By PAUL MARTIN HENEBURY, Ph.D.
To the church it has commended an approach to the text of the Bible which prioritizes what is properly called, despite some caveats, the “literal” method. Taking this approach to the reading of the Testaments does not mean that there is a one-sided understanding of the text to which all must acquiesce—a kind of hermeneutical flatland which we should all find ourselves in if we are fully on board with this school of thought. No, although there are always small-minded people who will expect us not to break step, a vibrant and healthy theology will entertain the considered viewpoints of various contributors who, because they are less than perfect, because they cannot see everything, employ a prima facie interpretation and bring their best efforts before their peers and move the conversation forward within its parameters.
Dispensationalism also speaks to the body of Christ about the relative importance of the two testaments. In an era when, more and more, the voice of the Old Testament is being all but muted by theological pre-understandings of the New Testament in influential circles, a robust alternative which gives no preference to either part of Scripture is pertinent now more than ever. What we need is a group of well-informed, sophisticated-yet-humble contrarians to assure us that God means what He says in both to whomever He is talking, and that faith trusts that God will fulfill His Word despite the obstacles which finite reason and historical vicissitude use to fuel their objections to the plain sense. Faith cannot but resign itself to believing the words as they are spoken. If it tries to reinterpret the words as different words it is never quite sure if it has gotten the translation right. And so it is never sure just what it is to believe. A vibrant dispensational (but I would want to say “Biblical-covenantal”) theology will always start us off with the plain sense and will always return us there.
Dispensationalists have not always done themselves many favors. They have sometimes squandered the opportunity to make profound, long-term contributions to the church via detailed commentaries, Biblical and systematic theologies and the like, for the sake of short-term pragmatic and populist goals.
Dispensationalists are not, or should not be, fixated on the defense of a system. Any approach to theology must be concerned with only one thing—its adequacy as an explanation of the whole Bible. We may be persuaded that we have gotten certain things right. That is a good thing. But the last word will not be said in this life. We must take seriously the obligation to explore and expound the Scriptures as we try to improve on what we know (and what we think we know). The explanatory power of dispensationalism has often been concealed behind the well-meaning but rather myopic views of its defenders. Not that it does not need some trained defenders, but much more it needs knowledgeable and courageous exponents.
We have work to do to make dispensational theology more prescriptive. We like to call it a system, but we have often been less than adventurous in our proposals for a systematic expression of the dispensational outlook in all areas of theology and its attendant disciplines (i.e., worldview and apologetics, biblical counseling, etc.). “Why reinvent the wheel?” the satisfied objector complains. Okay, but can we not improve the wheel a bit? Can we not look the whole thing over and tighten things up here and iron out a problem or two there? Can we not make it run better and farther?
This is what I want to be a part of. I want to read brothers and sisters with whom I agree. But I need to be disagreed with, and I want to feel free to disagree and then explore our disagreements in a convivial setting. That is what I hope this Dispensational Publishing House will allow us to do.
Perhaps then we may read about the relevance of the Biblical covenants for the Christian understanding of God. Or the debate about the New Covenant will ask whether the same principles which attach it to the nation of Israel in Jeremiah 31 are being employed when we attach it to the church in 1 Corinthians 11. Do we have any thoughts about the prevalent “cosmic temple” motif which has galvanized amillennialism of late? What are the limits of “literal” interpretation? In fact, are we sure we comprehend any working definition of what “dispensational-ism” is and should be? And how can we be Christological without piously imagining we find Him in every verse of Scripture? These are big questions and there are many more.
That there is a need for such a center as this is clear enough. Speaking personally (as I have been throughout), I wish Dr. Randy White and Paul Scharf well. May the Lord bless and be honored by their project! Having had edifying correspondence with Scharf in the past, I am only too happy to recommend the Dispensational Publishing House. I truly hope contributors will find the freedom to explore all the big questions from within the hermeneutical and theological scope provided by that oft-maligned but comprehensive approach to Holy Scripture that we have always called “literal.”
Dr. Paul Martin Henebury is the founder and president of Telos Theological Ministries and Telos Biblical Institute, where he serves as professor of Biblical and systematic theology. He is also lead teaching pastor at Agape Bible Church in Willits, Calif., and blogs voluminously as Dr. Reluctant. It is a joy and honor to introduce him as a contributing author for Dispensational Publishing House.
Copyright © 2015 by Dr. Paul Martin Henebury. Used by permission of the author.