The epistle of Paul to the Romans is Scripture famous. Is there a more beloved letter in the New Testament? There certainly isn’t one that develops and celebrates the good news as much as Romans. “The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”! The reality that we all have sinned and deserve God’s wrath, followed by the revelation that God justifies those who believe in the sacrifice of His Son, is amazing doctrine. By the time the reader gets to the end of Romans 8 he is overwhelmed. “We are more than conquerers through him who loved us.” Nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And as I brought up near the end of the previous post, wouldn’t it have been an obvious transition from the glories of God’s sovereign mercy and securing love in chapter 8 to the call to present ourselves as living sacrifices to God at the start of chapter 12?
This brings us to the first of five questions: Why are these three chapters here in the epistle?
Answer: the reason Paul wrote Romas 9-11 is to vindicate God’s faithfulness to His word to Israel.
The gospel promises are fantastic. They are worth living for and dying for. But a thoughtful reader of Romans would necessarily wonder 1) Why have so many Jews rejected Jesus? and 2) Has God changes His mind about the promises to the Jews? As it turns out, this is a huge issue. If God’s previous promises are revoked or redefined, then how can we trust that the gospel promises won’t be?
These chapters are dealing with the accusation against God that His word failed (Romans 9:6). Paul said it did not fail. But what is that word about? It’s about Paul’s “kinsmen according to the flesh.”
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:4–5)
Chapter 10 begins wth Paul’s desire for “them,” his national kinsmen, to be saved. Chapter 11 begins with the question: “Has God rejected His people?” And the answer is No, because Paul himself is a believing Israelite, not just that he is a believer.
The very presence of these chapters assumes that certain promises to Israel have not yet been fulfilled, otherwise there is no need to deal with the charge of “failure” in Romans 9:6. Even more, the placement of these chapters argue that our confidence in the gospel is inextricably connected to God’s faithfulness to the Jews. So the argument continues about a future fulfillment of His word, not a redefined or spiritualized fulfillment, and that is good news indeed.
If there was one thing I wish I was taking more time to do, it would be to keep pressing forward faster on this site. In the meantime, you get a post on a completely unpredictable schedule. So, enjoy this one while you can.
There have been numerous conversations provoked so far, and brothers are treating disagreeing brothers as brothers, even if one brother (temporarily) thinks the other brother is an idiot, which is as brothers do. It is good to drag our thinking through Bible verses, and also to put our thinking out in public for examination and sharpening. We are not snowflakes who need trigger warnings and safe spaces. We are living sacrifices of God who come to the Word for it to cut us up into acceptable pieces. We want to please God, and that includes submitting our thoughts to His.
That’s is what the series is for, to put on the table what we believe God wants us to believe and do. Our church is a kind of theological mutt, holding and practicing some things in tension because we think that’s what Scripture teaches even if that means we don’t conform neatly into one denominational purebred. All the elders at our church believe this, and I’m not saying it to distance ourselves or draw a line in the sand across which everyone else must come in order to keep fellowship. The main reason I say it is to make myself feel better that I am not the only crazy one. I recall a meeting our elders had almost ten years ago at Carl’s Jr. when we crossed a threshold, knowing that we were headed in a different direction than any of us had preciously traveled. This series is an attempt to explain why, and sure, it’d be great to persuade a throng to see these connections. We’re getting close to being done with the series, but the crescendo is still coming.
We’ve asked, What is a Kuyperian? A Kuyperian is a Christian who acknowledges God’s sovereignty over, and interest in, both spiritual and physical life. Christ is Lord who gives grace for salvation and who gives purpose for work on earth. “Kuyperian” is just a tag for that way of looking at the world. In the most recent posts we’ve been working on, What is a Dispensationalist? Based on a certain approach to Bible reading, a Dispensationalist acknowledges similarities, overlap, and differences between the Church and the nation of Israel. We considered the New Covenant promises in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36, promises of new hearts to the household of Israel and also a return to the land of their fathers. I said that the New Testament itself does not allow us to read Gentiles into that promise in a way that makes the Jews irrelevant. The apostle Paul had even more to say about that.
