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McDermott, Gerald R. Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2017. 158 pp.; Pb.; $17.90  Link to Brazos Press

Gerald McDermott edited a volume of essays on the status of Israel in the current age (The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land, InterVarsity Press, 2016). The volume included essays by two scholars associated with progressive dispensationalism (Darrell bock and Craig Blaising), two writers associated with the Philos Project (an organization which promotes positive Christian engagement in the Middle East, Robert Nicholson and Shadi Khallou), two writers who edited an Introduction to Messianic Judaism (Zondervan, 2013; Joel Willitts and David Rudolph). This new volume by Brazos Press is an attempt to present the ideas of this previous work at a popular level.

In the introduction to this book, Dermott traces his move from the traditional view that the church has replaced Israel as God’s people to what he calls “New Zionism.” He indicates his theological training convinced him the Church is the new Israel and any protests to that position came from Dispensationalism in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the Dispensationalism McDermott encountered argued for two separate ways of salvation (one for Israel, one for the church) and McDermott was repelled by popular Dispensational emphases on fulfillment of prophecy and predicting the rapture. In his previous volume, McDermott argued strenuously what he calls New Christian Zionism pre-dates the origins of Dispensationalism. This is clearly true; one of the keys for the development of dispensational theology was the rejection of replacement theology, opening up the possibility Old Testament prophecy about Israel could be (literally) fulfilled in the future.

As he began to study the New Testament, he encountered many texts which implied God still loved Israel and there was some kind of an anticipated future for Israel. This caused him to question some of the training he received in theology. His theological training had uncritically assumed the historic replacement theology of the church. In his first chapter (“Getting the Big Story Wrong”), McDermott traces this history of supersessionism through the early church (Justin Martyr. Irenaeus, and Origin) through the reformation, deism, and nineteenth century rationalism.

Chapters 2-5 deal with the biblical data on Israel. First, McDermott deals with the claim that the New Testament teaches the church is the New Israel. Despite the fact the New Testament does not expressly teach replacement theology, any church history will show many in the early church did in fact see the church as a new Israel and often spiritualized the promises of the Old Testament in order to make the applicable to the church. McDermott covered this history in the first chapter of the book, but in the third chapter he tracks “those who got it right.”

Chapters 4 and 5 examine the Old and New Testaments in order to show God’s plan has always been to bring salvation to the world through Israel. Despite Israel’s rejection of God in the Old Testament and the Messiah in the Gospels, God’s plan still includes a future for Israel in the Land. McDermott has correctly recognized the importance of Peter’s sermons in Acts 2-3, especially the promise of the “times of refreshing” Acts 3:19 (first in the introduction, then several more times in the book, p. 75 for example). I have written on this passage in the past, including how this phrase resonates with themes in the Second Temple period. In addition, I consider this to be one of the key texts for understanding what is happening theologically in the book of Acts

Chapter 6 deals with a political objections to McDermott’s New Zionism, “What about the Palestinians?” In this chapter he offers a brief overview of the emergence of Israel over the past hundred years beginning with the British Mandate. This is the least satisfying chapter in the book, and perhaps McDermott would have been better off omitting this material from the book. It seems to me this overview is far too brief to deal with the complexity of the issue and will leave him open to criticism from those who are less positive about Israel’s recent political history. McDermott is quite clear (and correct) that properly understanding Israel’s place in history does not mean uncritical acceptance of the modern political State of Israel, nor would he agree with the strange American evangelical relationship with  the State of Israel (usually having something to do with 1948 as the fulfillment of prophecy). But I do think his description of modern Israel and its relationship with Palestine will the main thing some readers will criticize about this book.

Chapter 7 deals with the status of the New Covenant in the present age. A traditional reading of Hebrews 8:13 argues the New Covenant cancels the Old Covenant, so that the Jewish people under that Old Covenant are no longer God’s special people. At the cross they are replaced by the Church and the Law has come to an end (at least Paul seems to think so). McDermott rejects the older dispensational idea of two new covenants, one for the Jews and one for the church, as well he should. McDermott points out Hebrews says the Law is passing away, not that it was abrogated at the cross. Paul’s point, for McDermott, is that the Law has a new meaning since the Messiah has come, not that the Law has been cancelled.

McDermott turns to a few practical of his new Zionism in chapter 8 (”If All This Is True, Then What?”) He presents this material through the eyes of the senior pastor of his church, Mark Graham. As result of several trips to Israel and continued dialogue with McDermott, Graham has begun to read the Bible with Jewish culture and history in mind. This may be as simple as realizing (and teaching) that the Greek word Christ ought to be understood as messiah, But Graham has made a conscious effort to preach more out of the Old Testament and as a result, he has rethought his understanding of church history and theology. McDermott offers one compelling example of this shift it theological thinking. McDermott includes section here on rethinking the Israel-Palestinian conflict (which is pro-Israel).

As a short conclusion to the book, McDermott offers six proposals based on the observations in this book. First, he thinks the church can see itself in Israel. By ignoring the first two-thirds of salvation history, the church misunderstands God. Second, the history of redemption is ongoing in the sense that the present ages is not the last stage in God’s redemptive plan. This implies (third) that prophecy is real, although it is mysterious. This means contemporary interprets ought to be wary of declaring the present State of Israel is a fulfillment of prophecy. Fourth, the land promises to Israel will be fulfilled in the future, Fifth, Israel and the church are “joined at the hip” even if neither side is aware of it. Sixth, the history of the treatment Jews shows is the “mystery of iniquity.”

