How to Start Building Your Book Collection

So you want to start building your library, but you’re not sure where to start. I’ve often spoken with folks who wish to dig deeper into the Christian faith, but then find that there are just too many books to choose from—and it’s hard to tell what’s reliable anyway. The proverbial flooded market can certainly be overwhelming—especially when you want solid, trustworthy resources, not just whatever happens to be on TGC’s top 20 list.

So, here’s another list of recommended books!

I’ve started compiling a list of books that would serve well as a starting point for a basic Christian library. And as always, recommending a book does not mean that I necessarily agree with all of its content. Rather, I think these are books which are accessible, solid, and particularly beneficial in their various categories. If you’re interested in learning more and getting serious about the Christian faith and way of life, I recommend starting here. I’ll explain why I give these specific recommendations in another post.

I’d also love to hear about any other books you’ve found to be an essential introduction in a particular area.


Study Bibles

HCSB Study Bible

Ryrie Study Bible

How to Study the Bible

Grasping God’s Word, by Duvall and Hays

Basic Bible Interpretation, by Roy Zuck

An Introduction to Theology

Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God, by Bruce Ware

Systematic Theology, by Norman Geisler

He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom, by Michael Vlach

Understanding End Times Prophecy, by Paul Benware

On Living the Christian Life

Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World, by Michael Horton

Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness, by Ed Welch

When People Are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man, by Ed Welch

Respectable Sins, by Jerry Bridges

The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges

Anger, Anxiety and Fear: A Biblical Perspective, by Stuart Scott

Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace, by Heath Lambert

On Marriage and Family

Her Hand in Marriage: Biblical Courtship in the Modern World, by Douglas Wilson

Reforming Marriage, by Douglas Wilson

Building a Godly Home, by William Gouge

Why Children Matter, by Douglas and Nancy Wilson

Future Men: Raising Boys to Fight Giants, by Douglas Wilson

For Men:

Federal Husband, by Douglas Wilson

Man of the House, by C.R. Wiley

The Exemplary Husband, by Stuart Scott

For Women:

Why Isn’t a Pretty Girl Like You Married? And Other Useful Comments, by Nancy Wilson

The Fruit of Her Hands: Respect and the Christian Woman, by Nancy Wilson

The Excellent Wife, by Martha Peace

Praise Her in the Gates: The Calling of Christian Motherhood, by Nancy Wilson

The Silver Lining: A Practical Guide for Grandmothers, by Nancy Wilson

On Salvation

Free Grace Theology on Trial, by Anthony Badger

Freely by His Grace, by Hixson, Whitmire, and Zuck

Grace, Salvation, and Discipleship: How to Understand Some Difficult Bible Passages, by Charles Bing

On the Life of Christ

The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, by J. Dwight Pentecost

On the Holy Spirit

The New Covenant Ministry of the Holy Spirit, by Larry Pettegrew

Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship, by John MacArthur

On the Church

Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, by Mark Dever

Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus, by Jonathan Leeman

Going Public, by Bobby Jamieson

On Ethics

An Introduction to Biblical Ethics, by Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan

Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning, by Wayne Grudem

Devotionals

Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers from Banner of Truth

Morning and Evening, a devotional by Charles Spurgeon

The Puritans: Daily Readings edited by Randall Pederson

Psalms for Trials: Meditations on Praying the Psalms, by Lindsey Tollefson

Always in God’s Hands: Day by Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards, by Owen Strachan

New Morning Mercies, by Paul David Tripp

Virtuous: A Study for Ladies of Every Age, by Nancy Wilson

Learning Contentment: A Study for Ladies of Every Age, by Nancy Wilson

Hymns to the Living God

Hymns of Grace


 

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Monocovenantalism

Michael Bird is quickly becoming one of my favorite theologians (at least of those with whom I largely disagree:). Especially helpful is his analysis of the New Perspective on Paul (on which I largely do agree with Bird, and have benefited greatly from him). In a recent blog post, he explains why he holds to what he calls “monocovenantalism.” The reason I’m sharing this though, is for his excellent explanation of the test of Adam in the garden.

