Book Review: Progressive Dispensationalism

Title: Progressive Dispensationalism

Authors: Craig Blaising and Darrell Bock

Published: Originally 1993

Pages: 336 pgs.

Website: N/A

Reviewers: Charlie approves of Jack Brooks review

I found another guy’s review of this book.  His seemed to say what I would like to say (although unlike him, I don’t claim to have yet come to a conclusion.)  But his review is well done.  Also, I want to include the following graphic to illustrate the heritage that Blaising and Bock are coming from.

Comments:

Progressive Dispensationalism: What is it?

by Rev. Jack Brooks

Within dispensational circles, a theological controversy has been brewing since the late 1980’s. A special study-group of dispensational scholars began gathering prior to meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society. Their purpose was to discuss and re-think various issues pertaining to dispensational doctrine – to respond to covenant theology critiques of Dispensationalism, and to fix perceived weaknesses in traditional dispensational thought. Slowly, a series of new ways of thinking about a set of key dispensational topics emerged. Journal articles appeared. Eventually books were written and published. One of those books was Progressive Dispensationalism, courtesy of Dr. Craig Blaising and Dr. Darrell Bock. It is primarily this book that I am evaluating here.

Revising Revised Dispensationalism

Dispensationalism was originated by the Rev. John Nelson Darby (early leader in the Plymouth Brethren movement.) It was codified in L.S. Chafer’s systematic theology books, and popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible. Dispensational theology was revised in the late 1960’s by “second-wave” dispensational theologians like John Walvoord and Charles Ryrie. Further tinkering occurred during the 1970’s.

But PD (Progressive Dispensationalism) changes several important features of even Revised Dispensationalism. Therefore if qualifies as a truly new phase in Dispensationalism and not just more tinkering. PD addresses itself to issues:

  • How does the plan of salvation relate to the distinctions made in the New Testament between Israel and the Christian Church?
  • Just how distinct is the distinction between Israel and the Christian Church?
  • Granting that there are distinct periods in history during which God administrates His people in particular ways, how many periods are there and what are they?
  • Are Old Testament prophecies interpreted and applied in the New Testament in exactly the same sense that they were originally given, or are they ever expanded?
  • Is God’s Kingdom in any way present in this current dispensation? If so, how, and how much?
  • In the same vein, is Christ’s reign as the Davidic King in any way happening now? Or are all of the Davidic prophecies reserved for the second advent?

Summary of PD Positions

1. One plan of salvation: There is only one plan of redemption, not one for Israel and a different one for Christians. There is only one New Covenant, not two. The redemptive plan is revealed through God’s covenants. It begins with Abraham’s covenant, which combines physical and spiritual promises. David’s covenant, as developed by the later prophets also has redemptive application, since the Savior would be the Son of David. The New Covenant obtains redemption in fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic. The redemptive plan is holistic, not manifold.

2. Four dispensations: There are four dispensations:

  • Patriarchal
  • Mosaic
  • Ecclesial (Church)
  • Zionic (subdivided into millennial and eternal-kingdom phases.)

3.       One people of God: The Christian Church is quite distinct from Israel, but not radically distinct. The Church is not a mere “parenthesis” in an otherwise-Jewish divine plan. The Church is not “Plan B”. It is not a separate category of humanity, in the way the Bible speaks of Jews or Greeks. There is continuity between the Church and Israel, not discontinuity alone. All believers from all dispensations are united in one general assembly in heaven (Hebrews 12.)

4. Complimentary hermeneutics: The old claim that a consistent grammatical-historical method of interpretation will always produce traditional dispensationalists is demonstrably untrue. The NT doesn’t follow Charles Ryrie’s definition of “consistent literalism” in the way that it handles OT prophecy. The NT often expands upon the OT prophecies, without contradicting their original contexts. Implications are developed from words which were not developed in the OT. PD calls this a “complementary” hermeneutic: The NT adds onto the OT prophecies in a way complementary to their original context.

