Category Archives: Covenent/Dispy thoughts
My personal take on the Harold Camping rapture fiasco is this: it was a tempest in a teapot. The question I ask is why in the world did this man get so much news coverage in light of all the far more substantive events that could be pontificated upon in the news media. He is a man that wore a ‘warning of judgement’ sandwich board writ large is all. The whole thing had the feel of a viral YouTube video with about as much substance.
That all being said, I do have an interest in eschatology, pop or otherwise, and have written on the subject before. What bothers me is that there seems only to be a difference in degree, not in kind, between the Campingites, and fellow travelers from history such as the Millerites, and some popular dispensationalists. Predictions have been made as to the time of the rapture, and said predictions have proven false. One player uses arcane numerology to precisely formulate dates and times and the other looks at current events in the middle east with the modern state of Israel being the metaphorical hourglass as to the season of the rapture. Both also seem to focus more, and I think inadvertently, on the event of the pre-tribulation rapture rather than the return of the Messiah.
Eschatology is mysterious. It is not laid out as clearly as some would like or think in the Biblical texts. That being as it is, eschatology is not my hill to die on, though I obviously have strong opinions and know I could be in error over said opinion. In light of the aforementioned, my desire, for what it is worth, would be for a post-millennial rendering of the end of days, but I do not think the Biblical witness nor the trajectory of history lends it broad acceptance. World War One laid post-millennial thought to rest for the most part.
On the other hand, I understand the desire to be removed from the world when the escalation of terror and tribulation starts. Who would not like to avoid such if possible? However, how terrible it would be to be wrong about this dispensational pre-tribulation rapture scenario of entitled avoidance and find oneself in the midst of tribulation. Here is where the faith of many might grow cold when erroneous expectations of extraction are not met. I also have severe issues with the dispensational division of the people of God into two groups, national Israel and the church. This division stands in sharp contrast to the clear NT teaching that we are all one in Christ, both believing Jew and believing Gentile. I could rattle on for hours on this model of eschatology, one to which I used to hold, but enough for now.
Of the other two models that reside under the umbrella of orthodoxy, historic pre-millennialism and amillenialism, I lean strongly towards the amillennial. I always lean towards the simple and clear and that is what the amil model provides for me, a simple eschatology. Christ is now ruling from the right hand of the Father. Things will get worse, the Gospel will go through out the world, saints will suffer – even unto death- for the faith as they have through out history, there will be a great apostasy along with great evangelicalism, and the Messiah will return, boldly and unexpectedly, defeating anti-Christ. The saints, living and dead, will meet Him in the air. The Great Judgement is rendered, creation is renewed and the redeemed will joyously dwell with the Messiah forever. That is what I believe, based on my best understanding of Biblical texts, on the summing up of all things.
…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.
There was a time when I had some sharp interest in end times, in current events in context with prophecy, and in the politics surrounding the modern state of Israel. First, in no way, shape, or form am I anti-Israel, nor am I holding ones eschatology up as a litmus test of overarching orthodoxy…other than that heretical eschatology of full preterism. However, and perceived from conversations engaged and overheard over the years, what happens sometimes in this ‘pretrib’ rapture tribe is an inadvertent slide into a place where one may become more intently focused on national Israel or the place of America in end-times scenarios than in the return of the King. Any engagement of theology that trends and tends to turn focus from Christ-centicity to anything else is wrong. No matter what your eschatology, may the Triune God protect us from straying to areas and attitudes that would attempt to demean His glory.
I quite honestly avoid watching the news anymore, and I used to be quite the news junkie. I am not offering that comment up as a prescriptive for anyone, it is merely descriptive of where I am, now. I am already intimately aware that times are tough economically and many, too, are experiencing a post election buyers remorse of sorts. There are conversations occurring around me about a one world currency on the horizon and how this relates to prophecy, to the timing and immediacy of the rapture. Quite frankly, I really, really want my Redeemer to return and soon. What we must ask ourselves is this, is this interest in the ‘rapture’ driven by the fear of tumultuous events so that we desire an ‘easy button’ out from it all, or is that longing driven by something better, by something more grace-driven than angst and fear-driven?
