Have you struggled with the way life is and the way it should be?
People fall into one of three philosophies of thought when struggling through this tension: Theist (We can know God), Agnostic (I’m not sure God exists or that we can know), and Atheist (We cannot know).
For the theist, the presence of evil is proof God exists; for the agnostic, evil creates a huge question in the mind; Atheists see evil as proof God does not exist.
At best, I am a theist. At worst, I am agnostic of the Mark 9:24 variety. Doubting Dawkins and Atheism’s Strength demonstrate the achilles heal of Atheism. Atheism is not a tenable option for me.
In a godless universe shit happens without rhyme nor reason. Life is predatory from the ground up. Creatures eat one another by trapping unsuspecting victims in unusual ways, launching surprise attacks out of the blue, and hunting in packs by overpowering prey with brute force and numbers. Sometimes a creature just goes wacko for no reason at all. Humans are not exempt. Sometimes the wiring in our brains goes haywire and we snap. We too are violent and we inherited this trait from our animal predecessors. We also show care and concern to our kith and kin but we can lash out in horrific ways at what we consider an uncaring world.
On the one hand, a very illuminating observation. On the other hand it is nothing more than yet another attempt at the proof of godlessness by the existence of evil. Axiomatic atheism is, if you will, a one-trick pony: Bad things happen, ergo no god. They also throw in “show me god exists” – a reasonable request from their perspective—but this is a negative statement rather than a positive. The only positive argument atheism has is, as Loftus puts it, shit happens. He writes:
In a universe where there is an all powerful, perfectly good, all knowing God this tragedy is not what we would expect to happen.
Here Loftus is 100% wrong. He is operating under the misguided assumption that Christianity is a religion that teaches shit never happens.
The bible teaches us to enjoy life, God’s bounty, and temporal happiness. It also promises, like a prescription medication: side effects may include pain, despair, suffering, lapses into grievous sin, weakness, apparent senselessness, persecution, misery, and physical death. Why atheists think that fallen man in a fallen world behaving exactly as the bible tells us is somehow a problem for Christianity is unfathomable. Shit happens. Loftus is correct that a godless world predicts as much. He is incorrect that a world with the god of the bible does not. Both hypotheses fit the data.
Heddle is spot on. But further, I would say that many people see God as a Ivory-Tower God, a God that is disconnected from His creation in any meaningful way.
If God were an Ivory-Tower God, then Atheists would be correct
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The joy of God has gone through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable.” We need a suffering Savior. We need a Savior who has tasted the cup of horror we are being forced to drink.
But more to the point, as Peter Kreeft goes so far as to say, “If good and evil exist, God exists. The struggle of life is a struggle for faith, but not just faith but faith in Jesus, our Emmanuel.
All that any of us who do not live in Newtown, Connecticut, truly needed to know—possibly more than we needed to know—appeared in a 12-word news alert on my phone Friday afternoon. Almost everything else, I believe, was a distraction from the only thing that we who are not first responders, pastors, or parents in that community needed to do at that moment: to pray, which is to say, to put ourselves at the mercy of God and hold those who harmed and those who were harmed before the mercy of God.
A right eschatology does not liberate us from the present; it liberates us for the present.
An Aside: Apocalyptic language and metaphor
As Matthew Malcolm4 shares,
If you’ve encountered the opinion that unless we interpret the Bible “literally” we are not doing justice to it, this could be a useful resource:
The Charge of Replacement Theology
What I’m finding is that those who charge Amillennialists as “Replacement Theologians” are establishing a straw man argument. The non-Amillennialist does not rebut the actual arguments of the Amillennialist, chiefly, the remnant of Israel is One, namely Jesus. He is the True Remnant of Israel, the True Israelite: read this post for details.
Because Jesus is the True Israelite (the True Remnant of Israel), everyone who believes in Jesus the Christ (the Messiah) becomes one (i.e. there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift).
Another way to look at it: Because Jesus is the True Remnant of One of Israel, Israel is expanded to include both Jew and Gentile, hence, this is Expansion Theology.
OR if you would like to keep pressing the point, Jesus replaces Israel (the unfaithful son) as the Faithful Son, the True Israel and then all who are joined in Him by faith becomes the New Israel — the two becoming one new man in Jesus:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. ~Ephesians 2:11-22
The BIG Question
The big question non-Amillennialists need to answer is,
How is Jesus not the True Remnant of Israel– a Remnant of One?
