Critique of The Plot, A doctrinal treatise from a mid-Acts position
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The Plot, a 324-page document by Bob Enyart, presents a well-packaged, detailed, and informative treatment of various mid-Acts doctrines. However, the book is not a thoroughly academic or scholarly endeavor, nor does it appear to be the author's intent. While much of what the author writes aligns closely with what I view as a biblical mid-Acts position, the demonstrable theological underpinnings upon which these doctrines necessarily stand are conspicuously absent. I would argue that the desire to make these truths more palatable does not justify the exclusion of the crucial and necessary theological foundations of the mid-Acts view. Having searched the book for anything that would indicate the theological basis for its content, I am skeptical as to Enyart's understanding of the definitive foundational issues with respect to the doctrines about which we agree.
For the sake of space and manageability, I've limited the scope of this critique to areas of doctrine in which I find agreement, but where the author appears to miss their theological bases. There are areas of strong disagreement, e.g. eschatology, but a sufficient treatment of such subjects would be beyond the aim of this critique.
The approach of this critique is to examine various subdivisions of The Plot, calling attention to the more salient points and making the necessary comparisons, contrasts, and criticisms. After close examination of this book, I am convinced that Enyart has many correct doctrinal concepts, but is missing the theological foundation upon which these doctrines are built, which inevitably results in doctrinal error elsewhere. The Plot is an example of how it is possible to have some pieces of the pie in place, and to have very little, if any, supporting piepan underneath.
Part I: The Big Picture
Chapter 1 The Overview: The Plot of the Bible
A. Introductory chapter: I view this introductory chapter as a strategic teaser or "hook" for The Plot. The author explains how the Bible tells a story which comprises a plot and how, by missing certain details of the narrative, the story can easily be misunderstood -- the reason, he claims, for most doctrinal arguments in Christendom. He states that a clear understanding of "the plot twists" of the Bible will clear up the long-standing disputes between denominations.
"The author, then, throws down this gauntlet before his own book. The Plot should resolve the difficult, apparently contradictory passages for all 10 debates listed [see chart below] ... The reader who has experienced the frustration of apparent contradictions in the Bible should fasten his seat belt! For the mystery is about to unfold before his very eyes." (10)
B. The "Sentence Within" Technique: Superior to Word Studies? So claims the author. This "Sentence Within A Sentence" technique [hereafter SW], despite the author's promotional claim to its superiority over word studies, does not give sufficient instruction regarding its use. Here are the author's directions:
Learn to focus on the specific points contained in Scripture passages. Read all quotations completely. (4)
How else does one read the scriptures (or any book, for that matter)? I submit that anyone who does NOT already do this, is not reading to gain information. Certainly word studies require this as well.
The author proceeds to give us an example of his SW technique:
'Therefore every scribe concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.'"
The author suggests "that the bold words within the sentence highlight another sentence, improving clarity on a specific point." Notice that he does not instruct the reader as to how he chose which words to highlight.
A sentence within a sentence:
'Every scribe brings out of his treasure things new and old.'
Note that the author has taken the liberty of eliminating the "therefore," the simile figure "householder", and the reference to the kingdom. My claim is not necessarily that the author is misleading in his handling of the verse's meaning, but that the technique appears arbitrary.
The author goes on to say:
So the bold words not only form a sub-sentence, but they indicate exaclty which words support the point being made.(5)
The problem here is that the author does not give direction regarding WHICH words to make bold. Again, I am not primarily disputing the effort to break the verse down into components. I do this myself. But I AM disputing the fact that he chooses which words to bold to make his point, with no indication as to how he arrived at those words, and the rationale by which he eliminates the others.
A sentence within a sentence within a sentence:
'Every scribe brings out things new,'
Note that the author now has eliminated "his treasure," and "[things] old". However, he does not explain why he has chosen to nix them. How is this instructive to the reader who wants to use the technique themselves? The author says,
The sentence within a sentence technique is designed to highlight not individual words but complete thoughts.
