Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Saturday, November 13, 2010

What Dispensationalists Believe

Helping My Reformed Covenant Bros. Move Beyond the 1950s

After the spirited exchanged I had with a few Reformed covenant folks in the combox to my post on Wednesday, I was left wondering if there was a good way to help them understand what dispensationalists believe. Many of them I have personally interacted with over the years seem to languish in the 1950s as to their understanding of Dispensational theology. It's like they are frozen in a Scofield study Bible bubble.

Compounding the problem are the converted, Reformed covenant newbies like Jamin who write vigorously against their dispensationlist past, but who are often misinformed with their criticisms due to being exposed to only secondary, critical sources of Dispensationalism that are extremely dated or poorly written. Regrettably, when I have engaged individuals like this as to their sloppy research, they become agitated for some reason. Also, there is a misconception that the various flavors of Dispensationalism like classic and progressive somehow proves Dispensationalism is erroneous because it has fragmented into different expressions. Yet I don't see how that is any different from the various flavors of Covenant Theology or Calvinism like Federal Visionists, Theonomy, and Amyraldism; and hyper-dispensationalism is no more reflective of true Dispensationalism as hyper-Calvinism is of true Calvinism.

These same Reformed guys are rightly irritated when non-Calvinists like George Bryson and Dave Hunt display the same sort of lazy, contemptible criticisms against Calvinism. Why do they do a similar thing against Dispensational theology?

I do wish to be fair, however, because I have interacted with many fine Reformed Covenant guys who provide honest critiques of Dispensationalism. But still, there is a much larger group who who believe and perpetuate many misconceptions.

So, in order to pull my Reformed covenant friends out of the 1950s and show them Dispensationalism is more than the fanciful diagrams of Clarence Larkin, I thought I would compile some resources.

The best place to begin is with Dr. Michael Vlach's website where he has posted a list of

40 Recommended Resources for Understanding Dispensationalism

The list is mostly book length studies that one will have to find on Amazon. Highlighting just a few of those items he lists, I would recommend John Feinberg's article on systems of discontinuity found in the compilation book, Continuity and Discontinuity. The entire book is worth the read, but that article lays down the essential points defining Dispensationalism. Next would be Alva McClain's The Greatness of the Kingdom which is a comprehensive study of the Kingdom of God and probably one of the best works on the subject in print. I was thankful to find a brand new copy at Archives in Pasadena last year for just 15 bucks. I personally think non-dispensationalists would benefit greatly from this work.

The biggest difference between the covenant and the dispensationalist is the application of hermeneutics. The way one interprets the Bible is going to have a major impact on how one sees the progress of Divine revelation from the OT to the NT. Additionally, how one sees the OT fulfilled in the NT. Some helpful articles regarding hermeneutics:

Michael Vlach's article, New Covenant Theology Compared with Covenantalism has an extended section detailing the matter of hermeneutics. In fact, the Master's Seminary faculty devoted the entire fall 2007 journal to discussing New Covenant Theology and because NCT shares similar theological views with Covenant Theology, there are some helpful discussions. The issue is Volume 18, Number 2, Fall 2007.

For a few articles a bit more simplistic, I would troll myself. I did a series of posts on eschatology and spent a good number of them addressing the subject of hermeneutics:

Out with the Old, in with the New

Type Casting the Bible

Israel => Church

Philosophical Considerations in the Development of Hermeneutics

The Reforming of Hermeneutics

The Wooden Literalist: Beast of Theology Lore Part 1 and Part 2

For a couple of book length study, see Mal Couch, An Introduction to Classic Evangelical Hermeneutics and James White's Scripture Alone. Ironically, James is a Reformed Baptist who would have nothing to do with Dispensationalism, but he provides a study of hermeneutics and exegesis I find well done and when applied consistently, only confirms my understanding of Dispensational principles.

Moving to some more readily available sources on the web,

The on-line teaching of S. Lewis Johnson is all excellent, but noting a couple of of his series,

The Divine Purpose of History and Prophecy

The Future of Ethnic Israel

also, this article from the TMS journal highlighting a specific passage in Galatians 6:19,
Paul and the "Israel of God" an Exegetical Case Study

Dan Phillips, Twenty-five Stupid Reasons for Dissing Dispensationalism

R. Bruce Compton, Dispensationalism, The Church, and The New Covenant

Paul Henebury, Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism

These are some good places to start. If folks have additional recommendations, note them in the comments and I'll add them to the main list here.


