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COVENANT, DISPENSATIONAL, & REVELATORY THEOLOGICAL SYSTEMS COMPARED

A CHART COMPARING DISPENSATIONAL & COVENANTAL SYSTEMS

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Pattern of History:

Covenant Theology: Covenant of Works with Adam; Covenant of Grace with Christ on behalf of the elect (some distinguish between the covenant of Redemption with Christ and the covenant of grace with the elect).

Classical Dispensationalism: Divided into dispensations (usually seven); e.g., (1) Innocence (pre-fall), (2) Conscience (Adam), (3) Human Government (Noah), (4) Promise (Abraham), (5) Law (Moses), (6) Grace (Christ’s First Coming), (7) Kingdom (Christ’s Second Coming).

Progressive Dispensationalism: Divided into dispensations, of which four are prominent: (1) Patriarchal (Promise); (2) Mosaic (Law); (3) Ecclesial (Church); (4) Zionic (Millennium, the New Heavens and New Earth).

Revelatory View: Revelation and election initiatives succeeded by human failure to respond appropriately. Periods of transition then lead to further initiatives.

God’s Purpose in History:

Covenant Theology: There is a unified redemptive purpose.

Classical Dispensationalism: There are two distinct purposes, one earthly (Israel), one heavenly (church).

Progressive Dispensationalism: To manifest His glory in a progressive redemption that covers every sphere of creation and every structure of human relationship.

Revelatory View: The objective of self-revelation is pursued culminating in the revelation of a plan of salvation, whereby the goal of relationship may be achieved. It is a unified purpose, but not soteric throughout.

View of Biblical Covenants:

Covenant Theology: They are different administrations of the Covenant of Grace. Temporal promises are conditional and applicable to the church.

Classical Dispensationalism: They mark of periods of time during which God’s specific demands of people differ. Temporal promises are unconditional and are applicable to ethnic Israel.

Progressive Dispensationalism: The biblical covenants of promise (Abrahamic, Davidic, and New) are made originally to His people, Israel. Believing gentiles are included through Christ, who is the means of blessing for all who believe. All covenants have an “already-not-yet” structure.

Revelatory View: There are revelatory initiatives facilitated through various types of election. Temporal promises are conditional but remain applicable to ethnic Israel. The covenant is characteristically redemptive; ultimately soteric; but essentially revelatory.

Relationship of the OT Law to the NT:

Covenant Theology: Acceptance of OT teaching required unless specifically abrogated  by the NT.

Classical Dispensationalism: OT prescriptions are not binding unless they are reaffirmed in the NT.

Progressive Dispensationalism: Individual aspects of the Law are assessed canonically on a case-by-case basis. Christ completes and fulfills the law.

Revelatory View: OT legal passages function within the covenant serving a revelatory purpose that continues to be relevant. The law of Christ has been superimposed on the law of Moses.

Relationship Between Israel and the Church:

Covenant Theology: The church is spiritual Israel, in continuity with true Israel of the OT.

Classical Dispensationalism: The church is the spiritual people of God, distinct from Israel, the physical people of God.

Progressive Dispensationalism: Church = the unified community that receives God’s spiritual blessings in Christ. Israel = the national and political community in the midst of nations that ultimately will be blessed fully by God. Ultimately united in redemption.

Revelatory View: The Church is the people of God defined soteriologically. Israel, previously the revelatory people of God, now may cross over and become a subset of the soteriological people of God (now that their revelatory function is complete) if they respond by faith to the plan of salvation.

Old Testament Prophecy:

Covenant Theology: Refers to God’s people, the church.

Classical Dispensationalism: Refers to ethnic Israel.

Progressive Dispensationalism: Fulness of blessing to be given to believing Israel (and those in the nations who believe) in the final dispensation.

Revelatory View: Refers to ethnic Israel but conditional upon their faithful response.

Church Age:

Covenant Theology: God’s redemptive purpose continued to unfold.

Classical Dispensationalism: There is a parenthesis between past and future manifestations of the kingdom.

Progressive Dispensationalism: From Pentecost to the rapture, a phase in the progressive outworking of God’s wholistic redemption. It is not a parenthesis in the kingdom program.

Revelatory View: The period begun when the people of God are defined soteriologically as a result of God’s plan of salvation being reveled.

*Chart adapted from John H. Walton. Covenant: God’s Purpose, God’s Plan. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994. John H. Walton has proposed the “Revelatory View.”

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Dr. Bruce Ware: Comparing Covenant and Dispensational Theology

MUSINGS ON BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN THESE TWO THEOLOGICAL SYSTEMS

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These are both movements that really affect a large swath of the evangelical Church with Covenant Theology affecting so much of the Church in the Reformed tradition and Dispensationalism largely through the first study Bible that came out, The Scofield Reference Bible (that was the only one when I was growing up; my folks had the Scofield Reference Bible). It made a big impact on Dallas Seminary and all of its graduates when Dallas was putting out so many pastors for Bible churches and independent Baptist churches. The Bible school movement was largely Dispensational. Moody Bible Institute and most of the Bible schools around the country were Dispensational. Some other seminaries that were Dallas-influenced are Talbot Seminary, Biola University (it used to be Bible Institute of Los Angeles and that is where Biola comes from; J. Vernon McGee and a number of people connected with Biola were Dispensational), Western Seminary (where I went) used to be a Dallas clone and it was Dispensational. So many areas in evangelical life in North America were affected by it.

We need to take a brief look at these two views. One heartening thing I will tell you at the beginning is it is one of those wonderful areas where, though there was such disagreement forty years ago, to the point where there were strong accusations being made by both sides about the other, today there has been a coming together of these movements by sort of progressives of both sides. With Modified Covenantalists and Modified Dispensationalists, the differences between them now, among those Modified groups, is minor in significance. It is not that much to worry about, to be honest with you. It is one area where godly, humble biblical scholarship and theological reflection has resulted in both sides being willing to acknowledge the excesses of their traditions and make changes. The result of that has been to come together in a marvelous way. If you want to read something that talks about this well, Dr. Russ Moore wrote his dissertation on the changing theological positions of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology as that affects socio-political action. But in order to get that “as it affects” part, he had to do quite a bit of theological ground work in describing what was going on in these two movements. A large portion of his dissertation relates to mega-changes, and the mega-shifts that have taken place in both of these movements. It is very well done.

A. Covenant Theology

1. General Description – Two Broad Covenants

Covenant theology holds, in terms of its basic understanding of Scripture, that we should understand the Bible as portraying fundamentally two covenants: a Covenant of Works and a Covenant of Grace.

In the Covenant of Works, God made a covenant with Adam in the Garden, according to Covenant Theology. Namely, if you obey me and follow me and resist eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; if you stay away from that, if you don’t eat of that tree and follow me in obedience, then you will ultimately receive life. Covenant theologians have seen this as something more than the life of Adam then. It is not just a continuation of his life in the garden temporally, but what we would speak of as eternal life. They propose that there must have been a probationary period in which this testing was undertaken. Had Adam passed the test (who knows how much longer it might have been; maybe two more days and the test would have been over; we just don’t know), then he would have received eternal life because of his works. But if Adam failed the test, if he were to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden, then we know from the text, in the day that you eat from it you will surely die (Gen 2:17). So death for disobedience; life, presumably a better life, a greater that the life he had now for obedience.

Covenant theologians acknowledge that the first part of this, the promise of life for obedience, is not stated explicitly in Scripture. But they think that it is implied by the negative statement, “If you eat of it you will die”. If you don’t eat of the tree, then you would receive the gift of eternal life. If that is the case, then it must be something different than what you have now, and if that is the case, there must be a probationary period. There must be a time period after which this would be given. All of that follows from what they know to be the case; namely, there is command given that if you eat of the tree you will die. The other part of it is spin off from that.

We all know that Adam failed the test and brought death upon himself and all of his progeny. Romans chapter 5 tells us that in Adam all sin and deserve his death. So we learn from Paul in Romans 5:12 and following that all die in Adam’s one sin.

In order to save sinners, God brings about another covenant. This is not a Covenant of Works because sinners could never work to make the payment necessary to satisfy a holy God on account of the offense that has been committed. The guilt is too great, and the offense is too serious. Another Covenant of Works (work it off now, pay your dues, pay off your debt) won’t work for human beings, for sinners. God inaugurates, instead, a Covenant of Grace, whereby his Son will pay the penalty for sinners, and those sinners in exchange will receive the righteousness of Christ. It is quite a deal for sinners. We give Christ our sins and he gives us his righteousness.

