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Posts Tagged ‘dispensationalism’


Our women’s ministry is called WOW- Women of the Word, indicating our desires for them to be women in whom the Word of Christ dwells richly. So when Crossway sent me a copy of Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin (ebook), I was a little intrigued.

Last year I brought our men through Bible Study so they would learn how to study and teach the Bible. WOW is much shorter, and seeks to address things from a woman’s perspective (lots of illustrations I wouldn’t understand) while also offering some warnings against “feminizing” it. She does want them to remember it was written to both men and women.

Overall I thought it was a good book to help women dig deeper into the Scriptures. She was quite clear, succinct (I could learn from this) and interesting (probably more so if I were a woman and was familiar with things like rhumba tights). Her study plan is really about depth and she makes some wise warnings about how this all takes time. Her goal is for women to use this method in their personal study or when studying a book of the Bible as a group.

She starts with what she calls a series of “turn arounds” or ways in which she was reading things wrong and needing to begin reading them. She also realized that the Bible is primarily about God (and secondarily about us), the mind matters because it transforms the heart. These are two important things to know or you will make the Bible into a self-help book meant to make you feel good. This is the ever-present danger of therapeutic moral deism.

“But our insecurities, fears, and doubts can never be banished by knowledge of who we are. They can only be banished by the knowledge of ‘I am.'”

Her second chapter is “The Case for Biblical Literacy”. She wants women to develop a working knowledge of the whole Bible, how it all fits together, instead of a patchwork understanding (similar to one developed by children’s SS lessons and a steady diet of topical preaching).

“Sound Bible study transforms the heart by training the mind and it places God at the center of the story. But sound Bible stud does more than that- it leaves the student with a better understanding of the Bible than she had when we started. Stated another way, sound Bible study increases Bible literacy.”

She lays out a few bad methods. In the Xanax approach, you are looking to take away bad feelings, and look for just the right passage. It makes the Bible about you instead of to you. There is the Pinball approach in which you bounce around like a pinball without any thought to the context and purpose (and therefore the meaning) of a text. There is the Magic 8 Ball approach where we simply look for what to do in a crisis rather than learning who we are to be in Christ. The Holy Spirit transforms us.

Bible literacy, she rightly argues, keeps us from falling into error. If we know the whole of Scripture we can notice if someone is abusing a part of Scripture. We will also be better prepared to answer the charges of our critics. Bible literacy is not developed overnight. It takes time to read for both breadth (devotionally) and depth (study). It takes reading the whole Bible repeatedly to see patterns, references and allusions to other passages. It takes years, and in our microwave society most people don’t want to invest that kind of time unless they grasp how important it is. Perhaps I’m weird, but no one told me to do this. I just did it.

Her plan or method is to study with the 5 P’s: Purpose, Perspective, Patience, Process and Prayer. Much of what she lays out is what a pastor regularly does in sermon preparation minus the crafting of said sermon.

Purpose is important. It is about understanding the purpose of the Scriptures AND the purpose of that particular portion of Scripture. As a whole the Bible is about redemption, a redemption story. Particular passages are stories of redemption within the story of redemption. They progressively reveal God’s greatness and the greatness of His plan. We begin to look for how each text fits into the whole text instead of viewing it as an isolated, independent text.

Perspective is asking questions of the text to understand its purpose which will help you understand its meaning in due time. This is the process of understanding the historical and cultural context of the particular book. We want to see it, as best we can, as the original audience did instead of just putting our 21st century American presuppositions and experience on the text. We did much of this in English class as we studied literature. Who wrote it? When? Why? To whom was it written? What genre or style?

Patience remembers that digging deep takes time and effort. It is applying the concept of delayed gratification to Bible study. We remember that our efforts have a cumulative effect. We will have to be patient with ourselves. We will fail. We will find reasons to not study on a particular day. We will discover we have grossly misunderstood texts. We will have to be patient with the process, refusing to take short cuts. There will be patience with our circumstances which may present hindrances to study. There will be plenty of reasons for patience.

“Could it be that feeling lost is one way God humbles us when we come to his Word, knowing that in due time he will exalt our understanding?”

Process is the main portion of the larger plan. This is the nitty-gritty. She wants women to own the text through lots of hard work. Owning it means understanding its original meaning, attempting to interpret it and then make application from it. She wants you to read it repeatedly so you notice the flow of the argument or story (depending on the genre). She wants you to break out the colored pencils/pens (on a copy of the text) to note verb tenses (yes, they matter), subjects and all that grammar jazz. Yes, she wants you to outline the passage and put notes in the margin of that copy of the text. She wants you to compare different translations and see why they differ (when they do). She wants you to crack open a dictionary to understand words that are used that you don’t commonly use. Yes, this is hard work and not always exciting but if we want to understand a text’s original meaning (what it says) it is necessary work.