By way of conclusion, unlike McDermott, I was never part of a replacement theology tradition, so much of what is presented in this book sounds very familiar from two very different directions. First, McDermott has read N. T. Wright extensively and has picked up on some of the best elements of his presentation of Jesus and Paul, as well as the now popular idea of the “drama of redemption.” Although written at the popular level, there is significant substance behind the argument of this book.

Second, many of the ideas presented in this book are familiar to anyone who has read dispensationalism beyond the cartoon parody of the Left Behind crowd. Dispensationalism started with the observation that the Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel remained unfulfilled and it was not satisfied by declaring these prophecies as fulfilled in the modern church. It is this ecclesiological observation (the church is not a new Israel) which was Dispensationalism’s important contribution to the theological discussion and led to re-reading Old Testament prophecy as predicting a real restoration of Israel in the future (a radical idea in 1900!) McDermott could include some Dispensationalists in his collection of people who “got it right.”

McDermott’s book is a very simple introduction to a very complex problem. He touches on issues which merit far more detail (perhaps their own monograph). That lack of detail will frustrate some readers, but would go well beyond McDermott’s goal of presenting the case for a New Zionism in a simple, straightforward fashion.

NB: Thanks to Baker and Brazos Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Bingham, D. Jeffrey and Glenn R. Kreider, Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2016. 501 pp. Hb; $36.99.   Link to Kregel

Although the fact is not mentioned on the cover of this book or on the Kregel website, this collection of essays on eschatology is a Festschrift for Craig A. Blaising on the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday. Steven L. James offers a short biographical sketch and bibliography of Blaising’s publications. Blaising has served as president of the Eschatology-BinghamEvangelical Theological Society in 2005 and was active in the Dispensational Study Group at ETS in the late 1980s. As a result of that study group, he co-edited Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church (Zondervan, 1992) and co-authored Progressive Dispensationalism (Baker, 1993) with Darrell Bock. As the editors point out in their preface, although Blaising is primarily known for his work in dispensationalism and eschatology, he contributed articles and conference talks on theological method, Athanasius of Alexandria, patristic biblical interpretation, and John Wesley.

The twenty-six essays in this collection are divided into four parts. The first section, The Doctrine of the Future and Its Foundation, concern theological method. D. Jeffrey Bingham deals with what he considers the fundamental problem of biblical theology, do the difference between the Old and New Testament involve discontinuity between the testaments? Despite the reputation dispensationalism has for favoring discontinuity, Bingham cites Blaising as arguing Christ gives the dispensations their unity. Stanley Toussaint contributes a biblical theology of hope, concluding that a proper study of prophecy will lead to renewed hope in a sovereign God. Charles Ryrie has a short essay on what he considers the “weakening of prophecy” by preterist interpreters. The article is too brief to engage preterists directly (he only cites R.C. Sproul as an example) and engages in a weak rational defense of prophecy using statistics.

More helpful is an article on predictive prophecy and the doctrine of God by John D. Laing and Stefana Dan Laing. By examining prophecies which were fulfilled within the Old Testament itself, the authors argue messianic prophecies ought to be taken seriously, especially since Jesus himself invited his followers to interpret the “signs of the times” (Matt 16:3) in order to understand God’s redemptive plan. Conservative readers will have no problem with Laing’s Old Testament examples of Daniel’s four kingdoms or Isaiah’s prediction of Cyrus the Great. However anyone holding to a later date for Daniel or Isaiah 40-55 will see these as vaticinium ex eventu, prophecies written after the event, rendering the argument of the essay less sure.

The second section, The Doctrine of the Future in the Bible, collects eight essays to form a biblical theology of the future. Essays cover major sections of the Old Testament, including the Deuteronomy (Daniel I. Block), the Historical Books (Gregory Smith), The Psalms (George Klein), and the Prophets (Mark Rooker). Block’s essay on eschatology in Deuteronomy is the highlight of the book. He argues the book of Deuteronomy anticipates the “first phase” of Israel’s distant future and our past (the exile), but also a “second phase” in our future (restoration from exile). The eschatological vision of Deuteronomy includes not only the preservation of Abraham’s seed among the nations, but also a change in the Lord’s disposition towards them so that he will restore them to the Promised Land (133). Block thinks the return from Babylon was a partial fulfillment of prophecy since those who returned were small in number and only occupied a small portion of the land. More importantly, although they were blessed by God, the restored temple was a shadow of what was expected and doomed to be destroyed again in A.D. 70.

Four essays on the New Testament include the Synoptic Gospels (Darrell Bock), John’s Writings (David Turner), Paul’s Writings (W. Edward Glenny) and Hebrews and the General Epistles (David Allen). Bock’s article is representative of the application an “already-not yet” view of prophecy common in progressive dispensationalism. David Turner’s essay on John’s view of the future must first argue that John’s Gospel has an eschatology, since the Gospel is often dismissed as an example of realized eschatology. Based on his collection of evidence from the Gospel fo John, Turner argues the ‘difference between John and the Synoptic Gospels should not be overly pressed” (225).

The eleven essays in the third section, The Doctrine of the Future in the History of Christian Thought, range from historical theology in the Apostolic fathers (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origin, Athenasius, Augustine), the Reformation (Calvin, Anabaptist thought, Jonathan Edwards), and contemporary theology (Baptist, Dispensationalism, Jürgen Moltmann, and “contemporary European theology”). It may seem odd to see Calvin, Anabaptists, Moltmann and Dispensationalism in the same volume, but this is an indication that dispensational idea are found in many different streams of theology (even if the combination of these threads is unique to dispensationalism). Mark Bailey’s essay on the future in Dispensationalism is refreshing since it avoids the kind of wild predictions most people associate with the system.

