Friday, September 28, 2012

MacArthur's Dispensationalism

Every year I attend the Expositors' Conference hosted by Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile. The members of their congregation have always demonstrated a wonderful spirit of service and hospitality and this year was no different. They go out of their way make the conference a time of respite for the attendees and their wives.
The preaching of Steve Lawson was powerful as he took his text from Romans 1. It is always a blessing to hear preaching delivered with such passion.
The keynote speaker this year was John MacArthur. It is at this point that I must voice great disappointment. Before I continue, I feel compelled to give honor to whom honor is due. This man has been used greatly in our generation for the advancement of Reformed Theology. He has stood firmly in his defense of the Gospel, even in the midst of those who despise it. His stance against the "easy believism" of today and the "Carnal Christian" theory is to be applauded, as well as his books in critique of the Charismatic movement. I see him worthy of respect and honor, not that I'd stand in line to get his autograph, but I'll leave that subject for another day. I am humbled as I write this.
That said, MacArthur's eschatology of Dispensationalism stood as a cloud over his handling of the Biblical text. His topic for the Conference was "The Gospel Preaching of Isaiah" with his text taken from Isaiah 53. It was divided over three sermons. His verse by verse exposition was stirring as we were reminded once again of the atonement of Christ. Sadly, faithful to his Dispensationalism, he relegated the text to Israel speaking during the millennium of their rejection of Christ. It robbed the text of its power, which must be applied to every generation. Although verse 1 can be applied to Isaiah standing as the spokesman for the believing remnant of Jews in every generation, more distinctly it applies to Gospel preaching of all ages and the rejection by sinful men. Jesus applied this verse to the unbelief of His generation: "But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: 'LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM WAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED'" (John 12:37-38). The point is, no one will believe apart from the strong "arm of the LORD" working mightily in the sinner. To relegate this to some distant point in the future does disservice to the text and strips the power from the text in Gospel preaching.  
I realize my stance against Dispensationalism is in the minority in many circles today. It was truly evident at this year's Expositors' Conference. But Dispensationalism is surely the minority position historically, particularly among reformed theologians, both past and present.
Allow me to pass along several points for consideration:
1.  The Dispensational position of the rebuilding of the Temple and a return to the sacrifical system at some point in the future is abominable. The Temple was destroyed in 70 ad forever ending the Old Covenant sacrificial system. The blood of Christ effectively and forever ended the shedding of the blood of bulls and goats. Hebrews 9-10 will not allow for any possible return to any type of sacrificial system. "For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" (Hebrews 10:14).
2.  MacArthur also applied Jeremiah 31 to physical Israel. While looking at Hebrews 10 we might note that Jeremiah 31clearly points to the New Covenant; the New Covenant sealed with the blood of Christ and applied to all who are His--not just Israel.
3.  God has but one people--the elect who are redeemed by Christ and called by the Gospel, both Jews and Gentiles together. The New Testament declares that every distinction and every wall of division between the two has been removed. "For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in the ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity" (Ephesians 2:14-16). Surely Peter makes it clear that the church today is the true representation of God's people. "For you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you were once not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy" (1 Peter 2:9-10).
4.   The Dispensationalists insist that the Kingdom is largely relegated to the thousand year millennial reign of Christ upon the earth. Isn't is facinating that apostolic preaching had a great focus upon the Kingdom of God? "When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening" (Acts 28:23). It would seem amazing that they would spend so much time preaching about something that was over 2000 years (and counting) in the future.

Approaching the Bible with presuppositions is always dangerous for all of us. This is why sound hermeneutical principles are essential. MacArthur's presupposition that God's Old Covenant promises to Israel must be literally fulfilled is, in my opinion, a poor hermeneutic. The promises of God find their fulfillment in Christ in the New Covenant. MacArthur said during the Conference that so called "replacement theology" finds its roots in the anti-semetism of the past. It would seem rather, that the teaching that God has one united people in Christ comes straight from Scripture. SDG