Red-Letter Christians

There is an official website called www.redletterchristians.org, with the stated purpose as follows:

The goal of Red Letter Christians is simple: To take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.

large_3750120163I think I understand the intent of this group. However, the premise is mistaken and it leads to the ultimate question:

Should we treat the words of Jesus differently than the rest of Scripture?

Continue reading →

An Exciting Next Step for Us

The year 2017 has already been an exciting year for me and my family. My wife and I welcomed our son into the world in January and I graduated with my PhD in Old Testament from Master’s Seminary this month. Although this has already been a packed year, we are not close to being done. Come June, my family and I are packing up to move to North Carolina where I will serve as a faculty member of Shepherd’s Theological Seminary (STS).

My official title at the seminary will be Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages (I know, it sounds nerdy—but I guess if the shoe fits…). I am really excited to be a part of the team and ministry there. I have been talking with the faculty and students about what God has been doing at STS, and there are many exciting things happening there. My wife and I are pumped to partner with the ministry there.

I am excited about this next season of life to be involved in discipling men and women who will be leaders in the church. I pray that God will help me pass along the things that my teachers have taught me (both from a knowledge standpoint, but also related to godly character). It is my goal as a teacher to simply stand in line with the faithful men who have gone before me and help contribute to others as many have done for me.

The school where I will be serving, Shepherd’s Theological Seminary, started in 2003 under the leadership of Pastor Stephen Davey at Colonial Baptist Church in Cary, NC. The school itself is a dispensational school similar in doctrinal beliefs to The Master’s Seminary, where I just graduated with my PhD. One of the many things that I am really excited about at Shepherds is their Israel Initiative, a program which funds a trip to Israel for students.  This means that students who go to STS have the opportunity to go to Israel as part of their educational experience. As someone who benefited greatly from my time in Israel, I think this is an amazing opportunity for students.

I am also really looking forward to working with Drs. Bookman and Pettegrew, both of whom I greatly respect. I am looking forward to learning from their extensive teaching experience, which, if I am calculating it right, is about 80 years combined.

In any case, I know this blog post is a big departure from the normal kind of posts you read on this blog. But, I thought it would be helpful to keep everyone updated on what’s going on in our family’s life. Although I don’t like to post personal things often, I will make an exception on this one because it is that exciting! Also, I’m sure the things I’m studying for classes will come up in blog articles and future podcasts, so I wanted everyone to know some of the context of what goes on in my brain (a scary place to stay for any amount of time).

Next post I will give you something biblical to mull over, I promise! For now, I just wanted to give you an opportunity to praise the Lord with us for this opportunity to be involved with strengthening the church for His honor and glory. We pray that He glorify himself in whatever way He see fit.

Four Key Distinctives of Dispensationalism

Last post we outlined seven beliefs that are often linked with dispensationalism, yet are not inherent to dispensationalism itself. That is not to say dispensationalists cannot hold to those beliefs. But, those beliefs are not inherent to the system of dispensationalism. Today we turn the page and look at what beliefs are non-negotiable for dispensationalists.

As I noted last time, dispensationalism is a set of doctrinal beliefs that deal with hermeneutics, ecclesiology, and eschatology. This means that within those three spheres, a dispensationalist must hold to a specific set of beliefs concerning how one understands Scripture, the role and function of the church, and the end times. Thus, what follows is a list of four beliefs which are held by every dispensationalist.

Dispensationalism teaches that the Old Testament must be interpreted within its own context.

This is, in my opinion, the most important tenet of dispensationalism because it leads to the rest. Dispensationalists believe that the Old Testament must be interpreted according to its own context, and the New Testament cannot reinterpret or change the meaning of a passage. In other words, one does not need the New Testament in order to know the true meaning of an Old Testament passage. The New Testament is crucial to our understanding of the unfolding revelation of God, but dispensationalists are adamant that the New Testament does not reinterpret the Old.

Dispensationalism teaches that there is a distinction between Israel and the Church.

Stemming from the previous point, dispensationalists believe that the Bible clearly demarcates Israel and the church as distinct entities. Dispensationalists have been clear that this does not mean there is no relationship between Israel and the church. In fact, both can rightly be described as the “seed of Abraham.” However, similar to how complementarians say that men and women are equal in value, yet have different functional roles; so also dispensationalists say there is a functional difference in God’s plan between ethnic Israel and the church as described by Scripture.

