Friday, October 31, 2003

Lesson 5: A Future Kingdom for Israel (Part 3)

Pretribulation Rapture: Five Reasons

No feature is more closely tied to dispensational premillennialism than the pretribulation rapture. There are at least five major arguments in support of this doctrine. 102

1. The purpose of the tribulation demands it. The tribulation is not about the Church. It is part of God's plan for the Jews, to prepare to accept Christ. It is "Jacob's trouble" as prophesied by Jeremiah:

How awful that day will be! None will be like it. It will be a time of trouble for Jacob,
but he will be saved out of it.
(Jer. 30:7)

It is a later day trial that will foster the return of Jews into favor with God:

27 The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the LORD will drive you. 28 There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell. 29 But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and obey him. (Deut 4:27-30)

During the tribulation God's wrath will be for the entire world:

For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" (Rev 6:17)

The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great-- and for destroying those who destroy the earth." (Rev 11:18)

However, God promises to spare the church from wrath:

and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Th. 1:10)

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Th. 5:9)

Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. (Rev 3:10)

Therefore logic demands that the church be removed prior to the rapture.

2. The imminence of the blessed hope. Paul teaches of a "blessed hope" for believers that can occur without notice:

11For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, (Titus 2:11-13)

9for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Th. 1:9-10)

These passages, according to dispensationalists, refer to the rapture. If the blessed hope is imminent, then in effect it occurs without any precursor signs. The tribulation would be a whopper of a sign; hence the rapture must come first. In fact, no other event in the prophecy timeline should come before the rapture.

To some dispensationalists, nothing is more important than the imminence of the blessed hope, or equivalently the surprise nature of the rapture. They find it abhorrent should occur after the tribulation which would deny the imminence of the blessed hope, for the believer would know at the beginning of the tribulation that the rapture was seven (or three and a half) years into the future. 103

This "next event on the prophetic timetable" argument is bolstered, according to dispensationalists, by the fact that scripture that deals with the rapture never talks about signs, while scripture dealing with the Second Coming does.

Matthew 24 [The Olivet Discourse] is by far the most exhaustive [example of Second Coming text] and in my judgment relates events that will occur throughout the tribulation. In Matt. 24:32-51 our Lord makes it clear that these signs are to alert the believer that His coming is near. 104

The remaining three reasons for the pretribulation rapture will be discussed in the next segment.

102 Grenz, The Millennial Maze, pp. 105-107.
103 Ibid. p. 106.
104 Paul Feinberg, Case for a Pretribulation Rapture, pp. 80-86.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Christmas Carols... not!

Last night I arrived at prayer meeting early. There was a group of parishioners as well as my pastor practicing the music for our Christmas Cantata.

They were singing Joy to the World when I arrived. I sat in the back an listened. They sounded great.

After they finished Joy to the World my pastor saw me and came to talk to me with a big grin. He said he had been thinking about me as they were singing. This is because in my Sunday School class on eschatology I had pointed out something that is well known to hymn historians, that is Joy to the World is not a Christmas Carol. It is a celebration of postmillennialism. Just look at the words:
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessing flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of His righteousness,
and wonders of His love,
and wonders of His love,
and wonders, wonders of His love.

This refers to a future golden age on earth. At the first advent, the earth did not receive her king. Christ came to die, and few hearts prepared Him room.

It was fun pointing this out to the class (in no small part due to the fact that as far as I know I am the only postmillennialist in a congregation of mostly dispensational premills.)

Our conversation drifted onto another topic. In the background, I heard the musicians begin to practice It Came Upon a Midnight Clear:
O ye, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Another postmillennial hymn. Nothing to with Christmas. Christ's first coming did not bring peace to all the earth. However, we are promised that some day there will be a time of peace on earth. And someday the whole world will give back the song.

I held my tongue—perchance I can have some fun later.

I like the way the cantata is shaping up!

I wonder if O come, O come, Emmanuel is on the slate?

Do you know other Christmas carols that are not really about Christmas?

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Intelligent Design Interlude

Just read this article on biological convergence by Fazale Rana and found it particularly fascinating.

Convergence is the term given when a similarity occurs in a physical characteristic of two unrelated organisms. The more the complex the characteristic and the more unrelated the organisms, the more striking the convergence.

Consider the two explanations for convergence:

Evolution: Similar environmental pressures channeled the "genetic algorithms" into finding the same optimal solution in the two organisms, given they faced the same challenges.

Intelligent Design: God reused design patterns in different species as He saw fit.

When the two organisms come from radically different environments is when the case against evolution is the strongest.

Here is one example from the Rana's article (see the link for references):
An even more remarkable example of convergence occurring in aquatic and terrestrial environments can be seen in the sandlance (fish) and chameleon (reptile), respectively. Recent experiments have uncovered an extraordinary similarity in the visual systems and behavior for these two creatures. Both the chameleon and the sandlance move their eyes independent of one another in a jerky manner, rather than in concert. While one eye is in motion the other eye is motionless. Moreover, both animals use the cornea of the eye to focus on objects. All other reptiles and fish use the lens of the eye to focus images on the retina. The chameleon and sandlance both rely on a specialized muscle (the cornealis muscle) to adjust the focusing of the cornea. The chameleon determines depth perception using a single eye. Scientists believe the sandlance also determines depth perception in this manner. Both the sandlance and the chameleon have skin coverings over their eyes to prevent them from being conspicuous to both predators and prey. The feeding behavior of both animals is also the same. The trajectory that the chameleon tongue takes when attacking its prey is the same as that taken by the sandlance when it lunges for its prey. (The sandlance buries itself in sand beds with its eyes above the surface of the sand and waits for tiny crustaceans to pass by.)

The words of the team of researchers who were among the first to discover this convergence are compelling: "When faced with a beautifully coordinated optical system such as this, it is a challenge to provide an explanation for the convergence of so many different finely-tuned mechanisms."

Lesson 5: A Future Kingdom for Israel (Part 2)

Scriptural Support for Dispensationalism

Let us turn our attention to some of the important passages that dispensationalists point to in support of their eschatology.

Note: In this section we to not refute the claims of biblical support, we merely point out some passages that dispensationalists use to fortify their position.

The pride and joy of dispensationalism, as we have repeatedly stressed, is their literal hermeneutic:
The primary goal of dispensationalist expositors is to accept the text of scripture at its face value.99

The consequence of paramount importance regarding this approach to scripture interpretation is that prophecy directed at Israel must be fulfilled as given and directed toward the actual nation of Israel (or to the Jews), not to a "spiritual Israel".

(See how this leads to a radical distinction between Israel and the Church?—Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with dispensationalism you should never discount the power of a choice of hermeneutic. Once chosen, the entire dispensational doctrine, while perhaps not inevitable, more or less falls out.)

We have already discussed, for example, how this approach, when applied to the book of Ezekiel results in the expectation that the temple will be rebuilt in the millennium to the exacting specifications contained therein, and that commemorative animal sacrifices will be conducted.

The Church is not the New Israel

Even in the absence of scripture that explicitly states the Church is not the new Israel, it would have to be a foundational teaching of dispensationalism, because for dispensationalists, the plain reading of "Israel" is the nation of Israel, not a spiritual Israel. Beyond that, dispensationalists do point to some passages as teaching this distinction explicitly. These are mostly verses in which Paul contrasts national Israel and the Church, including:

Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—(1 Cor. 10:32)

3For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. (Rom. 9:3-4)

There is also a "poof by omission" argument. It goes something like this.
  • The Church is not mentioned in the Old Testament.
  • Thus it was unknown to the prophets.
  • It is also not mentioned in a description of the tribulation (the seventieth week of Daniel) described in Rev. 4 through Rev. 18.
  • Thus the church is not present in the tribulation.
  • Conclusion: the church is something altogether different from Israel, as it is not present in these "bookends" where God is dealing with Jews. Hence it was inserted as a parenthesis or intercalation.