Double imputation is part of this understanding as well. Our sin is imputed to Christ, so he pays the penalty for our guilt and it is charged against him even though he doesn’t deserve to pay it. That’s what imputation means at that point; our sin is charged against Christ, and his righteousness is imputed to us; it is credited to our account by faith – justification.

How much of the Bible does the Covenant of Works cover, what does it span? The Covenant of Works covers Genesis 1, 2 and part of Genesis 3 where the sin takes place. What about the Covenant of Grace where sinners now cannot be saved by works? If they are going to be saved it has to be by grace? Genesis 3 to Revelation 22. The point of this is that it leads Covenant theologians, in the traditional understanding, to think in terms of the broad sense of the holistic nature of virtually all of the Bible, from Gen 3 on, which is most of the Bible. Basically, the whole Bible fits under this Covenant of Grace notion. This leads to, in Covenant Theology, a strong sense of uniformity throughout the Bible, that is a strong sense of continuity. There is one thing God is doing from the sin in the garden and on, that is he is providing for human sin and saving the people. The Covenant of Grace spans both Testaments; it spans Israel and Church. In that sense, it leads to a unified sense in all of Scripture: Old and New Testaments together.

2. Covenant Hermeneutic

Because of this sense of unity that takes place, the hermeneutic of Covenant Theology tends to see in Scripture a unified teaching in both Testaments. So there is less of a notion in Covenant Theology that new things come about in divine revelation at new periods of revelation, rather there is more of a notion of simply amplifying or explaining with grater clarity or precession what has been there from the beginning. So for example, in Covenant Theology there is much more a tendency to look back in the Old Testament and see the same kinds of things as you do in the New Treatment. I’ll give you an example of that; some of you know that I teach an elective on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The older Covenant theologians (some of the more recent ones, Richard Gap and Sinclair Ferguson have not have gone this route) would tend to see everything that is true of the of the Holy Spirit’s work in the New Testament, his indwelling, his sealing, his empowering that is true for New Testament believers, is also true for Old Testament believers because of this uniformity idea. So if you ask the question what is new at Pentecost or new in the New Covenant? It is more a sense of extension of coverage than it is qualitative experience in the lives of true believers. God will extend this to the ends of the earth: Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. To the ends of the earth means extending this beyond the boundaries of the restricted members of the people of God. It is going to go public, nationwide, worldwide. My view is that this is a mistake to think this way. Instead there is a radical new happening when the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost that the Old Testament actually prophesied and predicted was going to happen that would make a tremendously different change to the people of God. So you really have to have, it was once this way but now is this way. There really is a change, a marked qualitative kind of change that takes place in the coming of the Spirit in the New Covenant than in the Old. This is a more Dispensational way of thinking. Take a text like Romans 8:3-4

“For what the Law could not do [under the law this didn’t happen, the Law couldn’t do this], weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh [we are talking history now, at this point in history, when Christ comes], and as an offering for sin, Him condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might now be fulfilled in those who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3-4) So that looks to me like we ought to read it as under the Law things were one way, but now that the Spirit has come, Christ has come, things are different. But if you read the Old Covenant writers on the Holy Spirit, you will find a very strong urge to assume that New Testament teachings about the Holy Spirit must be true of Old Testament saints as well.

A similar thing might be said of Christology. There is a very strong sense of trying to see as much as possible of Christ in the Old Testament. Luke 24 makes it very clear that Christ taught concerning himself from the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (Luke 24:27).

It is a matter of which texts, what they are saying, and to what extent. There is a tendency in Covenant Theology to see more than what others might see from other traditions. The main point I am trying to stress here is that with this Covenant hermeneutic there is a tendency to see uniformity of content between the Testaments.

3. Israel and the Church

One of the places where this becomes both the clearest and most decisive in terms of separating covenant and Dispensational views is how Covenant Theology understands Israel and the Church. Here again, with the basic hermeneutic of uniformity, Covenant Theology would view true Israel as the people of God, that is, true Israel, saved Israel as the people of God and the Church as the people of God. There is really one people of God in both Testaments, both saved by faith, both serving the same God, both the special objects of God’s saving love. Israel really could be thought of and spoken of as the Old Testament Church. The Church in the New Testament can rightly be thought of as New Testament Israel. So we have Old Testament Church, that’s Israel, and we have New Testament Israel, that’s Church. So there really should not be seen significant differences as they are the people of God. Granted Israel is also ethnic and the Church is multiethnic. But apart from that difference, as it relates to nation and ethnicity, we ought to understand the people of God, as believers, constituting the same group of people.

What about promises made to Israel that seem to relate to a time in the future; for example, Israel coming back to her land, or her ultimate salvation by God. What about promises that look like they are eschatological in the Old Testament, and are not fulfilled at any particular point in history in the Old Testament or New Testament period? What do we say about those promises that relate to Israel? God makes the promise, I’ll take from your lands where you have been and I’ll bring you back to your land and you shall have one God, and I will reign over you, and I will destroy your enemies. All of these promises given to Israel, what should we do with those? In Covenant Theology, there is a very strong tendency to go in the direction of saying those promises made to Israel are fulfilled in the New Testament Israel – the Church. So the Church becomes the object of those promises.

In Covenant Theology there is a very strong tendency to see Old Testament promises as coming straight forward and being fulfilled in the Church. So the land promises (you will be back in your land) shouldn’t be understand as literal land; there is not going to be a day when the ethnic people of Israel occupy literal geography; that is not the point of those promises. It is rather that they will have their kingdom, and it is a spiritual kingdom.

So the promises to Israel are to be fulfilled in a spiritual manner in the Church. When it talks about the Jews being saved, we are all Jews. Remember Paul in Romans 2 says, we are circumcised in Abraham. We are, by faith, part of the seed of Abraham in Galatians (Galatians 3:16). We should understand that all of us are Jews spiritually because we are tied in through Christ, through the seed of Abraham. After all, the promise in Genesis 12 was that through Abraham all the nations in the world will be blessed. (Genesis 12:3). So we are tied in.

What about the reign of Christ over nations? This is not a political military reign; it is a spiritual reign as people from every tribe and nation are brought into subjection to Christ. So in Covenant Theology there is a very strong tendency to see, basically, Israel and the Church as equated spiritually.

One place that you see that Reformed Baptists differ is with pedobaptism. In Presbyterian, Anglican, and the majority of reformed theology, they hold to pedobaptism. Here the same thing is happening; Israel circumcised their people as a sign of the Covenant and we are the new Israel. The difference is that our sign of the Covenant is a sign that is Christological in nature because we have been brought together in Christ; everything in the Old Testament pointed to him. Christ has now come, so the sign of the Covenant changes to baptism as a mark of Christ’s death and resurrection. Just as Israel’s sign of the covenant was given to infants, so the Church’s sign of the Covenant should be given to infants. Honestly, the strongest argument for pedobaptism (in my judgment) is a theological argument; if you try to argue texts, you run out quickly. In a used bookstore in Springfield, Illinois (we were visiting there as a family to look at all of the Lincoln memorabilia that was there), I spotted a rather sizable book on the shelve; the spine was pretty fat. It said on it, All That The Bible Teaches About Infant Baptism. That was the title of it. Wow, I thought, this is a thick book; it is impressive. So I took it off of the shelf and opened it up and it was an empty book. It was just all blank pages. They were charging something like $18 for it, so I didn’t buy it, but I wish I had. I would like to have a copy of that book. The argument is really a theological one: Israel, Church, sense of unity, and hence a very strong case is made on theological grounds for pedobaptism.

One question is: How do they understand a more unified sense of the Holy Spirit’s work in the Old Testament when it looks as though in the Old Testament there are these special works with selective people? What they argue, in particular, are primarily theological arguments. These people had to be regenerated. How does regeneration take place? We know from John 3, it must come from the Holy Spirit. So you see how this works; these people exercised faith didn’t they? Where did faith come from? It must have come from the Holy Spirit. So it is a theological argument that utilizes what the New Testament says the Holy Spirit does. It sees those same actions or similar actions in the Old Testament and concluded that Holy Spirit must do these things as well. It is a very important question of how to account for Hebrews 11, the faith chapter. How do you account for a Daniel and a Joseph who exercised tremendous trust in God through very difficult experiences? It is a very good question, and I think that we just have to work very hard in the Old Testament to try to understand what is said there and what is happening there and take seriously the notion that something new takes place. Roman 8:3-4, says, “In order that the requirement of the Law might now be fulfilled in those who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those are remarkable words. Or in Galatians 3 (Galatians 3:24, to be precise) the Law is a tutor to lead us to Christ. It is a tough question; I’ll admit it. I think that are some things that can be said, but it’s why this theological reasoning is persuasive to a number of Reformed people. The problem is so many Old Testament texts indicate the selectivity of the Spirit at work in the Old Testament and then there are specific texts that promise a future day that matches New Testament reality. Ezekiel 36:27 says, “I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, you will be careful to observe my ordinances.” You read that and realize the holiness that He requires of his people will come about when the Holy Spirit comes and works in them. Think of 2 Corinthians 3:3, the letter written on their hearts by the Spirit. This is New Covenant.