We then move to interpretation or what the text means. She wants you to hold off on the commentaries until you develop your own interpretation. I’ve seen others say the same thing. Generally that is a good idea. But sometimes you do struggle with “what it says”. Commentaries aren’t just interpretations, but also help us get what it says because sometimes the text is hard to discern, or parts of it. It is important to read 2-3 commentaries so you don’t fall into a cult of personality (“well, Bultmann says” repeated ad nauseum). There is more hard work here: looking at cross references, paraphrasing and just plain thinking. Yes, sometimes you just sit there and think (also known as meditating on the Word of God).

Once you know what it says, and what it means you can ask how it applies. What am I to believe about God? What am I to believe about myself? What does God call me to do in dependence upon Him? This takes thinking about the text, myself and my circumstances.

Prayer is a short chapter. The point is we are to pray all through the process, knowing that we need the Spirit’s help to illuminate the Scriptures so we can understand the Word, ourselves and our circumstances (yes, I’m adding a little Frame to her thoughts).

She then has a chapter in which she demonstrates her process using James 1. This way you can see it in action and have a better idea of what she has been talking about. The book concludes with some encouragement for teachers in how to bring the fruit of this into a group setting, and then a call to seek God. The purpose of all this is to know God, not just gather information.

This is a good introduction. I would quibble with some of the books she recommends because of the theological commitments and method of interpretation used which I think distorts the Scriptures. Yes, I’m talking Dispensationalism. I’m not saying she is a dispensationalist particularly since focusing on the whole story is more of a covenantal perspective of Scripture (which focuses on the unity of Scripture). Just one of those weird things that passes through my mind.

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When I went to seminary, I was fairly ignorant. Some might argue that I still am. They gave us  a series of questions so they could understand the background of their new students. One was whether I held to Dispensationalism or Covenant Theology.

I was in a quandary. As a new believer I had read some Hal Lindsey (never a good idea) and embraced Dispensationalism in its popularized form. But over time I began to have serious questions concerning its validity as I continued to read Scripture. By the time I showed up in Orlando, I was not a Dispensationalist.

But I had no idea what Covenant Theology was. I would learn.

When I got to the congregation I pastor here in the desert, there was a large number of small pink books on a shelf. No, not books by Pink. Pink books.

The book was A Comparison of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology by Richard Belcher. Before using it as a give-away, I thought I had better read it. Was it really a comparison, or was it a polemical book? That is important. We sometimes have people who begin to attend who are new to what we believe. I don’t want to turn them off unnecessarily. If I started to hand this book out, I wanted to be sure it was fair and accurate. So I finally read it.

The book is quite short (46 pages including the bibliography). His main point is that everyone has a theology, and most Protestant embrace one of these two theological systems (it was published in 1986, and since then New Covenant Theology has grown in popularity).

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In preparation for my SS class on the Revelation, I’m reading lots of books. One of them is Four Views on the Book of Revelation, edited by C. Marvin Pate who is also a contributor to the book. The first view presented in the Preterist view, written by Kenneth Gentry. Gentry represents a moderate or partial preterist view, not a full preterist view which is (in my opinion) a view outside the bounds of orthodoxy.

Gentry, who has written a few tomes on Revelation, is more than capable of writing on this subject. He was well chosen. He is thorough, knowledgeable and not prone to attacking those who disagree in the course of his presentation. One of the issues often raised against preterists, and particularly the post-millennial ones, is the ways they use excessive sarcasm in showing the weaknesses and faults of other systems (this is not a problem particular to them, however). Gentry does not fall into this trap. He makes a great spokesman so the case is evaluated on its own merits instead of excesses in presentation.

In looking at the structure of The Revelation, Gentry notes the progressive parallelism that is present. This is a common feature of apocalyptic literature, as the same events are viewed from different angles with increasing intensity. This is very different from the chronological approach which sees the different visions as referring to different events. In this aspect, Gentry’s argument is similar to that proposed by the Idealist perspective which will be examined next.

As apocalyptic literature, we must be careful not to approach it with straight forward literalism. He notes that in the Gospel of John, people often erred by taking Jesus too literally when he was using figures of speech. We see this problem in nearly every chapter of the Gospel.

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It has been quite some time since I’ve done anything concerning Global Warming.  While looking for books available for review, the title The Global-Warming Deception caught my eye.  I neglected to notice the author’s name.

Grant Jeffery is a Dispensational author prone to write books about the coming global government and similar conspiracies.  The premise of his book is that man-made global warming is a hoax perpetrated by “elites” of various kinds to open the way for a global government which will oppress people.  He has two main elements to his proposition.

The first main element he addresses is his Dispensational pre-tribulational and premillenniel understanding of the end of the world.  He asserts this in the first few chapters, and pretty much assumes his readers are on board with him.  I’m not on board with him in this matter (I used to be).  What few passages he uses to assert his position are largely taken out of context.  Those passages deal with THE Roman Empire, not a Revived Roman Empire.  On this point, he fails.

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I’m working my way through the 3 main sections of Baptism: Three Views.  In my previous post, I worked through the essay by Dr. Bruce Ware on Believers’ Baptism (aka credobaptism) and the responses by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson and Dr. Anthony Lane.  This time through I’ll be working through the essay by Ferguson on infant baptism (paedobaptism) and the responses.

Previously I talked about the power (for good or ill) of presuppositions.  If Ferguson’s presentation in Systematic Theology II (Ecclessiology and Sacraments) was anything near as compelling as this essay, my presuppositions were working for ill that day in 1993.

Presuppositions become far clearer in the responses of Ware and Lane.  But I found Ferguson’s essay an incredible example of how great theologizing is to be done.  Instead of expecting explicit statements as if we are all 6 years old, Ferguson thinks through biblical data to see connections and “good and necessary consequences.”  Not all things are clear (as we might like) in Scripture, but they are addressed in just this way.

Ferguson starts with a caution based on 1 Corinthians 1:17 in which Paul “prioritized gospel preaching over baptismal administration without thereby minimizing the important role of the latter.”  A different approach from Ware who warned of disobedience in the matter of baptism (though that is true).

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It has been on the fringes of a number of discussions I’ve had in recent months.  It often comes up (unseen) in discussions about baptism with Calvinistic credo baptists.  It has been at work in discussions about the relationship between law and gospel, and the Old and New Covenants.  “It” is New Covenant Theology (NCT).

Let’s start by realizing that this is a matter of disagreement within The Gospel Coalition.  There is freedom to disagree on this issue.  This is not a matter that puts one “outside the camp” but one that creates some significant differences of opinion within the camp.  Often we can’t resolve those differences on non-essentials because we ultimately are disagreeing about whether we should embrace Covenant Theology (CT) or NCT (yes, some of the Gospel Coalition guys are Dispensational).

I’ve been meaning to do a post on this for months now but haven’t had the time to really process things.  I probably still haven’t processed things as clearly as I want to.  As a young Christian, I drank from the Dispensational cistern via Hal Lindsey (I worked at a book store at the time of conversion and didn’t know any better).  I’ve since read books by Ryrie and others.  I “grew” out of it.  By that I mean that no one really showed me anything better or beat me up about it.  No one, as Dr. Nicole would say “disabused me” of this theology.  As I continued to read Scripture, I discovered it didn’t fit.  Scripture itself took Dispensationalism out of the picture for me.  But I was essentially left with nothing in its place when I arrived at RTS Orlando.

There I was grounded in CT, even if it took me years to embrace and/or understand all of the implications.  Baptism was the tough one for me, but I got there eventually (2 years after seminary).  I haven’t studied NCT itself as much, but have read many who espouse it (like D.A. Carson and other Trinity guys).

Last night someone sent me a link to the Desiring God website.  It was a short article meant to briefly describe Dispensationalism, CT & NCT.  The author went on to say that Piper’s own views are probably closest to NCT and farthest from Dispensational Theology.  NCT agrees with CT in seeing Scripture structured by Covenants, not Dispensations.  It agrees with Dispensationalism by seeing a discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants.  I’m not really interested in rehashing the Dispensational thing, so let’s look at the brief descriptions of CT & NCT and say a few things about each.

Covenant Theology
Covenant theology believes that God has structured his relationship with humanity by covenants rather than dispensations. For example, in Scripture we explicitly read of various covenants functioning as the major stages in redemptive history, such as the covenant with Abraham, the giving of the law, the covenant with David, and the new covenant. These post-fall covenants are not new tests of man’s faithfulness to each new stage of revelation (as are the dispensations in dispensationalism), but are rather differing administrations of the single, overarching covenant of grace.

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After considering the idea of justice, Tim Keller moves to the topic of Justice and the Old Testament in his 2nd chapter of Generous Justice.  This chapter is about how to interpret the Old Testament law with justice as the example.  I think that best summarizes it.  Keller does this to answer the question of whether or not the laws of the Old Testament are binding on Christians today.

This is a thorny issue, and your answer reflects your method of interpretation.  Dispensationalists, Covenant, and New Covenant theology answer this question differently.  Keller comes from a Covenant Theology perspective.  He recognizes the differences between moral, ceremonial and case/civil law in the Old Testament.  The New Testament is pretty clear that Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law in a way that means it is not binding on us any more.  We are ceremonially clean in Christ, and He is our Sacrifice which brings pardon and fellowship.

“So the coming of Christ changes the way in which Christians exhibit their holiness and offer their sacrifices, yet the basic principles remain valid.”

Keller brings a concept from Craig Bloomberg into the mix.  “Every command reflects principles at some level that are binding on Christians.”  So, Christians need to be ceremonially clean, have a sacrifice for sin etc.  The Christian looks to Christ for all this and more, however.  The need still exists, but the reality is in Christ.  Romans 12 teaches us that additionally we offer our whole lives in view of this great mercy.  We offer the sacrifice of praise (Hebrews), not the blood of animals or food offerings.

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This Sunday I’ll be preaching on Genesis 17.  It is a great passage, filled with a great many promises (as Paul Tripp calls gospel comfort).  It is also filled with the call to a newness of life (as Tripp calls gospel call).  God promises not solely justifying grace, but also sanctifying grace.

