Monday, February 20, 2006

What Dispensationalism Isn't

[I was inspired to this by Jason Robertson's What Calvinism Is Not. Jason, of course, bears no responsibility for this essay.]

Growing up, one learns reluctantly that what seems perfectly clear to you may well prove to be equally perfectly opaque to others. Much danger, weeping, gnashing of teeth and pounding of keyboards lies in the way of ignoring this principle. So when I say I am a dispensationalist, I find that even the best-informed may think something totally different from what I mean.

"Reformed" folks bristle, rightly, at how Arminians (some of whom are dispensationalists) misrepresent and shallowly interact with their beliefs. Then they attack dispensationalism -- unaware that they often are returning the misfavor.

I get it both ways. I tell dispensationalists that I'm Reformed in most areas of theology, and run a real risk of getting a sort of Church-Lady-voice, "Oh, reeeeealllly?"

But the same thing happens when I tell Reformed friends that I'm a dispensationalist. I even had the late William Hendriksen blast me in a letter decades ago, thundering that I couldn't be "100% Reformed" and a dispensationalist. (I hadn't written about dispensationalism, just mentioned it in passing.)

Though there are substantial and real areas of (what should be) brotherly disagreement, I think both are often reacting to a misunderstanding, rather than to the actuality.

So what do I mean when I say I'm a dispensationalist, and what don't I mean? I can put it very, very briefly, believe it or not. Charles Ryrie identifies as three items as the irreducible sine qua non's of dispensationalism, in the first -- and, to my mind, better -- edition of Dispensationalism Today (Moody, 1965, pp. 43-47). In my own words and order, they are:

  • Grammatico-historical hermeneutics applied to all Scripture
  • The Christian church and Israel distinguished from each other
  • The glory of God seen as the center of history
I think that the second and third grow out of the first, which really is the pivotal point. (This is deliberately oversimplified. Michael Vlach gives an admirably brief but more nuanced discussion here.)

Now, that is what I mean by dispensationalism. Sadly, some dispensationalists have gotten attention by teaching other doctrines which may or may not be true, but are not in any way integral to dispensationalism -- any more than Harold Camping's nuttinesses are integral to Calvinism or amillennialism.

So, without further eloquence, here is my partial, exploratory list of What Dispensationalism Isn't.

  1. It isn't belief in any particular number of dispensations (all Christians believe in dispensations).
  2. It isn't any particular position on the "Lordship"/"grace" controversy.
  3. It isn't any particular position on the "continuationism"/"cessationism" controversy.
  4. It isn't any particular position on the KJV-only issue.
  5. It isn't about multiple ways of salvation.
  6. It isn't any particular position on Calvinism/Arminianism/Amyraldianism or any other soteriological "-ism."
  7. It isn't any particular position on baptism.
  8. It isn't any particular position on church government.
  9. It isn't any particular position on the age of the earth, or meaning of the days of Genesis.
  10. It isn't about huge, complicated charts. (Any theological position can be turned into a huge, complicated chart.)
  11. It isn't contrary to any of the "five Sola's."
  12. It isn't anything that any Reformed person shouldn't be able to embrace -- unless his definition of "Reformed" means "non-dispensational," or even "amillennial."
  13. It isn't any particular position on the use of alcohol, movie-attendance, dancing, nylons, lipstick, tattoo's, or tobacco.
  14. It isn't any particular position on the significance of the current nation of Israel.
  15. It isn't inherently divisive -- any more than any other distinctive doctrine (i.e. the five sola's) divides one position from its contraries.
Now, it is true that one can find some or many dispensationalists who occupy particular positions under these categories. One might even find majorities on various positions. What one has to ask is, "Is this integral to the position? Does one of the three core-beliefs necessarily lead to that position?"

For instance, some date-setters have been dispensationalists. But there have been amillennial date-setters, too. If all dispensationalists are to be blamed for Edgar Whisenant, then surely all amillennialists are equally to be blamed for Harold Camping. Which is to say, not -- in either case.

