Gordon Clark and the “Proofs” for God’s Existence

In chapter one of his book A Christian View of Men and Things, Gordon Clark brings up the discussion of the traditional “proofs” for God’s existence (e.g., cosmological, teleological, ontological, etc). He writes:

To one who has just begun to philosophize and who wishes to defend theism, it might seem most natural to prove the existence of God right at the first… But are the arguments valid? Some people maintain that they are; but even if they are, the more they are studied, the harder it becomes to state them in an unobjectionable form… [If] there is a valid inference from the world to God [vis-à-vis the cosmological argument], the god so proved can be assigned only those qualities sufficient to produce the observed effects. Such an argument might prove the existence of a very powerful god, but it could not prove the existence of an omnipotent God. (Introduction)

I remember well sitting in my first undergraduate course in doctrine and having to memorize the historical proofs for God set forth by Aquinas and others; yet even then, they did not sit right with me. At best, they could set forth a case for a creator, designer, or other, but they failed because they cannot prove Yahweh, the One True God presented in Scripture. They fall short in this regard. Clark quotes Hume to this end:

A body of ten ounces raised in any scale may serve as a proof that the counterbalancing weight exceeds ten ounces, but can never afford a reason that it exceeds a hundred. (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section XI)

To be certain, evidence of the One True God’s existence is found in nature. The Apostle Paul tells the reader of Romans as much: [God’s] invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made (1:20). This is what we refer to as general revelation: the non-verbal disclosing of God’s existence and perfections to all people by means of nature.

This is problematic for two reasons. First, that same passage in Romans also says that man in his natural state suppresses the truth: For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them (vv. 18-19).

Second, we cannot know more than what the created world tells us. Existence and identification are two separate entities, and the identification of the One True God can only be found in Scripture. Try as we might to identify God through these proofs, the ultimate authority — the Word of God — is ultimately the only authority. At some point, the unbeliever will need to choose to either believe Scripture or not.

Often the reason for these proofs is said to be for the sake of the unbelieving atheist, but the atheist is right in rejecting these “ways” to proving God’s existence. Even if they proved the existence of God, belief in the propositions found in Scripture are still necessary for eternal life. The redemptive work of the second Person of the Trinity is only revealed to us in Scripture, and must be accepted on the basis of its testimony alone. Either way, knowledge of Scripture is paramount, and we are dependent upon the Holy Spirit to illumine Scripture to us.

Clark concludes his discussion of these proofs with the following:

[C]riticism is also directed against the validity of any inference from effect to cause — a matter that was granted for the sake of argument — will be even less easy to place confidence in the proofs of God’s existence. The more the arguments are studied, the less valid they seem. Because of this, the argument for a theistic worldview cannot begin with the traditional proofs of God’s existence. These proofs are seen to raise many questions; and if they should be valid they could not be shown to be valid without a great amount of prior discussion of metaphysics, epistemology, and other elements of a well-rounded system. (Introduction)

The final sentence is most crucial in any dialogue. A great deal of talking past one another happens because our epistemologies — our understanding of knowledge and how we obtain it — differ. To the believer, Scripture should permeate our worldview. We should be reasoning from the Scriptures, for those words alone bring life. Scripture should be the basis and foundation of all that we do, and we would do well to let God do the talking through His Word.

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on the corruption of governments

A few weeks ago at my church, I had the pleasure and privilege of preaching from God’s Word.  (The link to the video for that can be found here.)  The sermon series this summer has been “What Does God Say About _____.”  After much thought, I decided to roll the dice and propose the topic of government.  Nothing controversial there, right?

I proceeded with my points:

  1. Government was instituted by God
  2. We must submit to the governing authorities.
  3. The only thing we can do with government is corrupt it.