Finally, the three essays under the heading The Doctrine of the Future and Christian Ministry include pastoral care (J. Denny Autrey), Contemporary Challenges (R. Al Mohler, Jr.) and The Marketplace (Stephen Blaising, Craig’s brother). The first two of these essays are rooted in historical theology. Mohler, for example, uses the model of Augustine’s two cities to argue any doctrine of the future must engage with contemporary culture.

Conclusion. This collection of essays serves as a worthy tribute to Craig Blaising, even if it is marketed as a textbook on Eschatology rather than a Festschrift. Many of the writers either self-identify with dispensationalism or are familiar with the contributions of progressive dispensationalism. This too is overlooked in the marketing of the book, but not unexpected given the current antipathy for dispensational thought in scholarship. But the essays in this collection absolutely do not represent the kind of wild-eyed craziness that passes for dispensationalism today. In fact, most of the essays in the collection which can be fairly pigeon-holed as dispensational are very similar a narrative theology, seeking to find the unity of the whole canon of Scripture via the teaching of the whole Bible on the past, present and future.

The book provides an overview of eschatology from a moderately conservative and vaguely dispensational perspective. Given these constraints, Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches would indeed make a good textbook for a Bible college or Seminary classroom, although most of the articles will be valuable to pastors and teachers preparing to teach on the future in their churches.

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Hog FarmIn Acts 4:32-5:16 we have a description of the early community of believers in Jerusalem.  A text such as this provides a good opportunity to stop and think about how we ought to apply the book of Acts today.

Sometimes this group is described as living as communists since they “live in common” and seem to have re-distributed wealth.  Many traditional dispensationalists have therefore concluded that the future Kingdom will be some sort of socialist paradise with no private property, etc.  Try as I might, I cannot find this elsewhere in scripture nor am I communist so that I need to find biblical support for by economic theory!  Virtually everyone who treats this text finds some way to avoid the “living in common” aspect of Acts 4.

In Trites article there is no call to sell our possessions and live “in common.”  The application is therefore rather general.  But people like Shane Claiborne (The Irresistible Revolution) would argue (passionately) that the earliest community of believers were putting into practice the ethics of Jesus (including economic ethics) by living as simply as possible.  They did not build enormous churches and expensive structures – they simply met the needs of people.

Commune

Frequently this text is invoked as a model for the church to follow today, with varying degrees of specific application.  For example, Allison A. Trites includes this text in her article on church growth (“Church Growth in the Book of Acts” Bibliotheca Sacra 145 [Apr 88]).  The reason the apostolic church grew was because the church cared for the needs of the poor and treated hypocrisy as a serious offense (5:1-11).  The point is well made – the growing church cares about the needs of people as well as the preaching of the gospel.  But does this point really come from Acts 4:32-35?

There is no question that the early church sought to meet the needs of their community and the needs of the larger society as well.  Even in the days of Justin Martyr Christians were interested in sharing possessions for the common good:  “We who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring what we have to a common stock, and communicate to every one in need” (Apology 1.14:2-3).

The big question is therefore: How do we apply the descriptions of the earliest Christian communities to the present Christian church?  Or perhaps, should we try to apply these things to our church? Perhaps there is more going on here than Luke giving us a model for all churches at all times.  I really am impressed with the recent emphasis on simplicity and I am by no means interested in any kind of “health and wealth” gospel – but I am also concerned with drawing ethical implications from this text.

Bock, Darrell L. and Mitch Glaser, eds. The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2014. 369 pp. Pb. $16.99   Link to Kregel

Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser have worked together on the topic of Israel in two other books published by Kregel (To the Jew First: The Case for Jewish Evangelism in Scripture and History, 2008 and The Gospel According to Isaiah 53, 2012). These two volumes collected papers from conferences sponsored by Chosen People Ministries, an evangelistic mission to Jews led by Mitch Glaser. This new book is based on a conference held at Calvary Baptist Church in New York City in 2013. Most of the participants are Evangelical who have a high view of Scripture and several are involved in some sort of ministry aimed at Jewish evangelism. Not a few of the scholars participating in the conference can be fairly described as “Progressive Dispensationalists” (Bock and Blaising, especially) although that language does not appear in the book.

The People of IsarelThe first section surveys Israel according the Hebrew Bible. Eugene Merrill (Torah), Walter Kaiser (Writings), and Robert Chisholm (Prophets) contribute very brief biblical theologies of Israel. Chisholm’s contribution is especially important since the prophets looked forward to a return from exile and a reunification of Israel under a new David. This return, Chisholm demonstrates, will be the result of repentance and forgiveness at the time of a new covenant. The prophets generally teach the nations will come to restored Zion to worship Israel’s God at the Temple.

Michael Brown’s chapter “The People of Israel in Jewish Tradition” is placed in the book between the Old and New Testament sections, leading me to think it would cover the Second Temple Period, but that is not the case. After spending a few pages on making six points drawn from the Hebrew Bible, Brown offers a few examples drawn from late rabbinic literature. Sadly, his longest example is taken from a website rather than the Talmud itself. He also cites Midrash Tanchuma Qedoshim, a text dated A.D. 370 attributed to Rabbi Tanchuma bar Abba and Rashi (d. 1105). By juxtaposing these later writers with the list of messianic expectations drawn from Emil Schürer’s History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, he gives the impression that Jews at the time of Jesus thought of Jerusalem as the “navel of the world.” Perhaps they did, but the evidence offered here does not support the claim.

