Thursday, December 24, 2009

A.W. Pink: A Study in Dispensationalism - Part 3

In the third chapter, Pink takes Dispensationalism to task for "separating" (rather than appropriately distinguishing) law and gospel. Classic Dispensationalism claims that a literal reading of the Bible leads to a contradiction in Scripture, unless the interpreter understands that the Jews were under the law, while Gentiles are under the gospel.

Classic Dispensationalism separates the law and the gospel by separating the Old and New Testaments. The OT Law teaches "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" (Exod 21:24). But, the NT Gospel teaches, "Whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matt 5:39). This is a contradiction, according to the Dispensationalist, unless it is understood that the Exodus text applies to Israel under the law-dispensation, while the Matthew text applies to the church under the gospel-dispensation.

Pink says that this way of separating law and gospel is a mishandling of Scripture. He says, "The former passage is one of the statues appointed for public magistrates to enforce, whereas the latter one lays down rules for private individuals to live by!" That distinction was true in the OT and it is true in the NT as well. Even under the NT, governments should apply the principle of "lex talionis," and even under the OT, individuals should never have taken the law into their own hands, but should have turned the other cheek. Leviticus 19:18 says, "You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord." Proverbs 25:21 taught that we should love our enemies, "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink."

Dispensationalists also argued, according to Pink, that Deuteronomy 6:25 contradicts Romans 3:20. Deuteronomy 6:25 says, "It will be our righteousness if we observe all these commandments before the Lord our God as He has commanded us." The Hebrew term "righteousness" is the same word that is sometimes translated "justification," and therefore the text teaches justification by works." But, Romans 3:20 says, "By the works of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight." According to the Dispensationalist, this would be a contradiction in Scripture, unless we understand that Deuteronomy 6:25 applies to Israel under the law, while Romans 3:20 applies to the church under the gospel.

Pink argued that Deuteronomy and Romans aren't at all contradictory. He wrote, "Both passages are equally applicable to Jews and Gentiles in all ages." Deuteronomy 6:25 "has to do with practical 'righteousness' in the daily walk, which is acceptable to God; the other [Romans 3:20] is a doctrinal declaration which asserts the impossibility of acceptance with God on the ground of creature doings." Pink said, "'Our righteousness' in Deuteronomy 6:25 is a practical righteousness in the sight of God. It is the same aspect of righteousness in 'except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees' of Matthew 5:20, the 'righteous man' of James 5:16, and the 'does righteousness' of 1 John 2:29." Justification before the bar of God's strict justice has never been by works, not even in the OT (Abel: Gen 4:4; Heb 11:4; Abraham: Rom 4; David: Ps 130; 71:16), but the Christian's imperfect faithful practical obedience in sanctification is called "righteousness" in both testaments.

In both testaments, salvation is solely by grace through faith. "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Gen 6:8); "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious" (Ex 34:5-7); "The Lord was gracious to them" (2 Kgs 13:22-23); "though your sins be as scarlet, they be white as snow" (Isa 1:18); "gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful" (Ps 116:5); "Bless the Lord O my soul and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases. . . He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities" (Ps 103: 2, 3, 10). The OT was filled with grace! Salvation in the OT was by grace alone, just as it is in the NT.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Gospel and Sanctification

James Grant posted an excellent article by guest blogger Mark Jones in which he argues that the "gospel" is not limited to justification by faith alone but also includes sanctification. Mark Jones is a PCA minister at Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He did his doctoral work on the Christology of Thomas Goodwin.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A. W. Pink: A Study of Dispensationalism - Part 2

Just to be clear, I believe that Dispensationalists are brothers in Christ and that the dispute between Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology is a secondary issue. It is, however, a significant issue because it effects how one views and applies God's Holy Word. In the second chapter of his book, Pink addresses two points of doctrine advocated by Dispensationalists.

1. The Dispensationalist says that Jewish Scripture is not "to us" but that it is "for us." When the Dispensationalist is faced with the fact that the Bible says "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness," he distinguishes between the prepositions "for" and "to," insisting that while all Scripture is "for" us, it is not all "to" us. Some Scripture, indeed most Scripture, is "to" the Jewish nation, not "to" Gentile believers.

Pink replied that this is a "distinction without a difference." In Hebrews 3:7, the New Testament quotes the Old Testament and says, "The Holy Spirit says," not "The Holy Spirit said." The Holy Spirit speaks to us presently, today, through the Old Testament. Pink also said that the distinction is "impertinent and impudent." Scripture itself never teaches that any portion of it is not "to" the Christian. Furthermore, the principle is dishonest, since if any portion of Scripture is not "to" us, then neither may we appropriate it "for" our benefit. We have no right to the benefit of any text if it is not "to" us. The Dispensationalists have no biblical ground to "dispense" with God's Word in this manner because Scripture never teaches the distinction between "to us" and "for us."

