Dispensationalism Then & Now, Part 1

Detail from the cover of a Scofield Reference Bible (ca. 1917)

(From Dispensational Publishing House; used by permission.)

In early 1992, I was invited by Dr. Ernest Pickering, pastor of Fourth Baptist Church and president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Minneapolis, to participate in the annual Founders Conference in the seminary. He expressed an opinion that we needed “a clear call on the subject of dispensationalism.” I was honored to be asked and was delighted to go. I suppose there is never a time when we do not need to refresh ourselves on doctrinal truth, especially the distinctives of dispensationalism.

Dispensationalism is simply an approach to understanding the overall storyline of the Bible. As a set of systematized principles and teachings it began about 1825 with John Nelson Darby. However, there were unsystematized principles of a dispensational nature long before him. There has been refinement and modification over the years in dispensational thought. Revision, reevaluation and more precise statement are always ongoing in theology and biblical studies.

A brief historical outline of general dispensational thinking is given here, followed by a discussion of one major area that calls for clarification and/or a renewed understanding.

Early Epochs in Dispensational Thought

Darbyism/Niagara Premillennialism: 1875-1909

Darby’s systematized dispensational thought, developed in about 1825, prevailed in the Niagara Bible Conference (Niagara, Ontario). It had a somewhat official beginning in 1875 with George Needham and James Inglis, and is generally acknowledged to be the inception of the Bible conference movement. The dispensationalism of the conference (not all were dispensationalists) emphasized an almost absolute dichotomy between Israel and the church as two separate peoples of God. The church was a heavenly people and Israel was an exclusively earthly people. It also promoted the pretribulational rapture of the church.

Scofieldism or “Classical” Dispensationalism: 1909-1965

A new era dawned with the publication of C. I. Scofield’s Reference Bible (1909) along with the writings of Lewis Sperry Chafer, A.C. Gaebelein and others. There was a unified approach to all the Bible via seven dispensations. A dispensation was defined as “a period of time during which man is tested in respect to his obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.”1 The central thrust was “a period of time.”

Classical dispensationalism also vigorously emphasized the two peoples of God in strict dichotomy. Pretribulationalism was also one of the chief components. Dispensationalism fairly dominated the Bible institute, Bible conference and other movements of the time.

Classical premillennial dispensationalism was strongly faced with rebuttal by scholarly thought self-styled as “historic premillennialism.” It was alledged that pretribulationalism began in the early 1800s, whereas premillennialism before was posttribulatlional, going back to the early first- and second-century Church Fathers and continuing through various (relatively small) groups until the 19th century.

The New Evangelical coalition, formed in the 1940s, played probably the largest role in advocating covenant premillennial postribulationism and criticizing dispensationalism. This occurred in the 1950s and ’60s, principally through the energies of George Eldon Ladd, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. This brought out a strong dispensational response through the studies of Charles C. Ryrie, John F. Walvoord, J. Dwight Pentecost and others, and schools such as Moody Bible Institute, Philadelphia College of Bible, Omaha Baptist Bible College (now Faith Baptist Bible College), Dallas Theological Seminary, Grace Theological Seminary and Talbot School of Theology, to name a very few.

Later Epochs in Dispensationalism

Modified/Essentialist or “Traditional” Dispensationalism: 1965-1982

The publication of Dispensationalism Today by Charles C. Ryrie (Moody Press, 1965) marked the beginning of another stage of dispensational refinement. Walvoord, Pentecost, Clarence Mason, Alva J. McClain, among others, also contributed.2

Ryrie laid down a three-fold sine qua non, or three irreducible minimum essentials of dispensational theology—the fundamental theological and historical distinction between Israel and the church, the consistent use of literal or normal interpretation of Scripture and the glory of God as the underlying purpose of the dispensations. This modification offered a new definition, with elaboration, of a dispensation that put the emphasis on the sovereignty of God and man’s stewardship of God’s truth: “A dispensation is a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purpose.”3 Ryrie lessened somewhat the dichotomy between law and grace (via the continuing revelational principles, or carryovers, between the dispensations). But the position continued the pretribulational rapture of the church with exegetical, Biblical explication.

Progressive Dispensationalism: 1982-

An article by Kenneth Barker in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (March 1982) set in motion the present revisionism known as progressive dispensationalism. Others who assisted were Darrell Bock, Craig Blaising, Robert Saucy, Bruce Ware, Carl B. Hoch and W. Edward Glenny.4

A general overview here notes some of the basic structure of this thought.

  1. It operates from hermeneutical principles that allow expanded meanings to accrue to Old Testament words. This greatly affects the relationship between the nation Israel and the New Testament church.
  2. It rejects the sine qua non of essentialist dispensationalism, creating a problem of determining the actual boundaries, i.e., the essentials, of a dispensational approach to the Scriptures.
  3. It sees a presently inaugurated Messianic kingdom in spiritual form that will also have an eschatological manifestation on earth.
  4. It views the dispensations as stages in salvation history, positing much more continuity between law and grace than before.
  5. It also holds, somewhat tenuously, to a pretribulational rapture of the church but with far less enthusiasm than in the previous periods.

