Now Complete: Twelve Videos on Apologetics & Worldview

Here are the 12 video presentations on Apologetics & Worldview: An Introduction I recorded last year before a group of lay Christians who ranged from ages 15 to 70+.  I cite quite a few authorities, and I hope to place these in readable form in the future.  The average running time for each video is around one hour and thirty minutes.  

  1. The Field of Vision
  2. The Background of Creation
  3. The Creator – Creature Distinction
  4. Dependent Reasoning
  5. Stressing the Antithesis
  6. Science and Personal Knowledge
  7. The Myth of Naturalistic Science
  8. Scientism and Circularity
  9. Faith, Reason and Truth
  10. Preconditions, Facts, and the Historical Christ
  11. Evidence in Real Time
  12. Concluding Thoughts – A Cohesive Worldview

I pray that this teaching is a help to many.

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Review of ‘Mark Through Old Testament Eyes’

A Review of Mark Through Old Testament Eyes by Andrew T. LePeau, Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2017, 352 pages, paperback 

This book by series editor Andrea LePeau is the first in a set of volumes that will explore the influence of the Old Testament upon the writers of the New Testament books.  This influence, it is believed, is not only in the way in which certain passages are quoted and used in the New Testament, but also how minds stocked with Old Testament stories, texts, and theology brought that multi-layered influence into their books through structure, allusion, typology and motif.  Especially important to this point of view is the way the Hebrew Scriptures are employed to point to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes.

LePeau can turn a phrase and his work is very readable and easy to follow.  He is well read and he brings much to his task, though the book is not designed to be academic.  The book includes a running commentary with notes on backgrounds and Old Testament motifs and allusions interspersed.  Generally speaking he has done an excellent job with the commentary part of the book.  This (major) portion alone ought to recommend the book to preachers and teachers.

Going back to the premise of the series, the first thing which came to mind when I read the title and the way LePeau understands it was the question of whether this will indeed be a commentary on how the Old Testament effected the inspired writers (25), or whether it will be a work more about how the way the New Testament authors supposedly used the Old Testament.  The former understanding places the spotlight on the expectation taught in the Scriptures (e.g. Matt. 19:28; Lk. 1:31-33; 54-55; 68-74; 19:11; Acts 1:6; 26:7); the latter on a brand of theological interpretation.

I have to admit that as my eye passed over the list of contributors to this series I was not encouraged.  The names I read all believe that the Old Testament needs to be read in light of the New Testament in order to be rightly interpreted.  What this actually means is that a particular understanding of the New Testament is being read back into the Hebrew Bible so that the prophecies and promises found therein are reformulated so as to be fulfilled at Christ’s first coming and in the Church.  Gary Burge, for example, who will produce the Galatians and Ephesians volume, is a sure-fire bet to teach a reinterpretation of the Prophets and a “kingdom-now” supercessionist eschatology.

In his introduction LePeau likens the incorporation of Old Testament elements into Mark to the way directors include allusions to other films and directors in their movies.  I think this is an unfortunate illustration, for the movies themselves can be perfectly well understood without the allusions being seen by the viewer.  This is in fact what I think is often the case with the New Testament books.  If the reverse is the case, and these pointers are essential to the right comprehension of a New Testament book, then we are in the position of having to say that the real meaning of these books is at least partially hidden; or was until the recent work of men like Richard B. Hays (e.g. Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels), or Joel Marcus (The Way of the Lord), uncovered them.  I am very uncomfortable with that, firstly because if you take this view then you are saying something about the clarity of Scripture; that it has been pretty unclear for millennia.  You cannot effect the clarity of Scripture without meddling with the sufficiency of Scripture.  Second, I firmly believe that both Testaments are understandable as they are without searching out deeper meanings.

As an example, LePeau believes that Mark is alluding to Exodus 23:20 in Mark 1:2.  I do not.  Neither do I believe that just because John the Baptist was a wilderness dweller that we should automatically recall the Exodus.  While I certainly hold that Jews could recall a context or verse from its half-mention, that does not mean the full context or verse is intentionally being referred to.  What the text is saying in context is the prime determiner of meaning, not a motif or type that a scholar thinks is the actual meaning.  An instance of this is the Table (6.1) on page 127 where supposed parallels between Mark 6 and Psalm 23 are drawn.  He veers into allegory in the process.  I am thoroughly unconvinced.  He really has to push the boat out a long way to find connections.  This sort of motif-finding is misleading, and it detracts from what Mark is actually saying. (more…)

“Leaving Mormonism” – A Review

I was sent this book (and another that I must review soon) before Christmas and the publisher, quite understandably wishes me to review it.  I am very happy to do so since this is a fine resource

A Review of Leaving Mormonism: Why Four Scholars Changed Their Minds, edited by Corey Miller & Lynn K. Wilder, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 311 pages, paperback, 2017

This book is an great idea.  Four former Mormons with academic credentials and a passion for the truth write about why they left Mormonism and add a critique of it from their own perspectives.  Each writer communicates clearly.  None is mean spirited in their criticism of their former belief, though all are keen to inform readers not only of the errors of the Latter-Day Saints; errors which lead to a particular worldview, but also of the chameleonic nature of Mormon teaching as it seeks to adapt to criticism and exposure.

