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  • « The Satanic Power of a Question | Main | TULIP (10) »

    Christ and the Gospel not Old Testament Themes at All? A Hyper-Troubling Conclusion of a Hyper-Dispensationalist

    “But since I've spent almost all my study time in the OT during the last two months, it's almost as though I've left the Gospel Carnival behind. Kind of like going for a drive in the country, but better. It's been very refreshing, but the funny thing is that, despite the fact that I have been spending considerably more time than normal in my Bible for the past two months, I've read virtually nothing about Christ, the Cross, or the Gospel.
    Now some of you are probably shaking your heads right now and saying, "This guy doesn't know how to read his Bible--it's ALL about Christ if you know how to successfully navigate between the lines!" And I'm not blind to the redemptive thread that winds through the Bible. But the thing is, when I stop reading between the lines and just start reading the lines, Christ and the Gospel do not emerge as major OT themes. In fact, they're not themes at all.
    And so I'm musing here. If robust faith and rigid separatism could flourish in the OT without reference to the themes of Christ and the Gospel, is it really possible to jettison everything else today and base fellowship strictly or even primarily upon fidelity to the Gospel?” – Dr. Mark Snoeberger, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology, Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary[1]

    The three paragraphs quoted above are frankly quite troubling on a number of levels. One is their source: Dr. Mark Snoeberger, a professor at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, which, although long noted for its adherence to revised Dispensationalism of the Ryrian sort, actually commands some sort of respect in certain Baptist circles as being a basically sound and academically qualified institution of higher learning. Now, not all Dispensationalists would say such extreme things as Dr. Snoeberger has been saying; but it is disconcerting to note that this is not coming from the lips of some wild-eyed radical on the fringe, but from one of the more influential of the fundamental Baptist seminaries that still adhere to Dispensationalism in the basic form it took at Ryrie's Dallas Theological Seminary, some decades ago.

    But obviously, it is not just the relative respectability of the source that I find so troubling; much more so, it is the egregiousness of the error that is being spewed forth. From the beginning of his public ministry, Christ took pains to prove that, in his coming, the scriptures were being fulfilled in the ears of all his hearers (Luke 4:17-21). He sternly rebuked the Pharisees for failing to see that the scriptures all testified of him (John 5:39-40); and he asserted that they were not true children of Abraham, inasmuch as Abraham looked ahead to the gospel Day of Christ, whereas they had failed to see it (John 8:39-59). It was from these Old Testament Scriptures and none others that he taught his apostles the gospel truth of his death, burial, resurrection on the third day, and the proclamation of the gospel for the forgiveness of sins to all the nations (Luke 24:24-27, 44-49). Then, before the New Testament scriptures had ever been penned, the apostles went out with power, proving the Christian gospel from the Old Testament, as we may learn from the history of Acts and see demonstrated in Hebrews and every other epistle the apostles wrote.

    This message, that the Old Testament scriptures all looked ahead to and found their perfect fulfillment in Christ, was the message that the first Christians, evangelists, and apologists took to the nations. Barnabas, Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, and many other early fathers proved the gospel irrefutably from the Old Testament scriptures, and strove mightily against any perversion that failed to see them centering on Christ. And then, when Marcion, the first of the great heresiarchs arose (those arch-heretics who taught lies that were absolutely opposed to the glory of Christ and his grace in the gospel), his message was this: that the loving God revealed in the New Testament through the person of Jesus (i.e. Christ and the gospel) was a different message than what we find in the Old Testament. The Old Testament is not about Christ. It does not proclaim the Gospel – they are not even themes of the Old Testament. In fact, the Old Testament is about a cruel, vindictive god, and the New Testament god of the apostle Paul has revealed to us has replaced him.

    Now, back to Snoeberger: he does not teach that the Old Testament god is a different god than the one Jesus reveals in the New Testament – but he does teach that this God was revealed in the Old Testament apart from Jesus, and that men related to him apart from the Gospel. In fact, he baldly asserts, “...the Mosaic system has its own meaning, known plainly by the OT saint, without reference to Christ. It was not intrinsically anticipatory”. Although Snoeberger calls this Old Testament God the same God that Christ later reveals in the New Testament, he is in fact teaching that the Old Testament God was a god not revealed through the agency of Christ, and that he was not a god who related to his people through the redemptive truths of the Gospel. But the God of the New Testament is a God who is known only through Christ, and a God whom people can approach only on the terms of the gospel. If Snoeberger's Old Testament god is revealed and approached otherwise, then, ipso facto, he is another god. In sum, this is Marcion's heresy; only it is more subtle, and hence, perhaps, even more dangerous. Marcion cut out the Old Testament as a faulty document about a vengeful god; Snoeberger keeps it as a perfect document of the New Testament God who reveals himself apart from Christ and the gospel. But any god who can be revealed apart from Christ is no true god.