I believe in covenant theology, I think what we call a covenant of grace is God’s plan for taking people from being “in Adam” to being “in Christ.” But I reject the binary covenant of works vs. covenant of grace view, also called bi-covenantalism. So I’d breakdown covenant theology this way:

First, there is no covenant of works which required Adam to keep a law that was a protological version of the Mosaic law and covenant.

The Adamic adminstration was a probationary period rather than a meritorious exercise. Adam could have retained his relationship with God and even gained immortality had he remained obedient to God in the garden during that probationary period in Eden. Adam’s failure was not the failure to keep the commandment as a law, which, if obeyed, would have acquired merit for himself; rather, breaking the commandment meant severing his relationship with God on account of his desire for autonomy from God. Salvation will henceforth mean restoring the ruined relationship between Creator and humanity as opposed to accruing the meritorious law-keeping that Adam allegedly failed to achieve…

I don’t fully agree with the rest of his post (since he still defends the Covenant of Grace), but it’s well worth the read, if for no other reason than to see a respected Covenant theologian question the common interpretation of the Garden as an arena in which Adam had to earn salvation meritoriously. Read the full post here.

The Future of Israel [Hermeneutical Principles]

Last time, we introduced the discussion of Israel’s future as explained in Romans 9–11. Before we get into the text itself, we need to talk about two primary hermeneutical principles that must be employed. “Hermeneutics” refers to the process of seeking to accurately interpret what the author of a text originally meant to communicate to his readers. As such, hermeneutics is essential in the study of God’s Word because, as Duvall and Hays explain in their book, Grasping God’s Word, the reader’s goal should always be to accurately understand the original author’s intended message—and this is all the more important when the author is God [1]. However, because of the great distance between the historical, linguistic, and cultural contexts of the ancient writer and the modern reader [2], it becomes necessary when reading Scripture to intentionally employ what is often called grammatical-historical exegesis.

Kaiser and Silva, in their book, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, explain that grammatical-historical exegesis simply means that one’s interpretation of the text “must pay attention both to the language in which the original text was written and to the specific cultural context that gave rise to the text” [3]. Bernard Ramm emphasizes that not only is there a linguistic context and a historical context, but also a literary context [4]. Without an understanding of the literary context (the surrounding verses, book, author’s writings, etc.), the meaning of a text will be difficult or impossible to determine. As Duvall and Hays put it, “the most important principle of biblical interpretation is that context determines meaning” [5]. Grammatical-historical exegesis then seeks to accurately interpret the meaning of the text, as intended by the author, by examining the historical setting of the writing, the original language of the text, and the literary context of the particular passage.

Two key hermeneutical principles of grammatical-historical exegesis will be of especial significance for this particular study. First, a lexical analysis of Paul’s use of the term “Israel” will illustrate that Paul never intends to define Israel as anything other than “the ‘national’ covenant people of the OT” [6]. Second, a contextual analysis will argue that, first, the immediate context leading up to Romans 9–11 makes sense of Paul’s discussion in these chapters, giving warrant to the view that “Israel” simply refers to ethnic Israel, and secondly, that the broader context of the teachings of Scripture suggests that a normal reading of the text should be consistently followed, which supports the view that “Israel” means just what it has always meant—national Israel—and that national Israel still has a future as a nation in the promised land.


Notes:

1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible. 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 194.

2] Ibid, 40.

3] Walter C. Kaiser and Moisés Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 19.

4] Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation. 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970), 19.

5] Duvall and Hays, 149. Italics original.

6] Robert L. Saucy, “Israel and the Church,” in Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments: Essays in Honor of S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. ed John S. Feinberg, (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1988). 245.

The Future of Israel in Romans 9–11

In Romans 9–11, Paul expounds on the covenant-keeping righteousness of God in light of God’s setting aside of the nation of Israel. Considering God’s many blessings and promises given to the nation of Israel as a nation (Rom 9:4–5), the question arises: how can a righteous, covenant-keeping God reject his chosen people? (Romans 11:1 sums up the discussion of chapters 9-11 with the question: “Has God rejected His people?”). Paul begins his defense of God’s righteous actions in verse six by stating that “it is not as though the Word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.”

