That Goofy-Looking King David

In a recent post on King David, we saw that (unlike humans) God looks on the heart… because he can. The contrast of that familiar verse (1 Samuel 16:7) is not: man rarely looks at the heart, but he really should more often. The point is that man is only able to look as far as the outward appearance; but God is able to examine the thoughts and intentions and character of the inner man. You may want to read that article before going on.

So then, the prophet Samuel has been sent to anoint Saul’s replacement—to find the man that God had chosen to be king over Israel. Jesse has seven of his sons come before Samuel; and each time, the Lord tells Samuel no, that’s not him. Samuel thus says to Jesse, “the Lord has not chosen these; are these all the sons you have?” Jesse explains that there remains the youngest, but he’s keeping the sheep. So Samuel has him send for David, and verse twelve says that David “was ruddy, had beautiful eyes, and was of good appearance.”

Now, wait a second. Why does it say David was handsome? Why does it draw attention to his appearance? Folks generally react to that revelation for two basic reasons. First: we’ve been taught our entire lives that David was a scrawny, unfortunate looking preteen. And second: we’ve assumed and read right into the text a contrast between his good-looking brothers, and the homely-looking David—who gets a pass only because, although Samuel withdrew in disdain, the Lord was paying attention solely to David’s heart.

We’ve often heard that David was a “redheaded, snot-nosed little kid.” But that’s not the picture Scripture gives at all. He’s a young man. And it doesn’t say, “unlike his brothers, he wasn’t pretty to look at.” He’s much younger—and evidently not as physically imposing as Eliab—but he nevertheless is physically appealing.

“Ruddy,” by the way, doesn’t necessarily mean red-haired. It doesn’t say anything about his hair at all. It’s much more likely that it’s talking about his skin—his complexion. And some of the translations that render it as “healthy” are closer to the idea. It means a glowing, healthy youthfulness—not redheaded.

We tend to assume a contrast between his physical appearance and his heart, but that’s not really what seems to be going on. God has just said that man only looks “to the eyes,” but the Lord looks all the way to the heart; but then it draws attention to David’s “beautiful eyes” (meaning he had bright eyes, he was healthy and vibrant, he was handsome). The point is not that although he was scrawny and ugly, he had a good heart.

He has a really great personality though.”

The point is that David is the whole package. His youth is a problem—Jesse brings attention to it, and then Saul in the next chapter points it out as a problem for the battle—but his appearance wasn’t anything unfortunate.

And he wasn’t necessarily small and scrawny either. I don’t think that Saul, who was physically impressive, was being a blundering idiot when he offered his armor to David. And when David put Saul’s armor and sword on, the reason he gave for not using it is not that he was tripping and falling because of how oversized it was for him, but rather that David had not tested them—he hadn’t trained in them.

Samuel is introducing David to us as the paradigmatic, archetypal model of a righteous and godly king—with exemplary features, both physical and spiritual. Put aside your preconceived notions about David. We’re learning about the real man—the 11th-century shepherd who became the most powerful military leader in Israel… The king whose descendent will sit on the throne of Israel and rule all nations with a rod of iron, establishing perfect and everlasting justice and peace over all earth—far as the curse is found.

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Honor and Shame in the Advent

When Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem to register for the census, we see yet another aspect of the unimpressive, unfitting arrival of the long-awaited king. In Luke 2:7, it says that Mary laid the baby in a manger “because there was no place for them in the inn.” Now, there are three clarifications to make about that one short statement.

First of all, a manger doesn’t refer to the whole stable. A manger is a feeding trough cut out of stone (not wood with crisscrossed legs like we always see).

Secondly, the “stable” was probably more like a crude stone room that would be attached to the house, or perhaps simply the downstairs of the house itself, which would have troughs available because they would bring in the animals during winter.

Thirdly, the “inn” was not a hotel or a tavern. They didn’t have those in towns. The closest thing to what we think of as an inn would’ve been in the middle of nowhere beside a highway for travelers—but that’s a different word. When you went into a town, you stayed with family. If you had no family in that town, the responsibility of hospitality was so great that someone would have you stay with them. The community is honor bound to extend hospitality to visitors. Joseph was from Bethlehem, so he almost certainly had family there.

The word for inn is usually translated “lodging place,” or “upper room.” And that’s what it was; it was the guest room on the top level of the house. It’s the same word for the upper room where Jesus and his disciples ate the Last Supper. It was the guest room, and it was the place of honor.