Speaking of the seventieth week of Daniel, the "parenthesis" theory is closely related to the gap theory. Dispensationalists see a gap (not closed until the rapture) between the sixty-ninth week of Daniel and the seventieth week.

Most interpreters (not just dispensationalists) interpret the seventy weeks of Daniel 9 as "weeks of years", i.e., 490 years. Many also place the start, or terminus a quo, of the seventy weeks at the decree of Artaxerxes circa 457 B.C. (Ezra 7:11-26). While avoiding an attempt at over precision, it is generally agreed that at the end of the first sixty-nine weeks we are somewhere in Christ's earthly ministry. The question on the table is, what of the last week?

Dispensationalists place the end of the sixty-ninth week at the point where Christ offers the kingdom (Palm Sunday). As a result (at least from a human perspective) of the rejection, the kingdom was postponed and Christ was crucified.

The seventieth week, the purpose of which is to prepare the Jews to accept Jesus as the son of God, has been put in abeyance. There is an indeterminate gap between week sixty-nine and seventy.

The proof of this position, given the absence of an explicit reference to a gap, is a consistency argument. The interpretation is consistent with the parenthesis doctrine and the fact that the tribulation is identified with Daniel's prophecy in the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24. Since (according to dispensationalism) the events described in Matthew 24 have not occurred, it is only logical that the gap exists, even without explicit support.

Tribulation Saints

Most dispensationalists argue that gentiles that are left behind after the rapture will be free to accept Christ, i.e., will have a "second chance" as it were. However, they will have a very difficult time and face the near certainty of martyrdom.

Most of the biblical support is in the form of passages that, according to dispensationalists (a) describe the tribulation and (b) describe saints suffering during the tribulation. There is a fine line to walk here, for a description of saints suffering during the tribulation is prima facie evidence against the dispensational belief that the Church does not endure the tribulation. The only explanation is that these saints are those converted after the rapture. Here are some of the verses:

As I watched, this horn [The antichrist] was waging war against the saints and defeating them, (Dan. 7:21)

5This title was written on her forehead: MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. 6I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. (Rev. 17:5-6)

LaHaye and Jenkins write:
Assumed by these [and other similar] passages and explicitly according to Joel 2:28-32, the Holy Spirit will be alive and well on planet Earth during the tribulation, convicting all who are open to God with the gospel truth that Jesus died for their sins… 100

No Second Chance?

Now there is an opposing view within dispensationalism that holds that there is no second chance for the gentiles left behind. They point to verses such as:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Heb 12:1)

For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2)

I don't have a good handle on this doctrine, but I have been told101 that whatever faith is exhibited by the left behind gentiles is not a saving faith, but something akin to the faith of the demons as described in James:

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder. (James 2:19)

This is an internal debate within dispensationalism, so I will not pursue it further.

Much more to come on biblical support….

99 Ryrie, Dispensationalism, p. 96.
100 Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Are We Living in the End Times?, (Tyndale), 1999, pp. 318-319.
101 Stuart Campbell, private communication.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Lesson 5: A Future Kingdom for Israel (Part 1)

Having studied dispensationalism, we now return to the end times. The hope of our foray into dispensationalism was that it would help us to understand dispensational premillennialism, the "Left Behind" eschatology that dominates American evangelism.

One last micro review: when all is said and done, the most important points to keep in mind regarding dispensationalism are just two:
  1. Its literal hermeneutic, i.e., its goal of interpreting scripture literally, at least as much as possible.

  2. The radical distinction it draws between Israel and the Church.

Dispensational Premillennialism is the first of the four views that we will examine in depth—beyond just a list of features. In each case we will follow the format of Grenz's book, The Millennial Maze. We will first review the features, then provide the biblical support (as seen by that view's proponents) and finally a scripture-based critique (as seen by that view's opponents).

Review of the features of Premillennial Dispensationalism

By the mid twentieth century, dispensational premillennialism had become the dominant eschatology in America, supplanting postmillennialism.

In studying its rise in popularity, one can hardly overemphasize the importance of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. This incredible event seemed to validate dispensationalism and its literal hermeneutic.

In the post war (as in WWII) days, many also pointed to the rise of the Soviet Union96 as the obvious candidate for the kingdom of the north in reference to the Gog/Megog war of Ezekiel 38 and 39. This war, not to be confused with Armageddon in the complex dispensational timeline, occurs before the tribulation.97 In view of the breakup of the Soviet Union, it is now commonly believed to be an alliance98 of Moslem nations committing a surprise attack on Israel. They will be defeated, it is taught, due in large part to divine, supernatural acts of nature:

I will execute judgment upon him with plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur on him and on his troops and on the many nations with him. (Ezek. 38:22)

Two People, Two Plans

We are now prepared to view dispensational eschatology in light of their distinction between Israel and the church. These two distinct peoples are the subjects of two distinct phases of God's redemptive plans.

The phase concerning Israel focuses on the blessings, including land and prosperity, promised to the descendents of Abraham. According to dispensationalism:
  • None of these promises has been abrogated.
  • None of these promises has been enmeshed into the Church; the Church is not the New Israel.
  • Some promises have not been fulfilled.
  • Therefore, God must at some point return to dealing with the nation of Israel, because God always fulfills His promises.

The phase concerning the Church focuses on spiritual blessings God has for people of all nations who accept Christ and become Abraham's spiritual descendents.

The dispensational literal hermeneutic is most important, according to dispensationalists, when it distinguishes between Israel and the church. Only by this careful exegesis can one heed Paul's advice to Timothy:

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15, NKJV)

This is, of course, the very verse that has provided dispensationalism with its "rightly dividing" mantra.

The Israel Phase: Suspended

God's plan for Israel was suspended when (often believed to be on Palm Sunday) Christ's offer of an earthly political kingdom was rejected. As we have seen, the church, established at Pentecost, is then viewed as a parenthesis or intercalation.

As we will see, dispensationalism teaches that neither the Tribulation nor the millennium has anything whatsoever to do with the Church. Both events have to do with the completion of God’s plans with the Jews. The tribulation is meant to foster the conversion of large numbers of Jews who finally accept Christ. The millennium is when God fulfills those promises to Israel, which have been held in abeyance during the church age.

The Church is prominent in this age. The tribulation and the millennium are properly concerned with the Jews. So what of the Church?

The Church must go. It must go before the tribulation. It must be raptured.

(At this point, it is hoped, the study of dispensationalism seems worthwhile. This all fits together (whether it is correct is another story altogether) only if one understands dispensationalism and its view of Israel and the Church. Otherwise dispensational premillennialism is nothing more than a bizarre and complex timeline. And nobody prior to dispensationalism ever postulated anything close to it. Either it required the insight gained through dispensationalism to discern the truth, or it is a Rube Goldberg constructed to fit dispensationalism. That is what you’ll have to decide for yourself. )

So dispensationalism leads us inexorably to the doctrine of the pretribulational rapture. Christians who have died, along with those alive at the time, will meet the Lord in the air. This is a secret second coming. The real second coming is not until seven years later, at the culmination of the tribulation. There are two phrases to keep distinct:

The blessed hope: the pretribulational rapture
The glorious appearing: the real Second Coming at the end of the seven year tribulation

After the dead and living saints are raptured, the Lord takes them to heaven to face the judgment seat of Christ and to celebrate the marriage supper of the Lamb, as described in Rev. 19.