Before getting to that, though, I want to deal with a phrase that is approaching the level of misreading that “judge not” in Matthew 7 gets. The phrase is found a couple places in Paul’s letters, including Galatians 3:27-29.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:27–29)
What is Paul’s concern here? It is how to be justified with God. By faith in Jesus we are part of God’s family. Everyone who is in Christ is Christ’s by faith, not according to nationality, economic status, or gender. And praise the Lord! Amen! Yet it is a category mistake to say that because everyone is saved the same way that they are the same in every way. Male and female are God-ordained, biological categories of sex that are not mixed by faith into androgyny. There is not a separate Christ for men and Christ for women, but men and women are still differentiated while both being in Christ. Slave and free are a different sort of category, a civil identification. It is a category line that a man could cross, but not by default because of being “in Christ.” So also whether one is a Jew or a Greek depends on one’s parents. God can be your Father regardless of your father. But that doesn’t negate who your earthly father is and what belongs to you because of it. We are not gender, economic, or national egalitarians.
In Christ we have great things, great promises. As the Lord told Abram, all the families of the world would be blessed in him, and all of us who believe are receiving that blessing.
Paul wrote about this good news and these promises received by faith in the first half of his letter to the Romans. He demonstrated that Gentiles and Jews were guilty, that Christ’s work enabled Jews first and also Gentiles to be declared righteous in Christ.
What promises! There is no condemnation for those in Christ! His righteousness is credited to our account! Sin and the law no longer have dominion over us! We have peace with God and access to His throne of grace! All things work together for good to those He calls! All who are justified will be glorified! Be it physical suffering and death, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!
These are astounding promises that depend on God, not us. All we do is receive them by faith and reckon them to be true. We are conquerors through Him who loved us, and it would be an obvious transition from the end of Romans 8:39 to Romans 12:1 – “therefore,” present our bodies as living sacrifices. The doctrine of the gospel of righteousness in chapters 1-8 leads to a life of righteousness in chapter 12 and following. But there are three chapters in between, chapters about Israel, election, a remnant, hardening, Gentiles, grafting, and it all ends in a doxology. Why?
This is the fourth question I’m asking and answering about Jeremiah 31:31-40: When was the New Covenant fulfilled?
The question is somewhat misleading. If you’ve been tracking so far with what we’ve read from Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36, then you know that the answer is: the New Covenant has not been fulfilled yetin its entirety.
Jesus told His disciples that “this cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). As with every covenant, sacrifice was required, and this time Jesus Himself provided the sacrifice rather than grain or goats or bulls. The apostles certainly understood that the Holy Spirit not only was moving, but was also indwelling believers after Pentecost. The covenant was purchased and it appeared that it was time for the covenant to be completed.
After His resurrection and before Pentecost Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God to His disciples. They asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6), as in, Is now the time for the Spirit and the land and our King? Jesus said No. They would be His witnesses, but they did not get to know “the times or the seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). But Jesus also did not say, “Actually, guys, now that you mentioned it, it’s going to be different than you’re thinking….”
The death of Jesus started to bear new covenant sort of fruit in Acts, and we continue to be fruit of His promise as well as declare His saving work among the Gentiles. There is an element of “mystery” in this as Gentiles share in some of the benefits of the promise. But the promise was not made to us—Gentiles, we—the Church—do not inherit the land of Israel, and the house of Israel must still be part of His plan or else the word of His promises cannot be trusted.
To Sum Up
In answering these questions we’ve also answered the Who, What, Where, and Why questions of the new covenant. We’re missing the When, and some of the means to the How.
Dispies believe that these all promises to Israel—the nation—will be fulfilled when Christ reigns on earth for a thousand years before Gog and Magog and the ends of the earth come to battle and lose. Then the devil and the beast and false prophet will be thrown into the lake of fire and the great white throne judgement will take place (Revelation 20). Then comes a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21). That is the general When. In an upcoming post I’ll try to show how we are part of God’s means to the How.
My point for now is not to describe in what ways we as non-Jews partake of the new covenant. We do partake of it in Christ, we do partake of it by faith, we are grafted in like branches as Paul wrote in Romans 11. God has granted repentance, and new hearts, to the Gentiles (Acts 11L18). But God’s grace to extend the saving blood of Christ among the Gentiles does not nullify His guarantee to apply it to the house of Israel. Except for a remnant, their hearts are still hard and they are currently still rejecting their Messiah. This must change in the future, or else God has redefined the “house of Israel.” And if God has redefined that, what else has He redefined?
In this series of questions about Jeremiah 31:31-40, here is the third: What guarantees the New Covenant? Or, on whom does the New Covenant depend?
Covenants are often distinguished between those that are conditional, “If you do this, then I’ll do this,” and those that are unconditional, “I will do this no matter what.” God’s covenant with Abram in Genesis 15, when God put Abram to sleep and walked between the dead animal halves alone, showed God’s commitment to act for Himself. Abram participated by receiving, not by contributing. It is the same sort of language in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36.
