“old” vs. “new”

Early this morning, about half of the fence that divides our back garden from our neighbors’ collapsed. A couple of months ago, we thought this might eventually happen because of the poor state of the support posts–i.e. they were rotted out near the ground. Given that poor state and the 30+mph winds early this morning, the collapse was no real surprise. Unfortunate and slightly inconvenient, but not surprising. I immediately went round to the neighbors, but no one answered–presumably because it was just after 7am–so I came back to wait for a bit before trying again.

To pass the time, and waiting for the coffee to finish brewing (a slightly uneven blend of IKEA and Peruvian), I decided to read through a recent article by Bruce Baker, entitled, “Israel and the Church: The Transcendental Distinction Within the Dispensational Tradition” (Journal of Ministry and Theology 8.2 [2004]: 57-86). It didn’t take long to realize that Baker’s article is both a polemic against Progressive Dispensationalism (=PG) and an apologetic for Classical (or “Traditional”) Dispensationalism (=CD), with support from Revised (or Modified) Dispensationalism (=RD). Baker’s sparing partner throughout the article is none other than Craig Blaising, a notable advocate for PG and respectful critic of CD in particular and RD in general.

Baker chooses Blaising for what appears to be a singular purpose or reason: Blaising questions the legitimacy of Charles Ryrie’s sine qua non, specifically–as the article’s title indicates–the necessary distinction between Israel and the Church as a consistent presupposition throughout the history of Dispensationalism (which ain’t very long, by the way. The house we’re in at the moment is almost as old as Dispensationalism). In particular, Blaising sees Ryrie’s presuppositions as reflective of RD and not those held within either CD or PD. Thus, for Blaising, the problem is that Ryrie takes his (later) definition and applies to the whole of Dispensationalism as though it is universally valid and/or representative. Baker’s article, so far as I have read, essentially argues: “Nuh-uh.” I’ll have to wait to see how Baker justifies his argument in full, seeing that I have not yet finished reading it.

For now, I simply want to mention two small(ish) parts of Baker’s argument that seem a bit troublesome. First, while Baker might be able to make a case for key Dispensational presuppositions being consistently held (e.g. the Israel-Church distinction), he cannot escape the fact that such a case only works for the history of Dispensationalism. His case does not apply to and/or work for the 1800+ years that precede the emergence of Dispensationalism. At best he could appeal to Marcion (c.85–c.160 CE), who did advocate a clear separation between Christianity and Judaism, but much bigger problems arise by making such an appeal. Or Baker might follow the line of argument proffered by John Walvoord, who said: “the development of the most important doctrines took centuries” (The Rapture Question [1957], 52). However, and leaving to one side its inherent presumptions, that argument amounts to nothing more than special pleading.

And second, via Ryrie, Baker relies on Lewis Chafer–one of the early proponents of Classical Dispensationalism in the US–in order to prove the historical continuity within Dispensationalism about the Israel-Church distinction. What troubles me is that Baker emphasizes Chafer’s remark about “partial dispensationalists”–i.e. those who see God as carrying out a single plan–and says Chafer uses this “label” to describe those who adhere to Progressive Dispensationalism. Two problems here: 1) Chafer does not do that, because he can’t, because PD did not emerge until the early-1980s and Chafer died in 1952; and 2) by saying Chafer does do this, Baker becomes guilty of the very thing that Blaising criticizes Ryrie doing–i.e. applying a later definition to the whole of a system.

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