The second section continues the survey by examining what the New Testament has to say about Israel. Michael Wilkins contribution surveys the Gospel of Matthew, highlighting the tension between Jesus’ command to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and the emphasis Matthew places on the salvation of the Gentiles. Matthew has the most negative view toward Israel, especially toward the religious leadership (Matt 23, for example). The gospel also has strong statements about Gentiles participating in the Kingdom. But Wilkins does not see this as replacement theology, since Israel will be in the land in the eschatological age (Matt 23:37-39), worshiping in the temple, (Matt 24:14-16), and the disciples will be ruling a restored Israel (Matt 19:28)

Darrell Bock discusses Luke/Acts. Like Matthew, Luke does not indicate God replaces Israel with Gentiles, even if that was part of God’s plan from the beginning (p. 104). Bock highlights a number of texts throughout the Gospel of Luke indicating Luke’s belief that Israel’s judgment is only for a time and they will participate in the eschatological age (p. 109). Of considerable importance is Peter’s sermon in Acts 3:18-21, in which he states clearly the “times of refreshing” will come and Israel will once again be blessed. There is nothing in this sermon even hinting that the Gentiles will replace Israel and that the promises of a “time of refreshing” has been transferred to the Gentiles.

Michael Vanlaningham examines the question of Israel’s restoration in the book of Romans. Romans 9-11 can fairly be described as the most important text in the New Testament for understanding Israel’s future since Paul deals with God’s faithfulness to his promises and a potential objection that faithfulness. If God has canceled his promises to Israel, perhaps she will do so with the Gentiles. Vanlaningham shows that replacement theology has trouble dealing with Romans 11, especially the clear statement that “all Israel will be saved.”

In perhaps the strangest article in the collection, Craig Evans examines Hebrews and the General Epistles. The chapter is strange because the General Epistles have very little to say about the replacement or restoration of Israel and almost nothing about the land. Evans simply points out each book in this General Epistles is written by a Jewish writer to Jewish Christians (with the possible exception of 2 Peter). That James addresses his letter to Jewish Christians in the Diaspora is significant since it presupposes Israel in the Land. While I agree with everything Evans says in this chapter concerning the Jewishness of these letters, it really has little to do with the theme of the book.

The third section of the book takes on the topic from the perspective of hermeneutics and theology. Craig Blaising, Mark Saucy, John Feinberg and Michael Vlach each contribute articles challenging the supersessionist view of prophecies from the Hebrew Bible. It is significant that all four of these writers are associated with dispensationalism, but with the exception of Vlach’s historical survey, there is no clear indication they are using a dispensational hermeneutic. Blaising challenges supersessionist views on Israel by appealing to the overall narrative of Scripture, arguing popular supersessionist writers have made a “reality shift” when moving from the promises of the Old Testament to the fulfillment in the New Testament. He associates this first with W. D. Davies and his students, but Reformed biblical theology is guilty of using typology to downplay the literal fulfillment of the land promises to Israel. Mark Saucy examines the overall narrative of the Bible and argues that de-emphasizing the role of Israel in the fulfillment of Old Testament promises misses the point of the story of the Bible. Jesus clearly believed in the future new covenant hope of the Prophets. John Feinberg examines three prophecies from the Old Testament and simply observes they cannot be fulfilled if Israel has been replaced by the church because the presuppose Israel is in the land and worshiping in the Temple.

Michael Vlach article on Israel in Church History demonstrates replacement theology began very early in church history. After Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 and 135, Gentile membership in the church became the majority and Church leaders became less interested in Israel and the Land. As allegorical interpretations of Scripture became the standard hermeneutic of the church, replacement theology developed rapidly, so that by the early third century, Clement of Alexandria could describe Israel as “divorced” from God and replace by the Church as a faithful spouse (p. 201). While few in the writers Reformation dealt with the restoration of Israel, seventeenth century saw a great deal of interest in evangelizing the Jewish people, often in an eschatological context. Puritan millennialism, for example, understood the conversion of Israel as a pre-requisite to the second coming (p. 206), a point he illustrates by citing Charles Spurgeon. Vlach points out Dispensationalism did not create this interest in the early nineteenth century (as is often assumed), but continued a trend with respect to the restoration of Israel.

The last article in this section also takes a historical perspective. Barry Leventhal examines “Israel in Light of the Holocaust.”  While Leventhal has written books on this topic, I found this chapter to be disappointing. First, he has too many extremely long citations from other writers, to the point that several pages have virtually nothing from Leventhal. Most of these citations are appropriate to the topic and some are probably necessary for Leventhal to make his point, but the fact some appear in the article virtually without comment does not strike me as good use of resources. Perhaps the article would read better if he summarized the lengthy quotations and cited the source for further reading. Second, he argues toward the end of the article for a three-exile/three return model for understanding modern Israel. The first exile is the sojourn in Egypt after Joseph, the return was the Exodus. The second exile began in 586 B.C. after the destruction of Jerusalem and the second return was after the seventy year captivity was complete. Leventhal considers the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 to be the third exile, with the third return still in the future when God calls his people back to the Land (p. 239). Leventhal does not consider Bar Kokhba in his discussion of the beginning of a third exile. On the one hand, this “third exile” sounds like standard Dispensational theology since he describes an antichrist and a great tribulation (supported with copious citations of Scripture, see his list on p. 241!) While I agree with many of the details, I question the validity of the sojourn in Egypt as an Exile, since it was not a punishment for covenant unfaithfulness. Joseph’s generation are not judged with slavery in Egypt for their failure to keep the God’s commands, in fact, Gen 50:19-21 specifically states God intended the sojourn for the good of Jacob’s family. Perhaps a better way to make a similar point is to adapt N. T. Wright’s “ongoing exile” as a way of explaining why Israel remains in exile after the return in 538 B.C. and even after the events of A.D. 70.

