Well, duking it out is not quite accurate, but it’s a catchy title! For this part of the interview, I asked, “if you could ask ___ any question, what would it be?” I then gave them a chance to respond. Here’s how the questions work out.
- Dispensationalist > Historic Premillennialist
- Historic Premillennialist > Progressive Dispensationalist
- Progressive Dispensastionalist > Dispensationalist
I wish we could have a proper back and forth, but this format doesn’t lend itself to that, and these men are busy enough as it is! I appreciate what we have been able to do here. I hope that these interactions move us forward in evaluating each perspective.
Paul Henebury & Jim Hamilton on Historic Premillennialism
Henebury: I suppose I might ask either of two questions. If he believes the NT has interpretative priority over the OT (as did Ladd), what are we to make of the fact that hardly anyone had the NT in the first century? (or for many centuries after that). Doesn’t this make mincemeat of the clarity (and thus the sufficiency) of OT Scripture?
Hamilton: As the NT was being written, the Apostles were teaching the churches–the guys Jesus taught. The NT writings simply record what the Apostles taught the churches. So I think that prior to the completion of the NT, the teaching of the Apostles guided the churches. And, I suspect that the recognition of the NT writings happened quicker than the “centuries” mentioned. I think there’s strong evidence that Paul kept his own letter collection, and he himself may have circulated an early 13 letter collection of them. Peter knows of Paul’s “letters.” There’s strong evidence that the Four Gospels were recognized early, and so forth. Trobisch argues persuasively in The First Edition of the New Testament that the NT was being circulated in standardized ways by the middle of the second century. See also the arguments of Hurtado in The Earliest Christian Artifacts.
Saying that the NT helps us understand the OT doesn’t mincemeat the OT’s clarity and sufficiency. All I’m saying is that just as the Psalms and Isaiah help us understand the Pentateuch, so John and Paul help us understand the Psalms, Isaiah, and the Torah.
Hamilton: I suspect that this question is driving at something, but I’m not able to anticipate what that is. Schreiner says “the divine covenants are the means by which God’s rule is established,” that “A covenant signifies a relationship in which there are obligations made under oath,” and he quotes Kline who says, “covenants function as administrative instruments of God’s kingly rule” (The King in His Beauty, xiv and notes 12, 13).
God was pleased to make covenants. He was pleased to make the earth round (roughly). He did what he pleased. Glory to his name.
Jim Hamilton and Darrell Bock on Progressive Dispensationalism
Hamilton: I would ask dispensationalists to consider removing dispensationalism from their primary commitments. I would ask dispensationalists if they agree that there are first, second, and third order doctrines (following Mohler’s triage):
- First order doctrines make us Christians or not (Trinity, Two Natures of Christ, Substitutionary Atonement of Christ, Justification by Grace through Faith, Authority of Scripture)
- Second order issues make us presbyterian, anglican, methodist, baptist, etc. (who do we baptize and how do we do it? who gets to partake in the Lord’s supper? who has authority over local congregations?)
- Third order issues are things that Christians can disagree on and worship together in the same church or teach together at the same school (when will the rapture happen? is there a premillennial reign of Christ? what’s the relationship between the church and Israel?).
So the questions come down to these: do dispensationalists agree that their hermeneutical conclusions on these questions are third order issues? And if so, do they agree that it is unnecessarily divisive for a church to put such commitments in their doctrinal statements? And if it is unnecessarily divisive for a church to exclude non-dispensationalists from membership, shouldn’t a place that seeks to train ministers for churches seek to model for those churches a commitment to unity (and willingness to disagree without dividing) on these points that don’t make us Christian or non-Christian and that have no impact on who we baptize or how it’s done, who takes the Lord’s supper, and who holds authority in or over the congregation?
If dispensationalists answer yes to these questions, would they prayerfully consider removing dispensationalism from the doctrinal statements of their churches and schools because it is not worth dividing the body of Christ over these matters of interpretation?
This is a question that risks saying internal discussion needs to be properly ordered and really does not matter. But these internal discussion are worth airing out because they may well matter. Israel having a future (or thus having a right to the land) or Christ ruling on the earth one day (versus directly only in a new heaven and earth) are important truths. They do not determine salvation (on that we agree) but they are important teachings worth sorting out. They should not divide, on that we agree as well, but let’s not treat them as potentially irrelevant, which is what the question asked this way can risk on the other end.
Darrell Bock and Paul Henebury on Dispensationalism
Bock: How can a dispensationalist see the current application of the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant (see the Last Supper in procuring forgiveness we now experience) and not see the Davidic covenant being initially realized by what Jesus has done, as Luke 3:16 predicts and Acts 2:14-36 proclaims?