How does one ascertain a "complete thought"? The "technique is designed"? By whom? Where are the instructions for its use? The author continues,
Required grammatical elements like subject, verb, and object help to constrain the range of interpretation and narrows the possible scope of the meaning of the passage [emphasis mine] (5)
What does the author mean by "like subject, verb, and object"? If he is specifying these parts of speech as the "required elements," then he fails at his own technique in the very example shown above. If he is not specifying these parts of speech as "required elements," then are they any more "required" than indirect objects, gerunds, participial phrases, prepositions, adjectives, adverbs, or conjunctions? Are adjectives and adverbs "like" subjects, verbs, and objects? Precisely what is the method and how is it utilized?
Despite this vague discussion, the author goes on to say,
With this technique the student explores a Scripture with his eyes being guided by the text itself and not by his own imagination. (5)
Precisely how did the text guide the author to eliminate certain words and focus upon others? For the reader who wishes to use the technique themselves, what in the text indicates which words are not as important as others? Certainly the author didn't limit his choices to subject, verb, and object (which would have resulted in a vague sentence: "Every scribe is like a householder"). If there are no rules to the approach, then what exactly guides the reader?
The author claims,
The "sentence within" technique is tremendously valuable to those who want to analyze and focus while limiting their own aptness to distort. (5)
Despite his high regard for the technique and the bold promotional claims concerning it, the author either chooses to withhold the actual method behind the technique, or else there are no rules, in which case it is entirely arbitrary.
Furthermore, it is important to note that the author does not present any kind of corollary hermeneutic principle or framework to his SW technique.
C. The Challenge for The Plot
"The primary biblical details this book attempts to clear up include the following 10 doctrinal debates (6):
Some believe ... Others believe ... Believers can lose their salvation Believers cannot lose their salvation Baptism is necessary Baptism is not necessary Believers speak in tongues Believers do not speak in tongues God will answer prayers of faith Many good prayer go unanswered Miracles and healing are assured Miracles and healing are not assured There is no pre-tribulation rapture The rapture is before the tribulation Believers must keep the law Believers are not under the law Salvation by faith requires works Salvation requires faith and not works Believers must keep the Sabbath Sabbath observance is unnecessary Unclean foods are prohibited All foods are clean
D. Single, Simple Solution
The author claims to be able to resolve all ten doctrinal debates by learning one single Bible verse.
"Would it not be wonderful if one over-looked Bible verse taken at face value could resolve each of these diverse doctrinal puzzles?" (7).
That verse, by the way, is Gal 2:7
" But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;"
While I agree with the author's view of the Galatians passage and the distinction it draws between Peter's and Paul's gospels, there is so much more scripture that works in concert with Galatians 2 that I would caution anyone from such an overstatement of claiming a single verse solution.
E. Watch Paul Carefully
In this section, The author points out some of the major distinctives regarding Paul's calling, apostleship, lack of contact with the other apostles, and his dispute with Peter. (12-14) But again, despite the author's correct understanding of these doctrinal facts, there is a grave lack of foundational emphases (i.e., why are these things so?). To the thoughtful reader, this would (and should) be troubling for its lack of explanation. More on this later.
Chapter 2: Key to the Plot Twist
Is Circumcision for Today? The author gives a helpful list of scriptures and showing that, if one were to obey Moses as Jesus commanded, circumcision would be practiced today (20). What he fails to show, however, is a sufficient and cogent reason why we should not practice ceremonial circumcision today. I submit that seeing the compilation of these passages is compelling enough to raise serious questions (for which I appreciate Enyart's efforts), but they are not sufficient to deal with the basis or ramifications for the Pauline prohibition of ceremonial circumcision.
Chapter 3: The Plot Twist
A. Christ was sent to Israel
The author correctly draws the attention of the reader to two telling events in the earthly ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. He calls these subsections:
- "The unwelcome Gentile" (re: Mt 15:22-27)
- "Another Gentile interloper" (re: Lu 7:3-5)
While the author acknowledges the fact that a Gentile in Israel's (the Kingdom) dispensation was required to submit to Israel (become a proselyte) in order to approach God, the distinctive Hope-determined basis and the administrative hierarchy of God's Elect as the foundations to that doctrine are absent. He either omits, or does not yet understand, the administrative ordering of God's elect, or the distinctive households (Hopes) and thus does not provide the reader with the necessary undergirding for the mid-Acts position. Also, as will be more explicit later, the author does not distinguish between the proselytes of righteousness (Gentile who becomes a Jew) and the proselytes of the gate (Gentile who serves Israel, but remains a saved Gentile).