5. Already/Not Yet: The Kingdom of God’s blessings are mostly reserved for Christ’s second advent, but parts of it are manifested today through the Holy Spirit. The geo-political aspects will occur in the future. The Church is grafted into some key aspects of the New Covenant (justification, the gift of the Spirit, resurrection hope), but the geo-political features for Israel have not yet happened.

6. Davidic Reign Now: Christ’s Davidic reign began in part when He ascended to the right hand of the Father. Some of the Davidic promises have been fulfilled, many others must wait until Christ returns. Salvation blessings are mediated to us through Jesus, who fulfilled Psalm 110:1-2. “Christ” and “Son of God” were both Davidic titles. Jesus’ priesthood is that of Melchizedek, an office originally given to David. Jesus’ Davidic kingship was the method by which God would fulfill all of His promises to Abraham (Luke 1:55)

Comments & Observations

Dispensationalism is a reaction against covenant theology. Reaction is not always a bad thing. Pastors and theologians of the past came to see deep flaws in covenant theology. Transferring all of Israel’s as-yet-unfulfilled millennial promises to the visible Church is one of its major errors. A failure to grasp all the historical changes and developments from Eden to Revelation 22 is a flaw. A chronic inability to completely shake free from bondage to the Mosaic Covenant is yet another critical flaw.

But reaction often blinds us too. We are so driven by a pre-determination to not slide back into covenant theology that we can’t see when they are correct. We build our beliefs on the basis of a “slippery slope” argument: any doctrinal changes which adjust toward covenant theology is condemned as wrong, ipso facto. But that assumption itself is wrong.

Speaking for myself, I find Progressive Dispensationalism appealing. In fact, I discovered that what the PD theologians did professionally, I’d already amateurishly half-done on my own, since I graduated from a dispensational Bible college in 1982.

  • Israel and the Church have as much in common as they differ from each other.
  • There is only one redemptive plan of God, not one for Israel and one for the Church.
  • The pillars of God’s redemptive plan are the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New covenants. The covenants are the scriptural foci of redemption, not the dispensations.
  • There is only one true nation of God in heaven as well as on earth, not two (Rom. 11)
  • Four dispensations (Patriarchs, Law, Church, Kingdom) make more sense to me than six or seven. Less is better.
  • The New Testament does not use a dispensational hermeneutic with OT prophecies. The Apostles often expanded on, or re-applied the original prophecies.
  • The blessings and powers of the Kingdom are partly spilling backward into our current dispensation, on the grounds of Christ’s atonement, by means of the Holy Spirit.
  • Christ is the Davidic King now, and the conversion of Gentiles represents the beginning of the re-building of David’s tent (Acts 15:12-18.)

However, I am not a covenant theologian! I am still dispensational, because I still believe:

  • The Christian Church began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2.)
  • There will be a real 1,000 year reign of Christ some day in the future.
  • The geo-political prophecies of the Old Testament will all be literally fulfilled.
  • Ethnic Israel will be nationally converted in the end-times (Zech. 12.)
  • Christians are not under the Law, including the Fourth Commandment.
  • The Kingdom is not exhaustively experienced in the earthly church.
  • Christ’s kingship is not fulfilled until He sits on David’s throne in Jerusalem.

There are still some hazy spots in PD. A book or tape series which evaluates covenant theology from a PD perspective would be helpful, and also show the ways in which PD is not just a weird covenant/dispensational hybrid.

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The rest of the review is by Charlie.

Quotes:

“This qualitative progression from David’s experience of the Holy Spirit to that of our own and then to that of the future dispensation shows how the dispensations do not simply follow or replace one another but actually progress forward to a future eschatological goal.” – pg. 17

“…for some dispensationalists, much of Bible prophecy has tended to be more of a curiosity feature than a vital aspect of Christian hope.  This kind of dispensationalism has offered little restraint to (and even contributed to) the sensational tendencies of popular apocalypticism.” – pg. 19

“The blessings promised to Abraham are holistic, that is, they cover the whole of human life and experience: physical, material, social, personal (including mental and emotional), political and cultural, and religious.” – pg. 131