“walk before me and be blameless”

There is a great expansion of the promise, including identifying Sarah as the mother of the child of promise.  We see here the progress of revelation.  God didn’t just drop a revelatory bomb on Abraham.  He revealed his promises in pieces.  We do well to keep this in mind.

One of the phrases that comes up repeatedly is “you and your offspring”.  He will not only be Abraham’s God, but the God of his offspring (except Ishmael, which was surely a struggle for Abraham’s soul).  The covenant is not just for Abraham but his offspring.  The covenant sign was not just for Abraham, but for his offspring.  Sounds very similar to Peter’s statement in Acts 2:

37Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”  (ESV)

If we take Genesis 17, as well as Paul’s discussion of this in Romans 4 [he calls circumcision the sign that justification is by faith, not bloodline or obedience], seriously, we see that God calls the children of the covenant to faith in the promise through the covenant sign (see some of the books below, and my comments.  Our method of interpretation is what drives the differences in our understanding of baptism).

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The Book at the Center of it All

Here are my notes from the 3rd lecture by Sinclair Ferguson on The Marrow Controversy.

Antinomianism

This controversy enables us to see marks in our hearts and ministry of where we are with relationship to the grace of God.  We must exegete those great passages dealing with law & gospel.  It is one of the hardest notes in all divinity for us to untie.

The Marrow Men were accused of Amyraldianism, Arminianism, antinomianism.  But they held to a particular, not universal, atonement; free grace, not free will; and the law as a rule of life.

The 2nd part of the Marrow of Modern Divinity is an exposition of the place of the law of God in the life of the believer.  Wherever natural hearts, or gracious hearts bound by a legal spirit, hear of the grace of God they hear “shall we sin that grace may abound?”  We are in danger of legalism in response to this.

Wherever free grace is fully preached, the accusation of antinomianism has ever arisen.  Israel called John the Baptist a legalist and Jesus an antinomian.  The gospel is ever under attack.

Often it is a false conclusion from a true premise.  Grace does abound all the more where sin abounds.  But we do not sin that grace may abound.  We must affirm the true premise that grace is greater than sin.

The Nature(s) of Antinomianism– it wears many faces

The historical use of the term arose in the days of Martin Luther.  He emphasized free grace.  About 1537, one of his friends drove this to unbiblical, but logical, conclusions.  This friend taught we were free from the law as a rule of life.  Luther began to correct his friend.

Antinomianism existed long before the name was given to it.  The WCF teaches that while the law is not a covenant of works to the believer, it remains a rule of life to the believer.  We are bound to the law as a rule of life.  Antinominism denies this in a variety of ways.

We must not dispute about mere words, but instruct with gentleness.  We should not use it as a cuss word, condemning others needlessly.  We often attribute the worst possible theological conclusions to adherents of a particular view point, conclusions they do not hold.  We need the wisdom of Solomon and the meekness of the Son of Man.

It is a pastoral and theological duty for us to distinguish from the forms of antinomianism.

Doctrinal Form- the absolution of the law as a rule of life is the result of a theological premise.  Some Puritans emphasized the free grace of God that any question of law was opposite to the grace of God.  Justification was eternal, and emphasized immediate assurance apart from the Word of God.  Since we are justified, we have no need to know our sin.  It was associated with hyper-Calvinism at times.

They ignore the indicative-imperative pattern of Scripture from beginning to end.  They focus only on the indicative, rending asunder what God had joined.

The Brethren and their concern for the purity of the church, similar to hyper-Calvinism, drew similar concerns.  Darby called the covenant of works as a mischievous fable.  He could see no place for the 10 Commandments in the life of the believer.  In his full-blown dispensationalism, it was confined to the OT.  This has lead many Brethren to fill the void with tradition, looking for decisions instead of obedience as a fruit of grace.  This is like Ryrie’s “unbelieving believer.”  Easy believism rejects the place of the Law in our life as a rule.  When Christianity is more a matter of decision than living, grace becomes an excuse of licentiousness.

Exegetical Form- it is commonplace now for theologians to take a view of the law is like the position adopted by hyper-Calvinists and dispensationalists.  They think Jesus did away with the law.  They think Paul makes no distinction between the end of the ceremonial law and the continuation of the moral law.  This does not mean these men are immoral.  They often affirm all but the Sabbath since they are repeated in Paul.

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Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope

Here is the first part of my internet dialogue with Dr. Keith Mathison about his book Postmillennialism: An Eschatatology of Hope.  Keith and I worked together at the RTS Orlando Bookstore, and then at Ligonier Ministries.  After graduating from RTS, he received his Ph.D. from Whitefield Seminary.  He is the author of numerous books, including Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God? which he wrote while in seminary.  I did such a great job proofing the book that I haven’t worked on one since.

KM:  Thanks for reviewing the book.  I saw it yesterday.  You didn’t say anything about the most persuasive part of the book – the yellow cover.  What’s up with that?!?

Cavman: It is a fine cover.  Kudos to the art department.  I only bought the book for the cover.  Okay …. At times the amillennialism you describe doesn’t seem to be the amillenialism I hold to.  Part of that may be because you were interchangeable arguing against both forms of premillennialism and amillennialism.  I put your book down thinking our differences are more about a matter of degree: how much the gospel will prosper as it covers the earth and converts the nations.  What would you say is the main distinction between these sibling eschatologies?

