Why I’m Not a Dispensationalist and Why Darrell Bock Is

Lindsay Kennedy interviewed three folks on questions related to dispensationalism and the millennium. The Dispensationalist is Paul Henebury (part 1 and part 2). Darrell Bock represents Progressive Dispensationalism, and I answered questions from the perspective of Historic Pre-Millennialism.

We all answered similar questions. Here are the ones I answered:

  1. When and how did you first become interested in eschatology?
  2. You studied at Dallas, which has a strong history of dispensationalism. How influential was Dallas on your theology? Did you ever hold to dispensationalism?
  3. In brief, why you are not a dispensationalist today?
  4. What would you see as some distinctive aspect(s) of your view (Historic Premillennialism)?
  5. What do you believe about the rapture and its timing in relation to the second coming of Christ?
  6. What (if any) future role does the nation of Israel have to play in God’s plan?
  7. What is the purpose of the future Millennium?
  8. Other than the Bible, were there any influential authors/books in developing your current eschatological views?
  9. Do you have any publications that best represent your position more fully than this interview allows?
  10. How important should eschatology be to the Christian?
  11. What encouragement would you give to someone who sees eschatology as unimportant?

Replies here.

I found it interesting that just as Lindsay asked me why I’m not a dispensationalist, he asked Bock to differentiate his view from the others and to explain why he stuck with dispensationalism. Here’s the exchange:

What are the differences between your view, Progressive dispensationalism (PD), and traditional dispensationalism? Why do these differences matter?

These are catalogued in the book Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism. The key one is the continuity PD (Progressive Dispensationalism) sees in the Covenants and that all three are inaugurated in Jesus’ first coming. For example, Jesus’ seating and activity at God’s right hand is seen as the execution of messianic activity that is tied to the New Covenant (as his seating is a part of the Davidic covenant).

This also has meant the Gospels and prophets become more important for contemporary ethics than they were in some older forms of dispensationalism (I say older forms because there is not just one brand of traditional dispensationalism but several). So that is why the difference matters.

If you see problems with traditional dispensationalism, why seek to adapt it rather than simply adopting Historic Premillennialism as others have done?

Because there is a distinction between Israel and the church in God’s program that Historic Premillennialism equivocates about. PD is also clearer on a future for national Israel.

I don’t think of myself as equivocating in the way I understand the relationship between the church and Israel, but I think I can see how it might look like it from Bock’s perspective. Anyway, here are a couple related questions Lindsay asked me:

In brief, why you are not a dispensationalist today?

Because as I read G. E. Ladd’s New Testament Theology, it made sense to me when he said that Jesus chose twelve Apostles to reconstitute a new Israel around himself. That undermined the hard and fast distinction between Israel and the Church that dispensationalism maintains. Further overturning this distinction is the pervasive way in which the New Testament authors present what Jesus has done and is doing in the church as the typological fulfillment of the Old Testament, which means that the church is a typological fulfillment of Israel (this does not nullify a future for ethnic Israel). I think Dispensationalism puts blinders on people and keeps them from seeing the typological interpretations of earlier Scripture pursued by the biblical authors in the Old and New Testaments.

Then I studied Revelation as I preached through it, and I didn’t see a pre-trib rapture. Then I studied Daniel as I preached through it, and I didn’t see a pre-trib rapture. Then I studied through and preached Revelation again as I wrote Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches, and I became convinced that dispensationalists are not interpreting Daniel’s seventieth week the way that John does in Revelation. The emphasis on literal fulfillment fails to account for the typological and symbolic ways later biblical authors interpret earlier Scripture.

People (not just dispensationalists) make rules about how to interpret the Bible, but the biblical authors don’t follow those rules. So I don’t hold to or teach those rules. I want to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors. That’s what I’m seeking as I pursue the task of biblical theology. I’m not claiming that I’ve exhaustively mapped this new world, but what a privilege to explore it and try to help others find their way in it!

What (if any) future role does the nation of Israel have to play in God’s plan?

I think Romans 11:25–27 indicates that on the day that Christ returns there will be a mass conversion of ethnic Jews.

That reference to mapping and exploring a new world comes out of my view of biblical theology as a bridge, or a rocket, into another kind of world, the world as conceived by the biblical authors. On which, see further What Is Biblical Theology?

18 Responses to Why I’m Not a Dispensationalist and Why Darrell Bock Is

  1. Lindsay August 1, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

    Thanks Dr. Hamilton for taking the time to answer my questions! It was a privilege and I hope others will benefit from these as much as I have.

  2. Greg Gibson August 1, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

    Jim,

    Those discussions are very helpful. One question came to mind about pre-mill.Do premills believe there is an OT type for the future mill. of Rev. 20? IOW, is the future mill. an antitype? Thanks.