B. Salvation is of the Jews
In this section, the author correctly points out the special attention God gave to Israel and the role they were to play in bringing the Gospel to the nations. Unfortunately the author gives only the following reasons:
"Salvation is of the Jews for two reasons. First, because Christ was a Jew (Mt 1:1). And second, because God wanted Israel to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles (Zech 8:23). So God's plan had two steps: first, Israel should repent; and second, take the Gospel to the Gentiles" (31).
Is there anything compelling about these points that would give a cogent justification for God establishing ethnic separations among the Elect? Clearly the answer is no. Any Covenantalist or Theonomist worth his salt could successfully argue for their homogeneous gospel against these points.The author appears to be missing the foundational truth of the ordering of God's elect and the administrative hierarchy assigned according to their distinctive Hopes.
C. The Twelve Went Almost Exclusively to Israel
To "the Jews Only" Gal 2:9 Ac 11:19,20
Despite the clarity with which Paul's distinctiveness is presented, there is doubt as to whether the author understands the theological basis of the distinctive gospel messages. He has somehow missed the most fundamental theological points back of Paul's distinctive gospel. In the absence of a clear understanding, the only explanation the author offers is the claim that God
"... had separate missions for Paul and the Twelve, and God was not about to get the two confused" (33).
How could anyone make even a proper exclusion between Paul and Peter on the basis of such a unfounded conjecture? Again, in the absence of the real and biblical bases for the distinctive gospels, it appears the author is forced to offer these sorts of unsupported explanations.
D. Sometime After the Resurrection, God Cast Away Israel: God
Reached Out to Israel Through Christ's Resurrection
The author discusses the consolation of Israel. He correctly cites many of the significant scripture references that point to Israel's distinctive Hope. While he seems to understand that Israel's future is distinct from that of the Body of Christ, he fails to explain the significance of the distinctive Hope of Elect Israel, or her place in the created order.
E. After Rejecting the Risen Christ, Israel was Cut Off
1. The Acts Record
The author claims in Acts 10 & 11 God tells the Twelve he has gone to the Gentiles. He fills several pages describing events surrounding Peter and his vision, and makes the point that believers today are under a covenant of grace, while Israel was under a covenant of law. He proceeds to say that believers "today are accepted only on the basis of Christ's righteousness, not on the basis of their own works (48)." This is the necessary and erroneous consequence of missing the theological foundation of the distinctive gospels. If the author understood the fundamental truth of the Hopes of God's elect, he would not need to force the fallacious "convenant of law vs. covenant of grace" concept into his doctrine.
2. Acts 15 The Twelve sanction the gospel of the uncircumcision
Because the author completely missed the elect proselytes of the gate (as opposed to the proselytes of righteousness), he falsely assumes that Acts 15 pertains directly and exclusively to the Body of Christ (uncircumcision gospel). It actually is addressing the Gentiles of the circumcision gospel (the proselytes of the gate), evidenced in Ac 15:20 where the behavioral requirements for Gentile converts are given (which are contrary to, and would not have been allowed by Paul to be placed upon, the Body of Christ). Understanding this third order of God's elect, namely, the elect Gentile proselytes of the gate, would have helped the author to surmount the difficulties that inevitably end up in erroneous conjecture.
F. Grace ushered in
The author wrote, "The four Gospels never once record the word grace as being uttered by Jesus" (54). This misleading observation stands in sharp contrast to the opening paragraphs of John's gospel (1:14-17 "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." The author views his point as indicative of the Covenant of Circumcision, as if the concept of grace were absent in Jesus' teachings (and in the Old Testament, by implication). This is most probably the combined result of a deficient understanding of the Hopes and an erroneous view of the nature of man.
Chapter 4 House Rules
A. The Gentiles "grafted in"
The author wrote,
"Realize that the Gentiles did not merit their improved position. No, they were as wicked as ever (Ro. 5:8-10). In actuality, God did not bring the Gentiles up to Israel's position, but brought Israel down to the Gentiles' position, committing Israel to disobedience right along with the Gentiles. ... In this state, ... He could equally have mercy on both groups without distinction" (59).
