Progressive Dispensationalism: Old Testament Types and Prophetic Certainties
by Ed Vasicek
Note: The latter part of this paper explains Progressive Dispensationalism; the first part explains one possible path to bring us there.
As I was reading Robert Saucy’s thoughtful book, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, Saucy highlighted what should be (but often is not) an obvious thought in the realm of hermeneutics (principles of Bible interpretation):
Typology, it is generally agreed, does not eliminate the historicity of the type. This is universally accepted with regard to the historical Israel’s living under the old covenant. But what about Israel of the eschatological time portrayed in the prophets, the Israel related to the reign of the future Davidic king? The church is often viewed as typologically replacing Israel in these prophecies. What, then, happens to the historicity of the type, if the type is not historical Israel living under the old covenant, but the future Israel enjoying messianic salvation under the new covenant? (p. 31)
In other words, why should we take Old Testament history literally, since the church draws applications from that history, while many allegorize Old Testament prophecy? We recognize that drawing an application from the Torah does not mean the events recorded in the Torah were not literal. So why should we negate the literal fulfillment of God's promises to Israel just because the church draws application from them? We shouldn't.
Although Saucy and I came to embrace the same hermeneutical paradigm (Progressive Dispensationalism), we arrived there by differing routes. My observation, namely, that most prophecy has a near, less literal fulfillment and a distant, more literal fulfillment led me to see that the eschatological promises made to Israel are first fulfilled in the church (in a less literal way) and then fulfilled more literally to the literal descendents of Jacob (ethnic Israel) in the End Times.
But Saucy’s comments activated my gray cells when it comes to the realm of Old Testament types, particularly the typology of the Law (as indicated by Hebrews 10:1a, “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves”).
What is prophecy, but history written “in advance?" When God speaks, his declarations about our future are no less certain than His recollections of those past. To claim that God redefines His terminology, as does Replacement Theology (e.g., “Israel no longer means the genetic descendents of Jacob”) and that He changes terms and conditions after the fact (transforming unconditional promises to conditional) or allegorizes what is originally clearly literal is absolute nonsense. This would be considered underhanded in our society, but it is shady in the realm of theology as well. But when we accuse God of this redefining of terms, the implication is that God does not know what the future holds; He must change His plans in response to human decisions. Things weren’t going so well with Israel, so now God is going to redefine who and what Israel is! It doesn’t matter how Jeremiah understood God’s prophecies (Jeremiah 31:35-37, for example), or how David or Abraham understood them; God is now redefining terminology so He can move away from the original understanding of the contract. Sorry, I don’t buy that.
If we believe in a Sovereign, Omniscient God Who exists outside the realm of time, a God Who sees all events of all time at every moment, it follows that prophecy is just as certain as history. From God’s perspective, there really is no difference.
Combining Saucy’s insights with my "near—less literal, far—more literal" view of prophecy gives us a mirror reflection for history, with the church characterized by the "less literal" application in both instances; here is the paradigm I would like to suggest.
|Torah & History||Church Application||Church Application||Prophecy|
|Lamb at Passover.
Literal consumption of lamb.
|Jesus, our "Lamb," is sacrificed as our Passover; we partake the bread and cup.||Jesus Christ is serving as our advocate; He is in heaven at the Father’s right hand, we are seated with Him.||Jesus Christ will sit on David’s throne and reign as Israel’s King over the world from Jerusalem; we will reign with Him.|
|Two Goats on Yom Kippur; one sacrificed for sin, the other released as a scapegoat.||Christ atoned for our sins (first goat) on the cross. Buried, He carried them far away as our scapegoat.||At Pentecost, we see the Spirit working in new and greater ways; this is a sign of the Messianic era, but the moon is not turned to blood, etc.||During Tribulation, all God’s children will prophesy and dream dreams; the moon will turn to blood, the sun will be darkened.|
|On Pentecost, God gave the Law and two loaves were presented to the Lord.||On Pentecost, God gave the Spirit, and the two peoples (believing Jews & Gentiles) are brought into one body.||We are under the New Covenant with the Law of God written on our hearts; gentile believers along with believing Israel (no distinction).||Entering the Millennium, EVERYONE will know the Lord and be under the New Covenant with Israel being God’s focal nation.|
|LITERAL||LESS LITERAL||LESS LITERAL||MORE LITERAL|
When it comes to prophecy, there is a difference between its style and that of narrative history. Many prophecies were given in the poetic genre, which is why we have the "more literal" and "less literal" categories (vs. literal and less literal).
Understood in this manner, Progressive Dispensationalism becomes simple to understand. It also becomes an obvious hermeneutic in line with the tenor of Scripture.
So, in a nutshell, Progressive Dispensationalism
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