This is not a liberal / Conservative Discussion
Charles Spurgeon5 (a Premillennialist but not a Dispensationalist) explains,
Distinctions have been drawn by certain exceedingly wise men (measured by their own estimate of themselves), between the people of God who lived before the coming of Christ, and those who lived afterwards. We have even heard it asserted that those who lived before the coming of Christ so not belong to the church of God! We never know what we shall hear next, and perhaps it is a mercy that these absurdities are revealed at one time, in order that we may be able to endure their stupidity without dying of amazement. Why, every child of God in every place stands on the same footing; the Lord has not some children best beloved, some second-rate offspring, and others whom he hardly cares about. These who saw Christ’s day before it came, had a great difference as to what they knew, and perhaps in the same measure a difference as to what they enjoyed while on earth meditating upon Christ; but they were all washed in the same blood, all redeemed with the same ransom price, and made members of the same body. Israel in the covenant of grace is not natural Israel, but all believers in all ages. Before the first advent, all the types and shadows all pointed one way—they pointed to Christ, and to him all the saints looked with hope. Those who lived before Christ were not saved with a different salvation to that which shall come to us. They exercised faith as we must; that faith struggled as ours struggles, and that faith obtained its reward as ours shall.
Promises / Fulfillment
I have never read a persuasive argument for why we should have such a hard distinction between Israel and the Church. Because of the documentation I have presented, I am more convinced than ever that just as Israel is used in different ways (due to context – i.e. Israel as nation, Israel as true Spiritual Israel), the Church is used in different senses (i.e. physical representation of God’s people, the Church universal aka Spiritual Israel.
I do not see how we can get around this when there are promises made to Israel yet applied to the church.
Promises Made to Israel Fulfilled in the Church
Promise to Israel
Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, Which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ There it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God. -Hosea 1:10
Fulfillment in the church
What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As He says also in Hosea: ‘I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved.’ ‘And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God. -Romans 9:22-26
Promise to Israel
Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; Then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’ -Hosea 2:23
Fulfillment in the church
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. -1 Peter 2:9-10
Promise to Israel
On that day I will raise up The tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, And repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, And rebuild it as in the days of old; -Amos 9:11
Fulfillment in the church
Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. ‘And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the LORD who does all these things.’ ‘Known to God from eternity are all His works. -Acts 15:14-18
Spoken to Israel, Applied to the Church Spoken to Israel
And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. ‘And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the LORD has said, Among the remnant whom the LORD calls. -Joel 2:28-32
Applied to the church
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place…’But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. -Acts 2:1,16-21
Spoken to Israel
And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel. -Exodus 19:6
Applied to the church
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; -1 Peter 2:9
Spoken to Israel
My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. -Ezekiel 37:27
Applied to the church
And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people. -2 Corinthians 6:16
Spoken to Israel
Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. -Leviticus 19:2
Applied to the church
but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’ -1 Peter 1:15-16
Spoken to Israel
Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah– -Jeremiah 31:31
Applied to the church
Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.’ -Luke 22:20
Self-Condemnation of Dispensationalism
Charles Ryrie, in his early writings, makes this significant statement:
If the church does not have a new covenant, then she is fulfilling Israel’s promises, for it has been clearly shown that the Old Testament teaching on the new covenant is that it is for Israel. If the church is fulfilling Israel’s promises as contained in the new covenant or anywhere else in the Scriptures, then [dispensational] premillennialism is condemned. One might well ask why there are not two aspects to the one new covenant. This is the position held by many premillennialists, but we agree that the amillennialist has every right to say of this view that it is a practical admission that the new covenant is fulfilled in and to the church.
This is why I am not a Dispensationalist. This is why I am Amillennialist because everything I see revolves around Christ and the Amillennial position expresses that most clearly.
Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive. … He was one of the very few persons I have ever met for whom God was real and always near. … On Sunday, April 8, 1945, Pastor Bonhoeffer conducted a little service of worship and spoke to us in a way that went to the hart of all of us. He found just the right words to express the spirit of our imprisonment, the thoughts and the resolutions it had brought us. He had hardly ended his last prayer when the door opened and two civilians entered. They said, “Prisoner Bonhoeffer, come with us.” That had only one meaning for all prisoners–the gallows. We said good-bye to him. He took me aside: “This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.” The next day he was hanged in Flossenburg.
The text on which he spoke on that last day was “With his stripes are we healed.”