B. Dispensationalism

1. General Description – Progressive Revelation

Dispensationalism is an understanding of the Bible, of biblical history, that notices and points to distinguishable Dispensations or administrations of God’s purposes, will, and relationships with people in general and particularly his people.

The key idea in Dispensationalism is progressive revelation. This is the bottom rock notion in this understanding of reading the Bible. Progressive revelation means, essentially, that God provides revelation at a particular time and that revelation provides certain commandments, requirements, warnings and promises. Some of those commands, warnings, and promises may continue beyond when that revelation is given, beyond the next period when great revelation is given. Or some revelations may stop at that particular point. When new revelation comes with Noah, or then with Abraham, or with Moses (think of these periods where new great revelation is given), some things continue on, and some things continue all the way through. Obey the Lord your God; that is from the beginning right to the end. In the revelation given to Adam in the garden, the command, “You shall not to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil for in the day you eat of it you will die,” (Gen 2:17) doesn’t apply to you and me anymore, specifically as a commandment. Where is that tree? How could you eat of it? You can’t. So it applies to Adam very much so. When revelation comes, there may be new things that start up that were not here before.

Noah is told that he can eat animals; that is part of the statement made to Noah after the flood. He can eat these animals (Genesis 9), but he cannot kill human beings (I take it that continues). I don’t find vegetarianism theological defensible. Both because of what God says to Noah about eating animals (which I assume continues), and certainly the prohibition of killing humans continues. Nor do you find it defensible in light of Israel, in what they are permitted to eat. And Jesus who pronounced all foods clean is obviously talking about unclean foods, which would include pork. So I guess you can have a bacon or a ham sandwich.

The point is that with progressive revelation, you see some things that are new which continue only for a time, and there are other things that might start, ones that weren’t here before, which continue all the way through, and some things which are just for that time period itself. This, then, amounts to different dispensations, different ways in which God administers his relationship with people. The most obvious example is the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant. We now have in this time period these laws that relate to the sacrificial system; and it is clear that they last until Christ comes who fulfills what they are pointing to: the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When God’s Lamb comes, then you don’t have to keep taking your lamb to the priest to be slaughtered. When the High Priest reigns, you don’t need a priest any longer. So here we have in this time period laws that are very relevant, extremely relevant, in exact literal detail. Fulfilling those Laws is extremely important in this time period, then when Christ comes they end. You don’t take a lamb; you don’t go to the priest; the priest doesn’t have to prepare himself for the Day of Atonement. All of these things that were there before are done. This is the main idea of Dispensationalism. It is progressive revelation. When revelation comes you need to notice what things have quit what was revealed before, what things start that weren’t revealed before and what things endure. Whatever you come up with in that time period marks that particular dispensation as the revelation of God in that time period.

2. Dispensational Hermeneutic

This notion of progressive revelation has lead Dispensationalist to interpret the Bible, to look at biblical history and interpret where you are in the Bible, very differently than the way Covenant theologians look at the Bible. The tendency in Covenant Theology is to look for uniformity; there is one Covenant of Grace that spans virtually the entire Bible. So there is a tendency to see this uniformity; there is one people of God. In Dispensationalism the mindset is very different. It is instead to notice discontinuity, differences in how God relates to people depending on the revelation that is given at that particular time. It is much more attuned to the discontinuities between various dispensations and to respect those, to be careful not to interpret something in this dispensation as you are reading it from a different time period. So you are not being respectful of what it means here. Charles Ryrie no doubt overstated it in his book, Dispensationalism Today, but he gave this threefold sine qua non (a Latin phrase meaning without which there is none) of Dispensationalism or the essential markings of Dispensationalism. One of them is a literal hermeneutic. He didn’t mean you interpret poetry literally. John kicked the bucket means that John died; that is the way you are supposed to interpret it. He didn’t mean literal in the sense of ignoring metaphorical poetic meanings or terms. What he meant by that is, when reading the Bible, understand what an author intends to say within the historical context of when he is writing it, so that you don’t read back into it things from the future or read forward of things in the past. You take care to read it within its own dispensation. That is what he meant by literal hermeneutic; to understand what the author meant then and there as he spoke at that time.

3. Israel and the Church

A literal hermeneutic has led to, in particular, the way Israel and the Church are evaluated. It is clear in Dispensationalism that Dispensationalists insist upon seeing Israel as Israel and the Church as the Church. There is a strong discontinuity between the two. The Church starts as Christ built it. Remember Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my Church.” Therefore, we shouldn’t talk about it in the Old Testament, even though the term ekklesia is used in the Septuagint (it is not being used in the technical sense, it just means a gathering of people together). We shouldn’t talk about Old Testament Israel as the Church. Jesus said, “I will build my Church, the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. Wait in Jerusalem until the Spirit comes” (Acts 1:4), “And when he comes he will anoint you with power” (Acts 1:8). So Pentecost is the beginning of the Church. We shouldn’t talk about Israel as the Old Testament Church nor should we talk about the Church as the New Testament Israel because Israel is an ethnic national group and we are multiethnic; we are multinational. It is confusing to talk of the Church as Israel.

So as it pertains to these promises we talked about under Covenant Theology, what do you do with the Old Testament promises that particularly relate to Israel? How do understand these when God says through the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 36:24, I will take you from the lands where you have been and bring you back to your land. And he goes on to say at the end of Ezekiel 37 that the Messiah will reign as your king; David will reign as your king. What do you do with these promises that relate to a future for Israel where the Messiah is reigning over his people in the land, the nations are subjected to the Messiah, and there is peace on earth; what do you do with these?

If these promises have to do with Israel, instead of seeing them fulfilled in the Church (because the Church is not Israel), you see them fulfilled at a future time when God will finish his promised work with Israel. There is a sense in which the premillennial view for Dispensationalism is supported because of Old Testament promises to Israel whether or not you have Revelation 20. Revelation 20 is a really nice extra to have because it gives you the exact time period, a thousand years. It makes it crystal clear that this comes after Christ has returned to earth and he reigns upon the earth for this thousand year period. That is nice to know all that, but we didn’t need Revelation 20 to know there had to be a time period in the future after Christ returned for God to finish his work with Israel. Why? Because these promises back here talk about land, Messiah, Jerusalem. According to a literal hermeneutic, what did Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Zachariah mean when they said “Jerusalem”? What did they mean when they said “in your land”? What were the authors intended meanings of these terms: land, Israel, Messiah, and other nations? They understood those things to be referring to physical realities. Have they happened yet? Has Messiah come? No. Is Israel in her land? Hence all the hoopla over 1948; this is when Dispensationalism just went nuts because here we have what appears to be (of course people said it much stronger than that back then) God’s movement to begin the fulfillment of bringing Israel back to her land to fulfill all of these promises. Then there were all kinds of speculation that came in terms of date setting and that kind of stuff.

In my judgment, Dispensationalism has far more merit as a Biblical Theology than its popularizers have allowed it to have in public perception. The popularizers went too far; they extended it into the unknowable. It was speculation but stated as fact. This has hurt the Dispensational movement, in my view.

So for dispensationalists, God is going to come back and wipe out the nations and save Israel, that will happen during the tribulation and he (The Messiah) is going to reign in Jerusalem over his people in the Millennial period fulfilling Old Testament promises.

C. Modifications of both Dispensational and Covenantal Understandings

What has happened, essentially, is that the notions that Israel equals the Church or Israel is totally separate from the Church have been challenged by both representatives in the Covenantal tradition and representatives in the Dispensation tradition. Both have come to see that a better model is one in which there is continuity and discontinuity together. Something like a screen between the two rather than a complete equation or a complete separation of the two. Some things can pass through (hence the screen), yet there are differences between them.