The final section of this book looks at the question of Israel and practical theology. Michael Rydelnik looks at the Jewish people as evidence for the truth of Scripture. This essay considers the remarkable history of Israel and their survival as a people as a kind of proof that the Bible contains truth. Since both the Old and New Testaments indicate Israel will continue to exist until the end times and Israel has miraculously overcome attacks and persecution. This supernatural survival is “strong evidence of the truth of Scripture” (259).

Mitch Glaser discusses the controversial topic of evangelism directed at the Jewish people. Glaser makes a clear distinction between national promises made to Israel in the Bible and personal salvation of individuals. All people must accept Messiah Jesus as savior, “being Jewish” is not sufficient to guarantee participation in the coming messianic age. Glaser believes Paul’s message “to the Jew first” is fully understood when it is coupled with Romans 11:25-27. He states that Paul himself believe that “if Jewish people are successfully evangelized then Jesus the Messiah will return” (p. 274). For Glaser, this means prioritizing evangelism to the Jews because they are God’s chosen people. This is possible and although the opposite may be true as well, that if the “full number of the Gentiles” are saved, then Messiah can return. In Acts 21, Paul hurries to return to Jerusalem by Pentecost with a gift from the Gentiles as a firstfruit offering.

David Epstein tackles this same question from the perspective of a local pastor. Epstein is a Jewish Christian who has pastored Calvary Baptist Church in New York City and has been active in reaching Jewish people with the Gospel for many years. Drawing on his own experience in New York, Epstein argues continued evangelism of Jewish people is a compassionate and biblical practice because Jewish people are still loved by God.

Finally, Gregory Hagg surveys “The Various Positions on Israel Currently Taught in Theological Schools.” Hagg constructed a survey seventy primarily Evangelical institutions in North America. His questions attempt to gauge the interest in these institutions in premillennial and somewhat Dispensational views of Israel and Palestine as well as their views on evangelism to Jews and Arabs. Only about twenty percent returned the survey, so the results are far from a definitive statement of what Evangelicals are doing in their seminaries. In general, the results indicated less enthusiasm at self-identifying as a Dispensationalist, and most schools do not have courses on evangelism to Jewish or Arab peoples.

Darrell Bock offers a few words as a conclusion to the book highlighting the main contours of the articles. In short, these articles indicate God has made promises to Israel which he will keep in the future. Israel’s past or current unfaithfulness does not cancel out the promises of God to bring his kingdom into this world.

Conclusion. I find this book fascinating since it is essentially a book on Pre-millennialism and Dispensational Theology even if it rarely uses the language of classic Dispensationalism. Most (but not all) of the writers are associated with Dispensationalism in some way or teach in traditional Dispensational institutions. Perhaps the writers avoid explicitly using the language because of recent backlashes against Dispensationalism generated by the Left Behind phenomenon or some of the invective commonly used against this once popular way of reading the Bible.

Each chapter ends with a series of study questions to facilitate further discussion of the topic of the paper. A “for further reading” section appears for only paper, Bock’s contribution on Luke/Acts. Throughout the book there are URLs and QR Codes to access conference videos and additional interview material with the individual contributors to this volume.

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

There are a number of other topics which could be included in a discussion of the New Perspective. The “faithfulness of Christ” or “Christ’s faithfulness” debate is very important although the details are a bit arcane. Wright’s view of the Exile is important, but not something that is at the heart of the New Perspective on Paul. Let me close off this series with a few observations why I think that dispensationalism and the New Perspective can be closely allied.

dispensationaismBy dispensationalism, I do not mean the quirky stuff (people predicting the end of the world, etc.) The dispensationalism I have in mind here is represented by writers like Darrell BockCraig BlaisingRobert Saucy or Dale DeWitt. There are quite a few ideas in the New Perspective which resonate with dispensationalism. I do not mean to say that the NPP is dispensational, only that the two are often “on the same page.” A few examples will suffice.

First, dispensationalism has always had a strong view of progressive revelation which lends itself to a narrative of salvation history. Scripture is the unfolding story of redemption. God is working through a series of “steps” or stages to redeem creation from the effects of sin. Wright has particularly emphasized “story” as a way of understanding Jesus and Paul, often using the analogy of a five act play. His oft-cited world view questions are important, Paul is answering the question “what time is it?” Dispensationalism highlights the fact that Paul is describing the current age as distinct from the last.

Second, dispensationalism has never been particularly anti-Semitic and has always done a good job emphasizing the Jewishness of the writers of the New Testament. This is may be a result of Dispensationalism’s late development as a system of thought, but it is also true many of the earliest “dispensational” thinkers were interested in Jewish evangelism. That the New Perspective says Jesus, Paul, Peter and James reflect Second Temple Period Judaism is nothing which should shock a dispensationalist! I think that there is a great deal more to be learned by studying Paul and Jesus in the light of our growing understanding of the Second Temple Period.

Third, dispensationalism has always emphasized Paul as the central figure for the present age. He is the “founder of the church” and his letters are usually emphasized over other writers in the New Testament. Paul claims his revelation is unique, and dispensationalists frequently develop this claim to mean that Paul is the only one to whom God revealed his plan for the current age (Eph 3:1-6, for example). The New Perspective also emphasizes the radicalness of Paul’s message in the context of Second Temple Period Judaism. For all of his connections to Judaism, Paul says things that would be considered radical within any form of “biblical” Judaism of the first century.