The guarantee of these promises is the word of the LORD. He has said it, and He has said it for His own sake. He has also confirmed the likelihood of His completing the promises by comparing them to “this fixed order.”
The new hearts and the fruitful land for the house of Israel are as certain as planets in orbit and the ocean tide. “If this fixed order departs from me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever” (Jeremiah 31:35-36). The LORD adds also that if the heavens can be measured and the center of the earth found, so will Israel be done (verse 37).
Ezekiel also makes it clear. “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name” (Ezekiel 36:22). “I will vindicate the holiness of my great name” (verse 23), “I will vindicate my holiness” (verse 24). “It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you” (verse 32). “I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it” (verse 36).
Has God changed His mind about these promises to act for His own name among the house of Israel? If it does not depend on them, if the whole point of this covenant is in fact that it depends solely on God, then when Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah on the whole, how could that change the covenant? They hadn’t obeyed the 10 Commandments either. All the Israelites ever offered were hard-hearts, but, by God’s grace, soft hearts weren’t the condition of the covenant.
This is a one-sided promise made by God, kept by God, and for God. That makes it really good news.
When it comes to the new covenant promise in Jeremiah 31:31-40, there are four questions that we should ask about the text. The first question was, who is the New Covenant between? The second question is, What does the New Covenant include?
The new covenant is something new and Jeremiah explicitly stated that it is “not like the covenant” the LORD “made with their fathers” coming out of Egypt. This is not just an agreement with requirements and benefits, this is an agreement wherein God gives the additional benefit of causing Israel to fulfill the requirements for sake of receiving the other benefits. That is new, and significantly different.
Instead of stone tablets, “I will put my law within then, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). Ezekiel described it as, “I will give you a new heart and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). This is exactly what they could not do on their own. They could not give themselves new hearts. The theological label for this is regeneration, spiritual life, and the in-dwelling of the third Person of the Trinity. This is salvation.
The covenant includes forgiveness: “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). The covenant includes righteousness: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you” (Ezekiel 36:25, 29, 33).
The fulfillment of these promises does not depend on Israel’s repentance, the promise is that God will grant Israel repentance. There is no condition for Israel to meet. The entire point of the new covenant is that God will do everything necessary to save Israel because they have not obeyed what He said previously.
These are not the only parts of the new covenant, however. Connected to this covenant is that “the city shall be rebuilt for the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:38), with specific place names mentioned (“from the tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate”) to leave no doubt that the LORD means Jerusalem, and even how big Jerusalem will be. In verse 40 God includes the valley and fields outside of the city that “shall be sacred to the LORD” (verse 40).
Ezekiel is just as specific. Immediately following the promise to “cause you to…be careful to obey my rules,” the LORD says, “You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers” (verse 28). Then, “I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you” (verse 29, also verse 30). Then “says the LORD God: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. And the land that was desolate shall be tilled” (verse 33). “They will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are not fortified and inhabited’” (verse 35). The New Covenant promises new hearts that will desire to obey God’s laws as well as all the material/earthly blessings promised by the LORD to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: land, a city, fields, grain in abundance.
I have heard it argued that the “land of their fathers” just represents that God’s people—all believers both Jew and Gentiles—will inhabit the whole earth. It’s said that a Jew who heard the new covenant promises would have understood the promise of grain and of no famine as symbolic of having plenty, not has having anything specific to do with where such fruitfulness came from. It could be in China, or Alaska, and a believing Israelite would have been fine with that. But what makes us think God has changed His terms?
When it comes to the new covenant promise in Jeremiah 31:31-40, there are four questions that we should ask about the text. First, Who is the New Covenant between?
The passage itself identifies the two “parties” of the contract, multiple times, and the context of the entire chapter and book leave no doubt.
Jeremiah prophesied about both the destruction and rebuilding of Jerusalem. Chapter 31 comes after fourteen messages of condemnation on Judah’s idolatry, apostasy, and moral decay. Jeremiah’s people, the Jews, had been rebelling against God, and God is predicting two things for them: judgment and then salvation. The two parties are, therefore, 1) the LORD and 2) Israel.
Verse 31: “the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” The nation was divided at this point in their history into the northern and southern kingdoms. Yet Israel and Judah were still family. They are the ones descended from “their fathers” (verse 32). Which fathers? The ones that the LORD brought out of the land of Egypt, the sons of Jacob—the Twelve Tribes of Israel (the rest of verse 32).
