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


Tony said...

Good article. I agree with your points. Dr. MacArthur's excellent exposition of the text was needlessly hampered by his limitation of its application to Israel's future.

The main thing that turned me from being a Dispensationalist was seeing how the New Testament writers used the Old Testament. They did not write like Dispensationalists.
Tony Hicks

Rocky2 said...

/ Great blog, Dale. Saw this on the web. Any response? /

Margaret Macdonald's Rapture Chart !

"church" RAPTURE "church"
(present age) (tribulation)

In early 1830 Margaret was the very first one to see a pre-Antichrist (pretrib) rapture in the Bible - and John Walvoord and Hal Lindsey lend support for this claim!
Walvoord's "Rapture Question" (1979) says her view resembles the "partial-rapture view" and Lindsey's "The Rapture" (1983) admits that "she definitely teaches a partial rapture."
But there's more. Lindsey (p. 26) says that partial rapturists see only "spiritual" Christians in the rapture and "unspiritual" ones left behind to endure Antichrist's trial. And Walvoord (p. 97) calls partial rapturists "pretribulationists"!
Margaret's pretrib view was a partial rapture form of it since only those "filled with the Spirit" would be raptured before the revealing of the Antichrist. A few critics, who've been repeating more than researching, have noted "Church" in the tribulation section of her account. Since they haven't known that all partial rapturists see "Church" on earth after their pretrib rapture (see above chart), they've wrongly assumed that Margaret was a posttrib!
In Sep. 1830 Edward Irving's journal "The Morning Watch" (hereafter: TMW) was the first to publicly reflect her novel view when it saw spiritual "Philadelphia" raptured before "the great tribulation" and unspiritual "Laodicea" left on earth.
In Dec. 1830 John Darby (the so-called "father of dispensationalism" even though he wasn't first on any crucial aspect of it!) was still defending the historic posttrib rapture view in the "Christian Herald."
Pretrib didn't spring from a "church/Israel" dichotomy, as many have assumed, but sprang from a "church/church" one, as we've seen, and was based only on symbols!
But innate anti-Jewishness soon appeared. (As noted, TMW in Sep. 1830 saw only less worthy church members left behind.) In Sep. 1832 TMW said that less worthy church members and "Jews" would be left behind. But by Mar. 1833 TMW was sure that only "Jews" would face the Antichrist!
As late as 1837 the non-dichotomous Darby saw the church "going in with Him to the marriage, to wit, with Jerusalem and the Jews." And he didn't clearly teach pretrib until 1839. His basis then was the Rev. 12:5 "man child...caught up" symbol he'd "borrowed" (without giving credit) from Irving who had been the first to use it for the same purpose in 1831!
For related articles Google "X-Raying Margaret," "Edward Irving is Unnerving," "Pretrib Rapture's Missing Lines," "The Unoriginal John Darby," "Deceiving and Being Deceived" by D.M., "Pretrib Rapture Pride," "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty" and "Scholars Weigh My Research." The most documented and accurate book on pretrib rapture history is "The Rapture Plot" (see Armageddon Books online) - a 300-pager that has hundreds of disarming facts (like the ones above) not found in any other source.

Dale Crawford said...

Thanks for you post Rocky2

For clarity on the subject see Kim Riddlebarger's book, "A Case for Amillennialism." A brief review from From the CVBBS website: "In a clear and accessible manner, Kim Riddlebarger presents and defends amillennialism as the historic Protestant understanding of the millennial age. Amillennarians believe that the millennium is a present reality centered in Christ's heavenly reign, not a future hope of Christ's rule on earth after his return. Recognizing that eschatology-the study of future things-is a complicated and controversial subject, Riddlebarger begins with definitions of key terminology and an overview of various viewpoints and related biblical themes. He then discusses key passages of Scripture that bear upon the millennial age, including Daniel 9, Matthew 24, Romans 11, and Revelation 20. Finally, he evaluates the main problems facing each of the major millennial positions (dispensational premillennialism, historic premillennialism, postmillennialism, and preterism) and cautions readers to be aware of the consequences of each view."

Elaine Bittencourt said...

To the OP. I get all those years attending the Expositor's Conference and you don't know that Steve Lawson is himself a dispensationalist (futurist premill)?

As for your post - and without getting too much into it - it seems to me that you are blaming MacArthur for being consistent with his futurist premill beliefs. Would you rather have been him being inconsistent? That's very strange, and you can see my point, hopefully.

My last comment. You raise a strawman, a common fallacy. Since when the majority is right? Saying that dispensationalism is wrong just because a minority of calvinists believe and teaches it is a fallacy.


Elias said...

I have to disagree with your last paragraph. We all carry presuppositions when we approach the Bible. By definition, a believer is one with eyes and ears (Prov. 20:12) are opened by the Spirit that we are able to confidently presuppose that the Word of God is infallible and sufficient.

Now, moving from that presupposition, you are incorrect in stating that "MacArthur 'presupposes' that OT covenants has to be fulfilled literally in the NT". That is not a presupposition. MacArthur's only presupposition is that the Bible is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16). He moves from that and trying to stay as Biblically-consistent as possible, he comes to his "leaky dispensational" eschatological position.

You do the exact same thing when you come to a Covenantal position.

Or let me put it another way--if you are claiming MacArthur's eschatological position comes merely from a baseless presupposition that God must fulfill his OT promises literally, aren't you coming to your Covenantal perspective by making a baseless presupposition that God must NOT fulfill his OT promises, literally?

I hope I wrote this clearly and it will help sharpen both of us.

Dale Crawford said...

Thanks for your comment Elias,

The point of the last paragraph was that MacArthur insists that the OT promises must be fulfilled literally with ETHNIC ISRAEL. You would never come to this position if you read the NT literally, for example Gal. 6:16. Gal. 6:16 isn't saying that the church has replaced Israel. It is saying the church IS Israel. It is the "new creation" that distinguishes the people of God, not "circumcision" (which distinguished ethnic Israel - see also Gal. 5:6). God has always had but one people, the children of promise (Rom. 9:8), the elect of God, saved by belief in the promise of God fulfilled and accomplished in Jesus Christ, and who find their expression in the church of Christ, the true Israel of God.