Progressive dispensationalism’s new thought brought further effort by dispensationalists to clarify and promote their approach to the Scriptures. I am sure it played a large part in the reasoning of Dr. Pickering to issue a clear call of renewal more than two decades ago. Other groups and ministries are showing fresh exegetical, theological and practical responses, such as the Dispensational Publishing House. World events have probably contributed to such investigations into Bible prophecy and dispensational thought. Undoubtedly, simple fascination and curiosity had a part. It would be interesting and challenging to investigate the tributaries to dispensational thought of the last two decades or so. The field of interests is quite broad.

Notes

1 New Scofield Reference Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 3. See also p. 5 of theScofield Reference Bible (1917 ed.).

2 See, for example, the editorial committee of the New Scofield Reference Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967).

3 Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), p. 29.

4 See the many contributors to Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, Darrell Bock and Craig Blaising, eds. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992).

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Joel Tetreau's picture

Dr. McCune.....Thx for the quick overview of the stages of dispensationalism. Always a delight to hear or read your thoughts. Looking forward to more of the same.....in the present dispensation! Smile

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Also appreciate the history!

I was reading Scofield's now infamous note on John 1:17 (Wikipedia helpfully includes an image of the page... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scofield_Reference_Bible). He definitely fed some confusion on law and grace. It's quite clear in both Romans and Galatians that the law was never intended as a path to righteousness, nor was it intended to replace Abrahamic faith and the grace of God in response to that faith.

Further, though Scofield sees stark differences between "law" and "grace" in terms of how blessings relate to good works, he doesn't seem to notice that the blessings themselves are completely different. The Mosaic system is entirely temporal and geo-political. The Abrahamic blessings go way beyond that, as the blessings of grace in response to faith do in every dispensation.

Ga 3:7–9 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Ga 3:19–22 19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the [Abrahamic] promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. 21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

He goes on to the famous "schoolmaster" statement.

The "law" in the Mosaic sense, was an add on for strictly temporal purposes and it never offered more than earthly blessings. You might occasionally see "righteous" associated with it in the OT as shorthand for "both believing and complying with the terms of the covenant." But "righteous"/"justified" in the sense of accepted as righteous by God.... it's always been faith.

When Paul says Christ is "the end of the law for righteousnss" in Rom. 10:4, he means Christ shatters the then-popular delusion that law can be a path to justification before God, not that Christ signals a change in God's program from law to grace.

As for John 1:17, there is nothing in Jesus' statement that indicates chronological boundaries... as in, law for was for this period and now grace is for this period. It was always grace, but--for a while, with one group of people--with law added on for earthly purposes.

 

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Although most of us prefer clear cut distinctions between Law and Grace or the application of OT prophecies, what if a student of Scripture becomes convinced that the New Testament authors themselves are not so clear cut?  Do we force them to fit our firm and straightforward boundaries, or do we adjust our system so that the actual use of the Old Testament in the New sets the pattern?

Of course not everybody agrees that this is the case.  But if you hold that Christians are -- in some way (any way) -- under the New Covenant promised to Israel -- you have confessed (at least in this instance) that the walls (while real) also allow for some seepage. That seepage -- if it exists --  is Progressive Dispensationalism of some sort.

"The Midrash Detective"

Joel Tetreau's picture

Ed,

Other than my view of the kingdom (which is not Ladd but does allow for a present aspect of a future kingdom)......I'm just about as classic as you get when it comes to Israel/Church, Law/Grace, 7 dispensations, pre-mill, pre-trib....etc. Now I don't have a "tude" about my brothers who are more progressive and frankly I even have a good relationship with many who are reformed in their hermeneutic.

Consider my short response to your last post. If I remember correctly the way classic dispensationalists who wrestled with the dynamic you speak of, there were two different approaches. The first group (largely impacted by old Dallas Seminary - attempted to) solve the challenge you present here by saying there were two "new covenants".....one for the church and one for Israel. What's funny to me is these are the same guys who in every other way struggle with "sensus plenior".....that's interesting. Guys like me fall into the second group (impacted more by Grace Seminary and schools connected to it's lineage....which DBTS is/was....this view I think is more in the main today). We see a single new covenant shared in application to both Israel and the Church. Israel receives an eschatological fulfillment (which is the ultimate fulfillment) of the new covenant (we classics say "in the future".....the progressives says "both now and in the future")......while the church participates presently in a salvific application (again Hebrews.....all over the place.....chapters 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, etc....). I would say that in the new covenant.....this is one place where there is indeed Israel and the Church.......Law and Grace.....Old and New Covenants.......come together (to some degree). For me I've always seen the Law of Mosis as a kind of mediator (not a perfect one aka Hebrews) of the future Kingdom in the OT......the Church (aided of course by the Holy Spirit) as the mediator of the future Kingdom in the NT.......Jesus himself as the mediator of the future Kingdom ruling the world from Jerusalem (vis-a-vis from Heaven).