The author's claim betrays a false view of depravity, as if Israel needed help to be as "bad off" as the Gentiles.
B. In the Body there is no Jew/Gentile distinction
The author claims,
"... when performed as a religious rite for a member of the Body, it [circumcision] will temporarily ruin his walk with the Lord" (66).
Why? The author says it is because "legalistic regulations a church adopts for the 'good' of its flock will never produce life" (66). Then why was circumcision allowed for Israel? The author does not give an adequate explanation. Consider:
Ro 10:5 For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.
C. God likes changing rules
This is quite a revealing section of The Plot, for here we see the pitfalls of having an incomplete theological basis for one's doctrine. In the absence of any other compelling reason why God would do things this way, the author surmises that God "likes changing the rules." This is simply to say, "I don't know, God must have His reasons. Apparently He just wanted to." However, scriptures do not show God doing things for superfluous, arbitrary or meaningless reasons. Whenever the God presented in scriptures does anything, particularly when He does or directs something that is out of course and seemingly contradictory, He gives reasons as well.
D. Two covenants in effect
Although he gives several references to the Jewish covenant (78,79), the author makes the claim of two concurrent covenants (one of law, one of grace) without biblical support for the existence of any covenant having direct pertinence to the Body of Christ. Apparently the author wishes to maintain, albeit erroneously, the distinction between Covenant of Law and Covenant of Grace and to apply them to Israel and the Body, respectively. This, again, is the inevitable consequence of not understanding the administrative hierarchy of God's elect.
E. The consequences
The author wrote:
"False instructions hurt those who adhere to them. Wrong doctrine hinders the mission of the Body of Christ. Much of this embarrassment could be avoided if only Christians would distinguish, would rightly divide, between rules for Israel and rules for the Body of Christ (80)."
Precisely what is this mission? Exactly how and why does it "hurt" them? The author lists hurt, hindrance, and embarrassment as consequences to following false instructions. One must ask, however, is it sin? Is it disobedience to God for a believer today to honor the Sabbath, to water baptize, to observe ceremonial circumcision, and to keep the Passover? He does not explicitly say so, and in the absence of any foundational explanation, it would appear that the author views such things as optional second blessings, instead of vital, non-optional instructions from Paul to the Body of Christ.
Part II: The Details on Doctrine
V. Chapter 5: The Third Tier [Note: First tier =>law toward God; second tier =>law toward man; third tier =>symbolic law]
A. Symbolic Law
Regarding symbolic priestly regulations, the author points out that priests could break the Sabbath in order to circumcise a newborn boy on the eighth day.
"In the world of competing symbols, circumcision was trump."
This is a good way of explaining what many have distorted or misconstrued regarding the Sabbath restrictions in the Mosaic Law.
B.Diet and the Body
"The third tier of the law, the symbols, do not apply to the Body. Not only do they not apply, but no need exists for them since they pointed to Christ and now each member lives 'in Christ.' ... Each individual in the Body, however, has Christ, the substance of those symbols." (93)
Again, there is a theological basis for the prohibition of religious symbolism, but The Plot doesn't provide it. My hope for the reader of this critique is that they will see why Paul's restrictions are not only important,but crucial and non-optional, having pervasive ramifications regarding the place of the Body of Christ in the created order.
C. Refuse nothing
To some believers the dietary segment of the law might appear harmless. They should not be deceived. 'The law is not of faith' (Gal. 3:12) and neither is their attempt to keep part of the law. Further, keeping part of the law is insufficient, for those who attempt such have sentenced themselves as debtors to keep the whole law. (97)
The author again brings in the issue of "harm" as a basis for eschewing the ceremonial Law. Secondly, he associates law-keeping as sentencing oneself to obligation to keep the whole law, as if that were, in itself, a bad thing. David delighted in God's Law, dietary laws included. It was his heart's desire to keep it and honor it in every detail. The same could be said for Peter and other elect Jews:
Ac 21:20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:
Was it harmful for them to be obligated to the Moses law?
Chapter 7: Out on a Limb
This chapter presents passages pertaining to justification by works and offers an explanation for them.