Likewise, it could be argued that the same principles that incline one towards dispensationalism might incline one towards certain truths and certain errors. But if they're not inherent to the system, then they neither credit nor discredit the system. For instance, I think a consistent application of the grammatico-historical hermeneutic will lead one to the poorly-named "cessationist" view, or to affirm that holiness is a necessary fruit of salvation, and that obedience is integral to the Christian life. But those positions aren't necessary to dispensationalism, nor are they confined to dispensationalism.

For instance, it has been said that all dispensationalists are also inerrantists, and all liberals are amillennialists. There is some truth in this. But does one position necessarily and exclusively give rise to the other? Not at all. There might be room for fruitful discussion as to whether affirming the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture most naturally lends itself to a grammatico-historical hermeneutic (it does); and whether a grammatico-historical hermeneutic most naturally lends itself to a dispensational approach to Scripture (it does). Further, it might be discussed whether a person with a low view of Scripture is not likelier to be dismissive of the details of prophecy (he will), and whether that dismissiveness is likelier to yield something more like amillennialism than dispensationalism (you decide!).

The first distinctive led me to be basically "Reformed" on theology, Christology, anthropology, Bibliology, soteriology -- but equally to a distinct position on ecclesiology and eschatology.

But it also cannot be denied that some of the very best, most convinced and convincing stalwart defenders of the authority of the Word have also been convinced amillennialists -- such as Edward J. Young, to name only one of scores.

It would be nice if the two camps ("Reformed" and "dispensationalist") would stop lobbing grenades at each other. It would be nice if they'd recognize each other as co-combatants under a common flag and against a common enemy, would sweep aside straw men, non-sequiturs and old grudges, and would confine the discussion to the only thing we all should care about: what does Scripture teach?

Hey -- a man can dream, can't he?

UPDATE: looking for something else, I stumbled across Revealing The [sic] Dispensational Straw Man, which does a good job of making the specific case that nothing in being a 5-point Calvinist precludes being a dispensationalist, nor vice-versa. Check it out.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Dan. I once had a Sunday School teacher at my church say in class that you cannot be a 5-point Calvinist and a Dispensationalist, but never qualifying that statement with any Scriptural support. While I was sitting there as both, I was saddened that the rest of the class was being led to that conclusion - and yet that kind of thing happens on both sides of the aisle, so to speak, when dispensationalism is discussed. Thank you for this insightful post!

Chris said...

Thanks for writing this up. I've been patiently waiting for it since you mentioned your desire to write it.

I'm not sure exactly how your views contradict my covenantal views yet (just reading from this post), so I'll come back later after some research.

Castusfumus said...

I have read Hendriksen's commentaries extensively (Romans,Pastorals, and now slowly through the gospels). Can you give me some insight into this man?

Highland Host said...

If all dispensationalists were like you (alas they are not), we would indeed all get along.

ow, as a good Reformed Baptist... I'm off to read John Wesley.

Kay said...

Am I actually the first to comment?


I'm interested to read what you have to say on this topic. I honestly am not at all sure what dispensationalism is, and I thought it was inextricably tied up with different ways of being saved n' stuff like that.
I'm not sure of my own eschatology (The doctrines of grace were enough of a whack on the head to be going along with, thankyou very much...) but I seem to have adopted an amillenial position largely by default.
Anyway, I've written a book, sorry about that. You can carry on now..

JLS said...

I appreciate the balance.

DJP said...

Jeff, it's a bit like having two best friends who really ought to love each other, but just don't, isn't it?

Thanks, Chris. It was a long time percolating.

castusfumus, I only corresponded with him the once, and the letter is somewhere in the garage here. I actually was asking him about the problem of evil. In addition to pinning my ears back about claiming to be Calvinistic and a dispensationalist, he seemed to feel that my dispensationalism also had something to do with evil being a problem for me, too. He quoted something from his translation of Bavinck, as I recall, then told me he was too busy, I should read his commentary on Revelation, and I shouldn't write him back until I was "100% Calvinist"! Alas, by his definition, I never could write him back.

Thanks very much, highland host; I've profited from your blog.

How great to see you, Libbie, as I often visit yours. Keep coming; will soon have your eschatology all sorted out! (Then we'll do the same for mine.) (c;

And thanks for the kind words, jls.

Kim said...

This is definitely something I have not given enough thought to. Just another thing I need to learn. Will I have it all figured out by the time I die?

