Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Harbinger Critics: The Dispensationalist Connection Part 3

David James in a comment to my first post below on dispensationalism in relation to The Harbinger says there is no such thing as a dispensationalist hermeneutic. I posted there the link to this article by Thomas Ice, which I will quote here:
Dispensational Hermeneutics
By Thomas Ice.

" Consistently literal or plain interpretation is indicative of a dispensational approach to the interpretation of the Scriptures," declared Charles Ryrie in 1965. " And it is this very consistency- the strength of dispensational interpretation- that irks the nondispensationalist and becomes the object of his ridicule." [1] " Consistently literal interpretation" was listed by Ryrie as the second most important sine qua non of dispensationalism, which forms the foundation for the most important essential, "the distinction between Israel and the Church."[2] Earl Radmacher, in 1979, went so far as to say that literal interpretation "is the 'bottom-line' of dispensationalism."[3] While the ridicule of nondispensationalists has continued, there also appear to be signs of hermeneutical equivocation within the ranks of dispensationalism.
Dispensational hermeneutics, as opposed to, say, Reformed hermeneutics or Covenant Theology hermeneutics, includes major major emphasis on Israel as opposed to the Church, as the main or even exclusive object of all the Old Testament prophecies and promises. Ice discusses variations on this, but it remains true that the distinction between Israel and the Church is "the most important essential."

There is also a very interesting discussion online by John MacArthur on the subject of dispensationalism, which I hope to get to. I've been told I'm a Progressive Dispensationalist because I do at least believe that Israel has a role to play in the last days, and that seems to be more or less MacArthur's position.

So eventually I'll be back with that.

The Harbinger Critics: The Dispensationalist Connection Part 2

As David James takes care to recognize throughout his book and especially in his last chapter, Final Thoughts, in general both supporters and critics of The Harbinger share a conservative Christian mindset or worldview, generally agree on all the main discernment issues involving cultic and apostate movements, and agree on the sins besetting America that deserve God's judgment, and I'd add that, for the most part, we also agree that we are in the last days.

As James puts it:
Whatever else may be problematic concerning the rest of the book he [Cahn] is absolutely correct in his assessment that America is in serious spiritual trouble.[THFOF p.102]
He also acknowledges that Cahn has emphasized the fact that God's judgment on a nation is of far less importance than the spiritual condition of individuals, for whom the consequences are eternal.

So far so good.

He then goes on to object that, nevertheless, these ends don't justify the means.

And the first of these "means" that James condemns is, of course, Cahn's supposedly faulty hermeneutic:
Cahn has departed from a literal, grammatical historical hermeneutic, in favor of looking for hidden mysteries while engaging in allegorical interpretation and untenable speculation. In short, he has mishandled the Word of God.[THFOF p. 202]
This is, of course, what is going to have to be disputed by anyone who wants to answer David James, and, Lord willing, that's what I intend to try to do.

The fact is that the "literal, grammatical historical hermeneutic" that James has in mind is not EVERYBODY's "literal, grammatical historical hermeneutic" but only the particular hermeneutic of the dispensationalists, although James in his adherence to that theological school is not willing to acknowledge the existence of other schools. Understandably, perhaps, but it has made for quite a bit of unnecessary confusion, for me for one, in dealing with their attacks on the book.

The dispensationalists in dealing with The Harbinger have uniformly presented their own theology as THE only biblical theology, as in this following statement from James:
Although praise of The Harbinger has come from across an extremely broad theological spectrum, the comparatively little criticism the book has rewcweived has been from a relatively small group who share a clear set of mutually held biblical and theological commitments. [THFOF p. 204]
And these shared commitments are in fact the tenets of dispensationalism, though he'd apparently rather give the impression that the shared views are the only or the only right "biblical and theological commitments."
Among those who have serious concerns about The Harbinger and Cahn's views, the common ground they share is not their opposition to the book, but rather a firm commitment to a biblical hermeneutic, as well as the theology and view of the prophetic Scriptures that flow from that. [THFOF p. 204]
In other words, this biblical hermeneutic is THE biblical hermeneutic and there is no other.

He does then go on to acknowledge that many of the book's supporters share the same hermeneutic and theology, although he's almost acknowledged what I have come to think IS the main reason for the division between the book's supporters and its critics, which is the dispensationalism of the critics despite the fact that there are also supporters who share their dispensationalism.