Corey Miller’s chapter, “In Search of the Good Life” asks whether experiencing the good is objectively possible under Mormon teaching.  His answer begins with his personal testimony of being a Mormon with descendants reaching all the way back to acquaintances of Joseph Smith himself.  His essay deals with the nature of Mormon testimony and the difficulty of achieving “salvation.”  Miller is a philosopher and has provided excellent notes to go with his essay, even briefly outlining Alvin Plantinga’s response to de jure objections to Christian faith in his Warranted Christian Belief (70 n.41).

The next chapter is by LaTayne Scott, “I Was There, I Believed.”  She has been given enough room to write a long but interesting chapter consisting, as all the contributions do, of her testimony and an analysis.  Scott’s testimony is eloquently written and of real help for someone trying to understand the grip that Mormon culture exerts upon its members.  Of particular help in this chapter is the way the author persuades the reader to look upon Mormonism as a worldview with its distinctive (and false) approach to truth.

Lynn Wilder’s piece includes her discomfort at encountering many contradictions concerning things like racism and polygamy.  There is also her son’s story, wherein he was challenged while on mission to read the New Testament.  Upon returning to testify he got up and confessed that a person needed Jesus and Him alone (163).  This son, Micah, begged his parents to simply read the NT like a child would.  Wilder read John’s Gospel and her eyes began to be opened, though not for some time did she and her husband leave the fold (in 2008).  The “reasons” part of her article details numerous social problems with Mormonism, again focusing on racism and polygamy, but expanding on each.

The last of the four writers is the scientist Vince Eccles.  He became a rebel against religion after learning about his divorced mother’s being judged for some of her choices.  He writes about his fascination with parts of the Bible (e.g. Matthew and Exodus) and his investigations into the reliability of the Scriptures, but he does hold to a non-literal reading of the early chapters of Genesis, and to theistic evolution, and there are certainly one or two liberal-critical influences upon him.  He records crises of faith which even had him contemplating becoming an orthodox Jew.  He also seems to have universalist leanings.  Of the four authors in the book I felt Eccles was the least satisfying.  In fact, even though his essay is of interest, I think it was a mistake to include him in the book.

Miller and Wilder complete the book with a chapter on the New Atheism.  They inserted this chapter because many ex-Mormons become disillusioned and fall pray to the arguments of these people.  It’s a nice bonus at the end of the book.

This is an absorbing book, written with head and heart.  I liked the first two contributions to be the most helpful; the one by Eccles was a disappointment.  I think the book, Eccles’ chapter apart, is a very good buy.

Review of ‘He Will Reign Forever’ (Pt.3)

Part Two

This is the third part in what has become a four part review of this book.  I think the work is important enough as a Dispensational Biblical Theology to merit a piece of this length.  I hope you will agree.  

As Vlach entered upon the New Testament I was curious how much space he would devote to developing the message of Jesus in its pre-Pauline context.  That is to say, I wanted to see if he would trace the teachings of Jesus from its grounding in the prophetic expectations in the Old Testament and its effect upon Jewish hearers in the first part of the first century A.D.  I was not disappointed.

The author chooses the Gospel of Matthew as his frame of reference for understanding the kingdom aspect of Christ’s mission.  This was a natural enough choice, although the present reviewer is also a fan of the speeches in Luke-Acts for this purpose.  Of course, the selection of Matthew in no way eliminates interaction with the other Gospels, and Vlach picks up on some of the main kingdom emphases in Luke, especially the crucial Parable of the Nobleman in Luke 19:11-27(e.g. 357-360).  About 150 pages of He Will Reign Forever are set aside for the Gospels.  This allows Vlach to make the important textual and theological connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament around the Person of Jesus Christ and His kingdom understanding.  The work done in these chapters supplies the basic proof for the underlying accuracy of the book’s hermeneutical consistency.  At the risk of annoying some readers, this sort of work does not need to be done by those who automatically spiritualize the text whenever it threatens to unravel their view that Christ and the Church are what it’s all about.  Again, it is worth noting the clever use of non-evangelical scholarship to drive home the fact that the author is not making his points because of some blind allegiance to Dispensational requirements, but because this is what the text of Scripture itself is saying.

Jesus’ identification with Israel is seen as a main emphasis of Matthew 2 (262). The author handles the Hosea 11:1 quotation in two ways; first via reference to corporate solidarity, but then also by noting the probable source of the allusion to Numbers 23 and 24; a position vigorously argued for by the late John Sailhamer (263-264).  From there the “kingdom is at hand” passages in Matthew 3 and 4 are handled in chapter 16.  I fully concur with this quotation:

According to Matthew 5:5 kingdom blessings include inheriting the land, which is a physical blessing.  The view that Jesus is presenting a spiritual kingdom only appears more in line with a Platonic dualism between spirit and matter than a biblical worldview. (270, and something he returns to quite frequently in Part Three of the book).     