Castusfumus said...

Isn't it great to love guys like Hendriksen, Gerstner, Barclay, Edwards, Walvoord, Sproul, MacArthur, and Mayhue while we watch national Israel!!!!

Forgiven Sinner said...


Rand said...

Thanks for the mention...

Very good post.

The problem I have come to face with this "Calvinists-can't-be-dispensationalists" philosophy is that those who hold to it are as fair as "die-hard-Arminians". No matter how logical the arguments, no matter how many clear examples one gives, with so many Amills/Panmills, the straw man liveth!

You should see all the quack e-mails I got after my post on this issue: everything from LaHaye's homosexual offspring to Darby's New Age connection. Anything and everything EXCEPT actually dealing with the eschatological system itself.

Oh, well. Their loss.



Screaming Pirate said...

This goes out to all my presbyterian brothers out there. Honestly i have a hard hard time swallowing the amillenialist postion. To the amillenialist where is satan right now? Its to abstract. I dont think it promotes the perpsecuity of scripture. And yes you can be a 5 pointer and be a dispensationalist. Its an old myth that the two are incompatable. The reason why it's been propagated is because there has been such erant theology on the dispensationalist side. I really wish i could come up for another name for it, just so i could cut out all the misconceptions. Hey i've got it. How about reformed dispensationalism.

DJP said...

Doesn't seem very "bound," nor to have stopped deceiving the nations much, does he?

Have to agree with you, SP. The same reason I'm Reformed (grammatico-historical exegesis; perspicuity of Scripture) is the same reason I'm dispensational, as defined above.

Jason Robertson said...

Hey, great post. I like the "keep it simple" approach from bloggers. Your post is refreshing, informative, and worthy of reading by anyone who is interested in understanding theology. Of all the questions that I get asked, it is the question of dispensationalism that is the hardest for me to talk about. People will ask, "Are you this or that." And I know right then I am about to sound confused, do you know what I mean. I am not confused but I know what it sounds like when I say, "Well, I believe this but not like so and so, etc." It is like there are too many variations now to just say "I am this or that." Any suggestions? Please help a poor preacher out :)

Kate said...

You wrote about it! Thanks for this. A few thoughts...

"The goal of biblical hermeneutics is to ascertain as closely as possible the meaning intended by the original author. We want the interpreter to remain under the authority of the text instead of imposing his or her meaning on the text. If we can accomplish this, we can hear God speak to us through his inspired author!"

I found this here.

Can you explain how that is different from most reformed folks? Or perhaps that is your point, it is not different?

My biggest point of contention with the pre-trib viewpoint, as listed in this key to Dispensational theology, is what lead me to seek out people (and hence end-times theologies different from this) who were willing to deal with the areas of trouble found in pre-trib; specificly time-oriented passages like:

Mark 13:29-31 (New American Standard Bible)
"Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place."

Luke 21:31-33 (New American Standard Bible)
"So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place."

Matthew 16:27-29 (New American Standard Bible)
"For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." (Emphasis not mine.)

Screaming Pirate asked, "To the amillenialist where is satan right now?" to which you responded: "Doesn't seem very "bound," nor to have stopped deceiving the nations much, does he?"

I would offer this for clarification.

I appreciate your explanation on some of these points. I see more in common than I see to disagree with, but the sticking point for me will always be the end times view. I cannot see that in scripture and no pre-trib theologian has ever really explained it.


DJP said...

Jason, I really appreciate the encouragement.

Here's what I sometimes do in such situations: I ask, "What does _____ mean to you?" IOW, specifically, if someone asks, "What do you think about dispensationalism?", ask, "Well, what does dispensationalism mean to you? How would you define it?"

Often nowadays you'll find that the person is thinking in terms of antinomianism a la Zane Hodges, or some such bypath. If you had just said, "Yeah, I'm a dispie," your friend will think -- "Ah. Heretic!" And you may never know why he never closes his eyes when you pray anymore.

Not too deep, but I hope it helps.


Phil Walker said...

