Dispensationalism Seminar Wrapup: Some Thoughts on Dispensationalism from a Class on Dispensationalism
Today we finished a 15-week course on Dispensationalism at The Master’s Seminary. This was a Th.M. course with a roundtable-discussion format (actually our table was rectangular but you get the idea).
The students and I worked through several books both pro and con about Dispensationalism. We spent considerable time evaluating the works of dispensationalists like Charles Ryrie, Robert Saucy, and Craig Blaising and Darrell Bock. We also read a negative book by Keith Mathison in which he launches some serious soteriological charges against Dispensationalism. The guys also had opportunities to interact with others who were negative toward Dispensationalism. Several read Vern Poythress’s book Understanding Dispensationalists. Some read Sam Waldron’s, MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto. One interacted with Kim Riddlebarger’s, A Case for Amillennialism. Yet another read a book by Ronald Henzel that evaluates John Nelson Darby, the father of systematized Dispensationalism. Another offered a strong critique of John Gerstner’s book against Dispensationalism.
I do not want to speak for everyone in the class but I want to offer some general observations about how the class viewed Dispensationalism. These observations are based on comments made throughout the semester, comments in our final two-hour session today, and position papers on Dispensationalism. Again, these are general observations based on the class as a whole. Individual exceptions may apply:
- Dispensationalism has undergone significant developments throughout the years but Dispensationalism has a core set of beliefs that have remained stable, namely: (1) historical-grammatical hermeneutics should be applied to all aspects of Scripture including both testaments; (2) the NT does not reinterpret the OT; (3) OT promises and covenants that have not been fulfilled yet must be literally fulfilled in the future; and (4) there will be both a salvation and restoration of the nation Israel in the future.
- There is debate among dispensationalists whether the New Covenant and the Davidic Covenant are being partially fulfilled today. But differing views on these covenants does not overturn the major areas of agreement as found in #1 above. Thus the various forms of Dispensationalism whether Traditional, Modified, or Progressive, have more in common than they do differences.
- A dispensationalist can be somewhat eclectic in holding to elements of Traditional, Modified, or Progressive Dispensationalism. One does not have to accept one form only and totally reject the others.
- Dispensationalism, especially Progressive Dispensationalism, is in strong agreement with a New Creation Model understanding of God’s purposes. Thus, God’s purposes include both spiritual and physical matters. They include both individuals and national entities (includingIsrael). Dispensationalism does a great job of emphasizing both unity and diversity in God’s plans.
- The critics of Dispensationalism err greatly when they attack secondary and non-essential elements of Dispensationalism (rapture or a particular view of the Sermon on the Mount) or treat Dispensationalism as a soteriological system. Thus, the criticisms of Gerstner and Mathison show an utter lack of understanding of dispensational theology. Harsh language and sharp rhetoric may appease some non-dispensationalists but they fall flat on dispensationalists who understand the issues.
- Several (not all) critiques of Dispensationalism show an utter lack of familiarity with more recent dispensationalists and tend to focus almost exclusively on early dispensationalists and picking out the ‘worst of the worst’ statements from these people.
- The strength of Dispensationalism is found in its hermeneutic of a historical-grammatical approach to all Scripture including the OT, and its rejection of NT reinterpretation of the OT.
- Another strength of Dispensationalism is found in its holistic understanding of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New covenants and how these intertwine with each other. It is better to base one’s theology on covenants explicitly discussed in the Bible than covenants that are not clearly seen or emphasized in Scripture.
- Later forms of Dispensationalism that emphasize the importance of theEternalStatealong with a Millennium are recognized and applauded.
- The barrage of negative critiques from Covenant theologians has caused dispensationalists to examine and reexamine their views, but these negative critiques have not defeated Dispensationalism. In fact, Dispensationalism may actually be stronger now as a result of them. The knockout blow has not come and Dispensationalism is alive and well.