Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (16) – Theses 61-67

61. Despite the dispensationalists’ teaching that “Jesus will come in the air secretly to rapture His Church” (Tim LaHaye), their key proof-text for this “secret” coming, 1 Thess 4:16, makes the event as publicly verifiable as can be, declaring that he will come “with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God.”

Response: By “secret” LaHaye, who is not to be thought of as an authority on the issue, meant something like “kept secret until revealed.”  For a number of reasons, not least because anti-dispensationalists try to make capital out of it, this is not the best way to speak about the rapture, so most dispensatiionalists don’t!

But again it ought to be pointed out that the preterists who signed these 95 Theses don’t really have a problem with an “event as publicly verifiable as can be” being, in fact, totally secret.  This is precisely how some of them interpret the Second Coming passage in Matthew 24:25-31 (see K. Gentry in “The Great Tribulation: Past or Future?”, 65-66.  Gentry co-wrote this book with T. Ice).  They think all this happened secretly and invisibly in 70 A.D.

62. Contrary to dispensationalism’s doctrine of two resurrections, the first one being of believers at the Rapture and the second one of unbelievers at the end of the millennium 1007 years after the Rapture, the Bible presents the resurrection of believers as occurring on “the last day” (John 6:39-40, 44, 54; 11:24), not centuries before the last day.

Response: As far as John 6 is concerned one needs to ask what is meant by “the last day.”  As Jesus is referring to believers here, not unbelievers, the passage does not tell us enough to be definite.  Dispensationalists interpret “the last day” here as the time, either of the pre-tribulational rapture, or immediately after the Second Coming of Christ in vengeance (2 Thess. 1:5-9; Rev. 19:11f.).  As John 6 is very Jew-oriented, it may be best to interpret it in terms of the latter.  If this is correct (and I am not sure) then Jesus does not have the rapture of the Church in view but the “first resurrection” of Rev. 20:4-6 (which nearly all non-dispensationalists spiritualize as the new birth).

The fact of the matter is that there are numerous resurrections at different times in Scripture: Christ’s (Col. 1:18); certain saints at the same time (Matt. 27:50-53); the two witnesses in Rev. 11:9-11 (who are also often spiritualized); those martyred during the Tribulation (Rev. 20:4-6), together with the saints mentioned in Dan. 12:1-2; and finally the resurrection of the wicked at the close of the Millennium (Rev. 20:5, 12. Which resurrection is interpreted literally by our gainsayers, although both the first resurrection and the 1,000 years in the same context are spiritualized!).

Having said all this, why then is it strange if those mentioned in 1 Thess. 4:16-17 are resurrected at a still different time prior to the seven year Tribulation?  Answer: it isn’t!  But we have more to say about this. Continue reading “Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (16) – Theses 61-67”

Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (15) – Theses 57-60

57. Despite the dispensationalists’ claim that Christ could return at any minute because “there is no teaching of any intervening event” (John Walvoord), many of their leading spokesmen hold that the seven churches in Rev 2-3 “outline the present age in reference to the program in the church,” including “the Reformation” and our own age (J. D. Pentecost).

Response: It is true that some dispensationalists have regarded the seven churches as a kind of prophetic outline of Church history.  But not all have, and it is a mistake to think it is necessary to the Dispensational system.  Robert Thomas has a lengthy excursus on this teaching in the first volume of his Commentary on Revelation in which he rejects it.  This view reflects an unhealthy admixture of speculative historicism to the futurism implicit in dispensational premillennialism.

Still, those who advocate the historical-prophetic view of Rev. 2-3 are careful to say that the churches are types of the visible church in every age, with one type predominating at one particular time.  Thus, the prophetic portion is more in the way of application than strict hermeneutics.

As one who holds that it is often precarious to teach doctrine from types I would be glad to see this approach abandoned.

58. Despite the dispensationalists’ widespread belief that we have been living in the “last days” only since the founding of Israel as a nation in 1948, the New Testament clearly and repeatedly teach that the “last days” began in the first century and cover the whole period of the Christian Church (Acts 2:16-17; 1 Cor 10:11; Heb 1:1-2; 9:26)

Response: The first part of this assertion is false.  While one or two dispensationalists may have “begun” the last days with 1948 there are many more who would be much more guarded.  This skews the second half of the assertion because most dispensationalists agree that the “last days” when applied to the Church does cover the entire history of the Church (e.g. 1 Pet. 1:20; 1 John 2:18 and other NT texts also show this). Continue reading “Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (15) – Theses 57-60”

Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (14) – Theses 53-56

53. Contrary to the dispensationalists’ urging Christians to live their lives expecting Christ’s return at any moment, “like people who don’t expect to be around much longer” (Hal Lindsey), Christ characterizes those who expect his soon return as “foolish” (Matt 25:1-9), telling us to “occupy until He comes,” (Luke 19:13 ) and even discouraging his disciples’ hope in Israel’s conversion “now” by noting that they will have to experience “times or epochs” of waiting which “the Father has fixed by His own authority” (Acts 1:6-7).