“Studies on the form of the Abrahamic covenant indicate that it is a grant covenant rather that a bilateral contract…As such, the grant covenant is unconditional, for it guarantees the gift to the master’s servant and his heirs…A grant covenant does not, however, exclude obligations from the overall relationship of a recipient to his master…They condition the how and the when of the blessing…God promises to fulfill the blessing in spite of human disobedience” – pg. 132 & 133

“The declaration of Genesis 17:7 extending the covenant to all subsequent generations is significant.  It means that the history of Abraham’s descedants (through Isaac and Jacob) must be understood theologically from the standpoint of this covenant.  Since the rest of humankind is also envisioned in the promises to bless or curse all other peoples, the Abrahamic covenant consequently sets forth the foundational relationship between God and all humankind from Abraham onward.  This means that to understand the Bible, one must read it in view of the Abrahamic covenant, for that covenant with Abraham is the foundational frameword for interpreting the Scripture and the history of redemption which it reveals.” – pg. 135

“…the Mosaic covenant provided the dispensational structure in which Israel experienced the Abrahamic blessing.” pg. 137

“The important point is that the covenant of promise made with the patriarchs continues as the fundamental defining relationship between God and Israel, even through extreme judgments eliminate for a time the present experience of blessing (or at least the most visible aspects of that blessing)…The Abrahamic covenant clarifies the way in which God will fulfill for humanity the blessing promised to Noah for all flesh.” – pg. 139

“Reconfirming the gracious character of the patriarchal grant, the Lofrd first bound that generation of Israel to Himself by faith (Ex. 14:31), and then He established a covenant with them to bring into their day-to-day history and experience of the blessings promised to the patriarchs.” – pg. 141

“The difference between the two covenants [Abrahamic and Mosaic] is seen first of all in Moses’ statement that the covenant made at Horeb (Sinai) was not made with the patriarchs (Deut. 5:3).  Second, the two covenants have differnt forms.  Whereas the covenant with Abraham was a grant covenant, the Mosaic covenant follows the form of a Suzerain-vassal treaty, that is, a treaty between a king (Suzerain) and his subjects (Vassals).  This kind of covenant is not a grant to a particular subject but a bilateral agreement between the king and the nation subject to him in which the king promises to allow his subjects to enjoy life under his beneficent reign in return for their loyal service to him.  Conversely, he threatens to punish those who disobey his laws.  The Mosaic covenant follows this treaty form.” – pg. 143

“…we see that in the Mosaic dispensation, God related to Israel as a nation, a collective group of people who could be characterized on the whole as either a people of faith or an unbelieving people.  But there in another principle, the principle of the remnant of faith…They are the true recipients of the Abrahamic grant…the Lord nevertheless maintains a remnant of faith…The blessing covenanted to the [the faithful remnant] is an eschatological hope that the wrath of God falling upon the nation will function as a purifying, refining fire which will usher them – remnant of faith- into the covenanted blessing.” – pg. 149

“The blessings of the new covenant show it to be a grant-type covenant rather than a bilateral contract or treaty.  Consequently, its superiority over the Mosaic covenant, which it replaces, is readily apparent.” – pg. 155

“The fact that the promise of spiritual renewal is set side-by side with promises of physical and material prosperity (including bodily resurrection from the dead) shows that in biblical theology, physical and spiritual blessings should not be thought of as contradictory or mutually exclusive.” – pg. 158

[Relating to the Davidic covenant:] “The promise that ‘he shall build for Me a house’ (1 Chron. 17:12; 2 Sam. 7:13) also shows the Son’s loving response to the Father.  The house spoken of here is the temple of God…the temple would function as a historical fulfillment of the Abrahamic blessing declared to Jacob, that God would be with His people…Building and maintaining a temple is a priestly act…Since the Davidic king builds and maintains the house of God, it is not surprising tha the is descrinbed in Scripture as a kind of priest.  In Psalm 110:4, we read: ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, Thou art a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek…David’s conquest of Jerusalem, the former city of Salem gave him the ancient throne of Melchizedek…the Scripture describes David as dressed in priestly attire leading the priests in joyful celebration…As the king-priest …he made plans for the construction of the temple…the Melchizedekian priesthood is an office given to David’s son as apart of his inheritance.  As we will see in the next chapter, Hebrews connect the roles of covenantal sonship and Melchizedekian priesthood in the one ministry of Christ.” – pgs. 161 & 162.