It was this third and last point that came to mind when I was listening to the radio and heard an unbeliever (my assumption) echo the very sentiment.  This past week, Russian president Vladimir Putin wrote an op-ed in the New York Times slamming American “exceptionalism,” the notion that there is nothing special about America.  The radio host vehemently disagreed.  He said the following:

So what is it? Well, if you know the history of the world… Read your Bible, read whatever historical account of humanity you hold dear, and what you’ll read about is human tyranny. You’ll read of bondage. You’ll read of slavery. The vast majority of the people, the vast majority of the human beings who have lived and breathed and walked this planet have lived under the tyranny of despots, the vast majority.

It isn’t even close.

The vast majority of the people of this world since the beginning of time have never known the kind of liberty and freedom that’s taken for granted every day in this country. Most people have lived in abject fear of their leaders. Most people have lived in abject fear of whoever held power over them. Most people in the world have not had plentiful access to food and clean water. It was a major daily undertaking for most people to come up with just those two basic things.

Just surviving was the primary occupation of most people in the world. The history of the world is dictatorship, tyranny, subjugation, whatever you want to call it of populations — and then along came the United States of America. Pilgrims were the first to come here seeking freedom from all of that. They were oppressed because of their religion. They were told they had to believe in the king and his god, whatever it was, or they would be imprisoned.

They led an exodus from Europe to this country, people of the same mind-set. They simply wanted to escape the tyranny of their ordinary lives. This country was founded that way. For the first time in human history, a government and country was founded on the belief that leaders serve the population. This country was the first in history, the EXCEPTION — e-x-c-e-p-t, except. The exception to the rule is what American exceptionalism is.

It is because of this liberty and freedom that our country exists, because the founders recognized it comes from God. It’s part of the natural yearning of the human spirit. It is not granted by a government. It’s not granted by Putin. It’s not granted by Obama or any other human being. We are created with the natural yearning to be free, and it is other men and leaders throughout human history who have suppressed that and imprisoned people for seeking it.

The US is the first time in the history of the world where a government was organized with a Constitution laying out the rules, that the individual was supreme and dominant, and that is what led to the US becoming the greatest country ever because it unleashed people to be the best they could be. Nothing like it had ever happened. That’s American exceptionalism. Putin doesn’t know what it is, Obama doesn’t know what it is, and it just got trashed in the New York Times. It’s just unacceptable.

The host?  Rush Limbaugh.  (His full monologue can be found here.)  Even an unbeliever understands that we as humans have a tendency to corrupt everything we come in contact with.  Even an unbeliever knows that there is a supreme being that endows men with rights.  The problem is that we look for redemption in the external.  We look for salvation through government (whether less or more of it, even though I certainly have an opinion which is better!).

Yet, salvation, deliverance, and eternal life are only found in one place — the God-man Jesus the Messiah.  He paid the penalty for our sins at His first coming, and He will set up the most perfect government when He comes again!  Lord, haste the day!

Coke, Pepsi, and the Gospel

Coke or Pepsi?  It’s a simple question really.  If sitting before you were a can of Coke and a can of Pepsi, which would you open and drink?

I suppose an even better question would be, are you free to choose either Coke or Pepsi?  In other words, do you have free will, or is your choice predetermined?

I confess to you that I do not have free will to choose Coke or Pepsi.  When faced with a “choice” between Coke and Pepsi, I will always choose Coke.  I cannot do otherwise — it tastes infinitely better!  And I will always choose what I desire most.  And that means I will always choose Coke.

Ah, but you may say, I can choose Pepsi in order to prove that I will not always choose Coke.  Yet, this does nothing but prove my point, as I am still, at that moment, choosing that which I desire the most.  But now, my desire to attempt to deny a basic philosophical tenet is stronger than my desire to drink something that tastes better.

It doesn’t matter what your reasoning is.  It could be craving a certain taste, looking to cut calories wherever possible, or perhaps it is the only drink available (in which case you are still making the decision to drink Pepsi instead of going thristy), I guarantee that you will always choose that which you desire the most — and in that sense, you do not have free will, and your choice has been determined by outside circumstances.

There are exceptionally few philosophical or theological conversations that are more sensative and volatile than the notion of free will.  Yet, when we look at it in simple terms of Coke and Pepsi, it becomes a rather simple and straightforward matter.

