1984 in light of March 2007

We will return to our series on the relationship of the Testaments on Monday.

George Orwell’s classic literary work, 1984, has been co opted by many different persuasions to show how his fictional prophecies have come true in recent times. However the year 1984 has come back into my view because of a “prophetic” article that was written by Dutch-American Reformed theologian, Willem VanGemeren. In the Westminster Theological Journal [46:2 (Fall 1984)] he delivered a sobering warning to the larger Reformed community with his article “Israel As the Hermeneuitical Crux in the Interpretation of Prophecy.” What follows is a portion of his conclusion which, in light of recent statements about a Reformed eschatology, needs to be heard again. His cautions are in response to those who have a deficient view of the place of Israel within the “Reformed” community:

[S]ince the middle of the nineteenth century the necessity has arisen to deal in a more systematic way with eschatological issues. Patrick Fairbairn is illustrative of a consistent approach to the prophets. His intent is to provide fundamental principles by which the differences between the OT and the NT can be reconciled. He asserts that OT passages are to be interpreted in accordance with the principle that no tension can exist between promise and fulfillment. Consequently, any OT prophetic passage which does not have a direct bearing on our Lord, his ministry, and the New People of God, may be interpreted typologically. Promises pertaining to the Jews, Jerusalem, and the land are treated as having a greater reality in the New People of God, the New Jerusalem, and the New Heavens and the New Earth. Fairbairn hoped that he might bring consensus among the variety of perspectives, and he succeeded! Within a generation postmillennialism was dying out and it was not popular to be a premillennialist (historic) in Reformed circles. Exegesis of OT prophetical passages came under the scrutiny of Ockham’s razor. Whatever the NT did not explicitly affirm was rejected and OT prophetic language was typologically interpreted. Hence, the “new” Reformed hermeneutic is no longer “the Old is in the New revealed and the New is in the Old concealed,” but rather “the Old is by the New restricted and the New is on the Old inflicted.”

The results of one hundred years of the “new” hermeneutic are not encouraging. Positively, Reformed writers have had a systematic and consistent position with which they have been able to continue writing against certain forms of premillennialism and especially dispensationalism. One negative result is the lack of openness to exegesis of the prophets or at least to raising hermeneutical questions. There is presently a dearth of monographs, studies, and commentaries on the prophets. A second negative factor is that the study of the relationship of Old and New has been negatively affected. The assumption has been that there is a homogeneous theology of the NT through which the OT can be filtered. Since NT interpreters are not in agreement, whose NT theology will become the matrix of OT interpretation? A third negative factor is the relatively low place the OT has in the teaching and preaching of the Church. Apart from the attention given to messianic prophecies, the promises of God in the OT prophets remain largely hidden from view for God’s people.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Thank you for this timely and excellent post. VanGemeren’s words are, as you said, prophetic but also largely unheeded.

    Was he assailed for his observations even as MacArthur is being disowned (by TRs) for his?

  2. FWIW, this comment should have the correct URL for my WP name; if not, I’m at http://eternalperspectives.com/

  3. Posted by Caleb on March 19, 2007 at 6:44 am

    Good thoughts Doctor!

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