Cutting to the chase, here is a connection I see: That longing for an easy button can be found both in some contemporary strains of evangelism and in eschatology. I have personally seen and heard the Gospel offered as an easy button to salvation on more than one occasion; I’ve blogged on this sad and pervasive phenomena ad nausea. Is not the ‘pre-trib rapture’ presented and thought of at times as a kind of easy button from ‘the tribulation?’
…that read thus: God’s Stimulus Package: The Rapture! and a simple, stray thought came to me. Does this I believe errant escatological view, this predominate doctrine in evangelical America of a pre-tribulation rapture, possess the tendency, even if not realized by most of those who adhere to it, to produce more an anxious anticipation of avoidance rather than an eager and joyous expectation? Or, to put it another way…am I more excited about being whisked away from bad stuff than I am about the Second Advent of my Redeemer…more a focus on an event versus than a focus on a Person?
Only in a culture relatively prosperous and indulgent, distanced by decades, for the most part, from far-reaching trauma on a national scale, could an eschatology of escape and easy entitlement take root and flourish. The early church, while often under great persecution, poverty, and tribulation, longed…and expected… to see Christ return. I, too, a misfit with no righteousness of my own, saved by grace lone, by faith alone, in Christ alone, soli Deo gloria, long to see Him return.
Could ramble for hours, but enough for now.
Matthew 24:7-9 (ESV)
7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.
Acts 1:11 (English Standard Version)
11and said,(A) “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven,(B) will(C) come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
John 17:15 (English Standard Version)
15I(A) do not ask that you(B) take them out of the world, but that you(C) keep them from(D) the evil one.[a]
1 Thessalonians 4 (English Standard Version)
13But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep,(AD) that you may not grieve as others do(AE) who have no hope. 14For(AF) since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him(AG) those who have fallen asleep. 15For this we declare to you(AH) by a word from the Lord,[d] that(AI) we who are alive, who are left until(AJ) the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For(AK) the Lord himself will descend(AL) from heaven(AM) with a cry of command, with the voice of(AN) an archangel, and(AO) with the sound of the trumpet of God. And(AP) the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be(AQ) caught up together with them(AR) in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so(AS) we will always be with the Lord. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.
A couple of days ago, I received a flier in the mail, an invitation to a prophesy seminar. Now, not too many years ago, I entertained a fascination with the whole The Late, Great Planet Earth, Left Behind phenomenon. I believed there would be an Advent 1.5 seven years prior to the ‘real’ Second Advent. I believed Christ would perform, as a cheeky someone whose name I do not recall once said, a ‘touch and go’ to extract the church from the world before the great tribulation. The church would be spared ‘the great suffering’ . I accepted the whole peculiarly American contemporary evangelical rapture theology, a theology of costless entitlement, without much question.
I want to state up front that in no way, shape , or form do I question the intent, character, motives, or sincerity of those who sent this invitation to this seminar. I also want to state that there are many godly men and women who accept this eschatology. Sophisticated, I ain’t, and all that being said, I think most would have to raise an eyebrow at the images from the flier below.
I think that this view of Christ’s return forces a focus on current headlines rather than the Word. Perhaps more accurately, it forces Scripture to be interpreted in the context of current news, a lens far removed from the context of the original readers through which Scripture is to be first understood. I also think this eschatology is a bit dangerous because it infers that the contemporary Church will not have to suffer tribulation as history approaches closure. Think about the persecuted church through history; think about those Christians in the third world, in Islamic countries, in China, in this day and age, who are being martyred for their faith in Christ. Where is their ‘rapture’ from tribulation? So much could be said on the subject.
In closure, as I read and study the Word, I am moving more to an amillennialist eschatology. I also look forward with great anticipation the return of my King, our mighty Redeemer and Saviour, Christ Jesus. His return may occur within the next heartbeat or long after I pass on, but I long to see my Saviour. Whatever your eschatology, I hope you, too, long for the Lord’s return.
One thing may lead to another. In a previous post , I have voiced my opposition to what I perceive to be unbiblical presentations of the tithe. In other posts , I have expressed an interest in learning more (which wouldn’t be hard given that I know next to nothing) about covenant and dispensational theology. It is interesting that recently, in the course of a couple of conversations, the two issues have collided, and I am still sorting through the fallout.
