Friday, May 25, 2007


I going to submit a short essay I wrote today on hermeneutics as a brief departure from writing any book reviews. Although, truth be told, the essay was in part influenced by the recent reading in Reymond's systematic theology on the close of the canon, inspiration, and infallibility. Here is the essay:

I did some more reading today on the concept of sensus plenior, which is a hermeneutic principles that historical/grammatical-only interprets often employ upon those NT quotations of the OT that are obvious departures from their OT historical/grammatical context. The justification for sensus plenior is based upon the historical hermeneutic practices of rabbinic Judaism, which employed multiple forms of interpretation, including several that involve a significance beyond the original meaning of the text. This article here explains several of these interpretive principles that match up with sensus plenior. These are:

(1) p’shat (“simple”)—the plain, literal sense of the text, more or less what modern scholars mean by “grammatical-historical exegesis,” which looks to the grammar of the language and the historical setting as background for deciding what a passage means. Modern scholars often consider grammatical-historical exegesis the only valid way to deal with a text; pastors who use other approaches in their sermons usually feel defensive about it before academics. But the rabbis had three other modes of interpreting Scripture, and their validity should not be excluded in advance but related to the validity of their implied presuppositions.

(2) Remez (“hint”)—wherein a word, phrase or other element in the text hints at a truth not conveyed by the p’shat. The implied presupposition is that God can hint at things of which the Bible writers themselves were unaware.

(3) Drash or Midrash (“search”)—an allegorical or homiletical application of a text. This is a species of eisegesis—reading one’s own thoughts into the text—as opposed to exegesis, which is extracting from the text what it actually says. The implied presupposition is that the words of Scripture can legitimately become grist for the mill of human intellect, which God can guide to truths not directly related to the text at all.

(4) Sod (“secret”)—a mystical or hidden meaning arrived at by operating on the numerical values of the Hebrew letters, noting unusual spellings, transposing letters, and the like. For example, two words, the numerical equivalents of whose letters add up to the same amount, are good candidates for revealing a secret through what Arthur Koestler in his book on the inventive mind called “bisociation of ideas.” The implied presupposition is that God invests meaning in the minutest details of Scripture, even the individual letters.

The grammatical/historical-only proponent will often argue (although the author of that article does not) that sensus plenior is reserved for the inspired writers alone (thus denying the Catholic uses of the principle) and thus modern day interpretation must stick to the grammatical-historical approach.

These same folks reject the analogy of faith that seeks to interpret the OT and the NT as one text, with each informing the exegesis of the other. This is, they say, a "spiritualizing" of the text that goes beyond "normal" hermeneutics and is subsequently dangerous because there is no fixed way of determining what is or ought to be "spiritualized."

The rub for those who would reject the analogy of faith and yet accept sensus plenior as a valid method today is that sensus plenior is a "spiritualizing" method when it departs from p'shat. The rub for those who reject the analogy of faith and limit sensus plenior to the NT authors alone face the fact that there are two valid hermeneutics for the NT authors and only one for us. Upon what foundation do they base this distinction? One could infer that NT injunctions against "adding to or taking from" the original word of the apostle could be applied, but this does not seem to be the case, since a sensus plenior interpretation is unpacking the significance of a text and not altering its original meaning. Thus, it would not be a "different" word, although it would be a "fuller" one. There seems to be not indication from the NT that sensus plenior interpretation ceases with the passing of the canon. Indeed, those who accept sensus plenior as applicable for today note that the NT gives no indication that these hermeneutic principles have been annulled.

But is sensus plenior truly a valid form? Those who would argue that the analogy of faith is dangerous should and probably would argue the same for sensus plenior interpretations, since they also fall prey to possible overextension or misapplications of texts. The failsafe is an appeal to consistency with the plain doctrines set forth in Scripture: no interpretation is valid that alters doctrine or departs from it. Those who use sensus plenior under this control seem to have little difference in their hermeneutic from those who employ the analogy of faith, provided one condition: that their interpretations are limited to the redemptive-historical purpose of Scripture. Sensus plenior interpretation that would seek to use Scripture to comment on history since the close of the canon would be a departure from the intention of Scripture itself, which is to present God's revelation of Himself and His purposes in Creation for His own glory.

