Underlying Causes for Covenant Theology Opposition to Dispensational Theology

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by CF1, Nov 25, 2011.

  1. CF1

    CF1
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    This blog states

    "...Today, you can't serve as a Presbyterian elder or pastor if you are a dispensationalist. Many (not all) Presbyterians regard dispensationalism with suspicion and/or contempt, and treat it as either a heresy, or as heresy's dim-witted, bucktoothed cousin. "

    Since there are Reformed Baptist churches and speakers like John McArthur who become friends with Covenant/Reformed/Presbyterians like R.C. Sproul, we Baptists are influenced by the rift between Covenant/Presbyterians and Dispensational Baptists, and we are left to sort out which position should Baptists hold.


    I'm trying to understand the underlying causes of why Covenant Theology opposes Dispensational Theology. Here is a list I've come up with so far. Please help shed more light on this question for me. Thanks in advance.

    1. Dispensational Theology takes a strict, left brain, logical, "Literal" interpretation method of scripture, rather than accepting interpretations that view words as "figures of speech" through inferences and intuition.

    a. Certainly there are words and ideas in the Bible that are types of Christ, parables, and figures of speech, but we must use caution to not let that justify using texts to build inferences, using intuition that is not tested carefully by logic.

    b. Since Covenant Theology is held tightly by Presbyterians who believe in Paedobaptism, they also rest on using an interpretation method that allows for inferences to support their views on Paedobaptism.

    R.C. Sproul says in his footnotes in his Reformation Study Bible on page 37:

    "Rather, the scriptural case for baptizing believers infants rests on the parallel between Old Testament circumcision and New Testament baptism as signs and seals of the covenant of grace (Ge. 17:11; Rom. 4:11; Col 2:11,12), and on the claim that the principle of family solidarity in the covenant community (the church, as it is now called) was not affected by the transition from the "old" to the "new" form of God's covenant brought about by the coming of Christ. Infant children of believers have the status of covenant children and therefore should be baptized, just as Jewish male infants had previously been circumcised. The Old Testament precedent requires it and there are no divine instruction explicitly revoking this principle."

    Thus the case for paedobaptism does not rest on direct literal command in scripture, but a "parallel" derived, and inferred from other things.


    2. Covenant Theology, similar to Calvinist/Reformed/Doctrines of Sovereign Grace, seeks and yearns to grasp and understand a unified, self contained systematic theology that explains the councils of God on Salvation or Soteriology.

    a. Since Covenant Theology is tightly held by Presbyterians who hold tightly to Calvinism, which tries to capture the whole counsel of God with a theory that explains many verses that are hard to reconcile, therefore inferences need to be used to understand verses, where a literal interpretation makes it difficult to reconcile and create a unified system that supports itself. (I'm not debating Calvinism here, just showing the fact that inferences support the explanations for some words in Calvinism. For example the word "all", is inferred to mean "all tribes and people", rather than all individual people). So inference methods of interpretations are very important to Calvinists and strict literal interpretation methods present new problems.

    b. Strict, literal interpretations undermine the inferences relied on in Calvinism for Limited Atonement when interpreting some verses.

    I'm not debating if these inferences are valid or invalid. I actually tend to cautiously agree that some inferences are a "most likley" best interpretation. I'm just pointing out that strict literal interpretation methods undermine the inference methods relied on.

    c. Following the desire to build a complete, systematic unified explanation for God's single, mono, plan, Covenant Theology wants to fit all of God into that single mono explanation, rather than having a God that is more complex, in ways we can't fit into a singular explanation.

    Eistein did a great job of simplifying what seemed to be complex into the simple equation E=mc2. The ability to simplify things down into simple formulas that explain a wide variety of known phenomenon is a great thing of beauty to see how God is behind something in nature.

    However it seems we must be cautions to seek to put God in a box and say everything God creates must be part of a theory of everything, that we can understand with our own understanding from Scripture inferences. This can cause us to over-infer about things where we should be cautious to infer, and should rather use a literal interpretation.


    So these are my "hypotheses" above. I am thinking about buying this book to learn more about the underlying reasons:
    The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift: The Fissuring of American Evangelical Theology from 1936 to 1944
    By: R. Todd Mangum


    I see this book above reviewed on this blog, but there are not too many summaries of the conclusions in the book.

    These are some hypotheses I've come up with so far. Please help me and correct me where I'm lacking understanding.