One the Covenant side there has been a recognition, for example, that we really should think of a future for Israel. There was a time when very few Covenant theologians would deal with Romans 11 (Roman 11:17, 23, 24, 26) where Paul talks about the olive tree and the natural branches were cut off and the unnatural branches were grafted on. But a time will come when he will graft the natural branches back on to the tree; that is Israel. That analogy is so helpful. How many trees are there in that analogy? One. How many kinds of branches? Two. Do you have one people of God or two? If you mean one people in Christ, then there is one. If you mean specifically designated Jewish people, for whom God has specifically promised salvation, verses the rest of God’s saved people, then it is two. How else do you understand the natural branches and the unnatural branches? Doesn’t Paul continue to think of the people of God as comprised of Jews and Gentiles? At the moment, most of those Jews are not saved; there is a hardening that has taken place. That is how he describes it in Romans 11. This hardening has taken place, so the Gospel has gone to Gentiles, but the day will come when he will graft the natural branches back on. Who are those people? They are Jews; they are going to be saved. So Paul says, all Israel will be saved. It was difficult for Covenant theologians and Covenant interpreters (a few did but not many) to see that as ethnic Israel. But increasingly in this more modified understanding, you are finding more and more Covenant theologians, people from the Covenant tradition acknowledging that, yes, this is what Paul means; he means that there will be some kind of future salvation of Jews – literal ethnic Jews. Whether this has to happen in the way Dispensationalist conceive it in a tribulation period where vast persecution takes place, tremendous destruction of people and material well-being in everything across the world, and at the same time massive conversions of Jews to Christ, or whether it happens in this age through some kind of evangelistic effort is really beside the point. That is a secondary question. Where there is much more agreement among Dispensationalists and Covenant theologians (in the Modified groups) is that it does look like there is future salvation of Israel.

Dispensationalists have changed. I think it might be fair to say that they have done more changing than the Covenant side. I think that is correct. In other words, Dispensationalists have recognized a bit more that has needed to be changed in their views and tradition than has necessarily been the case in with Covenant theologians.

I will give an example of this. In fact, I have written an article on this in the book that Darrell Bock and Craig Blaising edited entitled, Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition. I have a chapter in there on the New Covenant. Here is basically what I talk about in there. In the old view for Dispensationalism, Israel is one thing and the Church is another and you can’t mix the two. Here you are, reading your New Testament and you hear Jesus say, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor 11:25). And Paul says, I am a minister of the New Covenant (2 Cor 3:6). And Hebrews speaks of the Old Covenant is taken away, and the New Covenant has come (Heb 8:13). The New Covenant is the Covenant for the Church, the Old Covenant is the Mosaic Covenant, the Covenant for Israel.

What do you do with how Jeremiah 31-34 relates to the New Covenant for the Church, the New Covenant that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 3, where he says he is a minister of the New Covenant? How do you relate Jeremiah 31 to that? There is a real problem with that because Jeremiah 31 (Jeremiah 32:31) says, “Behold, days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” In traditional Dispensationalism, Israel is one thing, the Church is another and here you have this statement about a new covenant with the house of Israel, so what relation does this Jeremiah 31 New Covenant have to do with the 2 Corinthians 3 New Covenant, of which Paul is a minister? Jesus says, “This cup is the New Covenant of my blood”(Luke 22:20), and Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:25 repeats that, so what is the relation between the two? The dispensational answer is that they are two separate Covenants. Traditional Dispensationalism had a two New Covenant view. Because Jeremiah 31 had to be for Israel, whatever Paul is talking about, whatever Jesus is talking about, and (here is where it get really messy) whatever Hebrews is talking about has got to be a different covenant.

Now why did I say that, here is where it gets really messy in reference to Hebrews? Because Hebrews 8 and 10 quote Jeremiah 31 twice (Hebrews 8:8,9; 10:16) in making the point that the Old Covenant, the Mosiac Covenant is done away and New Covenant, to quote Jeremiah 31, “has taken its place”. Even despite that, they maintain this difference. This is how strong the theological commitment was to two peoples, Israel and the Church; keep them separate and don’t confuse them. It was so strong that even with Hebrews starring at them quoting Jeremiah 31, they insisted on two different Covenants. The text won with Progressive Dispensationalists (That is what they are called). Craig Blaising, who taught here for years, is one of the main leaders of this movement. He and Darrell Bock at Dallas are the champions of Progressive Dispensationalism. They argue that we have got to say that the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 is the Church’ New Covenant. What else would Jesus be referring to? The phrase, New Covenant, is only used one time in the Old Testament; it is in Jeremiah 31. Hebrews quotes it and says the old has passed and this has come in its place. So we have got to understand this is to be the Church’s New Covenant. In my article here is what I proposed: Are we to say then that everything that Jeremiah 31 talks about is fulfilled now in the Church? In other words, should we do this sort of an interpretation of Jeremiah 31; in which we have an Old Testament promise and we draw the arrow straight forward and say Jeremiah 31 is fulfilled in the Church period? I say no. Rather, I think that we draw an arrow forward and we draw an arrow to the future; we draw both. What allows for a “both and” answer? It is both in some sense fulfilled in the Church and in some sense fulfilled in the future. This is the theology of one of the strongest opponents of Dispensationalism: George Eldon Ladd.

Ladd is the one who really faced the evangelical church with this “already not yet” theology. We understand biblical eschatology as being fulfilled in a preliminary partial way, but are still awaiting the complete consummation, complete fulfillment.

This is a different topic; I’ll come back to New Covenant. How do answer the question has the Kingdom of Christ come, or is the Kingdom of Christ here? “Yes but,” or “Yes and no.” Don’t you have to say both? Is the Kingdom of Christ here? Yes, Colossians 1:13 says, We have been transferred from the dominion of Satan into the Kingdom of his beloved Son. In Matthew 12, Jesus casts out a demon, and the Pharisees said he casts out demons by Beelzebul (Matthew 12:24 ). But he says in response, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). So has the kingdom come? Yes. But what does the New Testament call Satan at various points? The god of this world (2 Cor 4:4), the ruler of this world (John 12:13), and the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2). When you read Isaiah 9:6, 7, have you ever asked yourself the question, has this happened? “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on his shoulders; And his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And of increase of his government there will be not end to establish it and to uphold it from this day forth and for ever more for the zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.” Has this happened? Did you read the paper this morning? Something tells me we are not there yet. This was exactly John the Baptist’s problem. This is huge to get this. John the Baptist in Matthew 11 sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the appointed one or shall we look for another?” (Matt 11:3). This is an incredible question, an unbelievable question. John the Baptist witnessed the dove descend on Jesus (John 1:32), and was told, “The One upon whom you see the dove descend, this is my son; follow him (John 1:33). John the Baptist baptized Jesus (Matthew 3:13-16). John the Baptist was the one who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30) and, “I am not worthy to untie the thong on his sandal” (John 1:27). He said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). This is John the Baptist who now in prison says, I’m not sure if this is the anointed one. What has happened?

John knows his Old Testament. This is the problem; he knows the promises that relate to the Messiah. When the Messiah comes, guess what the Messiah is going to do? Isaiah 9:6, 7 says he is going to reign over nations. Read the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. Incredible devastation to unrighteousness; he is going to destroy those who stand against him; he is going to exalt Israel. Here is the forerunner of the Messiah in prison. What is wrong with this picture? That is what John is thinking. So he thinks, maybe this isn’t the Messiah after all. Consider the angst that he must have been going through in prison, the huge spiritual struggle he must have been facing for that question to come out of him, of all people.

Jesus’ response is brilliant. “Go tell John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and poor have the Gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:4, 5). Jesus is quoting Old Testament prophesies about the Messiah. So the point is, John, don’t miss it; the Messiah is fulfilling prophecy; I am the Messiah. But not all prophecy, not all now, it is “already and not yet.” Is the kingdom here? Already and not yet. Yes and no, you have to say. Yes, in some things; no, in others.

Back to the New Covenant, how do we see the New Covenant fulfilled? Already in the Church; in some aspects, in a preliminary partial way, we enter into this new covenant, but even a reading of Jeremiah 31 will show that not all of it is fulfilled yet. Because it says, “I will put my Law within you and you won’t have to teach each one his neighbor, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them (Jer 31:33, 34). That hasn’t happened yet. We have teachers in the Church appointed by God to tell people about God, teach them about the Lord. We have the gift of teaching in the Church for that very purpose. So it hasn’t happened yet.

Everyone acknowledges that there has to be an “already not yet.” It includes, in my view, an already in this age predominately gentiles (who were not even given the New Covenant, it was given to Israel) who get in through the seed of Abraham: Jesus. That is our avenue. They get in as Jews, well granted through faith in Christ, they will be brought to faith in Christ, but no other ethnic national group is promised, “I am going to save you.” God promises that to Israel though; they will be saved as a whole ethnic group. Not Babylonians, not Assyrians not anybody else, but Jews will be because God chose them. It is clear in Deuteronomy 7; God chose them, and he is going to save them. When that happens, the New Covenant God made with Israel and Judah is going to be fulfilled. You watch; God will keep his word

Blessings on You.