    P.S. I bought your glory book. And I will buy your kid’s book and Rev. book soon.

    • JMH August 2, 2013 at 7:53 am #

      Praise the Lord!
      I think the millennium is a fulfillment of the prophecies in the OT of a golden age under the reign of the Messiah. So in that it realizes everything anticipated under the glory of David and Solomon (see the way the “each man under his vine and fig tree” phrase is used) it’s a typological fulfillment.

  3. James Kime August 3, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    Jim, I enjoyed your post and also Darrell Bock’s. What I can’t accept is that the timing calls in Revelation are all symbolic. How would you know that? What is the basis for saying 42 months, time, times, half a time, and 1260 days, are all symbolic for this time of the church which has been over 2000 years? I don’t think you provide a good answer in your Revelation book to that issue. Would the 1st century reader have ever imagined any of those terms to mean an indefinite amount of time that could last so many generations? Again, that is highly suspect in my mind.

    Another problem is that the numbers are exact. For example:

    If Jesus fulfilled the first half of Daniel’s 70th week, then we have exactly 3.5 yrs left, which is what Revelation says in 3 different ways. If Jesus didn’t fulfill any of Daniel’s 70th week, and there are 7 yrs left, then you have one of those time periods overlapping.

    There is no mystery about the usage of 3.5 yrs except maybe one time frame is overlapping. That is an unforced explanation.

    • JMH August 4, 2013 at 7:50 am #

      There are other instances of symbolic amounts of time in the OT, such as the 430 year period in Ezek 4. And then there are symbolic amounts of time in the inter-testamental lit. Because of the problem of when to begin counting the 69 weeks from Daniel 9, I’m inclined to take that as a symbolic time reference also. If it’s not symbolic, when do you start counting? How do you know?

      I think I could turn the questions back to you: how do you know these time ref’s are to be taken literally?

      Arguably, the exact, round numbers, point more naturally to symbolic periods of time.

      It’s difficult! I welcome your thoughts.

  4. Elizabeth Carlsen August 3, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

    Hi Dr Hamilton!

    Enjoyed our brief discussion the other day related to these eschatological positions, and also for your books – looking forward to digging in! From that, I understand that HPM sees most prophecy as either already fulfilled in Israel/Middle Eastern (ancient) history or through the Church typologically with the 1st Coming of Jesus?

    A couple of thoughts came to mind: Given the Sovereignty and Power of God, does this approach (hermeneutic) make sense?
    Also does it deny God glory that is due His Name?

    There is power in fulfilled prophecy because while possibilities are endless, unlikely probabilities lead to determination of Truth. We are given details of the first Coming by the OT prophets that have been fulfilled which is s a compelling reason for people to believe. Also ascribes Him glory. But Jesus is coming back to Earth and there are precious few prophetic details we are given about this supremely momentous event? It’s not logically reasonable in my opinion, to choose a hermeneutic that bases on this assumption; seems more appropriate to read the OT prophets as if there are specifics to be fulfilled with regard to the Return of Jesus. If that’s “Dispensationalism” — count me in!!

    Also, I was trying to find those Scriptures you gave me to review. Was it Isaiah Chapter 14?

    Isaiah 14
    1The Lord will have compassion on Jacob;
    once again he will choose Israel
    and will settle them in their own land.
    Foreigners will join them
    and unite with the descendants of Jacob.
    2 Nations will take them
    and bring them to their own place.
    And Israel will take possession of the nations
    and make them male and female servants in the Lord’s land.
    They will make captives of their captors
    and rule over their oppressors.

    This seems to be stating that Israel, along with “foreigners” who will unite with them will rule the nations which have oppressed them.

    There was another verse as well about death in the new heaven and new Earth? Was it referring to death during the Millennial reign of Jesus or death in the “new heaven and new Earth.” I believe there is debate as to whether or not these are the same or separate “Ages” Some would say we are currently in the “Age of Invitation” to culminate in a great Judgment of the Earth and humanity (End of the current Age) after which Jesus will reign on Earth for 1,000 years.

    I can’t remember the other Scripture – Maybe you could send it to me?

    Thanks Dr Hamilton. Appreciate your excellent work in this area!

    • JMH August 4, 2013 at 8:02 am #

      Thanks for your note, Lisa, some brief thoughts:

      I believe in God’s sovereignty and power and love his glory, but my belief in these things comes out of the Bible. I don’t start with my own notions of these things, then go to the Bible and let them control my reading of the Bible. The Bible tells me what to believe.

      Same with my hermeneutic. I want to get my hermeneutic from the Bible, not bring my assumptions to the Bible and assume it’s saying what I already thought.