    If anyone has read the book referred to above, please let me know a summary of the conclusions of the book. Thanks in advance
     
    #1 CF1, Nov 25, 2011
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  2. Jerome

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    It's not just paedobaptist Presbyterians that have this shibboleth. I remember Dr. Bob mentioned that his church did not meet the standard for Covenantitude imposed by the ARBCA (Reformed Baptist) denomination on its member churches:

     
  3. Iconoclast

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    All believers should be covenant theologians....because God has revealed Himself as a covenant keeping God.

    How you view the covenants seperate the reformed believers into different camps.

    Dispensationalists have sought to answer the same issues......but they fragment the word of God and teach opposed to God's design.

    The seperation of Israel and the church that they maintain is error.

    The sevenfold division of the scripture is error.

    The seperation of law and grace is error.

    The teaching of the church as amystery, and a mystery form of the kingdom is error.

    The teaching of a heavenly people ,and an earthly people is an error.

    They "wrongly DIVIDE" the word of truth.:type:
     
  4. CF1

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    Thanks for sharing your conclusions about errors. What are the supporting reasons for your conclusions?
     
  5. 12strings

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    I would be interested to hear/see some examples of the differences between the supposed literal interpretation and supposed non-literal interpretations.

    It seems that every person uses inferences when interpreting the bible, not matter what their eschatology view.
     
  6. CF1

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    Yes. I guess it's the degree of reliance on inference vs literal interpretation. Here is more from Wikipedia on the Dispensational method of interpretation.

     
  7. CF1

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    Here is an interesting quote:

    It looks like the word "dispensation" is not new.

    1 Corinthians 9:17
    For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.

    Ephesians 1:10
    That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:

    Ephesians 3:2
    If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:

    Colossians 1:25
    Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;
     
    #7 CF1, Nov 25, 2011
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  8. Martin Marprelate

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    An over-literal hermeneutic is actually a drawback in understanding the Lord Jesus. Consider:-

    John 2:20. "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?"

    John 3:4. "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"

    John 4:33. "Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?"

    John 6:52. "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?"

    Steve
     
  9. CF1

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    Agreed, always depending on the context.

    I'm trying to understand something further.

    Do these literal hermeneutic methods become an important root cause for the oppostion towards dispensationalism by some covenant theology people?

    Do these methods of literal interpretation threaten other doctrines that the same people are relying on?

    Are some covenant theologians pushing for their agenda on other doctrines that would suffer under scrutiny of the more literal method, and thus they oppose other methods that push towards more literal methods?

    I don't know the answer. I'm in search for more insights. Thanks in advance.
     
    #9 CF1, Nov 25, 2011
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  10. Ruiz

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    I think my opposition and most Presbyterians to Dispensationalism (in our church you can be a dispensationalist and serve as an Elder), it more than what you state.

    First, it is in violation of the Westminster Confession of Faith and London Baptist Confession. You cannot hold to these statements of belief and dispensational thought. THerefore, a Presbyterian has always opposed what you may call dispensational theology (not to be confused with the word "dispenation" but the theology called dispensationalism).

    Secondly, their outright rejection of the analogy of faith. The original post paints a different viewpoint and I think paints Covenant Theologians in a manner that they would even reject. Yet, the issue that was trying to be addressed is the analogy of faith. To that degree, I personally would have a difficult time with a preacher who didn't hold to the Analogy of Faith..

    Thirdly, the theological system ultimately is a very pessimistic view of theology and of God. Their view that Jesus sincerely came to be the king of the Jews but because he was rejected resorted to plan "B", I find very difficult theologically and philosophically to hold. To me, it is a very difficult viewpoint.

    Now, most modern dispensationalists have rejected classical dispensationalism. Thus, even their view is newer than the 150 years of dispensationalism. They keep changing the system, thus it is difficult what "new" belief they embrace today. I think I will wait for the newer dispensationalists to stop changing their beliefs every 10 years before I comment on the newer dispensationalists.
     
  11. CF1

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    Thanks Ruiz,

    It does seem that non-classical dispensationalism has become in a state of flux, which makes it difficult to understand.

    I thought that C.I. Scofield was a strong advocate of the "Analogy of Faith".

    Scofield's Reference Bible had sparse notes because of this belief that Scripture should interpret scripture.

    Where do you see their outright rejection of the Analogy of Faith principle?

    Where does dispensationalism violate the London Baptist Confession?

    Trying to learn.
     
    #11 CF1, Nov 25, 2011
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  12. Ruiz

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    I know of no classically dispensationalist who embraced the Analogy of Faith, in fact they cannot embrace the Analogy of Faith with the Scolfieldian view of dispensations, which admits to contradicting other dispensations.

    The London Baptist Confession if dripping with Covenant Theology but especially Chapter 7 dealing with the Covenants and Israel and the chapter on the Church.