Can it bridge the analogical gap to the Gospel and our response to it, though?  I believe it does!

Think of it.  We always choose that which we desire most.  As you go throughout the day today, think about what you decide to eat, how you choose to spend your time, and with whom you converse.  I guarantee that you always choose that which is higher up on your scale of values.  You may not want to watch six hours of kids’ television programs, but you prefer it over your child bouncing off the walls, distracting you at every moment.  You may not want to eat macaroni and cheese for dinner, but you do not want even more to overdraw your checking account for six ounces of filet mignon.

Bridge the gap to the Gospel.  What does the Bible say is our natural born relationship with, and response to, God?

There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.  Romans 3:10-12

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son…  Romans 5:6, 8, 10

You were dead in your trespasses and sins…  Ephesians 2:1

The Word of God makes it clear that our natural inclination towards God is not a favorable one.  No one seeks after God.  Period.  Paul does not put an asterisk after “none” so as to introduce a caveat.  We were enemies with God until He initiated the act of reconciliation (also cf. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19).  We were dead in our sinful state.

I could list more Scripture, but even one passage is enough to establish a doctrine as divine.  Just as our wills are not free to choose Pepsi or Coke without outside circumstances, so we are not free to choose Christ without some external stimulus, which is the Spirit Himself.

Perhaps at a later time I could further draw out the implications for every day life, in case the Coke/Pepsi dichotomy proves insufficient, but suffice it to say that I believe each and every decision we made is, in some way, predetermined.  Whether that predetermination begins and ends solely with our desires, or whether God ordains it all (or perhaps some inquantifiable percentage in between), would certainly be the topic of a future post.

But for now, my goal was first to bring this theological and philosophical hot topic into the realm of every day life.

do we hear God speak?

Whether we are faced with two choices or one hundred, making decisions can be a scary place to be.  I was having a conversation with a friend tonight, and we were talking about how we know what “God wants us to do.”  I was trying to explain to this person how I “make my decisions” (as if they are my decisions to make, anyway; let’s be honest, God is bringing about His purpose whether or not I’m on board).  I realized that it is a difficult thing to explain, as half the time, I just “know.”  As easy as it would make it, I don’t receive any visions, I don’t hear any voices, I don’t dream up the answer, nor do I draw lots.

It must’ve been nice when God worked that way, though.  In the Bible, we see at least twelve ways God revealed Himself and His will.  I always remember it by the acrostic:  ID the VAULT MVP as BJ (which I identify as my brother, Bradley James).  God has revealed Himself and His will through:

Israel was to reveal God to the nations and to act as a catalyst for believers in the church (Exod 32:11-14; 1 Cor 10:6, 11).
Dreams were subconscious revelations given while a person is sleeping (Gen 37).
Visions were conscious revelations given while a person is either sleeping or awake (Dan 2:19).
Angels were used to directly communicate things to people (Dan 9:21-23).
Urim and Thummim were stones used to make decisions (Exod 28:9-10).
Lots were basically like drawing straws (Acts 1:26).
Theophanies were an appearance of Christ before He came in the flesh (Judg 13:21-22).
Miracles were used to demonstrate God’s will by circumventing natural laws (1 Kings 18:38).
Voices were heard that audibly and clearly communicated a message in a powerful way (Acts 9:4-6).
Prophecy was the actual content of the message being communicated (Jer 1:5-19).

That leaves two left: the Bible and Jesus.  Well, Jesus is pretty self-explanatory.  He is the Word, He is the manifestation of God.  And then we have the Bible, the Word of God.

So, how is God revealing Himself and His will today?  Which of the twelve above are still “in play?”  I’m going to suggest to you that there is only ONE primary method of special revelation that is still being used today, and it is the obvious one of the Bible, the Word of God.