Romans 9–11 has led to countless disagreements and debates on a number of theological issues [1]. However, for the sake of this series, a slightly more focused discussion will be attempted. In answer to the question “has God rejected His people,” Paul answers “absolutely not!” However, does Paul mean to say that God will fulfill His promise literally to restore national Israel to live in peace in the land God gave them? Or does Paul mean to redefine the term “Israel” to refer to the Church as the “spiritual Israel?” [2]

Over the next several weeks, we are going to see that there is a sure future for national Israel as a restored, prominent people in the land promised them by God. Paul defends God’s righteousness by arguing that God has not, in fact, rejected His people Israel entirely, but is preserving a remnant of believing Jews who will receive the covenant blessings in the future. I believe a faithful, consistently plain-sense interpretation of the text will lead the honest student of the Bible to this conclusion.

Supersessionism [3] understands Romans 9 as teaching that the identification of “Israel” is no longer meant to be ethnic Jews. When Paul says that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel,” Paul is teaching that the Church (those saved through faith since the Cross [4]), has replaced national Israel in the plans and purposes of God, or at least that Paul specifically expands the reference of “Israel” to include Gentiles [5]. Thus, supersessionism holds that ethnic Israel has no future role in the Kingdom as a nation [6].

A Dispensational understanding of Romans 9 holds that Paul is speaking of ethnic Jews. Paul argues that although national Israel has been currently set aside in their having a primary role in the plan of God, He has not rejected Israel wholesale, in the sense that the promises will not be literally fulfilled to ethnic Jews. Rather, Israel will be restored to their former prominence and established in the Land by Christ upon His return, thus enjoying the blessings and the fulfillment of the promises [7] of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants [8].

Next time, we’ll look at the hermeneutical principles that must undergird our study of the Word of God, and then launch into an examination of Romans 9–11.

virtus et honos


Notes:

1] For example, Romans 9, specifically, is also a key proof text for the Calvinist view of Unconditional Election (e.g. John Piper, The Justification of God, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983. 89).

2] Michael G. Vanlaningham, “The Jewish People According to the Book of Romans,” in The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God, ed. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014), 123.

3] A term for the view commonly held most notably within Covenant theology that the Church has replaced Israel. The terms supersessionism and Covenant theology may be used interchangeably in the course of this series. When this is done, Covenant theology is not meant to refer to all that is included under that title, but rather simply refers to that system of theology which holds to the supersessionist view.

4] When the capitalized term, “Church,” is used in this series, it speaks collectively of all born-again believers in Christ of this dispensation—the New Covenant community; the “universal church,” as opposed to a local church.

5] Michael J. Vlach, Has the Church Replaced Israel?: A Theological Evaluation. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010).

6] Representatively: C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (New York: Harper & Row, 1957); C. H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (New York: Harper & Row, 1932); Herman N. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John R. Witt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975); N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992).

7] Though different scholars have different specific lists, the physical blessings irrevocably promised in the covenants which God gave to Israel, and which dispensationalists believe will be fulfilled literally to physical, ethnic Israel in the future, include: that Israel will be established as a nation forever (Gen 12:2; Ex 19:6; 2 Sam 7:8; Jer 31:35-37); that the Jews as a people will never be annihilated (Gen 15:5; 2 Sam 7:12, 16; Jer 31:27, 36); that national Israel will be established permanently in the land of Palestine (Gen 15:18; Ex 20:12; 2 Sam 7:10; Jer 31:38, 40); that Israel will have a triumphant kingdom forever, the Messiah establishing peace and justice on all the earth (Gen 22:17; Ex 19:6; 2 Sam 7:16; Ps. 2:8–10; Ps. 72:4; Isa. 2:2–4; Isa. 9:7; Isa. 65:21–22; Amos 9:11-12; Micah 4:3–4; cf. Luke 1:32-33).

