Shortly after I posted my article exploring the facepalming misuse of Scripture by many in the Reformed camp with the overuse of a typological hermeneutic, I had a dear pastor friend of mine leave a blistering comment on Facebook. He wrote,
There is rich irony in being lectured about typology by dispensationalists who regularly see Apache helicopters in the book of Revelation… Not saying you do, but lets be careful not to over-generalize. Both sides have their fair share of abuses in regard to typology.
Additionally, another commenter wrote,
It’s true that many who over-spiritualize are from the Reformed camp, and A.W. Pink is a good example of that. But I still see it as a problem of certain individuals and their tendencies, and not limited to only people from a Reformed background. On the other end of the spectrum, I have seen (from Arminian Dispensationalists) those who give similar bizarre treatment to various Old Testament passages or New Testament parables, in order to ‘prove’ the pre-trib rapture of the church.
Both of them make a good point. In fact I had other folks tell me that their Independent, Fundamentalist Baptist pastors pulled out all kinds of fancy conclusions from stories in the OT. IFB pastors tend to swim in the Dispensational waters.
I certainly agree that I have heard my fair share of crazy eisogesis. I recall once hearing a pastor spiritualize the events surrounding the sinking of the Titanic. The Titanic is like the person who will not heed God’s warning to steer clear of danger, etc., you get the picture.
But is it accurate identifying those imaginative interpretations regarding the parables, or helicopters, or even the Titanic, with a typological hermeneutic? I don’t believe so.
It may be helpful, then, if I define the terms. What exactly is typology and a typological hermeneutic?
Probably the clearest definition for the concept of biblical types is given by Donald K. Campbell in his old BibSac article, The Interpretation of Types. His working definition defines them as, “…an Old Testament institution, event, person, object, or ceremony which has reality and purpose in the Biblical history, but which also by divine design foreshadows something yet to be revealed.”
There are several instances I would imagine most readers can think of off the top of their heads, like the passover lamb, the mercy seat in the tabernacle, and the great high priest all pointing to the work Jesus Christ did on the cross. Abraham sacrificing his only son, Issac, pictures the crucifixion of Jesus, whereas the lamb caught in the thicket next to them, the substitution Christ made on behalf of His people, and Jonah in the fish for three days picturing the death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus.
With each type, however, there will be the “fulfillment” with what is called an antitype. Generally, the antitype is clearly stated and obvious in the NT. In other words, the reader of Scripture doesn’t have to engage a Bible study with a clever imagination and an interpretative treasure hunt of “Let’s Find the Type!” in order to see the type.
Additionally, types need to be distinguished from symbols. A symbol will be a graphic representation of an actual event, or person, or object, or even a biblical truth. For example, a lion symbolic of strength, or a sword symbolic of the Word of God, or a dragon symbolic of Satan, or a mother bird covering her chicks symbolic of God protecting His people. There can also be symbolic acts performed by the prophets. For instance, Ezekiel cooking with cow dung or Zechariah making crowns of silver and gold for Joshua the high priest.
It is also important to keep in mind that types are divinely orchestrated, apart from the one who is the type, whereas a symbol is not. In other words, Abraham did not think to himself, “I am a type, picturing the Father’s giving of his son for the salvation of the world,” when he offered Issac like God told him. Only the Lord knew what he was to picture which was yet to be revealed as revelation progressively unfolded into the future. However, when Isaiah prophesied about the work of substitution by Christ, he intentionally spoke of a lamb, an animal all Jews would immediately recognize, as symbolic of the person of Jesus and the work He would do.
While it is certainly true preachers can be given over to describing ridiculous comparisons that are pure imagination and totally miss the point of the passage they may be preaching, that is not the application of a typological hermeneutic.
Consider my pastor friend’s complaint about Dispensationalists seeing Apache helicopters in the book of Revelation. That happens to be a favorite example I hear from Amillennialists any time I defend a literal grammatical-historical hermeneutic when reading prophetic books of Scripture. It is taken from prophecy guru, Hal Lindsey, who was the first theologian of sorts who turned a significant profit from the various pot-boilers he wrote on Revelation and other related prophetic themes.
While I am certainly not a fan of Hal Lindsey’s sensationalized approach to biblical prophecy and the book of Revelation, his non-Dispensationalist, Reformed critics, unfairly pillory his work. It is not nearly as crazy as they make it out to be. Plus, he definitely presents material that is much more doctrinally sound, actually taught in biblical context, and is overall saturated with Scripture compared to really goofy current-day writers allegedly in the same vein as Lindsey, like Jonathan Cahn or John Hagee.
The idea of Apache helicopters comes from Lindsey’s brief paperback overview on the book of Revelation called, There’s a New World Coming, published originally in 1973. He walks through the book of Revelation, obviously as a Dispensationalist interpreting the text, and he intentionally adjusts his commentary to a general, post-Jesus People era audience who would be new to studying the Bible, particularly biblical prophecy.
The comment about helicopters is taken from his commentary on Revelation chapter 9 regarding the locust coming out of the pit with stingers in their tails and their ability to torment men. Lindsey gives the standard commentary about the locust but then concludes by writing,
There are diverse opinions among Bible teaches as to whether these creatures are actually going to be a supernatural, mutant locust especially created for this judgment or whether they symbolize some modern device of warfare.
I have a Christian friend who was a Green Beret in Vietnam. When he first read this chapter he said, “I know what those are. I’ve seen hundreds of them in Vietnam. They’re Cobra helicopters!”
That may just be conjecture, but it does give you something to think about! A Cobra helicopter does fit the composite description very well. They also make the sound of “many chariots.” My friend believes that the means of torment will be a kind of nerve gas sprayed from its tail. [138-139].
Notice that Lindsey says that the Cobra helicopter idea may just be conjecture, but most importantly, given what we outlined above regarding types and symbols, he didn’t even come close to a typological interpretation. He is just conjecturing, not claiming the locust are Cobra helicopters!
As much as non-Dispensational haters wish it were so, Lindsey’s amusing anecdote about Cobra helicopters is not the employment of a typological hermeneutic that is so prevalent in Reformed camps. It certainly is not the one I am particularly alarmed about.
As I noted in my first article, the problem with the the Reformed hermeneutic’s use of typology has to do with reinterpreting the OT narrative to make practically every event, person, or situation, a type of Christ. Again, the entire book of Song of Solomon is supposed to be a picture of the love Jesus has for the church, or the nation of Israel being the OT church or the Church the NT Israel.
Reformed proponents have often argued that there are key, overarching theological themes that override the details of the exegesis and the natural reading of the text in question. But is that how we are to ready and study Scripture? The absolute worst instance currently with so-called theological themes overriding the details of exegesis is the trend to reimagine the creation account of Genesis.
John Walton, for example, in his, The Lost World, sees the creation as a picture telling theological truths about mankind, the world, and ultimately redemption. God is not telling us how he formed the world as he is providing a picture, or type, of how the narrative is to function theologically in the remainder of Scripture. G.K. Beale in his book, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, likens the garden of Eden to a cosmological temple that is patterned in the tabernacle in Exodus, another illustration of how theology trumps the details of the text.
While it may come across looking pious and sounding really, really spiritually deep to emphasis the theological types over the plain reading of the text, in taking that approach, the intended meaning is stripped from the text and misses the point the original author intended to convey.
“But God is the ultimate author of Scripture!,” is the usual response to my objection, “so that is what he intended to convey to begin with.” But the LORD used a human author who wrote down what He wanted to say and the original audience did not read it in that gobbledygook fashion. That only puts a person committed to a typological/theological hermeneutic in perilous danger of calling God a lying deceiver when He originally revealed those portions of Scripture.