– See more at: http://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/covenant-theology-dispensationalism/systematic-theology-i/bruce-ware#sthash.NKg0GYoD.dpuf

 

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The Calvinistic Heritage of Dispensationalism By Dr. Thomas Ice

If systematic Dispensationalism is rightly understood it logically makes sense only within a theocentric and soteriologically Calvinists theology. Dispensationalism teaches that it is GOD who is ruling His household, as administered through the various dispensations of history. Though Dispensationalism, or elements of Dispensationalism have been disseminated throughout a wide diversity of Protestant traditions, this system of theology is best seen as a system of theology that views God as the Sovereign ruler of heaven and earth; man as a rebellious vice-regent (along with some angels); Jesus Christ is the hero of history as He is saves some by His Grace; history as a lesson in the outworking of God’s glory being displayed to both heaven and earth. In essence, Dispensationalism is a theology properly derived from biblical study and lets God be God.

Modern, systematic Dispensationalism is approaching two hundred years of expression and development. We live at a time in which Dispensationalism and some of its ideas have been disseminated and adopted by various theological traditions. This is not surprising since our day is characterized by anti-systemization and eclecticism in the area of thought. It may be surprising, to some, to learn that Dispensationalism was developed and spread during its first 100 years by those within a Reformed, Calvinistic tradition. It had only been in the last 75 to 50 years that Dispensationalism and some of its beliefs were disseminated in any significant way outside of the sphere of Calvinism.

Definitions

Before proceeding further I need to provide working definitions of what I mean by Calvinism and Dispensationalism.

First, by Calvinism, I am speaking mainly of the theological system that relates to the doctrine of grace or soteriological Calvinism. This would include strict and modified Calvinism (i.e. four and five point Calvinism [some hold to limited atonement and some hold to universal atonement]). I am referring to that aspect of Calvinism that speaks of the fallen nature of man and the elective grace of God (John Calvin image at left).

Second, by Dispensationalism, I have in mind that system of theology that was developed by J. N. Darby (pictured on right) that gave rise to its modern emphasis of consistent literal interpretation, a distinction between God’s plan for Israel and the church, usually a pretribulational rapture of the church before the seventieth week of Daniel, premillennialism, and a multifaceted emphasis upon God’s glory as the goal of history. This includes some who have held to such a system but may have stop short of embracing pretribulationism. The focus of this article will be upon Dispensational premillennialism.

Theological Logic

In concert with the Calvinist impulse to view history theocentricly, I believe that dispensational premillennialism provides the most logical eschatological ending to God’s sovereign decrees for salvation and history. Since Dispensational premillennialists view both the promises of God’s election of Israel and the church as unconditional and something that God will surely bring to pass, such a belief is consistent with the Bible and logic. A covenant theologian would say that Israel’s election was conditional and temporary. Many Calvinists are covenant theologians who think that individual election within the church is unconditional and permanent. They see God’s plan with Israel conditioned upon human choice, while God’s plan for salvation within the church is ultimately a sovereign act of God. There is no symmetry in such logic. Meanwhile, Dispensational premillennialists see both acts as a sovereign expression of God’s plan in history that is a logical, consistent application of the sovereign will of God in human affairs.

Samuel H. Kellogg, a Presbyterian minister, missionary, and educator wrote of the logic between Calvinism and “modern, futurist premillennialism,” which was in that day (1888) essentially dispensational. “But in general,” notes Kellogg, “we think, it may be rightly said that the logical relations of premillennialism connect it more closely with the Augustinianthan with any other theological system” (Samuel H. Kellogg, “Premillennialism: Its relations to Doctrine and Practice,” Bibliotheca Sacra, XLV [1888], p. 253).

His use of “Augustinian” is the older term for Calvinism. Kellogg points out the different areas in which Calvinism and premillennialism are theologically one. “Premillennialism logically presupposes an anthropology essentially Augustinian. The ordinary Calvinism affirms the absolute helplessness of the individual for self-regeneration and self- redemption” (Kellogg, “Premillennialism,” p. 254). He continues, “it is evident that the anthropological presuppositions on which premillennialism seems to rest, must carry with them a corresponding soteriology” (Kellogg, “Premillennialism,” p. 257). Kellogg reasons that “the Augustinian affinity of the premillennialist eschatology becomes still more manifest. Nothing is more marked than the emphasis with which premillennialists constantly insist that, the present dispensation is strictly elective” (Kellogg, “Premillennialism,” p. 258-59). “In a word,” concludes Kellogg, “we may say that premillennialists simply affirm of the macrocosm what the common Augustinianism affirms only of the microcosm” (Kellogg, “Premillennialism,” p. 256).

This is not to say that Dispensationalism and Calvinism are synonymous. I merely contend that it is consistent with certain elements of Calvinism that provide a partial answer as to why Dispensationalism sprang from the Reformed tradition. C. Norman Kraus contends,

There are, to be sure, important elements of seventeenth-century Calvinism in contemporary dispensationalism, but these elements have been blended with doctrinal emphasis from other sources to form a distinct system which in many respects is quite foreign to classical Calvinism (C. Norman Kraus, Dispensationalism in America: Its Rise and Development. Richmond: John Knox Press, 1958, p. 59).

Nevertheless, Dispensationalism did develop within the Reformed community and most of its adherents during the first 100 years were from within the Calvinist milieu. Kraus concludes: “Taking all this into account, it must still be pointed out that the basic theological affinities of dispensationalism are Calvinistic. The large majority of men involved in the Bible and prophetic conference movements subscribed to Calvinistic creeds” (Ibid). I will now turn to an examination of some of the founders and proponents of Dispensationalism?

Darby and the Brethren

Modern systematic dispensationalism was developed in the 1830s by J. N. Darby and those within the Brethren movement. Virtually all of these men came from churches with a Calvinistic soteriology. “At the level of theology,” says Brethren historian H. H. Rowdon, “the earliest Brethren were Calvinists to a man” (Harold H. Rowdon, Who Are The Brethren and Does it Matter? Exeter, England: The Paternoster Press, 1986, p. 35). This is echoed by one of the earliest Brethren, J. G. Bellett, who was beginning his association with the Brethren when his brother George wrote, “for his views had become more decidedly Calvinistic, and the friends with whom he associated in Dublin were all, I believe without exception, of this school” (George Bellett, Memoir of the Rev. George Bellett . London: J. Masters, 1889, pp. 41–2, cited in Max S. Weremchuk, John Nelson Darby. Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1992, p. 237, f.n. 25).

What were Darby’s views on this matter? John Howard Goddard observes that Darby “held to the predestination of individuals and that he rejected the Arminian scheme that God predestinated those whom he foreknew would be conformed to the image of Christ.”  In his “Letter on Free-Will,” it is clear that Darby rejects this notion. “If Christ has come to save that which is lost, free-will has no longer any place.”  “I believe we ought to hold to the word;” continues Darby, “but, philosophically and morally speaking, free-will is a false and absurd theory. Free-will is a state of sin” (Ibid, p. 186).  Because Darby held to the bondage of the will, he logically follows through with belief in sovereign grace as necessary for salvation.

Such is the unfolding of this principle of sovereign grace, without which not one should would be saved, for none understand, none seek after God, not one of himself will come that he might have life. Judgment is according to works; salvation and glory are the fruit of grace (J. N. Darby, “Notes on Romans,” in The Collected Writings of J. N. Darby [Winschoten, Netherlands: H. L. Heijkoop, 1971], 26: 107–8).

Further evidence of Darby’s Calvinism is that on at least two occasions he was invited by non-dispensational Calvinists to defend Calvinism for Calvinists. One of Darby’s biographers, W. G. Turner spoke of his defense at Oxford University:

It was at a much earlier date (1831, I think) that F. W. Newman invited Mr. Darby to Oxford: a season memorable in a public way for his refutation of Dr. E. Burton’s denial of the doctrines of grace, beyond doubt held by the Reformers, and asserted not only by Bucer, P. Martyr, and Bishop Jewell, but in Articles IX—XVIII of the Church of England (W. G. Turner, John Nelson Darby: A Biography [London: C. A. Hammond, 1926], p. 45).

On another occasion Darby was invited to the city of Calvin—Geneva, Switzerland—to defend Calvinism. Turner declares, “He refuted the ‘perfectionism’ of John Wesley, to thedelight of the Swiss Free Church.”  Darby was awarded a medal of honor by the leadership of Geneva (Rowdon, Who Are The Brethren, pp. 205–07).