Now, another way to read the sentence, that gets the sense across a little clearer to our ears, is to read it, “she laid the baby in a manger, because the upper room was no place for them.” The idea is basically this: that the pall of shame and scandal was still heavy over them, such that for Joseph’s relatives (no matter how distant) to welcome them into their house and place them in the honorable guest room would have brought Joseph and Mary’s shame onto that household as well.

So I think we ought to understand Joseph’s relatives as quietly saying to him, “Joseph, we love you… we love Mary. We’ll love this child when he comes. But we can’t endorse what’s happened by welcoming you into the place of honor. We can move some stuff around downstairs, though, and we’ll put some straw and blankets down, and you can stay there if you’d like.”

When the angels announce his birth to the shepherds, the sign they give of how the shepherds will know they’ve found the king is that he would be lying in a manger. Why? Because a feeding trough is no place for the newborn king! Everything about Christ’s arrival was humble, and unfitting for the one who was the fulfillment of every prophecy of the coming king.

The point is this: from his conception, to his birth, to his rejection and execution, the first advent of Christ was marked by humble obscurity, humiliation, and shame—completely unfitting for the birth of a king. But he took our shame on himself, so that he could one day clothe us with his honor.

His first advent was characterized by humble obscurity, lowliness, shame, and rejection. But his second advent will not be the same. His second advent—when he comes again to establish his reign over all nations—will be inescapable, Christ will be honored by all, and he will be victorious over every enemy. He first came as the Lamb of God to take away our sins. But he’s coming back, as the Lion of Judah, to destroy all those who refused to accept his sacrifice, and to give eternal life to all who have placed their faith in him. Jesus’ first advent was characterized by shame, obscurity, and rejection, but his second advent will be marked by honor, vindication, and victory.

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Honored by God: The Role of Reciprocal Honor

I’ve been teaching through First Samuel recently, and two of the main themes running through the book are (1) that God is providentially providing righteous leadership to his covenant people, and (2) that, as God puts it in 1st Samuel 2:30, the Lord will honor those who honor Him. That second focus is what I’d like to talk about briefly in this post: the Lord will honor those who honor Him. That can be a rather jarring claim. So here are four important points that need to be understood about this principle—which comes up several times throughout Scripture.

1

First, this is different from the idea that “God helps those who help themselves.” That’s not biblical. God helps those who recognize that they cannot help themselves, and so turn to God for strength and aid. “God helps those who help themselves” is not in the Bible. “God honors those who honor Him” is all over Scripture, and that’s an entirely different claim. But that leads to the second point to keep in mind.

2

Second, we need to define the term honor. In our day, if the term honor is used at all, it’s often in jest or in mocking. But it also generally means nothing more than personal integrity. Honor is a synonym for integrity or character, right? But that’s not what the word meant until very recently. When you hear the word honor in the Bible, you should be thinking “respect, praise, accolades, status.” It’s in the context of a community, and it has to do with one’s recognition and reputation within a community. Now, there’s too much to say about the concept of honor—far more than we have time for just in a short introduction.

There are overlapping contexts of honor, different kinds of honor, different standards for honor, and on and on. But for our purposes, I just want to explain two kinds of honor, because it’s important for God’s statement in chapter two of 1st Samuel—that he honors those who honor Him.

First, there is what anthropologists sometimes call “horizontal honor.” Horizontal honor is defined as “the right to have respect among a society of equals.” Think about a gang: there’s a code of honor; and as long as you abide by it, you have the respect of the other members. To fail to live up to the honor code results in shame—your reputation in the community is soiled.

But there’s also what is called “vertical honor.” Vertical honor isn’t primarily about mutual respect within a community. Vertical honor has to with praise, esteem, admiration, and accolades. And there are three varieties of this. First, a society of equals can give a member of the group vertical honor. In other words, someone is not only living up to the code of conduct, they excel at it, and so they receive special recognition from the group.

Another variety of vertical honor would be from a subordinate to a superior. This would be the kind of honor paid to patrons by their clients in a patronage relationship. When someone agreed to be someone’s patron, the client owed their patron their loyalty and praise—they were to retell the stories of their patron’s courage, grace, wisdom, etc. to spread and better their patron’s reputation.

