Saturday, February 12, 2011

Blaising. Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church - A short book review

Blaising, Craig A., and Darrell L. Bock, eds. Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992. Softcover, $32.00.

As Stanley Gundry writes: "dispensationalism and its proponents have been and continue to be in process" (12). This is especially true about one of the sine quibus non of dispensationalism: the distinction between Israel and the church. Blaising, in his introductory historical overview concludes that there has been an abandonment of the "transcendental distinction" between Israel and the church in favor of a "historical distinction in the progressive revelation of the divine purpose" (33). Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, edited by the authors of Progressing Dispensationalism, is therefore, as Blaising identifies it, "the hermeneutical reexamination of the relationship between Israel and the church, which in turn contributes to the process of self-definition currently underway in dispensationalism." In it, ten dispensational authors "examine aspects of the Israel-church relationship in New Testament theology," and three evangelical scholars "respond to these hermeneutical studies" (34).

For Bock, the reconstruction of New Testament eschatology must take into account that Jesus is the fulfillment of "promises and covenants made to Israel," as presented in Acts 2 and 3 (37-8). Ware believes that in the new covenant, Israel and the church are united people(s) of God, "yet distinct insofar as God will yet restore Israel as a nation to its land" (97). Hock states that the "ecclesiological one new man" is formed by "the remnant of Israel together with Gentiles" (125), which means that there is continuity and discontinuity between the testaments. Saucy focuses on understanding the mystery in Eph 3. Glenny argues for a typological-prophetic understanding of the use of the OT in 1 Pet, where OT Israel is a "pattern of the church's relationship with God" (186). Burns deals with "eschatology, ethnic Israel, and Romans 11" (188). Martin believes that the believer's ethic reiterated by Jesus, "although historically conditioned, is applicable to all ages" (263). Turner considers the New Jerusalem from the perspective of biblical theology. Finally, Barker argues for a 'both-and' approach to "certain potential dichotomous concepts" involving the church and Israel (328).

Three responses follow these ten chapters. VanGemeren, committed to Westminster (331), seems to think that dispensationalists have not gone far enough in his direction. Waltke, believes that this shift in dispensationalism "shakes the very foundations of dispensational hermeneutics" (348). Kaiser, is encouraged by the progress and applauds both the spirit, methodology, and many conclusions of this volume. Blaising and Bock conclude this book with a summary and a cursory presentation of progressive dispensationalism

Overall, I appreciate the progressive approach to dispensationalism presented in this volume, since it does attempt to smooth out some of the tensions that a clear dichotomy between Israel and the church creates. Bock's presentation of the kingdom existing in the church, as a "showcase of God's present reign through Messiah Jesus," for example, decreases the stark division that the classical dispensational view presents of a purely future kingdom. This allows the reader of Scripture to apply passages, like the sermon on the mount, where Jesus is talking about the kingdom. I recommend this volume for all who want to understand the history and current status of dispensationalism. Whether one agrees with the conclusions of the authors or not, there is much in this volume that will trigger fruitful thought about Israel and the church.

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