To me I've seen too much Scripture even from the Old Testament that points to a non-Mosaic New Covenant. Of course one must quote Jeremiah (31:31-32, "not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt"). There are numbers of other passages you of course are familiar with (Ezekiel, Hosea, Isaiah, et al.).

All that to say, I think you can see some dual aspect of the application of the new cov't that applies to both the church and Israel and not loose your classic dispensational membership card. Then again.......perhaps some of my brothers would say I'm on the slippery slope......Of course I don't know that I'm sliding anywhere because my view hasn't changed in over 20 years of study.  

Always a pleasure "Midrash Ed".......

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Ed Vasicek's picture

Joel, thanks for your good response.

Joel wrote: We see a single new covenant shared in application to both Israel and the Church. Israel receives an eschatological fulfillment (which is the ultimate fulfillment) of the new covenant (we classics say "in the future".....the progressives says "both now and in the future")......while the church participates presently in a salvific application (again Hebrews.....all over the place.....chapters 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, etc....).

As a Saucy-type Progressive, I see it just as you do. The point of PD is not that there is EQUAL application to the church, but SOME application to church, even if only a bit.  Any bit of application means the wall leaks.  Once you have even a tiny bit of application or itsy bitsy grain of fulfillment (of prophecies directed toward Israel) directed to the church, you are, in  principle, some sort of PD, IIMO.

I am saying that the general paradigm of Dispensationalism is correct, but there is sometimes significant seepage through those walls, and Paul and others are cozy with that. We should become cozy with that, too.

Also, I think there is also a distinction between the Law and Israel. The "Israel of God," in my view, refers to solid Messianic Jews who are unlike the Judaizer Jews.  The "Israel of God" is not under the Law as a system of relationship to God, but they are part of the nation of Israel.

Just as we have extreme (hyper/ultra) dispensationalism, and just as Darby's or Scofield's is different from Ryrie's version, so PD has its various perspectives.  Like Saucy, some of us are just over the line.  We are quite moderate.  Cases like the New Covenant or the fulfillment (in some sort of way) of Joel's prophecy in Acts 2 are the real line of demarcation, IMO,  although most TD's will not admit this.  From a Darby/Scofield  perspective, modern TD's have definitely moved in the direction of PD, to say the least.

100 years ago, the modern TD may have been considered a PD, if the term had been invented!

I think many TD's are afraid PD's will slide into Covenant or Replacement Theology.  I share the concern that there is a movement in that direction in general, but, IMO, PD fixes the weak spots of TD and fits what we actually see in the NT.

"The Midrash Detective"

Joel Tetreau's picture

Ed,

Cool......"we have an accord!"

Straight Ahead my man!

jt

ps - I recognize that not all classic are identical....I also can see not all progressive's are equally "progressive".......Thx for the interaction.......

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

alex o.'s picture

The Covenant folks also have a modified system recently defined by Kingdom through Covenant. I have only read harsh reviews of this work and not read it myself.

Another system (which I have not fully explored either unfortunately) is Walter Kaiser's The Promise Plan of God. John Sailhamer in The Meaning of the Pentateuch takes Kaiser to task on some points but I feel he does so unfairly in large measure (but only from what I know of Kaiser's work).

Biblical Theology is the area that interests me the most since it seeks to understand the Testaments in a coherent manner. I need to finish Kaiser and reread Sailhamer (though some other parts of his book I disagree with also, never the less I need to *master his thought* to understand his perspective). I wish some of you more scholarly folks would review these two authors.

I greatly resonate with Mark Dever (message about sermon prep. at The Spurgeon Center) that the first approach should be going to the primary source: the bible. Its best, I believe, to read it like it was written and not chop it up so much (a verse here and there). In other words, read whole books or major sections. Read the bible at least once a year also, more if possible. 

Biblical Theology involves seeing the forest as an entity. Detailed exegesis often only focuses on an individual tree. Obviously we need both in understanding the bible and Christian walk. To understand the whole however, a technique needs to be used that keeps all the individual parts *in cache* to see  in *plan view* (from above).

The theme verse of the bible is Gen. 3.15. This verse is much more than a "first gospel." This recognition is what is lacking in many approaches that seek coherence. For instance, When Jesus said to His mother: "woman" at those several times recorded in the gospels He was both telling His mother to remember the significance of Gen. 3.15 for her own assurance and also signaling to us the readers the fulfillment of this promise (the pierced heal).

Another area unrecognized (at least in general) is Gal. 4.4. "Born of a woman" does mean that Jesus was fully human. Also, it means much more since Paul is arguing for a fulfillment here.

Also, at the temptation of Christ the devil was trying to ascertain whether Jesus was "The Trampler" (Ps. 91.12-13).

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

Ron Bean's picture

Having spent my youth and early Christian life in ministries where Scofield's Dispensationalism was considered a fundamental and test for fellowship, I tend to have an aversion to anything labeled "dispensationalism". I used to be able to draw Larkin's Chart from memory.

I hold to pre-millenial eschatology, a difference between Israel and the Church but see no division between Old and New Testament saints. (I don't think Abraham is going to have to wait until I've finished enjoying my heavenly feast.)

