Thursday, June 05, 2008

Riddlebarger on Dispensationalism

Kim Riddlebarger says,

The problem with the dispensational interpretation of the millennium has to do with how we are to understand the general flow of redemptive history.

I think herein lies one of the major issues of dispute. Amills, like Riddlebarger, largely depend on the unspoken "general flow of redemptive history" while dispensationalists rather rest on the words of the text. That's not to say that amillennialists deny the words of the text. It is to say that I do not believe that their system is driven by the words of the text. I think the words of the text too often become things that must be explained in light of a system. Of course, there is a tension there that we all must be aware of and cautious about.

Many of you will reject this out of hand, but you really should consider how much of your view is dependent on the text itself, and how much is dependent on what you have concluded about certain ideas.

I would change Riddlebarger's comment to say,

The problem with the amillennial interpretation of the millennium has to do with how we are to understand the words of the text.

Riddlebarger goes on to say,

For example, when Israel’s prophets speak of the restoration of Israel, the New Testament contends that this promise of restoration is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the true Israel.  When Israel’s prophets speak of the land of Canaan, the city of Jerusalem and the mountain of the Lord, the authors of the New Testament, in turn, point out that these themes are fulfilled in Christ and his church.

The problem is that the NT does no such thing clearly. This conclusion is not one driven by the text, but rather by conclusions about the text. Every NT use of the OT is explainable by a premillennial view of the kingdom. Yet there are many OT passages that cannot be explained by an amillennial view of the kingdom. The NT holds out these promises and so should we.

So what must we do? I think we should spend more time wrestling with the text itself.

Side note: Dispensationalists aren't the only ones to disagree with Riddlebarger on this. All premillennialists would. Surely he knows that, which makes me wonder why he doesn't address it that way.


Anonymous said...

Consider this history:

"As they both reached for the punch ladle, Tom said hello to Jackie. They went on to have a lovely conversation, and over the next several months, many more lovely conversations. They found that they were both Christians, shared core doctrinal understandings, and desired a Christian family. Each found the other very attractive and physically desireable. When Tom proposed, Jackie accepted immediately. With the blessing of both sets of parents and their church, they had a lovely, but exhausting, wedding and reception. They couldn't wait to get to the hotel room . . ."

Is the flow of this history unspoken? Is it not in the words of the text?

While there is nothing in it that summarizes or systematizes the flow, the flow is clearly contained within the text.

Furthermore, "wrestling with words of the text" without grasping the flow could easily lead to serious error. For example, if one were, without consideration to the flow, to wrestle with the words "Each found the other very attractive and physically desireable," and/or "They couldn't wait to get to the hotel room," one might conclude that Tom and Jackie didn't have their priorities in order. However, the flow -- which is clearly in the text -- makes it obvious that they were a very advmirable couple.


Larry said...

Your history is fine. But the problem is that some approaches say that "punch ladle" actually means "car key," and "found each other very attractive" means that they thought someone else looked great.

Which underlines the essential problem I am highlighting. The issue has to rest first and foremost in the words of the text, and ammillennialism undermines those words by saying the actually mean something else. When they talk of the "flow of the text," that becomes a tool to finding something not in the text. And that is, to me, problemmatic.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but the story continues . . .

Tom looked deeply into the clear blue pools that were Jackie's eyes and he said, "My heart will be yours from tonight until the end of time." Jackie replied, "And mine will be yours." Then they entered the honeymoon suite and embraced one another passionately."

Does Jackie really have small bodies of water in her head? Will Tom and Jackie really exchange blood pumps? And, what all is involved in this embrace of theirs?


Larry said...


Surely you recognize that dispensationalists do not deny the use of figurative language. And since I am quite sure you do, I am not sure how that post helps further the conversation.

The problem is not with the use of figurative language. It is with making literal language mean something figurative, or making figurative language mean something literal. That is why we use a term like "normal." Language should be interpreted "normally." No one who knows English interprets your paragraph as you suggest in the second paragraph. But that is far different from changing the meaning of something that has historically been recognized as one thing and making it something else (e.g., the land). So I think you are using an illustration that doesn't work because no one doubts the premises of your illustration and your use of language. The problem is the inconsistent application of it.

We do not get to change it to fit our theological system. We should be changing our theological system to fit the language.

Anonymous said...

Chapter 3

The next morning Tom and Jackie began a new life . . .

Mainstream amillenialism does nothing like saying "punch ladel" means "car key".

It does do things like equating the word "heart" with the core of one's being. It does do things like use "new" and "renewed" or "new phase" interchangeably. But, of course, that's how language works.

Anonymous said...

I didn't see you last reply before I posted my "chapter 3".

Saying that the "land" is the "new earth" including the "new Jerusalem" is like saying Tom and Jackie began a new life. It is not like saying a punch ladel is a car key.

