Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pretribulational Rapture in Matt 24:36-44?

Most pretribulationists don't think Matthew 24 refers to a rapture anywhere, despite vs 36. Drs Arnold Fruchtenbaum and John Hart are exceptions to the rule. Dr Hart has submitted a study that argues that Mattew 24 does, indeed, hint of a pretibulational rapture. I'm still sitting on the fence re this one.

You can read it HERE

Monday, January 23, 2012

Michael Rydelnik - The Messianic Hope

I’ve mentioned Dr Michael Rydelnik’s book “The Messianic Hope – Is The Hebrew Bible Really Messianic?” Well Dan Phillips and Tony Garland have two excellent reviews of the book HERE and HERE.

Highly recommended reading!

From the book and Tony's review:

Messianic prophecy was the means God used to bring me to faith in Jesus the Messiah. My parents were Holocaust survivors who raised me in a traditional Jewish home. We were Orthodox in our Jewish beliefs and practices and, as such, I did believe in the future coming of a personal Messiah. Even so, it was not a central issue of my life. However, that changed when my mother announced that she believed in Jesus. This led to my father divorcing her and a radical shift in my life. I decided to study the messianic prophecies of the Hebrew Bible and prove my mother wrong in attributing their fulfillment to Jesus of Nazareth. Although I was initially quite confident of my opinion, in time I was surprised to see that there was far more credibility to the messiahship of Jesus than I had first anticipated. After dealing with my fears of ostracism from the Jewish community, based on my new conviction that the Scriptures foretold a suffering Messiah who would be rejected by His own people and provide forgiveness thorough his death and resurrection, I put my trust in Jesus as Messiah and Lord. . . . I would never have made this decision apart from studying messianic prophecy. In fact, apart from messianic prediction and fulfillment, Jesus could not be identified as the Messiah of Israel, and if not that, then He could not be the Messiah of the world. It is for this reason, joined with my commitment to exegetical accuracy, that I believe it is essential to understand the Hebrew Bible as messianic. ~ Dr Rydelnik pp 11-12

Friday, January 13, 2012

What is Dispensationalism?

There are lots of persistent misconceptions about dispensationalism. One is that it teaches two ways of salvation and that there are two peoples of God. Mike Vlach’s article addresses some of these issues. Note that even PDs still see a distinction between Israel and the church.

Since the mid-1800s, the system of theology known as dispensationalism has exerted great influence on how many Christians view the doctrines of ecclesiology and eschatology. In this article, we will survey the history of dispensationalism and look at the key beliefs associated with the system...keep reading

Friday, January 6, 2012

Surface-Level & Face-Value Interpretation

What’s the difference between a face-value and a surface-level interpretation of Scripture? These two terms are being used fairly regularly in eschatological interpretations. Mind you, their application appears be somewhat elastic and dependent upon which scriptures they’re applied to, and what outcomes the interpreter/critic is looking for.

Consider Rev 6:7-8. I would take the view that a face-value interpretation of this means one quarter of a segment will actually die of the four judgments. Moreover, I think this clearly demonstrates God’s wrath in action given that Christ releases the seal.

Not so says the person who thinks this is a surface-level interpretation of the text. He’ll point out that the verse only tells us “authority” is given to kill that number. Why the 4th horseman mightn’t exercise this authority to its fullest extent and how this number might relate to God’s wrath are questions that defy compelling answers. Of course, that view is expedient if your eschatological model needs a semblance of peace somewhere later in the 70th week (ignoring the 2nd seal).

I’ve seen similar departures from face-value readings to “deeper level” ones of other texts like John 14:2-3 and Rev 13:16-18 (there are others). For example, in the former the Father’s house is somewhere other than heaven and in the latter the Mark of the beast is actually “Bismillah” or “in the name of Allah”.

This brings me to the topic of hermeneutics. I was reading through The Hermeneutics of Progressive Dispensationalism by Robert L Thomas and it struck me why so many people may be identifying with PD. It allows them more flexibility in determining what a Scripture might be saying. Better yet they have more flexibility in making a set Scripture say something other than a face-value understanding, especially in using the NT to re-interpret the OT.

Perhaps I’m being too simplistic? Yet consider the following from Robert Thomas’ essay:

“Recent additions that differentiate the hermeneutics of PD from traditional dispensational hermeneutics include rhetorical and literary matters, the history of interpretation, the matter of tradition, and the historical context of the interpreter. The method advocates consideration of the problem of historical distance between the text and the interpreter, the role of the interpreter’s preunderstanding, and methodological applications of the hermeneutical spiral. In fact, Blaising and Bock in at least one place call the approach by the name “historical-grammatical-literary-theological,” which, of course, is more sophisticated and therefore quite different from simple grammatical-historical hermeneutics. It emphasizes the subjective element in its reasoning and hence is more provisional in its conclusions."

Later he clarifies this a little bit further:

“One principle that conspicuously distinguishes the two systems of interpretation relates to the role of the interpreter. Traditionally, the interpreter has sought to suppress any of his own viewpoints regarding what he thinks the passage should mean so as to allow the exegetical evidence from the passage under investigation to speak for itself.”

