Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Book Write-Up: Dispensationalism and the History of Redemption

D. Jeffrey Bingham and Glenn R. Kreider.  Dispensationalism and the History of Redemption: A Developing and Diverse Tradition.  Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

Dispensationalism and the History of Redemption contains essays by ten scholars about dispensationalism.  The scholars include Craig A. Blaising, Darrell L. Bock, Oscar A. Campos, Nathan D. Holstein, Eugene H. Merrill, T. Maurice Pugh, Michael J. Svigel, and Stanley D. Toussant.  Each scholar has some connection with Dallas Theological Seminary, which teaches dispensationalism.  Each scholar either has a degree from DTS, or he teaches there.

What is dispensationalism?  More specifically, what is the dispensationalism that is promoted and engaged in this book?  First of all, dispensationalism maintains that God has dealt with people in different ways throughout history. God’s ways of operating in Old Testament times were not entirely the same as God’s ways of operating in New Testament times.  In Old Testament times, there was a focus on the nation of Israel, observing the Torah, and offering sacrifices to atone for sin.  In New Testament times, there is a church that consists of Jews and Gentiles, Christians are not expected to observe the Mosaic law, and the blood of Christ is what atones for sin.  Of course, many Christians believe this, even those who would not classify themselves as dispensationalists.  Dispensationalists have been accused, however, of teaching that people were saved by works in Old Testament times (particularly under the Mosaic law), a charge that is denied in this book.

Second, dispensationalism distinguishes between Israel and the church.  In the Old Testament, God makes promises to Israel about possessing the land of Canaan and prospering there.  For dispensationalists, these promises are to be interpreted literally and as applying to the people of Israel.  By contrast, other Christians have regarded the promises as ultimately symbolic of the work of Christ or God’s spiritual blessings for the church.

There are other features that have characterized dispensationalism.  There is a dispensationalist teaching that God offered to send the Messianic era if Israel would repent, that God established the church when Israel did not to do so, and that God would send the Messianic era and restore Israel after she repents.  There is a belief in a pretribulational rapture, the idea that God will take Christians to heaven before the Great Tribulation, which will precede the second coming of Christ to earth.

The book defines and defends dispensationalism.  It mentions different kinds of dispensationalism (classic, revised, and progressive) and the differences of opinion among dispensationalists.  A few essays contrast dispensationalism with Covenant Theology.  One essay discusses the history of dispensationalism.  It divides the history of dispensationalism into seven eras, the way that many dispensationalists divide biblical history into seven dispensations.  Other essays struggle with the issue of dispensationalism and biblical interpretation: What does it mean to interpret the Bible literally, as dispensationalists claim to do?  How does dispensationalism relate to the tendency of many Christians to believe that the Bible speaks to them personally?  There are also essays about dispensationalism and the Old Testament, the New Testament, and eschatology.

The book is informative, and it can whet one’s appetite as it portrays dispensationalism as a diverse belief system that has undergone development.  The book is unsatisfying, however, in that it did not really explain why God operates as God does, under dispensationalism.  Perhaps one can draw conclusions: God worked with Israel in the Old Testament so that she would bless the nations, but God then worked through the church after Israel as a nation failed to repent, making Israel an unsuitable vessel for God’s purposes.  God will still restore Israel, however.  The book also should have gone into how Israelites were justified by grace through faith even under the Mosaic law.

The book also should have tackled more arguments that Covenant Theology has made.  Covenant Theology has argued that Old Testament promises to Israel are treated as symbolic in the New Testament.  The book should have interacted with its arguments by addressing how dispensationalists have interpreted such passages.

An index would also have been helpful.  That way, readers can refresh their memories about the distinction among classical, revised, and progressive dispensationalism.

I give this book 3.5 stars.  It is worth reading on account of its information.  Yet, I was still hungry after reading it.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

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