Skip to comments.My Journey Out of Dispensationalism
Posted on 10/20/2009 8:00:19 AM PDT by Gamecock
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 whofor twelve yearspreached 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,
“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 ones 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.
As I worked through the exegesis of the Abrahamic Covenant and the hermeneutical issues surrounding it, I came to this conclusion:
Through an inductive study, this paper has arrived at a position that approximates covenant theology, namely, that that covenants confirm and explicate the program by which God redeems a people for Himself. It has been established that Israel and the church need to be perceived as sub-categories of a larger concept, i.e. the people of God. The Abrahamic covenant is not the beginning of the people of God, but rather Gods redemptive means, after the rebellion at Babel and the dispersion, to reclaim a fallen world to Himself. The Abrahamic covenant needs to be viewed in its relation to Gods purposes for the entire world, not simply His purposes for a nation. The Abrahamic covenant needs to viewed in light of the inauguration of eschatological times with the first advent of Jesus Christ, as well as the consummation of eschatology at the second advent (Davis 109).
Since those years at Westminster, I have continued to think about these issues and have become more and more convinced that exegesis and biblical theology do not support the sine qua non of dispensationalism (i.e., the distinction between Israel and the church). Since Christ is the final and fullest revelation of God, I now see that the Old Testament anticipated Christ and finds its interpretation and fulfillment in Christ.
In the New Testamentapart from well-debated text in Romans 11:25-27there is not even a hint of a future restoration of the nation of Israel to the land.
Of the seventy four references to Abraham in the New Testament, not one clearly focuses on the earthly elements of the covenant. Even the acceptance of a mass conversion of Israelites at some future time does not demand a return to a former order of things.
Take, for example, the Apostle Pauls discussion of the relationship of the law to saving faith, in Galatians 3.
He introduces Abraham as a paradigm of saving faith and of inclusion in the promises of God. In the course of his discussion, the apostle makes interpretive statements based on his understanding of the Genesis passages. These reflect on the Abrahamic covenant. These statements are as follows:
1) – Those who believe are children of Abraham (Gal. 3:7).
2) -The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: All nations will be blessed through you (Gal. 3:8).
3) - Those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham (Gal. 3:9).
4) – He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:14).
5) – The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say and to seeds, meaning many people, but and to your seed, meaning one person, who is Christ (Gal. 3:16).
6) - But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe (Gal. 3:22).
Paramount in these verses is the redemptive significance of the Abrahamic covenant as it finds its consummation in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ, as the quintessential seed of Abraham, is both the guarantor and inheritor of the promises of the covenant.
Relationship with Christ, established by emulating the faith of Abraham, guarantees ones participation in the promises of the covenant. It is not the keeping of the law or physical descent from Abraham that constitutes one as a child of Abraham, but rather faith in Jesus Christ.
These verses sanction the redemptive nature of the Abrahamic covenant. They confirm that covenant as the unifying factor between Jews and Gentiles, and they substantiate the view that there is one people of God of all ages that share the covenants of Scripture which find their consummation in Christ.
Strikingly, Paul perceives redemption in Christ to be the dominant, though not exclusive, feature of the Abrahamic covenant. He finds the consummation of the covenant in Christ and participation in the covenant to be predicated on relationship to Christ. Though, admittedly, I argue from silence here, the material nature of the promises to Abraham appears to be somewhat idealized in Christ. Though not necessarily removing those material elements of the Abrahamic covenant, Pauls treatment certainly places them in a new light.
Consequently, due to the advent of Christ as the seed of Abraham, the New Testament sees a semi-realized fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant in New Testament believers and the church and an ultimate eternal fulfillment in the New Heavens and Earth for all those who are seed of Abraham by faith.
In Christ we have our landedness as we are blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ, (Eph. 1:3) and are assured that we have an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade kept in heaven (1 Pet. 1:3).
The New Testament texts that consider the question, Who are the legitimate heirs of the Abrahamic Covenant? unequivocally answer, All of those who are in Christ Jesus.
In reference to the unity of believing Jews and Gentiles, George N. H. Peters cogently concludes:
Both elect are the seed, the children of Abraham; both sets of branches are on the same stock, on the same root, on the same olive tree; both constitute the same Israel of God, the members of the same body, fellow-citizens of the same commonwealth; both are Jews inwardly (Romans 2:29), and of the true circumcision (Phil. 3:3), forming the same peculiar people, holy nation, and royal priesthood; both are interested in the same promises, covenants, and kingdom; both inherit and realize the same blessings at the same time (Peters 404).
In conclusion, may we all continue to do theology rooted in humility, exegesis, biblical theology, and community. Though I do not agree with many of Clark Pinnocks theological conclusions, I do appreciate his delightful approach to the theological enterprise. He said,
I approach theology in a spirit of adventure, being always curious about what I may find. For me theology is like a rich feast, with many dishes to enjoy and delicacies to taste. It is like a centuries-old conversation that I am privileged to take part in, a conversation replete with innumerable voices to listen to . More like a pilgrim than a settler, I tread the path of discovery and do my theology en route (quoted in Grenz 134).
Davis, John P. A Critical Examination of the Use of the Abrahamic Covenant in Dispensationalism. Master of Theology Thesis, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990.