But what of those who reject both the analogy of faith and the sensus plenior principle for today's interpreters? They must rely upon an argument from silence insofar as they accept sensus plenior for the NT writers and yet reject it for modern exegetes. This seems a very weak position to hold. Secondly, their method of grammatical/historical-only interpretation seems to not only give precedence to history over logic--that is, the Bible must be read as history first, then as a logical whole (which proponents of the analogy of faith would accept as well, since the immediate context precedes the larger)--but they deny a fully logical exegesis and deny the full harmony of the Old and New Testaments (and this despite the fact that any division of Old and New is purely arbitrary). The OT is a book for Jews only except in those passages dealing directly or indirectly with salvation of the Gentiles, whereas the NT is a book for Gentile Christians and converted Jews. But this does not account for the logical unity of Scripture as one message of God.

It is a logical contradiction to assume one message for two people, since those two people, it is argued, have separate eschatological destinies--thus, two distinct messages contained in the same whole. Where does Scripture give warrant for this bifurcation? In the NT we are constantly and consistently told that God has made one people out of two, calling Gentiles into the promise of God having been given full access to all the blessing that are in Christ. The grammatical/historical-only exegete cannot argue that we must stick to this method because it is the method the Bible uses, unless they are also prepared to reject sensus plenior, for it stands as an alternative method employed by the Bible according to some of their proponents. But if the sensus plenior is rejected and the analogy of faith is rejected then what are we to make of those NT uses of the OT that are departures from the historical/grammatical method? What the grammatical/historical-only exegete faces is an insoluble contradiction upon either premise: either (1) they must reject sensus plenior, which leaves them with a list of NT interpretations that contradict their historical/grammatical method, or (2) they must accept sensus plenior for the NT writer only (an argument from silence) and explain the unwarranted assumption of two messages within the one message of God.

On a final note of inquiry, I am curious how those who would accept sensus plenior would explain those NT passages like the one that indicates that Jesus preached the Gospel to Abraham? It does not seem to fit into the rabbinic principles discussed in the article I linked, but it is easily explained by the analogy of faith.

To conclude with my own position, I think that sensus plenior is not only unecessary, but is an implicit denial of sola scriptura insofar as it seeks to attribute rabbinic hermeneutics to the Biblical writers, who expressly claim that their knowledge is from Jesus (who explained the Scriptures to them without formal training) or from the Holy Spirit. Plus it involves an assumption that all of the NT writers would have been familiar with Rabbinical methods of exegesis, which seems doubtful. They did not claim to possess an authoritative interpretation based upon a hermeneutic principle, but upon the revelation of Jesus Christ. Sensus plenior is an attempt to avoid the analogy of faith while accepting the historical/grammatical-only position.

The analogy of faith is adequate and sound because it employs a grammatical/historical approach and it allows the entirely of Scripture as one message of God to one people of God to be taken as a logical whole rather than as two separate logical wholes (which MUST be done if you have two audiences who are receiving different eschatological destinies). The analogy of faith can be misused or misapplied, but this is a specious argument against it, since any method of interpretation, including the grammatical/historical can be misused or misapplied based on numerous factors (a lack of historical/cultural information about the audience or author, an obscure or imprecise grammatical phrasing or idiom, etc.). Those who reject the analogy of faith are really rejecting the logic of Scripture as one message in favor of historizing approach that must have two messages, two peoples, and a self-conflicting hermeneutic.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What Do Presbyterians Believe?: God's Eternal Decree

God's eternal decree was a very difficult concept for me to believe in with conviction. Gordon Clark states it well when he says, "these passages [of Scripture on predestination, foreordination, and God's eternal decrees] are not difficult to understand, though many people find them difficult to believe" (36). The logic of Scripture on God's eternal decree is undeniably simple, but it is there simplicity that is so offensive to the mind that seeks to exalt itself and other human beings above the glory of God and the revelation of His Will to men in His Word.

I was once one of these deniers, and I am certain that among a great many other doctrines I remain opposed because of pride rather than careful consideration and scrutiny. Nonetheless, God's eternal decree has become to me one of the most precious doctrines of Scripture. Why? What makes them so important to one's faith anyway?

The Westminster Confession of Faith answers this question for us in Section VIII of Chapter three:

The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.

Knowledge of God's eternal decree is the assurance of one's identity. History changes, emotions change, thoughts change, life changes, but the decree of God is determined from before the beginning. Not because of what we do or contingent upon any ability of our own, but because of who we are by His Sovereign choice.

Knowing this gives us the confidence to be what we are: children of God. The epistles are full of statements that say we are holy, that we are crucified with Christ, that we are new creations, but most of our experience in this world reveals to us that we do not live up to these statements. How are we to know if we are indeed the elect? There is assurance to those who believe and obey. How do we obey? It is by God eternal decree that we obey. Even our obedience is contingent upon God's Sovereign election, for it is He who has chosen, He who has saved, justified, sanctified, and glorified from before the foundation of the world.