KM: I think you are correct to observe that at least some of the differences are a matter of degree.  I see the various expositions of amillennialism and postmillennialism lying along a spectrum.  There are extremely spiritualized and pessimistic forms of amillennialism that would be at one end and very this-worldly, perhaps naively optimistic forms of postmillennialism at the other end.  Closer to the middle would be more balanced (i.e. biblical) forms of amillennialism and postmillennialism.  I think, for example, that Cornelis Venema’s expression of amillennialism is closer to some forms of postmillennialism than the amillennialism of someone like David Engelsma.  And my expression of postmillennialism is closer to some forms of amillennialism than the postmillennialism of someone like Loraine Boettner.  I think things get a bit fuzzier the closer you get to the middle of the spectrum.

Unlike some older postmillennialists, who believed that the millennium would be the last 1000 or so years of the present age, I believe the millennium represents the entire present age between the first and second coming of Jesus.  So there’s no disagreement there.  Both amillennialists and postmillennialists say they believe that Christ’s kingdom is growing during this present age.  I think the main difference between the views boils down to how confident we are that the growth of Christ’s kingdom will manifest itself in some visible, tangible ways during this age and what it might look like.  In short, is this kingdom growth more or less behind the scenes?  I’m slightly more optimistic than most amillennialists I’ve read that the growth of Christ’s kingdom will have visible manifestations.  Unlike some theonomic postmillennialists, however, I am less confident about saying exactly what they might look like.

I also believe that the growth/advance of Christ’s kingdom will involve a bloody, difficult battle for the people of God.  Going back to the old D-Day/V-Day analogy, the decisive battle has been won, but the progress will not be easy.  It will involve awful, street to street fighting all the way to the final day.  But the victory is assured.

Cavman: As I read the book, a few things came to mind for me.  On a continuum (Pratt would be proud) I see premillennialism and postmillennial as the 2 extremes.  One pessimistic and under-realized, and the other overly optimistic and over-realized.  The dispensational premillennial position was born in persecution and pessimism, and puts some of the “already” into the “not yet”.  The posmillennial position, I think, sticks too much of the “not yet” into the already.  Obviously I’m biased toward amillennialism as having the best balance.  I have a point here, really.  “Visible manifestations” is a phrase that you used.  I think I see such things now.  Please, spell out what you mean a little bit.  What “visible manifestations” do you have in mind?

KM: I see postmillennialism and amillennialism existing on a continuum because they share similar features.  Premillennialism seems to me to be in a separate category altogether.  Regarding “visible manifestations,” like I said, I’m hesitant to offer specifics.  When Scripture speaks of the growth of the kingdom it tends to use figurative language.  What specifically in the real world corresponds to the permeation of a lump of dough by leaven?  Or to the growth of a mustard seed?  The first type of growth is not particularly visible.  The second is.  In short, it isn’t as simple or as cut-and-dried as some would say.  We can’t, for example, measure the growth of the kingdom of Christ by watching the fortunes of our favorite political party or our own nation.  The kingdom of Christ is bigger than that.

What I object to is the idea that the growth of Christ’s kingdom is entirely invisible and confined to the spiritual dimension of existence and will have no visible manifestations in history.  That idea implies that there was nothing noticeably different about the world after the Fall.  Satan’s kingdom, however, has had clearly visible manifestations in the world throughout history beginning with the Fall.  Why would the redemptive kingdom of Christ not have any visible manifestations?  It involves the same world that was cursed as a result of our sin.  Sin did not affect merely the spiritual realm.  It affected the visible and physical as well.  Redemption also affects both.  What might it look like?  I think we have a fairly good idea of what the visible manifestations of Satan’s kingdom look like.  I expect that the growth of Christ’s kingdom will look a lot like the opposite of that.

more to come….

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Books on postmillennialism are rare these days, because postmillennialists are relatively rare (though the number is growing).  200 years ago, a very large number of Christians were postmillennial.  I have friends who are postmillennialists, one of whom wrote a book.  I’ve finally read that book.  Keith Mathison wrote Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope because many people misunderstand this view, and he wants to persuade more Christians that this is the biblical eschatology.

Disclaimer: I probably should get my eschatalogical journey out on the table since this can often color how we view this subject.  As a young Christian, I read lots of books by Dispensationalists on eschatology (because, sadly, they seem to be the ones inundating the market with books).  So, from 1986-1990 or so I was a dispensational premillennialist. But I was finding that Scripture was disabusing me of this view.  By the time I went to seminary in 1991, I was an historic premillennialist without realizing what my view was called.  I was initially suspicious of amillennialism and postmillennialism.  By the time I left seminary I was an amillennialist, and have remained so for 15 years.