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It is sad when an imperfect execution of a good idea spoils it for some. But for my part.... I find it hard to not appreciate Scofield's building of a rickety bridge at a time when most were not building one at all.

As for those who turned every detail into a litmus test... I can't pretend to have any understanding of why anyone would do that. I guess some folks just don't have any sense of degrees of certainty and what the relative uncertainty of this or that idea must imply? ... but I think I'll go read some quantum physics and contemplate Schrodinger's cat or something... seems easier to understand than people sometimes, right?!

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

J. Baillet's picture

From my reading, the date of 1830 has generally been considered the beginning of dispensationalism through the teaching of John Nelson Darby. (See, e.g., J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, Michigan 1958), at p. 391). I would be interested in a more detailed development of the statement “there were unsystematized principles of a dispensational nature long before him [Darby].”

There was also the ultra- or hyper-dispensationalism of Ethelbert W. Bullinger (1837-1913), an Anglican clergyman, although its relationship to “mainstream” dispensationalism is debated.

Non-dispensational premillennialism certainly was “historic” at least in the sense of having existed long before dispensational premillennialism. Also known as covenant premillennialism or chialism, this view, that the church would go through the great tribulation before the Second Coming of Christ to rule on earth for a millennium, existed from early church history. The teaching of a pretribulational rapture of the church did not arise until the early 19th Century.

Although Charles Ryrie laid down three essentials of dispensationalism, I would submit that there is really only one, as he basically conceded: "The essence of dispensationalism, then, is the distinction between Israel and the Church. This grows out of the dispensationalist’s consistent employment of normal or plain interpretation, and it reflects an understanding of the basic purpose of God in all His dealings with mankind as that of glorifying Himself through salvation and other purposes as well." (Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Moody Press: Chicago 1965), at p. 47). Many non-dispensationalists would deny that they use other than a plain hermeneutic or that the unifying theme of the glory of God is unique to dispensationalism (or that this concept is even meaningful as a unifying theme of Scripture).

JSB

Ed Vasicek's picture

J. Baillet wrote:

Although Charles Ryrie laid down three essentials of dispensationalism, I would submit that there is really only one, as he basically conceded: "The essence of dispensationalism, then, is the distinction between Israel and the Church. This grows out of the dispensationalist’s consistent employment of normal or plain interpretation, and it reflects an understanding of the basic purpose of God in all His dealings with mankind as that of glorifying Himself through salvation and other purposes as well." (Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Moody Press: Chicago 1965), at p. 47). Many non-dispensationalists would deny that they use other than a plain hermeneutic or that the unifying theme of the glory of God is unique to dispensationalism (or that this concept is even meaningful as a unifying theme of Scripture).

Acts 1:6 is the earliest case of dispensationalism using this "essence of dispensationalism" approach, with which, by the way, I STRONGLY agree.  The early Messianic Jews would therefore be examples of this approach. Although our knowledge is limited, here is a quotation from Wikipedia about the Nazarites in the 4th century:

 Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220, Against Marcion, 4:8) records that the Jews called Christians "Nazarenes" from Jesus being a man of Nazareth, though he also makes the connection with Nazarites in Lamentations 4:7...

In the 4th century, Jerome also refers to Nazarenes as those "who accept Messiah in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old Law." In his Epistle 79, to Augustine, he said:

What shall I say of the Ebionites who pretend to be Christians? To-day there still exists among the Jews in all the synagogues of the East a heresy which is called that of the Minæans, and which is still condemned by the Pharisees; [its followers] are ordinarily called 'Nasarenes'; they believe that Christ, the son of God, was born of the Virgin Mary, and they hold him to be the one who suffered under Pontius Pilate and ascended to heaven, and in whom we also believe. But while they pretend to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither.[22]

Jerome viewed a distinction between Nazarenes and Ebionites, a different Jewish sect, but does not comment on whether Nazarene Jews considered themselves to be "Christian" or not or how they viewed themselves as fitting into the descriptions he uses. 

"The Midrash Detective"

J. Baillet's picture

I don’t see Messianic Jews as demonstrating the “essence of dispensationalism.” They would see themselves as authentically Jews who have recognized that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah and that they are a continuation of true Judaism. They would not see “the distinction between Israel and the Church.” If you are saying that there is Messianic Judaism and the Church co-existing today, and that that is the distinction, I would say that “there no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.” (Romans 10:12). “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.” (Ephesians 2:14).

When the apostles asked Jesus, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?,” he answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8). A plain reading of Jesus’ answer to their question would be that the kingdom was to be inaugurated, not at a time to be revealed to them beforehand, but at the event when the Holy Spirit would come upon them. Even if Jesus were not answering the question, the question itself assumed that Jesus, as Messiah, would be furthering true Judaism by restoring Israel as an independent, glorious, political nation.

Therefore, both Messianic Judaism and Acts 1:6 suggest unity and continuity rather than distinction.

JSB

alex o.'s picture

Though for sure Amillenial Jews exist, I believe most are Premillenial. At least the several distinct groups with which I am familiar. I don't know how many would be Dispensational though, I suspect very few.

