- Paperback: 144 pages
- Publisher: P & R Publishing; Second edition (December 1, 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0875523749
- ISBN-13: 978-0875523743
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #126,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Understanding Dispensationalists Paperback – December 1, 1993
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". . . a fair, irenic evaluation. . . . Poythress should be thanked for helping to open up healthy dialogue among brothers and sisters in Christ." --Darrell L. Bock
". . . poses some searching questions for dispensationalists. . . . should lead to improved understanding and greater mutual respect." --David L. Turner
About the Author
Vern S. Poythress (MLitt, University of Cambridge; PhD, Harvard University; DTh, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa) is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is also the author of Understanding Dispensationalists; Science and Hermeneutics; Implications of Scientific Method for Biblical Interpretation; Symphonic Theology; The Validity of Multiple Perspectives in Theology; and The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses.
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Top Customer Reviews
What I liked was:
1. The author truly tries to understand this theology, not tell just enough to rip it apart.
2. He consults many dispinsationalists.
3. It is woven with counter points from covenant theology.
If you want to read a book that helps to differentiate these two theological systems in a healthy way, then this is the book for you. It is obvious that the goal of this author is to open dialogue between people int these two "theological camps"
I gave this book a four because of that attitude he displays, but in my view, Poythress misses a number of things that are important to my particular understanding of Scripture. For instance, referring to Romans 11, Poythress states, "Romans 11 tells the story [of position in Christ vs. apostasy] very effectively. Some dispensationalists construe the olive tree in Romans 11 as a symbol for being in the place of spiritual opportunity and privilege. It certainly involves that. But it also implies being holy (Rom 11:16). To be part of the olive is thus similar to being part of the "holy nation" of 1 Pet 2:9. It is similar to what Peter means by being "a chosen race, God's own people" (1 Pet 2:9)." His comments here are a bit confusing. On one hand he seems to be saying that the Dispensationalist is incorrect in viewing the Olive Tree as the place of spiritual blessing. Yet, immediately prior to this, he also seems to be saying that what has taken place with the Jew who were cut off from the Olive Tree is that they apostacized, but can be grafted back into the tree. He does not explain what he means by "apostacized." Does he mean losing one's salvation, or does he mean, backsliding far enough so that outwardly, the Christian's life looks nothing like what a Christian life should look like?
The other stickler in just this one spot (at least for me), is his explanation of various sections of Peter's epistles and the use of the terms "Israel" and the "Church" in various places throughout the NT. In the case of Peter's epistles, I'm not convinced that he was writing to Gentiles at all. In fact, if he was writing to Jewish believers (in the majority), then much of his language is completely understandable. If he was instead writing mainly to Gentiles, it seems perplexing since they would not necessarily have understood terms such as "you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" and "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
This type of terminology equates to Jewish readers, but not necessarily to Gentiles. In fact, with the amount of quoting Peter does from the OT, it seems obvious that he expected his readers to be very familiar with what he was talking about. However, Gentiles would not have been familiar with it at all. Even the part of about "once you were not a people, but now are God's people" is predicated on the fact that though Israel as a nation was God's chosen nation, they rarely acted like it. It is only through Christ that the wall of partition has come down; that which separates man from approaching God boldly.
I am not sure I see the problem that Poythress maintains is there in the Hebrews 12:22-24 passage. If I am not misunderstanding him, Poythress seems to forget that the name of the book is Hebrews. This is an obvious reference to the fact that the writer of Hebrews was writing mainly to Jewish Christians, who would have had a decidedly firm grasp of the OT and the typology found therein.
Poythress seems to be saying that since both Jewish Christians as well as Gentile Christians have arrived at the true Mt. Zion, this then represents the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant? So then, since Abraham and the Patriarchs have inherited the "heavenly land," the promise made to Abraham by God beginning with Genesis 12:1-3, and repeated in Genesis 13, 15 and 17, has been fulfilled. But what is the reality NOW?