Well, some of us Reformed don't believe in dispensations, we believe in covenants (there is a *big* difference), and thus reject any scheme which proposes to separate Israel from the church in God's purposes. I think that that's where the point of disagreement comes, and it's why a good number of us think that it's not possible to be a "Reformed dispensationalist". If you were to come over to this side of the pond, I think you'd find near-unanimity on the question, which also makes me wonder whether the word "Reformed" is being used in so many different ways that it's starting to lose its meaning.

DJP said...

student of history, that's a good statement. I also wrote something on hermeneutics, which also goes to the role of dispensations in Bible interpretation, HERE.

As to the Rapture, the texts you cite are difficult for any position. If Jesus meant that the people then alive would see the fulfillment of all His predictions of His return in glory and judgment (a la preterism), then language has no meaning, the grammatico-historical approach is a fraud, and we should all give up in despair.

Now, you cite difficult passages. What is the case for the pre-Trib Rapture? Or is it fair simply to site James 2 and ask that you or I prove justification by grace alone through faith alone? Or to quote Mark 10:18 and ask for proof of the Deity of Christ? That isn't where I'd go to show that it is a Biblical teaching, nor would I go to your passages to establish why I find the pre-Trib Rapture Biblically supportable.

As to de Mar, I always regret time spent reading him. He labors manfully to make Revelation 20:2-3 mean something other than what it says -- that the Devil will, one future day, be "bound ...for a thousand years," thrown "into the pit," which will be "shut ...and sealed ...over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended." But he just can't do it.

The Devil is defeated like we are glorified (Romans 8:30): "done deal" in the counsels of God, but not yet carried out in history.

DJP said...

Phil, I'm delighted to have you visit!

Do you feel that your side of the pond is best qualified to define what is and isn't Reformed? I am an Anglophile, but I've heard nothing that makes me think that British spirituality -- any more than American spirituality -- is quite the definitive presence it should be today.

But as you might gather from the blog's title, my greatest concerned isn't to be Reformed, per se, but to be Biblical. That's why I'm Reformed, you see.

So when I consult what position I should take, I don't consult The Reformed Position to get my answer, I consult the Bible. And it usually takes me to the Reformed position.

What defines being Reformed? If I confirm the five sola's, embrace the five points, but am convinced that prophecy should be interpreted grammatico-historically no less than the Epistles, why would that void my membership card? Do I have to be a pedo-baptist too? How many other extra's are there?

When was truth calcified? When had the Bible given out everything there was to be learned? Was it the sixteenth century? Too bad for Owen. The seventeenth? Too bad for Edwards. The eighteenth? Too bad for... well, perhaps you catch my drift.

Jason Robertson said...

Thanks. I like that approach = "How do you define it?" Let them set the context... I can work with that!

Screaming Pirate said...

Well Dan you stole my thunder I even had a whole blog post on my interpretaion of those passages(still do). Well I had fun looking up the verses and looking at what some fellow reformed dispensationalist interpretion of the issue. So here is my work its not exhaustive. And I am open for correction on it. Oh and you really stole my thunder on the rev 20. That is huge I really would love to hear their interpretaion of that passage you mentioned.

Phil Walker said...

DJP: Pleased to be here, and happy that we can have this discussion constructively.

I don't think I made my intention clear, and the clarification became far too wordy. I didn't mean to make the British Reformed out to be the arbiters of "who is Reformed", but I did mean to point out that words mean different things in different contexts and communities, and that disagreement is intractable.

On to specifics, because we *can* agree that the Bible *is* more important than the Westminster divines.

Israel/Church: I can't read Ephesians 2:11-16 and buy a radical division between the Church and Israel; I can't read Hebrews and see how the Old Covenant was anything other than a shadow of the New, with the Son as the mediator of both.

Hermeneutics: G-H is a tool, and not, I believe, an end in itself. The NT writers didn't always use G-H in interpreting the OT — one suspects never, in fact. What they did do, and how we should copy them, is in seeking Christ in all of Scripture. Scripture interprets Scripture and we must read the Old in the light of the New. *Those* are the Biblical (yea, even Reformed) hermeneutics, not a misplaced trust in one single method, no matter how good.

I was amused by one of the links at the bottom of the page. Referring to your blog's title and the post's title, he wrote "Biblical Christianity: What Dispensationalism Isn't". I can't access the page, but I don't think the author of that blogpost meant it quite the way it sounded. It's still accurate, though.