Many folks see a restored National, ethnic Israel in the future (the bible teaches it plainly) without the slightest inclination for a synthetic grid overlaying bible history. It is a false distinction and claim (if indeed the claim is made) that if one holds to a coming restoration of ethnic Israel, then that one is Dispensational.

Both Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism are synthetic and unnecessary. C.T. is probably more biblical but its problem is that it strays far afield and tries to apply by extension Covenant principles without warrant . D.T. restricts itself at least generally to directly derived ideas.

As for Acts 1.6, Jesus did not answer their question but redirected their attention to the next great event. (This is really the age of the Spirit in believers today which wasn't the case under the Old Covenant.) It is the most natural way to read the text since National Israel had been without a kingdom for about 600 years. They had been under Persia, Greece, and Rome. They had no independent king either and yet this is what was promised in the O.T. in the later days. A Divine King would reign ("Messiah lasts forever" was their expectation). The disciples expected a restoration to what was Israel's glory days but the gospel would go to mostly gentiles until their full number were saved.

An unfulfilled kingdom is the best way to read Rom. 11 also. One has to twist and turn to make it say that Jews saved today are restored Israel.

Clearly, Jesus did not answer their question in Acts 1.6.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Much is solved by retaining the distinction between an ethnic/geo-political people (which is, on the whole either unbelieving or believing) vs. a spiritual people (the church). They are two different categories, not simply two different peoples in the same category.

This is why, in the church, there is no Jew or Greek or male or female or slave or free. Gender is a diff., category; race is a diff. category; economic status/occupation  is a diff. category... as is ethnicity.

Where nondispensational systems get into the most trouble is trying to get a spiritual people to fulfill promises made to an ethnic/geo-political people.

This is also why, in the present age, Paul says in Rom. 14:17,

for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Alex, I appreciated your fine thoughts.  

My point in all this is this we have to refine our hermeneutics based upon what we see in Scripture, not coercing, stuffing, and damaging the Scripture to fit into our boxes, but creating a model that fits the entirety of Scripture (or as close as we can get). Both CT and Traditional Dispensationalism seem to have this problem, as you kind of suggested.

Most Messianic Jews embrace Olive Tree Theology (which is easily accommodated by Progressive Dispensationalism; I could also say that I pretty much embrace Olive Tree Theology). These paradigms are easily corrected by Scripture (as opposed to squeezing Scripture to fit a paradigm).

For example, Acts. 1:6 could not have been fulfilled at Pentecost because in Acts 3 (after Pentecost) Peter makes it clear that the OT promises given to Israel will be fulfilled IN THE FUTURE when the Jewish people repent as a nation; their repentance provokes the return of Jesus to set up His kingdom (that's my take).

Acts 3:17-21 (ESV)

17 “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

There is a difference between male and female.  In the church, only men can be elders, for example.  When we say there is  “no difference” we are talking about “in relationship to God.”  It is true that a believing Jew and a believing Gentile are the same in their relationship to God.  But Jews (Israelites) are still Jews in another sense that God recognizes, just as God recognizes the difference between male and female.

For example, in Acts 23:6, Paul calls himself a Pharisee.  He does NOT say, “I used to be a Pharisee.”  In Acts 28:17, Paul says he observed the Jewish customs.  In Acts 21:21-24, he offers a sacrifice at the Temple and takes a Nazarite vow.

The hope of the Messiah ruling from and exalting Israel is referred to in Acts 28:20, "For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.”

Paul continued to identify with Israel in Romans 11:1.

Romans 11:25-29 and following refers to a time when “all Israel will be saved,” I believe this is a clear reference to the 1/3 of the nation that survives the Tribulation. They will all come to faith. 

Zechariah 13:8-8

In the whole land, declares the Lord,

    two thirds shall be cut off and perish,

    and one third shall be left alive.

And I will put this third into the fire,

    and refine them as one refines silver,

    and test them as gold is tested.

They will call upon my name,

    and I will answer them.

I will say, ‘They are my people’;

    and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”

So all of the systems — CT and Dispensationalism — need to take all of these things into account and corrected based upon them, IMO.  That is why Progressive Dispensationalism, to my way of thinking, is the most flexible and able to adjust to the contours of God’s Word.  It is teachable and flexible to a point.  But it does not accuse God of redefining the word “Israel” after He promises to what was originally understood by those promised as a genetic nation.  Neither does it deny God’s continued interest and plan for Israel.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

alex o.'s picture

Hi Ed,

Does Olive Tree Theology entail the whole bible? I believe it is an *architectural feature* but not the supporting wall. This is the same as D.T. Theology, it merely notes a feature : discontinuous and progressive redemption. These features note things such as gentiles being grafted in or a progressive movement, but it doesn't go further, it is only explanatory.

