We are working through B&H’s Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views. See my introduction and other posts in this series. This post summarizes the responses to Robert Saucy’s Progressive Dispensational viewpoint.
According to Reymond, “premillennialism is [the] bugbear” of progressive dispensationalism (p209), so his response consists of a rebuttal of premillennial thinking.
Thomas reiterates Jesus’ eschatology of two ages: this age and the age to come. In this scheme, there is no room for a millennium. Moving to the teaching of Paul, Thomas concludes “it is beyond dispute that there is no clearly delineated millennial period in Paul’s eschatology” (p211). Peter also holds to the same eschatology as Jesus (p213). 2 Peter 3:5-13 clearly divides history into three periods: 1) the pre-flood world “that then existed”, 2) the heavens and earth “that now exist”, and 3) the “new heavens and a new earth”. Therefore, “if [Peter] had believed in a millennial kingdom following this age, the perfect place where he should have referred to it is in 2 Peter 3, but as we have just seen, he makes no mention of it” (p214). Though Reymond’s argument has punch, I’m not convinced two reasons: 1) it is an argument from silence and 2) a premillennialist could simply respond that the millennium is part of “this age” with the new heavens and earth being the age to come (Rev 20-22).
Thomas has a fiery response to Saucy, but one that causes more heat than light.
Thomas takes Saucy to task in his understanding of the NT use of the OT. Progressive dispensationalism’s hermeneutics, “allowing NT passages to provide meaning for the OT […] is doing the same as other non dispensational systems” (p218). Rather, “each passage should stand on its own” (p218). Surprisingly, Thomas holds this distinction to such an extent that the church “in some instances [required] a different understanding of the OT” (p223). In other words, the apostles “gave new meanings to an OT passage that could not have arisen through sound principles of interpretation of the OT” (p220). Though it is bad hermeneutics, divine authority remains in “the NT passages themselves, not [their use of] the OT” (p220).
The NT does reveal a variety of “fulfillments” of the OT (direct fulfilment, typology, partial fulfilment, illustration, comparison, analogy, etc), but this variety is a far cry from “[not doing] hermeneutical justice to the OT passage” (p219). What’s more, Thomas is not arguing for a few exceptions, but regular divinely-inspired misreading of the OT, all in order to maintain his hermeneutics and a hard distinction of Israel from the church. I think we’re on safer territory in deriving our hermeneutics as best we can from the Bible itself. Thomas seems blind to his own presuppositions as he later takes Saucy to task for “interpreting a passage in accord with [his] preconceived idea of what the passage should teach” (p223). By denying NT authors the right to illuminate the OT, is that not exactly what Thomas is doing with the entire NT,
Thomas again resorts to unkind and incorrect rhetoric. For example, Saucy begins by establishing hermeneutics, but admits the issue doesn’t rest “primary on hermeneutical procedure” (p160, emphasis mine). In his response, Thomas misrepresents Saucy by saying “[Saucy] tries to eliminate hermeneutical principles” (p218) and that “any theological system that ignores hermeneutics is necessarily flawed” (p219). Simply reading Saucy’s quote above (which ironically, Thomas repeats twice!) exposes Thomas’ misrepresentation.
What’s more, saying that Saucy “worked hard” to come up with a definition of mystery that “would fit his system” (p222) implies dishonesty on Saucy’s part. This implication becomes an accusation on the next page when Thomas states that Saucy “began his interpretive process under the assumption that he had found a midpoint between traditional dispensationalism and nondispensationalism […and] then proposed a system to match that understanding” (p223). Unless Thomas knows the mind and motives of Saucy, one should assume the best, not that Saucy is a serial eisegete. This is uncharitable and undermine Thomas’ own argumentation.
Brand and Pratt
In this impassioned response, Brand and Pratt seem to come to their own. Though they find “much to commend”, Saucy’s exegetical and theological conclusions are convincing only “if one accepts at face value certain presuppositions” (p224). These presuppositions are 1) a particular understanding of “the people of God”, 2) that current salvation must be “expanded” to include a distinct national role for Israel, 3) that the only alternative to Saucy’s view is replacement theology. The third point is the strongest and most interesting, so I will summit it below.
Brand and Pratt reject the both dispensationalism and replacement theology, holding instead that “the church extends Israel’s scope to include all those bring grafted into the original olive tree” (p227-8). And again, “Israel is not replaced; it is transformed […] by the new covenant through the Spirit poured out” (p228-9). The idea here is that Israel is refined, with branches of unbelief broken off, and also expanded, with new, unnatural, branches grafted in (Rom 11). The church does not replace Israel, but the church consists of renewed Israel, which is made up of the Jewish remnant and believing Gentiles.
Many thanks to B&H Academic for providing a review copy of this book. Next post will summarize the responses to Saucy.