The tribulation plays out as follows:
  • The appearance of the politically powerful antichrist occurs at the start of the tribulation
  • God’s wrath is unleashed on the world in unprecedented doses
  • The suffering prepares the way for Israel’s return to God. 144,000 Jews will be converted during the tribulation.
  • The tribulation ends with the battle of Armageddon, where the nations of the world unite to destroy Israel. Instead, they are defeated by the glorious appearance of Christ—the Second Coming.
  • Christ is acknowledged as King, Satan is bound, and the millennium begins

As to events after the millennium, dispensational premillennialism is in agreement with historic premillennialism. Satan is released from the bottomless pit and leads the unrepentant nations in a rebellion, which is promptly squelched by fire from heaven. Then comes the general resurrection of both the tribulation saints and the unrighteous, with the latter facing the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20). Satan and the damned are cast into the lake of fire.

After that, at last, the eternal state.

Next we will look at biblical support for dispensational premillennialism, followed by a critique.

96 For example, John F Walvoord, Russia—King of the North, Fundamentalist Journal 3/1
97 This is something of a problem for dispensationalism, which teaches that the "blessed hope"imminent nature of the rapture implies that there is nothing on the paused-prophetic clock prior to the tribulation. In fact there is something on the clock—The Gog/Megog war. More about this later.
98 Sometimes, in trying to understand the difficult prophecy of Ezekiel 38 and 39, and the mysteriously names allies of Gog, a very peculiar alliance is postulated involving Turkey, Ethiopia, Egypt and Libya.

Lesson 4: Dispensationalism

Although I promised one comprehensive posting on Lesson 4 of my Sunday School, I have decided that is a waste of time. Instead I will just provide the links to all the separate posts that make up the lesson:

Part 1: Defining Dispensationalism
Part 2: Dispensationalism (cont.)
Part 3: Dispensationalism: Its View of the Church
Part 4: Dispensationalism and the Atonement
Part 5: The Kingdom Offer?
Part 6: Dispensationalism and the Law
Part 7: Lordship Salvation: Introduction
Part 8: Lordship Salvation: A Dispensational Dispute

Later today I should be posting the first part of Lesson 5: A Future Kingdom for Israel.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Lordship Salvation: A dispensational dispute

It what follows, it can be assumed that within dispensationalism, MacArthur represents the Lordship position, Hodges the extreme non-Lordship, and Ryrie a moderate, in-between position.

Most of this post is taken from Mathison's book Dispensationalism, Rightly Dividing the People of God?

MacArthur has notedseven fundamental points on which he, Ryrie, and Hodges agree:

  1. Cross. Christ’s death paid the full penalty for all our sins and purchased salvation. (Rom. 3:24-26, 1 Cor 15:54-57)

  2. Justification by Faith. Salvation is by faith through Jesus alone—plus minus nothing. (Eph. 2:8-9)

  3. Good Works. Sinners cannot earn salvation or favor with God. (Rom. 8:8)

  4. Prerequisites for Salvation. God requires no preparatory works or prerequisite self-improvement. (Rom. 10:13, 1 Tim 1:15)

  5. Eternal Life. Eternal Life is a gift from God. (Rom. 6:23)

  6. Immediate Justification. Believers are saved and fully justified before their faith ever produces a single righteous work. (Eph. 2:10)

  7. Believers and Sin. Christians can and do sin. Even strong Christians are in constant battle against the flesh. Genuine Christians sometimes commit heinous sins (David, c.f., 2 Sam. 11)

On these points, there is general agreement within dispensationalism.

However, MacArthur lists nine points upon which there is disagreement: Repentance, Faith, Faith’s Object, Faith’s Effects, Salvation’s Extent, Christ’s Lordship, Holy Desires, Assurance and Perseverance.

Below we present a table (from Mathison) that shows that radical Non-Lordship (Hodges), moderate Non-Lordship (Ryrie), and Lordship (MacArthur) positions on each of these points of contention
Radical Non-Lordship Moderate Non-LordshipLordship
RepentanceRepentance has absolutely nothing to do with salvation and should therefore never be included in the gospel message. Repentance is not a part of conversion but simply a change of mind about something. It is not meant to be part of the gospel message. The gospel calls sinners to faith in oneness with repentance. Repentance is turning from sin, not a work but a divine grace. Acts 2:38, 3:19, 11:18, 17:30, 20:21, 26:18-20;2 Pet. 3.9; Luke 3:8, 24:47; 2 Tim 2:25
FaithFaith is simply the belief in the truthfulness of certain facts. It is solely the work of man and not a gift of God. Faith is primarily being convinced of the facts of the gospel, but it also includes an act of the will and an element of trust in the person. Salvation is all God’s work. Those who believe are saved apart from any effort on their own. Even faith is a gift, not a work of man. Titus 3:5; Eph. 2:1-5,8; Phil. 1:6; Heb. 11.
Faith's ObjectThe object of faith is the collection of facts of the gospel message.The object of saving faith is The Lord Jesus Christ. The object of faith is Christ Himself, not only a creed or promise. Faith therefore involves personal commit-ment to Christ. All true believers follow Jesus. John 3:16, 10:27-28; 2 Cor. 5:15
Faith's EffectsThe only necessary effect of faith is salvation from the eternal penalty of sin. A life of continued growth in grace (progressive sanctification) and salvation from the power of sin are not necessary effects. Some fruit is inevitable in a true Christian life, though it may never be outwardly visible. Real faith inevitably produces a changed life. Salvation includes a transformation of the inner person. The nature of the Christian is different, new. The unbroken pattern of sin will not continue. 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:6, 1 John 3:9-10
Salvation's ExtentSalvation means gaining eternal life. The other aspects of Christian life are different kinds of ‘salvation’, which believers must experience after conversion. Salvation guarantees justification and “positional” sanctification but not necessarily “progressive” sanctification. The gift of God, eternal life, includes all that pertains to life and godliness, not just a ticket to heaven. Rom. 6:6, 8:32; 2 Pet. 1:3.
Christ's LordshipThere should be absolutely no aspect of submission to the lordship of Christ in the gospel messageA person can accept Jesus as savior without acknowledging Him as Lord of one’s life and without being willing to allow Him control over ones life.Jesus is the Lord of all and the faith He demands involves unconditional surrender. He does not bestow eternal life on those whose hearts remain set against Him. Rom. 6:17:18, 10:9-10; James 4:6
Holy DesiresThe scriptural revelation knows nothing of a doctrine in which Christian love is guaranteed by the mere fact that one is a Christian. Ryrie argues that believers my live like unsaved people for extended periods of time, but he does not believe this will be the lifelong state of any Christian. Those who truly believe will love Christ. They will therefore long to obey Him. John 14:15,23; 1 Pet. 1:8-9; Rom 8:28-30; 1 Cor. 16:22
AssuranceWhen a person believes he has assurance of life eternal. A continuous lack of fruit in a believer’s life should never cause him to question his salvation. The bible offers two grounds for assurance. The objective ground is that God’s word says that I am saved through faith…The subjective ground relates to my experiences.Behavior is an important test of faith. Obedience is evidence that one’s faith is real. The person who remains utterly unwilling to obey Christ does not evidence true faith. 1 John 2:3-4
PerseveranceIt is possible for a person to cease believing and yet remain a Christian.Ryrie agrees with Hodges: faith is a point in time action and may not continue in a Christian. Genuine believers may stumble and fall, but they will persevere in the faith. Those who turn completely away show that they were never really born again. 1 John 2:19; 1 Cor. 1:8

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Lordship Salvation (Introduction)

We can now look at perhaps the most incendiary debate raging within dispensationalism, the Lordship Salvation Controversy.

Some cast the debate as one regarding the conditions for salvation, some over the necessary consequences of salvation, and others over assurance of salvation.

