|Man’s responsibility||Rightly emphasize it but believe it implies man’s ability & so deny man’s total depravity.||Believe that man is absolutely responsible for his actions while God is absolutely sovereign.||Deny man’s responsibility in a vain effort to protect the doctrine of man’s depravity. Reduces man to being a block of wood.|
|God’s Sovereignty||Believe it in regards to creation & providence etc., but deny it in the most important matter of all i.e. salvation.||Believe this truth holds in every situation. “All my ways shall ever be… ordered by His wise decree”||Hold to this doctrine but over emphasize it to the exclusion of man’s responsibility.|
|Man’s depravity||Deny this doctrine believing that all men have the ability to repent & believe the gospel.||Believe that while all men are required to repent etc., SIN has robbed them of the power to do so.||Hold to this doctrine but over emphasize it to the exclusion of man’s responsibility.|
|Election||Make it conditional upon faith. Effectively self election rather than “God’s election”||Place it where it belongs – in the hand of God. Unconditional so as to put God under no obligation.||Hold to this doctrine but over emphasize it to the exclusion of man’s responsibility.|
|Extent of the Atonement||Believe that it extends to every last son of Adam, including those who eternally in hell when Jesus died.||Believe that although sufficient for all men in its merit…yet intended to redeem only the elect.||Afraid to preach the universal aspect of the atonement (Compare the Calvinist belief) lest they be considered Arminian.|
|Effect of the Atonement||Largely ineffectual since many of those for whom Christ is said to have died are bearing those same sins in Hell for which He is said to have died.||Totally effectual since every last one for whom Christ died will be gathered in, thus making His feeling of satisfaction (Isaiah 53:10) credible.||There does not seem to be any imbalance here on this particular point.|
|Preaching of the Atonement||Although sound in preaching the free offer of the gospel, their theology is inherently compromised.||Preach the free offer of the gospel, assuring every last man (elect or not) that if they come to the Cross, they will find pardon.||Will only preach it as a fact. As above, will not offer it. Believe that the free offer implies creature power… which it doesn’t.|
|Effectual grace||Believe that the grace of God can always be resisted by the sinner.||Believe that the elect and non elect alike can resist the grace of God… but there comes a time when the elect find it irresistible.||Too much emphasis on this doctrine leaves them in a state of practical fatalism.|
|Perseverance of the Saints||Rank Arminians believe that true Christians can lose their salvation. Others who disbelieve the first 4 points of Calvinism, effectively believe the last.||The elect will persevere in holiness unto the end and so will be saved, being kept by the power of God through faith.||Although they believe this doctrine in theory…yet their over emphasis on other points leaves them constantly in a state of gloomy doubt.|
|Believe it in although their basic message is compromised & they have no absolute assurance of the success of their mission.||Believe in it – can offer a Savior who actually accomplished something at Calvary – as opposed to merely making it possible – and have absolute guarantee by divine decree that their mission will be successful.||Don’t believe in evangelism at all. At best will but state the gospel facts, but will not plead with men to be saved as the great Calvinist evangelists did in the past.|
|Holiness||Holiness is to be found among all schools of God’s people… often despite their doctrine.||Holiness is to be found among all schools of God’s people… often despite their doctrine.||Holiness is to be found among all schools of God’s people… often despite their doctrine. Unfortunately there are those in the hyper camp who believe that if you are going to be saved, then you will be saved no matter how you live. Such Antinomianism is to be abhorred and separated from.|
|This page was duplicated in 2005 with permission of
Collin Maxwell, Pastor – Cork Free Presbyterian Church
10 Briarscourt (Annex) Shanakiel – Cork, Ireland
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: Calvinism Index
Reformation Theology and Election
|“The old truth that Calvin preached,
that Augustine preached, that Paul preached,
is the truth that I must preach today,
or else be false to my conscience and my God.
I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such
thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine.
John Knox’s gospel is my gospel.
That which thundered through Scotland
must thunder through England again.”
|What exactly is Calvinism?
A description from Wikipedia.
|The Prince of Preachers:
Spurgeon’s defense of Calvinism
|The Election debate simplified:
The crux of the debate set forth
for you to discern for yourself.
Avoiding confusion: a list of things you need to know about Calvinism
Who Chooses Who?
The Doctrines of Grace
and their 10 effects
September 11th, 2008
(By Matt Waymeyer)
I want to recommend to you a fantastic book that I just read on the subject of dispensationalism. But first a little personal history: Back in 1994 I was attending a Presbyterian church in Orlando, taking a Greek class at Reformed Theological Seminary, and beginning to appreciate all things reformed. At the time, I was also thinking seriously about going to seminary full time. I had narrowed it down to either Westminster Theological Seminary or The Master’s Seminary, and I was having a difficult time deciding between the two.
