The Extent of a System of Hermeneutics


We come now to the most effective illustration of what are basically two opposing systems.  The amount of available material on this topic is so voluminous that we can consider only a few areas of contrast.  Contrary to the protests of our theological peers, the grammatical/contextual/historical/literal system is more dissimilar than similar to the allegorical system, which is nearly identical to the reformed and covenant theological systems.  The old adage says, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”  In other words, the product tells us all we need to know.


No single issue in theology better describes this theological Grand Canyon than the subject of Israel and the church.  Inside each of the two hermeneutical systems there are, understandably, some variances.  The number of these differences is much smaller, however, in the literal-based system.  In the allegorical base, the differences, though much greater as to number, are still common in their source.


The Literal Approach


Within the literal system, the widely held view is that the church is made up of those who are declared righteous, from the time of Pentecost up to the rapture and that the founding, history, and future of the church is distinctly clear and separate from national Israel.  While the church does include Jews and Gentiles saved from Pentecost on, none of these is part of national Israel; they are known as “the bride of Christ” and will have that identification throughout eternity.  It is also widely held by this group that the removal of the church from the earth will precede any portion of the tribulation period.  This view sees God as dealing continually and separately with the Jews, the Gentiles, and the church.


The first system mainly views the ministry of the Holy Spirit as a clearly defined relationship with the church, beginning at Pentecost. Certain specific ministries are related to the church and not to Israel. These would include the baptism of the Holy Spirit and His indwelling relationship.  This last item has a close similarity to the doctrine of the indwelling Christ: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”  According to Scripture, only those who are in “the body of Christ” are “in Christ.”


The literal system has held that God made The New Covenant with Israel, not with the church.  At the same time, the church has received benefit from that covenant, while not being a partner in it.  


Among those who hold to a literal system, the subject of the kingdom, like all other matters, has some variance.  In the main, however, there is a clear distinction between the eternal, universal kingdom and the theocratic, millennial, messianic 1,000-year physical reign.  Historically, this system has not viewed the church as a kingdom or Christ as King of the church.  This will be dealt with in detail later.


A literal interpretation has no quarter with the old liberal theological view of a general resurrection or general judgment.  The end result of comparing a Biblical and literal interpretation of the text with the allegorical system is a major contrast of eschatological differences.


At this point, there is a need for clarification.  There are those who would be legitimately included in the literal system who have some friendly, if not some relationship to several of the subjects just listed.  Allow me to mention several areas of debate.  The first is the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Old Testament saints. The second is a relationship of the church to the New Covenant that would go beyond the sharing of some blessings, and the third is an inaugurated kingdom.  This provides a good illustration of our earlier discussions.  These intrusions into the literal community do not actually result from a careful use of the first system.  These are examples of what happens when the allegorical system is integrated into the literal; it means that these are ideas borrowed from the covenant theological field.  That is evident to anyone reading through the arguments of those who champion such hybrids. 


It is also important to note that, just as these positions have been borrowed from the allegory-based system, others borrow from the first system. The result, then, is that those from the second system may hold some such distinctive as the any-moment rapture.  There are two explanations for this.  The first one is that, in recent years, many who had previously straddled the fence have begun moving to new theologies that represent the Reformed perspective.  The second is that the allegorical system is so fluid that one could hold any view of the rapture or other event in prophecy.  This may sound impossible, but that is the great negative of the allegorical base.  If one decides on their own what is allegory, or what may be spiritualized in any selected text, they should expect confusion.


The Allegorical Approach


The second system provides ample evidence of the great divide in theological views between the two.


Views that flow from this second system vary widely.  Their view of the church is so broad that it would include even Adam, while others see it as having begun with the Abrahamic covenant.  Some would claim that the church includes the redeemed of the ages.  One of the most popular views is that Israel has become the church, or that the church and Israel will become one in the future.  None of these views rises from the literal Biblical view we have outlined.  All of these views present great contrasts to that which is held by system one.


Since the distinctiveness of the church is set aside by the second system, it is no surprise that other views follow.  It matters little to this system if the church is in the tribulation, if there is a millennium, or if you end up with just one people of God.  One or more resurrections or judgments are possible.  This, believe me, is vastly different from the literal system.


In contrast to the literal approach, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the New Covenant, prophetic and other events are up for auction.  I think the reader can understand why there is so much animosity toward such a dependable and clear system as the literal Biblical hermeneutic.


Theological Theories


To confirm the above, one has only to take a look at the many popular and extreme theories looming on the horizon.  We have already described supersessionism and the replacement theory, where Israel becomes the church in some form at some time, so I repeat this only for purposes of emphasis; it illustrates the great ocean of difference between the two contrasting systems of interpretation.  The products of the two are violently different, and the differences are much greater than are the similarities.


The second system is capable of producing such theories as preterism. In this extreme position, one sees all prophecy as having already been fulfilled; there is no future rapture, tribulation, second coming, millennium, etc.  Even more stunning is the list of famous evangelical names that have given credence to such fanciful ideas.  The reader should pay close attention to those names and approach very cautiously anything that these types of theologians may propose.


The opposing view to a literal hermeneutic produced yet another idea.  This one is called progressive dispensationalism.  Reportedly, it was meant to provide a bridge between historic dispensationalism and covenant theology.  It could be considered a failed attempt, because all of the above has demonstrated that the divide between these two views is not a mere creek – it is as wide as the Atlantic Ocean.  In the end, a cursory observation shows the movement as progressively edging toward the Reformed model.  The reason for that conclusion is that the views in progressive dispensationalism mirror those that rise from the allegorical base.


Finally, there is the matter of the kingdom.  I remember the liberal concept that was taught when I was a young student.  They explained that they were “bringing in the kingdom, building the kingdom, and growing the kingdom.”  Now those same terms are used freely by evangelicals and even by some fundamentalists.


The church is not a kingdom, nor is Christ king of the church.  We are not building or growing a kingdom, let alone the kingdom.  God’s plan for this age is the church, and we are not building or growing the church; God is doing that.  In a prophetic statement, Matthew wrote, “And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)


On final reminder is in order.  These discussions are not about people. They are about ideas.  We should, and must, speak firmly about ideas. Doing so will allow each reader to grow as a scholar and as a thinker.