In his book Robert McKenzie seeks to help both Dispensationalists and Covenant theologians understand each other better. Although McKenzie now “firmly believe”s in Covenant Theology he was raised in dispensational churches. Because of this he believes he can “understand in a better way what each of the sides hear when their opponents expresses what they believe regarding a specific point of doctrine” (loc. 124). Giving that he has that belief it seems beneficial for him to set out to write a book that explains the two sides to each other. My point here is to process what I read and to discuss how fair of a shake this former dispensationalist gives the system.
Chapter 1 is about hermeneutics. While many people insist this is the heart of the issue, McKenzie believes this belief is unfounded and that actually “the same foundational rules of hermeneutics are used by both sides” (loc. 167). He insists that “Covenant Theology holds to a literal, grammatical, and historical interpretation of Scripture” (loc. 177). He goes on to agree that the application of this method varies between the two systems but starting here is strange. All he really means by this is that both sides call how they interpret Scripture the same thing, but that doesn’t mean it is the same thing.
In fact over the course of the rest of the chapter McKenzie references understanding a particular passage’s “genre” as a key component of his idea of literal-historical-grammatical. McKenzie follows the crowd in giving the apocalyptic genre as the main example: “The Reformed would say that since apocalyptic writing predominantly uses symbols and metaphorical language, it needs to be interpreted allegorically” (loc. 185-8). So, on the one hand McKenzie is saying that both sides uses literal-historical-grammatical, but on the other hand he states that applying genre override obsolves the Reformed interpreter of applying this method to Revelation. Robert L. Thomas in his book Evangelical Hermeneutics discusses the implications of using genre override as a key interpretive principle. When you do, you do not end up with literal historical grammatical. “Only the futurist approach … best accords with the principle of literal or grammatical-historical interpretation” (Thomas, 331).
Following this discussion McKenzie goes on to discuss another fundamental difference between the two sides: Covenant theologians interpret the Old Testament through the window of the New and Dispensationalists interpret the New through the window of the Old. I think this is largely accurate. “Another way to look at this is that later revelation will often bring out greater if not different meanings from the earlier revelation … if a later revelation gives us a more complete meaning of an earlier passage, then the people of God need to reinterpret the older passage” (loc. 308-15). McKenzie thinks both sides would agree with this principle when applied to such passages as Matthew 2:15’s use of Hosea 11:1. He would be wrong about that. This would mean that for some 700+ years Hosea 11:1 meant one thing and then Matthew’s reference of it changed the meaning. One reading Hosea 11:1 before Matthew would never conclude that it referenced Jesus because it didn’t and it doesn’t. Instead Matthew applied the passage to Jesus so that Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 (ie Matthew 2:15) refers to Jesus by way of application (not re-interpretation) while Hosea 11:1 itself continues to only refer to Israel. Of course one reading through Hosea with current knowledge of Matthew would likely take note of Matthew’s application, but it shouldn’t affect his interpretation of the passage. In other words, “Literal interpretation does not postulate that the original readers were shut out from a text’s meanings that could come to light only after centuries of waiting” (Thomas, p. 256). McKenzie’s literal-grammatical-historical is the same name for a totally different method of interpretation; it’s a homophone.
To bolster his point McKenzie also references Isaiah 53. “When Old Testament Israelites read or heard Isaiah 53, they interpreted it as speaking of them. It was not until Christ came to Earth and became the suffering servant that this passage gained its fuller meaning” (loc. 359). There is no citation associated with this assertion, which I find interesting. Especially because his statement is woefully inaccurate. It’s actually the opposite of what happened: the Jews originally understood it to reference the Messiah, then changed their understanding of it after Jesus. This seems like such a major detail to get wrong that it leads one to question the scholarship of the entire work, but of course in a work of this size people are going to miss things. His book is over 300 pages long, this post is over 2 and I’m sure I’ve missed things!