Here is the back-story: I participate in a small group at the church I have rather recently began attending. In this group, we read through various books on the faith (currently The Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church), and in reading these books, we discuss and analyze them, looking for application, all through the lens of the reformed faith. One conversation went a bit off-topic to the subject of the tithe. Giving and tithing was the focus of the previous Sunday’s sermon, one that I missed because I was out of town. In the course of following the conversation, I perhaps was unconsciously telegraphing my discomfort with the direction of the dialog by my body language. Someone said it looked as if I were about to burst, so I voiced my opinion, I think/hope winsomely. I essentially mirrored the thoughts of my aforementioned post on tithing. In the course of the conversation, one that I must affirm was very gracious on the part of all parties involved, I found myself the sole voice for giving by grace rather than by law. In my questions about my understanding of the topic, the leader of the group, a man who I hold in utmost respect, suggested I talk with one of the associate pastors. I called and made an appointment.
I must say, I quite enjoyed the conversation with the associate pastor that followed and was edified by it, and we ended up meeting again to continue the conversation. At the closure of the conversation, we agreed to agreeably disagree on the subject of an obligatory tithe, but what I came away with from our conversations is that my questions and concerns and about the nature and extent of the interjection of the Law into the Church may be illuminated by a better understanding of Covenant Theology (CT) on my part. I will not go into the details of the conversation because, one, it would honestly take too long to put to the written word and I honestly probably spend a bit too much time with this blog thing, and two, I am still sifting slowly through my thoughts. I will, however, speak in some generalities and give voice to some questions and issues and thoughts to which I am seeking clarity.
Before I proceed, please forgive any misrepresentations on my part of CT. I am still in a very formative, embryonic stage of understanding and am quite open to correction. Too, I am beginning to better understand the value of a systemic, holistic approach to understanding the Bible, to understanding the relationship between Israel and the Church, to understanding the relationship between Law and Grace. I am thinking about how the former informs the latter, both the systematic approach informing the particulars and in the Law pointing to Grace. Also and without regard to my stance on the tithe, I believe in giving sacrificially, consistently, and regularly to one’s local church as well as to other groups and to individuals in need. I believe in doing so, when possible, anonymously, not informing the left hand as to what the right hand is doing. Within the life of a disciple of Christ, the nature of our treasure and the nature of our heart are reflective of one another. I also, at times (more often than I care to admit), fail miserably at being a faithful steward. In light of that, I humbly and in repentance thank God that I am not justified by my performance (I am not able to do so), but only by the redemptive work of Christ on the cross, and that He is, over time, sanctifying and conforming me to the image of my Redeemer, Christ Jesus.
One or two parenthetical thoughts before I continue: I do not in any way, shape, or form condemn, rebuke, shun, look down upon, castigate, or judge those who differ from me on the issue of the tithe or in regards to one’s stance on CT or DT with the caveat that I will steadfastly oppose the more egregiously legalistic presentations of the tithe wherein one is led, purposefully or not, to believe that God’s grace rests on our performance. I am also certainly not advocating a discontinuation of consistently giving a certain percentage of one’s income is one is presently doing so.
In light of all the aforementioned, here are some of those thoughts (perhaps sometimes a bit incoherent, errant, repetitive, shallow, and conflicted), questions (some rhetorical, others not), and concerns in a somewhat abbreviated fashion – perhaps fodder for later posts:
- and wondering if there are there more obscure frameworks, discounting hybrids of the two in predominance, other than CT and DT(dispensational theology)? I know, I know……….. why don’t I just Google the question. Also, am I too simplistic in thinking only in terms of Law and Grace, of new wine and old wine skins, of Old and New Covenants?
- about Seventh Day Adventist verses antinomianism. Where, if any (and we all know there is), is the middle ground?
- about avoiding at all cost any vestige of the 2nd century heresy of Marcion in reference to his rejecting the OT out of hand. I affirm the Law is good. I affirm both OT and NT as authoritative, inspired, and infallible.
