Wednesday, September 22, 2010

If I Were a Dispensationalist Professor . . .

Far too often, students of Scripture are more dogmatic about their own beliefs than they are capable of articulating the positions they reject. That's an unfortunate and unproductive combination. Of course that's true of Dispensationalists, Covenant Theologians, and everything in between, as well as the whole range of convictions in other matters of doctrine.

If I were a Dispensationalist prof, I think I'd insist that my students read, interact with, and know how to counter the arguments in this book. If I were a CT prof, I'd be looking for a similar book from the other side. Any suggestions?

22 comments:

Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff said...

Hummmmmmmmmm How about this book

Sorry, I couldn't resist!

Ben said...

No apologies necessary. Though I think the KJV uses "dispensation" more! ;-)

James Kime said...

The best book I have ever read on the subject is this one:

http://www.newcovenantmedia.com/product.php?productid=30&cat=1&page=1

Dan said...

This is not in book form but I think Vlach fairly interact with CT stuff at his site here: http://www.theologicalstudies.org

His Rice lecture at DBTS is well worth the listen: http://dbts.edu/5-1/5-14.asp#10

Ben said...

Dan,

Thanks for the heads up on that. I will definitely give them a listen. Only trouble is, as soon as I see someone using "replacement theology" rhetoric, I know he's at best only responding to a subset of those who call themselves Covenant Theologians.

Are there CTs who say that the Church "replaces" Israel? Sure. But many would reject that language. I'd guess most, but I don't have hard data.

If people who believe what Vlach does want to make their case persuasively, they need to recognize that many CTs articulate an incorporational theology, not a replacement theology. By incorporational theology, I mean that all the promises are fulfilled through Christ, the true Israelite—the one (and only one) who fulfills all the conditions and all the prophecies. No one, Jew or Gentile, has access to any of the promises apart from incorporation into Christ. And all who are incorporated into Christ experience the fulfillment of the promises.

There are varieties of CT, just as there are varieties of Dispensationalism. People like Vlach need to take care that they not broadbrush using rhetorical, inflammatory terms like "replacement theology" for those to whom the term simply does not apply. Whether he's doing that or not in those lectures, I don't know. But if he's intending to address all CTs in those lectures, I think it's safe to say that he is. And if he's not addressing all the major streams, then he hasn't really refuted CT.

That's actually one of the strengths of Poythress' book—he's aware of, interacts with, and is respectful of various streams of Dispensationalism. I'd be curious to hear Dispensationalists identify places where he's uses inflammatory rhetoric or mischaracterization to refute them.

Dan said...

Out of curiosity, what source would you point to that defines these various CT "streams", regardless of whether the author is favorable or not?

James Kime said...

Supersessionism is the better term I think.

From Vlach:
http://www.theologicalstudies.org/articles/article/1546226/17515.htm

Ben said...

Dan, I'm not sure I've encountered a source that contains a taxonomy. Obviously, there are differences between Baptist CTs and Presbyterian CTs. Poythress clearly and consciously articulates an incorporational theology, not replacement theology. Many would consider New Covenant Theology to be under the umbrella of CT. There are covenantal premils and covenantal amils. These are just a few of the variations.

My suspicion (though again, I don't have data) is that Dispensationalists who talk about "replacement theology" are referring to older sources. It might be similar to how CTs talk about Dispensationalism's two ways of salvation.

Ben said...

James,

Aren't the terms synonymous? Isn't that how Vlach is using them? I just borrowed "replacement theology" from the titles of his lectures.

James Kime said...

Yes I think they are the same. However "replacement theology" carries baggage that many CTers don't want anything to do with. Like you said, the integration model seems to be prevalent.

In theory though, any theology that does not allow for a regathered political Israel (that can only be constituted through the Messiah) is technically replacement theology from what I have read. The integrationist model isn't sufficient to protect people from RT, because Progressive Dispy advocates are integrationists. There is overlap to be sure, but claiming to be intergrationists doesn't also prevent RT.

Ben said...

I'm not sure why either term would be well received if it doesn't accurately represent one's views.

That technical definition you cite doesn't make sense to me. Either supersessionism or replacement theology requires one thing to replace another. A Dispensationalist could argue that CTs 1) replace Israel with the church, or 2) replace earthly, physical promises with spiritual, heavenly ones. (Stop me if I'm wrong here.)

Trouble is, people who hold to incorporational theology don't believe that either one of those things happened. They believe that the promises are fulfilled in the precise way that they were originally made. In order for a D to impose replacement labels on a CT, he has to impose his own conclusions about the nature of the promises on the CT—conclusions the CT would reject from the start. So a D can try to repudiate the CT view of the promises and the originally intended recipients, but it's disingenuous to import his own views into the discussion in order to score rhetorical points.

