Friday, June 6, 2014

Israel, Salvation - Progressive & Normative Dispensationalism

Dispensationalism draws too hard a line between Israel and the church; although there are differences between them...Dispensationalism teaches multiple ways of salvation.

These two statements are fairly common. Israel is a nation composed of ethnic Jews, while the church is Christ's body composed of saved Gentiles and Jews. So what exactly is a "too hard line"? An example would have been good to work with; typically none are provided. I rather suspect that the "hard line" needs to be blurred when one speculates about eschatology i.e., whether particular texts refer to Israel, the church, or a combination of both, and especially in relation to the rapture, tribulation, millennium or the eternal state.

Popular websites such as Tim Warner's Progressive Dispensationalism 101 don't help. Here's what he writes under his Major Problem #5 Multiple Plans of Salvation:

Many traditional dispensationalists have devised different plans of salvation for Israel and the Church. Pre-tribulationists usually claim that during the tribulation, the plan of salvation will incorporate the Old Covenant in some way. Salvation for the Old Testament saints is seen as having to do with works along with faith. Progressive dispensationalists see only one means of eternal salvation, through the blood of Christ.

Warner doesn't provide citations or sources. I would suggest that if one wants to know what dispies teach about the method of salvation (whether in the OT or the 70th week) then one should read primary sources. Note also that Warner's Major Problem #4 Only a Remnant of Old Testament Israel is Saved, is a red herring. Dispies do not claim that all OT Israel is saved. See Dr Fruchtenbaum's article HERE

Dispensationalist John Feinberg comprehensively deals with the topic of Salvation in the Old Testament in Traditions & Testament - Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg (Chapter 3 pp 39-77). I recommend Mike Vlach's booklet Dispensationalism - Essential Beliefs and Common Myths and pay particular attention to pages 35 to 38.

Dr. Vlach has dialogued extensively with PD proponents. He provides a brief summary on the distinctions between Classic Dispensationalism, Revised or Modified Dispensationalism and Progressive Dispensationalism (Dispensationalism pp 9-12). He notes that PDs see more continuity between Israel and the church. Citing Blaising and Bock he writes:

Progressives do not view the church as an anthropological category in the same class as terms like Israel, Gentile Nations, Jews, and Gentile people....The church is precisely redeemed humanity itself as it exists in this dispensation prior to the coming of Christ.

And, more notably, this:

They stress that both Israel and the church compose the "people of God" when it comes to salvation and both are related to the blessings of the new covenant. This spiritual equality, however, does not mean that there are not functional distinctions between Israel and the church. Progressive dispensationalists do not equate the church as Israel and they still see a future distinct identity and function for ethnic Israel in a coming millennial kingdom.

It's entirely possible that I've missed some important nuance but in his Appendix 1 of Israelology (p 861) Arnold Fruchtenbaum presents a diagram (the second of three) which he says is representative of the dispensational view of the relationship between the church, Gentiles and Jews. This diagram has three oval figures. Two of the ovals are adjacent - one represents Israel while the other represents the Gentiles. These two are intersected in the center by a third which represents the church composed of Jewish and Gentile followers of Christ.

On page 862 Fruchtenbaum corrects the notion that dispies teach that God's purpose for the church comes to an end - even temporarily - so that He might work with Israel exclusively. In Feinberg's Continuity and Discontinuity Robert Saucy (who is an advocate of discontinuity) disagrees with Chafer's statement in Dispensationalism that God, throughout the ages, is pursuing two different purposes - one earthly and one heavenly (p 240). Some modern dispies would agree with Saucy. Dr. Fruchtenbaum writes that:

Dispensationalism does believe that when the fullness of the Gentiles be come in, then God's purpose for the church on earth is complete, but continues in heaven and then continues again on earth in the Messianic Kingdom. (Israelology p 862)

Of course this is where the crux of the problem is for non-pretribulationists who want to see the church on earth for all or part of the 70th week.

The matter of the relationship between Israel, Gentiles and the church in the eternal state is more complex and speculative. My guess is that there may be various understandings among dispensationalists. Even so, a comparison of Robert Saucy's views (The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism) with that of dispensationalist Robert L Thomas' (Revelation 8-22) sees no major differences, at least to me.

Dr. Saucy writes that the idea of incorporating Israel into the church does not logically require that the church becomes a "new Israel" (pp 208-209). In fact Saucy does not necessarily hold that it should be "incorporated". He argues that even if this was the case it does not require a denial of continued distinctions and that the question is not crucial to understanding Israel's prophecies. Continuing on he says that if the word "church" is the name of the body of Christ, "or the final eschatological people of God throughout eternity, then it would be correct to include Israel in the church." But Saucy then makes the intriguing observation that "one never finds the term church applied to those beyond the present age."

He summarizes by noting that whether Israel should be considered part of the church rests on the biblical application of the term "church." If "church" signifies all of God's people then saved Israel must become "a part of His body." On the other hand, if that term only applies to the present age then it would seem to not encompass a future saved Israel. Either way the church cannot be identified with Israel. They enjoy a "similar identity as the people of God" and the "blessings of the promised eschatological salvation", but "this does not eliminate all distinctions between them." One question which isn't resolved is: since Saucy affirms discontinuity, how does he regard the term "in Christ" in respect to saved OT saints?  