Dispensationalism teaches there is a future for ethnic Israel.

Again, this point is linked with the previous two. Because the Old Testament speaks of a future for ethnic Israel (cf. Lev 26:40–45; Deut 4:25–31; Hos 3:4–5; Zech 12–14, etc.), dispensationalists read the New Testament as an affirmation of those promises of restoration (cf. Matt 19:28; Acts 1:6; 3:19–21; Rom 11:25–26, etc.). Most people have heard the hackneyed (yet important) dispensational phrase that goes something like this: we cannot assume the curses for disobedience applied Israel, but the promised blessings for repentance and obedience do not.

Dispensationalism teaches that the promises made to ethnic Israel will have a literal, future fulfillment in the Millennial Kingdom.

This point naturally flows from the previous points, and becomes the summary of what dispensationalism holds to. When a dispensationalists reads the Old and New Testaments he sees that God made many promises to Israel; not the least of which are a return to their land (Lev 26:40–45; Deut 4:25–31, etc.), a promised ruler who will rule over them (Ezek 34:23–24), and prominence among the nations (Isa 2:2–4). These promises either will be fulfilled, or they won’t be. Dispensationalists look for literal fulfillment of what was promised to Israel.

 All dispensationalists hold to a thousand year millennium, because that is the time period within which God is to fulfill His promises to His chosen people, Israel. Mistakenly, dispensationalists are often accused of basing their doctrine of the millennium on one passage of Scripture (Rev 20). However, I think I’m not alone when I say that I’m a premillennialist before I get out of the Old Testament. The prophets in particular convince me there has to be a future for Israel and God’s promises to Israel have to be fulfilled. Thus, I am looking for the content of the millennium before I get out of the Old Testament. It is the New Testament that works to confirm what the Old Testament already laid out. Further, it is the New Testament that gives the timeframe (Rev 20) to understand when the prophecies of the Old Testament are going to happen.

 Conclusion

My list may be minimalistic to some, but these are the key issues as I see it with regard to dispensationalism. Dispensationalists can hold to a wide variety of beliefs that are not inherent to dispensationalism, but I cannot see how one could be a dispensationalist and not hold to these key components.

Addendum: For Those Interested

Here are some other lists of essential elements of dispensationalism provided by Vlach in his book on Dispensationalism (highly recommended, and I will be writing a short review in the future):

List of “essentials” by Charles Ryrie (1965):

  1. A distinction between Israel and the church.
  2. Literal interpretation to all Scripture, including prophecy.
  3. The underlying purpose of God in the word is the glory of God.

List of “essentials” by John Feinberg (1988):

  1. Belief that the Bible refers to multiple sense of terms like “Jew” and “seed of Abraham.”
  2. An approach to hermeneutics that emphasizes that the Old Testament be taken on its own terms and not reinterpreted in light of the New Testament.
  3. Belief that Old Testament promises will be fulfilled with national Israel.
  4. Belief in a distinctive future for ethnic Israel.
  5. Belief that the church is a distinctive organism.
  6. A philosophy of history that emphasizes not just soteriological and spiritual issues, but social, economic, and political issues as well.

List of “common features” by Craig Blaising and Darrell Bock (1993):

  1. The authority of Scripture.
  2. Dispensations.
  3. Uniqueness of the church.
  4. Practical significance of the universal church.
  5. Significance of biblical prophecy.
  6. Futurist premillennialism.
  7. Imminent return of Christ.
  8. A national future for Israel.

List of “essentials” by Mike Vlach (2017):

  1. The primary meaning of any Bible passage is found in that passage. The New Testament does not reinterpret or transcend Old Testament passages in a way that overrides or cancels the original authorial intent of the Old Testament writers.
  2. Types exist but national Israel is not an inferior type that is superseded by the church.
  3. Israel and the church are distinct; thus, the church cannot be identified as the new and/or true Israel.
  4. Spiritual unity in salvation between Jews and Gentiles is compatible with a future functional role for Israel as a nation.
  5. The nation Israel will be both saved and restored with a unique functional role in a future earthly millennial kingdom.
  6. There are multiple sense of “seed of Abraham,” thus the church’s identification as “seed of Abraham” does not cancel God’s promises to the believing Jewish “seed of Abraham.”