Let us begin with a scholarly definition. We will use one from Gentry:
The Lordship view expressly states the necessity of acknowledging Christ as the Lord and Master of one’s life in the act of receiving Him as Savior. These are not two different, sequential acts (or successive steps), but rather one act of pure trusting faith—Kenneth L. Gentry, The Great Option: A Study of the Lordship Controversy, Baptist Reformation Review (BRR) 5 (Spring), 1976, pp. 49-79 .
Although this began as a debate within dispensationalism, Covenant Theologians have jumped in, as proponents of Lordship Salvation. As far as I know, no Covenant Theologians argue against Lordship Salvation. So the battle-lines are:

Lordship: Dispensationalists and Covenant Theologians
Non-Lordship: Dispensationalists

Now the terms used here are themselves controversial, because clearly nobody in the non-Lordship camp denies that Jesus is Lord. Alas, nobody has come with a better set of terms that is not viewed as pejorative by one of the camps. For example, the Non-Lordship proponents prefer to label their view with terms like the free-grace position, but clearly their opponents would not deny that grace is free. So for better or worse we will stick with Lordship and non-Lordship with the understanding that the terms are far from perfect.

Let us go back and try to put Gentry's academic definition into more nuts and bolts terms.

Another way the same debate has been cast is costly-salvation vs. easy beliefism. Again, the term easy-beliefism may be considering insulting, but we will use it nonetheless. Here we get a flavor for the debate: it is between those (Lordship) who say there is an immediate and inevitable cost to salvation (imitating Christ, picking up one's cross) and those (non-Lordship) who say that the "cost" of being a Christian does not necessarily begin immediately and in some cases may not be incurred at all.

Yet another way to formulate the debate is over the possible existence of "carnal Christians". A carnal Christian is one who has sincerely accepted Christ but has shown no change whatsoever in his lifestyle. He continues to live entirely in the world.

Lordship: There is no such thing as a carnal Christian.
Non-Lordship: Carnal Christians exists.

The Lordship position does not hold that every Christian has great piety and is overwhelmingly successful in battling sin from day one. It does say that the process of sanctification, evidenced by good works, begins immediately even if in very small and slowly growing quantities.

Finally, a negative way that the debate is described: between those (Lordship) who teach salvation by works and those (non-Lordship) who advocate a form of antinomianism.

The impact of this on evangelism is probably obvious. While one may not endorse the particulars of the following hypothetical encounter, it serves to illuminate further the question at hand:
After we had talked for a couple of hours, the young man seemed to be prepared to give himself to Christ. My friend, no doubt sensing that asked him a question: "In light of all we have talked about this evening, can you think of any reason why you should not become a Christian tonight?"

The young man sat for a few minutes, then looked back at him and replied, "No, I cannot think of any reason."

I was excited by this, but to my amazement, my friend leaned across the table and said, "Then let me give you some!"

For the next few minutes he began to explain the cost of being a Christian. He talked about the young man’s need to surrender his whole life, his future, his ambitions, his relationships, his possessions, and everything he was to God. Only if he was prepared to do this, my friend explained, could Christ begin to work effectively in his life.

… My friend then leaned even further across the table and asked, "Can you still not think of any reason why you shouldn’t become a Christian tonight?"

After another moment, the reply came, "I can think of some now."

My friend responded, "In that case, do not become a Christian until you have dealt with every one of those reasons and are willing to surrender everything to Christ." –Charles Price, Real Christians (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1987), 55-56.

The Non-Lordship observer wanted the witnessing to cease when the young man seemed eager to accept. The Lordship evangelist went on to explain the costs of being a Christian.

Here is a homework assignment: Go read how Christ witnessed, and decide whether he also emphasized the cost of following Him.

The history of the debate is not easy to ascertain. Some have tied the Lordship position directly to Calvinism:
Lordship salvation flows from a Calvinistic foundation. God has chosen a people and He will save them. He regenerates them and grants them the gifts of repentance and faith. Such a work of salvation transforms them. God has also justified them and He has begun the work of sanctification in them which He will also perfect. Through trials, difficulties, and even failures, they are not only eternally secure but will persevere in holiness and faith.—Richard P. Belcher, A Layman’s Guide to the Lordship Controversy (Southbridge, MS: Crowne Publications), 1990, p. 99.
And indeed, those dispensationalists on the Lordship side of the debate tend to be from the Calvinist-leaning wing, such John MacArthur.

It may be an oversimplification but the Reformed school has always been on the Lordship side and so there was no raging controversy within Calvinism. For example when (Calvinist) J. I. Packer wrote in one of his most influential books:
In our own presentation of Christ's gospel, therefore, we need to lay a similar stress as Christ did on the cost of following Christ, and make sinners face it soberly before we urge them to respond to the message of free forgiveness.” –J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (InterVarsity Press) 1961, p. 73.

It did not cause a stir among Calvinists.

No, the battle didn't really rage until Packer's position was essentially endorsed by someone from within the ranks of dispensationalism: John MacArthur in his book The Gospel According to Jesus.

In his introduction, MacArthur writes:
This new gospel has spawned a generation of professing Christians whose behavior often is indistinguishable from the rebellion of the unregenerate. Recent statistics reveal that 1.6 billion people world-wide are considered Christians. A well-publicized opinion poll indicated nearly a third of all Americans claim to be born again. Those figures surely represent millions who are tragically deceived. Theirs is a damning false assurance.—John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus (Zondervan), 1988.

MacArthur's position in a nutshell: Evangelism based on easy-beliefism has resulted in many who have a false assurance of salvation, as evidenced by the fact that their profession of faith has not changed their lives.

MacArthur's book generated many responses from within dispensationalism. Two of the more important are Charles C. Ryrie's So Great Salvation (Wheaton: Victor Books), 1989, and Zane Hodges' Absolutely Free. (Zondervan), 1989.

It what follows, it can be assumed that within dispensationalism, MacArthur represents the extreme Lordship position, Hodges the extreme non-Lordship, and Ryrie a moderate, in-between position.

In the next installment, we tabulate the positions of the MacArthur, Ryrie, and Hodges on a number of issues such as Repentance and faith. You may be amazed at the extent to which the dispensationalists differ on such fundamental topics.

Sunday, October 19, 2003


On travel to San Diego this week 10/19 to 10/25--will post if possible. If not, see you next week.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Dispensationalism and the Law

(Note: these are continuing fragments of Lesson 4 of my end times Sunday school. I will eventually post a refined Lesson 4 in toto for those who are linking to the individual lessons.)

Dispensationalism has often faced the charge of antinomianism, or lawlessness. We will see some of the reasons in a bit. First I wanted to say the Reformed Theology has also had to, on occasion, face this charge, when heretical groups have perverted the doctrines of grace into a license to sin.

For Reformed Theology, it crops up occasionally either along the "grace abounds so who cares if we sin, in fact all the better" variety or the not totally unrelated "given predestination, our fate is sealed one way or the other so we might as well eat, drink, and make merry." In either case what we are talking about is not merely error but full fledged heresy.

Heretics teaching antinomianism sometimes use a caricature of Reformed Theology to justify their apostasy. In dispensationalism, the charge is more serious, namely that it is built into the system.

Classic Scofieldian dispensationalism teaches of seven dispensations: Innocence, Conscience, Civil Government, Promise, Law, Grace and Kingdom. You can find charts on the internet, here and here are two examples. (By the way, if you want to send an email to those Left Behind you can do that here. I am thinking about signing myself up with a message like "you don’t feel so smart now, do you knucklehead. You and you postmillennial trash talk." You know, Just In Case.)

The charge of antinomianism is on top of the equally serious charge that dispensationalism teaches more than one method of salvation. The latter charge, which I think is unfair, is Mr. Scofield's fault. For he wrote in his original Scofield bible:
As a dispensation, grace begins with the death and resurrection of Christ…The point of testing is no longer obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ, with good works as the fruit of salvation.—C. I. Scofield, Scofield Reference Bible (emphasis mine)

Recall Scofield's definition of a dispensation:
A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.—C. I. Scofield, Scofield Reference Bible (emphasis his)

Not only are you tested differently in each dispensation, but in at least two of the dispensations (law and grace) the result of the test is salvation or damnation. Talk about pass-fail. Anyway, Scofield (inadvertently, or wrong-headedly, but without question mistakenly according to his fellow dispensationalisists) implied that under law you are saved by obedience and under grace, by faith.