When the believer stumbles into sin he has ammunition against the flesh and the world to declare: "I am held fast by the eternal decree of God that I am not bound by sin, nor are my members the master of my destiny, but I am wholly His who has called me to Himself and will provide for me all that is necessary to persevere in Him."

The opening verses of 2 Peter 1:3-9 are so beautiful:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in this world because of sinful desire. For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For is these qualities are yours and increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.

It is God's divine power, that is, His Sovereign Will effectively purposed and revealed in His divine decrees that provides the believer with the confidence to know with certainty that he is a child of God, freed from the dominion of sin, called into the Kingdom of God to live in righteous obedience in the worship of God to the purposed end of His glory.

Clark continues by saying, "Aside from the fact that God has commanded his servants to preach all his revelation, one great reason for preaching on the eternal decree is that a knowledge of sovereignty, election, and predestination is necessary in order to understand many other doctrines" (47). He goes on to list the perseverance of the saints, effectual calling, the necessity and nature of regeneration, the gifts of saving faith, and "in short the whole gospel" (47). There is no doubt that without the eternal decree the best hope we have is in a God whose power is limited in the same manner in which our power is limited. His omniscience and omnipotence require that the eternal decrees exist and the certainty of the eternal decrees require the acknowledgment of God's omniscience and omnipotence.

To deny the certainty of the eternal decree is to deny the immutability, omniscience, and omnipotence of God. In short, it is to deny God's very nature and being. To affirm the eternal decree is to acknowledge the immaculate Sovereignty of God whose glory deserves all of our worship, devotion, and praise--and these are accomplished chiefly through the knowledge of His Word illumined by the light of His grace afforded by the Holy Spirit and faithful obedience to the knowledge we possess in Him by the power of His Spirit and through the ministering work of His Church.

Snippet from Reymond's Systematic

I was reading in Reymond's Systematic Theology last night. The topic was the reliability of Scripture, particularly the portion where Reymond gives the most pertinent Scripture passages defining and supporting the Divine inspiration of Scripture.

With the weight of Biblical evidence being so strong in support of its Divine inspiration I am reminded of how important one's premises are when endeavoring to do any sort of evaluation and thinking whatsoever.

For the individual whose premise is that the Bible is Divine revelation, there is no cause to doubt its testimony in the face of decontextualized "proof"-texting of the supposed "contradictions" of Scripture, no fear from scientific, linguistic, anthropological or otherwise man-made theories that seek to undermine the propositions of Scripture, no reason to back down from any argument that would question whether the Bible can speak faithfully for itself. When one begins with Scripture and studies it with faith to understand, it does not leave one without a defense--indeed, from its basic premises there is no surer defense!

The "problem" with Scripturalism and presuppositional apologetics is that people refuse to adhere to the fundamental principles of argumentation. If one is willing to allow a first premise or first premises to be advanced, then the validity of the position stands or falls by the consistency and coherence of the consequences of those premises when weighed on the scales of logic and fact. Archeology has been a science providing overwhelming factual validation for the testimony of Scripture and I have yet to see an opponent of Scripture show is logical inconsistency from its basic premises. No, rather, all proposed arguments against Scripture as God's Divinely inspired Word must begin from premises that are not accepted by the position they wish to refute. In argumentation, the opponent must show the errors of the position they wish to refute by first accurately representing the position itself. This most basic requirement of argumentation is the one breached by nearly (if not all) opponents of Biblical Christianity.

The premises of the Bible's critics are also open to criticism, for if they would wish to undermine the validity and sufficiency of Scripture it is incumbent upon them to provide a better replacement in the wake of their refutation. This they do, implicitly or explicitly, by simple assertion or by more adequate arguments, but careful scrutiny of their proposals will show that their premises cannot support their conclusions. Sciences based upon sensation, that is, the empirically driven induction, are not logically valid, though they may provide useful and pragmatic information. But if we are talking about the truth of anything rather than simply its usefulness, then validity is the standard by which we must judge, not pragmatics. Competing standards of truth thus require a prior argument of epistemology, which are almost never had amongst sciences outside of philosophy and theology, to their embarrassment, I think.