The third kind of vertical honor is that given by a superior to a subordinate. This can be done by association—as in the client-patron relationship. The client is honored by his association with an honorable patron. That’s also the case with slaves. So, for example, to be a slave in the household of Caesar was far more reputable than to be the slave in a small lower-class household. That’s why the apostles claim with pride the title “slave of Christ.” To be a slave in the house of the King of kings and Lord of lords is the highest honor. So we have honor by association. But honor can also be bestowed on a subordinate by a superior. A superior can give recognition and praise to someone, and that then raises their status of honor, esteem, and reputation.

Now, the only reason I go through all of this is because understanding something of the culture and concept of honor as a “reputation worthy of respect and admiration,” and how that’s gained, is important to understanding how Scripture uses certain words in relation to both God and man. For example, we know that God blesses us in many ways by His grace. But we are also told to bless God. How can that be? Well, it means something different based on whether the superior is giving or receiving the blessing. When we bless God, that means to give him praise, to recount his mighty works, to worship him together. When God blesses us, it refers to him giving us gifts out of his grace and love. We see something similar with the word “glory,” which is closely related to honor. We give God glory by praising him, speaking of him or representing Him in a way that causes other’s to raise their opinions of him. But God is also said to give us glory. And Paul speaks of pursuing immortality and glory. The same is true with the word “honor.” When God says in 1st Samuel that he will honor those who honor him, it’s not mutual respect between peers that we’re talking about. It means that God will give recognition, esteem, accolades, and a good name to those who give God praise, loyalty, reverence, and obedience.

3

But that leads to the third point to remember, which is that, in the church age, we don’t have any warrant to expect God to bless us materially or to give us a status of honor in the world in this life as compensation for our devotion to Him. We do still have, in the New Testament, passages like John 12:26, where Jesus says, “if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him,” so the principle still stands, but the context of our honor and reward is the bema seat and the kingdom, not the here and now. Now, there are times when God will give honor to believers in this life, whether just amongst believers, or, at times, in the world. But, generally, the honor and blessings we look forward to, as the New Testament authors make clear, will not be received until the judgment seat of Christ, as we enter the kingdom—where God will dispense rewards and honor based on how we as believers live out the Christian life, and how we’ve stewarded the resources he’s given us for our walk.

4

And that leads to the final clarification to remember. We need to remember that the context of this reciprocal vertical honor is covenantal, not salvific. In other words, in salvation, God gives us honor and status by our association with Christ through no merit of our own, but only by His grace, on the basis of Christ’s righteousness. But, within the context of the Christian life, how we live has great bearing on the rewards and honor we receive at Christ’s return. This is different than saying God saves those who live lives of faithful obedience. It’s a separate conversation from how you are justified—how you receive forgiveness for sins. Our works, our personal merits, how we live… none of that earns salvation. The only thing that determines whether you will enjoy the forgiveness of sin, and eternal life in the presence and fellowship of Jesus Christ, is faith in the sufficiency of His death on the cross in our place. The only relevant question for your salvation is what are you trusting for that salvation. The only way to receive eternal life is by placing your trust for salvation in Jesus Christ alone. But, now that we have been justified, now that we have received eternal life and been reconciled to God, given a new nature, and called to walk after Christ—we need to start walking! And we can do that well, or not so well. And as we seek to live out the Christian life, growing in our knowledge of, love for, and obedience to Christ, we look forward to the day when we stand before him and are given rewards, of which honor is one of the most important aspects; and we ought to live our lives now in light of the fact that we can receive rewards and honor, or lose that honor for failing to live as Christ has called us to live. And sometimes that’s not fun to think about because we all know that we fail every day. But Scripture teaches that we ought to live lives of faithfulness to God, trusting that one day he will bestow rewards and honor on us in measure. And again, this doesn’t speak to our security—to our salvation—the issue is one of reward and honor, not eternal destiny.

And as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3, some will be saved, and yet will suffer the loss of rewards and honor—they will be saved, but as through fire. They will suffer loss. So Paul encourages us to keep in mind the fact that we will receive rewards and honor as we seek to live lives of service to Christ worthy of our calling. Paul says in 2Corinthians 5:9–10, “whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or bad.”