Dispensationalists have, ever since, been saying "Scofield didn’t really mean that." Fair enough. That such a statement must be disavowed is clear in light of the rest of scripture, such as:

2If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about--but not before God. 3What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." (Rom 4:2-3)

Abraham was saved by faith, not obedience.

While we grant that dispensationalism does not teach multiple methods of salvation, it is clear how their divisions make them prone to that mistake.

The same grace/law division that lead to Scofield's error has a more pervasive and insidious cousin which has not been disavowed and does lead some dispensationalists into antinomianism.

The error is in the dispensational teaching the Old Testament moral law does not apply in the current dispensation of grace. (In the book of Hebrews we learn that the ceremonial law has been lifted, that is not the issue.)

Surely they don't teach the moral law has been abrogated? Well, what do you make of these statements (as quoted by Mathison):
The law was never given to Gentiles and is expressly done away with for Christians—Charles C. Ryrie, Balancing The Christian Life, (Moody Press), 1969, p. 88.

What is law? The answer depends on what period of human history you are thinking about. —Ryrie, Balancing The Christian Life, p. 30.

The entire system, including the [Ten] commandments as a rule of life, ceased with the death of Christ.—Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, (Dallas Seminary Press), 1947, 7:225.

In another work, Chafer argues that Christ "disannulled" the law. (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Grace, Zondervan, 1922, p. 88.) And Ryrie teaches that we should presume that no Old Testament commands remain valid unless they are explicitly repeated in the New Testament. (Charles C. Ryrie, "The End of the Law", Bibliotheca Sacra, 1967, pp.239-242.

Think about that. The words of Christ Himself are certainly to the contrary:

17"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:17-19)

In this short passages Christ says twice (three times?) that He did not come to abolish the law. Furthermore, we have

31 "The time is coming," declares the LORD , "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.

33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD . "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
(Jer. 31:31,33)

The law, which the classic dispensationalists claim was for the Jews only, has, as prophesied by Jeremiah, been written onto the hearts of those of the New Covenant, which would be us.

This will lead us into a discussion of The Lordship Salvation controversy, in which dispensational antinomianism is made explicit.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Romans 9: It's about individuals

Several comments on Romans 9 in the post Does God Love Everyone? were along the lines of:
  1. The vessels of wrath are "preparing themselves" for destruction (v. 22)
  2. Hate does not mean hate (v. 4)
  3. Paul is talking about nations, not salvation of individuals
These are standard Arminian rebuttals of the consummate passage in scripture on sovereign election.

The vessels of destruction, which refer to the non-elect, are indeed prepared in advance for destruction. Anything else is tap dancing around unconditional election. Still, they are equipped with a free will which, corrupted by original sin, has caused them to make sinful choices from the time of conception. Hence they are also preparing themselves for destruction.

Moderate Calvinists are also sensitive about this issue, wary of the dreaded double predestination charge. They want God to be active in election, but passive otherwise. Scripture teaches that God is not passive with the non-elect, simply leaving them to prepare themselves for destruction—which they do quite skillfully—as, but for the grace of God, would we all. God does more. He hardens Pharaoh's heart. He gives sinful men over to their own desires (Rom 1:24). This suggests activity on God's part, not to make a man evil, he already is, and not in making a man "more evil", and not merely to pass over, but it suggests actively removing restraint. Upon removal of God's restraint, man actually sinks from a state of total depravity, a condition wherein he has no moral ability to choose God but may still act benevolently (with ultimately sinful motives), toward utter depravity, where there is not even a pretense of goodness.

Scripture could not be clearer on the issue. While one may argue weakly that God is not the subject in regards to the vessels of wrath (v. 22) there can be no doubt about Pharaoh, presented not as an exception but rather an archetype: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth," (Rom 9:17). It does not say God waited around until Pharaoh adequately prepared himself. Pharaoh was created as part of God's sovereign plan, he was not a "savable" man who, in spite of prevenient grace (which, if it existed, was evidently insufficient and therefore useless) made the wrong choice.

As for hate not meaning hate, that is something of a red herring. One could hardly argue against the obvious: God showed favor to Jacob that He withheld from Esau. Call it what you want, the two did not have a equal playing field.

Part of the problem here is that, with good intentions--but forgetful of our status as creatures, we want to apologize for any apparent aspersions on God's character that the bible seems to teach. God cannot hate—God is love. God cannot create vessels for destruction—God gives all the same shot. But we are required to believe what is written about God, not what we would like to have been written. Paul says as much in his preemptive strike in v20-21.

Romans 9 is most certainly about individual salvation. Any other exegesis is, in my opinion, tortured. Of course it starts out as a heartfelt lamentation for his (Paul's) countrymen (v1-5), but Paul segues in an interesting manner. First in verse 6:

It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. (Rom 9:6)

Here Paul says that the charge that God has not kept his promise to the Jews is unfounded, because not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. This is the beginning of the transition to individual salvation saying, in effect, Israel as a nation is irrelevant—it appears superficially that promises have not been kept to the Jewish nation, but they have been kept with the new Israel.

Paul emphasizes this in verse 8:

In other words, it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring. (Rom 9:8)

Couldn’t be clearer. Tracing your DNA back to Abraham ain’t worth a bucket of warm spit. It is the children of promise who are God’s children. Who are they? That's up to God, not bloodlines.

The children of promise are of the entire world. For the rest of the discussion related to election, Paul has set aside any notion of nations or races. He is telling us that God has chosen, individuals as Abraham's descendants (v 8), that individuals are given mercy at His discretion (v 15), and that these individuals were chosen ahead of time (v 23), and that their choice has nothing to do with their will (v 16).

Later, especially in chapter 10, he assures his country men that they have not been totally cast aside, that Jews, like men of all other nations, will be among the elect.

By the way, when discussing the question "Does God Love Everybody" I wish I had thrown these two verses into the mix:

The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. (Ps 5:5)

The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates. (Ps 11:5)

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Doo, doo, doo, lookin' out my back door

For those of you that God hasn't seen fit to locate in New England, here is a view out of my backdoor and one out of my front door.

The Kingdom Offer?

Classic dispensationalism teaches that Christ made an offer to the Jews to initiate his earthly kingdom, but the offer was rejected. As a consequence the New Testament church was formed and the kingdom postponed. The snooze button has been pressed on the prophetic clock. When it goes off again, the church will be raptured.

Here are some quotes from noted dispensationalists (as reported by Mathison):
Setting up Messiah’s kingdom, though first faithfully offered to Israel, was deferred and now awaits the return of the Messiah for its realization.—Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 5:347.

It was in his offer to Israel as their king that He was rejected—John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ our Lord, 282.

Throughout His earthly Jesus' Davidic kingship was proffered to Israel (Matt 2.2, 27:11, John 12:13), but He was rejected... the Messianic, Davidic kingdom was (from a human viewpoint) postponed.—Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, p. 259.

By stone or by storm, Satan carried on his relentless warfare in order to prevent Christ from coming to His appointed throne in the kingdom He had come to establish… Jesus was officially presenting himself as the covenanted Davidic king and was offering the covenanted kingdom to the covenanted people.—J. Dwight Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come, pp. 204-204.

Let's first look at the verses Ryrie claims for support:

and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." (Matt 2:2)

Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. (Matt 27:11)

They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, "Hosanna! " "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Blessed is the King of Israel!" (John 12:13)

All these verses confirm that Jesus is a king (which ironically, dispensationalists in some sense now deny), of that there is no doubt. They are necessary for the dispensational claim, but they are not, singly or collectively, sufficient. There is no offer in these passages, except by wild extrapolation, of an earthly Jewish theocracy.

On the contrary, we have:

Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6:15)

Instead of rejecting Christ’s offer to be king, the Jews tried to force him to be king—He rejected the Jewish offer, not the other way around. Dispensationalists could not be more wrong.