- on the somewhat dissonant (for me) interjection of tithing in specific, law in general, into my understanding of justification by faith. As a hypothetical, would a poor, elderly widow, just barely making ends meet and living on social security, with no relatives, be obligated to tithe? If the answer is yes from an outcome and prediction of CT (and that is what I am led to believe), then CT, in my understanding of this framework, died just a bit to me. This widow is one whom I should give to. I think of the poor in Asia Minor taking up collections so that the apostle Paul may give it to the poor in Jerusalem. Note that I do not infer that the aforementioned and hypothetical widow should not be generous even in her poverty.
- about Deuteronomy 14:24-26. Also, many preach Malachi regarding “God robbers” and being cursed. Follow up, please, Malachi 3:9 with Romans 8:1 and pay attention to context, especially with Malachi.
- about distinctions that are made between the ceremonial, civil, and moral law of the OT…..and the assertion that only moral law is for the church. Do I find this assertion in the NT? Does the OT assign or infer such a hierarchy or separation between ‘types’ of law?
- about the book of Galatians and Colossians and also thinking about Acts 15 where the few clear ‘legalistic’ prohibitions are clearly stated.
- in further detail about the tithe and how it is not presented in the Old Testament as simply a specific percentage off the top of one’s income; it was agricultural in nature in a culture that had currency. There were three (a few say four) tithes in the OT and cumulatively, they could add up to over twenty percent. I think of how craftsmen and tradesmen did not tithe though they did offer gifts. I could go on, but I just want to assert my understanding that the tithe as taught by many churches is not how I understand the tithe is presented in the OT. Also thinking about how silly the debate is over determining if that percentage of the tithe is taken off the net or the gross. Brother, please………
- about, as aforementioned, how we are to give sacrificially, about how we spend our money is reflective of what and Who we value most dearly.
- disturbingly about how we can apply what seems to be sound hermeneutics and sometimes reach so very different conclusions.
- about how, at this particular place and time in my growth as a Christian, I am not currently in too much intellectual conflict about the relationship between Israel and the Church, a contentment perhaps born out of my blissful ignorance. I do worry a bit, having been drawn into it for a season, about the ‘end times’ mania that seems to have captured the attention of parts of the church that are strongly dispensational. This phenomenon of a hyper-focus on eschatology, however, seems to be waning a bit. Or maybe I am just not paying attention to it anymore……
- about and asserting that, from my understanding, CT (and DT) is not primarily concerned with addressing the relationship of Law and grace, but more about how God works out His will in history and with His covenant people. I assert that my foray into issues of Law and Grace in relation to CT, while not necessarily parenthetical, does not present a fully orbed picture of CT. I affirm that God is a sovereign Maker of covenants. He does not change.
- about my concern that I may be creating heat rather than light with my dialog and questions. I do not think that I am, but I pray for greater discernment and grace and wisdom in all I say and write, that I honor my Savior in words or deeds.
- About how easy it is for me to get long-winded and hyper-focused on an issue
‘Nuff said for now…could polish and refine the post a bit more, but I think I will now release it into the wild.
In a previous post, I expressed an interest in learning more about covenant and dispensational theology. I have not had much time to do in-depth reading on these frameworks as of yet but have come away with some brief, broad, general, perhaps imprecise, perhaps incorrect, and quite nascent perceptions.
First, I am attempting to do something I have never done before – read through the entire Old Testament. I always bog down in Leviticus. I will persevere this time, however. Though I have read through the New Testament a few times, there are many books in the Old Testament I have never read. I wish to remedy that situation in the next few months to better grasp the full council of God. That all being said, in reading through Genesis, I am struck by the fact that God is a sovereign maker of Covenants. In my previous reading of Genesis, this fact has never stood out in such bold relief. Also, I want to read through at least the Pentateuch before I do very much ‘extra-biblical’ reading on covenant/dispensational theology.
Second, this area of theology is not unimportant. What we think about God and how He interacts with His creation has implications both historical, personal, and profound. Among other things, I believe it informs to a great degree how we ‘define’ His church, especially in relationship with Israel. It informs our thinking on eschatology, the study of the direction and culmination of history. It is the study of His working of redemptive history culminating with the revelation of the risen Messiah.
Third, though important, this area of inquiry, the ‘choice’ between these frameworks, is not a make or break doctrine. It is not a hill I would chose to die on. Most discussions I have read on this subject are quite irenic.