Regardless of the intellectual currents of our present day and irrespective of the linguistic gymnastics that scholastics participate in, the basic requirements of argumentation remain the same: an understanding of the premise(s), logically sound definitions (that avoid ambiguity and equivocation), and commitment to discover the consistency and coherency of one's system of conclusions. If you will take your interlocutor back to the basics, technical problems disappear (for if they understand them, surely they can explain them in colloquial language) as do secondary arguments. Just as grammar school must start with grammar before moving to logic and rhetoric, so too the apologist must encourage his opponent to face up to the basic requirements of argumentation.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Lessing on Laocoön and the limits of painting and poetry

I just finished this short book by the 18th century German philosophy Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. The book is the first in a project that promises to span about two years of my academic study, which will be focused on tracing the merging of rhetorical categories and the science of hermeneutics.

The book is touted as the first systematized treatment of aesthetics during the Enlightenment and it is considered remarkable because it is one of the first (and the most coherent of the first, perhaps) works to articulate the difference between poetic production (art with words) and painting production (art with physical bodies, including sculpture, painting, and architecture, etc.). Prior to Lessing and several of his contemporaries, painting and poetry were considered to be relatively synonymous in how they were produced, not functionally, that is, not with the physical techniques, but aesthetically, with the intellectual consideration and aims.

Lessing argues against this conflation by appealing to a particular ancient example that had been the subject of debate for quite some time: the Greek/Roman sculpture of Laocoön. Laocoön was a Trojan priest of Apollo who was destroyed (along with his two sons) by two giant serpents sent by the god Apollo. Variants on the details of the story exist, but the debate centers upon the account of Virgil in the Aeneid and the sculpture of Laocoön, whose date is also debated. The central debate is whether the sculptor relied upon the written record (Virgil's) for inspiration or whether Virgil relied upon the sculpture for his inspiration.

Behind this seemingly insignificant question is whether poetry and painting are independent arts, dependent arts, or interdependent arts of aesthetic production and whether they should be judged by the same standards or separate standards. Lessing's work labors to prove that poetry and painting are not dependent upon each other (though they do have similarities). Painting can depict certain qualities that poetry cannot (examples are below) and poetry too can depict certain qualities that painting cannot. Overall, Lessing seems to elevate poetic production above painting because the scope of its production is greater as well as its imaginative appeal to the senses.

One of the more interesting arguments and distinctions that Lessing makes, is that painting can only depict the singular moment, whereas poetry always depicts the object in succession. Thus, a girl laughing can only be depicted in one moment of its duration in painting (for example, this could be the initial smile, the height of the moment with an open mouth and closed eyes, or the closing of the laugh where the cheeks are flush and the smile is subsiding). Alternatively, the same moment could be depicted in its complete duration in poetry, emphasizing the physical, emotional, and intellectual content from beginning to end in whatever fashion seems most appealing.

Another example that shows the particular difference of painting to poetry is the depiction of Ajax's shield. Some commentators have said that the description of the shield given by Homer is an impossible object to have created in reality. Lessing rejects this conclusion, but he does argue that while painting could depict the full beauty of the shield all at once, poetry must describe the shield in successive depictions of its constituent parts, thereby removing some of the effect of the whole.

But Lessing goes on to argue that this does not diminish the value of poetry, but shows that the standards of judging painting are incompatible with the art of poetry and, to some degree, the converse is also true. One of the ways in which Lessing endeavors to show the superiority, or at least the broader scope of poetry is in its depiction of ugliness. His premise is that the highest goal of art for the Greek was Beauty. The only thing worthy of expression in poetry or painting was what is beautiful. Ugliness cannot be portrayed in painting because it is so obviously despicable that refined taste would be offended. However, the sequential and successive nature of poetry allows for the ugliness to be diminished by its description in parts, which delays the full experience of the whole before one's senses. Of course, poetry could express the truly despicable in ways that offend taste, but it is also capable of expressing something ugly in a beautiful way without offending the sense of the observer in the expression itself.

Lessing's arguments seem to be generally sound insofar as his premises are true, but it is doubtful whether this is the case. Not only does he omit any definition of Beauty, he does not sufficiently prove that this was what the Greeks considered the highest aim of artistic expression, or whether or not Beauty ought to hold this position. Subsequent to these most basic considerations are the assumptions of taste that support Lessing's conclusions about the quality of any given artistic production. Imitation is no doubt foremost in his judgment, which is to be expected and for the most part supported. Mimesis or imitation in art seems to me to be an inescapable factor when imitation is defined broadly as the expression of the idea one has in the mind. Of course, imitation has been defined in different ways, including the imitation of nature, of the Forms, or in Christianity, of Christ himself. But what standard of imitation is it that Lessing assumes? I assume it is Beauty, but here again we find that this work does not define what Beauty is.