    A final level at which this whole amazing assertion is hyper-troubling is the obviously wide-ranging effects that this idea will necessarily have. It will affect pastoral issues – as may be seen from other of Snoeberger's confessions at the same place:

    As to preaching the OT, in the last five messages I preached out of the OT, I mentioned Christ in only one:



    I preached through Psalm 104 exhorting people to meditate on and exult in the power, wisdom, and providence with which God created and sustains his universe.



    I preached through 1 Kings 18 on the exclusivity of God and his incredible sovereignty in the face of all rivals.



    I preached through Habakkuk 1 on the proper approach to prayer in the face of apparent injustice.



    I preached through Habakkuk 2 on the incredible hope we have that God will set things straight in his universe. I mentioned the Gospel in this sermon because of the citation of 2:4 in Romans 1:16-17; I mentioned Christ because Hebrews 10:37 adds specificity to the "it" of Habakkuk 2:3 and indicates that the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy will come in the person of "him."

    

I preached through Habakkuk 3 on the believer's confidence in the goodness and greatness of God.



    I'd never be so arrogant as to say that you have to preach these texts this way, but I did my best to capture the central message of each passage based on a careful exegesis of the actual text of each. Christ and the Gospel just didn't seem to come up in these passages, so I didn't feel right trying to force him between the lines.



    I agree that Christ and the Gospel are a big deal. I preach about them regularly. I don't agree that they are "THE" deal. At the risk of sounding a bit impertinent, it seems a bit anthropocentric to suggest that "THE" concern of the Bible is Christ saving people through the Gospel. Granted, without the Gospel, we can't participate in all that God is doing, but if I were to pick "THE" topic of the Bible, it would have to be God.[2]

    Furthermore, it will affect soteriological issues, as may be seen by the following:

    Let's take one example: the OT sacrificial system. There are diverse understandings within dispensationalism on the OT sacrifices, but one that I have felt comfortable embracing is John Whitcomb's theocratic understanding of the sacrifices, viz., that the sacrifices were only incidentally connected with being redemptively right with God; instead they were concerned with being theocratically right with the (K)ing and with the covenant community. That these sacrifices became a pattern for the redemptive arrangement in the death of Christ is not accidental, of course. And God certainly arranged history so that there is a continuity of form. However, it seems to me that rather than seeing the OT sacrifices as anticipating Christ, it is better to say that God modeled Christ's sacrifice retrospectively after the theocratic system.



    If this is the case, then the Mosaic system has its own meaning, known plainly by the OT saint, without reference to Christ. It was not intrinsically anticipatory.[3]

    And again:

    Soteriologically, Christocentrism or Crucicentrism can sometimes (though certainly not always) point to an unhealthy emphasis of redemption as the centerpiece of God's plan for the universe. While redemption certainly plays a significant role in God's plan for the universe, it is not all that God is doing.[4]

    It will also obviously affect one's entire understanding of the Old Testament:

    Hermeneutically, Christocentrism can sometimes (though certainly not always) point to a faulty hermeneutic. Frankly speaking, the Old Testament is not about Christ. It is about God's people being rightly related to their holy God. Certainly, we find anticipation in the Old Testament period about something greater, but it is a great anachronistic leap to move from this latent anticipation to the conclusion that the Old Testament is about Christ.[5]

    As I said before, not all Dispensationalists are this extreme, and thankfully, many of them are moving further and further away from this sort of egregious error; but in this form, there is no way not to call it heresy, pure and simple, and so I thought a warning against Snoeberger and Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary would be warranted when my attention was directed to these posts yesterday. Anyone who would be so brazen as to say in the same breath, “Frankly speaking, the Old Testament is not about Christ. It is about God's people being rightly related to their holy God” – deserves the label of false teacher. The Old Testament is indeed about Christ; and it is utter shameless folly to say that, while excluding Christ from the picture, the Old Testament is still all about how God's people can be rightly related to him. There is no other way to be rightly related to God than by Christ, there never has been, and there never will be.