Castusfumus said...

So you never got an answer on theodicy?

DJP said...

I wish I could get the letter. I have it in a file... but where's the file? In our garage, I think. Which is like saying "Hopelessly lost." Along with my letters from F. F. Bruce -- who, though doctrinally much further away from me than Hendriksen, was vastly more gracious. Go figure.

So anyway, my memory is that he quoted from Bavinck at length, told me that was all the answer I'd ever get, and suggested that the real reason evil was a problem to me was because I was a dispensationalist. (That's probably why I lost my hair, too, I'm thinking.)

To be clear, I chuckled at the letter, mostly. Struck me as crusty and curmudgeonly, more than mean and hostile.

Castusfumus said...

I'd love to meet you at the conference!!!

Highland Host said...

Always glad to know that someone actually reads it.

DJP said...

castusfumus -- wish I could go. )c:

HH -- I believe I actually found it first when searching to confirm a story I'd heard about A. B. Bruce decades ago, but for which I'd never seen documentation. Sadly, you provided it.

DJP said...

screaming pirate, I noted over at your blog that I think similarly to what you posted. Nor is it such a trivial thing to guarantee that the Jewish race would survive. Where are the Assyrians, the Hittites, the Amorites, as a people? Who has been more precisely targeted for genecide than the Jews, and lived to tell?

DJP said...

phil walker -- thanks. I've no doubt we agree on vastly more, and more substantial areas than those on which we disagree. I attend and am member of a Presbyterian church, and I love it a lot -- though I have some very hearty areas of doctrinal difference. I've lost count how many times I've preached there, and never once found it necessary to hit a point of division. True, I've had to choose my words carefully sometimes... but I'd not provide a point of division there for all the crumpets in England. (c;

You say, "I can't read Ephesians 2:11-16 and buy a radical division between the Church and Israel...." Maybe we're suffering from the barrier of a common language. The dispensationalist reads verse 15 in that passage, "in order that He might create the two in Him into one new man, making peace" (my translation), and says, "Yes: 'new man.'" The church is not Israel in any sense; it is a new man.

And indeed Jew and Gentile are on equal footing in one spiritual body, in Christ. This was never revealed in the Old Testament. It was a "mystery" (Ephesians 3:5-6; Colossians 1:25-27).

The dispensationalist believes those passages just as they read, and he believes Jeremiah 31:35-37 just as it reads. This is what sets him off from the covenant dude.

Then: "I can't read Hebrews and see how the Old Covenant was anything other than a shadow of the New, with the Son as the mediator of both." And what is communion? But we still do it, right? One looks back, the other looked forward -- explain the difference. Or what are we arguing (friendly) about?

You again: "G-H is a tool, and not, I believe, an end in itself. The NT writers didn't always use G-H in interpreting the OT — one suspects never, in fact." Well there, my brother, I can love you genuinely, but not agree. I wrote on it at some length; will probably blog on it here. But g-h is what they did, and it's where I learned to do it.

You again: "What they did do, and how we should copy them, is in seeking Christ in all of Scripture. Scripture interprets Scripture and we must read the Old in the light of the New. *Those* are the Biblical (yea, even Reformed) hermeneutics, not a misplaced trust in one single method, no matter how good."

But that isn't what Calvin did. In fact, what set him apart from others such as Luther, is that he refused to read Christ into the Old Testament, even when he stood nearly alone in so doing. His approach was very much grammatico-historical. (I just wrote a doctoral paper on that very point.)

Or would you perhaps say (I write with a smile) that Calvin wasn't really Reformed enough?


Phil Walker said...

DJP: No doubt, and that you can worship in a Presby church is proof that any such disagreements are far outweighed by our unity in the gospel of reconciliation. (I worship at a Baptist church, but am a semi-paedo-baptist. Score two for gospel unity!)

At this point, I'm going to go out on a limb and ask whether we agree that Israel's time (theologically) is over? That is, that the covenant made at Sinai is finished and that physical Israel can only be saved in Christ and his Church? Given you assert solus Christus, I should hope we can agree that salvation now comes by Christ for the Jew and the Gentile. Now, do you say the same for OT believers — salvation by Christ alone?

