Death of Dispensationalism

October 20, 2009 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Eschatology | 16 Comments

          I have noted at times in this blog my journey from a Dispensational, pre-Millennium, pre-Tribulation theology of the end times to a Historical, pre-Millennium, post-Tribulation theology.  You can read those articles by clicking the Eschatology link here or in the right column.  In this article I have simply listed one of the key reasons I am not a Dispensationalist any longer.  For Dispensational theology to work, one must believe a radical separation between Israel and the church as distinct peoples of God.  However, I don’t believe the scriptures make that distinction.

          The death of Dispensational theology is found in these words of Paul:  Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’  Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.  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.’  So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (Galatians 3:6-9)   And “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29)

          I don’t think it could be more clear.  Those who believe are children of Abraham.  If you believe you are Abraham’s seed.  In fact, Abraham “is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.” (Romans 4:11)  We who believe in Jesus are Israel.

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  1. And the parallel passage in Romans 4. I believe that either passage is the death of Dispensationalism. There is ONE people of God, not two.

  2. I find it odd that the natural implication from your post is that untold numbers of dispensational theologians have never seen these passages? – including not a few recognized scholars such as Lewis S. Chafer, Dwight Pentecost, Charles Ryrie, Stan Toussaint, Roy Zuck, John Walvoord, Mark Bailey, Tom Constable, John Whitcomb, John Davis, Homer Kent, Alva J. McClain, Robert Lightner, Elliott Johnson, John Master, Rod Decker, and on and on.

    And isn’t it at least a bit condescending to present a very well-known passage as the death knell for dispensationalism and use that passage to dismiss thousands of pages of scholarly biblical exegesis?

    Dave James
    The Alliance for Biblical Integrity

  3. Dave thanks for reading and for your comment. I never have intended anything to be condescending. Nor have I intended this short statement to be the final word on this matter. I have, you would have noticed if you’d read all I’ve written about this, been recording, occasionally over a period of months, my own theological journey. This statement is my experience and thought in this matter and not an answer to what you call “untold numbers of dispensational theologians” and their scholarly biblical exegesis.
    I have read some of the very ones you mention, but I no longer find their basis of interpretation an accurate one. Passages like the ones mentioned here are just some of the reasons why. For me they were one of the deciding factors in my journey away from Dispensationalism; the final one for that matter – thus the death of it in my own theology. This is in no way condescending.
    You should know as much as anyone that I could put up far more theologians, and their scholarly exegesis, on the other side of the argument, theologians in the Covenant and Kingdom schools of thought whose traditions go back much longer than the recent belief in Dispensational theology.
    Your own website, states “We believe that the consistent application of a biblical hermeneutic necessarily leads to a classic dispensational view of the outworking of God’s program in history.” I appreciate the earlier part of your statement on biblical authority and am in full agreement. I also appreciate your honest upfront presentation as to where you stand on this matter. However, one must wonder why, if that statement is true, it took so many centuries to discover it. That could also be considered condescending to such great theologians as Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, etc. etc.
    I won’t take it as such. I’ll just appreciate your statement as to where you stand and choose to disagree. I invite you to do the same with me.

  4. Glenn,

    I apologize for making it sound as if I thought you were intending to be condescending. I guess it is a question as to whether something can actually be condescending if that isn’t the intent – and probably not – so I should withdraw that.

    And my intent was only to comment on the matter of this passage being noted as “the death knell” for dispensationalism – and I think we would both agree that this is neither the only nor final word on the matter. Apart from your personal journey, which I appreciate and respect, I guess I would suggest that it is at least an unfortunate choice of words and out-of-context (which I know you didn’t intend) is arguably somewhat misleading.

    I do find it interesting that one of the first cards that is inevitably played by almost everyone is the one concerning the relative “youth” of dispensationalism. That is a two-edged sword that has no inherent validity and worse, puts Covenant, Amil and even Protestant theology as a whole on its own chopping block – for there was a time when they were younger than dispensational theology is now. One could ask why it took so long to discover it. If this were a valid argument, then the youth of the doctrine of justification by faith alone doctrine could certainly have been legitimately used at the Council of Trent. However, in this case, a doctrine that had been largely lost for centuries was “rediscovered” and found to be biblical – even though it was formally condemned as heretical by the older, established church.

    Of all the arguments, this historical / philosophical one is most assuredly among the weakest.

    Whether or not one agrees with the conclusions, at the very least it should be conceded that there is a biblical case to be made for pre-millennialism – which would mean then that dispensational theology was not really young theology, but rather rejuvenated theology.