Fourth, with respect to the Justification debate, dispensationalists are a bit confused. Dispensationalism developed out of the reformed tradition, continuing the reformation in terms of ecclesiology and eschatology. Dispensationalism is in fact a development of covenant theology whether either side wants to admit it or not. As such there is a interest in the soteriology of the Reformers, but the anti-denominationalism of dispensationalists prevents them from fully embracing confessions and the like. As a result, there are dispensationalists who represent all the various “flavors” of the reformation, Calvinist or Arminian. Soteriology is not the primary motivation for most dispensationalists, so this debate might very well pass them by.

I do think that the New Perspective is correct in their description of justification as one of the many metaphors of salvation and that the reformation stream theologies have elevated it to such an extent that the word “justification” now means “total salvation.” For me, the fact that Paul uses “in Christ” to describe our salvation far more often makes it a more viable overarching metaphor for salvation. It also seems to me that the division between justification and sanctification in Systematic theology misses the point that Paul uses the same language for both the beginning of our salvation and our on-going experience of salvation.

Obviously someone like N. T. Wright is not a dispensationalist in any sense of the word, but it is remarkable how many of his basic ideas resonate with dispensationalist foundations. I think this is why Wright goes out of his way to separate himself from dispensationalism, although he has in mind the goofy popular forms. The New Perspective certainly does not go so far as to separate the church from Israel in the way that dispensationalists do, nor is there any sort similarity in eschatology. There is much to be learned from reading the New Perspective on Paul.

HippiesIn Acts 4:32-5:16 we have a description of the early community of believers in Jerusalem.  A text such as this provides a good opportunity to stop and think about how we ought to apply the book of Acts today.

Sometimes this group is described as living as communists since they “live in common” and seem to have re-distributed wealth.  Many traditional dispensationalists have therefore concluded that the future Kingdom will be some sort of socialist paradise with no private property, etc.  Try as I might, I cannot find this elsewhere in scripture nor am I communist so that I need to find biblical support for by economic theory!  Virtually everyone who treats this text finds some way to avoid the “living in common” aspect of Acts 4.

In Trites article there is no call to sell our possessions and live “in common.”  The application is therefore rather general.  But people like Shane Claiborne (The Irresistible Revolution) would argue (passionately) that the earliest community of believers were putting into practice the ethics of Jesus (including economic ethics) by living as simply as possible.  They did not build enormous churches and expensive structures – they simply met the needs of people.

Commune

Frequently this text is invoked as a model for the church to follow today, with varying degrees of specific application.  For example, Allison A. Trites includes this text in her article on church growth (“Church Growth in the Book of Acts” Bibliotheca Sacra 145 [Apr 88]).  The reason the apostolic church grew was because the church cared for the needs of the poor and treated hypocrisy as a serious offense (5:1-11).  The point is well made – the growing church cares about the needs of people as well as the preaching of the gospel.  But does this point really come from Acts 4:32-35?

There is no question that the early church sought to meet the needs of their community and the needs of the larger society as well.  Even in the days of Justin Martyr Christians were interested in sharing possessions for the common good:  “We who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring what we have to a common stock, and communicate to every one in need” (Apology 1.14:2-3).

The big question is therefore: How do we apply the descriptions of the earliest Christian communities to the present Christian church?  Or perhaps, should we try to apply these things to our church? Perhaps there is more going on here than Luke giving us a model for all churches at all times.  I really am impressed with the recent emphasis on simplicity and I am by no means interested in any kind of “health and wealth” gospel – but I am also concerned with drawing ethical implications from this text.

Futurism is the view that Revelation is a prophecy of events yet future from our perspective as well as John’s.  This view is usually associated with Dispensationalism, but I want to present a modified view similar to C. Marvin Pate in his Four Views on Revelation (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan, 1998).  This Modified Futurism attempts to combine the best of the preterist, idealist and futurist positions. It builds on the foundation of George Ladd, who combined idealism and futurism. Ladd held that most of Revelation was future, but only after chapter 6. Chapter 6 is symbolic of the general flow of the church age, similar to the idealist position rather than the historicist. (New Testament Theology, 624.) One finds something very much like this approach in the recent commentary by Grant Osborne, who describes his approach as “eclectic” (Revelation, 21).

A similar attempt to blend methods is Greg Beale’s recent commentary Revelation.  He attempts to read the book as a “redemptive-historical form of modified idealism” (Revelation, 48). Frequently his interpretation sounds like an idealist, but he includes a future aspect which sounds familiar to the futurist. For example, the beast of chapter 13 is representative of all the “anti-christs” throughout history, but also points to the ultimate Antichrist of the future (ibid. 680-1). For Beale, the idealist view is primary, the futurist is secondary.

Grant Osborne concurs with Beale’s approach, but emphasizes the future aspect of the prophecies. Osborne defines apocalyptic as “the present addressed through parallels with the future” (Revelation, 22). For example, Osborne feels the three and one half year great tribulation in Revelation serves as a model for all previous tribulations the church has faced.