Could you clarify your question about communion? I think I know what you mean, but I'd rather answer the right question than the wrong one!

As for Calvin being insufficiently Reformed, that's a neat rhetorical trick, but I'll rise to it: he might well have been! He affirmed the perpetual virginity of Mary, for starters. And have you ever read his ecclesiology? "The Church, our mother in the faith" and all that jazz. Modern Reformed churches shy away from that language — as it happens, I'm comfortable with it, but that's not the point. The point is that no-one follows Calvin rigorously and therefore everyone thinks him "insufficiently Reformed"; it's just that to say that sounds really rather silly. It's like saying Luther wasn't very Lutheran, but that's true, too!

I've now acquainted myself with Calvin on some of the later Isaianic prophecies, and I have to say I'm not convinced by his approach. Insufficiently Reformed? Probably. Insufficiently Biblical? Definitely. The NT witness is to Christ as the end of the law (for, as he completes the law by fulfilling it, he does away with the law) and also as the fulfillment of all prophecy. Nevertheless, Calvin talks about "the Church" when he clearly means Israel, so you, too, must have your points of disagreement.

And in any case, I thought "Reformed" theology was allowed to change beyond Calvin? : D (I agree with that, by the way, but neglected to say so in my last comment.)

To conclude what's rapidly turning into a whole book, could you clear up my biggest question about dispensationalism, at least as you see it? What's the relationship between Jesus and history?

Neil said...

I'm late commenting but thanks for this Dan. I thought I was just weird and alone in my dispy-calvy views, but apparently not.

DJP said...

bugblaster -- "I thought I was just weird and alone in my dispy-calvy views, but apparently not."

No, you are. It's just that we're weird and alone together! (c;

But hey, it's Biblical! " are ...a peculiar people" (1 Peter 2:9)

DJP said...

Phil Walker -- I very much enjoyed your post. Thoughtful, plus gave me the first laughs of the day... and they had to last me a long time! (Rough day.)

You: "At this point, I'm going to go out on a limb and ask whether we agree that Israel's time (theologically) is over? That is, that the covenant made at Sinai is finished and that physical Israel can only be saved in Christ and his Church? ...Now, do you say the same for OT believers — salvation by Christ alone?"

Maybe we're not understanding each other. I see two questions there. To the first, like all mainstream dispensationalists, old or new, I affirm that there has always since the Fall only been one way of salvation: by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of the person and work of Christ alone.

But when you ask, "whether we agree that Israel's time (theologically) is over," well no, of course not. Like many covenant dudes, I believe Romans 9-11 points to a future for Israel; but beyond that, I'm forced to agree with God in Jeremiah 31:35-37. Some covenant guys may be smarter than He; I'm just not! (c;

You: "Could you clarify your question about communion? I think I know what you mean, but I'd rather answer the right question than the wrong one!"

Again, maybe we were clashing assumptions. So I'll wade right into it.

Usually the single truest sticking point beyond the two schools (-- I cast aside the bogus ones) is Ezekiel 40-48. Amills shrug and say, "Whatever. Christ. Details? Whatever." So we have eight chapters of very detailed Whatever, on the spiritualizing view.

Dispies, taking the whole Word seriously, don't feel we have the license to shrug it off so cavalierly. So we try to see it as actually meaning something. But that raises the specter of animal sacrifice in the future. A legitimate tension with Hebrews is seen.

So how even could sacrifices ever be observed again?

My (too) brief answer would be to quote a Jewish Christian scholar: Why can the Christian Church have a ceremony commemorating the sacrifice of Christ, but Israel can't?

The blood of bulls and goats NEVER really removed sin. They didn't, they won't. It was only because of Christ's death anticipated that they had sacramental value. IF they ever return within the economy of God, the same would hold.

And then I just loved what you said about Calvin, on so many levels. Isn't it great to be Reformed and Christian, and not a Roman Catholic? Romanists just don't understand the freedom of a Christian man or woman. They'll quote some whacky thing Luther or Calvin said, as if that will devastate us. And we shrug and say, "Yeah, I guess he was wrong." They just can't get not being death-chained to some particular human tradition.

