Perhaps You Were Wondering…

Some of you reading this blog may be wondering, “Where in the world is this guy’s perspective coming from?”

It’s a legitimate question; to many in the evangelical Christian world a torah-sensitivity comes completely out of left field. Some time ago a friend’s dad wrote me a short note inquiring something similar. I thought I would share his note and my response as a sort of short intro to the background of my thinking.

Please don’t take what follows to be a comprehensive explanation, but it can be a great introduction to some books and some scholars that you might want to check out as they are heavily impacting Christianity, and will have a decided affect on the future of evangelicalism.

Nate,
How did you happen to get into this arena of reading? I’m not familiar with this approach at all.

You say it is burgeoning. What else can you tell me about it? Where is it coming from? Much of it sounds like Messianic Jewish perspective. Is this what you are referring to as Promise/Remnant theology?

I wouldn’t say dispensationalism has been the dominant theology. It has certainly been a strong one, represented, for example by, Dallas, Moody, and Wheaton, etc. But I think reformation and covenant and arminian and baptistic theologies are also quite strong.

And my response:

I was initially introduced to this line of thinking several years ago via a gentleman named Dwight Pryor, who is President of The Center for Judaic Christian Studies and a member of The Jerusalem School for Synoptic Research , which began as a result of the unique collaboration between Dr. David Flusser, a Jewish professor from Hebrew University, a philologist and expert in 2nd Temple Judaism, and Dr. Robert Lindsey, the Baptist pastor of Narkis Street Congregation in Jerusalem from 1946 till 1986. The introduction to that information started me on a search for corroborating theological information, and I discovered the upheaval in theological studies that has been underway since 1977.

What can I tell you about it? The presence of a Jewish nation in the Land, and the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls produced an absolute revolution in New Testament and Pauline studies, not to mention in the understanding of 2nd Temple/1st Century Judaism. From what I can piece together primary factors were as follows:

  1. as the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls trickled out of the Vatican’s tight grip it became apparent that our previous understanding of Palestinian Judaism had been mostly caricature (see Martin Abegg, Emmanuel Tov, E.P. Sanders, David Flusser & N.T. Wright), and
  2. the failure of both Covenant and Dispensational theology to construct a satisfactorily whole explanation of Scripture as a unified document began causing evangelical scholars to look elsewhere (see Walter C. Kaiser, James Strauss, Mark Nanos, Brad Young)
  3. hence Promise Theology (rooted in Dr. Kaiser and Dr. Willis Judson Beecher) and Remnant Theology (rooted in the work of the Jerusalem School for Synoptic Research), and likewise, Progressive Dispensationalism (see Darrel Bock, Craig Blaising, and Robert Saucy) for those who couldn’t stomach abandoning Dispensationalism all together.

Promise Theology and Remnant Theology are still fledgling names that even some of the contributors may not agree on; there are a lot of varying ideas among similar larger-picture perspectives still. My guess is that by the time they have solidified in name and content they’ll have merged. The contributors are all reading each other anyway.

What fascinated me was to discover that this movement had independent momentum in Scandinavia, Asia and the Pacific Rim. There is a significant movement taking place in the Lutheran seminaries of Scandinavia, for example, as represented by the writings of Oskar Skarsaune. Ray Pritz and Gershon Nerel represent the same movement in Israel, as do the many now associated with the Jerusalem School for Synoptic Research. Several months ago I began running into the same teaching coming out of Hong Kong, New Zealand & Australia, from completely independent sources. What struck me about the teaching from Pac-Asia was its lack of awareness of being anything other than the norm. These churches/teachers are advocating the keeping of the festivals of the Lord and their significance in prophetic interpretation, for example, as the Christian norm.

There is at this point a great degree of disparity in the various teachings & viewpoints, but it all seems to hold in common a return to the Jewish Roots of our Faith (not just from a Messianic Jewish perspective), and an historico-grammatic hermeneutic.

I would highly recommend Our Father Abraham, by Marvin R. Wilson as a good launching pad for investigating the movement. Toward an Old Testament Theology by Walter C. Kaiser and/or Jesus the Jewish Theologian by Brad Young are great follow up reads. A lighter read which accurately represents a Promise/Remnant Theology interpretation is The Letter Writer by Tim Hegg, a book on Paul, his theology, etc. Our Father Abraham represents some of the early thinking and The Letter Writer its logical conclusion played out half a generation later. Each of those books are equally as valuable for their extensive bibliographies.

Similarly, if you are going to track down these ideas further you’ll eventually want to read The Mystery of the Gospel by D.T. Lancaster and Fellow Heirs by Tim Hegg. I would be remiss not to mention the writings of James D.G. Dunn, Clark M. Williamson, R. Kendall Soulen, Peter Tomson, and Geza Vermes, as being significant contributors to the development of Post-Shoah theology and New Perspective thinking. These days Stephen Westerholm, Simon Gathercole and Andrew Das must also be considered, as reactions to the New Perspective.

In regard to Dispensationalism I was speaking in general terms, which certainly need qualification. I pretty much lump Reformed and Covenant Theology together as essentially the same thing. A second and major qualification is that I generally classify all major historical theologies under either Covenant or Dispensationalist theology; no other major theology besides the developing Promise/Remnant Theology has distinctives which necessarily place it in opposition to the defining characteristics of Covenant or Dispensational Theology. For example, arminian and baptistic theologies can live in either camp.