    Solo Christo

    [1] Quote found in an entry on Snoeberger's personal blog, Systematic Theology Matters, dated February 11th 2011. Found here: http://systematicsmatters.blogspot.com/2011/02/country-drive-in-old-testament.html. Accessed March 2, 2011

    [2] Quote found in an entry on Snoeberger's personal blog, Systematic Theology Matters, dated February 11th 2011. Found here: http://systematicsmatters.blogspot.com/2011/02/country-drive-in-old-testament.html. Accessed March 2, 2011.

    [3] Quote found in an entry on Snoeberger's personal blog, Systematic Theology Matters, dated February 11th 2011. Found here: http://systematicsmatters.blogspot.com/2011/02/country-drive-in-old-testament.html. Accessed March 2, 2011. Emphasis added.

    [4] Quote found in an entry on Snoeberger's personal blog, Systematic Theology Matters, dated November 17, 2009. Found here: http://systematicsmatters.blogspot.com/2009/11/are-we-theocentric-christocentric.html. Accessed March 2, 2011.

    [5] Quote found in an entry on Snoeberger's personal blog, Systematic Theology Matters, dated November 17, 2009. Found here: http://systematicsmatters.blogspot.com/2009/11/are-we-theocentric-christocentric.html. Accessed March 2, 2011. Emphasis added.

    Posted by Nathan on March 2, 2011 02:14 PM

    Comments

    wow. May no one ever be snowed by Snoeberger.

    As someone who was raised in traditional dispensationalism, I can say pretty confidently that this is very very far afield from anything I was ever taught. While I don't subscribe to the kind of dispensationalism I was raised on, the early dispensational writers were masters of seeing types of Christ in the OT. Instead of saying "not all Dispensationalists are this extreme" it would be more accurate to say that "Few Dispensationalist are this extreme."

    I disgree with Mr. Snoeberger. However, that Mr. Snoeberger doesn't see the same themes, which by defenition is a subjective word, as you or I in the O.T. does not make him a heretic.

    Take issue with his remarks or hermeneutical approcach, but save the heretic label for those who rightfully deserve it.

    Stockton,

    There is nothing "subjective" about such statements as this: "Frankly speaking, the Old Testament is not about Christ. It is about God's people being rightly related to their holy God" -- that is an objective statement that objectively disagrees with objective statements such as that which Jesus made in John 5:39; and it is a serious enough error to warrant the heresy label. The Old Testament is about Christ, and no people of God ever related to their holy God apart from Christ and the Gospel. To suggest otherwise is an egregious doctrinal error.

    Nathan

    Nathan,

    Yes, of course his statement is an objective statement which implies subjectivism from the interpreter. I don't wish to get into a semantics argument, but when we are stressing points of emphasis, such as thematizing a compilation of 39 books, there is subjectivism. That someone believes the O.T. is more about the Glory of God than specifically about Christ, and thematically does not see as much Christ but rather a Holy God and His relationship to His people, means there is valid reason for strong disagreement - not Arias treatment.

    Again, I have no issue with you critiquing Mr. Snoeberger's arguments, and as a dispensationalist, I see Messiah all throughout the Old Testament much more than he does, but my original point still remains - we should save the heretic label for those who warrant it, not just someone we have serious doctrinal difference with.

    Stockton,

    It is not merely the thematic problem that raises the question of heresy. Indeed, Snoeberger cuts to the very heart of biblical religion when he claims that "Frankly speaking, the Old Testament is not about Christ. It is about God's people being rightly related to their holy God."

    The notion that there could be any possibility of being "rightly related" to God apart from the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is indeed heresy if there is any such thing. I'll allow for the possibility that he misstated his belief. But the problem here is not a mere matter of emphasis. This is a fundamental matter of soteriology. If the OT is not Christocentric and Crucicentric, then there are at least two different ways of salvation. And Christ's sacrifice, while perhaps helpful, is not absolutely necessary. No, heresy is not too strong a word.