Hermeneutical Considerations This is where Keith starts, and for good reason.  He lays out some Presuppositions and Definitions.  He lays out his presuppositions about the existance of God, His willingness to communicate, the authority of His Word, our being made as image bearers and ability to receive that Word before hitting interpretive considerations.  He concisely lays out the necessity of faith, the need to let Scripture interpret Scripture, the role of community and tradition in intrepreting Scripture.  It is only after this that Keith defines the 4 most common eschatalogical views (quiz, I’ve named them all already- what are they?).

“The thesis of this book is simple: Postmillennialism is the system of eschatology that is most consistent with the relevant texts of Scripture, a covenantal approach to Scripture, and the nondisputed doctrines of Reformation theology.”

He just dropped a term he hadn’t mentioned: Covenant Theology.  In the second chapter he distinguishes between Covenant and Dispensational Theology.  He was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary before he went off the theological reservation and I met him at Reformed Theological Seminary.  This is a SHORT chapter, but he concisely defines & critiques Dispensational Theology and then explains Covenant Theology since most American Christians are essentially unfamiliar with Covenent Theology.

Historical Considerations What the church has believed on this issue is important.  It is not definitive or authoritative.  It is also a mixed bag as various theologies came into being and were clarified over time.  The last of these to come into being is Dispensational Premillennialism (though there have been premillennialists for quite some time).  He shows that the historical claims some have made for their positions just don’t hold water.  Postmillennialism was the main position during the time of the Puritans and into the early 20th century, however.

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Keith Mathison and I have a fair amount of shared history.  We were at RTS Orlando together.  We spent lots of time talking books and theology together while we worked in the bookstore.  We worked together at Ligonier Ministries for a few years too, at one point sharing an office (sorry Keith).  He remains at Ligonier, and continues to write in his spare time.

While we were in seminary, he worked on his first book, Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God? which is the fruit of his journey from dispensationalism to covenant theology.  I was one of the people who gave him some feedback on the early drafts.  Some smarter and well-respected people looked at it too.

His book Given for You,  on the Lord’s Table is a very good study of Calvin’s view and its development within Reformed Theology.  I own, but have failed to read Post-Millennialism: an Eschatology of Hope.  It is one of the areas in which we disagree, but I should get to it eventually.

His latest book, From Age to Age: the Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology looks to be very interesting.  And probably more accessible than Vos’ Pauline Eschatology.  Just a hunch. Keith most likely put together another well-researched, meaningful book.  I only have one question: where is my review copy?

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My sister-in-law commented that she’s been enjoying my study questions on the Westminster Confession of Faith.  It’s been awhile since I put some material up here.  So today I’m covering the Law of God and Christian Liberty.  Some good things to consider (the same caveats apply- I’m not arguing with anyone: if I misrepresented a position let me know).

Chapter XIX: Of The Law Of God

194. Demonstrate that the moral law is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments.  Jesus said that the Law and Prophets hang upon the commands to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself. (Mt. 22)”

195. Recite for us the Ten Commandments. No gods before me, not take the name of the Lord in vain, no graven images, keep the Sabbath, honor your parents, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t bear false witness & don’t covet.

196. What the three “uses” of the law?  To restrain sin, to expose our sin & drive us to Christ, and reveal God’s character which pleases him.

197. What is the proper use of the Law for the life of the Christian?  To expose our sin that we might live lives of repentance, and direct us that we might please God.

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Still working through the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Here are the sections on the Covenant and Christ our Mediator.

Chapter VII: Of God’s Covenant with Man

80. What is a covenant (in terms of God’s relationship with man)?  It is a bond sealed in blood by which God has redeemed His people, and outlines how we are to live as His people.

81. What is meant by the “covenant of works” (or, “of life”)? Does it have a present validity?  It was the covenant under which Adam lived in the Garden.  It is the covenant under which we all fell into sin with him.  All who are in Adam remain in the covenant of works and shall experience the just condemnation due them.

82. What is meant by the “covenant of grace”?  It is covenant in which Jesus is offered as our Redeemer who perfectly obeyed in our place  that we might receive covenant blessings, and died in our place suffering the penalty for our sins committed under the covenant of works.

83. Explain the statement that there is one unified covenant of grace with various administrations. Distinguish from dispensations. The revelation of that covenant was progressive and expansive.  Each successive covenant provided greater clarity and blessing rather than replace previous covenants.  In dispensationalism, each successive dispensation replaces the previous dispensation.

84. What are the signs and seals of the covenant? Circumcision and Passover in the OT; Baptism & the Lord’s Table in the NT

85. Are you personally committed to covenant theology? Yes.

 

Chapter VIII: Of Christ the Mediator

86. Why is the office of Christ as Mediator necessary for the salvation of God’s elect?  Apart from the work of a Mediator, we perish in our sins.  God is just and he can’t just wipe the slate clean.  Someone must be punished for our sins, and we need real obedience to receive covenant blessings.

87. Could God have pardoned sin without Christ’s sacrifice?  No, for no mere man is able to perfectly obey God but sin each day in thought, word and deed.  God is just and must punish sin.  No other substitute was available.

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I’ve got too much time on my hands.  That isn’t a very good thing sometimes.

Only $0.01 at Amazon!