Why do I say that Dispensationalism has been dominant for the last 40-odd years? First, because I’m referring to America not the world. Secondly, because while Covenant Theology is alive and kicking it doesn’t seem to be as potent in terms of what its adherents produce or in terms of its visibility in secular society. Which camp has influenced major study bibles of the last 30 years? Which camp has written the most popular commentaries of the last 30 years? Which camp is producing conferences, books, music, etc. that are visible in popular culture? Promise Keepers, the Navigators, The Left Behind Series (ick!), contemporary Christian music, Christian Counseling, Nouthetic Counseling, etc.

Why would I say Dispensationalism is on the wane? Because not even Dispensationalists still hold to the Dispensationalism of Ryrie, Walvoord, Scofield, et al; it’s my impression that Progressive Dispensationalism has carried the day in most dispensational-leaning seminaries (actually I think reactions to Progressive Dispensationalism have carried the day, and there is no coherent, dominant theology these days). That will trickle down over time into our pulpits and eventually even into our pews. But the really honest theologians are admitting that Dispensationalism just can’t be fixed, and that Progressive Dispensationalism doesn’t go far enough. The entire construct of Dispensationalism is based on a prejudicial belief that Israel and the Church are two separate entities. That presupposition cannot be accurately supported by Scripture, so ultimately Dispensationalism will die out.

Similarly, in the past few years I’ve noticed that Reformed theology is experiencing a major revival as people recognize the necessity of reading the Scriptures as a unified document, and as people seek a systematic theology with deeper roots. Emergent movements are heavily influenced by the Reformed perspective (and a wide array of other post-modern influences), and many who are dissatisfied with the current state of the church are seeking a more traditional expression of their faith. However, roots are an interesting thing to contemplate. People will eventually find themselves disappointed with “roots” that only go back to the Reformation, or that go back to Rome or that go back to Antioch. It’s to Jerusalem that we need to look for our roots, and only theologies that attempt to re-discover the authentic faith and pedagogy of Yeshua and his disiples will endure.

That’s a pretty long-winded reply, but I tried to answer it more succinctly and just didn’t feel I’d satisfactorily replied.

In Messiah,

Nate Long

For those of you intimately familiar with the New Perspective, Post-Shoah Theology, the Hebrew Roots Movement, etc. I should almost apologize for this as it paints with such a broad brush. However, it was an attempt to introduce some ideas and some names that can start people in a positive direction.

5 thoughts on “Perhaps You Were Wondering…

  1. Wow, You know too much stuff man! I usually have a distaste for learning theologies, but I’m beginning to think that I’m going to need to. Is it possible for you to give me a brief explaination of some of the theologies mentioned in this blog. You’ve explained to me dispensationalism, but what is reformed and some of the others.

    Shalom, C-bo

  2. Connie, good question. If you read carefully you can probably tell that this was the third or fourth email in a string, but after this response I never heard back from him. Bummer, eh?

    Courtney, glad to see you on the blog, brother! I will take some time later tonight or tomorrow and try to briefly summarize some of the theologies I mentioned. Of course to briefly summarize is almost always a dis-service to that theological system, but if folks will give me leave to be brief we’ll see how it goes.

  3. Wow Nate – that is cool! 3 years into this Torah walk & I had never heard of Promise or Remnant Theology before! And more authors to look up 🙂 My library thanks you, tho my bank account may groan! I’m looking forward to the summaries!

  4. Ok, some quick summaries (emphasis on quick). Promise Theology is rooted in the work of Dr. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. (President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary). It’s actually rooted in the work of J. Willis Beecher, but Kaiser popularized and made it accessible to contemporary scholars. The idea that the Promises of God provide the essential interpretive grid for viewing Scripture. I’m a big fan. To read more about it check out http://thepromise.typepad.com (ignore the current Christmas theme, that reflects the personal taste of the guy that is behind the site)

    Remnant Theology is a little known term, but coined (so far as I know) by scholars from The Jerusalem School for Synoptic Research. Dr. Randall Buth has a really good audio teaching about it, the name of which escapes me at the moment. Come to think about it…it may have been Halvor Ronning, anyway. I’ll have to check.

    Dispensationalism, Courtney, we all ready covered that as you mentioned.

    Federal, Covenant or Reformed Theology are synonyms as far as I’m concerned. Their adherents would disagree, but the bottom line is the differences don’t a different theological system make. The basics: two covenants, the covenant of Law and the covenant of Grace. The Church replaces Israel after the flesh and becomes the new spiritual Israel. It’s the theology behind Presbyterian, Reformed, and Congregationalist churches. And a lot of Southern Baptist congregations are jumping on the bandwagon in the last 5 years too.

    Arminian theology is represented by Methodist, Wesleyan, Missionary, and many Brethren churches. It is basically the counter-point to Calvinism. Although I think that is an unfair description. I appreciate the emphasis on personal involvement in the sanctification process that one can find in Wesleyan theology.

    Baptistic theology, I’m not sure how to define, because I see it used in a lot of different ways. Some times people mean theology characteristic of baptist churches. Sometimes people mean theology that includes baptism as part of the salvation process. As far as I’m concerned it doesn’t qualify as a major theological category, and you always have to ask people what they mean when they use the term anyway.

    How’s that for straight to the point? I openly admit that these descriptions would be perceived by their proponents as unfair in some ways. Sorry. It is what it is.

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