Saturday, October 28, 2017

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (4)

A commenter at Christian Forums attempts to refute the Dispensational view of the Bible. Leimeng says:

“Much of Dispensationalism is a false teaching in the same way that calvinism, arminianism and pelegarianism are. The Bible clearly states that God is not a God of Changes, and that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”

The statement that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever comes word-for-word from the book of Hebrews, but I don’t believe it means at all what Leimeng claims it means.

A Mutual Acquaintance

The Hebrews statement about Jesus comes without an obvious context to interpret it, but I don’t think it’s a difficult statement to get one’s head around.

Let’s say we have a mutual acquaintance that I’ve just spent some time with, while you haven’t seen him in years. You ask me how Charles is, and I reply, “He’s the same Charles.”

When Charles was thirteen he was a paper boy. He was also single. At seventeen he slung hash at a local breakfast spot, and by twenty-one he was a university grad interning with a local TV station. At twenty-five, when you first met Charles, he was newly married and often featured on local newscasts doing live reports. At forty he was a father of three and a producer for a major network, and at fifty-three he became a syndicated political columnist.

The “Same” Charles

When I tell you Charles is “the same”, I am not in the least suggesting that Charles has always done everything exactly the same way, and you would not dream of taking my statement that way. I am not suggesting that he has the same expectations of his wife as he has of his children or of his subordinates at work, nor that he makes the same rules for the latter two groups. I am certainly not talking about the scope of Charles’ influence today, or about the skill sets required to do the various things Charles has done over the course of his life. These too are very different.

What I am trying to convey to you in verbal shorthand is that Charles remains his honest, amiable, loyal, amusing, conservative, intelligent, hard-working self. I am speaking of his character, his personality and his preferences, not about his activities and how he performs them.

If you found Charles witty as paper boy, you would find him even wittier as an op-ed writer, where he has a much greater scope to display his verbal skills. If he disliked progressives as a youth, he dislikes them today. If Charles gives his word to me about something this morning, it’s as solid as the promises he made to his confidential informants when he first started reporting almost thirty years ago. When Charles was in university, he studied non-stop. He applies the same diligence to his Internet research for his columns. Once Charles was single, and now he’s married, but he treats his wife as respectfully as he once treated his mom.

Charles hasn’t changed.

Everything Else Changes

Now of course Charles’ responsibilities have changed. The people he’s dealing with have changed. His visibility has changed. His impact has changed. The specific techniques he uses in business have had to be modified to fit the various circumstances in which he has found himself as he sought to discharge his various responsibilities as a man, a Christian and later a husband. In fact, almost everything about Charles’ life and sphere of influence has changed since he first delivered newspapers.

But Charles is still Charles. His every action is consistent with his established character.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Charles is exceptional, and it’s for this reason that scripture makes a point of telling us God does not change: because most of us do. Most of us are not Charles, and none of us are God. But when we say of one of these remarkable people, “He’s the same,” it is this sort of sameness we always mean.

A Different Man

So consider another mutual acquaintance. Bill has recently been dumped by his wife, who met someone else on Facebook, and you tell me, “Boy, you wouldn’t recognize Bill. He’s a different man.”

Why would you say that? Bill still lives in the same house he lived in with his former wife, and he works in the same place. He drives the same car and wears the same clothes. EXACTLY the same clothes. He has the same two kids and he’s even almost exactly the same age, since the breakup only happened recently. But Bill is now a drunk and a bitter man. He’s moody and unpredictable. He yells at the mailman for no reason and fights with his neighbours. He doesn’t see his old friends and he doesn’t return your calls. Bill is not “the same”, but it’s not the externals of his life or most of his daily routines that have changed; it’s his character that has taken a turn for the worse.

The Same Eternal Purposes

Dispensationalists do not claim Jesus Christ has changed. In fact, we’d argue precisely the opposite. He’s the same Son of God with the same eternal purposes in view, operating from the same character with the exact same likes and dislikes. Like his father, he always hates divorce, even though his own Law once permitted it, so he warned his disciples against it. If he appears to change his rules for certain groups of people at particular times and places, it is because that is the wisest and most effective way to proceed with fallen, ignorant men. As David puts it in the Psalms:
“With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.”
God’s actions are tailored to the character and circumstances of those he is dealing with. But whether God manifests himself in the world as merciful or tortuous, all his dealings reflect an essential character that never changes. It merely displays itself differently to different people under different circumstances.

I believe this is what the writer to the Hebrews is teaching, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the truth or falsehood of the Dispensational view of the Bible.

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