Archive for category Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics

THE TESTIMONY OF ONE EVANGELICAL ZIONIST

I was invited to write a guest column at the Zionists of America website and wanted to share it here and in other forums like Facebook and the website for the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics.

I remember the day as if it were yesterday.  My family was on vacation visiting my grandparents in Virginia. The date was June 5, 1967. I was only 13 years old. The television news coverage spent quite a bit of time on the nation of Israel’s so-called preemptive attack upon Egypt in what would later be called the Six-Day War. I was mesmerized although I understood little of what was going on.  Why was I attracted so much to this event?  The answer may be surprising.  My parents had given me a Bible years before, a common cultural practice in the southern United States. I had started to read it off and on.  One thing that stood out was that the word Israel was mentioned hundreds of times.  I was not Jewish, but I had respect for Israel because it was in the Bible!  That is simplistic to some people, but it was a starting place for a young man who had made no final decisions about worldview.  One thing I knew – I did not hate Jewish people!

               Fast forward seven years.  As a senior in college I became an evangelical, born-again Christian believer.  The local church that I joined taught the Bible in great detail.  As part of the teaching, I was boldly told about God’s plan for Israel throughout history and that God had a plan for Israel’s future that was positive and wonderful.  Although I had studied about the pogroms and the Holocaust in college classes, I now began to look at these atrocities through the eyes of a biblical worldview.  How could anyone do such heinous things against other human beings? The issue became more than just academic to me.

               After graduation from college, I began a career as a computer analyst and engineer working on things like missile defense systems. A few years into my work, my heart was drawn to go into the ministry so I went to seminary where I studied, among other things, biblical Hebrew. As I progressed, I decided to move to Dallas, Texas (1981) to work toward a Ph.D. degree in theology at a Zionist seminary. However, I needed to work to pay for the school bill and provide for my new wife.  So I applied to work at General Dynamics in Fort Worth which at that time was making F-16 jet fighters. When I received the offer letter from the company, joy filled my heart since the letter noted that my first project would be working with the Israel Defense Force.  Israel at the time was procuring many F-16s which they still fly today.  I worked for about five years as an avionics engineer on one of the cockpit computers. For about four of those years, I rubbed shoulders with military men from the IDF.  For almost a year, I was a classroom teacher on software for them. We had a colonel and his wife eat dinner in our home. We were invited to celebrations of Israeli Independence Day.

               However, the highlight of those years working on F-16s for IDF was a free trip to Israel!  I spent the month of July 1982, during the First Lebanon War (Peace for Galilee), in Israel working with Israeli soldiers. I did not get to do much touring of the country, but I did get to know the people and their concerns at the time since it was a time of war. My love for the Jewish people in general, and in particular, for Israelis moved a notch up and became much more personal. Their cause, which was already mine due to theology, became mine experientially. Perhaps the most special time of this trip to Israel was a dinner in the home of the IDF colonel who was in charge of the project we were working on. As we sat around the table someone said that he was a hero from the Six-Day War.  He was asked to show us his medals, which he did, and we discussed what had happened and a little about that war.  Looking back at that precious moment, I think of the word Israel that I had encountered in the Bible as a young lad reading about it for the first time and that newscast on June 5, 1967 when I was thirteen years old. In 1967 I would never have dreamed that I would be sitting in Israel with a hero of that war during another time of war in 1982. Beyond that, I would never have thought that I would be doing work that would assist the Israeli nation in defending itself against its enemies. I literally felt like I was in a movie.

               My ministerial career began to develop in 1986 in serious ways, although I had been speaking at various venues before then. I spent the next three decades as a pastor of local churches where I promoted Zionism and as a seminary theology professor where I made sure to tell my students the word Israel was in the Bible. So many Christians act like the word Israel is not in the Bible or that it does not refer to the Jewish people at all in modern application. But due to my earlier experiences with Jewish people and Israelis, I could speak on such topics with confidence and meaningful illustrations to highlight the truth about Israel in the present time.

               In 2016, my ministry pursuits took a dramatic, but logical, shift. I had been on the Board for the Friends of Israel ministry headquartered in New Jersey in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. The Executive Director asked me to consider becoming a full-time employee as the Director of International Ministry which is what I am doing now. This position allows me to write, teach, and administrate a world-wide program which includes advocacy for the nation of Israel and opposition to anti-Semitism wherever we find it. By God’s grace, that thirteen-year old boy from 1967 has come a long way.