Do we want to know what He wants us to do?  Then we simply must be in His Word constantly.  I’m not saying that somewhere within those pages is the explicit answer to “Do I want sausage or bacon for breakfast?” or even “Do I want to to go Bob Jones or LBC?”  You’re not going to find that unless you do all that cryptogram crap!  What you are going to find is instruction on how God has shown grace to His people in the past, and how God wants to affect believers today to become more like Him.  It includes all that we need for life and godliness, and that, in turn, will affect all of our daily decisions!

We long for special insight.  We want to hear those audible voices (unless we’re being knocked down to the ground like Saul was in Acts 9, it’s probably more likely we’re schizophrenic than we are receiving a word from the Lord).  We desparately wish we could cast lots to see if this is the person we should marry or if we can afford that car, yet we don’t ever bother to read His Word to tackle the “simple” things He wants us to do!  What is wrong with us?!  It’s all there in His Word!

If you’re like me, reading the Bible systematically and consistently is not your strong suit, althogh ideally, it’s probably the best way to go about doing it.  I’d like to suggest a contingency plan, though, until we get our butts in gear.  First, become familiar with Proverbs.  There are a lot of gems in there that spit out pure wisdom.

Second, develop a plan of attack with Psalms.  One of the elders at my home church once clued me in to a practice he used to read through Psalms once a month.  Read whatever psalm is corresponding with today’s date (e.g., today I would start with Ps 18).  Then, add 30 until you get to a total of five psalms (or, you can tell when you run out of them).  In other words, if I went into crisis mode (as a matter of fact, I feel myself going into one right now), I’d be reading Psalms 18, 48, 78, 108, and 138.  The vast majority of them are so personal, written by men in traumatic situations, that I am never hard pressed to find at least one verse that I can meditate on.

Third, memorize James 1:2-18.  I think the most important aspects of victoriously living the Christian life are wrapped up in those verses.  When we are faced with tests, with those outward circumstances that present us with pain and unpleasantness (yet also with a chance to grow), all we have to do is ask for wisdom in that situation knowing that God will provide.

Fourth, pray as if the Father is right there with you.  Pray as if you are talking to a friend (one that won’t ever judge you, at least not like that).  After all, He knows your situation better than anyone else does (including yourself).  I’ve found that talking out a situation with God and asking Him for wisdom along the way has never failed me yet.

I think it’s time for me to actually practice what I’m preaching here.  What helps you make decisions?  All two of you who read this thing…

1 corinthians 6:9-11

Now what?  That is always the question that comes to mind when I think of the best way to encourage other believers to live more holy lives.  Now that we have been given so much, now that our eternal destiny is completely locked in through simple belief that Jesus, the God-man, died and rose again for the penalty of my sin because I could not do it on my own, how do I respond?  So often in evangelical circles, it is common-place to give the thoughtless answer, “Well, a ‘true’ believer will always persevere throughout his life, exhibiting fruits, or else he was never ‘truly’ saved with which to begin.”  This idea, centuries old, needs to be desperately re-examined.

Today in Exegesis of 1 Corinthians, we went over two passages with soteriological ramifications.  The second of these two passages was 1 Cor 6:7-11:

Therefore, then, it is actually a defeat for you because you have lawsuits among yourselves.  Why would you not rather be wronged?  Why would you not rather be defrauded?  But you do wrong, and you defraud, and this to your brothers!  Or do you not know that the wrong-doers will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate men, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous people, not drunkards, not abusers, nor swinders will inherit the kingdom of God.  And these things some of you were, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.  (my translation)

Even before we look at that laundry list, I think it is important to establish two things: the context, and the meaning of the kingdom of God.  The Corinthians were subjecting each other to frivolous lawsuits that were being played out in secular courts, which ultimately was a very bad idea.  Paul concludes these thoughts by saying, in effect, “You’re being ridiculous because you are taking each other to court.  You’re looking bad.  If anything, you should want to be the unfortunate recipients of these things.  Instead, you do wrong, and you defraud.”