J. Dwight Pentecost's comment is particularly troublesome. He essentially concludes that Satan thwarted God's plan. (Remember: the kingdom offer is said by dispensationalists to be genuine and could have been accepted, which is why the Old Testament prophets could not have foreseen the church—there was a "chance" that it wouldn't be required.) This alleged ability of Satan is contrary to much scripture, such as

For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him?
His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?
(Isa. 14:27)

Pentecost either overestimates Satan or underestimates God, or both. Satan, it should be remembered had to ask God’s permission to have sport with Job and also with Peter.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Not scared off...

Took off Columbus day, and then got sick last night from something I ate. Hope to post today, but it all depends on how quickly I recover.

Friday, October 10, 2003

God loves everyone?

Tonight I am going to ask the senior high school kids in our youth group to defend or refute the statement:

God loves everyone.

What do you think? Does God love everyone?

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Dispensationalism and the Atonement

Dispensationalists tend to have a problem with the reformed doctrine of Limited or Definite Atonement.

Of course, as we saw last week, Calvinists have trouble with it as well, in as much as it is related to our Lord’s call. Many Calvinists insist that there is a genuine call from God to all men, while still holding to the notion that all but the regenerated elect are morally incapable of responding. There is a incongruity there that is not demanded by scripture, in fact it is countered by scripture, and it is entirely analogous to God handing a post card to a blind man and making a "genuine" offer along the lines of "If you describe this to me, you will be saved."

Oh well, no need to reopen old wounds. Today I will take a first, micro-look at the dispensationalist view of the Atonement.

First, two tangential points. Many dispensationalists claim to be four-point Calvinists (or Christmas Calvinists, a term I just learned recently in my comment section, that is Christmas as in No-L). They claim to accept all points of TULIP except for Limited Atonement. I will allow them that assertion, but in fact I believe it is cognitive dissonance. All five points are direct results of the Reformed (and biblical) view of God's Sovereignty. They stand or fall together.

The other aside is an admission: My incomplete study of dispensationalism has not led to an answer to this question: Is the nearly universal "moderate [incomplete] Calvinism" of dispensationalism an inevitable consequence or does it reflect the position of the movers and shakers, and consequently has made its way into the pews.

One thing is for sure—the strange walk between Calvinism and Arminianism is almost certainly responsible for the most important instance of dispensational fratricide: the so-called Lordship Salvation debate. This important development, which we will get to later, is largely a debate within dispensationalism, although others have joined in the fray.

So what do dispensationalists say about the Atonement?

Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of the Dallas Theological Seminary, and often hailed as a Calvinist, wrote the following:
that the death of Christ of itself saves no man, either actually or potentially, but that it does render all men savable—Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 3:185.

And Norman Geisler, another Dallas man, writes:
Therefore Christ must have died for the non-elect as well as the elect—Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free, p. 197.

I think it patently obvious that if the Atonement merely made all men savable, then the other petals from TULIP dry out and fall to the ground.

This view is in contrast to the Reformed view, which is that Christ's Atonement accomplished salvation for the elect of all ages (or, if you like, of all dispensations).

There is no good explanation, from dispensationalism (or Arminianism) as to how the Atonement rendered Abraham, Moses, and David "savable", and likewise Jezebel and Pharaoh and Judas. Only the insistence that all equally accrued the same benefit, potential salvation, from Christ's death. So it must be asserted, in spite of the difficulties, because dispensationalists insist, in the face of constant attack from detractors, that they do not teach a different salvation for Old Testament and New Testament believers.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Dispensationalism: Its view of the Church

Today, we start to look in detail at what is really the only important feature of dispensationalism, its unique doctrine of the church. Everything else, including the definition of a dispensation and the vaunted literal hermeneutic, is, in my opinion, a red herring.

As an aside, a comment on a previous post took exception that I make little distinction between a dispensation and a covenant. (As I replied, I never claimed that the dispensations mapped nicely onto the covenants, only that the meanings are the same, which renders a definition of dispensationalism based on dispensations pointless.)

Ryrie agrees. He wrote:
After rejecting the usual dispensational scheme of biblical distinctions, he [Covenant Theologian Louis Berkhof] enumerates his own schemes of dispensations or administrations reducing the number to two—Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Moody Press, 1966, p. 16.
Ryrie uses the word dispensation interchangeably for covenant, the word that Berkhof would use in describing his two biblical distinctions.

Anyway, today we enumerate seven distinctive features of the dispensational view of the church, lifted from Mathison’s book. (Note: Mathison’s book is a critique of dispensationalism, but I am not reporting on his rebuttals of the features, just his enumeration, which I believe is beyond refuting, as evidenced by the accompanying quotes, all from ardent dispensationalists.)

  1. God has two distinct programs in history, one for Israel and one for the church.
    The distinction between the purpose for Israel and the purpose for the church is about as important as that which exists between the two testaments—Lewis Sperry Chafer

    This is why the dispensationalist recognizes two purpose of God and insists in maintaining the distinction between Israel and the church—Charles C. Ryrie

  2. The church does not fulfill or take over any of Israel’s promises or purposes.
    That the Christian now inherits the distinctive Jewish promises is not taught in Scripture—Lewis Sperry Chafer

    The church is not fulfilling in any sense the promises to Israel—Charles C. Ryrie

  3. The church age is a "mystery" unforeseen by Old Testament prophets.
    dispensationalists have regarded the present age as a parenthesis unexpected and without specific prediction in the Old Testament—John F. Walvoord

    The church is a mystery in the sense that it was completely unrevealed in the Old Testament and now revealed in the New Testament—Charles C. Ryrie

  4. The present church age is a "parenthesis" or "intercalation" during which God has primarily suspended His primary purpose with Israel.
    The evidence if interpreted literally leads inevitable to the parenthesis doctrine—John F. Walvoord

    The church age is not seen in God’s plan for Israel. It is an intercalation. —Charles C. Ryrie

  5. The church age began at Pentecost and will end at the pre-tribulation rapture.
    the body of Christ, which properly began on The day of Pentecost and culminates in the transition of the true church—John F. Walvoord

    The church did not begin until the Day of Pentecost and will be removed from this world at the rapture which precedes the Second Coming of Christ—Charles C. Ryrie

  6. The church, or Body of Christ, consists only of those believers saved between Pentecost and the rapture.
    The church as the body of Christ is therefore a new entity, and the term ecclesia when used in this sense is used only of saints of the present dispensation. —John F. Walvoord

    The true church is composed of all those in this age who have received Christ as Savior.—J. Dwight Pentecost.

  7. The church, as the Body of Christ, does not include Old Testament believers.
    By spirit baptism the believer is placed into the body of Christ in the living union of all true believers in the present age. —Lewis Sperry Chafer

    Nevertheless, dispensationalism insists that the people of God who have been baptized into the Body of Christ and who thus form the church are distinct from saints of other days or even of a future time. —Charles C. Ryrie

I present these without comment. Even though they look like low hanging ripe fruit.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Dispensationalism (cont.)

(As I wrote yesterday I will string these posts together to form Lesson 4 of my Sunday School class, at which time I will also post the complete lesson.)

Yesterday we saw that the essence of dispensationalism can be broken down into three points:
  1. First and most importantly, the essence of dispensationalism is the distinction between Israel and the church.
  2. This distinction is the result of consistently literal interpretation.
  3. The distinction reflects the understanding that God’s primary purpose is to Glorify Himself.
Today, we winnow it down further.

The three points above are gleaned from Ryrie’s definition of dispensationalism (see yesterday’s post). Upon closer examination, however:

The third point is by no means unique to dispensationalism. For centuries prior to the existence of dispensationalism, Reformed theology has recognized that the chief purpose of creation is to glorify God. For example, the first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is:

Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

In the past, some dispensationalists have slandered reformed theology by incorrectly characterizing it as being concerned primarily with man’s salvation, while reserving for dispensationalism the distinction of standing alone in its promoting God's Glory as our raison d'ĂȘtre. The facts get in the way of such a claim.