      Let’s take an example: from Matthew 2:15, I think many people assume that Hosea has looked into the future and made a prediction that came true in the life of Jesus. Please go read Hosea 10:13–11:5, or all of Hosea 10–11, or the whole book. Does it seem that in Hosea 11:1 he is looking into the future and making a prediction about Jesus?

      I want a hermeneutic that accounts for what Hosea was saying in Hosea 11, and that accounts for how Matthew was claiming that was fulfilled. If you’re interested, you can see what I think about these passages in my book God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment in the sections on Hosea and Matthew.

      The question in Isaiah 14 is whether we should expect the gentiles to be enslaved to Jews in the millennium. The question in Isa 65:17ff. is whether we should expect people to die in the new heaven and new earth. In both passages, I think Isaiah is describing future realities in present categories, and that we should not expect slavery or death in the millennium or the new heaven and new earth.

      My plea is simply this: keep reading the Bible!

      Jim

      • Lindsay August 4, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

        Hi Dr. Hamilton. I know less about Isaiah than I wish. How do we know Isaiah 14 is about the Millennium and not about the return from exile as described in Ezra/Nehemiah?

        Also, do you see ‘direct’ prophecies in the Bible or are they most/all typological? And ought we see remaining prophecies as typological when so many prophecies about Christ’s first coming were more literally fulfilled? Or were they?

      • Elizabeth Carlsen August 4, 2013 at 1:23 pm #

        Thanks Dr Hamilton.

        As to the prophets, when reading, one will frequently need to decide which way to go with the interpretation – typological through the Church or more literal to Israel. we have details of the first coming so should we read expecting to find specifics regarding the Return, or should we read assuming prior and/r typological future fulfillment through the Church? I think the former makes more sense given what we already know about God from the Scriptures and the way he fulfills specific prophecy to His glory. If it’s too general, it could mean anything and everything and that’s not consistent with the way He has revealed Himself concerning the immediate events of OT times and the first Coming. Of course, you could have multiple meanings within the same passage – the Beauty and Awesomeness of the Word. But approach does matter. It’s impossible to read it without being influenced by any number of factors and I don’t consider that a negative, as long as individuals are aware of what they are choosing or rejecting.

        Fulfilled prophecy confirms the divine nature of the Bible. Intelligent Bible scholars of the early 20th Century (and prior) who read the Scriptures diligently concluded that God was going to re-establish the Jesidh nation is Israel…and then it finally happened (against some incredible odds, I might say) Is this a powerful example of God’s Sovereignty and Power among the nations? or is it “Irrelevant”

        Does calling it the latter, when it may well be the former, deny God glory?

        Isaiah 14 mentions “foreigners” reigning with Israel and describes the oppressors among the “nations” as becoming Israel’s servants. I don’t see that it is saying that Israel will enslave the Gentiles in any sense but rather that the “nations” which oppressed Israel will be ruled by Israel plus faithful “foreigners” during the Millennium.

        With regard to Hosea, Matthew is quoting a prophet who used the same words as Hosea — “Out of Egypt, I called my son” referring to Jesus’ flight to Egypt as fulfilled prophecy, correct? So you must be saying we are reading Matthew wrong? (I’ll look it up in your book) In my view, it makes much more sense to realize that many prophecies have double/triple/layered meanings so yes, it could very well be a Messianic prophecy as well as a reference to the Exodus. That’s how a lot of this seems to work, actually!

        What I would say about the apparent discrepancy between the Isaiah passages is that Isaiah 14 refers to the Millennium and Isaiah 65 to the “new heaven and New Earth” which some believe will take place after the Millennium per Revelation 20 and 21.

        Obviously, we disagree about a lot but we agree about much more, I am certain!! Thank you for letting me comment on your blog and encouraging me to dig deeper and understand more.

        • Elizabeth Carlsen August 4, 2013 at 1:27 pm #

          sorry about the typos… frequent interruptions :) and laziness with proofreading!

  5. Spencer August 4, 2013 at 1:02 am #

    Dr. Hamilton, thank you for taking time away for the interview with Lindsay. It opened up new light on more things in Daniel and Revelation that I’ve never heard before. Also I thought your answers were very thorough and I enjoyed reading them.

  6. Chuck Hicks August 6, 2013 at 9:13 am #

    I discovered you, Dr. Hamilton, through the My Digital Seminary series on premillennialism and am very glad to have done so. I look forward to reading your books.

    I grew up in a classical dispensational tradition, but my views were altered by reading Craig Blaising (PD) and George Ladd (HP). Progressive dispensationalism has much to commend it, and I think we have to acknowledge that there are both covenantal and dispensational progressions in salvation history.

    Ultimately all forms of dispensational theology (including PD) hinge on the distinction between Israel and the church. PD is insightful in pointing out that the age to come includes a multi-national people of God (Rev. 22:2) where some sort of national/geographic identity exists. In this light it is quite conceivable that Israel has a national future which could include being the seat of Messiah’s kingdom.