    And, contra Snoeberger, redemption is the "centerpiece of the universe." The apostle Paul writes, "In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory." (Eph. 1:11-12, emphasis added)

    1 Timothy 2:5 - For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

    I was reading a bit about how to study the Word of God and find a delightful bit in a sermon from Spurgeon that made me laugh with joy at how ya'll preach Christ from every text. In this sermon http://www.bible-researcher.com/spurgeon2.html, the dead man speaks thus:

    You remember the story I told you of the Welshman who heard a young man preach a very fine sermon—a grand sermon, a highfaluting, spread-eagle sermon; and when he had done, he asked the Welshman what he thought of it. The man replied that he did not think anything of it. "And why not?" "Because there was no Jesus Christ in it." "Well," said he, "but my text did not seem to run that way." "Never mind," said the Welshman, "your sermon ought to run that way." "I do not see that, however," said the young man. "No," said the other, "you do not see how to preach yet. This is the way to preach. From every little village in England—it does not matter where it is—there is sure to be a road to London. Though there may not be a road to certain other places, there is certain to be a road to London. Now, from every text in the Bible there is a road to Jesus Christ, and the way to preach is just to say, 'How can I get from this text to Jesus Christ?' and then go preaching all the way along it." "Well, but," said the young man, "suppose I find a text that has not got a road to Jesus Christ." "I have preached for forty years," said the old man, "and I have never found such a Scripture, but if I ever do find one I will go over hedge and ditch but what I will get to him, for I will never finish without bringing in my Master."

    Anyone who can preach and does not preach Christ FAILS as a gospel minister.

    John,

    If it is a matter of fundamental soteriology, I would want to know if Mr. Snoeberger believes that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, or by perhaps some other soteriological method. Until I have any indication that that may be the case, I cannot infer that his soteriology is heretical.

    I have said my peace on this subject - I disagree with Mr. Snoeberger but think we should reserve the heretic label for the deserved so we rightly preserve its meaning - I'll bow out from here.

    God bless.

    Independent Baptist have always preached Christ from any text they preach. The Gospel is mention in any sermon no matter what the subject is. They can spiritualize every Old Testament story there is. If they are preaching on David being in the cave hiding from Saul, they will get the gospel out of it. I personally don't agree with that approach.

    I believe this may merely be a matter of semantics or both sides believing the same thing only expressing the same view differently. Some of us see the "Gospel" presented implicitly; Dr. Mark Snoeberger doesn't see it explicitly and so his error would be in setting explicit communication against implicit communication when in actuality they are two sides of the same coin.
    When Dr. Mark Snoeberger states that the Old Testament is about a right relationship w/God and others say that the Old Testament is about "The Gospel" aren't they really saying the same thing? So again, it seems that Dr. Mark Snoeberger's hang up (error?)is on the fact that the "Gospel" isn't mentioned as explicitly or as often as many of us see it implicitly communicated.

    Robert,

    You ask, "When Dr. Mark Snoeberger states that the Old Testament is about a right relationship w/God and others say that the Old Testament is about "The Gospel" aren't they really saying the same thing?"

    I would have to answer, No, we're not saying the same thing. My gospel says that the only way we can be right with God is through Jesus. But Snoeberger explicitly disavows Jesus when discussing how the OT saint is right with God. He does not even allow the gospel to be implicit, but denies it forthright. I quote him again: "Frankly speaking, the Old Testament is not about Christ. It is about God's people being rightly related to their holy God." That statement shows that, in Snoeberger's opinion, positively, the OT people of God were right with him (in fact, that they were and the way they were is the major theme of the OT); and negatively, it was not Christ or the gospel that enabled them to be right with their holy God. In other words, he openly denies the gospel in the OT, even while claiming that the people of God were saved (through some other way than by Christ).

    Robert,

    You ask, "When Dr. Mark Snoeberger states that the Old Testament is about a right relationship w/God and others say that the Old Testament is about "The Gospel" aren't they really saying the same thing?"

    I would have to answer, No, we're not saying the same thing. My gospel says that the only way we can be right with God is through Jesus. But Snoeberger explicitly disavows Jesus when discussing how the OT saint is right with God. He does not even allow the gospel to be implicit, but denies it forthright. I quote him again: "Frankly speaking, the Old Testament is not about Christ. It is about God's people being rightly related to their holy God." That statement shows that, in Snoeberger's opinion, positively, the OT people of God were right with him (in fact, that they were and the way they were is the major theme of the OT); and negatively, it was not Christ or the gospel that enabled them to be right with their holy God. In other words, he openly denies the gospel in the OT, even while claiming that the people of God were saved (through some other way than by Christ).

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