As to the second point, it is true that dispensationalism takes an over-all literalistic approach. But it is not certain its takes a consistently literalistic approach. I am not talking about obvious metaphors—when Christ says He is the vine (John 15:1) it does not mean that to remain faithful to their claim of literality dispensationalists must teach that you can pick grapes from Him—no in a more meaningful way they sometimes are forced to sacrifice their pride and joy. For example, John Walvoord writes (as quoted by Mathison):
when an Old Testament prophecy refers to Israel, it must mean the literal nation of Israel; but when the same Old Testament prophecy refers to other nations, such as Assyria or Philistia, it only refers to the land once inhabited by these nations. Whoever may be inhabiting these lands may fulfill these prophecies—John F. Walvoord, The Nations in Prophecy, Zondervan, 1967, 163.

Another example is from the Olivet Discourse, where in the midst of describing the tribulation, Christ announces:

I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. (Matt. 24:34).

Since, according to dispensationalism the tribulation has not yet occurred, they must renounce the literal meaning of generation. This also points out a particular problem with the dispensationalist literality: it appears to be more willing to sacrifice itself on simple passages (such as Math. 24:34) rather than on complex apocalyptic text, when the reverse strategy would seem the safer.

So when all is said and done, the main feature that defines dispensationalism is not the notion of dispensations or that the purpose of creation is God's glory. These features are found in Covenant Theology as well. Nor is it (primarily) their literal hermeneutic, which is impossible to impose across the board.

Dispensationalism's sine qua non is its radical distinction between Israel and the church, which leads to very unique view of the New Testament church. This is what we will focus on next.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Defining Dispensationalism

This week I will be posting little blurbs on dispensationalism which I will put together for my next Sunday School class. These will be mostly of the "without comment" variety, as my class is not about dispensationalism per se but rather how dispensationalism inevitably leads to its premillennial "Left Behind" eschatology.

To begin with it is not easy to define dispensationalism. One would think that the place to start is with the basic definition of dispensation.

The original Scofield Reference Bible defines dispensation this way:
A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.

This is practically useless, mostly because it cannot be used to give any meaningful definition of dispensationalism. For example, the next step is often to say something like:

Dispensationalism is a system of biblical interpretation that delineates history into different dispensations, seven in the classic representation.

This provides little insight, since many theologians have partitioned history, also often into six or seven stages (because of the creation paradigm) but they are not dispensationalists. Jonathan Edwards is a notable example.

This definition of dispensationalism is something like saying Covenant Theology is the system that views redemptive history in terms of God’s covenants with man.

You get the point, right?

Further confusion arises from the fact that dispensationalism and Covenant Theology are rightly understood to be competitors, so right off the bat there is the temptation to look for significant differences between a dispensation and a covenant.

There are none. A dispensation and a covenant are very much the same. Dispensationalists talk about covenants and Covenant Theologians talk about dispensations. And yet dispensationalism and Covenant Theology are very different, as we will see.

So there is almost no point, interestingly enough, in defining dispensationalism in terms of dispensations.

Instead, we will simple borrow a nice succinct from noted dispensationalist Charles Ryrie:
The essence of Dispensationalism, then, is the distinction between Israel and the Church. This grows out of the dispensationalists' consistent employment of normal or plain interpretation, and it reflects an understanding of the basic purpose of God in all His dealings with mankind as that of glorifying Himself through salvation and other purposes as well. -- Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today

Mathison (Dispensationalism, Rightly Dividing the People of God?) provides this useful elaboration of Ryrie’s definition:
  1. First and most importantly, the essence of dispensationalism is the distinction between Israel and the church.
  2. This distinction is the result of consistently literal interpretation.
  3. The distinction reflects the understanding that God’s primary purpose is to Glorify Himself.

We will use Ryrie's definition as our starting point. Note that his definition does not mention dispensations!

Friday, October 03, 2003

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Objects of Mercy, Objects of Wrath

Brother Caley posted a comment yesterday that I wish to respond to in the form of a post. Some if not all of my arguments will be familiar to long time readers. Tough! I paid for this blog!
Dear Dave,

The use of dead in your article is in question to me. Check out Romans 1:18-20. A dead object has no sense of anything. It can not go in the opposite direction. If you cont. to think of man as dead to everything including choice then I think you miss it. (Also, Luke 20:41-44).

Dear Caley,

Romans 1:18-20 is one of my favorite passages, being a scientist. It says that the beauty of creation should be enough evidence anyone would ever need to acknowledge the Creator. I do not see its direct relevance when it comes to spiritual death. Though spiritual corpses, unregenerate men are physically alive and can see creation with all their senses, and so are without excuse. I also do not see the connection to Luke 20:41-44.

Let us talk a bit about spiritual death. In the garden God promised death as a consequence of disobedience. He kept that promise. Adam and Eve died spiritually, and that state of death is passed on to the rest of us. God wasn't talking about physical death as the punishment, but spiritual death. In fact, I happen to believe that Adam and Eve would have died physically even without the fall, but that issue, while interesting, is irrelevant for this discussion.

Just how dead are we? Well…
  • The intent of our heart is "only evil continuously". (Gen. 6:5)
  • We were sinful from the time of conception. (Ps. 51:5)
  • Our "righteous" deeds are filthy garments. (Isa. 64.6)
  • Nobody is good. (Luke 18:19)
  • We cannot see the Kingdom of God . (John 3:3)
  • We are not righteous. (Rom. 3:10)
  • We do not understand; we do not seek God. (Rom. 3:11)
  • We have turned aside; we are useless. (Rom. 3:12)
  • None of us does good. (Rom. 3:12)
  • We do not fear God. (Rom. 3:18)
  • We are hostile to God. (Rom 8:7)
  • We are unable (not just unwilling) to submit to the law of God. (Rom 8:7)
  • We cannot please God. (Rom 8:8)
  • We were dead (not just gravely ill) in our sins. (Eph 2:1)
  • We walk according to Satan. (Eph 2:2)
  • We live in the lusts of our flesh. (Eph 2:2)
  • We are children of wrath. (Eph 2:3)

That list is not exhaustive. It describes the attributes of one who is spiritually dead. The passage from Romans 3:10-12 is perhaps the most straightforward:

10As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Rom 3:10-12)

Here we are told in no uncertain terms that none seek God, and none please him. Is it not so that choosing God requires that first you seek Him? Is it not so that placing your faith in Christ would please God? The passage attests to the impossibility of such activities for natural man.
Did God want John the Baptist to say and mean "Repent!" or was it a cosmic joke. Work hard to repent(Lk 13:24-27) The power of choice still remains. Anyone who is not in God is dead b/c God is life. Also, they will experience the second death. In this passage these people are not dead in the way a rock is dead, they are choosing to reject and for this reason God is angry. Why is God angry if they have no other option than evil? That does not make sense. People turn to evil of their own accord and we are all born as sinners but not devoid of everything good.
All men are called to repent, but unregenerate man is morally incapable of doing so. Just as all are called to believe and yet are incapable in their natural state of spiritual death.

When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life." (Acts 11:18)

Here (and elsewhere) repentance is described as being granted from God, not mustered from within. Now in a real sense it does come from within, just as faith does, but not until God has turned our heart of stone into a heart of flesh (Ezek. 3:26). Repentance and faith do come from within a man who has been given a new birth, but are otherwise impossible.