So although it plays out differently in our time (the mechanics are different under the New Covenant than under the Old, and we have to wait longer), the principle is still the same that God will honor those who honor Him. In the larger canonical context of the Former Prophets (which is where Samuel falls in the Hebrew Bible), this account of the rise of Samuel, and later of David, challenges the readers to honor the Lord so that they too may experience a renewed relationship with their king, culminating in the restoration of the nation under the authority of an ideal king—and we know that that promised king is Jesus Christ.

I hope this was helpful, but to explore further the themes of honor, shame, patronage, and how they affect the biblical world, I would recommend reading Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity, by David deSilva.

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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.

Review of “Dispensationalism,” by Charles Ryrie

Summary

Just prior to Dr. Charles Ryrie’s recent passing, I thoroughly read through His book, Dispensationalism. In that work, Ryrie seeks to lay out a thorough explanation of the theological framework known as dispensationalism. Ryrie notes in the opening chapter that dispensationalism as a system has been often misunderstood and misrepresented by those who oppose it (pg. 11). He then defends the need to examine dispensationalism in light of the number of scholars who suggest that the system is “dangerous,” “unscriptural,” and “heresy” (pg. 16). Ryrie then delineates several ways in which dispensationalism is helpful in providing biblical distinctions, offering a coherent philosophy of history, and employing a consistent interpretive hermeneutic.

In the next chapter, Ryrie offers a helpful examination of the classic definition of a dispensation from Scofield, and offers his own definition of what exactly a dispensation is: “a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purpose” (33). This chapter also includes an introduction to Ryrie’s famous sine qua non of dispensationalism. Ryrie makes a crucial clarification that the essence of dispensationalism is not in the belief in dispensations, the number of dispensations, or a premillennial eschatology (45). Ryrie includes three characteristics without which Ryrie says dispensationalism is no longer dispensationalism: a distinction retained between Israel and the church (46); a consistent literal hermeneutic, which Ryrie also calls “normal,” or “plain” hermeneutics (47); the understanding that the overarching purpose of God in history is His own glory (48).

In the third chapter, Ryrie explains the elements of a Biblical dispensation. He then gives an overview of the dispensations according to his understanding, which include the dispensations of Innocency, Conscience, Civil Government, Promise (or Patriarchal Rule), Mosaic Law, Grace, and the Millennium. In the fourth chapter, Ryrie addresses the origins of dispensational theology, noting that various beliefs we would today categorize as “dispensational” predate John Nelson Darby in the work of men such as Pierre Poiret, Jonathan Edwards, Isaac Watts, and even some of the church fathers (such as Papias, Tertullian, and Justin Martyr).

Ryrie then gives a helpfully clarifying discussion of the consistent hermeneutic employed by dispensationalism, which is one of the key characteristics noted by Ryrie as a sine qua non. Ryrie explains that this does not imply literalistic interpretations of symbols and figures of speech. He explains that “every word… would have the same meaning it would have in normal usage, whether in writing, speaking, or thinking. It is sometimes called the principle of grammatical-historical interpretation since the meaning of each word is determined by grammatical and historical considerations” (90). He also weighs the hermeneutical approach of traditional, progressive, and non-dispensational theologians, giving explanations of each.

The next chapter defends dispensationalism’s view of salvation against the charge of many that dispensationalism teaches multiple ways of salvation. Ryrie explains that this charge is due to the misconceptions of anti-dispensationalists. In fact, Ryrie points out that many non-dispensationalists themselves can at times give the impression that there has been more than one way of salvation.

The next two chapters deal with ecclesiology and eschatology respectively. These are the areas of strength for traditional dispensational theology (though they lack in their understanding that dispensational theology effects every area of systematic theology), and Ryrie’s discussion here definitively illustrates why dispensationalism is justified in its distinction of Israel and the church. In chapter nine, Ryrie gives one of the most comprehensive rebuttals of Progressive Dispensationalism to come from a traditional dispensationalist. Ryrie makes a strong case that the “complementary hermeneutic” employed by Progressive Dispensationalism is not helpful, and often fails to properly engage the text at the exegetical level. Ryrie implies that Progressive Dispensationalism is inherently unstable, and that it will inevitably merge into covenant premillennialism.

Ryrie gives a substantive overview of covenant theology in chapter ten, while chapter eleven focuses upon ultra-dispensationalism. In the final chapter, Ryrie gives an honest plea for integrity in scholarship and for the fair representation of opposing views.