               I can understand why some Jewish people would be skeptical of evangelicals like me who support Israel and the Jewish people.  The unsettling history of persecution shows why the barriers exist. But I share my story in the hopes that Jewish people might remember that a theological friend is one of the best friends they can have.  For me to abandon the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, I would have to turn my back on the testimony I have given here.  In fact, I would have to abandon my entire theological worldview.  I would have to forsake the Bible that I had been reading when I was thirteen years old.

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Gospel-centered, Jesus-centered, God-centered, or Glory-centered?

There is much emphasis on “gospel-centered” in the evangelical culture and scholarship of our day.  I have written here and in other forums that this is not where I am.  I have suggested that “Jesus-centered” is a better way to go since such an approach encompasses all that Jesus does, past-present-future, on our behalf.  While the gospel of eternal life serves as a foundational truth for past accomplishment, present experience, and future blessing, it is not broad enough to integrate all that Jesus is and all that He does, from the creation of the world, provision of salvation in the Cross and Resurrection, setting up of a kingdom when He comes again, and the ushering in of a new heavens and new earth in the end – all of which combined offer more breadth than the simple gospel.  This should not be taken to minimize the strategic role the gospel plays in history or in our theology.

Last week we had our annual Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics.  The topic was “Dispensationalism and the Glory of God.”  Much profitable discussion centered on a doxological unifying theme of the Bible (Ryrie).  The Niagara Conference men of an earlier generation said the same thing but would be comfortable with the words “doxological purpose or purposes for biblical history.”  I think the presentation is legitimately biblical.  However, the Niagara Conference men also treated this doxological purpose for history as focused on Christology.  That is, it was “Jesus-centered” as I have mentioned above.  My paper on Arno C. Gaebelein at the Council was the illustration I used for this point of view.

When we ask if the Bible or biblical history or Christian life (or however we word it) is primarily soteriological (gospel-centered), Christological (Jesus-centered), theological (God-centered), or doxological (glory-centered), we are in danger of skewing the truth if we are not careful.  All of these things are so tightly intertwined that to diminish one may be to diminish the others in our theological discourse.  But if I had to choose, I would believe in a doxological purpose to biblical history with a Christological center.  Jesus-centered to the glory of God.

Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics 2017

The 10th annual meeting of the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics is being held in Jackson Hall on the campus of Clarks Summit University and Baptist Bible Seminary.  The dates are September 13-14, 2017.  Our group is a discussion group for traditional dispensationalists who try in an irenic way to discuss hermeneutical and theological issues among ourselves.  It is a discussion group more than a presenter group although papers are, of course, the basis of our discussions.   The meetings are primarily for Bible college and Seminary professors and pastors but others interested in what we are doing may attend.  There is no charge to attend but all travel, lodging, and meal costs are up to the attenders.  The theme this year is “Dispensationalism and the Glory of God.”  The schedule is below. Read the rest of this entry »

Israel, the Church, and the Kingdom

I have been working through some dispensational commentaries on the book of Revelation, especially in chapters 20-22, to see how the distinction between Israel and the Church plays out in the minds of various dispensationalists.  I am looking at both recent writers as well as older ones going back to John Nelson Darby.  I need to review this issue for the sake of my paper for the upcoming Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics and for my commentary for the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary.

One issue that intrigues me is the interpretation that the New Jerusalem, the holy city, of  Revelation 21:2 is part of the millennium and not the eternal state beginning at the end of the millennium.  This is not my view, but I have heard it and read it in the literature.  Many prominent men have held to it.  Darby seems to be one of them.  In his Synopsis of the Books of the Bible 5:560, when he gets to that point in the book of Revelation, he comments, “What follows is the description of the heavenly city, as before we had that of Babylon.  Its heavenly character and millennial connection with the earth is revealed” (emphasis mine).  I hope to eventually write an article on this topic showing the history of interpretation of this passage within modern dispensationalism.  I think it is something that is needed.

Distinction Between Israel and the Church as an Argument for the Pre-Trib Rapture

I am going to try to pick up my blogging again and perhaps speed it up, Lord willing.  I plan to do more personal things on Facebook (where my activity has picked up) but more academic/technical things on our-hope.org.  I have been asked to speak at the Pre-Trib Study Group this coming December giving an analysis of Sam Storms’ book Kingdom Come which I blogged about a few times.  I hope to finish my string of blogs in response to Sam’s points which I had started to do.  My paper at the Pre-Trib Study Group will be an expansion of the paper I delivered at the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics last year.  I want to be constructive in my criticism and not bombastic in my disagreements.  Please pray for me on this.