    But there is only one olive tree to which Israel will be grafted back in. So a distinct “program” or identity and purpose separate from the church is difficult to defend.

    I appreciate that you follows Cranfield, Moo and others in seeing a great number of ethnic Jews redeemed at the end of this age. I think there may be a restoration to the land — a godly one, unlike the current ungodly mess in Palestine — but Israel’s place will be but part of the greater blessings of the renewed earth enjoyed by all the redeemed.

  7. Karl August 7, 2013 at 2:42 am #

    [Greets JMH. Any reaction to this? Found it lately on the www]

    PRETRIB RAPTURE STEALTH !

    Many evangelicals believe that Christ will “rapture” them to heaven years before the second coming and (most importantly) well BEFORE Antichrist and his “tribulation.” But Acts 2:34, 35 reveal that Jesus is at the Father’s right hand in heaven until He leaves to destroy His earthly foes at the second coming. And Acts 3:21 says that Jesus “must” stay in heaven with the Father “until the times of restitution of all things” which includes, says Scofield, “the restoration of the theocracy under David’s Son” which obviously can’t begin before or during Antichrist’s reign. (“The Rapture Question,” by the long time No. 1 pretrib authority John Walvoord, didn’t dare to even list, in its scripture index, the above verses! They were also too hot for John Darby – the so-called “father of dispensationalism” – to list in the scripture index in his “Letters”!)
    Paul explains the “times and the seasons” (I Thess. 5:1) of the catching up (I Thess. 4:17) as the “day of the Lord” (5:2) which FOLLOWS the posttrib sun/moon darkening (Matt. 24:29; Acts 2:20) WHEN “sudden destruction” (5:3) of the wicked occurs! The “rest” for “all them that believe” is also tied to such destruction in II Thess. 1:6-10! (If the wicked are destroyed before or during the trib, who’d be left alive to serve the Antichrist?) Paul also ties the change-into-immortality “rapture” (I Cor. 15:52) to the end of trib “death” (15:54). (Will death be ended before or during the trib? Of course not! And vs. 54 is also tied to Isa. 25:8 which Scofield views as Israel’s posttrib resurrection!) It’s amazing that the Olivet Discourse contains the “great commission” for the church but not even a hint of a pretrib rapture for the church!
    Many don’t know that before 1830 all Christians had always viewed I Thess. 4’s “catching up” as an integral part of the final second coming to earth. In 1830 this “rapture” was stretched forward and turned into an idolized separate coming of Christ. To further strengthen their novel view, which evangelical scholars overwhelmingly rejected throughout the 1800s, pretrib teachers in the early 1900s began to stretch forward the “day of the Lord” (what Darby and Scofield never dared to do) and hook it up with their already-stretched-forward “rapture.” Many leading evangelical scholars still weren’t convinced of pretrib, so pretrib teachers then began teaching that the “falling away” of II Thess. 2:3 is really a pretrib rapture (the same as saying that the “rapture” in 2:3 must happen before the “rapture” ["gathering"] in 2:1 can happen – the height of desperation!). Google “Walvoord Melts Ice” for more on this.
    Other Google articles on the 183-year-old pretrib rapture view include “X-Raying Margaret,” “Margaret Macdonald’s Rapture Chart,” “Pretrib Rapture’s Missing Lines,” “Edward Irving is Unnerving,” “The Unoriginal John Darby,” “Catholics Did NOT Invent the Rapture,” “The Real Manuel Lacunza,” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” “Wily Jeffrey,” “The Rapture Index (Mad Theology),” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” “Roots of (Warlike) Christian Zionism,” “Scholars Weigh My Research,” “Pretrib Hypocrisy,” “Appendix F: Thou Shalt Not Steal,” “Pretrib Rapture Secrecy,” “Deceiving and Being Deceived,” “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty,” “Famous Rapture Watchers,” and “Morgan Edwards’ Rapture View” – most by the author of the bestselling book “The Rapture Plot” (the most accurate and documented book on pretrib rapture history which is obtainable by calling 800.643.4645).

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. This and That – 08-03-13 | The Thompsonian Times - August 3, 2013

    […] Why I’m Not a Dispensationalist and Why Darrell Bock Is – Then I studied Revelation as I preached through it, and I didn’t see a pre-trib rapture. Then I studied Daniel as I preached through it, and I didn’t see a pre-trib rapture. Then I studied through and preached Revelation again as I wrote Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches, and I became convinced that dispensationalists are not interpreting Daniel’s seventieth week the way that John does in Revelation. The emphasis on literal fulfillment fails to account for the typological and symbolic ways later biblical authors interpret earlier Scripture. – Jim Hamilton […]

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