This does require me to account for why dispensationalists themselves also divide on this book. My first, provisional, explanation is that the book's supporters are not adhering rigidly to a formal dispensationalist theology or hermeneutic as the critics are, but rather reading the book in a much more natural way, which would keep them from falling into the utter absurdity of accusing the book of anything remotely along the lines of Replacement Theology for instance. A second, provisional, answer is that the supporters' dispensationalism is of a less extreme kind to begin with. I don't know if this is true and probably can't prove it one way or the other.

David James asks the question what accounts for the differences even among the dispensationalists --or again, as he so tendentiously puts it, among those who have "a firm commitment to a biblical hermeneutic" -- but his answer seems to be the usual dispensationalist assumptions versus those who to his mind DON'T have "a firm commitment to a biblical hermeneutic:"
Those who have opposed The Harbinger tend to uniformly do so on the basis of a number of factors. One major concern is that The Harbinger gives the distinct (and wrong) impression that America has been elevated to a status in God's program that has been reserved for Israel alone. [THFOF pp. 204]
This is pure dispensationalism, which is so rigidly committed to viewing the Old Testament as exclusively to "Israel alone" that even arriving at an application of Old Testament principles to one's own life is brought under suspicion, let alone a nation or anything in the contemporary world, which is treated as a flat-out unquestionable unmitigated failure of proper biblical interpretation. You'd think this method of interpretation was somehow decreed by God Himself the way they talk about it. And he goes on in the same vein:
This impression is deepened, at least in part, due to what is seen as a problem with the hermeneuticl principles used to interpret Isaiah 9:10 (and the Old Testament in general). This has led to further concerns about how passages that were given specifically to Israel have been applied to New testament believers, as well as to the United States, which is a Gentile nation. Ultimately this has resulted in differences between the two sides over the correlation and application of Isaiah 9:10 and other passages to recent events going back to September 2001 and even back to the founding of America. The Harbinger supporters do not seem to share these concerns. [THFOF pp. 205]
That is absolutely correct, we do NOT share those concerns. Those concerns are strictly an artifact of the wrong hermenetic of dispensationalism. The wrong hermeneutic is theirs, not Jonathan Cahn's, even if he thinks himself a dispensationalist, and I don't know how far he goes in that direction.

Dispensationalism is not only simply ONE school of biblical interpretation, it is regarded by some Christians of other theological persuasions as HERESY. At least at certain extremes there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that it is definitely heresy. Two dispensationalist teachers who are connected with and promoted by Brannon Howse, who has been a major promoter of the criticisms of The Harbinger, do go that far into heretical versions of dispensationalism, Jimmy DeYoung and John Whitcomb, and I've brought up their heretical views on this blog before.

Clearly there is much more that needs to be said about dispensationalism in connection with The Harbinger, which will probably be the subject of posts yet to come as I continue to address David James' critique. I would suggest that if you abandon at least the most extreme dispensationalism, half of the objections to The Harbinger would just go up in smoke. At least half.

More to come.

The Harbinger Critics: The Dispensationalist Connection

Just had a theological/hermeneutical ton of bricks land on my head. As it were.

I've noted before that dispensationalism has been guiding some of the criticism of The Harbinger, but I managed to forget that and focus on the separate arguments. While taking note of its influence to some extent I was hoping to avoid getting into such a thicket of theological controversies.

Now it's hitting me that it is this system of theology, or system of hermeneutics, that is THE basis of the attack on The Harbinger. This came as a depressing realization as I've been grappling with David James' book. Unfortunately it looks like I'm going to have to get into it to some extent, and even a small extent is already far beyond where I wanted to go with such questions.

Why is it there is such a divide among conservative Christians on The Harbinger? James asks that question and I found myself coming to the conclusion that it's somehow because the critics all share a theology, a theology that I don't share and that apparently the average reader doesn't share either. But I wasn't yet understanding just WHAT theology that is.

James, who is very saddened by the disagreements on this book among conservative Christians, also attributes it to theological differences, in his last chapter, but he doesn't name the theologies in question.

It took a while for it to sink in. Ah yes. Dallas Theological Seminary. Ah yes, look at who the critics are. James, DeYoung, Howse, McMahon, Thomas Ice, Roy Zuck.

Dispensationalists. Of course. Why did "Replacement Theology" ever come up at all, and why is it still an issue in some form or other? All that stuff I keep wanting to call stupid and so on, that keeps missing the point of The Harbinger, is dispensationalism.

THAT's the cause of the huge divide. Even though many of the book's defenders are also dispensationalists to one degree or another.

And I'm going to have to deal with all this, like it or not. I've collected some links. My work is cut out for me.

More later.