The Corinthians believers are the one who are doing these things.  And what’s the next thing that Paul says?  Do you now know that the wrong-doers will not inherit the kingdom of God?  This is a logical syllogism:

Major Premise:  The Corinthian believers are doing wrong (adikeo).
Minor Premise:  Wrong-doers (adikos) do not inherit the kingdom of God.
Conclusion:  The Corinthian believers, at the very least, are in danger of not inheriting the kingdom of God.

Whoa!  We’ve got a problem here!  The key to understanding then lies in what the kingdom of God is.  It is inappropriate to always assign one specific meaning to this concept.  To say that it always refers to Heaven is errant.  To say that it always refers to the future Messianic Kingdom is errant.  The kingdom of God generically refers to anytime God expresses His authority.  It can refer to Heaven, it can refer to the Messianic Kingdom, it can refer to whatever people group is currently entrusted with God’s mediatorial work.

What does it mean here?  I think that this instance does refer to the Messianic Kingdom.  Here’s why.  The inheritance is seen as future, it is yet to be obtained.  This rules out mediatorial work, as well as Heaven.  The former is currently owned based upon God’s program.  The latter is a present possession based upon belief alone (which would then lead to a loss of salvation view).  To add any of these conditions of lifestyle changes detracts from belief alone.  To say that a new believer will automatically desire to have a 100% change is wishful thinking.

Then, what inheritance remains to be received, and that due to the deeds that believers do (or do not) perform, but that of the rewards of ruling?  To be involved in these sins is to be involved in practices that result in punishment at the Judgment Seat.  If severe enough, the punishment involves not being present in the that future Kingdom, let alone given the privilege of ruling with Christ.

If Paul meant to refer to unbelievers, this passage has lost all meaning.  Instead of a “Now what?” we move to a “So what?”  It leads to a legalistic perspective of salvation that focuses on one’s works and a series of checklists of right and wrong.  It alienates people who may be dealing with some of these issues; instead of dealing with it, they conceal it for fear of ridicule.  It gives people such a grandiose picture of who they are — one that is usually unwarranted.

So what is Paul’s purpose here in writing?  He’s combatting false practices, no doubt including the laundry list of sins listed here.  And he’s saying, “Hey, these things used to be true of you.  Indeed, you didn’t know better back then.  But you were washed, sanctified, and justified.  Now what?!  You want to continue to take your brothers who have received the same gift to court?  You want to continue on in your homosexual tendencies?  You want to be a drunk?  Your position is better than that!”  You are still able to inherit the kingdom, or as the author of Hebrews writes, rest is still attainable.  Let’s not look at this list as comprehensive (or else murderers can waltz right in), and realize that we may have sin(s) not listed (e.g., pride that we could never commit one of the listed sins) that would cause us to act unbecomingly of our status.

Now what?  Praise be to God for His absolutely free gift that is not contingent upon anything that we could ever possibly do, past, present, or future.  Let this grace motivate us to serve Him — as that is the option now at hand — and that not for a Heaven/Hell decision, but a faithful/unfaithful distinction.

it’s in the little things…

Last week, one of the college professors told the chair that he’d be unable to teach his class tonight, so yesterday a few of us received an email asking if we’d like to sub.  Believe me, I jumped on it despite having the 18 credits, RA duties, my own class starting on Monday, and the other stuff in life.  So, I spent yesterday afternoon studying Galatians 4-6 and a few things stuck out to me.  As I’m going through it again, I just felt compelled to blog about it.  I know some of you may disagree with what I’m about to write, but know that I still love you even with our differences.

In Gal 4:1-9, Paul is discussing the role of law in bringing history up to the point of Christ’s death and resurrection.  Law acted as a tutor, not only teaching people about God, but protecting them until they reached the legal age where they would be free.

