“The failure of this dispensation comes when the church thinks that it has an earthly purpose, when it begins to think of itself as an earthly people“The failure of this dispensation comes when the church thinks that it has an earthly purpose, when it begins to think of itself as an earthly people and becomes preoccupied with earthly things.” (p. 25). This quote strikes early in the book in the history of classical dispensationalism and it makes me wonder if it is statements like this that have caused others to rethink about their position within dispensationalism. Maybe it’s me, and I don’t like to start a review of a book on a negative basis, but this is the characteristic of progressive dispensationalists, at least Craig Blaising that wrote that section, on classical dispensationalism. The stark dualism demonstrated by classical dispensationalism causes me to wonder what exactly the difference is between an earthly purpose and a heavenly purpose. Yes the quote does indicate that its looking to materialism, when the church is focused on the material position of this world or at least that is what I think they want us to think; but that is a far cry from thinking that its “purpose” is earthly and it really doesn’t feel like it’s the meaning trying to be conveyed. It’s very allusive to determine what exactly classical dispensationalism is trying to say without thinking that they really do believe the whole of Christianity is apostate except for those who believe like they do. Is it that they have become so reductionistic in trying to determine the fundamentals of Christianity that all they can do is polarize the issue as an either or consideration. Is there some middle ground, a synthesis, between Covenant theology and Dispensationalism? And more importantly is that what Blaising and Boch are attempting to do in their book “Progressive Dispensationalism.”
For now my third review of a book on dispensationalism I am starting to see a pattern develop. First there is always a need to bring the reader up to date and present a history of the subject matter. Craig Blaising is assigned this task in the first chapter titled “The Extent and Varieties of Dispensationalism.” Blaising begins with Darby and Scofield and assigns their variety as classical dispensationalism. He notes that there is no real consensus within dispensationalism about dispensationalism and that the dispensationalism of today is not like that of classical dispensationalism although he attempts to define common issues within that tradition. As a parenthetical note I wonder if it is too soon to start calling dispensationalism a “tradition?” Not quite two hundred years old now against two thousand years for all of Christianity and still the new kid on the block—ah but then perhaps just my bias? The common features Blaising finds in all dispensational theories are: authority of scripture; dispensations; uniqueness of the church; practical significance of the universal church; significance of Biblical Prophecy; futurist premillennialism; the imminent return of Christ; and a national future for Israel. That’s eight common features and within each of those eight features disagreement exists within dispensationalism thus accounting for all the different forms of dispensationalism which Blaising appears to identify as: classical (Darby, Scofield, and Chafer); revised (Walvoord, Ryrie, Pentecost, and Toussaint); and progressive dispensationalism (Blaising and Block—they list no others).
The fact that Blaising and Block do not, or cannot, list any other theologians holding to their view of dispensationalism indicates that there are presenting a new form of dispensationalism, or at least what they think is dispensationalism. But latter in the book when they finally get into what exactly progressive dispensationalism is I wondered why they didn’t just call it progressive revelation? In fact the second part of the book and the second pattern in books of dispensationalism is the need to provide a lengthy discussion of hermeneutics. Darrell Bock weighs in on these two chapters, in fact the only time in the book we hear from Bock, and breaks hermeneutics into two subsections on how we read texts and how the text speaks to us. And after reading both of these chapters I wondered where exactly the disagreement between Dispensationalism and Covenant theology is. Bock seems to have an understanding on how one’s hermeneutics effects ones interpretation that is the same as Covenant theology—at least from what I know of Covenant theology to this point. In fact Karl Barth might even agree with Bock in these two chapters! Now I wonder if Blaising and Bock can take the next step in their progressive dispensationalism and their understanding how hermeneutics effects our interpretation and consider other cultural influences on our hermeneutics—our hermeneutics is in a context which is dictated by our world view so will they be able to join the emerging church movement? I have a feeling they can’t because of dispensational insistence on a literal interpretation of scripture that seems to suggest that if you don’t end up with a dispensational theology then something is wrong with your hermeneutics so therefore you are not interpreting the scriptures literally. It does seem circular how they are going about this. But since there doesn’t appear to be any problem with how Bock defines his hermeneutics what is the reason that we come to different interpretations? Even within dispensationalism Blaising and Bock indicate the many differences with it that one would think they would have discussed this issue rather then defining the what and how of hermeneutics.
While I did agree with Bock for the most part on his hermeneutics there were several buttons he pushed with me that I can’t let pass without discussion. His distinction between presupposition and preunderstanding appears tenuous at best. It appears to be the same as the difference between dogmas and conviction, or better yet the difference between conviction and opinion. It may have been better at this instance if he had discussed presuppositions like a web, belief’s closer to the center of our web are going to be harder to take out without destroying the web while links in our web farther away from the center of our web are going to be easier to take out—the line between presupposition and preunderstanding is just too vague. In any event while describing how our presuppositions effect our thinking regarding a text he uses Psalm 19:4b-6 as an example: “In the heavens He has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat (NIV)” (p. 59). Bock informs us now that the medieval reader, steeped in their Ptolemaic presupposition of the universe would have advised us that this passage describes the movement of the sun through the sky. What is it about our current presupposition in our model of the universe that would make us not say the same thing? It does describe the movement that we sense with our vision which and, setting aside epistemological issues, we can assume the same thing that the medieval reader sensed with their senses. And I think both we and the medieval reader would have said this passage means more then just that! Why do so many people have the presupposition that people in ages past were dense idiots? How did we ever get this wonderful sense of knowledge that we are now at: thanks be to God can be our only response. And in my sarcasm I think Bock proved his point in his own presupposition of this analogy; that we all need to be humble and cry out to God for mercy and His help as we seek to hear Him through His Word as we listen to Him through the testimony of the witness’ He has provided for us.
