensational formulations! This is precisely what I am pleading for!

Every knowledgeable person knows that Systematic Theology ought to be an outgrowth of Biblical Theology. The fact that most Dispensationalists are content to tack their views on to an already existing whole system doesn’t speak well for their Biblical Theology. For if Dispensational Biblical Theology cannot produce the impetus to formulate a distinctive and whole Systematic Theology of its own, perhaps the trouble goes deeper? I believe it does, and that reformulating Dispensational Theology from a Biblical Covenantalist viewpoint gives you all the main points of traditional Dispensational Eschatology and Ecclesiology, but it also gives you enough material from which to formulate clear and distinctive versions of Prolegomena, Theology Proper, Bibliology, Anthropology, Christology, and Pneumatology as well.

As I have said elsewhere, I do not think that tracking the “dispensations” produces enough usable doctrine to work up a solid systematics or worldview. If one is going to follow the standard definitions of Dispensationalism as a “system of theology” there will be slim pickings when it comes to forging a Dispensational Systematic Theology.

The irony should not be lost on us. Dispensationalists are forceful in their claims for “a Dispensational hermeneutic”, but they fail to understand what they mean by it, and even if they do, they often fail to give it the theological sponsorship it deserves. The main problem here is one of methodology – a study of which is dearly wanting in Dispensational circles. Let me give an example: if a certain universally applied hermeneutic is necessary to have Dispensational eschatology, then one cannot cease applying it in all other areas. Our of a consistently applied reading of the Bible a full Systematic Theology will inevitable come!

5. Method

In the last part of my series Christ at the Center I tried to sum up the strong Christological emphasis of Biblical Covenantalism with some of the solid by-product from which robust doctrines in Systematic Theology could be constructed. Although I have recorded over two hundred lectures in Systematic Theology along conventional lines, I think if I were to try to write a volume I would use the triad God, Man and the World. Why? Because that triad is what we are confronted with as creatures in God’s image every day of our lives.

Beginning with the title “God Has Spoken” and introducing epistemological and ontological concerns, which in turn require ethical responses, I would ask questions about the knowability of God and (following Calvin) the knowability of ourselves in Creation. This introduces the doctrine of Revelation. Here I would want to press the joint reliance of the Sufficiency and Clarity of Scripture for the job ahead. That would open the door to hermeneutical questions.

Even so, dealing with Christ I would take up the same rubric: God, Man and the World. In this way I would attempt to discuss the pre-existence of Christ along with the incarnation and cross and resurrection. I would want to ‘lace’ the whole Systematics with Eschatological (and teleological) concerns, being careful to converge these themes in the section called “Eschatology” at the end of the work. This way one would hopefully see the inevitability of the convergence rather than now turning to “The Last Things.” The covenants of Scripture, dealing as they do with the same triad of God, Man and the World, could help accomplish this.

6. Worldview

Contrary to some views, Systematic Theology sets out the Bible’s teaching on reality (viz. God, Man and the World). It does not go cap-in-hand to worldly science and unbelieving philosophy because it knows that the Biblical Worldview is the only workable worldview.

Continue reading “Renewing Dispensational Theology – Revised (Pt. 2)”