Some Challenges To Dispensationalism
Posted by Job on July 29, 2009
HT PJ Miller.
My friends have often heard me say, “The more I read my Bible the less dispensational I become.” This statement comes from someone who was spiritually nurtured in churches with dispensational theology, who graduated from a Christian university steeped in dispensational theology, who received his first graduate degree from a dispensational seminary, and who—for twelve years—preached sermons that reflected dispensational theology. For the first sixteen years of my Christian life, I rarely questioned the fundamental distinctions of dispensational theology. What are those distinctions? In his discussion of what he called the “sine qua non of dispensationalism,” Ryrie asserted:
A dispensationalist keeps Israel and the Church distinct … This is probably the most basic theological test of whether or not a man is a dispensationalist, and it is undoubtedly the most practical and conclusive (Ryrie 44-45).
Later he concluded, “the essence of dispensationalism, then, is the distinction between Israel and the Church” (Ryrie 47).
As a dispensationalist I studied my Bible with the understanding that God had dual and separate plans for Israel and the church. I understood this “church age” to be somewhat parenthetical until God resumed His plan with the nation of Israel. I believed that the Abrahamic covenant and all the other Old Testament covenants were essentially for national Israel, and that only the soteriological benefits of the covenants belonged to the church.
As I continued to pastor and preach, I realized that my training in the Old Testament was weak. I decided to pursue a Master of Theology in Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary. My dispensational comrades in ministry assured me that Westminster would ruin my theology. I suppose many of them believe that has happened. Nevertheless, I was drawn to Westminster primarily because Bruce Waltke was teaching there. I had read books and articles by Dr. Waltke and had profited immensely from them.
While at Westminster I had the privilege of learning from Vern Poythress, Tremper Longman, and Raymond Dillard, along with Bruce Waltke. At first I listened as an antagonist, but I was soon won over by their personal graciousness and their commitment to Scripture. I began to experience discomfort as I realized that my commitment to dispensationalism was often unyielding, even when contradicted by the results of exegesis. These words from the introduction to my Th.M thesis summarize my response at that time:
Exegesis often eviscerates one’s theological presuppositions. When a theological bulwark withstands the penetration of biblical exegesis, its tenets remain secure. However, if its walls crumble beneath the weight of incisive and precise exegesis, then one must abandon the fortress and construct a better one (Davis, 1990, 1).
During the course of my study at Westminster, Bruce Waltke was my faculty advisor. I was privileged to have a number of personal discussions with him regarding the uneasiness I felt in questioning dispensationalism. As I considered what to research for my Th.M thesis, he suggested a topic that would be beneficial to me on my journey and helpful to others. I wrote “A Critical Evaluation of the Use of the Abrahamic Covenant in Dispensationalism.” The writing of that thesis opened a door and gave me a gentle push toward my eventual departure from dispensationalism. Rest of the article continued (click here)
Now for article two.
As many of you are no doubt aware, I was raised a Dispensationalist. When I first became convinced that the teachings of Dispensationalism are not supported by an honest assessment of scriptures, I determined to change my thinking on the topic, and so be done with the issue summarily. Such were my intentions, but I found, much to my surprise, that the roots of Dispensationalism are so deep, and they affect so profoundly one’s way of thinking about virtually every theological issue, that the task of rejecting one’s own Dispensationally-flavored way of viewing the Bible is no simple task. It is a monumental struggle that requires years of deep, intense, Spirit-reliant searching of the scriptures. As I embarked on this long process, I slowly became aware of a vast array of manners in which a thorough grounding in the Dispensational ideal tends to influence one’s beliefs and emphases. This in itself was shocking to me; but what came as the severest shock of all was the reflection that virtually every one of these Dispensationally-derived misunderstandings tended in some way towards the eclipse of Christ as the sum and substance of every redemptive promise and reality, the One for whom, to whom, and by whom are all things, the One who sums up all of reality, brings all things under his feet, and is in himself all the fullness of the Godhead. Let me be clear here: I have no doubt that many, if not all Dispensationalists would affirm in theory the Christo-centrism of all reality; nevertheless, the fact remains that in practice they deny the explicit Christ-centeredness of many times, persons, and realities in history – and not just minor, inconsequential persons and things, but those that stand out as epoch-defining and historically-pivotal.
I am indeed grateful for the many resources available today which demonstrate scripturally that Dispensationalism is in error. I think that our current need is not so much to argue that Dispensationalism is wrong – although such efforts will certainly continue to be helpful – as it is to show just how grave and far-reaching the errors really are. In contribution to this latter goal, I have reproduced a portion of an interaction that I had some time ago with one of my Dispensational friends. My hope is that the preceding comments and following correspondence will not be unduly inflammatory or derogatory in nature, but that they will be used by God “for the equipping of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edification of the body of Christ, until we all attain, in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man…” (Ephesians 4:12-13). We all retain errors of some sort in our striving after the full knowledge of Christ and his great work: God grant that such dialogues between fellow-believers in Christ may be useful in the doctrinal maturation of each one of us!