Response: [I shall address the specifics of the doctrine of imminence under the next Thesis].

Let me begin by pointing out the obvious fact that the Nicene brethren run to parables to teach that imminence is unbiblical.  The first thing which should be said is that one must first make sure that the parables in question have been rightly interpreted before their proposed teaching can be admitted.

Matt. 25 is within “the Olivet Discourse,” which some of these men would apply to the Church, and the preterists among them would say was fulfilled in 70 AD.  We respectfully reply that a person could not find the church in Matt. 24-25 unless he was bound and determined to see it there.  The passage addresses the Great Tribulation (24:21), which concerns a “Holy Place” (24:15), “Judah” (24:16), “housetops” (24:17), the Jewish Sabbath (24:20).  Notice the Jewish context!

The Coming of Christ is after this Tribulation (24:29-31).  The precise “day and hour no one knows” (24:36), therefore people in the Tribulation are to “watch” (24:42).  The Parable of the Virgins concerns Christ’s Second Advent after this period of time (25:31f.).  Since most Dispensationalists (i.e. consistent ones) believe the church will be caught away before the Tribulation period (to be discussed later), Matt. 25:1-9 does not apply to the issue of imminence.

Luke 19:13 comes from another parable.  Please read the context (Lk. 19:11) carefully, and notice by way of interest that it concerns a future kingdom.  Hence, the parable concerns the delaying of the expected Messianic Kingdom (in contrast to Lk. 10:9-11, 12:31-32, 17:21 where the present spiritual aspect of the kingdom is in view).  Since the establishment of this future Davidic kingdom (e.g. Lk. 1:32-33; 13:28-29), is at the Return of Christ to earth in the Second Advent, which, as we have seen and shall see, comes after the Great Tribulation, this parable cannot be used to dispute the doctrine of imminence. Continue reading “Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (14) – Theses 53-56”

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).  Continue reading “Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (13) – Theses 49-52”

Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (12) – Theses 46-48

46. Contrary to dispensationalism’s claim that “the Church is a mystery, unrevealed in the Old Testament” (J. D. Pentecost), the New Testament writers look to the Old Testament for its divine purpose and role in the history of redemption and declare only that the mystery was not known “to the sons of men” at large, and was not known to the same degree “as” it is now revealed to all men in the New Testament (Eph 3:4-6), even noting that it fulfills Old Testament prophecy (Hos 1:10 / Rom 9:22-26), including even the beginning of the new covenant phase of the Church (Joel 2:28-32 / Acts 2:16-19).

Response: First, one does not have to be a Dispensationalist to hold that the mystery of the Church as the Body of Christ was not known in OT times (see Bruce, O’Brien, Barth).  The adverbial conjunction “as” in Eph. 3:5 is best seen in a descriptive sense asserting the difference in kind which the mystery discloses, rather than a restrictive way whereby more is known now than was known before.  Paul is speaking here of the entity which is the Church.  The Church is the Body of Christ which is entered into through the Baptism of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13).  According to Acts 1:5 (cf. Jn. 7:39) this baptism began at Pentecost.  It is this new revelation of the Body of Christ which it is crucial to keep in  mind since it is just not found in the OT.  Further, the mystery was covered up, “hidden,” or “not made known” (3:5), but is NOW revealed.  This surely supports the descriptive sense!  It wasn’t half covered up! Continue reading “Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (12) – Theses 46-48”

Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (11) – Theses 41-45

41. Despite the dispensationalists’ claim that the descendents of the patriarchs never inhabited all the land promised to them in the Abrahamic covenant and therefore, since God cannot lie, the possession of the land by the Jews is still in the future; on the contrary, Joshua wrote, “So the LORD gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it… Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass” (Joshua 21:43,45).

Response: Here it is!  Read it again.  This is the passage with which they will beat into submission all those verses in the Prophets which continue to promise Israel a literal land.  What is to be done?  Surely Gen. 15 was fulfilled hundreds of years before Jeremiah bought Hanamel’s field (Jer. 32)?   Clearly, if we follow this kind of reasoning, when God promised Abraham and his descendants a specific geographical location on earth in perpetuity He was using hyperbole (btw, is hyperbole appropriate in contracts?!):

“I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.  And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Gen. 17:7-8). Continue reading “Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (11) – Theses 41-45”

Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (10) – Theses 37-40

Apologies for not posting for the a while.  Among other things I was doing a conference in MI.  Anyway, here are some more responses to the Nicene Council.  I again wish to stress that we ought to be able to discuss our disagreements without branding each other as heretics or any such pejorative term.  I certainly don’t have all the answers!  Albeit, I think I have something to say in answer to these “Theses.”   We are on Thesis 37:

37. Despite the dispensationalists’ claim regarding “the unconditional character of the [Abrahamic] covenant” (J. Dwight Pentecost), which claim is essential for maintaining separate programs for Israel and the Church, the Bible in Deuteronomy 30 and other passages presents it as conditional; consequently not all of Abraham’s descendants possess the land and the covenantal blessings but only those who, by having the same faith as Abraham, become heirs through Christ.