Response

Overall, I believe this book is very well done, and worth reading. If anyone wishes to understand Revised, or Traditional, Dispensationalism, this may be the best book to reference. I especially thought that Ryrie interacted surprisingly well with Progressive Dispensationalism. While I did not finally agree with every one of his critiques, for the most part I found him to be fair, while also deftly pointing out hermeneutical and systemic flaws within Progressive Dispensationalism. Ryrie’s stated task, of explaining and defending the use of traditional dispensationalism in light of various criticisms, was, for the most part, well accomplished.

Critique

One weakness to note is that I did not find an actual definition of dispensationalism itself in the beginning of the book. There were several clear definitions of what a dispensation is, but this falls far short of providing a definition of dispensationalism itself. This may be because he hoped to use the sine qua non to provide his own definition. While that was a beneficial and convincing discussion, however, the book still seemed to lack a concise definition of dispensational theology in the form of a sentence or paragraph similar to his definitions of a dispensation.

While this is partly because of my own biases, I believe another weakness of the book is Ryrie’s over-emphasis of the dispensations themselves, while failing to articulate more clearly areas of key distinction between dispensational and non-dispensational theology. I believe the title “dispensationalism” itself may not be a helpful or wise title to use at all. By utilizing this title, we automatically, even if only subconsciously, are defining the system by the dispensations, when even Ryrie himself noted that the existence and number of dispensations are not the defining marks of the system. Not only is it an unhelpful title for dispensationalists themselves, but I think it may be unwise to use the term because of the rampant misunderstanding and misuse by non-dispensationalists of which Ryrie speaks in the opening chapter.

I believe defining dispensationalism by the dispensations runs the risk, and indeed, often becomes victim, of failing to recognize the primary distinguishing differences between dispensational and covenant (or any other variation of non-dispensational) theology. It seems that the foundational difference between dispensational and covenant theology is one of hermeneutics (a point with which I believe Ryrie would fundamentally agree). That is, the hermeneutic with which one comes to the Scripture will largely — primarily — determine whether the reader ends up holding to certain interpretations of Scripture which we categorize as “dispensational” interpretations, or whether he will arrive at interpretations we categorize as “covenantal,” or “progressive dispensational,” or any other title we call various groupings of interpretations. While I believe that Ryrie would, fundamentally, agree with this, he seemed to continue to emphasize the dispensations and various arbitrary differences between dispensational and non-dispensational theologians.

As I understand it, the primary area in which these differing hermeneutical approaches will affect one’s interpretation of Scripture is in the biblical covenants (I hope to write another short post about this specifically). For example, understanding the distinction between Israel and the church is a helpful way to summarize a dispensational distinction; but this results from the interpretive effect one’s literal hermeneutic has on the covenants — specifically, the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic. Ryrie’s (and my) disagreements with Progressive Dispensationalism primarily revolve around differing hermeneutical approaches to the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants. Again, I believe Ryrie would largely agree with this. However, I believe he failed to properly bring out the distinctions of the consistent literal hermeneutic (which itself is primarily arrived at by observing how God gives and enforces His covenants) as the foundational element which leads to one’s interpretation of the permanence, extent, and relationships between the covenants, which then has drastic implications on one’s understanding of the nature of Israel and the phenomenon of the church.

Again, overall, I believe Dispensationalism is a worthy and helpful book. Having carefully read the book in its entirety for the first time, I found this work to have greatly benefited me in my understanding of traditional dispensational views. I found Ryrie’s discussion of the origin of dispensationalism, and his critique of progressive dispensationalism to be especially helpful. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to look further into the differences between dispensational and covenantal theology, as well as the differences between traditional and progressive dispensational interpretations of continuity, discontinuity, and the nature of the covenants. I would then urge the reader to continue to broaden his exposure to various dispensational authors, since the best way to arrive at your own systematized theology is by reading as much as you can, taking the best from each author, leaving behind the not-so-good parts (while respecting the author for what he does bring to the table), and mixing and formulating it all together into one consistent theology.

Happy studying!