Along with rejecting the spiritualizing view of the kingdom Vlach is also unpersuaded by the prominent “already/not yet” so prevalent today, saying “it does not do justice to the full package of kingdom blessings presented by John and Jesus at the time of their pronouncements.” (270 my italics. cf. 271). 

In order to bring the cosmic drama between God and Satan into his discussion of the Temptation of Jesus the author deals with several Old Testament passages before tackling the Temptation itself.  He poignantly states, “The arrival of Jesus was an invasion of Satan’s empire.” (285).  He takes the opportunity to make important intertextual links in fleshing out the kingdom implications of Christ’s presence on the scene.  This gives him the opportunity to remind his reader of some of the ground already covered in the Old Testament sections.  I do wish that he had afforded himself the liberty to deal with the recent attempts of amillennial biblical theologians to quite irrationally identify “the anointed cherub” of Ezekiel 28 with Adam (281-282).

The topic of miracles is well handled in chapter 18, which focuses on Matthew 4:23-24.  I very much liked the description of miracles as “acts of restoration” (296).  That is good theology.      (more…)

On Accurately Pinpointing Daniel 9:24

I am recovering from a bout of the flu and am not yet fit enough to write anything new.  Hope this piece is a decent stop-gap.

In Daniel 9:24, Gabriel’s words are absolutely essential for a correct interpretation of the Seventy Weeks’ prophecy; the location of the last week especially.  Gabriel says the entire period involves Daniel’s people and Jerusalem, and these referents are not to be swapped out with ecclesial ones[1]  There are then six particular things to be accomplished which are enumerated in the verse, things which are determined to occur.[2]  These are arranged with three negatives followed by three positives:

To finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. – Daniel 9:24

Can these six items be identified?  It depends upon ones eschatological commitments.  I think if we keep to the gradually emerging eschatology which I have been following in the Prophets until now all the data has to be understood in one way.  Let me explain.

The first item concerns finishing “the transgression”.  Daniel has been praying about it (9:4-14), and any reader, especially of the historical and prophetic books, is intimately aware of the problem.  To finish the transgression of Israel could only end in the destruction or salvation of the Jews (e.g. Isa. 59:20-21).[3]    The making a complete “end of sins” is perhaps more inclusive, since not all sins are transgressions (pesa).  This is best viewed as a curtailment of Israel’s historic waywardness, and invites the thought of a fresh start (Amos 9:8; Hos. 2; Mic. 7:14-20; Isa. 1:25-27; 62:1-7; Jer. 3:12-17).  The third achievement is to “make reconciliation for iniquity”, which while accomplished at the Cross[4], here points more to the time of Israel’s attainment of that reconciliation.  Even more, this recalls God’s stated intention to redeem His people (e.g. Jer. 30:11; 31:11-12; Ezek. 36:25-29).  These three things tie in with the covenantal expectations raised by God in the prophets.  As they stand they have not been fulfilled.  Israel is still in sin.

The three positive achievements in 9:24 could not be more optimistic.  What could be better than the introduction of “everlasting righteousness”?  The first of the second set of achievements is “to bring in everlasting righteousness.”  It is very difficult to imagine, even with the most sanguine imagination, how any phase of earth’s history so far qualifies for such a description.  Again, this prediction is about Israel and Jerusalem in particular.[5]  As I stated in my comments on Jeremiah 31:31f. “in those places where righteousness and salvation are in view, the context is unwaveringly a New covenant eschatological context.”  This is a rational understanding of the close of Daniel’s petition in 9:16-19.  It is what is someday expected (e.g. Isa. 25:8-9; 51:11; 61:2b-3).  The fifth thing Gabriel mentions is the sealing up of vision and prophecy.  If it is right to link all the previous accomplishments to Israel’s New covenant era, then this is readily comprehended.  Since this era is marked by the setting up of the earthly kingdom of the promised Messiah (e.g. Isa. 11:1-10; 32:1; Jer. 23:5-6; Dan. 7:13-14), when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9; cf. Jer. 31:34), there will be no need for prophets.[6]  This is lent support by a rather strange text in Zechariah.

It shall come to pass that if anyone still prophesies, then his father and mother who begot him will say to him, `You shall not live, because you have spoken lies in the name of the LORD.’ And his father and mother who begot him shall thrust him through when he prophesies.

 And it shall be in that day that every prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies; they will not wear a robe of coarse hair to deceive. – Zechariah 13:3-4

At first sight this passage is disturbing.  What righteous parent would think of killing their own son, even if he were acting the part of a prophet?  But the passage hints at the blatant act of temerity of the son’s action, as if to don the mantle was a vicious blasphemy.  If one fits this action into the kingdom age when the prophet’s function becomes obsolete because of the worldwide knowledge of God, then it would make good sense.[7]  Hence, to seal up visions and prophecy would certainly occur in the New covenant aeon as envisaged from an Old Testament perspective. (more…)

A Note on the Kingdoms in Daniel 2

An Excerpt from ‘The Words of the Covenant’

Until now we have not ventured any specific identifications of the kingdoms in the dream.  We have tried to view Daniel’s interpretation with the eyes of the king.  But we, of course, have the advantage of looking back along the line of history to Nebuchadnezzar’s day.  What does this backward look tell us?