Pink went on to say that the New Testament teaches the opposite of what Dispensationalists teach. 1 Corinthians 10:11 says, "Now all these things happened to them for examples [margin, "types"]: and they are written for our admonition." He then quoted John Owen as saying, "The Old Testament examples are New Testament instructions." Furthermore, Romans 15:4 says, "whatever was written in former times was written for our instruction, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." "Hope" comes from believing divine promises, which means that the New Testament teaches that Old Testament promises to the nation of Israel are for the hope of the New Testament believer.

Three things are true of Old Testament promises, according to Pink. First, Christ purchased all the promises of the Old Testament for the redeemed. Second, most of the Old Testament promises were typical in nature, pointing forward to heavenly blessings in Christ. Third, Pink wrote, "a literal fulfillment to us of those promises must not be excluded, for since we still be on earth and in the body our temporal needs are the same as theirs, and if we meet the conditions attached to those promises (either expressed or implied), then we may count upon the fulfillment of them."

2. The Dispensationalist draws a definite and broad line between the Law and the Gospel. Dispensationalists think their system is the strongest at this point. They like to insist that one can no more mix law and gospel than oil and water. Pink, however, disagreed.

Pink said that law and grace are not contradictory but complimentary. Law and grace are found together in the Garden of Eden, in God's dealings with Noah, at the giving of the Decalogue, in the Levitical system, and at Calvary and throughout the New Testament.

He cites Romans 3:31 in support of the complimentary nature of law and gospel. "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: indeed, we establish the law." While it is true that the believer's justification is entirely through grace and no law keeping of his own, that does not mean that God's standards have changed or that He has relaxed His authoritative claim upon us. Quite the contrary. God's plan in redemption is to honor and enforce His law in His people.

There are three ways that the Gospel honors the Law. First, Christ was the "surety" of the elect, which means He paid the penalty of the law and merited its blessing because the elect themselves could not pay. Christ's total fulfillment of the law's precepts honors the law. Second, in regeneration, the Holy Spirit writes the law on the hearts of the elect, causing them to love and delight in it so that it is no burden to them. Third, the Christian himself voluntarily and gladly takes the law as a "rule of life" so that he declares with Paul, "with the mind, I myself serve the law" (Rom 7:25).

Pink wrote, "So far from the law and grace being enemies, they are mutual handmaids: the former reveals the sinner's need, the latter supplies it; the one makes known God's requirements, the other enables us to meet them. Faith is not opposed to good works, but performs them in obedience to God out of love and gratitude."

Friday, December 18, 2009

A.W. Pink: A Study of Dispensationalism - Part 1

Now that I've graduated and it's Christmas break, I have a bit of time for some recreational reading! One of the books I've always wanted to read but never got around to reading is A.W. Pink's (1886-1952) A Study of Dispensationalism. I realize it's not the best or most thorough critique of the Dispensational system. For a critique of Dispensationalism respected even by Dispensationalists, I recommend Understanding Dispensationalists by Vern Poythress. Still, Pink's book is a piece of history that I think is worth knowing. So, I'm going to read it and blog about it. Here's a bit of biography: A.W. Pink began his theological journey as a Dispensationalist, but he started to move toward Covenant Theology in 1929. Pink took the dispute between Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology very personally, which is evidenced by the fact that his book is full of spicy and passionate verbiage. For example, Pink said, "consciously or unconsciously, Dispensationalists are, in reality, repeating the sin of Jehoiakim, who mutilated God's Word with his penknife (Jer 36:23)." Pink believed that the Dispensationalists were as bad as the liberal higher critics who utterly destroyed the unity and integrity of the Bible.

What is at Stake
Pink began by explaining that he had just written extensively on the inspiration and interpretation of Scripture; therefore, he felt compelled to write about the application of Scripture. To do that, Pink thought he needed to refute Dispensationalism. This is an important point. The differences between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism, according to Pink, are about the Bible's application. He believed that we can defend the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of the Bible, but if we interpret Scripture so that large portions of it don't apply to us, as the Dispensationalists do, then we haven't really established the Bible's authority.

Another interesting fact is that throughout Pink's entire volume, he never mentions eschatology (end times) or the doctrine of baptism (whether we should baptize infants or believers). Many people wrongly think of Covenant Theology as being synonymous with a certain kind of eschatology or with infant baptism. Pink's book, however, never mentions either of those doctrines. Historically, Baptists and non-Baptists have been covenant theologians. Benjamin Keach was a Baptist covenant theologian (Pink himself was a Baptist); John Flavel was a non-Baptist covenant theologian. Theologians from every millennial persuasion (pre, a, and post) have been covenant theologians: John Gill (premil), Louis Berkhof (amil), and Jonathan Edwards (postmil). The real heart of the dispute between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism is about how much of the Bible applies to us today.