Seven Tenets that DO NOT Define Dispensationalism

Readers of this blog may be curious as to what makes someone a dispensationalist. Simply put, dispensationalism is a set of doctrinal beliefs that deal with hermeneutics (how to read Scripture), ecclesiology (how the church operates), and eschatology (what the end times look like). Hence, a dispensationalist holds a distinctive set of beliefs about understanding Scripture, the role and function of the church, and about the end times.

We will look at those specific distinctives in the next blog post. In the meantime, I want to highlight some fundamentally errant beliefs that are sometimes associated with dispensationalism. They are listed in their accusatory forms.

Dispensationalism teaches multiple ways of salvation.

Unfortunately, this myth is often repeated, but has no basis in reality. Some people accuse dispensationalists of believing OT saints were saved by keeping the Law while NT saints are saved by grace through faith. I am actually unaware of any dispensationalists that teach this. John Feinberg, a dispensationalist, wrote an excellent article about this issue, illustrating that belief in multiple ways of salvation is not a dispensational tenet.

Dispensationalism teaches a different view of regeneration.

Interestingly, R.C. Sproul is one individual who has used this accusation (see 44–45 min into this video). This is surprising since he is good friends with John MacArthur, a dispensationalist who definitely does not hold to a different view of regeneration. Further, although Sproul says that dispensationalists think that the Holy Spirit can come into someone’s life without changing it, MacArthur (and many other dispensationalists) do not teach that. This is actually an example of what I noted at the beginning of this post—dispensationalism is a system of hermeneutics which leads to a set of beliefs about the church and the end times. Hence, those are the main issues which are inherent to dispensationalism. As far as I’m aware of, most of my dispensational friends hold to reformed views of regeneration.

Dispensationalism is inherently antinomian.

In the same video clip cited above, Sproul mentions this critique of dispensationalism (see at 45 min). Although some dispensationalists may indeed be antinomian, that does not mean the system inherently embraces that position because—as stated before—dispensationalism is concerned about hermeneutics, the church, and the end times. Many of my dispensational friends even hold to the Reformed tripartite view (moral, civil, ceremonial) of the Law, although I personally disagree with that view.

Dispensationalism teaches trichotomy.

In an audio clip which I was unable to find again, I remember listening to R. C. Sproul talk about the problems he had with dispensationalists and he said one of the major problems he had with dispensationalists is that they teach the viewpoint called trichotomy, the view that humans are comprised of three parts—body, soul, and spirit (most people hold to dichotomy, that the body is comprised of two parts—body, and soul/spirit). Although it may be possible that some dispensationalists teach trichotomy, I am not aware of any, and neither is it integral to the dispensational system.

Side note: although I was unable to find the recording, I was able to find Vlach’s comments on the same recording here.

Dispensationalism is inherently Arminian.

You are no doubt sick of me saying this, but dispensationalism is not a system which has integral views of soteriology. In light of this, a dispensationalist could hypothetically be either a Calvinist or an Arminian with regard to the doctrines of salvation. That doesn’t mean dispensationalists don’t care about the issue (most are quite passionate about soteriology). It just means that when someone says they are dispensational, that is not addressing their view of soteriology.

Dispensationalism teaches non-lordship salvation.

Lordship salvation is somewhat related to the previous complaint about regeneration. Although there are dispensationalists who do reject lordship salvation, again, it is not inherent to the system. John MacArthur, a noted dispensationalist, has written books clarifying his view of lordship salvation.

Dispensationalism inherently consists of seven dispensations.

I actually was taught seven dispensations in a Sunday School class while I was growing up, but as I got older I read more dispensationalists and realized that many didn’t even mention seven dispensations. Hence, the only thing that is inherently dispensational is the belief that God works in different ways in different times (but don’t all Christians believe that?).

Conclusion

Dispensationalism may not be popular in certain Reformed circles, but we need to make sure the record is clear—these issues are not to be leveled against dispensationalists. The issues listed above have nothing inherently to do with dispensationalism. Next post we will look at what issues are inherently linked with dispensationalism.