A: Abraham justified by faith and works
The author betrays his erroneous understanding of human depravity. He claims that Abraham acquired eternal salvation via his faith plus works. He rejects the "justification before others" distinction for the following reasons (114-115):
1. Context. The author erroneously believes Jas 2:14 ("Can faith save him?") pertains to eternal salvation rather than temporal deliverance and sanctification.
2. "... the terrible example it would set", and according to the author, contradicting Mt. 6:1,4 1Co 7:32 Gal 1:10 1Thes 2:4. The author mistakenly assumes that the idea of "justification before others" involves a deliberate "show", prohibited by Mt 6:1. One does not do works with that end in mind, but that is the result of the saved persons works, regardless of dispensation;
3. Abraham and Isaac were the only ones on Mount Moriah. Before whom would Abraham be justified? Answer: His son and all those who heard his and his son's testimony. The very fact that Moses writes about it, as do the writers of Hebrews, Romans, and James, and that we can READ about it, attests to this incontrovertible fact;
4. Gen 22:12 "now I [God] know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son." The author believes that God must "find out" things and does not already know such things. This is an indication of not having adequately reflected on the transcendent nature of God or the biblical uses of anthropomorphic/anthropopatheic language of figure emphases.
5. "Abraham's actions would have branded him as just another godless heathen of his day." The author refers, in a footnote, to the passages about those who sacrificed their children. First, Jephthah sacrificed his daughter and was not branded a heathen (Judges 11:34-40). Second, what the author has missed or failed to point out is that Abraham believed God's promise regarding his descendants, and, according to Heb. 11:19, knew that God would raise Isaac from the dead.
Heb 11:19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
To sum up these five objections, it seems the author attempts to erroneously prove the mutual exclusivity between law and grace. This demonstrates a fallacious reasoning of the author's mindset, that somehow man, in a given dispensation, can justify himself before God.(124)
B: Paul was the first to obtain mercy?
This section offers a nicely presented proof of Paul's primacy as the first member of the Body of Christ and the supporting citations (126)
C: Abraham is the father of two groups
These two groups, according to The Plot, correspond to "two methods of justification" (126):
"To impute righteousness to someone, God requires that person to obey Him, whether the command is simply to believe, or to believe and do. God clearly has the right to determine the prerequisites for justification" (128).
This is yet another example of Enyart's misunderstanding of justification, failing to see that all members of God's elect, regardless of household, are justified before God by the atonement only:
Ro 4:2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. 3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
A. The Tree of the knowledge of good and evil
In this chapter, the author again makes the misleading statement: "... the Gospels never record Jesus mentioning grace" (131). First of all, this attempt to slight Israel of God's grace flies in the face of Jn 1:14-17 and cognate gospel passages. The author defends his claim by saying,
"Of course grace undergirded even the Covenant of Circumcision. John, however, does not make grace a central theme as does Paul" (132).
The author undermines his own rationale used elsewhere to defend this particular claim. Here he purports the idea that Jesus' non-use of the word "grace" precludes it as a central theme. But Jn. 1:17 proves the grace of the Law by saying,
"For the law through Moses was given; the grace and the truth through Jesus Christ came." (Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, George Ricker Berry, Zondervan Publishing House, 1961.)
This verse is best understood by recognizing the figure of hendiadys, "the grace and the truth," which is better rendered,
"... but grace, yes -- and true grace, too came by Jesus Christ." (Figures of Speech used in the Bible, E.W. Bullinger, Baker Book House, 1993. pp. 664-665)
Hence, Jesus is the very embodiment of true grace. Grace was present in the Law, and by His very presence, grace was personified. No argument from silence can stand up to that fact. Jesus Himself was the "central theme" of the gospels, and therefore, so was grace.
Further, Luke 4:22 (kata Greek-English Interlinear) says that Jesus not only spoke words of grace, but He also did it before a synagogue!
"And all bore witness to him, and wondered at the words of grace which proceeded out of his mouth ..." (Berry)
Consider also the following passages in which Israel, allegedly (according to The Plot) under the covenant of Law, experienced grace bestowed upon them:
Ac 4:33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
Ac 15:11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
Consider also the following non-Pauline passages and their use and discussion
of the word "grace." Heb 2:9 4:16 10:29 12:15,28 13:9,25 Jas 4:6
1Pe 1:2,10,13 2:19,20 1Pe 3:7 4:10 5:5,10,12 2Pe 1:2 3:18 2Jo 1:3.