8] Representatively: Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2002); Harold W. Hoehner, “Israel in Romans 9-11,” in Israel: The Land and the People, ed. H. Wayne House (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1998); H. Wayne. House, “The Future of National Israel,” BSac, 166:664; Steve Lewis, “’Some’ vs. ‘All’ — The Doctrine of the Remnant and the Salvation of Israel in Romans 9-11,” CTJ 09:26; Michael G. Vanlaningham, “The Jewish People According to the Book of Romans,” in The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God, ed. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014); Michael J. Vlach, Has the Church Replaced Israel?: A Theological Evaluation (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010); John F. Walvoord, “Millennial Series: Part 14: The Abrahamic Covenant and Premillennialism.” BSac. 1609:434.

Dispensations & Covenants [a critique of the progressive dispensational framework]

Traditional dispensationalists typically view biblical history through the grid of seven administrative divisions, or dispensations. Some progressive dispensationalists have narrowed down the dispensations to four, namely: Patriarchal, Mosaic, Ecclesial, and Zionic. The Patriarchal age is from Creation to the giving of the Law at Sinai. The Mosaic dispensation is from Sinai to the ascension of Christ. The Ecclesial era is from Christ’s ascension to His return. And the Zionic age is from Christ’s return into eternity. I understand the desire for simplifying the structure, and I believe that is one goal of progressive dispensationalism’s scheme. I also disagree with the traditional 7-dispensation scheme. However, I have a few things to note about progressive dispensationalism’s outline.

First, some of the dispensational divisions seem strange. For example, why is the first dispensation all the way until Sinai? It seems that there is certainly a significant, indeed central, administrative shift from God’s universal dealings with man to His election of Abraham and his family, so why not a dispensational division at the calling of Abraham? The change to the ecclesial dispensation at the ascension of Christ also seems a strange choice. Instead of Pentecost (which most dispensationalists would designate as the start of the church, but we’ll talk about that another time), progressive dispensationalism views the ascension of Christ as the primary dispensational division. This seems to be because of progressive dispensationalism’s tendency to view the ascension of Christ as the beginning (inauguration) of His Davidic reign. The Zionic age, with the Millennium and the eternal state conflated into one dispensation, also seems strange as there are clear distinctions and differences between the millennial kingdom and the eternal state (though they do subdivide it I noticed).

My primary concern with this outline, however, is that the Scriptures do not speak primarily in terms of dispensational differences and distinctions, but rather in terms of the biblical covenants. Of course, I believe in dispensations — but so does R.C. Sproul! What makes dispensationalism distinct is in how it interprets the biblical covenants. Dispensationalism interprets the covenants the way that God enforces His covenants — literally. In holding fast to a consistently literal hermeneutic, and observing how God reiterates and enforces the Abrahamic, Sinaitic, and Davidic covenants especially, the student of Scripture arrives at a theology which views the promises of the Abrahamic covenant as irrevocable (Rom 11:29), the messianic promises of the Davidic covenant as literal and physical, and, necessarily, the church as an entity which cannot displace or replace national Israel in the plan of God. Thus, the dispensational distinctive revolves around how the interpreter of Scripture handles the covenants.

In light of that conviction, how might one speak of distinctions in both God’s dealings with man, and man’s responsibility? There would certainly be a division at the calling and covenant of Abraham. There is clearly an administrative shift with the giving of the Law at Sinai. The progress of revelation concerning the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant is narrowed and further defined with the Davidic covenant. There also is a clear and monumental step both administratively and in the progress of revelation with the coming of Christ — a large transitional period including His ratification of the New Covenant through His blood, as well as the start of a new ministry of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In the future, Christ will return as king and establish His everlasting kingdom in fulfillment of the Davidic covenant, at which time the promises of the Abrahamic, Davidic, Priestly and New covenants will be fully experienced by national Israel; but there is certainly another significant change at the end of this world with the New Earth and the start of the eternal state. It seems to me that it is not only possible, but far more consistent with the biblical framework laid out by Scripture, to view and speak of history by tracking the progress of revelation, not as it progresses through somewhat arbitrary dispensational distinctions (how many versions of the dispensational scheme are out there?), but rather as the Bible itself traces it — primarily as it is conveyed and related through the biblical covenants and their outworkings in history and the future.