To that growing group the LORD gave laws, also called the Mosaic covenant, summarized in the Ten Commandments. In the desert, and also once they began to occupy parts of the Promised Land, Israel disobeyed those laws. Would God move on to another people? No. “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel” (verse 33). They did not obey, their hearts were hard against Him, and this new covenant promises to get to the root of the problem. The LORD said, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (verse 33).
After He finished making the promise, the LORD made a comparison about what it would take for these promises not to take place. We’ll look at those specifics shortly, but verses 35-37 repeat the parties: “Thus says the LORD,” “the LORD of hosts” (verse 35), “declares the LORD,” “the offspring of Israel being a nation,” (verse 36), and again, “says the LORD,” “all the offspring of Israel,” “declares the LORD” (verse 37).
The parallel passage in Ezekiel 36 is just as clear, and perhaps even more so as it distinguishes the “house of Israel“ (verses 22, 32, 37) from “among the nations” (verses 22, 23, 24, 30, and 36). There are three groups: the LORD, His chosen nation Israel, and all the other nations. The new covenant that the LORD made is not with any of the other nations than Israel.
It makes a Bible-reader wonder, as just one example, about the following note in the ESV Study Bible: “Do the terms in Jer. 31:27, 31, 36-37 focus the prophecy on ethnic Israel or on a redefined Israel (the Jewish-Gentile church)?” (page 1431, emphasis mine). Where is the warrant to redefine “Israel”? Would an Israelite accept such redefinition of terms?
he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:19–20)
The same event is described in Matthew 26:26-28 and Mark 14:22-25, but only Luke used the specific word new (καινὴ) to describe the covenant. Jesus instituted the first observance of the Lord’s Supper as a new covenant remembrance, and Paul quoted this narrative in 1 Corinthians 11:25 about how “this cup is the new covenant in [Christ’s] blood” as he instructed the church in Corinth about celebrating the Lord’s Supper.
There are more mentions of the New Covenant in the New Testament as well. Paul described his work as a minister of a new covenant (2 Corinthians 3:6). The author of Hebrews says that Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant (Hebrews 9:15; 12:24) and the coming of the New Covenant makes the first one, the old one obsolete (Hebrews 8:13).
So, for us who read the apostles and who believe in Christ, we’re a part of this New Covenant, right? Well, it depends.
In the past few posts I’ve started introducing what we believe about the end times. In particular I labeled our viewpoint as that of a Dispensationalist, then I gave a few indispensabilities of Dispensationalism. They aren’t necessarily things that only a Dispensationalist would say, but you can’t be a Dispensationalist without saying them. Those non-negotiable principles include reading the Old Testament like someone in the Old Testament would, that is, we read the OT by itself first. We not only acknowledge, we appreciate that the NT sheds much light on the OT, but we do not believe that the NT ever overrides what the OT audience could have known. When we read like this, from left to right, we see God’s distinction between His chosen people, the nation of Israel, as well as His chosen people, believing Jews and Gentiles in the church. There are two ways to be elect, and in some places there is overlap between the two.
Most important of all, “a Dispensationalist believes that a future generation of Israelites will be saved and that Israel as a nation will be restored during Christ’s kingdom on earth.” That is, we believe that Christ will return to rule from His throne in Jerusalem for 1,000 years before the new heavens and the new earth.
Why do we think this? Is the nation of Israel really that important? The Messiah came, the Jews rejected Him en masse, now the gospel has gone out to the whole world. Even Paul said, “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek” (Romans 10:12). What does it matter?
Those are the sorts of questions that need answering. As I’ve mentioned previously in this series, this is a Bible reading project. We want to read rightly, to cut straight in all the parts of the Word. God is always true and faithful to His Word, so we want to know and believe it.
Perhaps there is no greater promise than what comes in the new promise, the new covenant. As we already saw, Jesus’ blood is the purchase of the new covenant, and there is no blood more precious (1 Peter 1:19). But as with all covenants and contracts, there are terms of the deal. Before we start making plans perhaps we should read the contract.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD of hosts is his name:
“If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.” Thus says the LORD: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the LORD.”
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when the city shall be rebuilt for the LORD from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah. The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to the LORD. It shall not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever.” (Jeremiah 31:31–40)
This really is an amazing covenant and there are at least four questions that we should ask about the text. I’ll answer all of them next week, Lord willing and the stars don’t fall.