Grenz, Stanley J. Renewing the Center. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000.
Peters, George N. H. The Theocratic Kingdom. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, Kregel Publications, 1952.
Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. Dispensationalism Today. Chicago: Moody Press, 1965.
If you find this ping-worthy.....
Interesting post! Our son is praying about what his master’s thesis title will be...as it will determine his studies the next 1 &1/2 yrs.
Dispensationalism is fading because new generations of Christians find no novelty in the existence of Israel as a nation.
It’s no longer “news” to them.
“I approach theology in a spirit of adventure, being always curious about what I may find. For me theology is like a rich feast, with many dishes to enjoy and delicacies to taste.” (quoted in Grenz 134).
Isn’t it amazing that there are still so many dishes and delicacies to enjoy in God’s word? I disagree with Solomon that there is nothing new under the sun. I think this “book” which has been around for quite a while still contains so many treasures still undiscovered.
Still, a bit of clarification might be derived from looking at the true meaning of the word commonly translated as “church,” or “the church.” I submit a more proper rendering would be “the outcalled” of God, not the church. Is this distinction important? Absolutely!
Furthermore, I am always amazed at how people make such a big deal about labeling something or someone a “dispensationalist.” Isn’t a dispensation simply a method of dealing with? An adminstration, as it were. Doesn’t God have different ways of dealing with people, especially at different times?
Not sure what he expected to happen by persuing this course of action. A Covenant theologian doesn't develop his OT theology based on the OT text ... he bases it on his New Testament understanding of the OT text.
I will grant that Poythres is the only non-dispensationalist that seems to make a serious effort to dialog and understand dispensationalism. I speak as one who went the opposite direction ... from being brought up in the Reformed camp and eventually embracing the Baptist tradition.
Your comment that “new generations of Christians find no novelty in the existence of Israel as a nation” is very interesting to me, and unfortunately it is quite accurate.
Does the present day nation of Israel, as mandated by the corrupt, man-made United Nations, constitute the Israel of God? Or, is God going to do the establishing? Just wondering what you think.
Good post. Thanks.
oikonomia = administration = dispensation
Very Biblical words..............
The prophet Jeremiah says the re-gathering will be first in unbelief, then God will change them (the Jews) to belief in Him.
Or rather, based on the OT text alone . Covenant theology properly understood rightly identifies the relationship between the testaments.
It is the dispensationalist who gets much of their theology, esp. their views on prophecy, from the OT text taken in isolation from the NT.
from being brought up in the Reformed camp and eventually embracing the Baptist tradition.
Thats an odd connection since most of the Baptists I know are reformed and covenantal and utterly reject dispensationalism. The historic Baptist position certainly was non-dispensational, although many have clearly fallen from those earlier days.
Indeed, when properly understood. I.e.,:
5. This covenant [of grace] was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old testament.The designation "dispensation" had to do with how the one covenant of grace was administered before Christ vs. after Christ. Before Christ it was administered via temporary promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, etc. After Christ, who is the substance of the covenant, the shadows gave way to the reality. We look back on the broken body and shed blood, and remember Christs work in the sacraments of baptism and the Lords Supper.
6. Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.
Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 7
According the WCF, I can say that Im a dispensationalist without having to acknowledge all the modern day, futurist nonsense that term has come to mean. Unfortunately, it would cause confusion among the biblically and theologically illiterate. Its much like using the entirely appropriate designation catholic. The knee-jerk reaction from the know-nothings would be immediate.
The premise of this article misapplis Ryrie. Ryrie clearly believed in remnant Israel ALSO being within the Church. In the same way as Israel included the “remnant” is Elijah’s day and both were “Israel”, so will that distinction hold toward the end.
However, Israel “will not see Him again until (they) say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” And then, “all Israel shall be saved.” as Paul says.
Yes, He will plead with them (as an attorney pleads his case) in the wilderness (or place of separation) where He can deal with them directly, and without interruptions.
Where does Ryrie use that sort of language?
However, Israel will not see Him again until (they) say, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. And then, all Israel shall be saved. as Paul says.
Which points out how untenable the classic dispensationalist view is. If your claim about Ryrie is accurate, they would apparently equivocate on the term Israel and then chastise non-dispensationalists who do the same thing (at least in their mind).
Tell us all plainly, what does the phrase, And so all Israel shall be saved mean in actuality?
C&V, sil vous plait.
"For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled." (Luke 21:22)
It means the remnant shall be saved.
You didn’t ping Gamey, and he’s the one who started the thread.
You haven’t read Ryrie have you?
Did you know that the Greek word for 'pearl' is "margarita"?
oikonomia = administration = dispensation Very Biblical words..............
Yes,and they all have the same meaning.
Help me to understand. If I am dealing with you in a certain manner (administration, dispensation, etc.) then I should be consistent and act in accordance with the established set of ground rules. It seems to me that grace and the law are mutually exclusive, that is, I can’t deal with you in grace (undeserved favor) and also be dealing with you in the law in the same set of circumstances.
So, I can’t see how a covenant of grace can be administered in the time of law (by law, I understand to mean “rendering judgment,” which I understand is the purpose of the law).