A twitter follower asked for my opinion on this podcast episode, wondering if I thought they represented Dispensationalism fairly. Here are a few notes in response:
The podcast guest kept saying, “Gentile church and Jewish Israel,” when describing our view of the distinction between the Church and Israel. It is true that this present church age is characteristically Gentile, but it isn’t fair to call the church a Gentile entity. The remnant of Israel in this age is within the church, according to Dispensationalism. The church is neither Jew nor Gentile but is a unique body made one from the two.
In their words, we say, “There is a future for Israel… [but] not a future for Israel by coming to the gospel of Jesus Christ and entering the current Church.” To correct this, I would say, ethnic, national Israel has a future in God’s plan, that will be realized after the age of the Church has ended. That future will come when they accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their Messiah, their savior, individually (just like us) and collectively. I would point to Romans 11:26, and notice according to our interpretation of this passage, their future very much depends upon them “coming to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
To jump to the end of the podcast, they say that within Dispensationalism there is “ambiguity” about if there are different ways of salvation. That’s completely untrue, and you’ll find clear statements about the one way of salvation in every major dispensationalist writer. In fact, because this has been a frequent accusation against Dispensationalism, its proponents have all the more tried to be explicit about this. The accusation is completely unjustified and amounts to trying to read dispensational statements through a Covenant Theology understanding of ecclesiology. I can’t emphasize this point enough.
This brings me to their worst mischaracterization of Dispensationalism. They start discussing how they differ from us in our approach to Bible interpretation. They say that the proper way to understand the Bible is to let the clear passages guide our interpretation of the unclear, and they claim that Dispensationalism doesn’t do that.
“A lot of the dispensationalist scheme has been drawn out of certain texts in Daniel and Revelation… these apocalyptic books with this imagery and these symbolic numbers and from a Reformed perspective I say, well, those are difficult texts, those are mysterious texts… but we have so many statements… by Jesus in the gospels by Paul in his epistles, by Peter in his epistles, laying out what’s gonna happen in the last times.”
But this reveals their ignorance. We write about Daniel and Revelation because (we think) we understand those books, and frankly, we’re often the only Christians who offer any interpretation at all of their details. We are famously associated with those books, so it’s an understandable but inexcusable mistake.
I’ll make two points in response. One, Daniel is not a difficult book. It is not obscure, it is not cryptic. In fact, it is the key to similar books; it’s the Apocalyptic Lit 101 of the Bible. Multiple times, the visions in Daniel are interpreted for us, showing us how to read similar passages. I would argue the book is only difficult inasmuch as we come to it with a preconceived understanding of Bible prophecy. (Stop trying to force it into Amillennial Covenant Theology.)
The second point is this. While Dispensationalism is famous for its eschatology, it is primarily a claim about ecclesiology. And this insight does not come from “obscure” texts. It doesn’t even come from the Old Testament. The first place I would go to explain Dispensationalism is the book of Ephesians:
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.Ephesians 2:14-18 NKJV
how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.Ephesians 3:3-7 NKJV
From these passages, Dispensationalists would argue:
- The Church is one, new body made from Jews and Gentiles. So it is neither Israel, nor a Gentile nation.
- The Church is a reality that was not revealed in the Old Testament, but is a mystery revealed in this age.
- If the Church is new, a mystery not revealed before, then the Old Testament promises are not fulfilled in it. A future then remains for the nations as nations, and Israel in particular.
From here, I would show that passages like Romans 9-11 confirm this expectation. The obscure is not where we begin. The truth is, the dispensationalist reads the New Testament just as plainly as anything. We do not, as they say, “let a certain kind of reading of the Old Testament trump pretty clear texts in the New Testament.” The Dispensationalist does, however, unlike the Reformed theologian, read the Old Testament just as plainly as we read the New Testament. And since the Old comes before the New, it does have a certain priority for us — a chronological one! How backwards of us.
I do want to express appreciation for something the podcast hosts said. They paused the discussion to say that Dispensationalists and the Reformed are brothers in Christ and that we have much in common. That’s very charitable, and I completely agree! It’s surprising how many times I’ve been treated as a heretic online, when we share all the essentials of the protestant faith.
I’ll highlight one last inaccuracy. They claim that Dispensationalism says, “we [the church] don’t have a share in that future earthly millennial kingdom.” But this is only true in the sense that there will not be a mortal church during that time. Dispensationalism says that the Church is glorified, immortal, resurrected and reigning with Christ, our bridegroom, over the earthly millennial kingdom.
I don’t think this podcast episode represented its topic fairly or accurately. They came across to me as if they only had second-hand knowledge of Dispensationalism. If they run across this humble blog, I hope they take this as constructive feedback, and perhaps they would listen to and comment on another podcast episode. I highly recommend Learn the Word Podcast’s episode 160, as an introduction to Dispensationalism from Dispensationalists.
Well said! I think the eschatological elements are secondary because of the ecclesiological elements. At times I think the name “dispensationalism” coupled with the many charts of the end times has led some to (at a surface level) draw wrong conclusions about the system. Of course, “Israel-is-not-the-churchism” is a bit of a mouthful…. 😂
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“Dispensationalism” is a mouthful too :D.
Appreciated your post.
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David, I saw this post linked on Twitter when I was discussing some episodes of GGG. I just wanted to mention a few resources to you in case you are not aware of them. Baptist covenant theology (“1689 Federalism”) is slightly different than paedobaptist covenant theology (GGG). Whereas paedobaptists view Israel and the Church as the same thing, baptist covenant theology views them as distinct. However, unlike Dispensationalism, baptist covenant theology sees Israel (Abraham’s carnal offspring) as a type of the Church (Abraham’s spiritual offspring). So while you will no doubt still find much to disagree with, we would agree with your point #1 from Ephesians above. The church is something other than Israel.
We would disagree with the second point. We would revise it by saying that the Church was not clearly revealed. It was obscurely revealed and prophesied. A book that you may find interesting is Samuel Renihan’s “The Mystery of Christ, His Covenant, and His Kingdom.” He notes, regarding Dispensationalism’s view that mystery means unknown and the paedobaptist inattention to Christ & His Church as mystery
Here is a short 10 min video comparing and contrasting 1689 Federalism with Dispensationalism. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GrwL5pXHbc
Thanks for the comment! I am aware of variation and nuance among covenant theologians. My point is not to contrast our understanding of Ephesians, but to simply point out that we argue from epistles like Ephesians, not immediately from obscure apocalyptic passages. Our argument might not work, but that’s how we argue, which is all I’m trying to say in this particular post. 🙂