To be balanced, I would also ask my Reformed Covenant friends for material explaining Covenant Theology. I am more interested in positive presentations rather than critiques of Dispensationalism. Recommendations outlining the rhyme and reason of Reformed hermeneutics would also be a plus.

I can think of the classic work (but a brutal read), The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man by Herman Witsius.

And then the two work by O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants and The Israel of God. His lectures on Covenant Theology can be downloaded HERE.

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Blogger P.D. Nelson said...

Okay Fred I have a small question, are you saying NCT is a variety of dispensationalism? I ask this because I've always seen it as non-dispensational based system. Most comparison study I've seen show it against dispensationalism and covenant theology. Or were you meaning Progressive Dispensationalism?

12:06 PM, November 13, 2010  
Blogger DJP said...

Thanks, Fred. It would be a sweet thing if "Reformed" folks would reform their approach to prophetic scripture, no?

You mentioned that Feinberg's "article lays down the essential points defining Dispensationalism." This is the focus of Vlach himself in his book reviewed here. Vlach interacts with Feinberg at length, proposes his own distinctives.

But then again, the confirmation word is "ammilly."

I don't think so.

3:49 PM, November 13, 2010  
Blogger MSC said...

Unless I missed it, you forgot Vlach's "Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths." I think that is the best place to start.

4:17 PM, November 13, 2010  
Blogger MSC said...

One more good little resourse is Matt Waymeyer's brief paper entitled: "Am I A Dispensationalist?" It can be found here:

4:25 PM, November 13, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Sorry. Been hiking with the kids.

Peter - a good many of the NCT proponents adhere to many of the main points of CT, particularly the notion that Israel has been replaced by the Church and has no distinct restoration in a future kingdom. There are a variety of NCT proponents who are premillennial like RK McGregor-Wright and Fred Zaspel, but of the ones I have encountered like the Sound of Grace crew out of the North East of the US, they are all Amillennial and reflect CT in their eschatology and views of the Church than what is found in Dispensationalism.

MSC - The book is mentioned within Vlach's main article of resources. I was just hitting on a few that had been helpful with me. Dan wrote an excellent review of it and I agree with him that I wish Vlach would do a more lengthy study of the subject than a short, 110 page book.

5:07 PM, November 13, 2010  
Blogger P.D. Nelson said...

BTW as a footnote regarding some of the members of AOMIN, I have noticed more than once on James White's podcast that he refuses to answer questions regarding eschatology, he doesn't see that as part of his ministry. It would be nice if the rest of the troop would follow suit.

5:20 PM, November 13, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

It may not be James' thing, but I wouldn't think he would mind his minions to comment on eschatology just as long as they ain't so sloppy with their presentation.

5:38 PM, November 13, 2010  
Blogger thomas4881 said...

I read about dispensationalism in the Scofield Study Bible. I never thought "I'm in the age of Grace so the law has no relevance anymore".

10:04 PM, November 14, 2010  
Blogger Hayden said...

I also think that Charles Benware's book "Understanding End Times" is a good and simple read for starters.

word verification" sultly"

7:08 AM, November 15, 2010  
Blogger Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"I have noticed more than once on James White's podcast that he refuses to answer questions regarding eschatology, he doesn't see that as part of his ministry."

I think that's wise.

Jesus will return and reign. And I am to be ready.

How does quarreling over eschatology glorify God and further the directive of the Great Commission?

12:18 PM, November 15, 2010  
Blogger Lynda O said...

Regarding the Scofield Study Bible: and S. Lewis Johnson used that Bible (I think he preferred the earlier version of the ones available) and highly recommended it -- that was in the days before the MacArthur Study Bible :) So whatever these anti-disps have against dispensationalism, I don't think it all came from the Scofield Reference Bible.

Another great series from S. Lewis Johnson: The Divine Purpose (from the 1980s) -- in which he also gave a good summary overview of the basics of CT, as well as responses to amills including Hoekema and O.T. Allis.

11:07 AM, November 16, 2010  
Blogger Highland Host said...