For this blog post, however, my main thought goes ahead to the upcoming Council meeting in September which I advertised in my last blog.   My presentation is entitled “What Do Israel and the Church Share from a Traditional Dispensational Viewpoint?”  I want to help traditional dispensationalists do a full-blown theology and not just hammer the distinction between Israel and the Church (which I firmly accept) as a matter of polemics in our debate with replacement theology.  In doing this, one area that gives me pause is the constant use by dispensationalists of the distinction between Israel and the Church as a theological switch that provides proof for the pre-trib rapture.  This argument would be more plausible if the distinction has been proven to be absolute on other grounds before we get to the rapture question.  To be sure, some dispensationalists in the tradition have argued for a pretty absolute distinction by keeping the Church out of the future earthly kingdom.  In addition, Lewis Sperry Chafer’s view of two distinct new covenants was at least partly caused by his desire to make the Israel-Church dichotomy more absolute.  As to the idea that the Church as a heavenly elect will have no part in the future earthly kingdom, this seems to be countered by Luke 19:11-27 and like passages.  As to the idea of two new covenants, very few dispensationalists today hold such a view.  The book I edited entitled “Dispensational Understanding of the New Covenant” shows three views defended, none of which are the two new covenants view.  No one showed up to defend this view at the Council when we discussed it.

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Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics

The eighth annual Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics has been scheduled for September 16-17, 2015 at Baptist Bible Seminary in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania.  Our topic this year is “Dispensationalism, Israel, and the Church.”  I am doing a paper on what Israel and the Church share from a traditional dispensational point of view.  I believe that we often times spend all of our time discussing the distinctions.  This is appropriate since it marks dispensationalism as unique.  However, Israel and the Church do share some things in God’s design for those institutions.  We must not lose sight of that side of things.  I am looking forward to the interaction at our Council.  Anyone is welcome to attend as an observer.  There is no charge for the two-day Council.  For more information for registration see http://www.bbc.edu/councilCouncil

Another Homegoing of a Great Christian Man

Roy ZuckMany blogs started to go up over the weekend when word was received that Dr. Roy Zuck went home to be with the Lord late Saturday.  He was Academic Dean at Dallas Theological Seminary for most of the time I was a student at DTS.  I thought it was appropriate for me also to share my memories of a man of such character as Dr. Zuck.  He is greatly loved and respected, especially by those in the DTS family, but also by many evangelicals outside the seminary family who appreciated his contribution to teaching, theology, and publishing.

I was a New Testament major in my STM at Dallas.  Having obtained an M.Div. at Liberty Baptist Seminary, I did not have as many opportunities to have contact with Dr. Zuck as did the DTS Th.M. students.  In fact, I never had a formal for credit class with him (which is disappointing).   

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Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics

This year a group of traditional dispensational professors from several different schools will descend upon the College of Biblical Studies in Houston, Texas for meetings on October 3-4.  They will be joined by pastors, students, and other observers, especially from the Houston metropolitan area.  This will be the fifth annual meeting of the Council.  However, it will be the first not held at Baptist Bible Seminary.  The decision has been made to meet in a different part of North America every other year.  The goal is to network more broadly with traditional dispensationalists, both professors and pastors.  Next year (2013) we will be back on the beautiful campus of Baptist Bible College & Seminary in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania.

The theme for this year’s 2012 Council is “Dispensationalism and Biblical Preaching.”  Although we are sometimes accused of a theology based upon “simple Bible readings” mixed with “presupposed theological systems,” we are not embarrassed by a focus on inductive Bible study and expository preaching.  Not all traditional dispensationalists, however, preach consistently with what they believe biblically and theologically.  There is too much application without exposition.  One can find strange typology popping out at certain points.  The development of themes sometimes sloganizes the Bible instead of providing genuine exposition of the sacred text.  This ought not to be so.  If anyone should practice biblical expository preaching, it is traditional dispensationalists!

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Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics 2011

Next week is the fourth annual Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics held at Baptist Bible Seminary (Sept. 21-22).  Our topic is Dispensationalism and the Holy Spirit.  I am a little amazed at the paper proposals that came in.  Certainly they are from good men and will tackle special issues such as the baptism of the Spirit.  However, there were no papers that dealt strictly with the filling of the Spirit and the debates surrounding Ephesians 5:18-21.  Furthermore, there were no papers on cessation of the sign gifts.  Perhaps we can come at those issues next year or in later meetings.  Elliott Johnson told our steering committee last year that dispensationalists used to own the issue of the Holy Spirit.  However, it has come to the place of being neglected in many dispensational circles.  The council this year is partly designed to address this problem.  Those of you who are traditional dispensationalists, please pray for our meetings as we interact with each other on these important issues.