Mark Snoeberger contributed a spirited and competent defense of the traditional dispensational position.
I agree with Snoeberger on a number of points:
1. I agree with Snoeberger’s dispensing with the term “literal hermeneutics” since “literal” has multiple senses, and these are often conflated by both critics and adherents alike. The term “originalist” is a good substitution.
2. I agree that “clearly stated promises, specific referents thereof, or words with plainly established meanings cannot change with the passing of time” (154-55).
3. I agree that God will fulfill his promises to Abraham and his redeemed physical seed as promised (156).
4. I agree that the term Israel refers to Jacob as an individual, to the Israelite/Jewish ethnicity, to the civil nation of Israel, and to believing Israelites. I agree that Galatians 6:16 does not identify the church as the Israel of God (though I do not adopt the same interpretation of that verse as Snoeberger) (157).
5. I agree that in some cases (such as in the series of Davidic kings between David and Christ) there is a kind of “generic/serial fulfillment” (161-62). However, I would see this occurring in conjunction with typology rather than in opposition to it.
6. I agree with Snoeberger’s rejection of an overarching covenant of grace (163-64).
7. I agree that the Noahic covenant is “a unilateral, universal, promissory covenant” (168).
8. I agree that the Abrahamic covenant is “a unilateral, promissory grant ” (169).
9. I agree that the Mosaic covenant was fulfilled by Christ and is now no longer in force (170-71).
10. I agree that nations will still exist in the eternal state under the ultimate reign of God (178-79).
I disagree with Snoeberger on a number of points:
1. Snoeberger roots his defense of dispensationalism in a defense of the spirituality of the church (150, 165-66), however there are multiple versions of this doctrine, and some were used to shield the church from addressing moral issues that it ought to have condemned, such as slavery. Those using the concept should specify which version they are using and defend their view against the concern that the doctrine prevents the church from addressing current moral issues. I’m also puzzled by Snoeberger’s embrace of two kingdom theology given that he holds to a postponement view of the kingdom (164). Two kingdoms theology and traditional dispensationalism are incompatible. I’m befuddled by the appeal to concepts developed by covenant theologians (spirituality of the church, two kingdoms theology) as key distinctives of dispensationalism.
2. The fundamental error of traditional dispensationalists is the failure to “base their insistence on originalist hermeneutics upon a discursive study of Scripture’s own use of itself” (154). This error is replete in traditional dispensational writers. They often begin by laying out their hermeneutic as if it is axiomatic and then insist that all passages conform to this hermeneutic without having first demonstrated the validity of their hermeneutic. Here Snoeberger explicitly affirms this approach. This approach violates the sufficiency of Scripture, since Scripture’s own self-interpretation should be the foundation for any biblical hermeneutic.
3. I disagree that progressive revelation is only about “details of ‘time and circumstance'” or revealing implications, analogies, or illustrations (154-55). Types cannot be reduced to “figures of speech” (157), and while typology involves analogy, it cannot be reduced to mere analogy (160). These seem to be expedients to save the system.
4. I do not agree that “implication” is better than typology with regard to the use of Psalm 16 in Acts 2, in the case of the use of Amos 9 in Acts 15, or in the use of Joel 2 in Acts 2 (161). I think Psalm 16 is likely a direct messianic prophecy. Regarding Acts 15, the inclusion of the Gentiles as Gentiles within the people of God is only possible due to a redemptive-historical shift, and that shift is the arrival of the Davidic king. Amos 9 has not been entirely fulfilled, but it has begun to be fulfilled—which is what James recognized. Snoeberger is also wrong to say that none of Joel 2’s prophecies were fulfilled at Pentecost. The Spirit was poured out. The strained interpretations of these texts demonstrate the implausibility of the traditional dispensational system.
6. While I think it is possible that NT writers at times borrow language from the OT scriptures simply because that is the language in which the NT writers were immersed, when I dig into a passage quoted by the NT, I’m usually impressed with how contextual the NT use of the Old is (162-63).
