Friday, July 18, 2008

'MacArthur's Millennial Manifesto' - 4

Last time we referred further to the common Dispensationalist argument that non-dispensationalistsinterpret the Bible 'allegorically' and showed it to be false. This argument is often stated as 'if you interpreted Genesis the way you interpret Revelation, you'd all be theistic evolutionists', or in the still more sweeping accusation 'if you interpreted the rest of the Bible the way you interpret Revelation, you'd all be raving liberals'. Unfortunately both of these accusations proceed on the mistaken assumption of a SINGLE, simple hermeneutic, which whist it is often assumed by Dispensationalists, is in fact one of the very things we deny. Instead we hold that each book of the Bible is to be interpreted according to its genre. Thus we CANNOT interpret Revelation (apocalypse) as if it were Genesis (history).

As a six-day, young-earth creationist, Dr. Waldron takes Chapter 14 to show that slippery-slope arguments about non-Dispensational hermeneutics leading to theistic evolution and ultimately liberalism are false, using exactly this argument, one which even Dr. MacArthur actually understands. Dr. MacArthur’s contention is further falsified by the difficult fact that it is not only a-millennialists and post-millennialists who hold and have held the various old-earth and theistic evolutionist positions. The 1917 Scofield Bible, the touchstone of early Dispensationalists (we have in our possession one that was literally read to pieces by an old Brethren lady) taught the Gap Theory, which is a form of old-earth creationism. Here is the quotation:
“The first creative act refers to the dateless past, and gives scope for all the geological ages.” (Scofield Reference Bible [Oxford University Press, 1917] P. 3, note 2, emphasis ours)

John Rendle-Short in his book Green Eye of the Storm (Edinburgh, Banner of Truth, 1998) documents how his father, Arthur Rendle-Short, was a devoted member of the Brethren nevertheless embraced a form of theistic evolution (P. 133; 135). So far from this leading to his being put under discipline by the Fellowship, Dr. Rendle-Short was a popular Brethren preacher! The Brethren (we refer to the old Brethren, obviously) do not have a full-time ministry, and so a Brethren preacher cannot rest on his official position. If his theology is suspect he will simply not be invited to preach. The Brethren of Dr. Arthur Rendle-Short’s day did not HAVE liberals, they were thoroughly evangelical and Dispensationalist (we have met many of them, and our Scofield Bible comes from a member of the same Brethren grouping as Dr. Rendle-Short). Thus we must conclude that the Open Brethren of that age found theistic evolution to be within the pale of orthodoxy. We could add that Scofield’s embrace of the Gap Theory opened up the way for this, and we will. After all, the Bible says that God made the sun on the fourth day of creation (Genesis 1.16: “and God made two great lights…” emphasis ours), yet Scofield says of the light of Genesis 3:
“The ‘light’ of course came from the sun.” (SRB P. 3)
And we would ask in passing, what happened to the literal reading of the Bible? Surely ‘if the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense’. But the plain sense is that God created the sun on the fourth day! That makes sense, so why insert the idea of a pre-existing sun? Answer: because Scofield wants to fit long ages into the Bible!

No doubt there have been many other Dispensationalists who have embraced a form of Theistic Evolution, and many more who have held a form of the gap theory that requires the sort of hermeneutical wriggling that Scofield was forced to use. I might say that this was the inevitable result of a hermeneutic that imposed from without certain conclusions such as the pre-tribulation rapture, and therefore allowed its adherents to impose long ages and evolution on Genesis. But that would be unfair and silly. The fact of the matter is that men on both sides come to the Bible with our presuppositions and cultural influences. The Victorian age with its commitment to the dogma of development has affected us all, either positively or negatively. So men’s reasons for embracing the error of theistic evolution or long-age creationism are not related to their hermeneutic in Revelation, but to the influence of secular science. While we understand the reasons for Dr. MacArthur’s mistake, we wish that this misrepresentation would cease. For further study on this matter we strongly recommend the 2007 James Begg Society lecture.

We have spent so much time on this point because we hold it to be important. Just as the old Brethren idea of a ‘law of first use’ (namely that the meaning of a word in Scripture is to be defined by its meaning the first time that it is used) was an exegetical fallacy, so is this idea of a single ‘normal hermeneutic’. Now this is not (as some may think) to shut up the Bible to scholars alone, for we further maintain that the genres of Biblical literature are apparent to the ordinary reader on their face. Only a fool would mistake the Psalms for history, and as we have noted the Revelation carries in its first verse the declaration that it is a symbolical book. Furthermore, a man does not need to take some commentary to understand the meaning of the symbols of Revelation mean, but only to search the Scriptures diligently.

God willing, we shall conclude next time with some random observations on other parts of the book.

No comments: