Two dueling Puritans
You all thought I was going to embed another Wendy's commercial from the '80's, didn't you? (That's not what this post is about, but the commercial was still funny - check it out here.)
No, actually the "beef" to which I refer is an escalating tension between two camps in Christiandom: Dispensational and Covenant Theology.
UPDATE: If you're really interested in the differences between the two 'systems' but can't afford to go to seminary, here's a very readable discussion from the gotquestions.org site:
Although I have studied a reasonable amount of systematic theology, (enough to grasp the basic differences, which mainly fall under ecclesiology and eschatology), I was unaware until a week ago that there was any real animosity between respective proponents over doctrinal differences. This may be somewhat surprising to you, as I spend a fair amount of time in the Calvinist-leaning Christian blogosphere. I also attend a Calvinist-leaning church, which also happens to lean dispensationalist. (Confused yet?) We uphold both God's sovereign election and man's responsibility in conversion, which makes us less Calvinistic than, say, John Macarthur or R.C. Sproul, but a great deal more than (for instance) Bill Bright.
Salvation is by grace through faith. Justification is by grace alone, includes repentance, and regeneration results in progressive sanctification. That's a fancy way of saying the Gospel is preached, and I don't know a Reformed, Baptist, dispensationalist or Covenant Theologian alive who would disagree on any of those points.
Recently, however, two women ministry leaders at church brought to my attention the fact that here in New England, in particular, there is a real growing hostility between the two groups - most of it coming from the Covenant side. "There is a real 'hardness'," my pastor's wife said. Some Covenant churches (presumably 5-point Calvinists) are even telling their members not to associate with dispensationalist congregations, as we are theologically aberrant. Come again?
A few months ago, I commented half-jokingly to my PW that I strive to be a 5-point Calvinist, but I just can't seem to go the whole hog. The cyber-Christian "intelligentsia" seems to be made up almost exclusively of such, and I like to think of myself as a bit of an intellectual. She replied that it was probably better that I'm not, as she's noted a real lack of joy among the 5-pointers she's known. There seems to be a correlation between hyper-Calvinism and Covenant Theology, but I can't quite seem to define it.
In any event, I follow Jesus Christ; not John Calvin.
Surprised to hear that dispies were shunned by Covs, I did what any theo-geek with a pressing query would do: I e-mailed the Pyro Dudes. Here is a response I received from Dan:
I think everything you say is accurate, and have observed and experienced the same things.
Dispensationalism has been made a friendly "off-limits" focus for Pyromaniacs.
I have however written about it a number of times on my own blog, and am about to publish a review of a book on dispensationalism, probably later this week (Lord willing).
You can see my main posts on the subject here and here and here and here.
Another site you might find amazingly useful is Michael Vlach's site. He is a doctor, a theology professor, and a dispensationalist Calvinist.
(I particularly enjoyed the second link, "25 Stupid Reasons to Diss Dispensationalism"). So this Cov. Theo/disp has really become an official Big Woop among Bible-believing Christians. I admit, I'm surprised. Covenant Theology, in a nutshell, sees all OT law as being in effect unless abrogated by the NT. I know that they are okay with infant baptism, seeing it as a continuation of a covenant - specifically, baptism becomes the NT version of circumcision. (Given all the verses that link personal faith and repentance to baptism, I'd say that's a bit of a stretch, but it's certainly not rank heresy). The Church and Old Testament Israel are essentially seen as one Body - unlike dispensationalism, which views Pentecost as the birthday of the Church. Covenant Theologians generally take an amillenial or post-millenial view of eschatology, (as opposed to the pre-trib/pre-millenial dispensationalist view), and use a more symbolic hermeneutic to interpret parts of Scripture than the grammatical-literal principal common to dispensationalists. There are a few other distinctives along these lines, with some variance.
Call me crazy, but I thought it was the Gospel that matters. It's not that I'm not familiar with the two systems' variances. I just don't care.
Last week, I spent several hours perusing websites devoted to diagramming, parsing and debating the distinctives of each camp. Trouble was, most of them were from the Covenant Theology side and they misrepresented dispensationalist belief. We were called anti-nomian on one (Really? Ever met Macarthur?).
Part of the reason it surprises and dismays me that there would be controversy about these matters among Christians is that I have sat in the churches of very godly pastors of both streams. When I lived in Bulgaria and attended First Evangelical Church of Sofia, my pastor, Rev. Hristo Kulichev (about whom I've written before) preached the Gospel unfailingly. A veteran of Communist prisons and labor camps, he taught his congregation to stand strong in the face of both persecution and carnal temptation. After reading his books "Salvation and Predestination" and "The Existence of the Church" last summer, I realized he is a Covenant Theologian. (In case I cared. Which I don't.) My current pastor preaches the same Gospel as he did; the same love for Christ; the same no-compromise approach to faithful obedience. Although he happens to believe the Church will be Raptured before the Tribulation. (I hope he's right. But if he's not, no biggie. I just want to focus on being ready).
If we were to lock these two humble men of God in a room with me to interpret, they would disagree on the finer points of theology. However, I simply cannot imagine them arguing or having a chip on their shoulders over these doctrinal distinctives - their hearts are too focused on the Gospel itself to get side-tracked by what most would consider non-essentials.
I am the first to assert that sound doctrine does matter. Although I abhor argument for argument's sake, most of the heated debates I've found myself embroiled in have been over theological matters crucial to the Gospel. There are, in fact, certain fundamentals of Christianity. Failure to adhere to certain key doctrines means that, by definition, you are not a Christian. I simply don't see ecclesiology as falling into that category, and there is probably no branch of theology more open to debate than eschatology. Hence my question: "Where's the beef?"
I may have met my match with systematic theology. It's giving me a headache.
I wonder if our Heavenly Father ever feels that way...?