Still yet, when certain Reformed doctrines came under attack from within the Church in which he once served, “Darby indicates his approval of the doctrine of the Anglican Church as expressed in Article XVII of the Thirty-Nine Articles” (Goddard, “The Contribution of Darby,” p. 86).  On the subject of election and predestination, Darby said,

For my own part, I soberly think Article XVII to be as wise, perhaps I might say the wisest and best condensed human statement of the view it contains that I am acquainted with. I am fully content to take it in its literal and grammatical sense. I believe that predestination to life is the eternal purpose of God, by which, before the foundations of the world were laid, He firmly decreed, by His counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and destruction those whom He had chosen in Christ out of the human race, and to bring them, through Christ, as vessels made to honour, to eternal salvation (J. N. Darby, “The Doctrine of the Church of England at the Time of the Reformation,” in The Collected Writings of J. N. Darby [Winschoten, Netherlands: H. L. Heijkoop, 1971], 3:3).

Dispensationalism in America

 Darby and other Brethren brought dispensationalism to America through their many trips and writings that came across the Atlantic. “In fact the millenarian (or dispensational premillennial) movement,” declares George Marsden, “had strong Calvinistic ties in its American origins” (George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism: 1870–1925 [New York: Oxford University Press, 1980], p. 46). Reformed historianMarsden continues his explanation of how dispensationalism came to America:

This enthusiasm came largely from clergymen with strong Calvinistic views, principally Presbyterians and Baptists in the northern United States. The evident basis for this affinity was that in most respects Darby was himself an unrelenting Calvinist. His interpretation of the Bible and of history rested firmly on the massive pillar of divine sovereignty, placing as little value as possible on human ability (Ibid).

The post-Civil War spread of dispensationalism in North America occurred through the influence of key pastors and the Summer Bible Conferences like Niagara, Northfield, and Winona. Marsden notes:

The organizers of the prophetic movement in America were predominantly Calvinists. In 1876 a group led by Nathaniel West, James H. Brookes, William J. Eerdman, and Henry M. Parsons, all Presbyterians, together with Baptist A. J. Gordon, …These early gatherings, which became the focal points for the prophetic side of their leaders’ activities, were clearly Calvinistic. Presbyterians and Calvinist Baptists predominated, while the number of Methodists was extremely small… Such facts can hardly be accidental (Ibid).

Proof of Marsden’s point above is supplied by Samuel H. Kellogg—himself a Presbyterian and Princeton graduate—with his breakdown of the predominately dispensational Prophecy Conference in New York City in 1878. Kellogg classified the list of those that signed the call for the Conference as follows (Kellogg, “Premillennialism,” p. 25):

Reformed Episcopalians 10
Congregationalists 10
Methodists 6
Adventists 5
Lutheran 1
Presbyterians 31
United Presbyterians 10
Reformed (Dutch) 3
Episcopalians 10
Baptist 22

Kellogg concluded that “the proportion of Augustinians in the whole to be eighty-eight per cent” (Ibid, p. 254). “The significance of this is emphasized,” continues Kellogg, “by the contrasted fact that the Methodists, although one of the largest denominations of Christians in the country, were represented by only six names” (Ibid). Kellogg estimates that “analyses of similar gatherings since held on both sides of the Atlantic, would yield a similar result” (Ibid).

George Marsden divides Reformed Calvinism in America into three types: “doctrinalist, culturalist, and pietist” (George M. Marsden, “Introduction: Reformed and American,” in David F. Wells, ed., Reformed Theology in America: A History of Its Modern Development [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997], p. 3). He then explains that “Dispensationalism was essentially Reformed in its nineteenth-century origins and had in later nineteenth-century America spread most among revival-oriented Calvinists” (Ibid, p. 8). This is not to say that only revival-oriented Calvinists were becoming dispensational in their view of the Bible and eschatology. Ernest Sandeen lists at least one Old School Presbyterian—L. C. Baker of Camden, New Jersey—as an active dispensationalist during the later half of the nineteenth century (Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800–1930 [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970]).

Timothy Weber traces the rise of Dispensationalism as follows:

The first converts to dispensational premillennialism after the Civil War were pietistic evangelicals who were attracted to its Biblicism, its concern for evangelism and missions, and its view of history, which seemed more realistic than that of the prevailing postmillennialism. Most of the new premillennialists came from Baptist, New School Presbyterian, and Congregationalist ranks, which gave the movement a definite Reformed flavor. Wesleyan evangelicals who opposed premillennialism used this apparent connection to Calvinism to discredit it among Methodists and holiness people (Timothy P. Weber, “Premillennialism and the Branches of Evangelicalism,” in Donald W. Dayton and Robert K Johnston, editors, The Variety of American Evangelicalism [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press]).

It is safe to say that without the aid of Reformed Calvinists in America dispensational premillennialism would have had an entirely different history. Men like the St. Louis Presbyterian James H. Brookes (1830–1897), who was trained at Princeton Seminary, opened his pulpit to Darby and other speakers. Brookes, considered the American father of the pretribulational rapture in America, also discipled a new convert to Christ in the legendary C. I. Scofield (For more on the life of Brookes see Larry Dean Pettegrew, “The Historical and Theological Contributions of the Niagara Bible Conference to American Fundamentalism,” [Th.D. Dissertation from Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976]; David Riddle Williams, James H. Brookes: A Memoir, [St. Louis: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1897]). Others such as Presbyterians Samuel H. Kellogg (Princeton trained), E. R. Craven, who was a PrincetonCollege and Seminary graduate and Old School Presbyterian (Samuel Macauley Jackson, ed., The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952], 3: 296), and Nathaniel West provided great leadership in spreading dispensationalism in the late 1800s.

Scofield, Chafer, and Dallas Seminary

C. I. Scofield (1843–1921), Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871–1952), and Dallas Theological Seminary (est. 1924) were great vehicles for the spread of dispensationalism in America and throughout the world. Both Scofield and Chafer were ordained Presbyterian ministers. The “Scofield Reference Bible, is called by many the most effective tool for the dissemination of dispensationalism in America” (Larry V. Crutchfield, The Origins of Dispensationalism: The Darby Factor, [Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1992], preface).  Scofield was converted in mid-life and first discipled by James H. Brookes in St. Louis. He was ordained to the ministry at the First Congregational Church of Dallas in 1882 and transferred his ministerial credentials to the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. in 1908 (Daniel Reid, ed., Dictionary of Christianity in America [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990], pp. 1057–58). Thus, his ministry took place within a Calvinistic context (Chart of some of the biggest popularizers of Dispensationalism pictured left – Darby, Scofield, Chafer were Calvinists – not certain about the others).

Scofield was the major influence upon the development of Chafer’s theology. John Hannah notes that “it is impossible to understand Chafer without perceiving the deep influence of Scofield” (John David Hannah, “The Social and Intellectual History of the Origins of the Evangelical Theological College,” [Ph. D. Dissertation from The University of Texas at Dallas, 1988], pp. 118–19). In fact, “Chafer often likened this relationship to that of father and a son” (Jeffrey J. Richards, The Promise of Dawn: The Eschatology of Lewis Sperry Chafer, [Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1991], p. 23). This relationship grew out of Chafer’s study under Scofield at the Northfield Conference and from a life-changing experience in Scofield’s study of the First Congregational Church of Dallas in the early 1900s. Scofield toldChafer that his gifts were more in the field of teaching and not in the area of evangelism in which he had labored. “The two prayed together, and Chafer dedicated his life to a lifetime of biblical study” (Ibid).

Scofield and Chafer were two of the greatest American dispensationalists and both developed their theology from out of a Reformed background. Scofield is known for his study bible and Chafer for his Seminary and systematic theology. Jeffrey Richards describes Chafer’s theological characteristics as having “much in common with the entire Reformed tradition. Excluding eschatology, Chafer is similar theologically to such Princeton divines as Warfield, Hodge, and Machen. He claims such doctrines as the sovereignty of God, …total depravity of humanity, election, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints” (Ibid, p.3). C. Fred Lincoln describes Chafer’s 8-volume Systematic Theology as “unabridged, Calvinistic, premillennial, and dispensational” (C. F. Lincoln, “Biographical Sketch of the Author,” in Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology [Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948], 8:6).