The author, in anticipation of the reader, poses an excellent question:
"What is the big difference anyway? If God put Israel under law for so long, then surely, it cannot be all that bad for today's believers. (133)"
Unfortunately, his answer is not so good:
"God wants love and the heart's devotion, not forced and sterile outward compliance with a set of rules. For this reason God inspired Paul to make the debate between law and grace the number one issue of all his letters (133)."
What about Peter and the Eleven? Was their love for God deficient because of the required "compliance with a set of rules"? Were they not devoted from the heart because of the "forced and sterile outward compliance" imposed by a set of rules? The author must rely upon the false dichotomy of "law versus grace" in order to compensate for a lack of theological foundation in his doctrine. The biblical basis for the non-ceremonialism taught by Paul can be read in the Seven Ones paper.
B. Are believers saved to keep the Law?
In a further attempt to justify the law versus grace notion, the author writes:
"... anyone under grace who has wrongly placed himself under the law (in his own mind) and then violates the law will experience guilt (150)."
The author intimates a fear or avoidance of "guilt" is the motivation for shunning laws. Was there no one in Israel, under the law, that loved and served God in a guilt-free state? Again, he gives a strictly utilitarian explanation for his doctrine.
C. Returning to bondage
The author asserts his reason for not being under the law for the Body saint:
"... to avoid condemnation the Christian must avoid putting himself under the law" (160).
Consider the following passages, Ga 3:1 5:7 Eph 6:1 Col 3:20,22 2Th 1:8 3:14, and note especially:
2Th 1:8* In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
How does one obey the gospel if not according to the Law of Christ? Why does Paul exhort children to obey their parents? It is clearly a contradiction to exclude "law" from Paul's distinctive message, or from any dispensation for that matter.
D. Neutralizing Galatians
The author, because he has not discovered the biblical reasons for shunning the symbolic law, cannot dogmatically forbid its observance. Instead, he offers the following admonition:
"Christians are foolish for returning to the bondage they have been freed from, but they are free to do so. However they will pay the price. In this life they will wallow in sin and in the next, they will miss out on rewards. But they will be saved" (162).
Apparently, the author understands neither the gravity of Pauline prohibitions, nor the basis for them. If he did, he would unequivocally pronounce religious adherence to symbolic law as sin for members of the Body of Christ, and not merely "unprofitable" or harmful" or "divisive". Paul called the imposing of Jewish symbolic law "anathema" (Gal. 1:8,9). He equated it with sinful false humility and angel worship (Col. 2:18), that is, upsetting of the created order, and threatened the loss of reward. Mr. Enyart merely conjectures:
"If a believer becomes circumcised ..., then in his walk, Christ profits him nothing. ... it is not eternal salvation that is at stake in this passage, it is walking in the Spirit." (163)
Paul called it being severed from the Head, who is Christ (Col. 2:19).
E. What the Law could not do ...
The author seems to think that the ceremonial prohibitions of Col. 2:21-22 pertain to legalism, rather than Jewish ceremonies being adopted by members of the Body of Christ..
Chapter 9: Next stop
Regarding eschatology, there are many details in The Plot with which I disagree. An entire paper could be devoted to this topic alone. Since I am primarily concerned with addressing the author's erroneous or absent foundational concepts with respect to our points of agreement, treatment of this topic will have to wait.
Chapter 10: Details Galore
I found this chapter particularly insightful with respect to the question of miracles and human nature (to "believe" in miracles regarding only circumstances or conditions not subject to scrutiny). Also helpful were the charts and discussion about the nature of miracles and the demonstration of their waning frequency in Paul's writings.
A: Things that differ Php 1:9-10
In this chapter, the false idea of salvation by works for Israel is asserted via the ceremonial distinctions between Israel and the Body. Another error the author makes is in assuming a cessation or waning of animal sacrifices.
"... and because of the crucifixion their converts stopped offering atoning animal sacrifices" (277).
There is no reference offered to support this claim, neither is there one to be found. The animal sacrifices did NOT cease. They were continued by the Twelve, and also performed by Paul in honoring Israel's program (Acts 21:23-26, Paul "purified" himself, which required sacrifices).