I recognize that I have not really defined what a Dispensationalist is yet. That’s fine. Now is the time.
A Dispensationalist does not necessarily believe in seven dispensations, that is divisions, of how God interacts with man. It doesn’t require believing in three or four instead of seven or eight; the number is not the most important piece. Most people would agree, Covenantalists included, that things were different before and after Adam’s fall, that some things were different before and after God gave the Law to Israel, that other things were different before and after Christ’s coming and death and resurrection, and that certain things are different now than they will be in the future, whether or not you expect the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth or you expect to go directly into the eternal state. There are, then, different dispensations or ways of ordering history. All believers should be little “d” dispensationalists at least.
The key things we believe are non-negotiable for a capital “D” Dispensationalist are as follows.
1. A Dispensationalist believes that God’s promises in the Old Testament may be explained and added to in the New Testament but they cannot be canceled or even modified to mean something other than the original OT audience understood.
This is why Dispensationalism is a Bible-reading project. This is not to say that Covenantalists do not read their Bible. It is to say that there are different directions to read the Bible, and we think we should start at the beginning, in Genesis, not start from the back and work toward the front. We believe in starting in the front and reading the story until the finish.
It is a principle of Covenantal Theology to give priority to the New Testament over the Old. Is this a good thing? It depends on what we mean by “priority.” The New Testament surely explains things that were unknown in the Old. Isaiah did not know the name of the Suffering Servant, Matthew does. The prophets longed to look into the person and timing of the Christ, while Peter was able to tell his readers straight out.
The New Testament may, with progressive revelation, shine light on Old Testament passages, offer commentary, or add additional implications or referents, but the New Testament never overrides the original intent of the Old Testament writers.
Michael Vlach, Dispensationalism, 18-19
When the NT is given priority over the OT in such a way as to “spiritualize” promises about offspring and land, going all the way back through David and to Abraham, we get close to accusing God of deceiving His people. Mystery exposed at a later time is one thing. Promises with small print not provided until centuries later is another.
John MacArthur is an interesting example, and he’s probably the Dispensationalist I’m most familiar with. I would put him in the Evangelical Epistolary club, a club that I believe needs to get out (of the Epistles) more. But he loves the New Testament and has clearly made it the focus of his teaching. Yet even though he gives the NT priority for sake of his teaching ministry he doesn’t think that the NT has priority over the OT for sake of its interpretation.
2. A Dispensationalist believes that Israel and the Church are not the same even though they share “every spiritual blessing” in Christ.
Much more needs to be said about this and the third point in coming posts, applying the reading principles mentioned in the first point. But one of the things that defines a Dispensationalist is that he is careful to preserve whatever revealed distinctions there are in Scripture, including distinctions between God’s chosen peoples, namely, the nation of Israel and the Church filled with Jews and Gentiles.
Recognizing where there is overlap and where there is difference is key for sake of understanding progressive revelation, it is key for sake of interpreting the book of Acts, it is key for interpreting our work on earth now, and it is key for our hope in what God has purposed to do.
3. A Dispensationalist believes that a future generation of Israelites will be saved and that Israel as a nation will be restored during Christ’s kingdom on earth.
This is a more specific application of the previous point, but one that defines a Dispensationalist. There are some, interestingly enough more these days, Covenantal teachers who have backed off of the word “replacement” in replacement theology, backed off of there being no distinctions whatever between the church and Israel. They would concede that Romans 11:25 says that “all Israel will be saved,” and so they make room for that, which is good, because it says it in the verse.
But a Dispensationalist is not only waiting for a generation of Jews to be saved, he is waiting for the fulfillment of Jesus reigning from the throne of David in Jerusalem, over the nations, as they submit to Him and bring Him their tribute. We believe this will happen before the new heavens and the new earth on the timeline of the end things.
Before We Go
I cannot recommend too highly a sixty-page book titled, Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths by Michael Vlach. It is not overly technical, and my only complaint is that it is too short (which may make it more desirable for others). I would be eager for Vlach to say even more, which he does in other works. It is a great explanation of Dispensationalism and, whether you consider yourself one or not, it is a helpful affirmation, or at least a helpful corrective to some common, easy errors taught about the doctrine.
An accurate definition of Dispyness doesn’t require reforming Dispy doctrine, though the teaching does require reforming Dispy praxis. Fearful, fussy, fighty Dispies are no fun at eschatology parties.
My plan is, as mentioned above, to consider the New Covenant directly in order to understand how it relates to the original hearers as well as to all those who believe in Christ and eat and drink it at the Lord’s Supper.