Contrast the Promise Plan given in Gen. 3.15. This is organic flowing out of God's pronouncement of what will happen. It is a judgment scene in Genesis and sure promise encapsulating all of redemption, and therefore thematic. At the end of history this theme is completed when "that old serpent, the devil" is dealt the *head blow*. How the Promise Plan of the Messiah is powerful is that we see its partial fulfillment in the redemptive pierced heal of Christ. This engenders confidence and hope that the final act will occur. The Promise of the Messiah is the thread throughout God's redemptive disclosure reoccurring time and again. So, at the beginning it is given, the sacrifice and judgment events refer to it and at the end of history it is completed. These features make it the only logical comprehensive biblical theology. 

Olive Tree Theology and Dispensationalism mark certain features which are true but they are not the underlying foundation supporting all of biblical thought.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

alex o.'s picture

To Ed Vasicek,

Earnest Pickering, you and myself have a common connection: Kokomo, IN. It was under his preaching  in the 1960s while at Bible Baptist Church in Kokomo that really convinced me of the truth of Christ. It took me a few years before I accepted the exclusivity of this truth.

So, while I appreciated his ministry greatly, I cannot in good conscience walk lock-step to all his ideas.

The Dispensationalists saw the deficiencies of C.T. and tried to forge a better and consistent way. Some things such as a return to Premillenialism were good, but their *working theory* in the end was not a complete biblical theology in my view.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

Ed Vasicek's picture

Hi Alex.  This is my 33rd years serving as pastor at Highland Park Church in Kokomo.  Funny you should have roots here!  In all my years, not once did I hear that Ernest Pickering had been pastor at Bible Baptist.  I read Pickering's book on Separation about 35 years ago, so I would have noted it (I think) if someone had dropped his name.  I guess too many people were Ga-ga over Stowell, so Pickering was forgotten.

As far as Olive Tree theology goes, it is strictly a harmonization of the people of God, the nation of Israel, and the church.  David Stern elaborates upon this in this book, "Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel."

My viewpoint is that there are two themes that flow throughout the Bible:  (1) The "scarlet thread of redemption and (2) God's determined, relentless faithfulness to Israel despite their unfaithfulness.  To me, they are both obvious, but others do not see it this way, I know.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

J. Baillet's picture

Let me attempt to summarize a strand of this discussion:

1. Dr. McCune is saying that there are three foundational essentials of Traditional Dispensationalism and that Progressive Dispensationalism has rejected them, and thus, has blurred the lines between dispensationalism and other paradigms which attempt to explain the structure and storyline of Scripture.

2. Ed Vasicek agrees with at least one of Dr. McCune’s foundational essentials, the distinction between the Church and Israel, but disagrees that Progressive Dispensationalism has rejected that essential. If any lines have been blurred, they must in order to comport with Scripture, and Traditional Dispensationalism does not comport with Scripture as well as Progressive Dispensationalism.

3. According to alex o., seeing the distinction between the Church and Israel does not necessarily make one a dispensationalist of any stripe. He is neither a dispensationalist nor a covenant theologian, but he does recognize the distinction between the Church and Israel. [Question: Does alex o.’s “third way” tend to prove or disprove Dr. McCune’s point that rejecting one of the foundational essentials of Traditional Dispensationalism blurs the lines between dispensationalism and other paradigms?] Alex o. would also say that, if any lines have been blurred, they must in order to comport with Scripture. However, he would say that his “third way” comports with Scripture better than Traditional Dispensationalism, Progressive Dispensationalism, or Covenant Theology.

4. Aaron Blumer is saying the key to evaluating this foundational essential is how you define “Israel.” In distinguishing between the Church and Israel, Israel is defined as an “ethnic/geo-political” people not a “spiritual” people. God has made covenant promises to Israel as an ethnic/geo-political people which will be fulfilled in the future to Israel as an ethnic/geo-political people. Dr. McCune, Ed Vasicek, and alex o. would all agree with this from their respective Traditional Dispensational, Progressive Dispensational, and “third way” positions. I believe that Aaron Blumer holds to Progressive Dispensationalism.

Therefore, assuming Aaron Blumer’s definition of “Israel,” holding this foundational essential would be necessary in order to be a dispensationalist of any stripe but would not necessarily make one a dispensationalist at all or a dispensationalist of any particular stripe. One could hold this foundational essential and not be a dispensationalist, but one could not reject this foundational essential and still be a dispensationalist.

[Please correct me if I have mispresented anyone’s position].

DISCLOSURE: I am a Covenant Theologian, who moved from Traditional Dispensationalism most of my life [I had Robert Gromacki as a professor for the Book of Revelation at Cedarville College back in the early 1980s] to Progressive Dispensationalism to Covenant Theology.

JSB

ScottS's picture

You stated in relation to one of Dr. McCune's statements:

I would be interested in a more detailed development of the statement “there were unsystematized principles of a dispensational nature long before him [Darby]."

While there may be other good sources, one that I found helpful on that topic was Larry V. Crutchfield's series of articles in the Conservative Theological Journal all titled “The Early Church Fathers and the Foundations of Dispensationalism”: 

  • Volume 2 n.7 (Dec 1998):375-404.
  • Volume 3 n.8 (April 1999):26-52.
  • Volume 3 n.9 (August 1999):182-203.