I am aware that dispensationalists allow the use of figurative language. In fact, they allow for things that are much more of a stretch than the amillenialists allowance of "renewed" for "new".

Some examples: Isaiah prophecies that the suffering servant will die on a tree. But dispys accept that it was a cross. The Scriptures refer to Christ's bride, but dispys allow that it is the church. The Scriptures talk of Christ's body, but dispys allow that it also is the church. Etc. Etc.


Larry said...


When amillennalism changes "nation of Israel" to the "church which is not a nation," that seems very similar to "punch ladle=car key." The two do not have the same referent. Same with "land from the River Euphrates to the River of Egypt" becoming "New Jerusalem." It just doesn't work with language.

"Heart=core of one's being" is hardly amillennial. And the Bible clearly defines tree as a cross ... the reference is to wood, and Christ's body or bride as the church, which is a clear statement of Scripture (of which Amillennialism can boast none in support of its distinctives). I think these are pretty significant differences.

Which goes back to my original post ... that amillennialists are not depending on the words of the text for their beliefs; in fact, I think they must recharacterize the words of the text in order to sustain their beliefs.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the Bible clearly defines tree as a cross -- the New Testament part of the Bible (seeing as how the Roman cross had yet to be invented when Isaiah was written). There is nothing in the text of the Old Testament that states that "the reference is to wood."

But, that's the point, the New Testament is allowed to interpret, explain, clarify, expand the meaning of the "words of the text" of the Old Testament. It is when it comes to tree=cross, and so it is when it comes to Israel=Christ and those in Him. And, it does clearly do so. It clearly says that Christ is Israel. It clearly says that believing gentiles are grafted in to believing Israel. These are not vague statements in the New Testament.

You continue to insist that the "land from the River Euphrates to the River of Egypt" cannot be the New Jerusalem. However, there is nothing in the text to prohibit this. The New Jerusalem will be between the restored River Euphrates and the restored River of Egypt. How these geographical referents somehow prove that the New Jerusalem cannot fulfill the land promise continues to escape me. The land promise will be fulfilled. And, better than we expected, it will be fulfilled with the land glorified.

All of this comes from the text -- unless one apriori imposes definitions of "Israel" and "Land" upon the text.


Larry said...

I am not sure that anyone argues that the NT cannot clarify or explain a meaning from the OT, though there may be some. That's not the point. The point is when the meaning is changed.

The land to which they will be restored is the land from which they were evicted (in the text). Therefore, the land to which they are restored cannot be the New Jerusalem because that is not the land they were evicted from. Furthermore, the "they" is the nation of Israel. There is no warrant in the text for having one group (Israel) kicked out of the land and another group (the church) restored to a different. The church cannot be restored to the land because they were never "stored" in it to begin with.

So I think this continues to demonstrate that the key difference is on how we handle the text. I don't see any warrant in the NT to handle it as you think it should be handled. I don't see Jesus doing it and I don't see the apostles doing it. And so I don't think we should.

But you differ ...

Anonymous said...

Let me go back to the original post as well -- Riddlebarger's point is that to know when words ought to be interpreted figuratively one must properly understand the flow of the story/history.

You told me that "No one who knows English interprets your paragraph as you suggest in the second paragraph." Actually, however, only those who have rightly understood the flow of my story would be guaranteed to not interpret as my second paragraph suggested. An English speaker/reader who missed that the flow was from meeting to marriage to marital consumation in sexual intercourse could interpret "embraced passionately" as a really intense hug. There is nothing in the words themselves to prohibit this -- only in the flow of the words.

It is only obvious to us that "embrace" in my story meant more than "hug" because the flow of my story is very simple, brief, and common. It has an obvious flow. The Scripture's flow is much more complex, protracted, and uncommon. But, it can be discerned.

Anonymous said...


Last comment unless you ask me to continue. You seem to be missing the point about the land, so I want to try one last time . . .

1. Yes -- the land to which Israel will be restored will be the land from which Israel was evicted. The New Jerusalem IS the land from which Israel was evicted. It is the same land, the very same land, made new -- renewed/restored/glorified.

If I leave my home, with the broken garage door and plugged up toilet, and while I am away, someone repairs the door and unclogs the toilet, it is still the very same home when I return -- even though it has been restored and improved.

2. Yes -- "They" is Israel. The church and Israel are not two different groups. They are ONE. The believing gentiles have been grafted in to the believing Jews. They are now one. All who are in CHRIST are in ISRAEL. And, all who are in Christ/Israel will be restored to the land.

If my family, with two biological children, were to leave home with and to return home with one of those biolgical children (the other left us) and one more adopted child, our FAMILY would still be returning home. Even though one member of the family had never been there before.

The Scripture does handle "Israel" and "New" in this way.