Wooden Reading is for Wooden People

I was speaking with someone dear to me the other day when she decided to take the topic of discussion over to world events, namely the current conflict in Israel. I have had several such talks with her over the years, and I have tried to avoid stepping in any landmines. It just seems like the location of such tripwires moves around when speaking with a Dispensational Christian about anything that happens in a certain area of the world.

Having come out of dispensationalism, I have had quite a bit to say about it. For example, while I do see it as an error of hermeneutics, I do not see it as disqualifying in the realm of individual salvation. The end goal of the dispensationalist is to spread the gospel so that others can also attain individual salvation and escape the wrath to come, while participating in a “plan B” version of God’s people until “plan A” can be re-grafted in. This may not be the most precise explanation, but it is the one I was raised with.

In order to come to their conclusions, dispensationalists have as literal an understanding of what the Bible says as possible, even to the point of lunacy. It is the dispensationalist who looks to blood moons, red heifers, bar codes, and degeneracy as good signs that the end must be coming soon. It is the dispensationalist who will agree that God’s covenant with Israel is never-ending, and who will insist that the only definition of Israel is defined as those who emerged from the loins of Abraham.

Genesis 14:14
When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.

But that is not how God has defined His covenant people. From the start, the people of God have been defined by faith. Note the timeline here. Abram had no physical offspring. He had been told to leave Ur and to go to a place where God would show him. Abram wasn’t yet renamed Abraham. Sarah had borne him no sons and neither had Hagar at this place in the story. Where did his army of 318 men come from? They were not genealogical heirs, but they were of his household. They were with Abram as his kinsmen, despite their lack of his blood coursing through their veins.

The Law handed down to Moses includes instructions on how one might join into the nation through faith. The Genealogy of Jesus includes several Gentiles, grafted in by faith. The people of God have always been defined through faith and repudiated by a lack of faith. The entire nation was God’s people when they left the nation of Egypt, but an entire generation died in the wilderness, save two faithful men, never to enter the land of promise. The entire Old Testament points to our collective need for a savior, a new Adam, a better David. And this savior, born an Israelite, fulfilled not only the Law. The Law is how true Israel was defined, and not merely through a set of rules. The Law points toward faith, allowing Rahab and Ruth both to enter into the people of God and the lineage of the promised anointed one. Thus, Jesus fulfilled Israel and all who are attached to Jesus through faith are heirs to the promise and members of true Israel. All who reject the Son are without the Father. And Jesus left no room for exceptions in this.

John 5:22-23
For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.

But what about the hyper-literal nature of dispensational hermeneutics, and why is that so bad? Don’t we want to read the Bible at face value and just believe it? Well, yes and no. We do want to be under the instruction that God has given us. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. I too want to believe God!

Before you can believe God, you must understand God

This is where careful study of the Bible becomes important. The Bible is not meant to be read one proof-text out of context at a time. There are themes and precepts that must be honored if you wish to honor the word of God. To disregard the word of God is to disregard God. To take the word out of context is to express an individualism toward the word that God never intended for it. The Bible is a unified story, contained within 66 books that were written by approximately 40 authors over the course of 1500 years. The story includes symbolism that remains a factor throughout the book of books.

Thus, when you consider the people of God, you must take a unified look at what that means. When you hear that Jesus will be coming on the clouds, it is expected that you would be familiar with that phrase from earlier books where God coming on the clouds is communicated. Here’s a hint: It is never a good thing for God to come on the clouds. That is a statement of judgement, a statement that the people have failed and that God is coming in judgement, to set right what the people have allowed to go wrong.

Hyper-literalism did not begin in the 1830’s when Dispensationalism though. It was present in the time of Jesus, and the book of John contains a few interactions where the people completely whiffed when Jesus spoke of rudimentary concepts to them. I’ll be saying more about these events in a future post. I was raised to distrust anyone who might take the clear reading of scripture and try to spiritualize it. Having read through the Bible a few times, I have learned to distrust those who read the Bible through their preferred lens rather than the way that it was originally intended. Yes, that means that I frequently roll my eyes at the dispensationalism peeking through a statement.

The New Testament is your greatest guide to understand the Old Testament. And a solid familiarity of the Old Testament is vital to understand the New. One is not greater than the other on a valuation scale. We ought not unhitch either from the other. It is a unified story and not seven stories, each ending in failure until the very end. It is the hyper-literalist Dispensationalist who will object the most to this and my future posts. They are my siblings in the faith, but their approach to scripture reduces their effectiveness to the eternal kingdom as they bury their talents, not expecting a return on any investment.

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