They can be found at Galaxie Software online or in Logos Bible Software.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

J. Baillet's picture

Scott S.,

Much appreciated. Between your recommendation and Ed Vasicek's reference to Nazarite Jews, I have some reading and research to sink my teeth into.

 

JSB

alex o.'s picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:

My viewpoint is that there are two themes that flow throughout the Bible:  (1) The "scarlet thread of redemption and (2) God's determined, relentless faithfulness to Israel despite their unfaithfulness.  To me, they are both obvious, but others do not see it this way, I know.

If you think about it there is only one thread or theme, redemption. This makes it a unifying Biblical Theology, the promise of the Messiah.

You mention Israel and the promise to this people that God chose solely out of love. The same can be said about any individual believer. Every believer is unfaithful to an extent and no ethnic group more special than any other in some sense. Yes, God will deal with ethnic Israel comprehensively in the future but now they are going through a partial hardening whereas before the gentiles were hardened except for the occasional gentiles who were saved which were several and diverse and who made up some of Messiah's lineage.

So I see that in the end "salvation is of the Lord." This one thread of redemption (Promise and execution of the Plan by the Messiah) gives hope, it ties the whole of revelation together, and explains the bible more fully than either D.T. or C.T. 

 

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

Rolland McCune's picture

This is probably worth its own thread but, briefly and broadly, a unifying theme should encompass all God's activity external to Himself. This would begin at the original creation and extend to the eternal consummation when God is all in all. This means starting with Gen 1:1 and not Gen 3:15 and/or Gen 12:1-3.  I.e., a redemptive-type theme cannot fairly account for God's pre-fall activity and pre-redemptive revelation. This brings us back to one of Ryrie's irreducible minimum--God's self-glory. This governs His every purpose, plan, proposal  and action on the historical level or what is sometimes called the time-space-mass continuum, down to every exchange of energy. The only knowledge of this is His verbal revelation bequeathed to us in the Bible rightly interpreted.

Rolland McCune

ScottS's picture

I have to disagree with Alex O. when he states:

If you think about it there is only one thread or theme, redemption.

Redemption is a very prominent sub-theme of Scripture, but I agree with McCune (in his follow-up comment) that "God's self-glory" is the unifying theme, only with a bit of a caveat. With respect to Scripture, it is disclosing this theme to mankind, because mankind was the unique creature made in His image to be like Him and communicate with Him on the verbal level. That is, mankind was designed by Him to reflect Him in creation for the purpose of making visible the invisible God to His creation, and language was for God to communicate to His creature made in His image.

Prior to the fall of man, there was verbal disclosure (God speaking to Adam), but not (so far as we know) any written disclosure, much less inspired, written disclosure through a divine-human joint agency. This is partly why I believe human language itself has certain fundamental "rules" for which it was designed to disclose truth, reveal error, etc., accurately and without chance of miscommunication in God's original, perfect creation. Rules that God Himself follows because He created them for the purpose of communicating to His creature. These rules still undergird languages today, but are complicated by sin, falsehood, and lies (and of course, language was complicated by its diversification at Babel).

When mankind fell into sin, this verbal disclosure had to come (or at least God chose to have it come) in a written form, so that it would be preserved for generations. Written communication is far less corruptible than verbal words from human agents whose memories were affected by sin. That is not to say that the written word has not had its corrupting influences, as seen in the variants of text forms, but it is largely uncorrupted (and in my view of majority text being the correct text form, also objectively identifiable).

So Scripture (i.e. written revelation) may have arisen purely because of the need for redemption from sin (it might have come anyway in a sinless world as a means for finite people to communicate with other finite people what God had specifically declared to them; but that is speculation), and hence one reason why redemption is a major sub-theme in the larger theme of God intending to glorify Himself through mankind in creation.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

Ed Vasicek's picture

Alex, with all due respect, I have thought about it deeply.   Most of my Bible was written by and directed toward the Jewish people.  The Kings and Chronicles do not talk about the history of India.  They do not claim to talk about the history of God's People, although occasionally some non-Jews are highlighted (Job, Melchizedek). They predominantly address the history of ISRAEL.

The theme of God's faithfulness to Israel begins with the forefathers of Israel, and then narrows to Israel (Jacob) himself and his descendants.  The prophets mostly call Israel to repentance.  The Messiah comes from Israel. The disciples come from Israel, including the Apostles.  All the authors of the Bible, perhaps apart from Luke and Acts (Luke was probably a gentile) were Jewish.  Paul explains that God had to take off Jewish branches to graft in gentiles -- it took their unbelief to bring the blessings we now experience.  And one day "all Israel will be saved" for God's calling and gifts are irrevocable (that's faithfulness!).

Text (volume) wise, a larger percentage of our Bible deals with Israel and God's  relationship and faithfulness to her than any other subject, including redemption.  Now redemption is  a richer subject, I will give you that.  

God created all things for His glory. That is a no brainer.  However -- even when we talk about God's purpose for man -- the Bible emphasizes a goal more specific. For man, it is to love God and our neighbor. For His Word, it is redemption and His stubborn faithfulness to a rebellious and unbelieving people. And the two are completely intertwined.