Since its founding in 1924 as The Evangelical Theological College (changed to Dallas Theological Seminary in 1936), it has exerted a global impact on behalf of dispensationalism. Dallas Seminary’s primary founder was Chafer, but William Pettingill and W. H. Griffith-Thomas also played a leading role. Pettingill, like Chafer, was Presbyterian. Griffith Thomas, an Anglican, wrote one of the best commentaries on the Thirty-nine Articles of the Anglican Church (W. H. Griffith Thomas, The Principles of Theology: An Introduction to the Thirty-nine Articles [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979/1930]), which is still widely used by conservative Anglicans and Episcopalians today. The Thirty-nine Articles are staunchly Calvinistic. Both men were clearly Calvinists. The seminary, especially before World War II, considered itself Calvinistic. Chafer once characterized the school in a publicity brochure as “in full agreement with the Reformed Faith and itstheology is strictly Calvinistic.”  In a letter to Allan MacRae of Westminster Theological Seminary, Chafer said, “You probably know that we are definitely Calvinistic in our theology” (Cited in Ibid, p. 200). “Speaking of the faculty, Chafer noted in 1925 that they were ‘almost wholly drawn from the Southern and Northern Presbyterian Churches’“ (Cited in Ibid., p. 346). Further, Chafer wrote to a Presbyterian minister the following: “I am pleased to state that there is no institution to my knowledge which is more thoroughly Calvinistic nor more completely adjusted to this system of doctrine, held by the Presbyterian Church” (Ibid., p. 346, footnote 323).

Since so many early Dallas graduates entered the Presbyterian ministry, there began to be a reaction to their dispensational premillennialism in the 1930s. This was not an issue as to whether they were Calvinistic in their soteriology, but an issue over their eschatology. In the late 1930s, “Dallas Theological Seminary, though strongly professing to be a Presbyterian institution, was being severed from the conservative Presbyterian splinter movement” (Ibid, pp. 357-358).  In 1944, Southern Presbyterians issued a report from a committee investigating the compatibility of dispensationalism with the Westminster Confession of Faith. The committee ruled dispensationalism was not in harmony with the Church’s Confession. This “report of 1944 was a crippling blow to any future that dispensational premillennialism might have within Southern Presbyterianism” (Ibid, 364). This ruling effectively moved Dallas graduates away from ministry within Reformed denominations toward the independent Bible Church movement.

A Broadening of Dispensational Acceptance

Even though dispensationalism had made a modest penetration of Baptists as early as the 1880s through advocates such as J. R. Graves (See J. R. Graves, The Work of Christ Consummated in 7 Dispensations [Memphis: Baptist Book House, 1883]), a strong Calvinist, they were rebuffed by non-Calvinists until the mid-1920s when elements of dispensational theology began to be adopted by some Pentecostals in an attempt to answer the increasing threat of liberalism. Kraus explains:

Some teachers said explicitly that premillennialism was a bulwark against rationalist theology. Thus it is not surprising to find that the theological elements which became normative in dispensationalism ran directly counter to the developing emphasis of the “New Theology” (Kraus, Dispensationalism, p. 61).

Up to this point in history, those from the Arminian and Wesleyan traditions were more interested in present, personal sanctification issues, rather than the Calvinist attention in explaining God’s sovereign work in the progress of history. However, the rise of the fundamentalist/liberal controversy in the 1920s stirred an interest, outside of the realm of Calvinism, in defending the Bible against the anti-supernatural attacks of the liberal critics. Dispensationalism was seen as a conservative and Bible-centered answer to liberalism, not only within fundamentalism, but increasingly by Pentecostals and others as well. Timothy Weber notes:

But in time, dispensationalism had its devotees within the Wesleyan tradition as well. More radical holiness groups resonated with its prediction of declining orthodoxy and piety in the churches; and Pentecostals found in it a place for the outpouring of the Spirit in a “latter-day rain” before the Second Coming (Weber, “Premillennialism,” p. 15).

Latter Rain Pentecostalism

One of the first non-Calvinist groups to adopt a dispensational orientation can be found among some Pentecostals in the mid-1920s. This development must be understood against a backdrop of the Wesleyan and holiness heritage out of which Pentecostalism arose at the turn of last century. The American holiness movement of the 1800s was primarily postmillennial and if premillennial, then historical premillennial. They were not in any way dispensational.

Pentecostalism is at heart a supposed restoration of apostolic Christianity that is meant to bring in the latter rain harvest in preparation for Christ’s return. The phrase “latter rain” is taken from Joel 2:23 & 28 and sometimes James 5:7 as a label describing an end-time revival and evangelistic harvest expected by many charismatics and Pentecostals. Some time in the future, they believe the Holy Spirit will be poured out like never before. The latter rain teaching is developed from the agricultural model that a farmer needs rain at two crucial points in the growing cycle in order to produce a bountiful harvest. First, right after the seed is planted the “early rain” is needed to cause the seed to germinate in order to produce a healthy crop. Second, the crop needs rain right before the harvest, called the “latter rain,” so the grain will produce a high yield at harvest time, which shortly follows. Latter rain advocates teach that the Acts 2 outpouring of the Holy Spirit was the “early rain” but the “latter rain” outpouring of the Holy Spirit will occur at the end-times. This scenario is in conflict with dispensationalism that sees the current age ending, not in revival, but apostasy. It will be during the tribulation, after the rapture of the church, that God will use the miraculous in conjunction with the preaching of the gospel. Thus, latter rain theology fits within a postmillennial or historical premillennial eschatology, but it is not consistent with dispensationalism.

Many Christians are aware that the Pentecostal movement began on January 1, 1901 in Topeka, Kansas when Agnes Ozman (1870–1937) spoke in tongues under the tutelage of Charles Fox Parham (1873–1929). Yet, how many realize that in the “early years Movement’” (Donald Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), p. 27)? This is because Parham titled his report of the new movement as “The Latter Rain: The Story of the Origin of the Original Apostolic or Pentecostal Movements” (Dayton, Roots, pp. 22–23). Many are also aware that William J. Seymour (1870–1922) came under the influence of Parham in Houston, Texas in 1905 and then took the Pentecostal message to Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906, from where it was disseminated to the four-corners of the world. But, how many are also aware that he too spoke of these things in terms of a latter rain framework?

There is no doubt that the latter rain teaching was one of the major components—if not the major distinctive—in the theological formation of Pentecostalism. “Modern Pentecostalism is the ‘latter rain,’ the special outpouring of the Spirit that restores the gifts in the last days as part of the preparation for the ‘harvest,’ the return of Christ in glory,” says Donald Dayton (Ibid, 27).  David Wesley Myland (1858–1943) was one of the early Pentecostal leaders. He wrote the first distinctly Pentecostal hymn entitled, “The Latter Rain” in 1906. The “first definitive Pentecostal theology that was widely distributed, the Latter Rain Covenant” appeared in 1910 (Stanley M. Burgess and Gary B. McGee, editors, Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988], p. 632).  Myland argued in his book that “now we are in the Gentile Pentecost, the first Pentecost started the church, the body of Christ, and this, the second Pentecost, unites and perfects the church into the coming of the Lord” (Cited by Dayton, Roots, p. 27).

Dayton concludes that the “broader Latter Rain doctrine provided a key…premise in the logic of Pentecostalism” (Ibid).  In spite of having such a key place in the thinking of early Pentecostalism, “the latter rain doctrine did tend to drop out of Pentecostalism” in the 1920s “only to reappear, however, in the radical Latter Rain revitalization movement of the 1940s” (Ibid, 43). One of reasons that latter rain teachings began to wane in the mid-1920s was that as Pentecostalism became more institutionalized it needed an answer to the inroads of liberalism. As noted above, dispensationalism was seen helpful in these areas.

The Latter Rain teaching developed out of the Wesleyan-Holiness desire for both individual (sanctification) and corporate (eschatological) perfection. Thus, early perfectionist teachers like John Wesley, Charles Finney, and Asa Mahan were all postmillennial and social activists. Revivalism was gagged by carrying the burden of both personal and public change or perfection. It follows that one who believes in personal perfection should also believe that public perfection is equally possible. Those who believe the latter are postmillennialists. After all, if God has given the Holy Spirit in this age to do either, then why not the other? If God can perfect individuals, then why not society?

However, as the 1800s turned into the 1900s, social change was increasingly linked with Darwin’s theory of evolution. The evolutionary rationale was then used to attack the Bible itself. To most English-speaking Christians it certainly appeared that society was not being perfected, instead it was in decline. Critics of the Bible said that one needed a Ph.D. from Europe before the Bible could be organized and understood. It was into this climate that dispensationalism was introduced into America and probably accounts for its speedy and widespread acceptance by many conservative Christians. To many Bible believing Christians, Dispensationalism made a great deal more sense of the world than did the anti-supernaturalism conclusions of liberalism.

Dispensationalism, in contrast to Holiness teaching, taught that the world and the visible church were not being perfected, instead Christendom was in apostasy and heading toward judgment. God is currently in the process of calling out His elect through the preaching of the gospel. Christian social change would not be permanent, nor would it lead to the establishment of Christ’s kingdom before His return. Instead a cataclysmic intervention was needed (Christ’s second coming), if society was to be transformed.