C. Marvin Pate writes as a contemporary dispensationalist attempting to read Revelation as a book about the future, to be understood as literal, but also to address some of the excesses of the dispensational approach. The criticism of dispensational futurism have merit; Ddispensationalism needs to “reinvent itself” in order to deal with the critique from Reformed writers (primarily a-mil and idealist / preterists). This “re-invention” is modeled along the catchphrase “already / not yet,” especially as applied to the Kingdom of God in the Gospels by C. H. Dodd and later by George Ladd.  The phrase “kingdom of God” may refer to several different “kingdoms,” from God’s general reign over al of creation to a specific time in the future when the Messiah reigns from Jerusalem. Depending on one’s previous theological commitments, any time the phrase “kingdom of God” is used, it may invoke one or more of these ideas. Progressive Dispensationalism therefore attempts to see both the presence of God’s kingdom in the present age while also looking for an ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom in the future.

A critically important matter is the timing Revelation 4-5. When does the Lamb receive the scroll from the father? If this is a reference to the cross (and/or the resurrection, ascension), then at least Revelation 6-7 could refer to the present age. Classic dispensationalists took the prophecy as “future” beginning in chapter 2-3, the seven churches themselves prophetic of the flow of church history. I think that it is probable that chapters 4-5 represent “the current age” in that Christ has been enthroned and has not yet returned. On the other hand, I am more than warm to the idea that the seven seals are the Olivet Discourse for the Johannine community, beginning the “future” part of Revelation in chapter 8 with the seven trumpets.

All in all, I think that a modified futurism is the best approach to Revelation since it preserves the original, first-century intent along with the more general “good versus evil” teaching usually highlighted in idealist approaches to the book. Finally, by reading most of Revelation as a prophecy of the second coming of the Messiah, this modified futurism takes seriously Revelation’s own claim to be prophecy looking forward to the final consummation of God’s plan of redemption.

Is this view “futurist” enough to read Revelation accurately?  Or does it still retain too much futurism?  I suppose both sides will find fault with it, but the only way to determine the value is to apply a modified futurism to specific passages in Revelation.

Initially I was not going to mention this, mostly since I do not want to get into a flame war with the Calvinsit bloggers.  Someone sent me a link to the Alpha and Omega Ministries website, “A Lesser-Known Heretic You Should Know About.” The article concerns Joel Finck, a hyper-dispensationalist and vocal anti-Calvinist, and the Berean Bible Society as a whole. This is a good example of why I think the word heretic is overused, especially in this case. Let me preface this by saying I have a great deal of respect for the Alpha and Omega ministry, some of James White’s debates have been very productive and he has produced a massive number of resources for defending the faith.  I object to the loose definition of heretic in this particular article by Jamin Hubner.

Hubner is a decent scholar who has written a book answering Finck’s anti-Calvinist book. I looked it over and found myself in agreement with the theology in Hubner’s book, but that is no surprise since I walk on the Calvinist side of the street most of the time and think that much of what Finck says is inaccurate theologically.  But to be an Arminian is not to be a heretic.  (For the moment I will set aside the more radical “Open Theist” style Arminians, along with the more radical Calvinists.  I realize there are far more problems there, but these two extremes do not help this discussion.)

Finck simply reads the Bible from a different set of presuppositions than I do, although we should both be considered “within the reformation” with respect to sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, sola Christus, sola Deo gloria. Shocking as it is to my Calvinist theological world view, someone can be a raving Arminian and still hold to the five solas. We may disagree about the nature of faith, grace and the application of atonement, but we are in agreement that we are saved by the finished work of Christ on the cross.

For Hubner, Finck’s rejection of baptism is more disturbing. That Finck rejects all forms of ritual baptism is enough to call him a heretic and place him in the same category as Arius or Harold Camping.  This is despite the fact that Finck would agree with the whole Nicene Creed and the five solas which guide the Alpha and Omega ministry.  Finck believes the only baptism that “counts” is the baptism of the Holy Spirit which occurs at salvation and he is disturbed by any ritual at all that appears to be necessary in addition to that baptism.  To me, that emphasis on the Holy Spirit sounds fairly Pauline and his arguments are based on scripture, not his own visions or extra-biblical documents.  In no way is Finck a cult member who relies on secret knowledge or some authoritative personality.  As such, he is not a heretic, even if he is not going to be able to pastor the local Baptist or Reformed church.

I have met Joel Finck a couple of times and am fairly confident he would be in complete agreement with the Alpha and Omega doctrinal statement, which is not particularly Calvinistic nor does it include baptism as a requirement for salvation.

You can disagree with Finck’s conclusions on some doctrine.  You can show that he is fundamentally flawed in his approach to Scripture.  But you should not call him a heretic.

A common criticism of Dispensational Theology is that dispensationalists ignore the Sermon on the Mount or make it applicable only to the Jews in the Kingdom.  Unfortunately this criticism has some weight since some early dispensationalists did in fact teach that the Christian did not have to follow the Sermon on the Mount since it applied only to the Jews.  There is no real “pope of dispensationalism” so these early statements are used as straw-man arguments to vilify any form of dispensational theology.

…The Sermon on the Mount has application…literally to the kingdom. In this sense it gives the divine constitution for the righteous government of the earth. Whenever the kingdom of heaven is established on earth it will be according to that constitution (C. I. Scofield, Scofield Reference Bible (1917),  999,1000)

…if it is admitted that the sermon contains requirements for entrance into the kingdom, then it must also be conceded that the teachings of the sermon will be in effect not only during the kingdom age but also at a period immediately preceding. A number of reasons indicate that this period will be that which is known as the great tribulation period (James F. Rand, “Problems in Literal Interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount” BibSac 112 (Jan 55): 28-39, 112 (Apr 55): 125-137; 35).