7. I would make clearer that apart from union with Christ, the Seed of Abraham, none of the physical seed of Abraham will ultimately enjoy the promise. Furthermore, the church is not called the seed of Abraham merely by analogy (156). Rather, Gentiles are the seed of Abraham by virtue of being in the Seed of Abraham (Gal 3). Furthermore, they are no longer strangers to the covenant of promise (Eph 2). The promises are extended to them as well in a way appropriate to them. This is even anticipated and hinted at in Genesis. To reduce this to analogy is to fail to adopt an originalist interpretation of Galatians 3 and Ephesians 2.
8. I don’t agree that the benefits promised in the Abrahamic, Davidic, or new covenants are directly given to Israel alone (168) (except insofar as all benefits, to Jew and Gentile, come through union with Christ) or that Galatians 3:15 or Romans 11:29 prevents Gentiles from being partakers of the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant (156). The Abrahamic covenant itself speaks of the future inclusion of Gentiles. The Old Testament also predicted that Gentiles would benefit from the Davidic covenant as the Messiah ruled over all nations. New Testament revelation explains how this inclusion takes place and what it entails. While the new covenant was promised to the house of Israel and the house of Judah, it was not actually cut until the cross. Ephesians 2 indicates that Christ through the cross brought Gentiles, who were strangers to the covenants of promise, into the condition of no longer being strangers and aliens. Now they are fellow citizens of Christ’s kingdom with Jewish believers—and thus beneficiaries of the covenant promises.
9. I disagree with the statement that that a focus on redemptive history ignores the unredeemed (163-64). The unredeemed are included in the Noahic covenant, and redemptive history also includes judgment.
10. I disagree that covenant theology is necessarily or uniformly “narrow,” “giving scant treatment to human civil structures, political and legal structures, advances in art, science, agriculture, etc.” (163-64). This is not true of the Dutch Reformed reformational theologians, for instance.
11. I disagree that a holistic approach needs to be pitted against a crucicentric approach (164-65). It is due to his cross work that Jesus says all authority has been given to him, and it is due to his cross-work that the Father has given him a name above every name. This would be more evident to TDs if they recognized that Jesus is currently reigning as the Davidic king over every aspect of creation as the result of his cross work.
12. I disagree that covenant theology is anthropocentric, and I disagree with Snoeberger’s seeming disconnect between eschatology and soteriology (163-64). Redemptive history is all about the restoration of God’s rule through his human vice regents. Thus, redemption and the rule of God are linked inseparably.
13. I disagree with Snoeberger’s denial of a covenant of works (166). (1) The term covenant need not be used for a covenant to be present. The elements of a covenant need to be. This is so for the covenant of works and in an analogical way for the covenant of redemption; it is not so for a unified covenant of grace. (2) Even if God’s activities are broader than redemption, this does not preclude a covenant of redemption. (3) Though the covenant of works does not hang on Hosea 6:7, I think that passage does support it. The question is not whether there are alternate interpretations, but which is the best.
14. I’d argue that the Noahic covenant is part of God’s redemptive plan and that even though church and state are two institutions, they are not two kingdoms. This would be more evident to Snoeberger if he recognized covenantal role of Gen. 1:28 and the way that all the subsequent covenants are restoring that mediatorial rule (166).
15. I disagree with Snoeberger’s denial that the authority given to Christ after his resurrection is Davidic, and I disagree with his assertion that Christ reigns right now only from his Father’s throne over all creation rather than from the Davidic throne (171-). Snoeberger has missed the fact that the kingdom theme is rooted in Genesis 1:28 and the role of ruling creation under God which was entrusted to mankind. The restoration of this rule was promised through the covenants to the seed of Abraham, the seed of Judah, the seed of David. When Christ received all authority after his ascension, this must pertain to has Davidic, human kingship since he never lacked (and never needed to be granted) divine sovereignty.
16. I disagree that the New Covenant is only for Israel and that it is a bilateral covenant. I also disagree with Snoeberger’s claim that the church has no covenant relationship with God (174-75, 177).
17. I disagree that circumcision has ceased at present because the church is a parenthetical administration (180–181).