For instance, Paul states in Ephesians that I am presently seated with Christ in the heavenlies (cf. Ephesians 2:6). Is this my reality now? Certainly, in some sense, yet at the same time, I am still fully human and I am still alive on this planet and I still possess the sin nature. While I have the fullness of Christ potentially, in actuality, I am not really there yet; I'm certainly NOT experiencing it in my daily life perfectly by any stretch. So, in reality, it is the promise of being with Christ that I know I will one day experience in actuality. What keeps me from enjoying that fullness now is this "body of death."
It seems that what Poythress is doing then is going to the END of the journey so to speak, and pointing out from Hebrews that we are already THERE (technically), so in that sense everything that was promised to Abraham has been fulfilled. While it is true that WHEN we get there, everything will have been fulfilled, for NOW, while I am HERE, God still has a will and plan for my life that will yet unfold over the remaining time of my earthly life.
Satan is alive and well and creating havoc all over the earth, yet he has been beaten and condemned. How can that be? On one hand, he is allowed to continue to roam, accuse and cause problems within the confines of God's will (as it has always been), yet a day will come when he will be a problem no more. In that day, his power will in actuality, be destroyed. In the meantime however, that has NOT come to pass. It is like a check that has not been cashed yet. It is POTENTIALLY cashed, but not ACTUALLY cashed.
I'm not sure how Hebrews 12:22-24 somehow negates the concept of Christ's physical, future reign over a political Kingdom for 1,000 years. Yes, Christ reigns NOW from His Father's throne, but there is a very good LEGAL reason as to why Christ MUST reign on earth, physically and from David's throne.
What the writer of Hebrews is pointing out is the ultimate fulfillment which WILL become our ACTUAL experience with the start of the Eternal Order. Poythress seems to agree when he states, "Dispensationalists nevertheless have an important point to make. This fulfillment in Heb 12:22 is "a" fulfillment, but not the greatest, broadest, most climactic realization of the promises to Abraham. That is still future. We err if we minimize this."
Regarding the alleged problem with 1 Corinthians 15:50-53, I don't see the problem at all. First of all, Paul uses the definite article "the" in reference to this Trumpet, and I see Poythress' point here about it being the VERY LAST EVER trump. While both midtribulationists and posttribulationists believe this is related to the seventh trumpet of Revelation, it cannot be. The people in the Corinthian church would have had NO knowledge of the book of Revelation since it had NOT been written yet!
But sadly even Poythress misses the Jewishness of the situation here and I think it is extremely obvious what Paul is referring to. But since most Gentiles think in Gentile terms, it is very easy to miss as Poythress seems to have done.
Paul MUST be referring to the Feast of Trumpets in this passage. It is very likely that because of his previous teaching for the Corinthians, he may well have spoken of it before.
According to Fruchtenbaum, "During the ceremony there are a series of short trumpet sounds concluding with one long trumpet blast which is called the tekiah gedolah, the great trumpet blast. This is what Paul means by the last trump. As such, it says nothing concerning the timing of the Rapture; only that the Rapture, whenever it comes, will fulfill the Feast of Trumpets. This trumpet is the same as the trump of God found in 1 Thessalonians 4:16. In that passage, at the sound of the trumpet the dead are raised as incorruptible and we, the living, will be changed." (Footsteps of the Messiah, page 148)
So this "last trump" is the last trump of the Feast of Trumpets, not the last EVER trump. This is at least PART of the problem with many interpretations today. The Jewishness has been obliterated from the Bible, by us Gentiles, who see everything through Gentile eyes. Yet, the Bible was written BY Jews and essentially FOR Jews, at least to start with (and ultimately of course, by God). IF we would put the Jewish context BACK into the Bible, that the Roman Catholic Church and others have removed, most of the meaning would become obvious. Thank goodness for people like Arnold Fruchtenbaum!
Overall, as I said at the beginning, Poythress' critique of Dispensationalism is honest, worthwhile and extremely charitable. He has put a tremendous amount of work in his book and that is obvious. This is the type of person I could sit down with, enjoy a dinner and dialogue. I'm sure I could learn a great deal from him regarding Covenant Theology was well.
The trouble though is that his own interpretation of Scripture is questionable at various points and he assumes the position of the Dispensationalist at times without meaning to do so. These aside, this is one book that I am very glad to have in my library!