And note this:

“The hermeneutics of PD are a bold contrast to this principle of seeking objectivity through repression of one’s biases. Its relevant principle advocates the inclusion of one’s preunderstanding in the interpretive process as a starting point. Leaders in the movement pointedly advocate allowing one’s biblical theology and other elements of preunderstanding to influence interpretive conclusions.”

If Dr Thomas has presented the PD case accurately (he cites sources) I can see why that movement is gaining ground. To be fair, one should read the entire article and then see if there have been any PD objections or responses to it.

See also:

Paul Henebury - Progressive Dispensationalism and Normative Dispensationalism: Separate Hermeneutical Assumptions

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Supersessionism & Anti-Israelism

I’ve spent quite time commenting on how some supersessionists approach the modern state of Israel. The more I read the more confirmation I get that there’s a correlation between supersessionism and how some (not all) clergymen treat the nation Israel and Zionism.

Most would strenuously object to being classified as anti-Semitic. I know Stephen Sizer does.

Yet how do we define individuals who are committed to unfairly criticizing Israel while willfully ignoring any incriminating evidence against Israel’s enemies?

Sizer recently posted a response to certain charges made against him. Is he perhaps feeling the heat from over-exposure? His excuses are weak. For example, he claims that over the years his blog has “lamented the suffering of Christians under Islamic rule” and then he points to two token instances, and so on for the other charges.

Yet all one has to do is spend some time going through his blog to see that it’s saturated with anti-Israeli propaganda as well as self-promotion of his “Christian Zionism” book and videos. He may deny anti-Semitism or anti-Israelism but he certainly seems to be on a crusade against them. He also conveniently ignores the fact that the Palestinian problem is largely aggravated by "Islamic rule" and not Israel.

Harry’s Place blog posted two problematic articles on Sizer HERE and HERE. See also Moriel’s article.

Perhaps Rev Sizer can explain that.

Monday, January 2, 2012

UK Bishops Come Out Clearly Against Israel

I thought this was germane to my last post:

The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has offered the Palestinians a powerful tool of propaganda: the comparison with Jesus’ passion.

“We are to be freshly attentive to the needs of those who, like Jesus himself, are displaced and in discomfort”, Archbishop Vincent Nichols said during his Christmas Mass sermon at Westminster Cathedral. “A shadow falls particularly heavily on the town of Bethlehem tonight … We pray for them tonight”.

It would have been more in keeping with Nicholas’ mission to mention hundreds of Christians losing their lives to Islamic terrorism and oppressed by Palestinian Muslim dictatorship...keep reading

Note the following comments from the article:

But there has been no such “cleansing” at all in the disputed territories. The only attempt at “cleansing” has been the Palestinian attempt to kill as many Jews as possible.

According to Canon Andrew White, replacement theology is dominant and present in almost every church, fueling the venom against Israel.

The revised version of “Whose Promised Land?”, a highly influentiual book by the Anglican thinker Colin Chapman, recycles the worst Christian anti-Jewish theology. “When seen in the context of the whole Bible, however, both Old and New Testaments, the promise of the land to Abraham and his descendants does not give anyone a divine right to possess or to live in the land for all time because the coming of the kingdom of God through Jesus the messiah has transformed and reinterpreted all the promises and prophecies in the Old Testament”, writes Chapman camouflaging anti-Jewish replacement theology, which helped fuel burnings at stake and pogroms during the Middle Ages, as a dispassionate analysis of the conflict of Israel and the Palestinians.


Dr Michael Rydelnik's essay "They Called Me Christ Killer" should give readers something to think about.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Is Israel Prophetically Insignificant?

I believe that Replacement Theology is at the core of most criticisms against dispensationalism even when the stated motive is to correct the “unbiblical” teaching of dispensations or the rapture. I don’t think I’ve ever read a polemic (and I’ve read a few) that didn’t ultimately focus on Israel. Some proponents of RT appear to be offended by Israel’s existence as if it threatens their theology. It does.

These critics insist that modern Israel is prophetically insignificant; that it has forfeited its rights to the land because it rejected the Messiah and because of its national sins. Some even question the genetic lineage of modern Jews (Sizer, Donaldson etc). Thomas Williamson is another example of a Christian minister who makes broad generalizations that Christian Zionists (CZs) sanction anything Israel does, thus making Palestinians victims of this errant relationship:

“Christian Zionists claim to have 70,000,000 followers in America, who insists (sic) that our politicians render unquestioning obedience to the military and political agenda of the Israeli Government...Does God really demand that we support all actions and activities of the Israeli Government, even if those actions violate God’s moral standards of righteousness?”

Williamson asserts much but provides no evidence. One might also ask why he spends no time acknowledging the violations of “God’s moral standards of righteousness” by Israel’s neighbors who have wanted to destroy it since its inception. Why does he single Israel out?

Typically, he raises Gen 12:3 as the standard text that Zionists use to influence American foreign policy. He contends that it doesn’t relate to modern Israel. Like others, he ignores Gen 27:26-29 which zeroes in on the identity of the recipient of the blessing (Jacob).