B:False dichotomy between Law and Grace: The author states,
"So on earth Christ emphasized the law, repentance, good works, baptism and the kingdom while omitting references to grace and the resurrection" (277).
Let ask a few questions first, after which the confusion will be untangled.
1. Did Jesus "omit" references to grace? Not according to Luke 4:22. See my comments on Chapter 8, above. Jesus defined grace by His very presence. (recall: Joh 1:17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ).
2. Did Paul emphasize laws? Of course; there is indicated in Paul's epistles Pauline law, that is, rules of behavior taught by Paul and binding upon the Body of Christ. Every command given via Paul is law and obligates us to obedience. E.g.:
Ga 6:2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
3. Did Paul emphasize good works? Yes. E.g.:
Eph. 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
4. Did Paul emphasize repentance? Yes. E.g.:
2Co 7:9-10b As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting; for you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, ...
Why, in the face of such explicit passages, does the author claim otherwise? May we disabuse ourselves of this theological quagmire by understanding some fundamental concepts about law and grace. First of all, no one (regardless of their dispensation) is justified before God by obedience to any law (Gal 2:16). A person is justified before God only by the shed blood of Christ (Ro. 5:9). Secondly, all of God's elect, regardless of dispensation, desire to obey God and His word from the heart, and not out of "forced and steril outward compliance." Recall the author's earlier comment:
"God wants love and the heart's devotion, not forced and sterile outward compliance with a set of rules. For this reason God inspired Paul to make the debate between law and grace the number one issue of all his letters (133)."
The author implies, for the Body of Christ, that rules no longer have any place in the life of the believer. This is simply not true. Paul delights in God's law (Ro. 7:22). He urges righteous obedience to fulfill God's law (Gal 6:2). Contrary to the author's statement, Kingdom believers, such as Peter, David, and others, also delighted in God's law. Not because it justified them before God, but because a regenerated person desires the things of God and reflects the holy and law-abiding standards of a holy God. The author somehow misses the fact that the law, which condemns the disobedient and unregenerate, becomes a standard of righteous obedience for the believer, and one that he delights to follow. Paul's writings are filled with commands -- laws for the Body of Christ. Are they optional? No. Paul is to be obeyed as he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Should the Body member obey the laws and commands given by Paul? Yes. Should the Body member teach others to do the same? Yes. But does the Body member regard such obedience as justifying him before God? No. He looks to Christ for that.
The same principles apply to elect Israel. Was Israel justified before God by obedience to the Law of Moses? No. Did the regenerated Jews (e.g. David, Peter) obey the law out of "forced and steril outward compliance"? No, rather, they delighted in God's law. Peter was to obey Moses' law, not because he was trying to be justified before God, rather because, as a regenerated Jew, it was his heart's desire. He loved God, Jesus, and the law of Moses. Consider the following:
Ps 1:2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
Ps 40:8 I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.
Ps 119:70 Their heart is as fat as grease; but I delight in thy law.
Ps 119:77 Let thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live: for thy law is my delight.
Ps 119:174 I have longed for thy salvation, O LORD; and thy law is my delight.
Ro 7:22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
What is it that the author is missing? He either has missed, or is remiss in the exclusion of, the fundamental difference between Israel's and Paul's gospels, viz., the earthly, outward, visible symbolic ceremonial rites. Instead of presenting the basis for these distinctions (which is the administrative hierarchy of God's elect), the author forces an artificial distinction of law versus grace between the gospels, when both grace and law are fundamental to all the households of God's elect.
C. "My Gospel"
Here, The author correctly and thoroughly presents Paul's own words regarding his distinctive gospel and the concept of following Paul as he follows Christ (277-279).
D. The Bride and Groom
In a well-done treatment of the Bride/Bridegroom passages, the author extensively examines the subject and shows that the Body of Christ is not the Bride of Christ. A pleasant surprise is the discussion of the Jewish "Writings" (the third division of Israel's scriptures containing 11 books), and the "Meghilloth" (the second and central division of Israel's scriptures). The author explains,
"The Meghilloth provide an overview, the plot, of the whole story of God's covenant relationship with Israel" (280)
... with particular emphasis on the book of Lamentations, which is God's certificate of divorce to Israel.