The main problem is that I had never studied the issue of covenant theology vs. dispensationalism. To get me started, one of my covenantal friends suggested two books, one to help me understand covenant theology and the other to help me understand dispensationalism. The first book was O. Palmer Robertson’s The Christ of the Covenants, which is widely regarded as a classic presentation of covenant theology. A very good recommendation. The other book, unfortunately, was John Gerstner’s Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, a diatribe against dispensationalism by a covenant theologian. Not such a good recommendation. [For an excellent review of Gerstner’s book, see Dr. Richard Mayhue’s article in The Master’s Seminary Journal.]
As I began reading Gerstner, I realized pretty quickly that the dispensationalism he was critiquing was certainly not the kind of dispensationalism that TMS president John MacArthur advocated. Gerstner seemed to equate dispensationalism with Arminianism and easy-believism, and since MacArthur was the one who had grounded me in a biblical understanding of the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Christ, I was pretty sure this book wasn’t going to help me decide where to go to seminary. In fact, Gerstner’s book did more to confuse my understanding of dispensationalism than to clarify it. Eventually I found books and articles that were more helpful, but the process was a long and difficult one, and Gerstner was definitely an ill-advised place for me to start my theological journey.
Why am I telling you this? Because I just finished a book I wish I could have read 14 years ago when I was first studying this issue. That book is Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths by Dr. Michael J. Vlach (Theological Studies Press, 2008), and it is unsurpassed in terms of clearly setting forth the core elements of dispensational theology. In this book, Vlach, an Assistant Professor of Theology at The Master’s Seminary, brings a rare level of simplicity and clarity to a very difficult and complex subject. If you are seeking to understand dispensationalism, this is absolutely the place to begin.
The format of the book is simple enough. In the introduction, Vlach describes how common misrepresentations of dispensationalism have created the need to define clearly the essential beliefs of this theological system. As Vlach explains, his goal in writing was to meet this need:
This book is not an attempt to delve deeply into every issue related to dispensationalism. Nor is it written to iron out in detail all the points of difference between variations within dispensationalism . . . . Instead, I am looking to give the reader a basic introduction to the foundational beliefs of dispensational theology so a better understanding of this theology can occur (p. 4).
In the first chapter, Vlach provides a brief history of the theology of dispensationalism, focusing on three key periods: (1) Classical Dispensationalism (1800s to 1940s), (2) Revised or Modified Dispensationalism (1950-1985), and Progressive Dispensationalism (1986 to the present). This is a helpful overview of the development of dispensationalism over the past 150 years, and unfortunately one that is often missing from these kinds of discussions. As Vlach observes later in the book, “when reading some critiques of dispensationalism, one gets the impression that dspensational thought was frozen by 1950” (p. 53).
The nucleus of the book is found in chapter 3, where Vlach sets forth six essential beliefs that are at the heart of dispensationalism. As Vlach explains:
By “essential” I mean foundational beliefs of dispensationalism that are central and unique to the system, beliefs upon which the system stands or falls. These are also beliefs that if denied, would probably make one a nondispensationalist (p. 18).
The primary strength of this chapter is how Vlach is able to distinguish clearly between core essentials of dispensationalism and possible applications of the system. In contrast, most critiques of dispensational theology focus on the latter to the virtual exclusion of the former. To whet your appetite, the first essential belief concerns the nature and implications of progressive revelation: “Progressive revelation from the New Testament does not interpret or reinterpret Old Testament passages in a way that changes or cancels the original meaning of the Old Testament writers as determined by historical-grammatical hermeneutics” (p. 18).
In chapter 3 Vlach exposes five common myths about dispensational theology which are often promoted by non-dispensationalists, a breath of fresh air for those of us who have grown weary from all the caricatures and straw men. As Vlach explains, many of these myths flow out of the erroneous assumption that dispensationalism is inherently linked to soteriology. Put simply, being dispensational doesn’t mean you believe in multiple ways of salvation; it doesn’t mean that you are Arminian, antinomian, or non-lordship in your theology; and it doesn’t require that you affirm the seven dispensations often associated with classical dispensationalism. According to Vlach, “Those studying dispensationalism should focus on the real issues and avoid such myths” (p. 49).
The final chapter contains a series of questions that Vlach is often asked about the issue and the debate surrounding it. My favorite part of this chapter was his response to the charge that dispensationalism should be rejected since it is a relatively new theological system which was not formalized until the 18th century. According to Vlach, several key elements of dispensational thought were held by the early church, and therefore the early church was closer to dispensationalism than it was to covenant theology. Furthermore, says Vlach, if someone rejects dispensationalism simply because it is new, then he should also reject covenant theology which did not start to take recognizable form until the 17th century (and therefore is not that much older than dispensationalism). As Vlach notes, the better approach is to “focus on whether any system of theology is biblical or not and no so much on when it started” (p. 55).
In the end, regardless of where you land on the spectrum of continuity vs. discontinuity—and regardless of whether you consider yourself a dispensationalist, a covenant theologian, or something in between—if you have a desire to understand the core essentials of what dispensationalism is all about, this book is a must-read. If only Dr. Vlach had written it 14 years ago!
18 Responses to “Understanding Dispensationalism”
John MacArthur’s message illustrating that a literal. historical, grammatical interpretation of the Scriptures is the approach most in line with the Sovereignty of God.