Only $0.01 at Amazon!

I noticed a title on the bookshelf here at the in-laws (they sort of just collect interesting looking books, they probably haven’t read this).  It was The Millennium Meltdown: Year 2000 Computer Crisis by Grant Jeffrey.  Selling Y2K fear was big business in the late ’90’s.  I know I told my congregation to be prepared, just in case.  Just trying to be wise.  So no big deal that NOTHING happened.

But when you write a book about it, tying it into a secret agenda for world government (yes, that’s a chapter title) you are seriously committed to the idea.  And when it doesn’t happen, you lose some serious credibility- or at least you should.

  Grant Jeffrey is one of the many dispensational doom & gloom salesmen who see each world crisis as proof that the Great Tribulation is about to begin ( he has about 10 titles in this genre).  Despite the fact that he is batting .000 (and so are the rest of these guys) …

  1. How do they have the chutzpah to continue to write books as if they have any intellectual, biblical legs to stand upon?
  2. Why do people continue to buy those same books as if they had any intellectual, biblical legs to stand upon?

I have a number of conflicting emotions as I see both how self-deceived you must be to continue to write this books without ever asking, “Am I misunderstanding the Bible?” and questioning the system of thought that keeps bringing you to these conclusions that don’t match the facts of history.  I also have a number of conflicting emotions when I see how gullible and naive people can be to keep buying this stuff even though these men (and women) have been 100% consistently wrong (just for fun read the customer reviews on Amazon).

I fear for the American Church, it as if large chunks of the church want to be deceived.  Or perhaps I’m deceived and the Y2K mess really happened, there is a cashless society operated by the one world government and the war on terror, or oil, or sand, is triggering the advent of Antichrist and the rapture which they have predicted about 50 times by now.  Or that God actually does want me to be wealthier than I can imagine, perfectly healthy and trouncing the devil with every step and I’m not living my best life so far because I don’t have enough faith or think positively enough and I just really need to will my migraines and back pain away.

I need to head to the tiny beach nearby with my MP3 player of sermons so I’ll stop thinking of these things.

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Justin Taylor (Between Two Worlds) linked to a post by Ray Ortland  that is a good reminder for all of us who are Reformed in our theology (I spoke with a potential real estate agent about that this morning).  Here is some of what he says:

The Judaizers in Galatia did not see their distinctive – the rite of circumcision – as problematic. They could claim biblical authority for it in Genesis 17 and the Abrahamic covenant. But their distinctive functioned as an addition to the all-sufficiency of Jesus himself. Today the flash point is not circumcision. It can be Reformed theology. But no matter how well argued our position is biblically, if it functions in our hearts as an addition to Jesus, it ends up as a form of legalistic divisiveness.

Paul answered the theological aspects of the Galatian error with solid theology. But the “whiff test” that something was wrong in those Galatian churches was more subtle than theology alone. The problem was also sociological. “They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them” (Galatians 4:17). In other words, “The legalists want to ‘disciple’ you. But really, they’re manipulating you. By emphasizing their distinctive, they want you to feel excluded so that you will conform to them.” It’s like chapter two of Tom Sawyer. Remember how Tom got the other boys to whitewash the fence for him? Mark Twain explained: “In order to make a man or boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.” Paul saw it happening in Galatia. But the gospel makes full inclusion in the church easy to attain. It re-sets everyone’s status in terms of God’s grace alone. God’s grace in Christ crucified, and nothing more. He alone makes us kosher. He himself.

So, while I agree with J.I. Packer and Roger Nicole that “Calvinism is the gospel” (meaning the most accurate understanding of the biblical gospel), I need to be wary of my little inner Pharisee which tends to make that a litmus test.  I have been fortunate to be friends with people from a variety of Christian ‘traditions’, and continue to be.  But sometimes my inner Pharisee appears and I try to convert them to Reformed theology instead of waiting for Jesus to sort all that out.  Oh, I should be willing to discuss it with them but I shouldn’t feel the need to argue them into it.  (Apologies to all those I’ve done this to … there are more of you than I probably know.)  One phrase I used in seminary was “you don’t have to understand gravity for it to still have an effect on you.”  It is the same way with grace- we don’t always have a good understanding of the “hows” but what matters is that it has effected someone savingly.  The understanding will come later (sometimes MUCH later).  And that goes for me too, for all of us have blind spots in our theology.  But if they grasp Jesus by faith- they are Christians, part of his church, body and bride.

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This the end of Velvet Elvis.  The final chapter is called Good.  And the point is the church should be doing good in society.  Rob Bell wants nothing to do with Christians who retreat from society, focusing on getting to heaven and “saving souls.”  In some ways, Rob provides a good critique of much dispensational thinking.  As usual, Rob seems to provide an over-correction.

Rob does a great job of laying the groundwork for the fact that Jesus will be restoring creation (Romans 8).  Our personal salvation is a part of this cosmic renewal Jesus has begun, which will be completed when He returns.