Another point, why will there be a judgment if God is pulling the strings - this seems point less. He chose to die for the sins of the world though. This means that anyone who comes to Jesus He has chosen. We have nothing to boast about b/c He has redeemed us. If someone truly comes to Jesus, He will save them and they will bear fruit. Luke 13:1-8. Repent, know Jesus, bear fruit. Or don't repent, don't know Jesus, be cut down. This life is a gift yet we are born into a fallen state. I believe we can choose Jesus or deception. This is an important choice and some will go to eternal life others to eternal death. I believe that God is willing that none perish and that He draws everyone, but not everyone accepts. Do you grieve over what a dead rock does? (Mt 24:37-39)

God is not pulling the strings. I came to Jesus 100% of my own free will, just like previously I did not seek him but instead sought only the pleasures of this world, again completely on the basis of my free will. But God loved me and changed my heart, and slowly (in my case) I longed for him. I did not first long for him, only after which he changed me. That is backwards.

Again, the impressive but non-exhaustive list above demonstrates that unregenerate man is incapable of choosing God. What is God's response to this? If man cannot choose God, then God must choose man. That is the essence of the Reformer’s mantra: grace alone. If it is mostly grace and a little man, it is not grace alone. There is a little bit of payment due unto man for directing whatever good is left within him in God's direction, even before he was regenerated.

There are many verses in scripture in support of this view, including but not limited to John 6:44, John 6:65, Eph. 1:4-5, Eph. 1:11, and Rom. 8:29-30. Let us examine just one in detail:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:44)

What does draw mean? Does it merely mean encourage, or entice, or woo? No, it means compel. The same Greek verb is used in two other places, where it is translated as drag rather than draw:

When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities (Acts 16:19)

But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? (James 2:6)

Paul and Silas were not "encouraged" or "enticed" or"wooed" or "invited" into the marketplace. They were compelled. Likewise no one comes to Jesus unless the Father drags Him. He compels them with a new heart, one that is desirous of Him. He regenerates first, faith follows. It is not the other way around.

If you think than man choosing God somehow makes the system fair, I would heartily disagree. If unregenerate man has to make a decision for God from within, what enables that decision? It has to be something other than God, or else we agree that is all of God. What is it? Is it education? intelligence? environment? circumstances? Whatever it is, it is not fair that one person has it while another doesn't. Is it harder for a rich man to choose God? How unfair to be born rich. How unfair that Paul had a Damascus Road experience to make it easy for him to choose, while I had to overcome doubt without the benefit of an epiphany.

Not to mention that millions die without ever hearing the Gospel. How unfair for them. And if you say God can choose to save them anyway, because He is God, I say welcome to Calvinism, brother, that is precisely the point.

Another question you should ponder is that your view, at least theoretically, allows for the possibility that nobody chooses God. That is, while (in your view) Christ's death has made all men savable, it has not guaranteed the salvation of anyone. Christ could have died in vain. The Sovereign God of the universe has made salvation possible for all, and now kind of waits with His fingers crossed hoping that someone takes Him up on the offer. I don't think the bible teaches anything like this.

What the bible teaches is not that Christ's death made all men savable, but that it accomplished salvation for some.

Let me conclude with probaly the greatest biblical exposition on predestination, from the ninth chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans. Starting in verse 9 we read:

10Not only that, but Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad--in order that God's purpose in election might stand: 12not by works but by him who calls--she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." (Rom. 9:10-13)

Here we are told that to demonstrate God's election He announced, before the twins were born, before they had done good or bad, that He loved Jacob and hated Esau. We can argue about what hate means here, but whatever it is, it is not love because God specifically contrasts it with love.

God loves everybody? Not according to the bible. And surely nobody believes that Esau is the only person in history God does not love.

Now the apostle anticipates a common objection to election, it is not fair. He doesn't bother to point out that the alternative is not fair either, as I did above. Instead he gives a pretty in-your-face response:

14What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."16It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. 17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." 18Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. (Rom 10:14-19)

Paul is saying, rather clearly, that man has nothing to do with it. As Creator of the universe, the omnipotent God is privileged to have mercy on whomever He chooses. An explanation is not owed.

Now Paul further addresses the fairness question :

19One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" 20But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' " 21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? 22What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath--prepared for destruction? 23What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory (Rom. 9:19-23)

Paul once again lashes out at the impertinence of demanding an explanation from God. The pot is not owed anything from the potter. Paul does, however, offer a hint of a reason. To make His glory known to the objects of mercy which Paul says were prepared in advance, God patiently endures the objects of wrath, prepared for destruction.

Objects of mercy. Objects of wrath. Prepared in advance. That is unconditional election.

Notice that at no time does Paul write: It is fair, because God, in His foreknowledge, knew that Jacob, when offered, would accept Him while Esau would reject Him. Given the golden opportunity to teach unconditional election or the foreknowledge view, Paul chooses the former.
Dave, I hope you enjoy this argument. I know this is a big issue and I'd like your feed back. I appreciate you and want to let you know I convey these thoughts respectfully.
I am so glad that God is good and that there is salvation in Him. The main point, regardless of arguments, is that we continue to walk with Jesus with all of our hearts. Thanks for your love for the saints -it has been a direct blessing and an example.
In Him,

I do enjoy the argument. I would leave you with this thought. Your objections to Calvinistic predestination are the same that everyone has at first. I had the same thoughts. Many brilliant theologians have believed in predestination as God's unconditional choosing (as opposed to foreknowledge). Here is a partial scorecard (they varied in the details, but all would say: yes God chose us ahead of time unconditionally, not because he looked ahead to see what we would do):
  • Augustine
  • Thomas Aquinas
  • Martin Luther
  • John Calvin
  • Jonathan Edwards
  • Charles Spurgeon
  • Francis Schaeffer
  • Cornelius Van Til
  • Roger Nicole
  • James Boice
  • Philip Hughes
That doesn't mean those who believed it were necessarily right, impressive and varied as the list may be. But it should get your attention in the sense that these men surely have responses to your objections that will be much better crafted than mine, and worthy of further investigation. I guess my point is, don’t dismiss the view as "obviously" wrong, for men of this caliber do not advocate something that is easily dismissed.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Billy Graham

Many dispensationalists claim to be Calvinists, but they just don’t get it right. Some come very close, but pull back at the last moment. At the end, they are almost universal in their rejection of the Calvinistic Principle that regeneration precedes faith. Chafer and Walvood, in Major Bible Themes, write
It [new birth] is entirely a supernatural act of God, in response to the faith of man.
There can be no doubt whatsoever when it comes to the most famous dispensationalist of all, if not the most famous Christian of the 20th century, Billy Graham, schooled by Moody, within whom there is a nary a gram of Calvinism to be found. Graham writes in How to be Born Again:
New birth is something God does for man when man is willing to yield to God.
Any person who is willing to trust Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and Lord can receive the new birth now.
Notice, this is the opposite of the Calvinist position:
Man is willing to yield to God if God gives him a new birth.
Any person who receives the new birth can and will trust Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and Lord.
Graham can, within a single sentence, start with a Calvinist supposition and end in pure Armianism. He wrote:
A dead man can do nothing; therefore we need God’s help even in our repenting.
Gerstner correctly points out that Graham's dead man is capable of a great deal. He is not dead, just weak. Finally, to remove any lingering doubt, Graham writes:
The Holy Spirit will do everything possible to disturb you, draw you, love you—but finally it is your personal decision.

Is Arminianism creeping into dispensationalism or is it inherent? That is a tough question. Gerstner writes, in Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth of an encounter he had with Dwight Pentecost:
When I once asked Dwight Pentecost how theologians who profess to be Calvinists could teach that faith preceded regeneration, he answered that they did not. Then, I cited Article VII of the Dallas Seminary catalogue which states "We believe that the new birth of the believer comes only through faith in Christ". I will never forget his expostulation: "Is that in the catalogue?" Pentecost went on to say the L. S. Chafer, the founder of the Dallas Seminary, when he was alive was constantly saying, "The baby does not cry before it is born."

Chafer is indeed more Calvinistic that his students. And their students.