Henebury: Firstly, in Luke 3 Jesus has not yet been baptized and presented as Christ. The two phases of Christ’s work are bundled together in typical OT fashion. The baptism with the Holy Spirit I take to be the New Covenant promise of the Spirit’s vitalizing coming to Israel with the kingdom. There is no Church yet in view as far as the revelation goes. Jesus is rejected by Israel, but He has come, and that cannot be reversed. At His coming Jesus introduced the New Covenant (Lk. 22:14-20), yet in a context in which the kingdom is now driven into the future (Lk. 22:29-30).
Thus I see the first phase of John’s prediction; the baptism with the Spirit (Lk. 3:16) initialized in the New Covenant made with those who would be foundational to the Church (Eph. 2:20). This explains the use of Spirit language in Acts 2. Yet the full realization of that blessing as it pertains to Israel (per John’s audience and context), awaits the Second Advent. At that time Jesus comes in judgment (the “fire” and “winnowing” language in Lk. 3:16 & 17), after which He inaugurates the New Covenant with Israel along the OT pattern.
That there is some sort of “already” aspect here is true, yet I would want to lay stress upon the object of that “already” – viz. the “new man”, the Church, not Israel. Here is where there is some chronological transition between “the Church age” and the “times of restoration” which Peter was holding out to Israel in Acts 3 (and Acts 2 for that matter). I take Acts 3:19-21 as referring to the Davidic New Covenant Kingdom.
In the Acts passage we face several issues, none of which I will pretend to give the final answer to. In Acts 2:14-21 there is the debated use of the Joel prophecy preceded by the “this is that” formula (v.15). The first thing to say is that whichever interpretation is brought to the use of Joel 2, nobody believes these extraordinary happenings of vv.19-20 actually occurred at Pentecost (e.g. R. N. Longenecker). Further, the Holy Spirit was not poured out on “all flesh” (v.17). So what was Peter doing?
My answer is that Peter was still thinking within the basic framework of OT eschatology and Jewish expectation which we find in the Gospels and in Acts 1:6. His immediate concern in this setting was to point to the Cross and (especially) the Resurrection as the eschatological breaking- in of God into Israel’s history. The “this” of v.15 is answered by the references to the resurrection throughout Peter’s speech (vv. 24, 30, 31, 32). This is what proved that Jesus was “both Lord and Christ” (v.36).
The reference to the outpouring of the Spirit (vv.17-18, 33) is intended to show the Jews that the New Covenant has been inaugurated, and that there is still opportunity for them to repent and believe (in this sense the baptism of v.38 may be seen as a partial fulfillment of John’s baptism).
Of course, the nation did not believe this message. They rejected it again in chapter 3:12-26, where the expectation of the arrival of the Davidic Kingdom was still patently in the air (see esp. 3:19-21). In other words, these were good faith offers of the kingdom which were rejected by all but a relative few.
Viewed this way the one work of Christ in its two phases of Cross and Crown are still held together in Acts 2 and 3. If so, the “signs and wonders” of Acts 2:19 are at the doorstep pending national acceptance of Jesus as Messiah; not only crucified Messiah, but Risen Messiah – bringing the two phases into close proximity.
Allowing this line of reasoning helps us with the Joel prophecy. How so? Because the “signs” and “wonders” which Jesus did prior to Calvary (v.22), portend the “signs” and “wonders” of v.19 which speak to the Second Coming. Here I again appeal to Acts 3:19-21 for help.
If I haven’t lost everyone, let me proceed to Acts 2:25-35 and try to fit it into my picture. Jewish national acceptance in the fact of the Risen Christ ought to have come because the OT predicted it (vv. 25-28 cf. Psa. 16). For present purposes I shall forego verses 25-29 and pick it up in Acts 2:30. Progressive Dispensationalists like Dr. Bock appeal to this verses because it speaks about the “raising up” and the investiture of Christ upon the Davidic throne. If this was what happened I would have to concede the point. But as I see it this “raising up” is a reference to Christ’s resurrection (see esp. v.32). As I have said, the resurrection was uppermost in Peter’s mind in these verses. The next verse proves this by saying that David “spoke concerning (peri) the resurrection.” (2:31). In verse 33 the emphasis is now on the ascension “to the right hand of God”, which I do not take as a reference to the throne of David, for otherwise Acts 3:19-21 makes no sense to me.
Acts 2:33 appeals to the coming of the Spirit, yet actual fulfillment of the Joel New Covenant prophecy awaits the condition of national repentance, which was not forthcoming. The quotation of Psalm 110:1 refers then to the present continuing session of Christ in heaven awaiting the fulfillment of the Davidic New Covenant kingdom announced, first by John the Baptist, and then by Peter.
I hope this rather convoluted explanation will be seen as viable. Whichever position is taken on Acts 2 and 3, it is easy to get ones theological wires crossed. This is my attempt to sort them out.
That concludes our series on varities of Premillennialism. Thank you for all the interest in these interviews. In the following weeks I will post a summary of everything we’ve covered so far.