What Rob neglects is that while we await His return, those who die in Christ are in heaven with Him.  And they shall return with Him to renew the heavens and earth, which shall be our dwelling place with God forever (Revelation 21-22).  He lays this out as the expectation of the prophets in the Old Testament.  Paul’s eschatology is not a departure from OT eschatology (2 peoples => 2 destinies).  Rather, we join true Israel (not replace) in receiving the promises.

There are some “interesting” statements made.  Things that would make the Scriptures unclear to most Christians, and lead some in unhealthy directions.

“Jewish writers like John did things like this all the time in their writings.  They record what seem to be random details, yet in these details we find all sorts of multiple layers of meaning.  There are even methods to help decipher all the hidden meanings in a text.”

Hidden meanings…. dangerous stuff in my mind.  His footnote brings us to Matthew’s genealogy.  There he develops this numerology deal with David’s name in Hebrew (the numbers add to 14, which is how many people make up each section of the genealogy which is supposed to shout “King, King, King” to us.  Most people will go “Cool, I didn’t see that.”

It is not hidden.  Matthew’s Gospel starts with saying Jesus is the son of Abraham and the son of David.  He is the fulfilment of the promises given to these 2 great men of faith.  He is the long awaited Seed who will be for the blessing of the nations, and the King to sit on David’s throne.  It is right there in plain sight, for all to see.  And those themes (expansion to the Gentiles and Jesus as King) run all the way through Matthew’s Gospel.  No secret knowledge necessary to understand some hidden meaning.

It is this promise to Abraham that is important in understanding some of the implications of election.  Problem is, Rob ignores the issue of election for salvation (which is the context of most of the statements concerning our election).  He majors on the minor theme of how we are to be for the blessing of the nations.  Christians need to hear that message too, so we don’t run and hide from society.  We seem to forget that the early church entered a very corrupt society and transformed it with the gospel.  The early Christians took care of the poor and abandoned (as Julian the Apostate noted and applauded).  They saw this as a function and picture of the Gospel.  They did not separate this from the Gospel of salvation.

Sadly, Rob would appear to do this (as the Social Gospel did years ago taking Sheldon’s In His Steps too far).

“And this is because the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join.  It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display.  To do this, the church must stop thinking about everybody primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or nonbeliever.  … To treat people differently based on who believes what is to fail to respect the image of God in everyone.”

We are to love all- even our enemies.  But family ties being greater responsibilities.  We see this in Paul.  A person who calls themselves a Christian must provide for their family (1 Timothy 5:4-8).  We are to do good, especially to those in the family of believers (Galatians 6:10).  This is a function of our adoption into God’s family.  We should treat all people well, and our family in Christ better.  All people are made in the image of God, but some participate with us in the blessings of salvation.  This is the kind of neglect of God’s whole counsel that irritates me.  By flattening it out, Rob can mislead people just as much as those he is reacting against.  This is what I mean by over-correction.  If your plane is off course, you correct it so it arrives at the proper destination.  You don’t just yank the steering column hard in the other direction and pray for the best.  That is dangerous, not just for you but all those following you.

So ends a book that says some great things, and some really bad things.  Discerning people can identify both and benefit from the good things.  But Rob’s intended audience would appear to be people who don’t have the ability to discern those things.  And they will suffer for it.  And that is sad.

Repainting Mission from the Great Commission => Creation Mandate (reversing the progression of revelation)

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Justin Childers (Cross-Eyed) came across this in his reading.

“We have even heard it asserted that those who lived before the coming of Christ do not belong to the church of God! We never know what we shall hear next, and perhaps it is a mercy that these absurdities are revealed one at a time, in order that we may be able to endure their stupidity without dying of amazement” (Vol. 15, 8).

Keep in mind, dear readers, that when Spurgeon said this, dispensationalism was an innovative doctrinal position and interpretive method put forth by John Nelson Darby.  Read this through Spurgeon’s eyes and time frame, not the 21st century glasses in which dispensationalism is the dominant theological view in western Christianity.

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I’m slowly plugging my way through Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy.  After all the hype, I thought I’d love this book.  As my intern noted, this book is listed by nearly every emerging leader as one of THE books.  But I’m not really loving it.  I think I figured out why.

I am not a dispensationalist, having left that camp in the early 90’s.  It isn’t that he is either.  It is that he is often arguing against many mistaken dispensational notions (without calling them what they are).  He belabors the folly of trying to park the teaching of Jesus in the earthly millennium.  So… I’m not tracking with him, even though, in large part, I agree with him.

But rather than seek to communicate Covenant Theology and/or a Reformed perspective, he seems to be trying to create his own thing.  And that ‘novelty’ sounds alot like the New Perspectives on Paul, which sound alot like the Roman Catholicism of my youth, which I fled for the purity of the Gospel of Jesus.

Hopefully I will change my viewpoint of this book by the time I’m done.  I want for him to affirm the distinctions between justification, sanctification & glorification.  What I see him doing is noticing how dispensational thought often separates them.  He seems to move to the opposite error rather than say they are distinct blessings of the Gospel, but also connected blessings of the Gospel.  They come as a package, but they are not the same.

Or am I just completely missing something here?

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