CLARKS SUMMIT, Pa.—Forty professors and Bible scholars are meeting on the campus of Baptist Bible Seminary for the second annual Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, discussing the topic of “The Dispensational Understanding of the New Covenant.”
“This is the area of theology where dispensationalists disagree the most,” said Michael Stallard, dean of the seminary and organizer of the council meetings.
This year’s topic was suggested by a paper read by Rodney Decker at the 2008 council, “Why Do Dispensationalists Have Such a Hard Time Agreeing on the New Covenant?” Traditional dispensationalists express more diversity regarding the church’s relationship to the new covenant than any other comparable issue in our system, Decker said.
In addition to having twice as many member participants as last year, the 2009 council also features the participation of 76 registered observers from churches and ministry organizations, Stallard said. Eight papers will be read in half-hour segments followed by an hour of questions from the council members.
The Thursday discussions were often marked by disagreements on the exact nature and definition of the new covenant, but as traditional dispensationalists, all of the participants agree in a literal millennial rule of Jesus Christ after the rapture of the church and the Tribulation.
“The positions articulated today are closer than we think,” Stallard said.
“The concerns of the various positions [within traditional dispensationalism] are valid,” Stallard said, suggesting that the council would not build an exact consensus view on the details of the new covenant. Rather, they will continue to articulate a range of positions marked by a similar approach to hermeneutics.
“Sometimes it sounds like one part of our group is saying, ‘The apples are red,’ and another part is saying, ‘No, the apples are red,'” Stallard said with a laugh.
“We are working on developing clarified definitions—that’s 50 percent of theology,” Stallard said of the council. “And the other 50 percent is arguing.”
Theological teasing aside, the discussions during the Thursday meetings were both civil and filled with laughter. Most of the participants know each other from last year’s conference and from annual meetings of the Pre-Trib Study Group and the Evangelical Theological Society.
Don Workman, pastor of Faith Baptist Church, Streestboro Ohio, learned about the dispensational conference last year by reading coverage in the Baptist Bulletin. When this year’s council invited pastors and ministry leaders to observe, he asked his church if he could attend.
“It was an enriching time, but brain-tiring as well,” Workman said.
Sending a report back to his church, Workman said, “I am impressed with the thorough grasp of Scripture these guys have. I will never be as knowledgeable. I am thankful for guys like this who are passionate about God’s message to us in his word.”
Workman said he had been personally challenged to read the Bible more deeply, more thoroughly, and as a connected story. He also suggested that there are practical applications for pastors by participating in the council.
“In two weeks I need to stand before my congregation and lead a communion service,” Workman said. “I need to be able to explain what Christ meant when he said, ‘This is the new covenant in My blood.'”
The council has formed a steering committee (Rod Decker, Joe Parle, George Gunn, Mark Soto, and Michael Stallard) that will guide future activities, including release of formal statements and publishing of council papers.
The council meets concurrently with the Barndollar Lecture Series at Baptist Bible Seminary. Guest speaker Elliott E. Johnson, professor of Biblical exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary, is presenting a series of lectures on hermeneutics, including “Literal Interpretation: What Is Our Heritage?” “Progressive Revelation: Does Meaning Change?” “How Does Matthew Use Isaiah 7:14?” and “The New Covenant: Is It Ratified or Inaugurated?”