To be fair, there are still plenty of people out there who DO hold to the Classical Dispensationalism of the old Scofield (which is why it's still in print), and therefore at least some folk are liable to be referring to what they were taught as Dispensationalism without necessarily knowing about any of the modifications of Classical Dispensationalism that have been adopted in order to escape the obvious flaws in the Scofield-Darby position. This is especially true in the Exclusive Brethren (the strict Plymouth Brethren). And interestingly enough, in the UK I have met far more Classical Dispensationalists than I have Progressive Dispensationalists or MacArthur-style dispensationalists. But that probably has far more to do with where I happen to have been!

5:14 AM, November 17, 2010  
Blogger Highland Host said...

Addendum: There is no such thing as 'Dispensationalism' any more, and all attempts, from any one position, to portray the position as though there were, are of necessity misleading. Is this an accurate statement? If not, why not? Of course there are common characteristics between all dispensationalisms (otherwise they could not be placed in the same theological category), but the differences between them are extremely important!

(word verification 'redinto', what I don't want anyone doing with my remarks with someone else's opinion!)

5:32 AM, November 17, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

HH writes,
There is no such thing as 'Dispensationalism' any more, and all attempts, from any one position, to portray the position as though there were, are of necessity misleading.

Could you clarify? What exactly do you mean when you state, "There is no such thing as "Dispensationalism" any more?" I would consider myself a "dispensationalist" in that I do see revealed in Scripture God working out His purposes in a specific way in different eras. They of course lead to the coming of Christ and include the restoration of all things including a physical earth (which I believe you would agree).

Seeing that Covenant Theology has seen a variety of expressions as I noted, why can't one say there is no such thing as "Covenant Theology" any more?"

6:00 AM, November 17, 2010  
Blogger Highland Host said...

I mean in the terms that most books written against 'Dispensationalism' mean, a single, compact, unified theological position (which is why many seem outdated - and ARE). This is why 'Dispensationalism' has to be qualified with 'Progressive' or 'Classical', or some other prefix. And actually I would tend to say that there is no one 'Covenant Theology' in that sense either. Rather there are DispensationalismS and Covenant TheologIES. Just think of the CT Baptist and the CT Presbyterian! Clearly there are broad familial resemblances, but both must be regarded more as theological families today. It is unhelpful to speak as if either were a single compact theological system, when in fact there are major modifications (and I would consider NCT and the NPP as beyond the pale). Though of course those writing from within each position often write as if their particular brand were the ONLY one that truly deserves the title!

11:04 AM, November 17, 2010  
Blogger reformedsteve said...

Mr. Butler,
I am a covenantal baptist (read reformed baptist). I would like to speak on one thing that I have noticed about dispensationalists.

It seems to me that unlike covenant theology dispensationalism isn't a complete system or even that it tries to pretend that it is. By this I mean that dispensationalism only speaks about the End Times and nothing more.

My experience shows this critique to be the case. That instead of working from Genesis through Revelations dispensationalists read their Bibles from Revelations through Genesis.

So, my question is this - How does dispensationalism hold up against Romans 11:16-18?

Your brother in Christ,

10:51 AM, November 20, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I can understand your thinking. Regrettably, most folks think of Hal Lindsey when they think of Dispensationalism. But even Reformed Covenant Theology is more than just Calvinism. This is why you would be benefited by these links here. Particularly SLJ's messages on the Divine Purposes.

In relation to your question. Romans 11:16-18 is also a part of 11:19-32, where God explains how we were grafted in to the olive tree, and though the Jews were broken off for unbelief, it was for the purposes of God's grace so that the gentiles may be saved. However, as the chapter goes on to clearly explain, they will be re-grafted and so All Israel (physical, ethnic Jews) will be saved and restored. I take that to be a promise to bring to complete fulfillment the kingdom promises of a real, geo-political kindgom. Not just a spiritual body.

4:57 PM, November 20, 2010  
Blogger reformedsteve said...

Brother Fred,
I read Israel meaning ethnic Jew in verse 25, because Paul is comparing that Israel to the Gentiles. So since he is talking about ethnic groups (Gentile) I have to concede that Israel is ethnic. However, Israel in verse 26 I read as being spiritual for verse 23 make any sense.

Let me know your thoughts.

Grace and peace,

8:08 PM, November 20, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I guess I am not following the logic of your objection. How exactly does verse 23 NOT make sense if verse 26 isn't spiritual Israel? Moreover, why would Paul, in the middle of a context, switch key definitions of a specific, and certainly important term like "Israel," without alerting his readers?

11:14 AM, November 21, 2010  
Blogger reformedsteve said...