And that brings me to the title — “it’s in the little things.”  As all two or three of you know who read this blog, I’m fairly reformed in my views of salvation (save for one point of the infamous TULIP).  The exegetical process that led up to this point not only included the major passages usually cited, but in the off-hand references to salvation that are scattered throughout the Bible.  One such salvific-rich passage is the one at hand.

v. 3 – We were held in bondage to the rudimentary things of this world.  Unless you’re one of the JBs (Jack Bauer, James Bond, or Jason Bourne), chances are that you are completely unskilled to break yourself out of bondage.  It usually requires someone else to free you.

v. 5a – This verse confirms the idea in v. 3.  Christ came to redeem those under law.  Now, redemption is one of those words that we throw around, usually acting as if we have a full understanding of the meaning of this word.  The Greek is exagorazo, literally to buy out of the marketplace, and a word used in economic terms in ancient Greece to refer to slaves.  And what slave standing on the platform chooses his master?  He is completely and utterly dependent on his future master to not only pay for the transaction, but to bring it about in its entirety.  As believers, we were bought out from being slaves in this world to being slaves of God.  But this is to be continued in v. 7.

v. 5b – The reason why God redeemed us is so that we may receive the adoption as sons.  This Greek word, huiothesia, means to place as an adult son into one’s family.  Consider this, in today’s culture, who initiates the adoption process?  Does the child choose the parent or does the parent choose the child (or does God foreordain the parent to choose that particular child — but that’s another matter)?  In our case, God made us adult heirs of His promises.

v. 7 – Okay, so back to redemption, specifically its relation to adoption.  Paul says that we are no longer a slave, but a son.  What?!  God redeemed us so that we may receive the adoption as a son.  What marvelous grace that we have been given!  God redeemed us out of law, out of our sin so that we may be set completely free as His son.  We didn’t request this to be the case, and we couldn’t have.  This is all a picture of God’s work on our behalf.

v. 9 – Lastly, I love love love Paul’s little caveat in this verse:

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God…

Haha!  When I’m teaching, there are certain things that I avoid trying to say.  I try to avoid using the word “salvation” as it carries so much evangelical baggage.  I opt instead for “deliverance from Hell” or “saved from uselessness” among others.  When I say something that doesn’t quite carry the correct nuance, I’m usually quick to tweak my statement a little, and I believe that this is what we’re witnessing here with Paul.  Just so that there is no mistake as to the catalyst in our deliverance-from-Hell position, Paul mentions that, yes, we have come to know God, but it is only because we came to be known by God.

I simply adore love these little passages that speak volumes in such few words as to the grace that we have received — grace that not only includes the gift itself, but the giving of that gift.

This has been your daily dose of reformed soteriology.  Have a great day looking for the Rapture!

Joel 2 in Acts 2

In my Exegesis of Acts class this week, we discussed Peter’s quotation of Joel 2 in the second chapter of Acts.  This passage is one of the watersheds for the covenant/progressive dispensational/dispensational issue.

It’s nine in the morning.  The Holy Spirit just baptized the believers in the Upper Room, and they start speaking in known tongues that were unknown to them (evidenced by the throngs of people outside that exclaim that they were hearing them speak in their birth language).  The observers, then, make a claim that the apostles/disciples are actually drunk, and it is that which is causing all the commotion.  Peter, looking to clarify the situation, says:

Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words.  For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel.”  (vv. 14-16, emphasis mine).  He then proceeds to quote Joel on the pouring forth of the Spirit.

The issue that then arises is, what is the relationship between Joel’s and Peter’s intents?

1 – The majority of “scholars” today (in conjunction with the majority of evangelical churches) believe that Peter was stating the fulfillment of Joel 2 at this time.  When Peter says this is (Gk. touto estin), he is making an equative statement.  Therefore, the Bible teaches that the OT prophecies find their fulfillment in the Church starting in Acts 2, there is no future fulfillment for Israel, so the Church is the new Israel, the new people of God.

Yet, are there other options?  My view of the perspicuity of Scripture leans towards each passage being perfectly clear in its own right, and it is not in need of outside help.  While numerous other passages show this not to be the case, I think that there is evidence in Acts 2 that this view is unsustainable.