Dispensationalism
Pink pointed to a text often quoted by Dispensationalists in support of their system: "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth" (2 Tim 2:15). Dispensationalists, according to Pink, claim the word "dividing" refers to "correctly partitioning the Scriptures unto the different peoples to whom they belong." Dispensationalists say that part of the Bible is to the Jews, while another smaller part is to believing Gentiles. The Old Testament, from Genesis 12 onward, is to ethnic Jews only. Some (hyper) Dispensationalists even went so far as to say that the four Gospels are Jewish, that James, 1&2 Peter, 1,2&3 John, and Jude are to godly Jews in the future tribulation period. All Dispensationalists agree that nothing in the Bible that was written to national Jews applies to Gentile believers. Dispensationalism insists that to "rightly divide" the Word of God is to divide the the Jewish Scriptures from the Christian Scriptures. Of course, that is an incorrect interpretation of 2 Tim 2:15. Pink explained that to "rightly divide" the Word of God (2 Tim 2:15) simply means to interpret and apply the Bible correctly.

The Unity of the Bible
Rather than dividing the Jewish from the Christian Scriptures, the Bible presents itself as a unified book with a single story that applies to all of God's people of all time periods. Romans 15:4 says, "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." The Old Testament was written to instruct us, to help us persevere, to encourage us and to give us hope through its promises! 1 Corinthians 10:11 says, "Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come." The things that happened in the Old Testament are a present example to us, and the text explicitly says that Old Testament examples serve to instruct us. Speaking of the Old and New Testaments, 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness." Speaking of the Old Testament alone, Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15 "from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." The Old Testament is gospel! The Old Testament gives wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ. Pink says, "The Old Testament believers were saved with the same salvation, were indebted to the same Redeemer, were renewed by the same Spirit, and were partakers of the same heavenly inheritance as are New Testament believers."

The Diversity of the Bible
None of this should be understood as a denial of the differences between the Testaments. Though the Old and New Testaments preach the same law and gospel, and though there is only one people of God in both Testaments, there are differences between them. The book of Hebrews, for example, mentions a better hope, covenant, promise, and sacrifice in the New Testament, but the book of Hebrews also teaches us that the "betterness" of the New Testament has to do with the contrast between the shadow (OT) and the substance (NT). There are two Testaments for four reasons, Pink says. First, the testamental contrast distinctly differentiates the covenant of works from the covenant of grace. The covenant of grace is shadowed in the Old and brightly illumined in the New, both of which are set against the backdrop of the garden covenant of works. Second, the contrast shows how two different companies, Jews and Gentiles, are united in one body, Christ. Third, the contrast highlights the wonderful providence of God, which ensures that God's promises are kept throughout the history of redemption. Fourth, the contrast allows the Old Testament types to be confirmed and manifest in the New Testament antitypes.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

John Flavel: Ten Errors of Antinomianism

John Flavel (1627-1691) was an English Presbyterian clergyman who wrote against 10 of the chief errors of Antinomianism. The term "Antinomianism" means "against the law" and refers to a theological error that diminishes or denies the necessity of faithful law-keeping among Christians. Flavel was partly motivated by a desire to separate Antinomianism from the true doctrine of free grace. Here are the 10 errors Flavel identified:

1. They make justification to be an immanent and eternal act of God and affirm that the elect were justified from eternity.

2. They claim that justifying faith is nothing more than being persuaded of one's previous justification. Justification by faith is nothing more than a manifestation to us of what was really done from eternity.

3. Men ought never to doubt their faith or question whether or not they believe. To question one's faith is to question Christ, they say.

4. Believers are not bound to confess sin, mourn for it, or pray for forgiveness of it. All the sins of believers are forgiven, and a pardoned sin is no sin at all.

5. They say that God "sees" no sin in believers. God can see no adultery, lying or blasphemy in believers since those sins were pardoned from eternity.

6. God is not angry with the elect, nor does He afflict them for their sins.

7. When God laid our sins upon Christ, Jesus literally became as completely sinful as us, and we became as completely righteous as Christ.

8. Believers do not need to fear either their own sins or the sins of others. No sins can do them any harm whatsoever.

9. They do not allow the new covenant to be made with believers, but insist it was made with Christ only for us. Thus, all conditions in the new covenant were kept by Christ and there are no conditions in the new covenant to be kept by the believer.

10. They downplay the need for men to examine themselves by the marks and signs of grace. They consider it a fundamental error to make sanctification an evidence of justification.

See John Flavel, "Giving a Brief Account of the Rise and Growth of Antinomianism," in The Works of John Flavel (reprint, Carlisle, PA: Banner, 1997), 3:555-57.