Monthly Archives: April 2009
…Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God by Keith A. Mathison. On Tuesday evenings, a group of men from a church I have been attending gather to read various books on things of faith and discuss them in light of Scripture. We began reading through the book last Tuesday though my copy did not arrive till the following Saturday. I finished it on Monday.
Before I continue with my thoughts on this book, let me give you a bit of my back-story. I never spent very much time in church growing up, but I did manage to pick up a bit of the ‘culture’ through reading popular books on eschatology (Late, Great Planet Earth, etc), by occasionally listening to teachers/preachers on the radio and television, and by engaging conversations over the years on some of the the issues addressed in Mathison’s book. I came away from these influences with a bit of confusion over eschatology, with an ill-defined understanding that God had a different agenda for the church and the people of Israel (and with a strong leaning towards Christian Zionism), and a with tendency to interpret certain Biblical texts in light of current events rather than by the intent those passages had for the original audience.
I am under the impression that there has been a consensus in the American church, almost monolithic I think, of dispensationalism, a term I really could not clearly define for myself until recently. Also, I affirm that there are many, many godly men and women who affirm this theological grid, so any engagement of dialog must be entered into with grace, humility, and respect. What is in question here is not the character of the adherents of dispensationalism, but the correctness, the Biblical truth of the claims of this theological framework. Also, I affirm that what one thinks about dispensational theology should not be a litmus test for fellowship, for overarching orthodoxy. It is, I think, a subject that one can be in error over, but still affirm the core doctrines of Christianity. However and with that being said, the subject is not without import because to varying degree, I think all major doctrines are interrelated. Perhaps how one thinks about ecclesiology can effect how one thinks about eschatology; perhaps how one thinks about eschatology can effect how one thinks about soteriology. Doctrine matters, especially in a season where so many adhere to a ephemeral, insubstantial ‘deeds, not creeds’ mentality. I hope that in the final analysis we all measure our thoughts on things doctrinal by Scripture as the final authority.
What I appreciated about this book is it’s clarity. It cuts to the chase in it’s defining and characterization of dispensationalism; it is primarily the dividing of the people of God into two groups: Israel and the church. The church is considered a parenthesis, a mystery, a sideline in the Triune God’s plan of redemption. Further, this theology is relatively new, less than two hundred years old. One questions how this grid went without notice by 1800 years of church history. Though dispensationalists define themselves by and strive to adhere to a literal hermeneutic, they are not, in the final analysis, able to be completely consistent in such when interpreting prophetic passages.
Take my meanderings for what they are worth, but my growing understanding of dispensationalism leads me to believe that it interjects discontinuities in the redemptive narrative that unfolds in the Bible. It may, though unintentionally, present God as One who reacts, rather than One Who is absolutely sovereign. Also, and though not directly addressed in the book, I see dispensational thought as introducing two of some things where there only need be one. There are, within the dispensational framework, two (or more accurately, 1.5) returns of Christ, two peoples of God, two fulfillments of much of prophecy, two resurrections, two judgments, and sometimes in hyper-dispensationalism as represented by teachers such as John Hagee , two redemptive paths to God, one for the Jews and one for the gentiles. Though growing increasingly contra-dispensational, I was impressed with the irenic tone of the book. The book is also very clear in presenting the doctrines of grace. All that being said, I will continue to be edified by men like John MacAuthur and Charles Swindoll, both dispensationist. I could ramble on for hours on my thoughts on this book, and perhaps I will do a part two of this review at some point in the future.
Also, this is a rather quickly composed post, so please forgive any errors in grammer, etc.
“The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them…providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the church…the need is for Biblical doctrine, so understood and felt that it sets men aflame.”
- CH Spurgeon
Any commentary or elaboration on the quote would be superfluous.
Psalm71:20(ESV) You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.
In my reading this morning, I came across the aforementioned verse and found solace in the reaffirmation of God’s sovereignty over the created order, over circumstances, even difficult ones. Events are not now, nor ever have been, or ever will be beyond His reach, His hand. Things just do not happen to his elect as if we are caught up in some harsh machinery of cause and effect, of random, uncontrolled forces. Here in this Psalm we find a reminder that His loving and sovereign hand has always upon His children even before we were able to affirm such, even in troubles and calamities, all for our good and His glory.