Never in the history of (my) blogging has one short sentence caused so much grief! The offending words appeared in 7 Reasons the Old Testament is Neglected, where I wrote:
Although unintended, the dispensational division of Scripture into different eras tends to relegate the Old Testament to a minor role in the life of the Church, and of the individual Christian.
Not exactly a PhD thesis; and I thought I was being quite gentle (“although unintended,” “tends to,” “minor role” not “no role” or “tiny role”). But almost immediately Twitter started poking its beak into my eye, a friendly pyromaniac built a pyre, and Jesse Johnson lit the match.
Now I take my tongue out of my cheek and welcome my dispy friend and Old Testament scholar (see his outstanding work on Proverbs), Dan Phillips, to put me to the sword with his response to my observation.
My friend David Murray is extraordinarily kind to offer a poor, benighted dispensationalist the opportunity to respond to his brief word, as quoted on the Ligonier site. David’s remark was a short except from a book I’ve not yet had the pleasure of reading, so I’ll try to focus on the excerpt alone and not bring in the whole warehouse.
First, I think dispensationalists are owed credit for their reverence towards the Old Testament. At least some Covenant Theology adherents (hereafter CTA – not to be confused with the rock album) used to acknowledge, if grudgingly, the fact that dispensationalists to a man affirm the inerrancy and inspiration of the whole OT, and that they carry that conviction out in how they approach issues of authorship and historicity. By contrast, I could name some famous CTA’s who are best known for what they don’t believe of the OT.
So it is ironic for David approvingly to quote the late Gleason Archer concerning the neglect of the OT, when Archer himself was a towering OT scholar, the author of a terrific book of OT introduction – and a dispensationalist.
Second, if I may adduce myself: I’ve been a convinced dispensationalist for some 40 years. It was my conviction of the divine authority of the OT that led me to start learning Hebrew in the early 70s, take extra classes in it, major in OT studies for my MDiv, do a thesis on Proverbs, and teach an array of classes in Hebrew and OT matters. I’ve always preached and taught extensively from all over the OT. I even wrote this book on Proverbs that is said to have some value to it. In fact, I’m preaching Proverbs right now! Also, I had the great joy of speaking at a conference on Messiah in the OT, in which I argued that the whole OT, literally from first verse to last, pointed to Christ. That was in England… which is near Scotland, right?
All of this, I would insist, is not in spite of my convictions as a dispensationalist, but because of them
Third, blaming us for the OT’s neglect because “the dispensational division of Scripture into different eras tends to relegate the Old Testament to a minor role in the life of the Church, and of the individual Christian” rather makes me scratch my head. David, do you think murderers should be executed, like Cain wasn’t? Do you eat ham sandwiches, and lobster, and bacon? Would you eat pork haggis? Do you wear clothes of mixed fabric? Do you mow your lawn on Saturday? When you sin (if you sin), do you head off for Jerusalem with a lamb to look up the local Aaronic priest?
This is a red herring that should be laid to rest. Whether 2, 3, or 7, all Christians recognize “eras” in God’s unfolding revelation. Before they got defensive, CT theologians even had a word for it. What was it, now…? Oh yes, I remember: “dispensation.”
Fourth, that said, I will admit that dispensationalists have not all done the job we should of stressing the unity of Scripture, the vast degree of continuity, the oneness of the redemptive story. While I’ll opine that CTAs have erred in hammering flat some of the many distinctive developments in God’s plan (past and future) to suit their views of unity, I will also confess that, in reaction, we dispensationalists have sometimes overstressed the distinctives. We may sometimes be guilty of giving our folks a view of the Bible as a series of disconnected episodes rather than an overarching narrative. It’s an area in which I’ve grown myself over the years. I think that’s a fault of individuals, though, not of the system.
Though more could be said, I’ll stop here, sincerely thanking my gracious host (and beloved brother) for this opportunity to put in a word from his faithful brothers laboring here at the back of the theological bus.