So of course I love it when you say "...I thought 'Reformed' theology was allowed to change beyond Calvin?" This is music, of course, to this dispensationalist's ear, for all the times I've seen self-proclaimed Reformed folks assert that Covenant Theology is okay, because its formulation is a century or so older than dispensationalism -- but the latter isn't, because it's too new!

Now having written my own book in answer to yours, I come to your big question: "What's the relationship between Jesus and history?" Could you please re-word that? I'm sorry, but I'm sure I don't see confidently what you're aiming at.

Phil Walker said...

I'll explain my question, because it ties in with the whole Communion thing.

A hermeneutic which see God's covenants as one and which sees Christ as the mediator, focus, content and telos of each will naturally see Christ as the whole point of history, both redemptive and "secular". (I'm sure you can see how this is no way detracts from glory of God as the goal of history.)

Dispensationalism, as I've always understood it, doesn't seem to have that necessity about it. The dispensations come from God to man — does Jesus have any place in the dispensations prior to the Cross? Put another way, is the glory of God intimately and inextricably bound up in the person of Christ in all ages?

Now, you accept *some* role for Jesus in the Old Covenants, and for that I am glad. However, in asserting that there remains so much as a single promise outside Messiah, you deny that Jesus is "yea" and "amen" to the whole Old Testament — and that's a hole, to my eyes, in any theory of history. It means that you cannot proclaim as Christ as the All-in-all, precisely because there remains a promise without him.

On proof-text poker, I'll see your Jeremiah 31:35-37 and raise you a Matthew 3:9.

Now, to these books we're writing: I dunno if here's the best place to carry on the discussion; if you'd rather move it over to e-mail, my address is pjw120 AT york DOT ac DOT uk, with the usual substitutions. Writing on wider pages probably makes messages seem shorter!

Gordon said...

I am arriving in this conversation a little late, but let me add my thanks for this post. It is refreshing to see the "fundamentals" of dispensationalism described in such clear terms.

Taliesin said...


(Not sure if you get notified of comments - I suspect you'd get inundated, but if you happen to see this ...)

Good post. I agree with you that there is nothing inherent in Dispensationalism that makes it contrary to Reformed theology (unless one equates Reformed theology with Covenant theology - I don't, but I have met some who do).

I do find your three points to allow the widest possible latitude for what a dispensationalist is. I've seen you reference S. Lewis Johnson before. Have you listened to his series on the Divine Purpose? Particularly his discussion of dispensational theology? I'd be curious about your take on his position.

DJP said...


As to Johnson: not that I know. Where is that available, and when did he give it? I have on my Ipod like 1400 of his sermons and lessons. I've heard about 60 or so... got a few to go!


Taliesin said...

You and Frank with your iPods. ;) I'd guess it is on there somewhere.

I'm confident the series was done at Believer's Chapel. Timing would be a guess, but it seems to have been a Wednesday night series (Q&A at the end). I'm guessing early '80s. Thirty-seven messages total, but 7-16 cover Dispensationalism (1-6 are Covenant Theology and the remainder is Dr. Johnson's "middle ground" for lack of a better term). To look at the titles you can go here.

Tim said...

I've called myself a Reformed Dispensationalist for years. I went to Moody Bible Institute (don't hold it against me; my floor was mostly Amill guys) and heard a number of people say that John MacArthur is a Reformed Dispensationalist. This is a wonderful blog and I plan to enjoy more of it. Thanks for the discussion.

I must say that one of the hermeneutical things I can't stand is this idea of interpreting the OT by the NT - and totally ignoring the OT's meaning. Though typical, I can't ever fall for that.

I must say, too - Ephesians 2:15 - there is ONE NEW MAN (each word is very important - and so clear)

DJP said...

Very true, Tim. This whole notion of interpreting Old by New has the effect of turning God into a dishonest trickster, the worst kind of bait-and-switcher. If there was no honest way that NT realities could have been gleaned FROM the OT texts THEMSELVES, then Christ could never have spoken of Moses accusing his hearers.

Anonymous said...

Thank you I no longer have to feel like a freak if Ihold to the Dispensational view I am still working it out as to where I stand on Eschatology and Dispensationalim or Amillennialism thanks again this gives me hope.

Justin said...

What would you define Dispensationalism as?

DJP said...

See paragraph seven and following.