Response: Of course there are conditional elements in the Abrahamic Covenant.  In Genesis 17, for example, there is circumcision.  The question is whether the conditional aspects of the covenants can be reconciled with the unconditional aspects.  Our objectors direct us to Deuteronomy 30, and we are happy to go there!  But we shall have to read it more carefully than the Nicene brethren appear to have done.

Deuteronomy 30 is of course the locus classicus for the Land or “Palestinian” Covenant.  The reader is urged to study the whole chapter carefully.  Notice God predicts an apostasy based upon the blessings and curses in the previous three chapters (vv.1,17-18), but He also predicts a regathering (vv.2-5) and regeneration (vv.6-8). Continue reading “Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (10) – Theses 37-40”

Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (9) – Theses 31-36

31. Despite the dispensationalists’ strong commitment to the “plain interpretation” of Scripture (Charles Ryrie) and its dependence on Daniel’s Seventy Weeks as “of major importance to premillennialism” (John Walvoord), they have to insert into the otherwise chronological progress of the singular period of “Seventy Weeks” (Dan 9:24) a gap in order to make their system work; and that gap is already four times longer than the whole Seventy Weeks (490 year) period.

Response: The 70 Weeks prophecy is not at all unusual in containing a long time-gap between one aspect of its fulfillment and its final consummation.  As with so many other OT prophetic passages, one often finds predictions of the first and second advents sandwiched together without any apparent time lapse.  An example is Micah 5:2:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.”

Nobody doubts the literal truth of this prophecy when it speaks about a). the place of Messiah’s birth, or, b). the pre-existence of Messiah.  But there is a hermeneutical decision that has to be made about the prediction regarding, “the one to be Ruler in Israel.”  Those who prefer what might be called the “selective-allegorical” approach will say that Christ is now ruling spiritually over the Church, the “New spiritual Israel.”  Dispensationalists will look for a more literal interpretation of this part of the prophecy in line with the two other parts.  They are encouraged to do this because this is not the only prophecy of an actual Messianic Rule over ethnic Israel; a prophecy that is yet to be fulfilled (cf.  Isa. 9:6-7;  Jer. 33:14-17; Lk. 1:31-33). Continue reading “Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (9) – Theses 31-36”

Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (8) – Theses 26-30

26. Despite the dispensationalists’ interpretive methodology arguing that we must interpret the Old Testament on its own merit without reference to the New Testament, so that we must “interpret ‘the New Testament in the light of the Old’” (Alan Johnson), the unified, organic nature of Scripture and its typological, unfolding character require that we consult the New Testament as the divinely-ordained interpreter of the Old Testament, noting that all the prophecies are “yea and amen in Christ” (2 Cor 1:20); that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev 19:10); and, in fact, that  many Old Testament passages were written “for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor 10:11) and were a “mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past” (Col. 1:26; Rev 10:7).

Response: Firstly, Alan Johnson is not a Dispensationalist.  But since Scripture is a unified and organic whole, certainly we must, in some sense, “interpret the New Testament in light of the Old.”  Every Bible interpreter must do that.  What responsible Bible student would deny it?  Where would our biblical worldview be if we did not allow Genesis 1-4 to guide us as New Testament believers?

The question is, “To what extent can the New Testament be used to interpret the Old?”  The passages cited do not answer this question for us.  2 Cor. 1:20 speaks to the Divine provenance of the Gospel preached by Paul and his companions.  The verse does not say “prophecies” but “promises.”  In context the promises are those of the Gospel.  However, because Christ is the Fulcrum of the outworking of God’s decrees it would not be amiss to relate every promise to Him.  But this hardly gives Christians license to give the OT promises a complete makeover so that they look nothing like the original statements.  Likewise 1 Cor. 10:11 tells us that the OT stories “were written for our instruction.”  The context is Divine recompense upon evil works (v.6).  To enlist the passage to teach the legitimacy of an ill-advised mixture of allegorical/typological/literal interpretation of the OT is to be guilty of  ‘textual kidnapping.’ Continue reading “Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (8) – Theses 26-30”

Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (7) – Theses 24-25

24. Despite the dispensationalists’ partial defense of their so-called literalism in pointing out that “the prevailing method of interpretation among the Jews at the time of Christ was certainly this same method” (J. D. Pentecost), they overlook the problem that this led those Jews to misunderstand Christ and to reject him as their Messiah because he did not come as the king which their method of interpretation predicted.

Response: It is not advisable to refer to Dispensational interpretation as “literalism” – so-called or otherwise, as this leads to misunderstandings and misrepresentations (See below).  It is far better to treat the Bible the same way one would treat any other book.  It seems preposterous to us to scout around for an alternative hermeneutics just because the Bible is the Word of God.  In fact, it is precisely because the Bible is the Word of God to man that one would expect it NOT to require some esoteric interpretation unless very good reasons could be given for doing so. Continue reading “Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (7) – Theses 24-25”