Thursday, February 25, 2016

Simplistic Dispensational Hermeneutics?

In a previous post I talked about Gordon Isaac's book Left Behind or Left Befuddled. At the end I cited a few verses concerning Israel in preparation for this post.

First up I'm aware that many dispies are cautious about modern Israel and whether it has biblical significance. They are rightly concerned about sensationalism. Despite this, I think modern Israel is significant and this is becoming more apparent as time passes. But whether it's modern Israel or some other future Israel, Isaac rejects any future for Israel in God's plan or any premillennial eschatological scenarios.

In chapter 4 Israel: God's People or God's Time Clock? (p 93) Isaac writes:
The third social factor has to do with the apparent lack of reflection on the matter of hermeneutics - the science of interpretation - which leads dispensationalists to read the Bible as though there are no social factors involved in reading the text.
He cites a paragraph from Vern Poythress' Understanding Dispensationalists:
When we advise the average readers of the Bible that the meaning is "plain," what will they conclude? They will tend not to read it in its historical context but in the context of the twentieth century, their own subcultural context. The Bible is thus regarded as a book written directly to modern people, not mainly to the original readers. Who, then, are the modern people whom the Bible addresses? Most immediately they are the circle of Christians within which a dispensationalist moves. To lay dispensationalists "plain" meaning is meaning that they automatically see in a text when they read it against the background of the teaching and examples that they have seen and heard from fellow Christians, most of whom are themselves dispensationalists. "Plain meaning" can all too easily become, in practice, the meaning of a text when seen through the framework of the dispensational system - or any other system for the matter. (Emphases mine)
Poythress has low expectations of the popular dispensational understanding of the nuances of interpretation. Do dispensationalists really unquestioningly read prophetic verses via their modern expectations? How would some verses, as understood by a particular OT audience, affect the modern reader? How were Jeremiah 31:31-37; Ezekiel 36:35-36 and Amos 9:14-15 (among many other passages) understood by their audiences in context and how should we understand them now?

There's a finality and eternalness to the promises in these verses. They reach into modern times and extend beyond. Yet supersessionists trot out NT verses which they argue redefines them. Aren't they doing the very thing they claim dispensationalists do - reading these verses in light of their modern understanding of the NT? Isn't this "redefinition" a distortion of God's word to Israel? Can we ultimately trust God's word on this basis?

Is there another way of understanding these alleged supersessionist NT passages in such a way which does not compromise God's word or the original intention and context of the OT? Of course there is.

See Michael Vlach's responses to supersessionism.

Read Robert Saucy's response to Poythress' Understanding Dispensationalists HERE

Thomas Ice responds to some of Poythress' claims in Dispensational Hermeneutics

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Left Behind or Left Befuddled - Gordon L Isaac

More than a few times I've had someone tell me that the Bible should be understood in context to the audience it was written for. Yep, I agree to a point. But too often that's code for: "It doesn't mean what you think it means."

We're told for example, that in the case of Revelation, John would have been speaking in the language of his day to people (the church) experiencing trials of their times. It was meant to be a comforting book for them at that time.

But, of course, that's not to say that it doesn't have value for us today. Just as long as one doesn't take it too woodenly literal, or seriously, or, well you know - don't turn into a dispensational premillennialist with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. After all, do you really believe a city 1500 x 1500 x 1500 miles will descend down from heaven to the earth? Get it?

And did you know that dispensationalism was created by John Darby in the 19th century? He's the cultist chap who invented that queer secret rapture idea. He passed these aberrant teachings onto Scofield (that rascal) who infected a bunch of other people in a long line....finally to Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. And you all know what they did with that.

Dispensational premillennialism is dangerous to the church because it is essentially pessimistic....and a bunch of other stuff to boot.

In the briefest of summaries this is the line of thinking Gordon L Isaacs uses in his book "Left Behind or Left Befuddled - The Subtle Dangers of Polarizing the End Times." Isaacs is the Berkshire Associate Professor of Advent Christian Studies in the church history department at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts.

I came across the book at Half Price Books and bought it because I'm a sucker for punishment. The format was predictable and typical, and almost as bad as Barbara Rossing's The Rapture Exposed. But please note that the secret rapture isn't Isaac's target - not at all. As I've mentioned before, these people have a problem with premillennialism and especially the restoration of national Israel. That's what really drove Rossing and that's what drives Isaac.

Left Behind or Left Befuddled gets praise from Gerald Arbuckle from the Catholic Theological Union, Sydney, Australia. Arbuckle writes:
"Fundamentalism is historically an authoritarian and simplistic reaction to the fears evoked by religious, political, social, or economic chaos. Thus, in today's turmoil of postmodernity and globalization, it is not surprising that many seek security from biblical misinterpretations of the second coming of Christ...."
Ah...the irony of a Catholic describing fundamentalism as historically authoritarian. Anyway, Arbuckle is essentially echoing Isaac's premise that the Left Behind mentality is a misguided reaction to fear which leads to gross biblical misinterpretations.

I will interact with the book in later posts because its criticisms and arguments are so common. But for now I'd like to correct a couple of assertions. On page 24 Isaac writes:
"If one is a proponent of dispensational premillennialism, one is on the side of good. If one does not share that position, one is relegated to the group of scoffers and those who will most likely be left behind."
One would love some sort of citation for that assertion. I don't believe Isaac will be left behind, even if he is a scoffer. Also he puts Doug Krieger in the dispensational camp. That would be news to Krieger who has written a bunch of articles criticizing the system.