God has a special purpose for Israel, so He brought them out of Egypt and instituted the Passover. The Passover foreshadows the work of the Messiah, the matzoh representing His body, the cup, His blood.  Jesus said, "Salvation is from the Jews. (John 4:22). Trying to separate the two has been a very long-standing error, IMO.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

alex o.'s picture

Rolland McCune wrote:

This is probably worth its own thread but, briefly and broadly, a unifying theme should encompass all God's activity external to Himself. This would begin at the original creation and extend to the eternal consummation when God is all in all. This means starting with Gen 1:1 and not Gen 3:15 and/or Gen 12:1-3.  I.e., a redemptive-type theme cannot fairly account for God's pre-fall activity and pre-redemptive revelation. This brings us back to one of Ryrie's irreducible minimum--God's self-glory. This governs His every purpose, plan, proposal  and action on the historical level or what is sometimes called the time-space-mass continuum, down to every exchange of energy. The only knowledge of this is His verbal revelation bequeathed to us in the Bible rightly interpreted.

Yes, this has always been Dispensationalism's criticism of C.T. It wants to make God's glory a unifying theme. I am not denying God's glory in any way, God gets glory in everything He does. However, both pre-Fall and the eternal state are limited in their analysis potential, I believe God is relational and this relating is through knowing Him in redemption.

I know you would disagree about the analytic potential of pre-Fall, but, to me, people have made too much of it and have built unwarranted *air castles*.

Anyway, are there any other reasons that you can think of besides the redemptive approach is lacking than its not *cover to cover*. 

I will read the replies to this thread and the other one (part #2) but need to wear a *home improvement hat* so I will not engage much if at all.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

alex o.'s picture

Some of my reply to Dr. McCune covers some of Scott's points. Of course I am not denying God's glory in any way but the approach misses the bigger point. It is a given that God is glorified in that the builder has more glory than the house. That is inherent in creation. It does not mean we are to miss the main event: His disclosure of Himself in redemption.

Ed, the Apostle Paul rightly states that there is much advantage of being Jewish. He names at least two reasons in Romans: they were entrusted with the oracles of God and "from whom is the Christ." I am not saying it was merely these two reasons at all but these two functions necessitated choosing a people-group. God used them throughout their history to teach about Himself and their own need. Today, as Paul says, these things are written for examples, encouragement, and hope of us readers. It seems all throughout the O.T. that God was showing the Jewish nation that it was not about them but about God's love toward them. Maybe we will have to agree to disagree here but I am always willing to listen to valid reasoning so you may have the last word on this.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

Ed Vasicek's picture

Thanks. Alex.

Let me reply to just two of your comments.

God used them throughout their history to teach about Himself and their own need.

Yes, but He is still using them to reveal His dogged faithfulness and the irrevocable nature of His promises.  This is a case of the greater to the lesser: If God keeps His covenant with those who vehemently reject Him and the Messiah He sends them, then God's faithfulness and promises are sure in all lesser cases.  This is the point, I think, that many seem to miss.  Israel is not so evil that God makes an exception to His amazing attributes.

Paul says, these things are written for examples, encouragement, and hope of us readers

Yes, that is what Paul says.  But the fact you mention this suggests you are interpreting it as "Paul says, these things are written ONLY  for examples, encouragement, and hope of us readers."   Israel and Israel's history serves many purposes; we don't want to offer a part for the whole.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Larry's picture

Moderator

Anyway, are there any other reasons that you can think of besides the redemptive approach is lacking than its not *cover to cover*. 

I won't pretend to speak for Dr. McCune, but for my part, I don't think a "redemptive motif" is big enough to explain the things that don't have to do with redemption, like creation or judgment or sovereignty over all things including non-redemptive things like the hairs of our head or the birds that fall to the ground. A redemptive motif can only account for these things by what seems like some rather awkward line drawing.

Furthermore, it seems that the overriding message of Scripture is that in the end God wins--he sets up his kingdom for his glory, just like he did at the beginning. Even redemption itself is the servant to the glory of God (Eph 1). So I find the redemptive motif too lacking to explain enough of Scripture. 

alex o.'s picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:

Thanks. Alex.

Let me reply to just two of your comments.

God used them throughout their history to teach about Himself and their own need.

Yes, but He is still using them to reveal His dogged faithfulness and the irrevocable nature of His promises.  This is a case of the greater to the lesser: If God keeps His covenant with those who vehemently reject Him and the Messiah He sends them, then God's faithfulness and promises are sure in all lesser cases.  This is the point, I think, that many seem to miss.  Israel is not so evil that God makes an exception to His amazing attributes.

Paul says, these things are written for examples, encouragement, and hope of us readers

Yes, that is what Paul says.  But the fact you mention this suggests you are interpreting it as "Paul says, these things are written ONLY  for examples, encouragement, and hope of us readers."   Israel and Israel's history serves many purposes; we don't want to offer a part for the whole.

Maybe I didn't express myself well. I do not mean "only," yes, I agree, many purposes.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

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