The heart of the book begins in part three: Exposition. And if you are already familiar with the history of dispensationalism and have an understanding of hermeneutics you may want to start your reading here. For brevities sake the remainder of the book from this section forward is a discussion on dispensations, how God deals with humanity throughout history; how God uses Covenants prior to Christ and their fulfillment in Christ; and a discussion on the Kingdom of God in both the Old and New Testaments. So just from the table of contents we can see the two main issues: How do the Covenants relate to how God deals with His people (dispensationally) and what is the form and function of the Kingdom of God? The main feature of progressive dispensationalism which distinguishes it from classical dispensationalism is that they see the dispensations as progressive, still related to the past dispensations through the covenants. They find the fulfillment of the covenants, and therefore the progression of dispensations, in the eschatological kingdom of God, which is now but not yet. Now if they could just see the fulfillment in Christ and the establishment of His Kingdom at the ascension I think we can welcome them back to Covenant theology, and perhaps why other dispensationalists think they are covenant theologians. ...more
I enjoyed reading this book. I was going to say I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book however there were some low, boring, points—like “yea read thisI enjoyed reading this book. I was going to say I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book however there were some low, boring, points—like “yea read this a million times before get on with it” parts—but not many, but I can still enthusiastically recommend this book to my friends. As expected a book to Christians on the fruits of the Spirit isn’t too controversially and has many points that are worthy of consideration. I say that to say it is difficult to select just four meaningful points to comment about or to prioritize these points according to what was most significant to me. Alternatively there are not many points of disagreement so I’ll start with the bad news first and then give you the good news.
The one point that I thought was week and I really disagreed with is his quote of Mother Theresa in the chapter on cultivating love. Here Kenneson is attempting to show that we, Christians, can love as God loves, in his words “to be other-directed.” In examining this issue he states: “With respect to the first question regarding the possibility, we would do well to heed the words of Mother Teresa, who echoes a theme that runs throughout the history of Christian thinking—that God does not command the impossible:
‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind.’ This is the commandment of the great God, and he cannot command the impossible. Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within the reach of every hand. Anyone may gather it and no limit is set.”
Dr. Kenneson has to be aware that Mother Teresa is quoting Pelagius, who was condemned for his heresy by the third ecumenical council in Ephesus in A.D. 431, when she says that God cannot command the impossible. Pelagius disagreed with Augustine over predestination and free will that has evolved into the current Armenian (semi-pelaginism) versus Calvinism (Augustinism) debate over this issue which Kenneson doesn’t even mention. He just glibly asserts that God cannot command the impossible so therefore it is obvious we can love as God loves which is a conclusion I’m not buying. I’d love to write more on this issue but my two sentences are up!
Okay now on to the good parts. The first thing that really hit me in the chest and is an issue I’ve struggled with in debates with my friends is how this culture of ours, this American culture, has affected how we think about what it means to be a Christian. Dr. Kenneson jumps into this issue from the beginning in the introduction and in the first chapter entitled “dying on the vine;” which gives a hint on how he thinks this culture has affected our thinking. In that chapter he ponders the question of how we narrate the story of our selves to others, by using narratives and a “hodgepodge of competing roles” to communicate who we are. The punch line is “where in all of this does one mention that one is a Christian? Why does it seem that this is somehow inappropriate to bring up unless one is asked about it specifically?”
Wow. I have to admit this use to be me. I wouldn’t mention the fact that I was a Christian unless someone brought up the subject or I guided the conversation to that direction. The past several years of my life I have noticed a progressive change in this habit however and now I am committed, when narrating the story of who I am, first and foremost I am a Christian, with no apologies (but with apologies in the apologetic sense).
The second good point is that the eight other virtues (other than love) “might best be understood as amplifying and further specifying what is entailed by this way of love.” This is the first time I have heard anyone summarize love like this. I have been pondering my entire Christian life about what does it mean to love, in a practical sense, and love the brethren even more. Now I have a path I can travel. His word is a light unto my path. Love is the fulfillment of the law of which I knew but the law mostly tells me what not to do. The fruits of the Spirit provide what I should do. Together they can truly show love.
On the third good point I’ve selected a subject that I believe helps us to know what it means to love the brethren more than the world: “One of the most precious gifts that God has given us is each other…Rather than see each other as gifts from God, we are often inclined to view each other as potential threats or competitors.” Cultivating kindness for the brethren is truly, I believe, one way to show the love of God to the world. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34,35). We have to overcome our society and the individualism it breeds and show kindness to those whom God has called to be His Chosen.
And the fourth and final good point is our concept of time and how our cultural concept of time adversely affects our patience. “Because we routinely view time as our own resource to ‘spend’ as we see fit, interruptions in our daily agenda are inevitably viewed as intrusions…Unfortunately, people now expect us to be stingy with our time, which is likely why they find it necessary to always apologize for ‘taking’ so much of our time. Isn’t that how we feel? That people have taken (stolen?) from us something that wasn’t theirs? Can we really hope to be patient with people as long as we believe that our time is our own? Can we really hope to be patient with people when all too often our assumption (even if unarticulated) is that people are unwelcome intrusions into our preplanned schedules?”
Obviously the answers to Dr. Kenneson’s rhetorical questions are no. No we can’t be patient with people if we view time as “ours.” Time is a gift from God and we have no time to not make time for other people, especially the brethren. Viewing time as a gift from God allows us to be patient with people, it allows us to show kindness to people and together allows us to love the brethren more. “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15,16). And no I didn’t plan this to work like this—the Spirit works in mysterious ways.
In summary the four good points are:
1. Being a Christian should be part of our story. 2. The eight other virtues amplify and further specify what love is. 3. The brethren are special gifts from God. 4. Patience’s is giving time to others.