Such was the life and death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer–a teacher of the Church in the highest sense of the word, a writer of profound theological and Biblical insight and yet close to contemporary life and sensitive to reality, a witness who saw the way of discipleship and walked it to the very end. from the Introduction pages 12-13 of Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community
But the greatest challenge (and the greatest privilege) in preaching the Old Testament is finding the way that it points to Christ and bringing that to the congregation in a way that clearly honors the Old Testament passage and makes much of Christ. This is not a call for importing some artificial connection to Jesus whenever we preach. Just the opposite. This calls for understanding and expositing the specific ways in which Old Testament passages point to Christ. But it does presuppose, based on Jesus’ own words in John 5 and Luke 24, that every passage of the Old Testament does indeed point to him.2
Literal Hermeneutic is a Both/And
The goal is to read and preach both Testaments literally (contextual, historical, genre, redemptively) in such a way that it does justice to both the passage and to Christ. Some hermeneutic styles primarily focus on the Old Testament and let that re-interpret the New Testament. The problem with this hermeneutic (and they claim their hermeneutic is literal) is they fail to fully be literal with the New Testament texts which deal with or shed light upon the Old Testament passages in question.
This hermeneutic is nation-of-Israel-centric which eclipses Christ and all He has accomplished for both Jew and Gentile alike.
Further, the problem with this approach is that it arrives at interpretations which are later contradicted by the New Testament.
It misses the point completely
There is a reason Matthew (and all the other NT Authors) go to great lengths to demonstrate Jesus is the point of the Old Testament. We haveexplainedin detaila few timesbefore. Certainty abounds that Jesus is a true Israelite, but not just a true Israelite; Jesus is the True Israelite Who fulfills everything Israel the nation failed to do.
This is not reading into the Old Testament nor reading into what Matthew’s point is really about. It is recognizing the reality Matthew is expressing and taking his cues as a pattern for our hermeneutics precisely because he is inspired and we are not.
Jesus is the Fulfillment, Culmination, and Mediator of the Promises to Israel
We discussed this in detail previously. Because Jesus is the True Israelite, all who believe in Him (both Israelite (modern or ancient) and Gentile alike) become joint-heirs with Christ and all that He inherits is ours.
Bobby Grow shares this point, i.e. Jesus is the point of the all Scripture3:
Jesus understood the Old Testament Scriptures, and the promises therein, as finding their reality and fulfillment and purpose in him. He believed that the Scriptures, and the Old Testament promises to his covenant people were all about him; and that they were personally fulfilled in him. For example, as I was reading through Deuteronomy this evening, the concept of “land” and blessing and “Yahweh’s people” kept popping up. Like the Jewish zealots of Jesus’ day, dispensationalists collapse this promise of blessing in the land for Yahweh’s people into a geo-political and “literal” promise that is yet (and is currently) to be fulfilled by the Jewish people in present day Israel (a sign of this fulfillment, for dispensationalists, is the re-establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948). But if we re-interpret these promises as if their fulfillment has come to reality in Jesus Christ, then the promise of blessing in the land for Yahweh’s covenant people will be understood to have fulfillment in and through the obedient humanity of Christ as the new man; the new and obedient Israel (Eph. 2:11ff); and in the New Heavens and New Earth, the Heavenly Jerusalem, as described in Revelation 21–22. So there is a literal fulfillment after all, but it has already been fulfilled (the now and not yet aspect of the kingdom … or the in-between time we inhabit currently) penultimately in Christ’s first advent, and yet ultimately in Christ’s second advent and the consummation of all things.
One of the problems for dispensationalists is that they understand “literal” through a neo-Platonic lens; so that there is a hard distinction between the spiritual heavenly realm and the physical earthly realm. What the dispensationalist fails to appreciate, properly, is that if we interpret all of reality and the purpose of creation through the analogy of the incarnation and the hypostatic union between the divine and human; that the hard distinction between heaven and earth is not a viable option. If you will, the dividing wall has been broken, and all things have become One in Christ.
Is It Scientifically Verifiable?
Bobby links to another article3 of which Matthew Malcolm shares,
So where did the axiom (interpreting the Bible literally) come from? I think it comes from the way in which fundamentalism buys the modernist-enlightenment claim that the only “real” truth is that which is precisely, scientifically verifiable. And so it follows that if the Bible is truth, it ought to fit the bill – it ought to be precisely interpretable with a single, “literal” meaning…
The pastoral problem with this well-meaning but mis-cued axiom is that it sets people up for confusion and disenchantment.
To illustrate: in a human conversation, we are open to a variety of fluid meanings and trajectories and levels. Someone might say, “no pun intended!” – but as they say this, they are (perhaps quite intentionally) drawing attention to the fact that they made a pun – thus highlighting the dual levels on which it may be heard. This is complex, but it’s a part of normal human communication. If we are open to this sort of complexity in the words of humans, why should we deny it in the Word of God?
To deny the New Testament from re-interpreting the Old Testament through Jesus (the Mediator), we lose our literal hermeneutic.