[See my update below]
The following is a round table discussion among traditional dispensational exponents Dr. Mike Stallard, Dr. Christopher Cone, and Dr. Joseph Parle. At one point in the discussion (timestamp 54:10), Dr. Stallard makes the valid point against progressive dispensationalism that they function from an “already-not-yet” theological hermeneutic, which imposes an absolute meaning on the biblical text. He believes instead that particular biblical texts should develop theology, not from the top down. (Incidentally, Dr. Cone addressed this as well earlier in the discussion.)
This has been my main concern with progressive dispensationalism, where they assume there must be a necessary “already–not yet” aspect in prophecy.
Dr. Stallard goes on to say, which I appreciated, that traditional dispensationalists can make the same hermeneutical mistake on the distinction between Israel and the church. However, I am not sure what specifically he is referring to.
[Update: Dr. Stallard reached out to me through email correspondence. In my original article at this point in the article, I wrote:
“I am sure that Dr. Stallard is aware that traditional dispensationalists use an ecclesiastical hermeneutic framed on the distinction between the church and Israel when arguing for pretribulationism.”
I assumed that since Dr. Stallard holds to traditional dispensationalism, he uses the Israel-Church distinction as the grounds for arguing for pretribulationism. However, he corrected me explaining that this is not the case, acknowledging that many traditional dispensationalists have argued this way (see also, Dr. Mike Stallard, “What Do Israel and the Church Share from a Traditional Dispensational Viewpoint?” 2015, Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics).
With this correction, then, the following critique does not apply to Dr. Stallard, but to traditional dispensational exponents who use the church-Israel distinction as a theological hermeneutic.]
This necessary principle has taken on different forms, to name a few of the most common:
“God does not work with Israel and the church at the same time, therefore the church will not exist on earth during the seventieth week of Daniel.”
“Daniel’s seventy weeks prophecy was made with, and about, Israel, therefore the church cannot exist on earth during that time.”
“The church is not mentioned in Daniel’s seventy weeks prophecy, therefore the church cannot exist on earth during this prophecy.”
“The church did not exist during the first sixty nine weeks, therefore it cannot exist on earth during the seventieth week.”
For example, in the following statements, Renald Showers makes the following theological-interpretive move by excluding the church from existing on earth during any of the seventieth week of Daniel:
The church did not exist during any part of the first 69 weeks or 483 years of the 70 weeks. . . . [which is consistent with the view] that God determined all 70 weeks specifically for Israel and Jerusalem, not for the church (Showers, Maranatha, 241).
He reiterates this further:
God does not intend the church to be present on the earth for any part of the 70 weeks or 490 years He has determined specifically for Israel and Jerusalem. He intends to keep His 70-weeks program for Israel and Jerusalem and His program for the church separate and distinct from each other [Here is the point where he imposes his theological-ecclesiastical hermeneutic], just as Israel and the church are distinct entities (Showers, Maranatha, 243). [By “separate” he means that they cannot exist on earth simultaneously during any of the seventy weeks prophecy. This is a huge theological imposition, which is why he does not attempt any exegesis.]
He then makes the following qualification, which I don’t disagree with:
This does not mean that God stopped working altogether with Israel and Jerusalem when He interrupted the 70-weeks program and started the church. Instead, it means that God temporarily stopped one specific program (the 70-weeks program) with Israel and Jerusalem while He works His program with the church in the world. There is a major difference between saying that God stopped working with Israel altogether and saying that He temporarily stopped one specific program with that nation (Showers, Maranatha, 243, emphasis mine).
My point is, while I agree with traditional dispensationalists on their criticism against the already-not yet principle of progressive dispensationalism, many traditional dispensationalists, however, use the ecclesiastical principle as a theological hermeneutic as support for pretribulationism.
Israel and the church are distinct, to be sure. The question is how are they distinct when we examine the specific texts? When we do this, we learn that while they retain both their identity, God has worked with Israel and the church simultaneously in the past, he does so at this time, and he will during the seventieth week of Daniel, the millennium, and for eternity.
I am beginning to think that prewrath in many respects may be more consistent with traditional dispensationalism than pretribulationism is with traditional dispensationalism. I could be wrong, but this proposal may be worth pursuing.