In discussing Rev 19, Robert L Thomas notes that the difficulty in including Israel along with the church as part of the bride is chronological (Revelation 8-22 p 368). He admittedly draws on pretribulational assumptions when he states that OT and 70th week saints will rise in time for the Millennium but not in time for Christ's "triumphal return" (Dan 12:1-2,13; Rev 20:4). But he also writes:

Yet it is incontrovertible that Israel will appear in the New Jerusalem which is also Christ's bride...So the bride of Christ will be a growing body of people, with the church functioning as Christ's bride during that phase of the wedding feast that comes during the Millennium, but with the integration of the new order (21:1 ff), the bride receives the enhancement of the redeemed of Israel and of all ages, including the Millennium. (Emphasis mine)

I'm sure some dispies would disagree with Dr Thomas here. My point is that Warner has incorrectly assigned views and limitations to dispensationalism. In fact I recommend going to a Saucy, Blaising or Bock to learn more about PD rather than Warner's PD 101 page.

Aside from differences between dispensationalism and PD and the status of the Davidic Covenant, the greatest objection (and concern) is the PD concept of Complementary Hermeneutics (CH). About four years ago I came across someone who converted from pretribulationism to posttribulationism. He was quick to find fault with pretribulationism and dispensationalism while praising PD and posttribulationism.

Oddly enough, contra Saucy, he preached his version of the continuity of Israel and the church while actually recommending Saucy's book. At the time I hadn't come across Feinberg's Continuity & Discontinuity and Saucy's contribution. I only knew then that there were concerns about PD's already-not-yet fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant and CH. This fellow brushed them off as irrelevant straw man objections.

I find that this person now has his own blog and enjoying an extensive following. On one page he compliments PD as a "refinement" of "Traditional Dispensationalism." More importantly, he claims to espouse PD's complementary hermeneutical framework, and provides a link to Warner's PD 101. A look at some of his Scripture "discoveries" calls to mind Robert L Thomas' warnings regarding PD & CH and the dangers of enthroning the interpreter.

Suddenly, the 144,000 Jews of Revelation are really something deeper (or different) than the text plainly states, as is the Mark of the Beast etc. I remember one discussion where this man even suggested that Michael the Archangel might be the pre-incarnate Christ (though not a created being). Perhaps one may only be limited by one's imagination.

To be fair, I'm sure Blaising and Bock would be alarmed to learn how PD and CH are being used to re-interpret Scripture based on one's prior inclinations (as I know to be the case here). This individual is the perfect example of Dr Thomas' concern regarding CH.

As for me I'll stick with dispensationalism, warts and all.

A final afterthought: it would be helpful if critics, who claim dispies teach multiple ways of salvation, would clearly formulate how they believe salvation was arrived at in the OT.

Further reading:

Progressive and Normative Dispensationalism

Recommended Reading in Dispensationalism

Some Mud That Sticks: A Little Insider Criticism Of The Face Of Dispensationalism

Contra The 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism


I see that Tim Warner ran afoul of James White (Alpha & Omega Ministries) back in 2006. I find the following comments in one response by White enlightening:

I have commented on Warner’s dispensationalism and the over-riding role it takes in his commentary resulting in eisegetical errors in John 6 and elsewhere. I do not have to commit myself to a never ending series of give and take articles with every unusual interpretive system that finds a voice on the Internet, and this is particularly true with the wide range of “dispensationalisms” that are developing as the movement shatters into a thousand different streams. In any case, I looked at the articles, and have chosen to respond, not so that another endless series of articles can be produced, but because I see value in illustrating when tradition (in this case, some kind of “progressive dispensationalism”) distorts exegesis resulting in error. (Emphasis mine)

Elsewhere White writes:

In our last installment we examined Tim Warner’s assertion that rather than the great promise of God to His people that He has provided a full and complete salvation in Jesus Christ, Warner’s man-centered “progressive dispensationalism” leads him to make this amazing statement:

Jesus did not tell the Jewish crowds what God had absolutely decreed, but God’s desire and purpose. “This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:39-40).

Unsurprisingly, White appears to have a low opinion of dispensationalism. In these cases he takes issue with Warner's attack on Calvinism and uses it to denigrate dispensationalism in general. In fact White does this in several other responses. Yet dispensationalism has nothing whatsoever to do with how one interprets John 6 (the subject of the exchange). White is either biased or ignorant of dispensationalism and its hermeneutics. Whatever the case, it's sheer irony that Warner, who disparages dispensationalism, is used by White to do the same thing!

Meanwhile, Warner not only misinforms his readers on what classical dispensationalism teaches but he gets PD wrong as well. Darrel Bock has seen his page and has said that he does not align completely with Warner.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Looking for Rapture or Tribulation?

I don't normally pay attention to Blog Talk Radio shows. However, this one is well-worth listening to even if it goes for 160 minutes. The real material begins after the three-and-a-half minute mark and you'll have to bear with the early ads.

Friend Kathryn Duerst was recently interviewed by Bible Smack Radio. The extent of her knowledge and the issues regarding dispensationalism, pretribulationism and opposing views is evident by her articulate observations and responses. Kathryn isn't someone who has blithely retained a viewpoint without diligently searching out how other people understand issues.

Well done, Kathryn.

Listen to it HERE