For further study in this covenantal dispensation framework, spend some time with the writings of Dr. Paul Henebury here.

virtus et honos

Dispensationalism in Church History

I had an interesting conversation with a friend recently about the history of Dispensationalism as a system. His point was basically this:

Darby (sometimes referred to as the father of Dispensationalism) was, in fact, Covenantal in his theology at first. Covenantal folks claim that because he feared Christians could take the Covenant of Grace and the Covenant of Works too far in either direction, Darby created Dispensationalism. At the same time however, modern dispensationalists claim that Dispensationalism was not created by Darby, but in fact that dispensational ideas and interpretations of Scripture had been around long before Darby systematized the various doctrines into what we now call Dispensationalism. What do you say to all this?

Here’s my extended response:

It’s a rather interesting question of interpreting someone’s motives. The question is: was it because Darby just totally made up an erroneous theology in order to safeguard against a possible error of taking correct theology too far? Or was it because he simply began to adjust his views to fit with what he thought he was seeing in Scripture?

Also, whether you want to call it dispensationalISM or not, if you go to primary sources, there have clearly been what we would now identify as “dispensational” perspectives in regard to certain areas of theology since the ante-nicene era. For example, church fathers and apologists such as Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian all clearly held firmly to a premillennial kingdom hope.

In fact, here’s a list of church fathers from about 100–270 who were premillennialists: Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Hermas, Ignatius, Polycarp, Papias, Pothinus, Justin Martyr, Melito, Heisippus, Tatian, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cyprian, Commodian, Coracion, Victorinus, and Lactantius.

Here are a few sample statements:

Papias (d. 155):  According to Eusebius’ “Fragments of Papias,” in ANF, I, 154:  “Amongst these he [Papias] says that there will be a millennium after the resurrection from the dead, when the personal reign of Christ will be established on this earth.”

Justin Martyr (d. 162):  “But I and whoever are on all points right-minded Christians know that there will be resurrection of the dead and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged as the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and the others declare” (“Dialogue with Trypho,” in ANF, I, 239).

Irenaeus:  “But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire, but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom, that is, the rest, the inheritance, in which kingdom the lord declared, that ‘many coming from the east and from the west should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob . . . .  The predicted blessing, therefore, belongs unquestionable to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous shall bear rule upon their rising from the dead.”

Tertullian:  “But we do confess that a kingdom is promised to us upon the earth, although before heaven, only in another state of existence; inasmuch as it will be after their resurrection for a thousand years in the divinely-built city of Jerusalem” (Against Marcion,” in ANF, 3, 343).

No father was an amillennialist until the third century, as far as we know (and there are no postmillennialists until Joachim of Floris, a twelfth century Roman Catholic, though sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between amillennialism and postmillennialism, historically; Daniel Whitby [1638-1726] was the modern day founder of postmillennialism). The earliest example of an amillennialist is a presbyter in Rome in the third century, named Gaius, who also denied the canonicity of the book of Revelation. After that, the Alexandrian school gave rise to several amillennialists in the mid-third century, with its emphasis on allegorical and spiritual hermeneutics.

Covenant theology didn’t start to be systematized until the 4th or 5th century, when allegory became the primary hermeneutic, so I could easily say that Covenant Theology started “late” as well… Alright, not as a late as the systematizing of dispensationalism as we know it, but my point is simply that Covenant Theology is not the pure and eternal orthodoxy handed down to the first generation from the apostles themselves, as we sometimes can be led to believe.

The system of dispensationalism was dependent upon the reassertion of literal hermeneutics, premillennialism, futurism in the book of Revelation, and some difference between God’s program for Israel and God’s program for the church, so it took time to form as a systematized theology. Dispensationalism as a system was “refounded” around 1830 when a group of Bible students (under the leadership of J.N. Darby) came to believe in a literal hermeneutic, which lead to taking the biblical covenants at face value, which lead to a distinction between programs for Israel and for the church, a pretribulational rapture, a literal future kingdom, etc.

Now, the fact is that just because dispensationalism wasn’t really systematized until Darby (and even then, primarily without the moniker of “dispensationalism”) does not mean there wasn’t anything in the theology of the early church that would line up with what we now refer to as dispensationalism. “Dispensational” understandings of different issues have been around all along, and all the way through history — including the Reformation, with the Dissenters preserving views that the Reformers rejected in their own systematizing of their theology.