Early Pentecostalism was born out of a motivation and vision for restoring to the church apostolic power lost over the years. Now she was to experience her latter-day glory and victory by going out in a blaze of glory and success. On the other hand, dispensationalism was born in England in the early 1800s bemoaning the latter-day apostasy and ruin of the church. Nevertheless, within Pentecostalism, these two divergent views were merged. Thus, denominations like the Assemblies of God and Foursquare Pentecostals moved away from doctrines like the latter rain teaching and generated official positions against those teachings. It was in the mid-1920s that dispensationalism began to be adopted by non-Calvinists and spread throughout the broader world of Conservative Protestantism.

Dispensationalism appealed to the average person with its emphasis that any average, interested person could understand the Bible without the enlightened help of a liberal education. Once a student understood God’s overall plan for mankind, as administered through the dispensations, he would be able to see God’s hand in history. Thus, dispensational theology made a lot of sense to both Pentecostal and evangelical believers at this point in history.

Post War Development

Fundamentalism/Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism- Charismatic movements spread rapidly in America after the second World War and since dispensationalism was attached to them, it also grew rapidly. Many baby-boomers within Pentecostal and Charismatic churches grew up with dispensationalism and the pre-trib rapture as part of their doctrinal framework. Thus, it would not occur to them that dispensationalism was not organic to their particular brands of restoration theology. Further, as non-Calvinist Fundamentalism grew after the War, especially within independent Baptist circles, there was an even greater disconnect of dispensational distinctives from their Calvinist roots.

We have seen that the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement has a tradition of both Latter Rain/restoration teachings as well as the later rise of a dispensational stream. However, these are contradictory teachings that appear to be on a collision course.

Either the church age is going to end with perfection and revival or it will decline into apostasy, preparing the way for the church to become the harlot of Revelation during the tribulation. It is not surprising to see within the broader Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, since the mid 1980s, a clear trend toward reviving Latter Rain theology and a growing realization that it is in logical conflict with their core doctrine. Many, who grew up on Dispensational ideas and the pre-trib rapture, are dumping these views as the leaven of Latter Rain theology returns to prominence within Pentecostal/Charismatic circles.

Pentecostal/Charismatic leaders like Earl Paulk  and Tommy Reid, to name just a couple among many, are attempting to articulate the tension over the struggles of two competing systems. They are opting for the dismissal of dispensational elements from a consistent Pentecostal/Charismatic and Latter Rain theology. Tommy Reid observes:

This great Last Day revival was often likened in the preaching of Pentecostal pioneer to the restoration promised to Israel in the Old Testament. Whereas Dispensationalists had relegated all of these prophetic passages of restoration only to physical Israel, Pentecostal oratory constantly referred to these prophecies as having a dual meaning, restoration for physical Israel, AND restoration for the present day church. WE WERE THE PEOPLE OF THAT RESTORATION, ACCORDING TO OUR THEOLOGY (Tommy Reid, Kingdom Now But Not Yet. Buffalo: IJN Publishing, 1988, pp. xv-xvi. [emphasis in original]).

At the same time, the purge of Dispensationalism from Reformed Christianity, begun in the late 1930s, has been pretty much completed. Typical of this polarization is found in books like John Gerstner’s Wrongly Dividing The Word Of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing The Word Of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism. Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers, 1991). While admitting on the one hand that a “strange thing about Dispensationalism is that it seems to have had its strongest advocates in Calvinistic churches” (Ibid, 106). Gerstner so strongly opposes dispensationalism, that it has blinded him to the true Calvinist nature of such a God-centered theology. Gerstner claims that he and other Reformed theologians have raised “strong questions about the accuracy of dispensational claims to be Calvinistic” (Ibid, pp. 105-47). It appears that since Dispensationalism arose within the Reformed tradition, as a rival to Covenant Theology, some want to say that they cannot logically be Calvinistic. This is what Gerstner contends. However, in spite of Gerstner’s sophistry on this issue,he cannot wipe out the historical fact that dispensationalism was birthed within the biblical mindset of a clear theocentric theology and by those who held strongly to soteriological Calvinism. The fact that Dispensationalism arose within a Reformed context is probably the reason why the Reformed community has led the way in the criticism of Dispensational theology.

Conclusion

The purpose of this article is to remind modern Dispensationalists and Calvinists of the historical roots of Dispensationalism. It is precisely because Dispensationalism has penetrated almost every form of Protestantism that many today may be surprised to learn of its heritage. In our day of Postmodern irrationalism, where it is considered a virtue to NOT connect the dots of one’s theology, we need to be reminded that the theology of the Bible is a seamless garment. It all hangs together. If one starts pulling at a single thread, the whole cloth is in danger of unraveling.

I personally think that if systematic Dispensationalism is rightly understood then it still logically makes sense only within a theocentric and soteriologically Calvinistic theology. After all, Dispensationalism teaches that it is GOD who is ruling His household, as administered through the various dispensations of history. However, the reality is that Dispensationalism, or elements of Dispensationalism (i.e., pretribulationism, futurism, etc.), have been disseminated throughout a wide diversity of Protestant traditions. Dispensationalism is best seen as a system of theology that sees views God as the Sovereign ruler of heaven and earth; man as a rebellious vice-regent (along with some angels); Jesus Christ is the hero of history as He is saves some by His Grace; history as a lesson in the outworking of God’s glory being displayed to both heaven and earth. Dispensationalism is a theology that I believe is properly derived from biblical study and lets God be God (Article Adapted from Vol. 4: Conservative Theological Journal Volume 4. 2000 (12) (127). Fort Worth, TX: Tyndale Theological Seminary).

About the Author: Dr. Thomas Ice is the Executive Director of The Pre-Tribulational Research Center. He founded The Center in 1994 with Dr. Tim LaHaye to research, teach, and defend the pretribulational rapture and related Bible prophecy doctrines. The Center is currently located on the campus of Liberty University in Virginia.

Dr. Ice has authored or co-authored about 30 books, written hundreds of articles, and is a frequent conference speaker. He has served as a pastor for 15 years. Dr. Ice has a B.A. from Howard Payne University, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, a Ph.D. from Tyndale Theological Seminary, and is a Doctoral Candidate at The University of Wales in Church History. Dr. Ice lives in Omaha, Nebraska with his wife Janice. Two of their three boys are college graduates and the third is currently in college.

 

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Book Review: Continuity and Discontinuity edited by John S. Feinberg

Great Discussion of the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments

This book contains various perspectives from leading theologians on issues related to that which continues and discontinues from the Old Testament into the New Testament.

Half of the contributors in this book would consider themselves “Covenant Theologians” – including contributions from O. Palmer Robertson, Willem VanGemeren, Knox Chamblin, Bruce K. Waltke, Fred H. Klooster,  Martin H. Woudstra, and Sam Storms. The other half would lean dispensational or in the discontinuity camp – including essays from John S. Feinberg, Paul D. Feinberg, Robert L. Saucy, Walter C. Kaiser, Allen P. Ross, and Douglas J. Moo.

The book is a tribute to S. Lewis Johnson– long time Bible teacher at Dallas Theological Seminary and Teaching pastor at Believer’s Chapel in Dallas, Texas (he went to be with the Lord on January 28, 2004). The beginning of the book and ending of the book contain some well written tributes from Sam Storms and John Sproule to Johnson and expound upon his outstanding attributes as a scholar, exegete of God’s Word, pastor, mentor, friend, and southern gentlemen – he was born in Birmingham, Alabama.

After a wonderful historical essay on the debate of continuity and discontinuity by Rodney Peterson the format of the book addresses issues related to six key areas: 1) Theological Systems and the Testaments; 2) Hermeneutics and the Testaments; 3) Salvation and the Testaments; 4) The Law and the Testaments; 5) The People of God and the Testaments; and 6) Kingdom Promises and the Testaments. Each of these six topics contains an essay from a continuity perspective followed by an essay from a discontinuity perspective.

Here are some of the issues addressed in the book:

Are Christians to see ethical dilemmas such as capital punishment and abortion enforced today?

Are Israel and the Church one or distinct today?

How do believers relate to the Old Testament law in practice today?

One of the points that became increasingly clear to me as I read this book was that the more one moves in the discontinuity direction, the more dispensational he is likely to become, and the more one moves in the direction of continuity, the more covenantal he will become.

This book is simply outstanding. It’s not an easy read – but well worth the effort. In my experience most people from both sides of the continuity/discontinuity continuum have a lot to learn from one another and this book helps people in either camp come closer to the center in balancing how to effectively understand and interpret the two Testaments of the Scriptures. I highly recommend this book to help you become a more effective interpreter of the Scriptures and lover of Jesus Christ at the center of it all.

 

 

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