    There are a couple of charts that I have found helpful in comparing the different systems. Here is one from a Pastor friend of mine. Here is another one that I recently discovered. He notes that some Dispensationalists hold to the Analogy of Faith. I have not seen his research and citations (I have the first one), but all I have read seems clear that classical dispensationalists reject the Analogy of Faith.
     
  13. CF1

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    I'm trying to understand why this author and this author believes dispensationalists don't accept that Scripture should interpret scripture (Analogy of Faith).

    Does anyone know specifically where dispenationalists say themselves they don't agree with this principle?

    Or could this be an accusation from critics?

    Based on what I've studied in the Scofield Study Bible, I find it hard to believe that C.I. Scofield did not believe in the principle that Scripture should interpret Scripture.
     
  14. CF1

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    Here is an interesting quote

     
  15. Ruiz

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    He couldn't have believed in Analogy of Faith and believed things like the Gospel of Matthew was written to Old Testament Believers and is not valid today. This view is in contrast to the analogy of faith. Phillip Way used to have a listing of the primary sources where he obtained his information, I am looking for it, but I cannot find it right now.
     
  16. CF1

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    Wow! That's the first time I've heard that C.I. Scofield thought that Matthew is not valid today.

    I just got out my Scofield Study Bible and looked through all the notes in Matthew to see if there was anything remotely close to that. On a quick scan I don't see anything.

    In the introduction to the 1988 Edition it says this:

    "For Scofield there were two overriding guidelines that directed him in his study:
    (1) The most accurate understanding of the Bible comes when it is allowed to shed light on itself, and
    (2) in the final analysis all Scripture is to be related to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is in keeping with the biblical principle enunciated in Rev. 19:10: "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."

    And his note on Rev 19:10 is

    "All the prophetic themes are to be studied with care, but never in such a way as to obscure the fact of the centrality of Jesus Christ."

    Scofield seemed to be very careful to strive that scripture interpreted scripture. Much more careful than the many study Bibles that exist today and promote various theological doctrines (for example, the Reformation Study Bible by R.C. Sproul, with it's article on Infant Baptism on page 37, and other related lengthy articles).

    Please let me know what you find in your search for the sources of these ideas that Scofield thought Matthew is not valid for today. It would be good to understand how this idea came into being.
     
  17. preachinjesus

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    A lot of the attacks on dispensationalism proceed largely against the classical form of dispensationalism. Progressive dispensationalism has corrected many of the errors within the classical system.

    Ironically, however, few people in our pews and chairs care about this matter.
     
  18. zrs6v4

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    Literal hermeneutic in the classical dispy view simply means that they interpret passages (most prominent would be prophecy) literally unless the context states otherwise. Of course when applying this practice difficulty arises. Errors said to be in covenant theology come in when there is no ground to stand on with allegorical interpretations or the replacement theology practices. In a sense everyone believes context is king, but why replace israel with the church or circumcision with baptism? So yes, doctrines are always threatened by interpretation disciplines. It goes both ways.

    So yes scripture interprets scripture and a literal approach can be misunderstood. Dispys term it historical-grammatical interpretation where only the context can decide when to leave the literal understanding.

    I tend to like the idea of literal interpretation undetstood correctly. It allows for foreshadow, typology, and all of that but it keeps us discipline to look at what the text is saying. This is difficult without examples of course bc everyone in most cases uses a literal hermeneutic.
     
  19. mandym

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    We do see in scripture that God keeps His covenants but that is not evidence of the reality of covenant theology.

    Then your issue is with Paul in Romans 11

    Not everyone who holds to dispensationalism divides things this way.

    Sometimes it is held in error by some.

    No such teaching in dispensational theology
     
  20. mandym

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    I suppose you would have to look into the very many variations of Reformed Theology ie Princeton, Dutch Reformed, Southern Reformed, Reformed Baptist, New Covenant, Reconstructionist, etc. If you want to keep up with them all then you might be able to narrow it down.

    As most scholars agree, Covenant theology is largely a product of the 16th-17th century Reformation. Early leaders such as Johann Heinrich (Henry) Bullinger (1504-1575), Kasper Olevianus (1536-1587), Johannes Wollebius (1586-1629), William Ames (1576-1633), Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669), and Hermann Witsius (1636-1708) were instrumental in developing the Covenant view and incorporating it into various creedal confessions. These include the First (1636) and Second (1566) Helvetic Confessions, the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), the Thirty-nine Articles (1571), and the landmark, Westminster Confession of Faith (1647).

    But here are the thoughts from some others on this issue:

     
    #20 mandym, Nov 26, 2011
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