Here are some thoughts from other writers on the subject:

“The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age is the prominent chiliasm, or millenarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment.  It was indeed not the doctrine of the church embodied in any creed or form of devotion, but a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers” (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, II, 614).

“The early church was distinctly premillennialist in her cherished expectations of Christ’s second advent.  His coming and Kingdom were her constant hope.  The Apostolic Fathers anticipated a future Kingdom in connection with the Redeemer’s Advent” (Leroy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, I, 207).

“What must we conclude?  (1) That the common faith of the Church was Chiliastic, and (2) that such a generality and unity of belief could only have been introduced by the founders of the Christian Church and the Elders appointed by them” (G. N. H. Peters, Theocratic Kingdom I, 496).

What happened then? What gave rise to the amillennial predominance? Here are several explanatory factors Dr. Larry Pettegrew offers in response:

  1. The increasing influence of the allegorical method of interpretation.
  2. The influence of Gnosticism’s doctrine that matter was ultimately evil.
  3. The antagonism between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.
  4. The union of church and state under Constantine
    1. The supremacy of Christianity in the Roman empire was seen as a fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.
    2. Magnificent church buildings began to be built throughout the empire, “fulfilling” Isaiah 35.
    3. Constantine rebuilt Jerusalem and called it the New Jerusalem.
    4. Feast for Bishops, foreshadowed the kingdom, specifically the marriage supper of the lamb.
  5. The influence of Augustine (the father of dualism in hermeneutics)
    1. The stone of Daniel which rolls down the hill has already become a mountain and is presently filling the earth.
    2. “I cannot overemphasize Augustine’s impact; and after him, the church in the main was amillennial through the middle ages.”

On Gaining Wisdom from the Past

Quite frankly, while it’s certainly helpful to be able to look to and to lean on the tradition of the church, even Covenant theologians can’t point to all of church history and say, “our theology, as it stands today, has been the reigning theological system throughout church history — therefore you should accept it.” The truth is that aspects from both dispensational and covenantal systems have always been held to, often intermixing and being held by the same person — in a way that would make it hard for us to put each person in a “camp” today.

But the fact of the matter is, I really don’t have to be able to point to church history and say, “my understanding of the Bible’s teaching on this issue has been the traditional view upheld by all the famous church fathers (who are often famous, not because they were leaders in overall orthodoxy, but rather simply because they made a big impact, or we have their writings still) and that gives undeniable credence to my position.” The fact is, there are many things we (Dispensationalists, Covenantalists, Arminians, Calvinists, etc) would disagree with the church fathers on — as well as things to which they held that we would agree with… That doesn’t really make our position untenable or totally unworthy of being heard. If it can be shown you that something really does seem to be what Scripture is teaching on a subject, then that doesn’t really change depending on whether I can or cannot find some influential people in history that agree with me.

That being said, I do think it’s true that on these important issues, the biblical view will have been found and held by someone in the past. My point is simply that that argument can’t really be used against dispensationalists, because the truth is that whether it can be called dispensationalism, or whether it was systematized before Darby or not, the views that are held by what we now call dispensationalists have been held by Christians throughout all of church history.

It is also really important to remember that dispensationalism is a theological system, and that system, or we could say certain aspects of that system, will inevitably result from a particular hermeneutic. So the issue looking at history really is, were they using a grammatical-historical interpretation, or were they (as many clearly were) using a more allegorical and spiritualizing hermeneutic. Depending on which view of Scripture and interpretation you use, you will naturally arrive at various positions on certain issues. The location of discussion then should not really be at the symptom alone (the theological view on an issue), but on the root of the theological outworkings — the hermeneutical foundation (see here for further discussion of the import of hermeneutics on this theological issue).

For further study into the history of dispensational though, I would encourage you to start here…

Calvinism, Prophecy, and Premillennialism — MacArthur

The Early Witness to Premillennialism — Vlach

Jesus and the Millenium — MacArthur

The History of Dispensational Theology — Ice

…and then look over this big list of resources if you’re really serious about it. Good studying!

virtus et honos