Then we must consider Romans 9-11, not just some of the individual verses within the chapters, but why those chapters were necessary at all and why they are where they are in the epistle. It would be easy to go from the end of Romans 8 to the beginning of Romans 12 without anything in between. The intervening chapters demand a Dispensational approach or else our hope in the gospel is embarrassed.
Then once we’ve examined those two big pieces, and potentially answered other objections along the way, we’ll look at why the fruit of Kuyperian discipleship is the key to unlock the Dispensational door.
We are trying to cut it straight, and read straight to the end. We are very optimistic about how it’s going to turn out.
Not everything is rosy in the Dispensational camp. I would not put the fact that Dispensationalism, by that name, is only 150 years old into the unpleasant truths category, but it is a truth, and some try to make it seem really unpleasant.
It is truly unpleasant to consider who some of the groups are that claim allegiance to Dispensationalism. Not only among Baptists, there are multiple Pentecostal and Charismatic groups that refer to themselves as such, and even a variety of cults. But “a distinction needs to be made between what certain dispensationalists believe and what is inherent to the system” (Vlach, 48). We are perhaps most famous, these days, for the Left Behind series. Ha. But as John MacArthur observed, Covies embrace a different sort of fiction about what happened AD 70.
It is also truly unpleasant that there are hyper-dispensationalists. Every group has soup to nuts, and Dispies have their fair share of nuts. I mentioned some of them in the previous post as those who claim that some parts of the Bible aren’t for us in any way.
It is also truly unpleasant that many Dispies are just unpleasant to be around. Some of their end-times charts are nice, but not all of them are nice. They tend to be divisive, both in terms of exegesis and fellowship. They make too big a deal about their perfect understanding, and sometimes look silly. It regularly appears as smoke-out-the-ears, red-in-the-face fussy.
Perhaps the worst part, as far as I’m concerned, about most Dispensationalists is that they are dualists. I’ve been whacking at that for a while, and it’s why we think the Kuyperian adjective is such a needed corrective. For those who claim to be reading the Bible well, they need to keep reading it. For all the good points they make about God’s plan for Israel, past and future, they miss God’s revelation about our present responsibilities, both Jews and Gentiles.
Taking a step back, dualism may be prevalent among Dispies but I’d argue it is not in tune with the teaching. Dualism is actually more consistent with the roots of Covenant Theology, since Covies must take the physical promises given to the nation of Israel in the OT and see a spiritual fulfillment in the church. Dispies, who take all the physical and temporal promises as legit, should at root be not dualists. Historically both groups have been inconsistent. It’s another example of how everyone can be wrong about something.
With all that said, I still identify as a Dispensationalist (my preferred pronouns are Literal/Premillennial). In fact, when Dispensationalism is defined correctly, there are some indispensable things about it, which will be coming up next.
There are at least a couple blatant errors about Dispensational theology cast into the wind like dandelion seeds. They won’t actually sprout, but they do stick onto things and can be hard to get off. It’s one thing for our covenantal brothers to act like Dispensationalists aren’t cool, fine. But tagging Dispensationalism with all the baggage of hyper-Dispensationalism requires reading into rather than out of, which turns out to be a modus operandi for reading a lot of things.
It is untrue that a Dispensationalist believes in two ways of salvation. When working through the relationship between the Old and New Testament, between the Law and Gospel, there are reasonable questions about the relationship between them. But a Dispensationalist does not believe that someone before Jesus was saved in any other way than by faith in God. Old Testament saints looked forward by faith to the coming Messiah. After Christ’s coming we look back by faith. But salvation is, and always has been, by faith alone. There was one note in the original Scofield Study Bible (1909) that some misread, uncharitably, that was revised in the next edition to make it clear. Some have been purposefully blind to that clarification.
It is untrue that a Dispensationalist believes in grace without obedience. In other words, Dispensationalists are not antinomian, that is, those who don’t believe that Christians should obey God’s law or submit to Jesus as Lord. It is true that a couple Dispensationalists have taught that, for example, the Sermon on the Mount is only meant to apply to the Kingdom of God and therefore has no application for believers today. The same sort of group might say that the Old Testament law has no application for New Testament believers. But again, this is hyper-Dispensationalism, this is over-cutting, not cutting straight. It is not what we mean at all.
With that said about untruths, there are some significant unpleasantries about Dispensationlism that should be dealt with, and I’ll address those in the next post.