The first thing to be noted is that not everyone looks back in the same way.  The main issue is that many interpreters refuse to grant the traditional 6th Century date for the writing of the book of Daniel.  Instead, they have convinced themselves that the book is an example of post-exilic and inter-testamental apocalypse.  We may divide the two camps and their respective supporters so:

Sixth Century

Keil, Young, Leupold, Wood, Walvoord, Culver, Gurney, Unger, Hasel, Archer, Waltke, Walton, Miller.

Second Century

Zockler, Driver, Rowley, Montgomery, Lacocque, Eissfeldt, Porteous, Russell, Childs, Towner, Collins, Goldingay.

This set of listings reveals that the cleavage within the two groups is theological[1] and presuppositional.  The less conservative authors go for the Maccabean date, (and they will also for this reason favor “apocalyptic” understandings of the text as a word-picture rather than a prophetic statement), while those generally with a stronger belief in inspiration are to be found holding to the traditional date.  Usually those holding a sixth century dating for the book identify the four kingdoms represented in the dream-image as Neo-Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and, Rome.  This has been the consensus throughout the major part of Church history.[2]

The preponderating view, at least until recently, among the more liberal contingent, has been that the four kingdoms are Babylon, Media, Persia, Greece.[3]  It is supposed that as the writer was living in the Maccabean period he had an incorrect view of the history of the Middle East[4], or at least that he would have viewed Media and Persia as separate powers.

Other attempts to rob the chapter of the predictive element include making the metals represent four kings of the Neo-Babylonian Empire: Nebuchadnezzar, Amel-Marduk, Neriglissar, and, Nabonidus.  This omits the brief reign of Labashi-Marduk and treats Belshazzar as the weak (clay) half of the co-regency with Nabonidus.  Inconsistencies and flat out mistakes are of no concern to men like Philip R. Davies, a scholar whose neo-Kantian approach would like to see all talk of the supernatural removed from the academy.[5]  Goldingay thinks perhaps the significance of the statue is in the four named kings within the book, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius the Mede, and Cyrus.  In this interpretation the image is more a literary device than an attempt to trace history accurately.  Another commentator of the evangelical left, Ernest Lucas, seems to opt for the Babylon, Media, Persia, Macedonia (Greece) scheme.  Nearly all these men believe that the book is prophecy written after the fact.

What all these non-conservative views have in common is the disallowance of Rome as the fourth kingdom.  What do the facts of history show?  They reveal that the traditional order is the best one.  Of the older commentaries, Archer has written persuasively on this matter.[6]  We have seen that the Medes enjoyed their greatest period before the death of Nebuchadnezzar.  It certainly did not “arise” after him (v.39).  And the dream symbolism begins with him.  Besides, the eight-year continuance of the Median kingdom hardly does justice to what is said in Daniel 7:5.  If we take the Medes out as a lone kingdom and include them along with the Persians, which reflects what occurred in history, we are left with Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.

“Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.” – Dan. 2:45

It ought to be firmly kept in mind that the stone’s impact is depicted as destroying the image instantaneously, not at all gradually.[7]  This fact calls into question the amillennial and postmillennial interpretations of the passage, which see the stone as representing the spiritual kingdom inaugurated by Christ at His first coming.  It will not do to say that the mountain grows gradually out of the stone, for the basic fact is that the stone has done away with all resistance to the growth of God’s kingdom.  Nothing of the kind is analogous with what one finds in history up to the present day.

——————————————————————-

[1] Evangelicals like Goldingay state that their conclusions are theological as much as anything.  See John Goldingay, Daniel, 45.  But it is ‘evangelical’ theology after it has been stripped bare by liberal presuppositions.

[2] Robert Gurney, nevertheless, believes that the order is Neo-Babylonian, Median, Medo-Persian, Grecian.  See “The Four Kingdoms of Daniel 2 and 7,” Themelios 2 (1977), 39-45.  Gurney points out that the Median Empire, which was contemporary with that of Babylon, became the more redoubtable of the two after Nebucadnezzar’s death in 562 during the reign of Astyages (585-550).  But it should be noted that Media reached its zenith during the forty-year reign of Astyages’ father, Cyaxares (625-585).  See Edwin M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible, 53-54.  Also, Astyages was overthrown by Cyrus of Persia (Ibid, 56), which would compel a view where Astyages himself was the silver-kingdom.  As a comparison with the dates above show, this would make the “Median” silver-kingdom last a meager eight years.

Relying on Gurney’s research, John H. Walton, “The Four Kingdoms of Daniel,” JETS 29 (1986): 36, produces Assyria, Media, Medo-Persia, and Greece as worthy of consideration.  In this scheme “Nebuchadnezzar would be seen as a continuation and culmination of the Assyrian empire.”  Though both schemes are honest attempts to re-examine the question, neither has gathered to itself much support.

