Having been disappointed thus far by the contributions by volume editor, Gerald McDermott, I eagerly moved forward to the first essay contributed by Craig Blaising. His presence among the writers was one of the factors which originally caused me to be suspicious of the repeated claim that what was being presented here was not simply repackaged dispensationalism.
Blasing’s sole contribution is a chapter on hermeneutics. I found myself asking… How is it possible that a dispensationalist is going to provide a chapter on hermeneutics without advocating for a dispensational hermeneutic? As we shall see, it isn’t.
After some brief prolegomena, Blasing begins to attempt to undermine the supersessionism that this view seeks to replace (pun intended!). However, I find that Dr Blasing spends most of his time boxing phantoms. This is abundantly clear to me for two primary reasons.
First, the view he identifies is not recognizable as a view that anyone I am aware of holds, at least not conservative scholars holding to the supersessionist that he is battling.
Of course, there are those who, while admitting that the Tanak predicts an ethnic, national, territorial Israel in the consulate plan of God, would nevertheless argue that the New Testament does not do so. They believe that the New Testament presents a different consummation (80).
Now, I know that there are no Reformed authors (typically the figures who are inaccurately called supersessionists) who would say that the Old and New Testaments present a differing consummation. I’m not sure I’ve ever ready any conservative authors who would affirm that. The closest thing I can think of that has such a radical divide between the Old and New Testaments is dispensationalism itself. However, even that does not (at least in the progressive favors) hold a differing consumption. This is a complete and utter straw man, which is of course the easiest kind of argument to make. Particularly ironic is nn7 on page 83 which states in part “Though it is becoming fashionable today for some to deny the label supersessionism…” (Emphasis original) What is ironic about this is that no Reformed author I am aware of in modern times has ever accepted the label, and from my reading of historical summaries, no Reformed author in history has ever positively applied it to himself.
Second, and related to the first, is the lack of specific quotations and citations supporting the summary of his opposition. On the four pages in which he summarizes this view there is not a single full length quote. Furthermore, apart from a few exceptions, Blasing is citing works from decades ago. Has the supersessionist camp gone quite in the last 10 years?
Next, Blasing begins to critique specific interpretations. He plays his cards far too early however. In trying to explain away the “replacement/redefinition” understanding of the Matthean “fulfillment” passages, he states
It belongs to an anti-Semitic, anti-Judaic interpretation of Matthew that is generally rejected today (84).
What he is referring to is the idea that God had a plan for Israel, that Israel failed in this task, and thus God send Jesus who would become the new Israel to replace the old failed Israel.
The problem is that this view doesn’t describe anyone. No one holds that view. I think what he thinks he is critiquing is the idea that Israel is a type of the Christ to come. This view, held by the Reformed, as well as by figures like NT Wright (albeit a bit different) is absolutely not anti-Semetic. However, this is the go to well-poisoning attack for Dispensationalists.
He then proceeds for several pages to try to show that the New Testament is actually in continuity with the Old Testament, a position which his opponents would agree with. One of the more dubious ways he does this is by speaking to the language of “Kingdom” to assume that this means the geo-political nation of Israel. An example is when he cites Acts 1:3 and Acts 1:6-8 (but conspicuously not Acts 1:4-5) to argue that because Jesus was “speaking about the Kingdom of God” and then tells the disciples that it is not for them to know the Father’s timing in response to their question about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. He does this, I’ll note, without any actual explanation of how this passage supports this view… And obviously without an explanation of how verses 4 and 5 are involved. He simply presupposes that “Kingdom” and “Kingdom of God” refers to the geo-political nation… An argument which is classic in dispensationalism.
He also engages in a brief explanation of Romans 9-11, without any demonstration of an awareness of how this is handled by his opponents. He especially focuses on the phrase “all Israel” and argues:
The phrase “all Israel” throughout the Tanak and elsewhere in the New Testament means the whole, the fullness of Israel. All Israel will be saved, which means the whole of it, the whole of its constituents, will be saved (96).
What he fails to notice is that in this very passage Paul explicitly says that he isn’t talking about “the whole of it.” He completely ignores, or at least does not interact with, Romans 9:6 which states that not all who are biologically descended from Israel are actually Israel. Not all who are biologically descended from Abraham are children of Abraham. While I can affirm that the fullness of Israel will be saved, Paul clearly argues here that what constitutes Israel is not biological descent. I’m well aware that Blasing and other dispensationalists have a way to understand this that is, at least in their view, consistent with their position… However, he does not do anything in this chapter to explain that.
Finally, he closes the chapter with a brief discussion of how the restoration of National Israel is a “preconsummate work of God.” The problem with this view is one that Classic dispensationalists could not overcome, and it is what gave rise to the so-called “progressive dispensationalist” school of which Blasing is a seminal figure. Israel has in its past, been reconstituted. As Blasing here points out, after the Babylonian exile, God reconstituted the nation of Israel in the land, but in a preconsummate sense. He argues that modern Israel is also a God reconstituted nation, but not in a preconsummate sense. This section does not do much in terms of forwarding the thesis of the book, and more serves as hedge against the critique that modern Israel doesn’t look like the reconstituted Davidic kingdom that we read about in the Prophets and the book of Revelation.
He does, however, make an interesting conclusion.
[If modern Israel is the preconsummate reconstituted nation of Israel foretold in prophecy], how should Jews and Gentiles respond? First, we see from Scripture that Gentile nations are obligated to accept and accommodate the Jewish nation when it is formed (102).
I thought that “We also disagree with many of the political beliefs associated with dispensationalism at a popular level… (14)”. I guess that that doesn’t extend to what is perhaps the most significant political belief associated with dispensationalism.
I feel like a broken record… But this is a play out of the dispensationalist playbook. It is not at all clear to me how this chapter presents a hermeneutic that is meaningfully different from the dispensationalist hermeneutic. And why should it be when it is written by arguably the most significant member of one of the branches of dispensationalism? Are we to believe, as McDermot stated in his introduction, that this book does not rely on dispensational sources when when of the authors himself is perhaps the most influential progressive dispensationalist on the planet? It is true thatMcDermott’s statements are in reference to “traditional dispensationalism,” but it seems disingenuous to me to utilize the same basic hermeneutic, written by a man who happily claims the label dispensationalist… But at the same time claim not to be advocating a dispensationalism?
It is patently obvious that the theology being advocated is a flavor of dispensationalism. If it is not actually progressive dispensationalism, it is a very closely related variation.