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The End of Many Books

Dispensational Hermeneutics

by Michael Vlach

If you are committed to hating anything Dispensational, then it doesn’t really matter what a Dispy says. Alright. But if you are committed to trying to read the Bible and understand what it says, and want the Bible to tell you what “system” (if any) to believe rather than depending on the System to tell you what you can believe in the Bible, Dispensational Hermeneutics would edify you.

Vlach encourages me. He is clear, and he does not overstate his arguments, which is part of what enables him to avoid coming off as combative. I appreciated his start with the Bible’s storyline, including God’s purposes for “the salvation of nations/society and the restoration of creation” (Loc. 138). The guts of the book are his ten hermeneutical principes:

  1. Consistent Use of Grammatical-Historical Hermeneutics to All Scripture
  2. Consistent Contextual Interpretation of Old Testament Prophecies
  3. Passage Priority: The Meaning of Any Bible Passage Is Found in that Passage
  4. Old Testament Prophecies not Repeated in the New Testament Remain Relevant
  5. Old Testament Eschatology Expectations Are Reaffirmed in the New Testament
  6. Progress of Revelation Does Not Cancel or Transform Unconditional Promises to the Original Audience
  7. Fulfillments Occur with the Two Comings of Jesus
  8. Partial Fulfillments of Old Testament Prophecies
  9. Jesus as Means of Fulfillment of the Old Testament
  10. Types, Yes! Typological Interpretation, No!

He argues against a “Christocentric” reading, but offers instead “a Christotelic approach (that) asserts that all Scripture is related to the person and work of Christ, even though Christ is not found in every passage. All Scripture is not Jesus, but all Scripture relates to Him” (Location 1132). That’s a helpful distinction.

One of the things I’ve seen going around recently is that the nation of Israel doesn’t matter to God at all any more because Jesus is the TRUE Israel and all the OT promises are fulfilled in Him. But Jesus can be the Seed and there can still be future fulfillment for the other parts of the covenants.

“The New Testament writers do not apply a mystical, metaphysical personalism hermeneutic concerning Jesus that makes details of Bible prophecies evaporate into Him.” (Location 1757)

The teaching (and hermeneutic) of the apostles did not transform or redefine, let alone cancel, previous revelation. Come on, people.

There are two reasons I’m giving this 4/5 instead of 5/5 stars.

First, I’m sure there’s a good reason, but I think calling it “Dispensational Hermeneutics” is the wrong name altogether. Until a few years ago, I didn’t even know that people talked that way. Grammatical-Historial hermeneutics, YES! But the Dispensational nickname/label is a result of Bible reading not a way to get a certain “reading” of the Bible. Dispensational as an adjective should describe the person post-reading, not as an adjective for a pre-reading lens.

Consistent (and I know that’s not always easy to get) Grammatical-Historical reading of the text would reject extra-biblical covenants that are supposedly necessary to understand the story of the Bible. Consistent sola Scriptura bears the fruit of Dispensationalism, Dispensationalism is not the soil or seed. So I love the principles, and don’t love the adjective in the title.

Second, I’d love to see more “here and now” application which also comes from avoiding the “spiritualized” reading required by non-Dispy systems. Call it Kuyperian, call it non-gnostic/non-pietistic, you pick. Take this quote:

“The Christian worldview, though, affirms the goodness of both physical and spiritual realities. While they are distinct, physical and spiritual realities both are important in God’s purposes, and one does not supersede the other.” (Location 1433)

Yes and amen, but the book puts this worldview more in the future context, which is right, but misses some of the relevance for the present day. The physical blessings of God on His people will be unsurpassed in the Millennial Kingdom and into the eternal state, but many of those blessings won’t be unprecedented, as in, known for the first time only then. The blessings of salvation now include intangibles and many tangibles, even if only a taste during the current time.

This may be an issue of emphasis, not really disagreement, but so many Dispies I know are functional dualists, where only the spiritual things matter, and, ironically, that is bad Bible reading, which we claim to be better at.

Regardless, this is a great read, full of plain principles that encourage Bible readers to take God at His Word.