[3] E.g. John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination, 95f.

[4] Robert D. Culver, Daniel and the Latter Days, 112.

[5] Craig Bartholomew, ‘Warranted Biblical Interpretation,’ in Craig Bartholomew, C. Stephen Evans, Mary Healy, Murray Rae, editors, Behind The Text: History and Biblical Interpretation, 59-63

[6] Gleason L. Archer, “Daniel”, EBC, 24-26

[7] See especially Archer, Ibid, 49.  Note on v. 44

Review of ‘He Will Reign Forever’ (Pt.2)

Part One

As the author comes to the Prophets, he gives his reader a summary of the overall message of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel:

Israel was being judged and dispersed to the nations for covenant disobedience, but in the latter days Israel would be regathered and restored to her land and experience New Covenant blessings, both material and spiritual, under the leadership of the ultimate Son of David.  As a result, the nations, who will be judged for a time, will also benefit from the reign of Messiah, and the restoration of Israel and become the people of God alongside Israel in an earthly kingdom. – He Will Reign Forever, 145

This coherent statement reflects well the theological orientation of the Major Prophets, and not a few of the Minor Prophets too (e.g. Hosea, Micah, Zechariah), and represents a sort of stasis in the prophetic word whether before or after the Exilic period.  From a straight reading of these books the themes of punishment and end-time restoration under the coming King, with benefits extending out to the nations are prominent features in the Prophetic picture.  From their point of view, there is no inkling that what they had to say was communicatively in need of transformative re-readings in light of what was to come.  Although it is not his stated intent, Vlach does pause long enough to interact a little with amillennialist Sam Storms (176-177), noting in particular that as well as morphing the prophet’s apparent meaning, “this perspective underestimates what Isaiah’s audience was capable of grasping.” (177).  Indeed, some who would spiritualize the words of the Prophets sound rather patronizing in their opinions about the inability of OT saints to know the meaning of what they were hearing.

Especially notable in this section are Vlach’s explorations of particular prophetic passages.  Isaiah 2 gets an excellent extended treatment (147-154), which includes a section on whether the Church is envisaged in Isaiah 2.  Another text receiving more than usual attention is the so-called “Little Apocalypse” in Isaiah 24-27 (164-167).  Jeremiah 18 also receives welcome consideration (182-183), while certain important themes are dealt with in footnotes; for example, the throne of David (137 n.21), the role of the “law” (149 n.10), and the preservation of animals under the auspices of the covenant with Noah (158-160).

One obviously has to pick and choose when writing on the Prophets, but I think the author does enough with Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel to establish their unified “kingdom voice”.  He takes care to note that in saving the nations God does not redefine Israel (164, 170-171).  When addressing the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 53 he shows that the Servant is also the coming King (156).  He states,

Isaiah’s depiction of the Suffering Servant also shows that the objective basis for the kingdom of God is atonement for sin.  There is no kingdom or participation in the kingdom without the cross.  No kingdom without the cross (Col. 1:20). (156).

Here one is waiting for a New covenant section which enlarges on this important insight.  Once “the objective basis for the kingdom” is established, how does this translate into God’s obligations to His people?  What is the kingdom that they may reasonably expect to see?  The author does of course make it clear that the kingdom promises mean what they say (e.g. 160), but the objective basis is covenantal, and therefore hermeneutical.  Vlach is a theologian, and one of the best that Dispensationalism has to offer.  Perhaps I am being unreasonable, but this passage gives one an opportunity for driving home the literal cross literal crown view of prophecy at a time when evangelical writers are falling over one another trying to turn Old Testament prophets into social reformers and voices of conscience. Notwithstanding, on the next page (161) I was happy to read a reference to the “second exodus” motif which actually interprets it as a real second exodus.  And when the Servant is brought up a little further on He is seen as representative of Israel and so the guarantor of Israel’s covenant rights (169-170), not as the lone true Israelite in whom a “New Israel” can be recognized.  The intermediate kingdom is the one most often spoken of by the prophets.  Vlach is careful to notice that this kingdom will include death and sin, although not with anything like the scale and devastation seen today (e.g. 133, 173-175)

Jeremiah is a book that it is easy to get lost in, due to its arrangement and length.  The challenge for the Dispensational interpreter, for whom outlandish spiritualizing of the eschatological details is not an option, is to say enough to give a proper impression of the extremely important Christology of Jeremiah – which is virtually all kingdom oriented – while tying in the New covenant implications in which they are embedded.  Jeremiah’s position as a pre-exilic and exilic prophet must be understood, for he brings together strong Deuteronomic threads and projects them into the post-exilic era, thus showing the continuity of Old Testament prophecy better than perhaps any other book.

Again Vlach’s sense of proportion does not fail him.  His treatment of Jeremiah’s “Book of Consolation” (chapters 30 – 33) hits the highpoints, stressing in particular the “five covenants” that are brought together in this crucial section.