Excuse me for not being more detailed in my post.

The text (Romans 11:19-32) is teaching a few things.

A.) Ethnic Jews because of their unbelief in the Gospel have been broken off from the olive tree (spiritual Israel)
B.) God won't spare the natural branches (ethnic Jews) because of their unbelief therefore God won't spare unbelieving Gentiles either (wild olive)

So, in verse 25 Paul compares Gentiles which is an ethnic group with Israel. Since he (Paul) is talking in context of ethnic groups then logically Israel in verse 25 is ethnic. Otherwise, Paul is comparing an ethnic group with a spiritual group, which I think we both agree makes little sense.

Now, in verse 26 Paul switches to spiritual Israel. Why is this Israel spiritual? Well, because if it's ethnic Israel then Paul is contradicting himself when he makes point A in verse 20. In essence if Paul is talking about ethnic Israel in verse 26 he's teaching universalism for the Jews. But if Israel in verse 26 is spiritual then Paul is talking about the perseverance of the saints.

Best Regards,

8:02 PM, November 21, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

The main difference between our perspectives is that I think you are making much more of a sharp contrast between an "ethnic" Israel and a "spiritual" Israel.

I take the olive tree here in Romans 11 to be God's covenant blessing as made with the Jews through Abraham. I guess if a person wants to say this olive tree represents some God fearing remenant, I wouldn't necessarily object. However, Paul goes on to explain that they, the Jews, are broken off and are experiencing hardness of heart because now, in the purposes of God, it brings the gentiles into salvation (11:24, 25). However, Paul goes on to explain that all Israel will be saved. I take that to mean what it says, All Israel as meaning ethnic Israel. In other words, Israel will be restored in a geo-political kingdom at Christ's return.

Now, I imagine you probably subscribe to either amillennialism and postmillennialism, and hence the reason why you hold to the position you do regarding "all Israel." Here we have a sharp distinction between how we filter our exegesis of the various prophetic passages of both the OT and NT through our chosen hermeneutic. As I pointed out in those various articles I linked in the post, our hermeneutical framework will shape the conclusions we draw about eschatology. I don't believe the Kingdom of God is merely spiritual being experienced now, but is both spiritual and physical, a future millennial kingdom.

You may appreciate THIS ARTICLE by Matt Weymeyer.

4:37 PM, November 23, 2010  
Blogger reformedsteve said...

Brother Fred,
You are correct when you talk about our differences. I do make a much sharper contrast between the two Israels. However, my position regarding "all Israel" is based more in my understanding of the Gospel. If I'm to believe that salvation is by grace through faith than I have to reject salvation through genealogy.

I'm going to read a few of those articles. I made it a few pages into the Compton article, but it seemed like it was more of a research paper and less like it was going anywhere. I'd actually be more interested in a dispensationalist commentary on Romans 11.

8:07 PM, November 23, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Steve writes,
... my position regarding "all Israel" is based more in my understanding of the Gospel. If I'm to believe that salvation is by grace through faith than I have to reject salvation through genealogy.

No one has suggested salvation through geneaology. The salvation of "all Israel" is by grace through faith. Paul even goes on to explain this in 11:26 and following. The reason "all Israel" can and will be saved has to do with the fact God has made a covenant with them. One that is grounded upon His irrevocable gifts of grace as verse 29 states.

10:11 AM, November 25, 2010  
Blogger RazorsKiss said...

"...the main points of CT, particularly the notion that Israel has been replaced by the Church and has no distinct restoration in a future kingdom."

How could you get through Witsius, and Robertson and still think we believe this, as Covenant theologians? I honestly don't understand this at all.

4:22 PM, February 15, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Huh? What do you think the primary theme of Robertson's "The Israel of God" is about? Israel = People of God in OT, Church = People of God in NT. How is that NOT the Church replacing Israel as a nation.

5:46 PM, February 15, 2011  
Blogger Stephen Archer said...

Are you familiar with Dr Arnold Fruchtenbaum? He has a massive volume called 'Israelology' which deals with the four views on Israel. Very interesting, and from a Jewish perspective!

6:51 AM, November 24, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I am. I don't have that particular book, but I have read through parts. He has a good overview of the various eschatological systems as I recall.

8:30 AM, November 24, 2011  
Blogger DJP said...

Best. Subtitle. Evar.

2:02 PM, July 25, 2012  

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