Christ and the Gospel not Old Testament Themes at All? A Hyper-Troubling Conclusion of a Hyper-Dispensationalist
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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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, â€œ...the Mosaic system has its own meaning, known plainly by the OT saint, without reference to Christ. It was not intrinsically anticipatoryâ€. 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 â€“ 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:â€¨â€¨
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.â€¨â€¨
I preached through 1 Kings 18 on the exclusivity of God and his incredible sovereignty in the face of all rivals.â€¨â€¨
I preached through Habakkuk 1 on the proper approach to prayer in the face of apparent injustice.â€¨â€¨
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."
â€¨â€¨I preached through Habakkuk 3 on the believer's confidence in the goodness and greatness of God.â€¨â€¨
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.â€¨â€¨
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.
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.â€¨â€¨
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.
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.
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.
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, â€œFrankly speaking, the Old Testament is not about Christ. It is about God's people being rightly related to their holy Godâ€ â€“ 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.
 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
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.