For example, to pray the Lord’s Prayer was not something that the Christian ought to do since it applies to the Tribulation when Jews will really need to pray “give us this day our daily bread.” The fact that the Lord’s Prayer asks for the “Kingdom to come” was thought to be a prayer that was applicable in the tribulation since the kingdom is what the Jew would be praying for at that time, not what the Body of Christ Believer ought to be praying for today.

The Kingdom Prayer will have its proper and full use in a time yet future. After the coming of our Lord for His people and the catching-up of the Church, there will be a believing Remnant of Jewish disciples raised up, who will go everywhere preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, saying, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at, hand.’ … The Jewish Remnant will be terribly persecuted under the awful reign of the Beast-King and the power of Satan (Rev 13) (William L. Pettingill, Simple Studies in Matthew, 77-79).

This teaching was particularly offensive to those from a Mennonite / Brethren background.  To them, the core of Christian ethics is to be found in the Sermon on the Mount.  Bonhoffer, for example, based his ethics almost entirely on the Sermon on the Mount.  The recent Kingdom Ethics by Stassen and Gushee is based on the Sermon on the Mount as a foundation for Christian ethical thinking.

But the criticism that “all Dispensational Theology ignores the Sermon on the Mount” is simply false.  For example:

It is our conclusion that the presence of evil and evil men, the existence of poverty, famine, hunger, and need, are all contrary to the predictions made in the Old Testament concerning the character of the kingdom. Unsaved will not enter the millennium to run rampant against the righteous (Jer 25:31-33; Ezek 36:22-29; Matt 25:31-46). We thus conclude that the Sermon on the Mount cannot be made to apply to conditions on the earth after the establishment of the kingdom ( D. J. Pentecost, “The Purpose of the Sermon on the Mount,” BibSac, 115 (April, 1958): 135), emphasis mine.

As a correction to the excessive separation of the Church and Israel in the writings of early Dispensationalists, many writers see the application of the sermon as “trans-dispensational,” ethical teachings that are true for any dispensations.  How can there really be any time in the history of the world when the ethical standards of the Sermon on the Mount would not be applicable?  For example, the idea that the command not to commit adultery includes thoughts seems to apply to all of human history.   While it is true that Jesus is dealing with elements of Jewish Law and tradition, the way he (re)interprets these traditions is radical and clearly intended to be foundation for being the people of God from the time of Jesus forward.

Bibliography:

Harry A. Sturz, “The Sermon on the Mount and Its Application to the Present Age” Grace Journal 4:3 (Fall 63) p. 3–15.

John Martin, “Dispensational Approaches to the Sermon on the Mount,” in Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, ed. S. Toussaint and C. Dyer (Chicago: Moody, 1986) 35-48.

Craig Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels, has a helpful summary of the various approaches to the Sermon on the Mount in theology, see pages 245-247. Page 247 note 36, has several articles on Sermon on the Mount and pastoral care.

In my last post I tried to argue that the interpreter of Revelation must use the same literal hermeneutic used on Romans.  “Literal interpretation” is often lampooned as “wooden” when employed in studies on Revelation, but it seems to me that Revelation ought to be read as any other book of the New Testament.  If literal interpretation is defined properly (authorial intent) and the interpreter has a sense for the use of metaphors, then Revelation makes much more sense.

The problem in that paragraph is the “sense for the use of metaphor.”  A metaphor is a bit of symbolic language that intends to communicate something.  For example, if one of my students described my views on Revelation as “way out in left field,” he would not literally mean I was standing out in a baseball field lecturing.  That metaphor means that I was off-base (another baseball metaphor!) Perhaps another student would disagree, thinking that I had “hit the ball out of the park.”  Again, the meaning is that I did well and convinced him.  In both cases, I need to know about baseball and how these metaphors function in American culture.  If I were in Africa and someone said I was “out in left field,” perhaps the non-American would misunderstand what the point was and think I was standing over in the corn field.

This is what makes reading Revelation difficult.  We are 2000 years away from the world of the metaphor, not to mention several cultures beyond the Greco-Roman world of the first century.  In order to understand a metaphor, we need to read it as a listener in the last first century might have.  This implies a knowledge of the Greco-Roman world since Revelation was originally written to churches in Asia Minor.  More importantly, the readers were Jewish Christians who had knowledge of the Hebrew Bible.  There are two competing metaphor sets for any given metaphor in the book of Revelation – contemporary culture and the Hebrew Bible.

I’ll try one example here, the first “Horseman of the Apocalypse.”  Revelation 6:1-2 describes a rider on a white horse.  The color white is often associated with victory.  Roman emperors, for example,  rode in white when they celebrated victory.  But the color is often associated with righteousness, especially in the book of Revelation.  For example,  white robes are  promised in the letters to the seven churches and the martyrs in chapter 6, even the martyrs in chapter 5 might be said to be “victorious” because they have overcome.

There are two white horses in Revelation, this one and another 19:10-16.  In chapter 19 the horse and rider is clearly Jesus coming in victory to establish his kingdom.  If a person living in the first century Roman world heard this metaphor in either case they would think of victory and conquest.  Based the fact that this is a white horse, can we say that the white horse and rider is a positive image (Jesus, the gospel going into the world, etc.), or is it negative, the “antichrist” who goes out “bent on destruction”?

In my view, the rider on the white horse is a parody of Christ in 19:10-16, he is a “false messiah,” he is “anti-Christ.”  The rider is the Anti-Christ, going out “bent on conquest” from the beginning of the tribulation.  Several contrasts with the white rider in chapter 19 :  the name of the rider is “Faithful and True,” here the rider is given the power to judge and make war.  The crowns are different, the weapons are different.

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