(more…)

Review: ‘He Will Reign Forever’ by Michael Vlach (Pt.1)

A Review of He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God, by Michael J. Vlach: Silverton, OR. Lampion Press, 638 pages, hdbk.

Dispensationalists and open-minded amillennialists know that a book or article by Michael Vlach is going to be worth reading.  His contributions are always well thought-out, and his style is usually analytical yet easy to follow.  He has written several useful works, including Has the Church Replaced Israel? and a recent e-book, How Does the New Testament Use the Old Testament?   This book, running for more than 600 pages, is his most ambitious yet.

He Shall Reign Forever is Dr. Vlach’s attempt to write a whole Bible biblical theology; something that Dispensationalists, in whose company the author counts himself, have often shied away from, although commendably the author does not structure the volume around “dispensations.”  What we get is a must-have piece of biblical theology.

Vlach has taken as his central idea the theme of God’s Kingdom.  There is no argument here with the choice.  It is perhaps the primary theme of the Bible (25-26).  But the Kingdom of God has proven to be a very mutivalent concept in the hands of Bible scholars (e.g. 29-30, 32).  Therefore, any writer who wants to put out a big book on the Kingdom has his work cut out for him.  The question is, how to both persuade the reader of ones own take while showing why other views of the subject – e.g. the Kingdom is the Church, or the Kingdom is the inheritance of the Church – fail in their understanding of the Scriptures (e.g. 16).

Although there is some interaction with other positions, the writer is clear that what he is concerned with is a positive presentation of his view of the kingdom (17 n.11).  Vlach offers what he calls “a new creationist perspective” (11), by which he means that the Bible presents the Kingdom as the goal of creation.  This is in opposition to a “spiritual vision model” (12), which tends towards spiritualization.  As the title suggests, the Christocentric thrust of Scripture features strongly, but without the debatable practice of seeing Jesus in every verse.

The author affirms the continuity of God’s plan in line with His promises.  The spiritual promises of inward renewal have been shown to have had literal fulfillment.  So too will the physical promises (14, 49).  The form that this takes is “fulfillment of the particular (Israel) leads to fulfillment of the universal (the world)” (15 – all italics are those of the author).

There are five parts to the storyline of the Bible (23).  The first is pivotal:

the kingdom is present with creation as God the King of creation tasks his image-bearer, man, to rule and subdue His creation.

This linking of eschatology to creation is vital for the future of premillennial eschatology, as it prevents one dealing with the Last Things independently or lastly , as so often happens in Dispensational publications.  His definition of Kingdom as “the rule of God over His creation” (30) reinforces the need for a biblical theology of the Kingdom.  With the concept of the “mediatorial kingdom” (via Alva McClain) wherein God rules via man, providing the mode of Kingdom rule (ch. 3).

I should insert here that even though I would not disagree with Vlach that the Kingdom is primary as a theme, and I would even say that “covenant” is subordinate to the aims of the Kingdom (26), I do not think that that the Kingdom theme as Vlach sees it is established outside of God’s covenants.  He quotes Goldsworthy to this effect (26 n. 10), although ironically in the piece he cites; “The Kingdom of God as Hermeneutic Grid”, I believe Goldsworthy gets things exactly the wrong way round.  It is the covenants which provide the interpretive grid for the Kingdom idea to fully emerge (though see 28 n. 14).  This is why the present writer advocates a “biblical covenantalism” as the backbone of proper hermeneutics.

The second chapter seeks to establish the methodology of the rest of the book.  Adequate grounds are given with good examples.  I heard echoes of some of my own emphases in this chapter: like the stabilizing authority of the covenants (42), the objection that if the original audience couldn’t know the path of fulfillment the revelation could not have been for them (42), the problem with a hermeneutics geared mostly to the first coming (43 n.21), and the fact that spiritual qualifications precede and guarantee literal fulfillment  of God’s promises (44).   Vlach does not need me to tell him these things, but I was very pleased to see them stressed.

The first eleven chapters of Genesis is where the rationale for Vlach’s five parts of the Bible Story must be established.  He does this in chapter 4, “The Kingdom and Creation (Genesis 1- 11)”.  Good creation, fall, and the foundational first (Noahic) covenant are handled neatly, so that the transition into Genesis 12 and following flows logically and inevitably.  I think the author does a great job in these pages, achieving the programmatic cohesion that exists from the flood to the call of Abraham.  This is a skillfully written chapter; the best in the Old Testament portion of the book. (more…)

Apocalyptic Fixation

NB This article reproduces and modifies some of the chapter on “Covenant and Apocalyptic” in the book I am writing.  It is therefore not meant to be a full exploration of the subject.

If you have been keeping abreast of evangelical treatments of the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, or the Olivet Discourse or Book of Revelation you will have run into the term “Apocalyptic literature.”  It’s the favorite go-to for anyone who wants to stop the mouths of the prophets while sounding scholarly.