He asserts that CZs mistakenly interpret Zech 13:8 although he doesn’t exegete the passage. He claims that it is commonly understood that CZs do not really care about what is best for the Jews. This is pure propaganda and ironic given Williamson’s statements against Israeli support. Dispensationalists take a literal view of Zech 13 & 14 (see David Baron’s Zechariah). It has nothing to do with being anti-Jewish.

In a seeming about face, Williamson states: “There is no scriptural justification for putting Jewish people on a pedestal as some kind of superior race. Jewish people today do not want to be put on that pedestal. Nor do they want to be blamed for all the problems of the world, as some would do with their accusations of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world.”

And this: “God’s program is that we should love the Jews, seek their conversion (Romans 9: 3), and then be united with them in the fellowship of the Lord’s Church, where there is no longer any Jew nor Greek...God has made every nation on earth of one blood, Acts 17.26. Therefore we cannot elevate the Jews as a superior race, nor look down on them as an inferior race. The Jews are people just like you and I. (sic) and many of them are our brothers and sisters in Christ. As one of the greatest Jews of all, the Apostle Paul, said, "There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek."”

Paul taught that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek insofar as salvation is concerned. However, that doesn’t mean Israel doesn’t have a distinct future role as a nation in God’s plan and it does not make the church spiritual Israel. Furthermore, no decent dispie puts Israel or the Jewish race “on a pedestal”. Acknowledging God’s program for them is simply that and nothing more. By disavowing the conspiratorial accusations that others make against Jews, Williamson admits they are victims of propaganda. Sadly, he has already truly poisoned the well with his inference that Israel violates “God’s moral standards of righteousness”.

Elsewhere he argues that God didn’t make an unconditional land covenant with Israel. He points to several instances of the OT use of the word “forever” where he thinks dispies wouldn’t be inclined to take that word as literal. That being the case, his argument is that the word “forever” - insofar as the land covenant with Abraham is concerned (Gen 13:15) – doesn’t actually mean forever. But, as Michael Rydelnik informs us in “Understanding the Arab-Israeli Conflict” (p 156):

Min olam v’ad olam is the strongest expression in Hebrew to describe perpetuity and eternality. And, for the most part, it refers to God and His eternal nature.” (See 1Chron 16:36; Psalm 90:2; Psalm 103:17; Dan 17:18 etc).

Dr Rydlenik points out that there are two exceptions where the usage of the phrase does not refer to God. It is in Jer 7:7 and Jer 25:5 where it refers to Israel’s possession of the land forever and ever. Stuart Dauermann concurs.

Williamson: “Since the land promise to the Jews was conditional upon their obedience, and they completely failed to obey God or keep the covenant with God, therefore there is no duty upon Christians to help modern-day Jews to take Palestine away from the Arabs, nor to prevent them from giving back to the Arabs land that they have already occupied (such as the Gaza Strip).”

Notice the sleight of hand? He makes simplistic statements about a complex situation that one might presume true. We might ask - how are the Palestinians (who are mostly Muslim) “keeping the covenant with God”?

He supplies a series of OT verses that appear to show conditionality. And they do. See Gen 17:8, 14; Ex 19:5; Num 14:30; Deut 4:25-16, 7:12-13, 11:16-17; Josh 23:15-16; Jer 7:3-6, 9:13-16; Ezek 33:24-26; Matt 21:43 etc.

Dr Rydelnik points out that enjoyment of the land is conditional to Israel’s obedience, yet its exile is never final. Every time God exiled Israel He also, eventually, returned them back to the land. Moses was barred from entering the Promised Land but the rest of Israel entered. One generation may be exiled for disobedience but that does not prevent a future generation from occupying it.

Why? - Because God made an everlasting land covenant with Abraham.

In his article “Let God Be True…And Say What He Means” Paul Henebury compellingly outlines the problems confronting those who teach Israel has forfeited the land promises. I highly recommend reading it. Ezekiel 36 clearly states that God will give Israel a heart of flesh and write His law on their hearts, for His own name’s sake. God said He would change and restore Israel despite their sins, and that they would eventually be in their land forever!

"For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land.Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezek 36:24-26

Has all that happened yet? Did God change His mind? Should we take Him at His word? It is the proponent of RT who must deal with Scripture and rightly divide the word of God - not the dispensationalist.

"Thus says the LORD, 'If My covenant for day and night stand not, and the fixed patterns of heaven and earth I have not established, then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, not taking from his descendants rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them." Jer 33:25-26

"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "When the plowman will overtake the reaper And the treader of grapes him who sows seed; When the mountains will drip sweet wine And all the hills will be dissolved. Also I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, And they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them; They will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, And make gardens and eat their fruit. I will also plant them on their land, And they will not again be rooted out from their land Which I have given them," Says the LORD your God. Amos 9:13-15

Further reading:

Paul Henebury: The Church and the Promised Land


Larry Helyer: Luke and the Restoration of Israel

Barry Horner: Zechariah