  5. Thanks again.
    I must agree that the title of this post is misleading. I apologize for that.
    I will stand by my argument for the age of Dispensationalism. I distinguish Dispensational theology from pre-Mil theology, because they are different. There have been many who take the thousand-year period of Revelation 20 literally, yet are not Dispensational in their understanding. I am one of those. That is why I call myself “Historical pre-Mil” as oppopsed to “Dispensational pre-Mil.”
    By the way, those names are not mine. I first found them in Clouse’s popular book, The Meaning of the Millennium, where they were pressented as differing theologies, even though they have very similar views of the Millennium period.
    Thanks for your stand on bibilcal inerrancy and absolute truth.
    Blessings!

  6. I understand those distinctions in views – and read Clouse’s book years ago (it may still be on my bookshelf).

    Even though Historical Pre-Mil is not the same as Dispensational Pre-Mil, the “age argument” issue still stands. It still seems that can’t be used unless one is willing to abandon Protestant soteriology on the same grounds.

    I think as theologians who strive to be biblicists (in the best sense of the term) I don’t think historical theology (which the age argument is) should serve as anything more than as a reference point and sometimes predict trajectories – but can never be considered to inform or even confirm biblical theology.

    Food for thought.

    Dave

  7. Once again your simplistic analysis of scripture highlights your error.
    My experience has been of men of God who have saturated there minds in the whole of the canon of scripture and who clearly see the distinction between the Church and Israel.If I and others can see it, I’m sure you eventually will.
    My humble advice is to read the Word with the enabling of the Holy Spirit who will reveal the truth to you.
    In Christ.

  8. Ken,

    Thanks for reading. I appreciate your desire to understand the whole canon of scripture.

    But I must differ with you on what you call simplistic. My view is simple, but it is not simplistic. For five hundred years the goal of those who follow Reformation principles has been a simple understanding of the scriptures. The plain, clear meaning of a passage is the one we should take as the best one, unless that understanding would contradict of confuse some other plain teaching. My statement here is not simplistic, nor is it uninformed. It has been a journey of 20 years of exegetical preaching and teaching through the scripture that has moved me exactly the opposite direction that you describe, for I once would have called myself a dispensationalist.

    Your experience may be of men who see a distinction between Israel and the church, but your experience is limited only to the last 150 years and only to North America. Centuries of men, who have “saturated there minds in the whole of the canon of scripture” have not seen the distinction you mention, rather they have taught that there is only one spiritual people of God in history. The mistake here is the same one Mr James made above. He lists numerous theologians who hold dispensational theology, but claims the “youth” argument against it doesn’t stand, which is the same as saying, “I can line up numerous biblical scholars from the past century to support my position, but you can’t line up biblical scholars from the centuries prior to support yours.”

    One other note on the youth of dispensational theology. Mr. James argues that such a position would eliminate Protestant theologies like salvation by grace alone, but the Reformation was a rediscovery of what earlier biblical scholars had known and taught, not a new theology. That’s why the Reformers, Calvin in particular, liked to quote the Church Fathers, to prove their theology was not new at all. Dispensationalism is quite another thing; it was not a rediscovery but a new idea.

    I do agree with Mr. James that the real argument must take place on biblical grounds rather than historical grounds, but the arguments presented against this blog have been historical arguments. That’s why I’ve answered with historical argument.

    My readers will note that the question remains unanswered: If it is so clear in scripture, why didn’t any of the early Fathers or any of the Reformers see it? Usually an “argument from silence” is a weak argument, but this time it speaks volumes because it is those of a dispensational persuasion saying that good study “necessarily” leads to a dispensational view.

  9. Let me throw in my two cents. I too was raised in a dispensational church and left it in my early twenties as I studied Calvinism and became convinced of the latter and not of the former. But in my studies since then, I am convinced by reading through Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Hebrews, and 1 Peter, that there is one people of God, not two. That there is a parenthesis in God’s plan for salvation history, but it’s not the church. The church IS GOD’S PLAN. The Mosaic covenant was the parenthesis. Notice how often Paul skips over the Mosaic Covenant and returns to the Abrahamic Covenant. Notice how true Jews in Paul’s writings are Christians, not physical descendants of Abraham. Notice how the true descendants of Abraham are believers in Jesus Christ, not physical Jews.

    I just finished reading John Piper’s sections 27 & 28 in Taste and See where he makes the same point with more Scriptural backing than I’ve done here. (I’m at work.) I would urge you to read it.

    Lastly, we can’t use the number of people who’ve defended a position to justify holding it. Otherwise we would all be infant baptists – I’m pretty sure that they win the numbers game. That doesn’t make the position correct. All of us hold incorrect doctrines, just not knowingly! Hopefully our final authority is the Scriptures and what can be logically derived from them, not our own theological traditions.

  10. Very interesting comments…

    My observations of this topic can be applied to these posts as well as most discussions of this topic.

    There are those who interpret and analyze dispensationalism in light of the bible….and those who interpret and analyze the bible in light of dispensationalism.