I realize that opening line is a bit testy, but I write it as one who has spent some time studying the major works on Apocalyptic – all written by critical liberal scholars – and have read the almost threadbare regurgitations of conservatives who are content to use this scholarship to support their reading of the Bible while retaining traditional beliefs.

It is hard to find an evangelical treatment of apocalyptic language and literature that has any depth. Evangelical discussions of the genre lean heavily on liberal work, and are often both cursory and deficient in their reporting of the state of the matter.  Only a few evangelical scholars, like Brent Sandy (Plowshares and Pruning Hooks)† , provide any in-depth work on the genre, and his work is heavily dependent on liberal scholarship and the kind of philosophical hermeneutics which relies on an evolutionary view of language.  Small wonder then that Sandy has moved further left in his commitments.  (For example, his The Lost World of Scripture, co-authored with John Walton, is an insidious attack on inerrancy and authorship via appeal to extra-biblical authorities).

In saying this I am not claiming that there is no such thing as apocalyptic.  But I am saying that a truly biblical approach to it will have to look very different than the standard critical proposals.  This is because the assumptions which force critical scholarship into interpreting the genre contradict the Bible’s own worldview, including the origin and purpose of language and the function of the prophet.

  1. Before swallowing the ideas of apocalyptic literature it is wise to examine the presuppositions of those who promote it. 

To show how liberal writers understand their work let us hear from one of the foremost authorities on apocalyptic literature in the world.  One of John Collins’s main arguments about Jewish apocalyptic is that it borrowed from the folklore (his word) of the surrounding cultures.  On the strength of this he makes an obvious inference:

It should be clear that a mythological allusion does not carry the same meaning and reference in an apocalyptic context as it did in the original myth.  If the “one like the son of man” who comes on the clouds in Daniel 7 alludes to the Canaanite figure of Baal, this is not to say that he is identified as Baal, or that the full story of Baal is implied.  It merely suggests that there is some analogy between this figure and the traditional conception of Baal.  In the same way, the “Son of Man” passage in Mark 13:26 alludes to Daniel, but the figure in Mark does not have the same reference as it had in Daniel, and the full narrative of Daniel 7 is not implied.” –  John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination (2nd edition), 19. 

Of course, Jesus Himself believed that Daniel was a historical figure, and plainly implied that He was the “Son of Man” about whom Daniel wrote.  Furthermore, Jesus clearly viewed “the abomination of desolation” as prophetical, not apocalypse in the sense Collins would make it (see Mark 13:14).  But if you view Daniel as a pseudonymous second century composite work as Collins does his thesis about myth-borrowing looks plausible.  It becomes implausible only when one begins with Scripture as the Word of God.

Of course, Collins et al do not believe that Daniel is describing actual events.  He views Daniel as ex eventu prophecy, written centuries after the protagonists were dead.  Neither does he hold that books like Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah record predictions.  From this starting point it is a foregone conclusion that he will entertain very different opinions about the nature of apocalypses than the present writer.  Since apocalyptic language cannot be describing events and persons, nor is it predictive as such, then it is primarily aimed at arousing emotions.

Biblical scholarship in general has suffered from a preoccupation with the referential aspects of language and with the factual information that can be extracted from a text.  Such an attitude is especially detrimental to the study of poetic and mythological material, which is expressive language, articulating feelings and attitudes rather than describing reality in an objective way.  The apocalyptic literature provides a rather clear example of language that is expressive rather than referential, symbolic rather than factual. – Ibid, 17

The effect that liberal presuppositions about dating, divine inspiration, borrowing from Canaanite myths, and predictive prophecy have upon ones understanding of a genre is very profound.  But conservatives have bought into the conclusions of such scholars while trying to hold on to the Bible as inspired.  Yet, if they were being consistent with the biblical worldview, these ideas would have informed their study of apocalyptic literature, at least in the Bible, and lead to the formulation of a separate set of conclusions about apocalyptic.

Moreover, those evangelicals who have drank most deeply from the liberal wells are the ones who end up sounding more and more like their critical mentors.   Sometimes the contradictions are embarrassing.  For example, Chalmers is of the opinion that chapters 7 to 12 of the Book of Daniel represent the “most fully developed example of apocalyptic” in the Old Testament.  – Aaron Chalmers, Interpreting the Prophets, 132.

But then he says in a footnote that the fully grown form of apocalyptic arose about the third and second centuries B.C. – Ibid, n. 8.  All the liberal protagonists in the field of apocalyptic literature adhere doggedly to a second century date for Daniel, and they would use Chalmers’ argumentation to argue to that end.

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Ten Lines of Evidence for Interpreting Ezekiel 40-48 as Depicting a Literal Temple

Image: Tom Vanderwell

Here is a piece which originally belonged in some correspondence I had with a covenant theologian.  I have added a few things, but I think it makes a decent stand-alone article. 

Some amillennialists think that the original hearers of Ezekiel couldn’t comprehend a future glorious kingdom where Israel is regenerate, and Messiah reigns in justice and righteousness from Jerusalem.  That they couldn’t see a time where priests serve God in a new temple.