Again, I know there are some CTs who use (or did use) replacement language. In those cases, RT language may well be appropriate.

Now, PDs may be genuine RTs, if they believe that the original promises were intended exclusively for ethnic Israelites but are fulfilled to someone else. You'd be able to speak for PDs better than I.

James Kime said...

Supersessionism describes the view that God is done with political Israel. Salvation to the Jews at the end of this age is not enough. Salvation to the Jews and a place in the millennium is not enough. Anything shy of a future political Israel would be supersessionism. It may be more mild, but I think that is a consistent definition from Vlach and others.

I do not know of a single PD that would be supersessionist. I will admit great limitation on that though.

Ben said...

James, I'm not saying you're defining those terms badly. I'm saying those terms misrepresent many CTs—all who follow the incorporational view that I described.

It's like if a CT called all Dispensationalists "Two Ways Theologians," even though few if any today believe in a different way of salvation under the Law.

Andrew Suttles said...

Good on you Ben. I also flat out reject any Dispie propaganda that used the phrase 'Replacement Theology.' If I understand correctly, Barry Horner even goes so far as to peg anti-semitism on anyone who doesn't agree with his view. Michael Vlach does the same, I believe.

To the Dispie, it doesn't matter whether the CTer sees a future for a national/political Israel. Hodge and Calvin and MANY CTers have argued for that. They demand a restored national Israel apart from the body of Christ. In other words, Israel cannot find salvation in the Church - in effect, the Old Covenant is restored - remember the parenthesis thing?

James Kime said...

Ben, the thing that truly separates DT from anything else is a future political Israel. Any view that does not accept that is a form of supersessionism and therefore a replacement of the original promises. Now, if a CT could demonstrate that the promises in the OT were NOT for and did NOT suggest a political Israel, then their complaint would be valid.

Do you know of any who adopts the incorporation model who embrace a future political Israel? If not, it validates Vlach's definition. People may be more mild in their tone today (except for Waldron maybe), but the premise is essentially the same: God is done with political Israel.

James Kime said...

Andrew, many of the reformers and puritans argues for a future salvation for the Jews, but they were always incorporated into the church. To my knowledge, few actually believed in a future political Israel. I know Spurgeon, Bonar, and Ryle did.

James Kime said...

Ben, do you know what CTers prefer to be called? Is it incorpationalists? If they picked the term, and Vlach substituted their term for supersessionism, what would change? Would it not still be talking about the same thing?

Ben said...

James, I don't know how to say this any more clearly, and I'm not going to say it over and over and over again, so if it doesn't make sense this time we'll have to call it a day. But one more time . . .

You can't call someone a replacement theologian/supersessionist if they don't believe anything is being replaced. If someone believes the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New Covenants will be fulfilled in PRECISELY the terms in which they were originally delivered and intended, then they don't believe anything is replaced or superseded. They believe in fulfillment.

Just because you or whoever else believes something is being replaced in their theology doesn't make it so. You're importing your interpretation halfway into their argument, which (not surprisingly) creates confusion.

They believe in fulfillment. Not replacement. Not supersession. Period.

Ben said...

Andrew, Horner does get into anti-Semitism. It's a heavy emphasis in his book. I don't remember whether he applies it to any contemporary theologians, or just the early Fathers and some Reformers.

James Kime said...

Ben, I understand what you are saying. CTers don't think of themselves as replacing anything. They do though.

There are OT promises given to political Israel with land dimensions, none of which have been fulfilled. Many CTers do believe that those promises are not for political Israel. It doesn't matter who they say "fulfilled" them, it is a group different than the original. Maybe some CTers reject replacement concepts and still hold to a future political Israel, but they are certainly a minority.

In other cases, the promises themselves have been replaced. Some would say the promises of land are replaced by heaven.

So sometimes you have the people and sometimes the promises being replaced.

Anonymous said...

As soon as possible, I'm going to ask for a meeting of my fellow supersessionist replacement theologians (we call ourselves covenantalists, but I don't want James to misunderstand to whom I refer).

At this meeting, I'm going to move that we alter our understanding of Scripture to allow for the limitations of James' future "Geopolitical Israel".

When that passes, I'm going to move that we grant James honorary "Geopolitical Israelite" status and that we confine him to that geopolitical realm.

If both motions pass, the rest of us can enjoy the new heavens and the new earth with Christ -- the "True Israel".

I speak as a fool,

Keith