2 – The majority of the minority of “scholars” (your dispensationalist, whether of the progressive or modified variety), believe that Peter was stating an initial/partial fulfillment of Joel 2 which still awaits a complete fulfillment.  They agree with the covenant theologians that the this is is “impossible” to refute, that Peter, in some way, is showing the Joel 2 passage to be in effect.  The last days of Joel 2 are equated with the last days of Heb 1:2 and 1 Pet 1:20, which they say equate the two time periods.  Nevertheless, they realize that there are portions of this prophecy that are not yet fulfilled:  the Spirit was not poured out on all mankind, nor were all the heavenly wonders (sun to darkness, moon to blood) fulfilled.

Have they gone far enough, though?  Is the last days a technical term that has a universal meaning throughout the NT?  Even more basic than that, does this is necessitate a equal state?  As pointed out by one of my college professors, John Master, everyone in these camps are all too quick to label the Lord’s Supper a memorial or symbolic event, even though Jesus “plainly” said, This is (Gk. touto estin) my body.  If the cup is granted to be an example, an emblem, of Jesus’s body, why is the same phrase’s usage in Acts 2 constained in such a way?  When an artist (or composer) completes their magnum opus, and they step back and say, “This is my life’s work,” do we take them to mean that this is the only thing they have ever done with their life, or does it mean that the specific work is a representation par excellance of their body of work?

Even more at stake here are the hermeneutical issues involved.  What is partial fulfillment?  If you have prophecies A, B, C, D, and E; and A and D are put mildly in effect (while B, C, and E are not at all), does this constitute partial fulfillment?  If Joel says that the Spirit will be poured out on all men, are some men enough to be labeled a partial fulfillment, awaiting the time where there will be a final fulfillment when all men will indeed have the Spirit?  Or, is it better to see partial fulfillment as, of A, B, C, D, and E; A being fulfilled to completion, and D being fulfilled to completion, and the other three awaiting any fulfillment at all?  In other words, I see partial fulfillment as parts of a prophecy being fulfilled, not prophecies being fulfilled in an already/not yet sense, or prophecies in an inaugurated form.  Again, I am obliged to Dr. Master and his Theology of the Kingdom class.  Another good study is the relationship of Jeremiah’s New Covenant to the Church today — a study that is related to the Joel/Acts discussion.  But, for brevity’s sake, I’ll leave it at that for now.

Where does that leave us on Peter’s usage?

3 – Traditional/Classical dispensationalists (of whom there are fewer and fewer by the minute, falling away into the more socially accepted and scholarly-friendly circles of covenant theology and progressive dispensationalism) believe that Peter was merely answering the charge of drunkenness by showing from the OT that what was occuring here was not some fanatic event, but that signs such as speaking in tongues have a biblical basis.

In other words, Peter knows that the Spirit was not being poured out with the magnitude that Joel was prophesying, nor was he expecting all these things to take place.  The context is on drunkenness, and, if anything, Peter is looking to the day when this will be an event on a much bigger scale.  But for now, something special, new, and unpredicted in the OT was happening.  Nothing more, nothing less.

To me, at least, this is a very viable answer.  I will grant that there are some days where I may lean more towards the second option, if only because of the length of the quotation.  Even so, I don’t hang my dispensational hat on this passage alone, if at all (although I do think that it answers the objection that the covenant theologian view is the only acceptable one).  Nor do I think that my theological view is clouding my reading of the passage.  To be sure, dispensationalism is not a biblical doctrine in the sense that it is found explicitly in the Bible.  On the other hand, I believe that dispensationalism is a system of theology that serves as a label for biblical principles (e.g., a hard and fast distinction between Israel and the Church).

So, let’s ask the wonderfully post-modern question, what does this matter?  There are people that think that unless there is some concrete action to be done, that the Bible has not been accurately communicated.  I don’t see it that way.  Look at what God has in store for Israel!  Look at His faithfulness in bringing about His promises in an unabrogated way!  If this does not drive us to worship Him more for His character, there is not any amount of “action-oriented” preaching that will do.  Knowing who God is and what He has planned is utmost.  If we fail to bring that across, we will never do anything else properly, and we have failed as preachers and teachers.