“Israel will be blessed nationally, and through her King, the Davidic Christ, blessings will flow to all peoples.” – pg. 247

“The house of God which Messiah is building far excels that which was built by Solomon, for Jesus is building a “living” house…redeemed humanity will itself be the dwelling place of God…This is the key action which brings into existence the redeemed peoples of the eschatological kingdom, all living in peace, filled wiht the knowledge of God.  The ‘new man’ is this eschatolocial humanity.” – pg. 259

“Being a dispensation of the kingdom, the church corresponds to that mystery form of the kingdom which Jesus revealed in the parables of Matthew 13.  It is a community of citizens of the kingdom prior to the coming of the Son of Man.  It is a new revelation of God, a mystery of the kingdom.  But it is a mystery of the kingdom.  Although new in the progress of revelation, it is not wholly different, not a secondary, parallel plan of God.  As illustrating the Parable of the Householder (Matt. 13:52), this new revelation complements the revelation previously given, adding new treasures to one household, the new and the old sitting side by side in complementary fashion.” – pg. 262

“Much of the New Testament writings concern the extension of present kingdom blessings to Gentile believers as consistent with Old Testament promises about Gentile believers as consistant with Old Testament promises about Gentiles.  However, the New Testament never presents these events as a replacement of the specific hopes of Israel.  Instead, they are argued as compatible or complementary to the hopes of Israel…The issue in New Testament writings was Gentile inclusion not Israel’s exclusion.” – pg. 267

“Jesus Himself identifies His actions performed through the Holy Spirit as the kingdom of God.  The kingdom is present because He is the eschatological king, and His is present on earth.  The works of Jesus give dynamic glimpses of the kingdom: sins are forgiven, diseases are cured, disabilities are healed, demons are exorcised, and the dead are raised.  He pacifies the wind and the sa and multiplies food by blessing it.  He leads people into the knowledge of God and promises the new covenant blessing of righteousness by inner renewal through the holy Spirit.  He then gave His own life in a messianic priestly act to atone for human sin, and the rose from the dead, revealing in Himself the immortal, resurrect life which was predicted for the eschatological kingdom.” – pg. 279

“Progressive dispensationalism would see Christ’s major activity in the world today as the formation of a remnant of people form all the nations who are His own to manifest in an inaugural way the righteousness that He will give to all peoples in that future kingdom.” – pg. 292

Structural Likes:

I like the way the authors make the connections from one covenant to another very clear in the chapters with the subtitles.

Lots of charts – great for visual people like me.

Structural Dislikes:

There a couple of chapters by one of the authors on hermeneutics toward the beginning of the book that seemed out of place.  Perhaps it was necessary as the authors said, that their hermeneutic be understood in order to see how they came to their conclusions.  However, that throws the reader into a completely different subject matter (hermeneutics) than the topic they opened the book to read about.  I found those chapters quite boring.

I would have like some sort of brief compare/contrast section with its major eschatalogical counter-rival, covenantalism.

Endorsements: (The one you are most likely to notice is Gerry Breshears who co-writes with Mark Driscoll.)

Gerry Breshears, Kenneth J. Barker, Eugene H. Merrill, Paul. D. Feinberg, James C. McHann, James O. Rose Jr.

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All eschatological systems tend to invoke much emotion.  I thought it would be good to link to some other articles that want to “put their 2 cents in” on the matter by way of critique.

Zola Levitt Ministries (Messianic Jewish ministry): http://www.levitt.com/essays/progdisp.html

Traditional (Classical / Revised) Dispensationalist: PDChallenge.

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Published in: on September 11, 2010 at 6:59 pm  Leave a Comment