One last thought for now:

Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for a light by day, The ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, And its waves roar (The LORD of hosts is His name): "If those ordinances depart From before Me, says the LORD, Then the seed of Israel shall also cease From being a nation before Me forever." Jeremiah 31:35-36

For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. Ezekiel 36:24-28

I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; They shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; They shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; They shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them. I will plant them in their land, And no longer shall they be pulled up From the land I have given them," Says the LORD your God. Amos 9:14-15

I wonder how Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Amos' audiences would have understood those messages in their day. I know, I know...the NT reinterprets the OT.

Whatever works, right?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Israel Politics and Dispensationalism

Yes, Israel Politics and Dispensationalism! Somehow politics always comes into this.

There are two main areas which get people worked up regarding dispensationalism. One is the pretribulational rapture and the other is Israel. And they often go hand in hand. If you don’t like the pretrib rapture you cite John Darby and the 19th century in order to invalidate it. If you don’t like the dispensationalist view of Israel you cite John Darby and the 19th century.

I’ll focus on the latter.

A friend recently sent me an article by Rod Dreher, a culturally conservative Christian columnist and writer. Dreher moved away from Catholicism and embraced the Eastern Orthodox faith.

I found a 2014 article in which he writes disapprovingly of Ted Cruz’s support of Israel. Dreher also claims to be pro-Israel and pro Christian. To his credit, he supports Israel’s right to exist and defend itself and says it’s not a matter of religion for him. He adds that, because of the savagery of the other states, it’s easy for a Westerner like himself to sympathize with Israel, even though it isn’t perfect.

So he claims to stand by Israel. Well, sort of….

Dreher also writes that, unlike Israel, Middle East Christians can’t defend themselves. Hence, that means making alliances with unsavory characters:
“People who have to be afraid at every moment for their lives don’t have the luxury of being morally selective in who their friends are.”
Elsewhere he observes that equating America with the new Israel in context to “jingoism” comes dangerously close to idolatry. He admits that Israel stands above its neighbors but doesn’t like it being used as a voting magnet thereby possibly offending ME Christians (e.g., Ted Cruz):
“…US Christians who come out of a dispensationalist theological tradition will never take a more nuanced view of Israel, because they believe that the establishment of the Jewish state is a prophetic precursor to the Second Coming of Christ. But there are many conservative Protestants who do not necessarily share that absolutist 19th-century theological view, and who simply do not know much of anything about Christianity in the Middle East.”...keep reading

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

This question has been asked a lot lately because of the suspension of Wheaton College Professor Larycia Hawkins who wore a hijab in support of her Muslim neighbors. She declared that:

I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.

In the last book of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, an ape (Shift) dresses up a donkey (Puzzle) in an old lion’s skin. He then passes Puzzle off as Aslan, the Great Lion of Narnia (a Christ figure). Shift concocts a clever and sinister scheme to change Narnia and get what he wants using the naive Puzzle.

Further into the story, Shift strikes a bargain with a ruthless leader from Calormen, a country south of Narnia. For the sake of their mutual benefit the god of the Calormenes (Tash) is now said to be same as Aslan. Tash and Aslan become the one Tashlan...keep reading

The Doctrine of the Trinity

The doctrine of the Trinity is consistently attacked by atheists, Muslims, Orthodox Jews and pseudo-Christian cults etc. Atheists claim the concept of three distinct Persons in One God is illogical and incoherent, and therefore jump at the opportunity to attack the doctrine as just another point against Christianity. On the other hand Muslims reject the notion that Jesus Christ can be both God and man based on the teaching of the Qur’an. Likewise non-Christian Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah to begin with. The idea that Jesus is also God along with the Father is further rejected on the claim that the doctrine isn’t monotheistic.

Pseudo-Christian cults are a slightly different story. They claim to derive all their doctrines from the Bible yet allege that it doesn’t teach that God is three Persons in One. It has been my observation that when professing Christian denominations deny the Trinity, they also tend to teach other tenets which depart from orthodoxy. In some cases they also rely on extra biblical guidance.

It would be fair to say that the doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most difficult to understand or explain. On being challenged by other Christians that the rapture isn’t in the Bible, I’ve often asked them to show me where the Trinity was. While I believe in the Trinity, I sometimes use this tactic to make a point. Most of us would have some difficulty defending the teaching. Even William Lane Craig once stated one couldn’t possibly find an adequate analogy to define the Trinity...keep reading 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Rapture Teaching Before Darby?

Was the rapture ever mentioned before John Darby or Irving or MacDonald? You bet.

The rapture before John Darby? Say it isn’t so!
Some years ago Grant Jeffrey excitedly contacted Dr. Thomas Ice and announced that he’d found a pre-Darby pre-conflagration rapture statement. The document was from someone dubbed Pseudo-Ephraem. PE presumably believed in a pre three-and-a-half-year rapture.
According to PE:
"Woe to those who desire to see the day of the Lord! For all the saints and elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins…."
Seems pretty straight forward doesn’t it? But it really messed with some peoples' heads.
I recall a few non-pretribulationists working themselves up into a lather over it. Bloggers scrambled to spiritualize PE’s words into the “Catholic language of his day.” Robert Gundry quickly wrote an article asserting why PE couldn’t have meant what he plainly wrote. In turn, Dr. Ice responded to Gundry.
Why was it so important to debunk PE? Prewrathers and posttribbers didn’t like the fact that someone prior to Darby incorporated the Day of the Lord into the final three-and-a-half years of tribulation, and kept the church out of it...keep reading

I've already had one individual hound me on Pseudo Ephraim. Not only did he miss the point but he confirmed the essential premise of the article!