  11. Well said, Dave. I find many who hold to Dispensationalism doing exactly what you say. It becomes the mode of operation rather than the conclusion of biblical exegesis. I must admit that I am a Calvinist in my theology, and I find many other Calvinists who do the same thing. The “five points” become the lens through which everything else is interpreted. Yet, true Calvinism isn’t even “five points;” it’s about the glory of God in all things.
    Our theology must be derived from the clear teaching of scripture. Thus the beginning point of this post.

  12. “That dispensationalists attempt to explain away the many scripture passages which clearly teach or assume the essential unity of Israel and the church (see, for example, Rom. 2:28–29; 4:11–17; 11:17–21; Gal. 3:7; Eph. 2:11–16) is a continuing source of amazement to non-dispensationalists.”
    — John Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, p69

  13. It is equally amazing to dispensationalists that passages like Rom 2:28-29 and 4:11-17 (which are not talking about Israel and the Church at all in those broad categories), are taken from their context and the flow of the author’s argument to make a point the author isn’t making nor would recognize. It’s as if somehow non-dispensationalists believe that dispensationalists are either not aware of these passages – or intentionally ignore them, when in reality they have been the subject of some excellent exegetical work and do nothing to diminish the veracity or defensibility of dispensational theology.

    I also find it interesting that the “distinctive” trait of Calvinism is that it “about the glory of God in all things” as if that were set against something contrary to this that dispensationalists believe.

    Dave James

  14. Margaret Macdonald’s Rapture Chart !

    “church” RAPTURE “church”
    (present age) (tribulation)

    In early 1830 Margaret was the very first one to see a pre-Antichrist (pretrib) rapture in the Bible – and John Walvoord and Hal Lindsey lend support for this claim!
    Walvoord’s “Rapture Question” (1979) says her view resembles the “partial-rapture view” and Lindsey’s “The Rapture” (1983) admits that “she definitely teaches a partial rapture.”
    But there’s more. Lindsey (p. 26) says that partial rapturists see only “spiritual” Christians in the rapture and “unspiritual” ones left behind to endure Antichrist’s trial. And Walvoord (p. 97) calls partial rapturists “pretribulationists”!
    Margaret’s pretrib view was a partial rapture form of it since only those “filled with the Spirit” would be raptured before the revealing of the Antichrist. A few critics, who’ve been repeating more than researching, have noted “Church” in the tribulation section of her account. Since they haven’t known that all partial rapturists see “Church” on earth after their pretrib rapture (see above chart), they’ve wrongly assumed that Margaret was a posttrib!
    In Sep. 1830 Edward Irving’s journal “The Morning Watch” (hereafter: TMW) was the first to publicly reflect her novel view when it saw spiritual “Philadelphia” raptured before “the great tribulation” and unspiritual “Laodicea” left on earth.
    In Dec. 1830 John Darby (the so-called “father of dispensationalism” even though he wasn’t first on any crucial aspect of it!) was still defending the historic posttrib rapture view in the “Christian Herald.”
    Pretrib didn’t spring from a “church/Israel” dichotomy, as many have assumed, but sprang from a “church/church” one, as we’ve seen, and was based only on symbols!
    But innate anti-Jewishness soon appeared. (As noted, TMW in Sep. 1830 saw only less worthy church members left behind.) In Sep. 1832 TMW said that less worthy church members and “Jews” would be left behind. But by Mar. 1833 TMW was sure that only “Jews” would face the Antichrist!
    As late as 1837 the non-dichotomous Darby saw the church “going in with Him to the marriage, to wit, with Jerusalem and the Jews.” And he didn’t clearly teach pretrib until 1839. His basis then was the Rev. 12:5 “man child…caught up” symbol he’d “borrowed” (without giving credit) from Irving who had been the first to use it for the same purpose in 1831!
    For related articles Google “X-Raying Margaret,” “Edward Irving is Unnerving,” “Pretrib Rapture’s Missing Lines,” “The Unoriginal John Darby,” “Deceiving and Being Deceived” by D.M., “Pretrib Rapture Pride,” “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty” and “Scholars Weigh My Research.” The most documented and accurate book on pretrib rapture history is “The Rapture Plot” (see Armageddon Books online) – a 300-pager that has hundreds of disarming facts (like the ones above) not found in any other source.

    [Right on, Glenn. Above think piece was observed on the exciting web.]

  15. I agree with the author of this page. The Bible speaks of the people of God. No distinction exists such that two peoples of God exist. St. Paul’s arguments present a summary of the people of God and we find this reiterated in Hebrews. We learn there that all those who went before us waited for us so that together we find the promise in Christ. We are all of faith; we are all in Christ; we all receive the promised inheritance of the saints.

  16. Jon, Thanks for reading and commenting.
    GG


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