And what observations can be made regarding the focus of my project, the relationship between rhetoric and hermeneutics? Well, admittedly little at this point, since the formation and systematization of aesthetics is a precursor to the merger of rhetorical categories and scientific hermeneutics. Still, it can be said that Lessing's division of poetry and painting into two distinct aesthetic categories does make a difference for rhetoric. The classical sphere of rhetoric was prominent in (but not confined to) public address, which would have had involved both poetic art (the choice and arrangement of words in succession) and painting art (the nonverbal delivery skills), both of which played a vital role in teaching, persuading, and moving and audience. The great Christian philosopher Augustine was the first to systematically use the tools of rhetoric in interpretation, but he nonetheless retained the delivery aspects since his work on the subject (On Christian Doctrine) was written for pastors who would be preaching to their churches.

Lessing's contribution furthers the independence of the written or verbal aspect from the delivery or physical aspect. In public speaking we have the combination of both poetry and painting, which would seem to pose a unique problem for Lessing's theory. However, with the separation that Lessing provides, the categories of rhetoric that are more specifically (but not totally) focused upon verbal production can be appropriated without consideration for their physical counterparts. Hermeneutics as a science of interpretation is most particularly applied to written works with an aim to understand their meaning. Rhetoric, as a science and throughout its history, has most often been applied to producing meaning for a general purpose to inform, persuade, or delight (and while these general aims overlap, their distinctiveness should be preserved I think).

My thoughts on the matter are, understandably, underdeveloped and relatively disconnected from a firm observation or argument that could be advanced. I'm looking forward to seeing what Wellbery's book will provide for advancing my own understanding of these issues.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Hermeneutics and the Possibilities (and limits) of Language

Well I don't know if it ironic that the first actual posting about something I've read is from something not on one of my lists. I'm going to comment on one of the sections of a book published in 1957 by Lorraine Boettner entitled The Millennium, which discusses the three major viewpoints on the thousand year reign of Christ discussed in the book of Revelation in the New Testament.

I spent a few hours the other day reading the section on Postmillennialism which has been reproduced online:

Boettner, aside from having a unique first name, is a proponent of Postmillennialism, but I think he fairly represents the alternative viewpoints (insofar as he treats them in the articles I read via the website link). The three views are: Postmillennialism, Amillennialism, and Premillennialism.

The first view believes that the thousand year reign of Christ began at the ascension of Christ to His heavenly throne at the right hand of God where He presently reigns and is working through the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit and the spread of the Gospel to redeem the world from its sinfulness. The view is often wrongly conflated with Progressivism and Modernism, which hold that the world is getting better and better because of the natural process of human enlightenment and the growth of knowledge. Postmillennialism does believe that the world is getting "better" in the sense that the Gospel has spread to a wider audience than it has even spread, that the principles and values of Christianity are accepted around the world in more places and to a greater degree than ever in history, and that this trend will continue (but not without ebbs and flows) as history progresses. The accomplishment of this is due not to natural processes or human willing, but by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the saints of Christ's Body, the Church in their faithful efforts to preach the Gospel and make disciples of all nations.

The thousand years is interpreted as a figurative number rather than a literal one in this view, and the accomplishment of the "golden age" where Christianity will be widely accepted and followed (but not universally or without sinfulness) will be ushered in gradually over a course of time that no human can determine.

The second view is only briefly discussed by Boettner in the sections I read. Like Postmillennialism it does not take the number of a thousand to mean exactly one thousand years. Indeed, Amillennialism does not think that an actual reign of a thousand years refers to a specified or unspecified period of Christ's reign. They believe that Christ's reign has already been inaugurated, but unlike the Postmillennial proponents, they do not hold to a "golden age" where Christianity will be widely accepted and faithfully followed. The Church will experience periods of growth and decline, but the proportion of believers to unbelievers will remain balanced toward unbelief (typically) because of the promises of suffering spoken of in the New Testament and a couple of passages in particular (Matt. 7:14; the parables of Matt. 13; Matt. 22:14; Luke 13:24).

The third view is split into two: Historic Premillennialsim and Dispensational Premillennialism. The former is the older viewpoint, while the latter is loosely related (Boettner refers to it as "radical" premillennialism). Both hold that the thousand years is preceded by the second coming of Christ. Dispensationalism generally holds that the period of tribulation that is referred to in Revelation occurs after the Church has been raptured, but before the second coming of Christ in full. Boettner critique Dispensationalism moreso than Amillennialism, primarily because the hermeneutic employed by Dispensationalism is different from the one employed by Post and Amils. In regard to the thousand year reign, Dispensationalists hold that it is a literal 1000 year period. This is not remarkable in itself, but the consistent application of their hermeneutic is that all of the prophecies regarding the Day of the Lord (Apocalypse) and the Second Coming are to be understood in a "literal" way, that is, upon a "plain" reading that does not "spiritualize" or "allegorize" the words of Scripture.