4 of 5 stars

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The Dead End of (God-honoring) Gradual Development

Last Sunday I taught about economics. That interrupted a series I’ve been teaching through Revelation. As a futurist, that is, one who thinks the majority of the apocalyptic judgment is yet to occur, why would I bother admonishing the saints about building wealth of all kinds in the present age?

This is the problem that Kuyperian Dispensationalism raises, and also resolves.

If you’re already convinced about this, you’re one of maybe about twenty people on the planet (ha!). If you’re not convinced, let the following long quote and bullet points bounce around in your mental hopper.

The quote is from Kuyper himself in his book, Pro Rege: Living under Christ’s Kingship, Volume 1: The Exalted Nature of Christ’s Kingship. Kuyper was not a Dispensationalist, but I’ve been thinking about granting him that honorary status anyway. Here he explains how many things on earth will continue to get better and better and how that still won’t bring in Christ’s kingdom.

We must be certain and express clearly that the period of gradual development in which we now live will one day come to an end and pass over into the last period, which is that of a supernatural manifestation of power encompassing not only the whole world but the entire universe as well. The final victory cannot be brought about gradually, because [the path of gradual development] will end in failure. When it is clear and evident in the course of history that natural, gradual development does not and cannot lead to the final goal, then—and only then—will our King intervene in a completely supernatural manner so as to neutralize all resistance and to cause the full glory of his kingship to break through.

Before this happens, however, it must be determined and demonstrated that [this process of] gradual development was unable to lead to its triumph. One should not be able to say afterward: “If only it had pleased God to leave humanity to its own natural development, everything still would have worked out on its own.” No, the facts of history must show that humanity was incapable of this on its own. Humanity must therefore be given time. Time to absorb the blessing that Christianity brings. Time to test every method and manner of saving itself with the gospel’s help. Once it is clear after this generous passage of time that humanity failed—because its very life root has been poisoned and because the demonic power finds novel ways and means in every new development to enter humanity’s veins and spoil it from within—then and only then will Christ suddenly arrest this period of gradual development, fermentation, and influence, and intervene with his full kingly power. And [he will do] this no longer to save but to judge, and to bring about the consummation of his kingdom with supernatural power.

Pro Rege, 405-406

Many things will get better because:

  • God’s Spirit regenerates men to life, illuminates the Word for obedience, and energizes for fruitfulness, not just in eternity but on earth. This fruitfulness includes faithful dominion-taking as image-bearers of God (Genesis 1:28) and includes loving one’s neighbor and seeking their interests (Matthew 22:39 and Philippians 2:4). We love them by not only sharing the good news but also new goods.
  • God intends that our lives “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10), which is an aroma of life to those who are being saved (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). Not everyone is attracted to the gospel by God’s blessing on those who believe it, but some (including a future generation of Israelites) will be made jealous into salvation (Romans 11:11, 13-14, 25-26).

But better things themselves won’t bring about Christ’s reign on earth because:

  • God is exposing that the sinfulness of men is so sinful that many men will still resist giving glory to God for all the good He gave them (Psalm 112:10; Romans 1:18-23), and so He ordains for them to store up more wrath for themselves (Romans 2:4-5).
  • And as the Kuyper quote above, time is not the savior, only the Savior is, and soli Deo gloria.
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The Telos of Jealousy

The Headmaster at our school recently wrote about Raising…and Being the Cool Kids. Here are a couple key paragraphs:

All of Paul’s ministry had a telos of jealousy. He was working hard (as a Jew!) to make Jews jealous of the glorious blessings the Gentiles were enjoying….and there were plenty of blessings to go around! All the Jews needed to do was repent and embrace their Savior, and they would share those glorious riches with their Gentile brothers. It would then complete the salvation of the full number of the elect, and usher in the end of the age.

Likewise, I make no apologies when I say that we wish to provoke the world around us to jealousy. We want them to want what we have, because what we have been given in Christ is absolutely glorious. We didn’t manufacture it, and we don’t deserve it.

This is part of our project at The Kuyperian Dispensationalist. Recognizing and rejoicing in our #blessed position in Christ has been a theme here at tohu va bohu, too. It’s more than a hashtag, it’s a worldview about the true and ultimate “riches for the world” (Romans 11:12).