Fourth, there is a dizzying array of technical terms to understand, some that may be a bit peripheral to the discussion, some with which I am familiar, some with which I am becoming more familiar. I am learning more about hyper-preterism, partial-preterism, preterism, and amillinialism. I could give more terms, but the point is clear that this a subject that requires some effort to apprehend. I believe the effort will be well spent.
Fifth, and this is a thought that has been peculating in my weird little mind for quite a while, it seems a number of interesting things were ‘discovered’ or taught by elements of the 19th century American church that had somehow been missed in the previous eighteen hundred years of the church. Examples may include the ‘discovery’ and teaching of a ‘secret’ rapture of the church to occur at some point in the future. This doctrine is the driving impetus behind the mindset of the Left Behind series of books and movies that dominate much of the popular eschatological landscape. Another example would be the evangelical measures and methods popularized by Charles Finney that have such great traction in the American evangelical community today. While I personally have some issues with the excesses often evidenced by adherents of the two aforementioned examples, dispensational thought, born, too, in the 19th century, needs and deserves a more sober assessment and should not be easily dismissed.
Sixth, how do I deal with the year 1948 when Israel became a nation again? How does this significant historical event relate to the amillinialism that seems to be a large part of covenant (reformed) theology?
Seventh, dispensationalists have cool charts.
Eighth, I lean towards, no…stand resolutely on….a reformed view of soteriology, the TULIP. Perhaps a hill to die on. I also favor a post-trib, pre-millennial ‘rapture’ eschatology. I am not dogmatic on this, however. Not a hill I would die on.
Number ninth, should someone outside of the church ever stumble upon this post, what gibberish it all must sound like. But, they are not the intended audience. Who the intended audience is, of that, I am not sure. I think perhaps me, for the most part.
Tenth, what is the deal with Federal Vision? Seems to be a controversy in Presbyterian circles. Something to study when I am more firmly grounded in covenant thinking.
As an addendum, please forgive any misspelled words. Spell-check did not recognize many terms and I did not take the effort to check every questionable spelling through an internet query.
I have just started delving into, as the the subject line suggests, covenantal and dispensational theology. Thus far, I tend to lean in the direction indicated by following quote from Erik Raymond at Irish Calvinist:
- Some people think it is odd that we could be both Reformed and Dispensational. I like to remind folks that it is the same approach to the Bible that produces both for me. I am not Reformed because Calvin was Reformed and I am not Dispensational because Ryrie is. I think the Bible teaches Reformed soteriology (doctrine of salvation) and Dispensational eschatology (doctrine of things to come).
I now exercise my prerogative to engage in a bit of somewhat off-topic rambling (or perhaps it is not so off-topic)……….
We are called biblically to think correctly and clearly about doctrine, to be discerning. I also understand that I am probably wrong on a few things I hold to be true. Seriously
I know this to be correct because I have changed my thinking about a number of things I once held to be correct. There are, however, some things I hold to tenaciously and will die for. Those things would be the essentials for authentic faith in Christ as proclaimed in, for example, the Apostles Creed. Other doctrines may be important, but perhaps not so important that they should cause a division. Depending on the sensitivity of circumstances, the individuals involved, and the subject matter, I may sometimes rather remain silent on peripheral doctrinal issues.
There are times, though, when it is admittedly difficult for me to assign a level of importance to an issue. I am specifically thinking about a recent post of mine on tithing, on the wisdom of the post. I will not, however, remove the post from this blog for it truly reflects my current thinking on the subject. In retrospect, I feel as if I am probably diverging quite a bit from the mainstream on the subject of tithing. I am a bit uncomfortable with the post.
That all being said, I strive, and sometimes admittedly fail, to be irenic in discussions of things not critical. I know brothers in Christ who I feel to be quite incorrect in their understanding of, for example, some aspects, and not necessarily unimportant ones, of reformed theology (specifically the doctrine of election), but have a love of Christ, a heart of humility and service, and a heart for missions that leaves me humbled.
In the end, this is our call and goal, be our camp reformed, evangelical, charismatic, etc….to be conformed to the image of Christ Jesus by sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.