This last point is what brings me to the title of this post. Hermeneutics is the method by which one interprets Scripture. Everyone who reads has a hermeneutic, even the child reading Dr. Seuss is employing principles of interpretation. Does the child understand the story to have actually happened? If so, the principle of historical validity is in effect. Does the child believe that the story is completely imaginary? If so, the principle of fictionalization is in effect. Hermeneutics becomes difficult when figurative language is used in a work that does not indicate whether or not it is intended to be read as actual history (or prophecy) or whether the words are referring to actual events or ideas but in analogous ways ("my love for you is deeper than the ocean") or allegorical ways (Aslan's sacrifice in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is allegorical of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross) or whether the events or ideas are simply imaginary (like Spiderman).

Evangelical Christians, of course, believe that the Bible is not imaginary, and they believe that few, if any, portions of the Bible are allegorical (some believe Job and Jonah are parables, and of course, all believe that Jesus's parables are allegorical). However, the big difference in the focus of this post is whether the prophecies of Scripture ought to be understood as fulfilled in history "by the letter" or "by the spirit" of the words they are spoken/written with. For example, is the beast of Revelation really to have the body parts of animals and multiple heads? Will there be a real dragon? Or, are these descriptions merely symbolic of other material things (like a person, place, or nation for example)?

I have met very few Dispensationalists that believe that all of the language of prophecy is meant to be understood "by the letter." They understand that figurative language can be analogous. Indeed, a great many doctrines are expressed in figurative language. When the Bible speaks of believing with your "heart" it certainly does not mean that the organ that pumps blood to your body is what a person uses to believe in Jesus. Nor do Dispensationalists understand that the Bible's anthropomorphisms for God are literal. For example, God, as a spirit, cannot have hands or a mouth, though the Bible uses these descriptions to express qualities of God's nature and relationship to humanity and the created world.

Thus, both sides recognize that not every word of prophecy requires the reader to take a "woodenly literal" approach to it. I think Boettner fails to make this concession in some of his critiques of Dispensationalism, but equally so, Dispensationalists often accuse Post and Amils of using "spiritualizing" methods of interpretation, which is really another way of saying that they are reading figures of speech as analogous that Dispensationalists are reading as literal. The question then is not, automatically, whether the prophecies are "literal" or "figurative" for these terms are misleading. All viewpoints, if they are Evangelical, believe that the prophecies will be fulfilled in history as they are intended to be fulfilled. The italicized phrase is where the hang-ups begin.

There is a more fundamental issue of hermeneutics that under girds the entire discussion of prophecy, but I will refrain from going into too much detail. Every theologian develops an overall understand of what the Bible is saying and this has been broken down into two complementary categories: Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology. The former seeks to understand the Bible as it has developed over the course of history, that is, from Genesis to Revelation. The latter seeks to understand the logical relationship of all the propositions of Scripture on various topics, the most important of which being "Who God is" and "What are God's purposes." Systematic theology is secondary to Biblical theology, but for both of these efforts there is an assumption that the Bible is one Word, one message of God.

Biblical theology under the Post and Amil (and most historic Premils I think) view God's primary revelatory relationship to humanity coming through the Covenants of Scripture. Dispensationalists also give weight to God's Covenants with humanity, but they put precedence upon God's choice of Israel as benefactors of the Covenants of what has come to be known as the Old Testament. The New Testament is understood to be primarily for the Church, which is distinct from Israel. The first view (Covenantal) sees no fundamental distinction between the "Old" Testament and the "New" Testament in terms of its audience. The "Church" of the New Testament are the people of God in the same way (His eternal Covenant) and by the same means (God's electing grace by the gift of faith) as "Israel" of the Old Testament.

Systematic theologies built upon either of these viewpoints will differ in their understandings of certain things, but certainly not all things.

I leave it to my readers to investigate these topics more thoroughly upon their own desire and opportunities. For myself, I am fascinated on many levels by theological positions and the systems of understanding that support their conclusions. I have changed in my views over the years, but I will always enjoy striving to understand what the message of God to His people is as it is revealed in the words of Scripture.