Friday, September 16, 2016

Long-standing Historic Error Dies Hard: Why Reformed Christians Should Consider Premillennialism (pt 5)

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..."Sometimes the value of a good book is found in one sentence, one paragraph, one chapter, or in the case of Dr. Barry Horner’s Future Israel, in a nine page personal introduction. The testimony of Dr. Horner will no doubt resonate with many Text-driven students of Scripture. It will also challenge some of you as you desire to understand what the sacred Scriptures teach concerning the "end times." But before I share Horner’s eschatological journey allow me to quickly highlight mine.

I was a student at The Master’s College when I came to fully embrace and to appreciate the "doctrines of grace" for myself. Through the expository preaching ministry of John MacArthur and other gifted teachers at my home church (Grace Community) I began to appreciate more deeply the ministry of the Reformers and the Puritans. During this same time I began to question if my convictions concerning eschatology needed to be refined. After all, so many of my favorite theologians were Presbyterian and Reformed. I remember reading Gerstner’s, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth as well as Mathison’s Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God? From a theological perspective the argumentation in these books was convincing. At the same time however many of the Text-driven (exegetical) conclusions were lacking.

I decided to go back to the Scriptures in order to determine whether my end times positions needed to be modified or overhauled. As I made my way through the Old Testament Minor Prophets I found Charles Feinberg and Jim Boice’s commentaries to be faithful to the Text and to the point. Both scholars embraced premillennialism. By the time I went verse by verse through Romans 9-11 I was thoroughly convinced that the Word of God not only supports the doctrines of grace they also promote biblical premillennialism. In view of this I was not surprised when John MacArthur titled his main plenary address Why Every Calvinist Should Be a Premillennialist. Well enough about me. Let’s give Dr. Horner the floor one final time; (this part five in a series of selections taken from his personal introduction in Future Israel).

"Concerning terminology, a word of explanation is necessary. Instead of the common emotive term of “anti-Semitism” being employed, which is often qualified as either racial or theological, the more specific “anti-Judaism” is mainly used. Nevertheless, even anti-Judaism needs explication. Here it is intended to refer to classic anti-Judaism, which involves opposition to the biblical legacy of Torah mediated through Abraham and Moses rather than opposition to the Rabbinic and Talmudic accretions that Jesus Christ so vigorously opposed, though doubtless some overlap will nevertheless be involved. The use of “anti-Zionism” will more narrowly focus on opposition to the recent establishment of the nation of modern Israel. With regard to the Augustinian legacy of Israel’s displacement by the Christian church as the new spiritual Israel, the accepted terms of “replacement theology” and “supercessionism” will be used interchangeably. Some authors vigorously renounce association with these designations and often attempt to argue against their validity. Nevertheless, for all such verbal ducking and weaving by those who in reality are supercessionists, they are unable to obscure obvious identification with the same essential anti-Judaic spirit that substitutes concepts such as “progression,” “transference,” and “fulfillment.”

In a nutshell then, the issue here concerns whether Israel, incorporating individuality, nationality, and territory, has a future according to the mind of Abraham’s God. It is certain that great ethical consequences are at stake here, and not mere eschatological speculation. Consider the comment of Reformed theologian Herman Ridderbos.

The church, then, as the people of the New Covenant has taken the place of Israel, and national Israel is nothing other than the empty shell from which the pearl has been removed and which has lost its function in the history of redemption. (7)
I suggest that the illustration here, in being representative of much Reformed opinion, is quite inappropriate in that it alludes to Judaism and national Israel as a matter only worthy of being discarded. So the issue of supercessionism is not something to be taken lightly or merely academically. When a scholar and exegete of stature of C. E. B. Cranfield so movingly and publicly repents of his former belief that the church has replaced Israel, (8) then none ought to exclude themselves from hearing the call to seriously review this matter and the vital issues that are involved. He also wrote in his commentary concerning Romans 9-11,
It is only where the church persists in refusing to learn this message [of Romans 9-11], where it secretly- perhaps unconsciously-believes that its own existence is based on human achievement, and fails to understand God’s mercy to itself, that it is unable to believe in God’s mercy for still unbelieving Israel, and so entertains the ugly and unscriptural notion that God has cast off his people Israel and simply replaced it by the Christian Church. These three chapters emphatically forbid us to speak of the Church as having once and for all taken the place of the Jewish people. (9)
Yes, longstanding historic error dies hard. However, let us Scripturally, prayerfully, and soberly reason together."

(7) H. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (trans. J. R. De Witt; Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1975), 354-55

(8) “And I confess with shame to having also myself used in print on more, than one occasion this language of the replacement of Israel by the Church” (C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans. ICC  [Edinburgh” T&T Clark, 1979], 448, n. 2).

(9) Ibid., 448.