Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thoughts on dispensationalism, the law, and the covenants:the primer (I)

I've spent a lot of time in recent months thinking about the applicability of the Law, its relation to the gospel, and how Christians should think about it in the paradigm of biblical interpretation.  As someone who's heartily Calvinistic, I have great reverence for the men of faith who came before me-- Calvin, Luther, Henry, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Ryle, Berkouwer, Gerstner, and the list goes on and on.

The reformed view of biblical hermeneutics, as passed down by many of these men, has traditionally upheld Covenant Theology as the the proper interpretative framework for understanding Scripture.  Sometime in the 19th century, a competing interpretive framework-- dispensationalism-- became wildly popular among American evangelical and fundamental churches.  To this day, it is the popular theological framework for many Protestant denominations.

At its root, dispensationalism holds that God has revealed or "dispensed" Himself to His people in multiple ways over time, and that there is a distinction between national Israel and the Church when it comes to God's covenant promises.  Covenant theology, on the other hand, holds that all of history can be read through three overarching covenants: the Covenant of Redemption, the Covenant of Works, and the Covenant of Grace.  It also holds that Israel has forfeited the covenant promises as a nation, and that these promises will instead be fulfilled through Christ and His church.

A variant of Covenant Theology that has sprouted over the years is called "New Covenant Theology" (NCT).  NCT is distinguished from Covenantalism through the belief that the Old Testament/Mosaic Law is entirely abrogated with Christ's coming.  Covenant Theologians have traditionally held that the moral law is still applicable while dispensationalists also believe that all law is fulfilled/abrogated with Christ.  Thus, NCT is sometimes criticized as the middle waffler catering to both sides.

There is an abundance of online resources that describe these schools of thought in greater detail, so that's as much as I feel like explaining.  I do want to explain, however, what my thought process is in regards to these two theological frameworks, and what conclusions I've arrived at in determining what is biblical truth.  It should be made abundantly clear that there are godly thinkers on both sides of the issue, and, for the most part, theologians on both sides have historically agreed on the fundamental essentials of the Christian gospel.

I myself do not place myself firmly in one camp or another.  I see degrees of truth and validity in all views, as well as error.  If one were to point a gun at my head and demand that I label my views, I would best describe myself as someone who holds to New Covenant Theology but with a dispensational premillennialist eschatology, views which I will explain in the next post.  But it's also important to note that I am still learning and still very open to correction and thoughtful deliberation over Scripture.

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