E. Two New Testament Camps
The author contrasts the "House of Israel" (Mt. 10:6 etc.) and the "Household of faith" (Gal. 6:10) by pointing out the "Twelves" for Israel and the "ones" for the Body (284). While this comes very close to recognizing the Seven Ones of Eph. 4, it would appear the author is not familiar with this fundamental theological basis for the distinctiveness of Paul's Body gospel.
F. Is dispensationalism a late development?
Here, The author defends the mid-Acts view against the charge of novelty. Interestingly, he employs a label describing his particular "branch of dispensationalism" (297). He calls it "Twelve Out," meaning that the Twelve Apostles are not in the Body of Christ. I am in agreement on this point.
G. Should Christians judge?
Here, the author defends the obligation to judge, warn, confront and rebuke evil doers. I wonder if the author applies these principles to believers as well. If believers are not under law, is there any place for judgment, warning, confrontation or rebuke where believers are involved? It is interesting to note that he quotes 1Co. 6:2-5, but doesn't point out the fact of Body authority over the angels. This is a fundamental point regarding the distinctiveness of Paul's gospel.
H. Water baptism
The author offers a chart comparing Kingdom baptism and Body baptism. I search for what, according to The Plot, are the consequences of being water-baptized? The answer: Division. Baptism , the author writes:
"generates enormous division among Christians ... Christians allow that symbolism to destroy their fellowship. True believer should withdraw from the never-ending holy war over baptism" (316).
Notice the fallacy of this reasoning. Just because a doctrine causes division, should it be abandoned? Because of what appears to be a shaky theological foundation, the author is neither dogmatic, nor compelling in his prohibition of water baptism. Rather, he assumes a stipulated utilitarian reason for shunning the rite. See the following link for a treatment of ceremonial rites in the Body of Christ.
I. Eternal security
The Plot presents a chart comparing the concepts "can lose salvation" and "cannot lose salvation". The author drives an artificial wedge between the "he that endures to the end" passages and the eternal security passages, further demonstrating a deficient theological grounding of his dispensational views, as well as a failure to understand the nature and scope of "salvation" as indicated by these passages.
J. The author's conclusion
"Rightly divided, even the outline features of God's Word will uplift the soul and convince the mind. For not until men understand WHAT happened, can they discern the WHYs and the HOWs. Therefore God wrote His book with a vital and brilliant plot. (320)"
Part IV. Afterword
Bibliography Note: There is nothing listed under "Bibliography", which is quite unfortunate, given the variety of citations the author provides throughout the book itself.
1. Further suggested reading: The only item the author lists under this heading is the Bible. While I appreciate the point he appears to be making (i.e., we only need the scriptures), Enyart himself has used myriad sources that he cites throughout his book. Surely, if he has benefitted from extra-biblical sources, why shouldn't others as well?
Conclusion of the critique
In addition to the helpful illustrations, charts and comparisons presented in The Plot, the doctrinal points addressed by the author are strategic in that they would tend to generate the kind of questions that might direct a true saint toward the mid-Acts position. However, as it has been abundantly demonstrated, the most fundamental undergirdings of mid-Acts theology are conspicuously absent, including:
To draw an analogy, it is similar to an explanation about the visible morphological differences between males and females, without explaining the physiological processes that necessitate these distinctions.
By titling his treatise, The Plot, the author brings a very important question to bear upon God's "story": what is the meaning of the plot? - in other words, "why?" When a novelist writes a mystery, part of the enjoyment of reading it are not only the plot twists, the clues discovered, and the eventual revelation of "whodunnit". I submit that a writer who doesn't address the question of "why" so-and-so "dunnit" falls short in their storytelling.
So let's ask the questions:
The nine points listed above are not merely related details that are optional or remotely significant; they are imperative and foundational, and represent precisely where the theology of the author falls apart. In summary, despite the handy charts, colorful anecdotes and catchy phrases, The Plot is not as thorough a treatise as it needs to be. While the surface details and treatment of mid-Acts doctrinal facts are presented in a way that might compel the thoughtful reader to ask important questions, this book, without the theological foundations of mid-Acts dispensational doctrine, falls far short of what may have been accomplished. The Plot, rather than providing the important details underlying the main story, only gives the surface information, much like a software manual for the end user: lots of "hows," very few "whys".