I think they could in fact do this from attending to the following passages: Num. 25:10-13; Deut. 30:6f., or Psa. 2, 89, 105, 106, Isa. 2, 11, 26-27, 35, 43, 44, 45, 51, 62; Jer. 23, 30, 31, 33, or Hos. 2:16f. or Mic. 4, or Zeph. 3, or indeed from Ezek. 34, 36-37.

It seems that Ezekiel’s near contemporary Zechariah (6:12-13, 8:1-3; 14:16f.), and Malachi (3:2-3) believed these things too. Zechariah, for example, predicts a future temple built after Jerusalem has been changed topographically where the King is worshiped at the temple (Zech. 14).

No premillennialist, or Dispensationalist (or Biblical Covenantalist) would say that Ezekiel’s audience could know the time when the temple would be built.  They could only know that it would be built.  They could know this because Ezekiel’s temple could only be constructed…

a). once Israel were no longer under the Mosaic covenant – because the service etc. of Ezekiel’s temple does not agree with Moses

b). after topographical changes occurred which would make the huge project possible

c). once the glory of the Lord was ready to return to bless Israel and dwell with them forever.  That didn’t happen in Nehemiah’s day, and it hasn’t happened yet, so logically it must either be the future (or else these chapters form one of the greatest circumlocutions in all of literature!)

Again, Ezekiel didn’t know that the Messianic Kingdom would last a thousand years. He didn’t have John’s Revelation (some who have the Book of Revelation still don’t know that Christ will reign a thousand years!). We don’t have to demonstrate anything that wasn’t revealed after Ezekiel’s time to realize that his original audience knew he was referring to a future temple.

But here are ten evidences that Ezekiel meant us to understand him as referring to a literal temple building complex that will be erected in future Israel.

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1. Ezekiel calls it a temple over and over.  E.g. In Ezekiel 40:5, 45 – where the priestly function is mentioned; in 41:6-10 – where its chambers are described in pedantic detail; in 42:8 – where the length of the chambers depends on their position relative to the sanctuary; in 43:11 – where God declares: “make known to them the design of the house, its structure, its exits, its entrances, all its designs, all its statutes, and all its laws. And write it in their sight, so that they may observe its whole design and all its statutes, and do them.”  How can any reader take these details seriously and find their fulfillment in the NT church?

Moving forward in the passage, in Ezekiel 43:21 a bull is to be offered as a sin-offering outside the house; in 45:20 – an atonement is made for the simple on the seventh day of the month; in 46:24 – sacrifices are boiled at designated places; and in 48:21 – the huge allotment for the sanctuary is measured (it is very different to New Jerusalem in Rev. 21!).

2. There are laws to perform in the temple (Ezek. 43:11-12).  Quite how one can perform these commands in the church is a mystery beyond the mystery of the church itself.

3. Ezekiel stipulates two divisions of priests, only one of whom (Zadokites) can approach the Lord (44:15).  These Zadokites are given land separate from other Levites (48:11).

4. Ezekiel refers to New Moons and sacrifices (46:1, 6).  New Jerusalem has no need of moonlight (Rev. 21:23).

5. The tribes of Israel are given specific allotments of land all around the temple (Ezek. 48)

6.  The two temples at the beginning and the end of the Book of Ezekiel form a structural arc.  The first temple is literal.  Nothing is said about the more detailed temple at the end of Ezekiel being a mere symbol.  In fact, in Ezekiel 8:3ff. “the visions of God” recorded what really did occur (cf. 40:2), not what would symbolically happen.

7. In Ezekiel 10 the Shekinah leaves the actual temple in Jerusalem by the East Gate.  In chapter 43 it returns via the East Gate and remains.

8. A sanctuary is mentioned in the new covenant chapters (Ezekiel 36 & 37).  For example, after Israel has been cleansed, God declares: “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever.” (Ezek. 37:26. Cf. 43:7).

This indicates something about the timing of the fulfillment of the temple prophecy.  This agrees with the timing indicated in the last verse of Ezekiel: “the name of the city from that day shall be, ‘The LORD is there” (Ezek. 48:35)

9. At least three times Ezekiel is commanded to pay close attention to specifics: 40:4; 43:10-11; 44:5.  The symbolic interpretation ignores these details when seeking to explain the meaning of the vision.  If an interpretation passes over what God has told us to pay close attention to, that interpretation must be suspect.

10. A future temple is necessary in light of God’s everlasting covenant with the Zadokites’ ancestor Phinehas (Num. 25:10-13; Psa. 106:30-31. Cf. Jer. 33:14f., Mal. 3:1-4).  Zechariah 6:12-13; 14:8-9, 16f., describes temple conditions in Israel which have never yet existed, but which match Ezekiel 36-48.

Please look up the references above and see if I have distorted what the verses say.  I have simply allowed the Bible to speak.  If someone doesn’t believe these evidences and instead wants to interpret a portion of the Bible that is longer than First Corinthians as a “word-picture” or “type”, then let them explain their interpretation from the text.  I think that is a reasonable position.