J. Dwight Pentecost. Thy Kingdom Come: Tracing God’s Kingdom Program and Covenant Promises Throughout History. SB Publications, 1990. See here to buy a later edition of this book.
J. Dwight Pentecost was a professor of Bible at Dallas Theological Seminary. This book, Thy Kingdom Comes, traces the Kingdom of God from creation through the millennial reign of Christ.
For Pentecost, God ruled before creating Adam, and God has always been and always will be sovereign. But God created Adam to rule the earth on God’s behalf. Adam forfeited that mission through his disobedience, however, and God’s subsequent preservation of a committed people, the nation of Israel, and the Davidic dynasty are all continuations of God’s desire to rule the earth through human beings. This goal will find its culmination in the millennial reign of Jesus Christ on earth. Christ offered to set up such an earthly kingdom at his first coming, but the nation of Israel rejected him. Consequently, the Kingdom of God is currently in a different phase. Presently, it is a spiritual kingdom in which God rules individual Christians and the church. After the rapture of the church, God will once more offer an earthly kingdom to Israel, and Christ will rule on earth after the Tribulation.
I wanted to read this book to understand classic dispensational rationales for God’s policies in the different dispensations. I had read dispensational attempts to identify the dispensations, but little effort to explain why God acted as God did in those dispensations. Pentecost’s book did not meet my hopes in this area. Pentecost indeed is a dispensationalist, in that Pentecost distinguishes between Israel and the church and between Christ’s reign as the Davidic king and his present reign at God’s right hand. But Pentecost does not appear to distinguish God’s modus operandi throughout the various dispensations, at least not radically. In each dispensation, people are right with God by faith, but that faith is worked out and made evident through obedience to God (i.e., law, good works). Citing Galatians 3:21, Pentecost contends that the law does not contradict the promises of God but coexists with them. As far as this particular book is concerned, I did not see a model in which people were saved by works in Old Testament times, then they were saved solely by God’s free grace in New Testament times, but then people will have to add obedience and perseverance to their faith to be saved after the rapture of the church. Pentecost does acknowledge, though, that the new covenant entails God giving the Spirit, which enables people to obey the law. That means that the new covenant brings something new.
This book was still worth my time and effort, even if it fell short of my expectations. Pentecost attempts to explain biblical passages as he goes through the history of God’s kingdom. Prominent in his scenario is his interpretation of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. For Pentecost, the Israelite generation that rejected Christ reached a point where they could not be forgiven. Individuals could still save themselves from that sinful generation, but God’s judgment of that generation was set, no turning back. God will restore Israel in the future, but not that specific generation, since it has forfeited forgiveness. Incidentally, Pentecost thinks that generation sealed its fate prior to Matthew 13, which marks when Jesus’s parables began to highlight a spiritual kingdom; Pentecost disagrees with dispensationalists who argue that God re-offered the earthly Kingdom to Israel in the Book of Acts.
On a related note, Pentecost argues that God’s covenant with Israel is unconditional, yet Israel’s experience of God’s blessings within that covenant was conditional on her obedience to the Torah. God will never forsake God’s commitment to Israel, yet Israel’s enjoyment of covenant blessings—-life, abiding in the land, prosperity—-depends on her obedience to God. This is helpful and unhelpful at the same time, for where does the covenant end and the blessings of the covenant begin?
Some of Pentecost’s points are intriguing but could have used more development. He interprets the Parable of the Talents, for example, in terms of Jesus judging the latter-day remnant of Israel, not God’s judgment of Christians. This caught my attention because I remembered talking with a Dallas Theological Seminary student who said that her professors dismissed the idea that the Parable of the Talents contradicts once-saved-always-saved, since the Parable concerns Israel, not the church. I am putting Pentecost’s view on my mental shelf for future reference, even though he could have supported it more effectively.
Occasionally, Pentecost tossed in his social and political opinions, as when he spoke against feminism and labor unions. I think this is a one-sided approach to the Bible, but Pentecost’s anti-feminist stance played a significant role in his interpretation of Genesis 3:16, where God tells Eve that her husband will rule over her. For Pentecost, God there reaffirms hierarchy rather than instituting it for the first time, since Adam had violated the hierarchy by listening to his wife and eating the fruit rather than being the spiritual leader.
Pentecost was able to explain passages that non-dispensationalists could advance against his position. Was James in Acts 15 saying that that particular time was when Christ was reigning as Davidic king and including Gentiles? No, says Pentecost. Christ is not reigning as Davidic king now but will only do so after his second coming. James is saying that, because the Gentiles will worship God as Gentiles during the millennium, God accepts their worship in his time, as well, without requiring them to become Jews. Such a solution is genius, even if some may think it a stretch.
Pentecost also offered in-depth proposals in response to questions, such as the question of why God gave the law, and why Jesus was baptized even though he was without sin. His solutions were edifying and made a degree of sense.
I am open to reading other Pentecost books in the future.