A Brief Statement on the Nature of Church Ministry

Jesus Christ, in His matchless grace, came into the world to die in our place in order to deliver us from the penalty, the power, and, one day, the presence of sin (Eph 2:1–10; Col 1:12–14), so that we now can develop in knowing Christ, in loving Him, in becoming more like Him, and in living in obedience to His Word (John 17:3; Rom 8:29–30; 2 Cor 3:18–20; Eph 2:10; 4:11–15; Col 3:5, 25). Christ, in His sovereignty, has chosen to use the local church as His primary means to evangelize the lost in order to deliver souls, and to disciple believers in order to develop them in their knowledge of, love for, and glorifying of Him (Matt 28:18–20; 2 Cor 5:18–20; Eph 4:11–15).

Thus, God’s plan for this dispensation is that the people of God regularly assemble together and associate themselves in local churches under the authority of God’s Word and for the purpose of edifying and equipping disciples of Christ to better know Him, love Him, live in obedience to Him, and disciple others toward a deeper relationship with Him (Acts 2:37–47; Heb 10:22–25). The church is governed by the teachings of God’s Word through delegated leadership (1 Thess 5:12–13; 1 Tim 3:1–7; 2 Tim 2:2; Heb 13:17), and is to obey Christ’s commission to make disciples by evangelizing the lost, and training, equipping, and developing believers to become fully committed and competent disciples of Christ (Matt 28:19–20).

The one, supreme authority for the church is Christ — the head of the church (Eph 5:23; Col 1:18). Church leadership, order, discipline, and worship are all appointed through His sovereignty as found in the Scriptures. I hold, somewhat cautiously, to a version of the regulative principle (oddly enough, perhaps, considering my background). This basically means that we are not at liberty to ‘do church’ in any way we see fit. We have only the authority to do that which Christ has authorized us to do. Jesus has authorized the local assembly (the church) to exercise the authority of the keys of the kingdom (1) (Matt 16:15–19).  The assembly exercises the keys of the kingdom by declaring, upholding, and proclaiming the Word of God, by officially affirming one another’s citizenship in Christ’s kingdom by the ordinance of baptism (Christ’s ordained means of public identification with Him, and the distinguishing line between the church and the world), and by overseeing one another’s discipleship through the teaching of God’s Word, and admission to and exclusion from the Lord’s Table (Matt 16:15–19; 18:15–20; 28:19–20; Acts 2:41; 8:12; 1 Cor 5:4–11; 11:17–34).

The local church exercises this authority of the keys under the oversight and leadership of biblically qualified elders, whose qualifications and duties are defined in the New Testament. The congregation is to be led by these elders, who are commissioned by Christ to bear the responsibility of teaching, leading, protecting, and caring for the spiritual well-being of the local church (Acts 20:28–31; 1 Thess 5:14; 1 Tim 3:2, 4–5; 4:13; 5:17; 2 Tim 4:1-2; Heb 13:17; James 5:14; 1 Pet 5:2). These leaders are to model the servant-leadership of Jesus Christ, and should always remember that they too are sheep, and are accountable to God for the manner in which they lead (Matt 20:25–26; 1 Pet 5:2–3; James 3:1). The office of deacon can also be filled to minister to the financial, physical, and practical needs of the church, so as to allow the elders to devote themselves fully to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:1–4; 1 Tim 3:8–13). Although the church utilizes these two offices, all believers have equal access to God and are gifted and called to serve Him as ministers (Matt 27:51; 1 Cor 12:12–27; Eph 4:12; 1 Tim 2:5; Heb 4:14-16; 10:11–25).

The church, then, is to commit to regularly assemble in Christ’s name for the purpose of discipleship, corporate worship, the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, and the observance of the ordinances. The church is to commit to pursue Christlikeness in thought, word, and conduct, seeking to faithfully love God and love others, joyfully and humbly seeking accountability with and for fellow members of the assembly, thereby developing one another to better know Christ, love Him and love others, and live in obedience to His Word and for His glory.


Footnotes

(1) For a full explanation and discussion of the keys of the Kingdom, see:

– Chapter 5 of “Going Public,” by Bobby Jamieson
– Chapter 4 of “The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love,” by Jonathan Leeman
– Chapter 6, part 2, of “Political Church,” by Jonathan Leeman
Church Discipline: The Missing Mark by Al Mohler, in “Polity,” edited by Mark Dever
The Glory of a True Church, and its Discipline Display’d (1697), by Benjamin Keach, in “Polity”
A Short Treatise Concerning a True and Orderly Gospel Church (1743), by Benjamin Griffith, in “Polity”
Summary of Church Discipline (1774), by the Charleston Association, in “Polity”