Dispensationalism

Renewing Dispensational Theology: A Suggested Path, Part 2

This completes the thoughts offered previously (see Part 1).

4. Systematic Theology

Coming now to Systematic Theology, the first thing that must be said is that the pretended stand for a partial system must be summarily dropped. Dispensational Theology (DT) cannot be switched out for the term Dispensational Premillennialism. In point of fact, I make bold to say that the notion of Dispensational Premillennialism is a bit of an odd bird without a full-orbed system to back it up. Most Dispensationalists have been blithely contented to append their eschatology on to the end of another system—most often the Reformed position. But this is a dubious, and, let us admit it, halfsighted maneuver.

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Renewing Dispensational Theology: A Suggested Path, Part 1

For one reason or another traditional Dispensationalism has been abandoned by all but a relatively few Bible students. The wild success of the Left Behind novels is no sound indicator to the contrary. Two much better indicators which point decisively the other way are the degree of serious attention given to this point of view in most Biblical and Systematic theologies, which is nugatory; and the stunning lack of scholarly works in these areas by Dispensationalists themselves. As to the latter, I believe I could count on one hand the publications of traditional Dispensationalists of the past generation which even attempt to rival the surfeit of such work from covenant theologians. I say it as a friend; Dispensationalism may be likened to an old car pulled to the side of the road with serious transmission problems. And it has been there for a good long while looking like it needs hauling away.

I feel no need to prove this, as any perusal of the volumes of biblical and systematic theology which have been rolling off the shelves for the past 25 years will show that their authors don’t consider Dispensationalism to be much more than a smudge on the edges of the theological map.

This being said, here are some thoughts on five sectors of truth where Dispensational Theology (DT) might be renewed.

1. Self-Understanding: What Are We About?

In many ways, defining oneself by “dispensations” is more restricting than defining oneself under the theological covenants of Covenant Theology (CT). The dispensations of Dispensationalism are in reality blinders which severely attenuate the exciting potential of plain reading of the Bible. They are non-essentials which have been borne aloft for so long that no one has bothered to look up to see how abject they actually are. What do the concepts “innocence,” “conscience,” “government,” “promise,” “law,” “church” (or “grace”), and “kingdom” have in common as theological ideas (other than their obvious adoption by dispensationalists)?

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What is a "Dispensationalist" Theology?

A Dispensationalist is a Christian who sees in Scripture certain clear divisions in the progress of revelation in which God governs history. At its best this is done on the basis of the covenants revealed in the Bible. A “dispensation” (Greek, oikonomia) is an administration or economy, wherein, within a certain period of time (known to God, but afterwards revealed to man), God pursues His plan through the lives of men. The term oikonomia is made up of two other words: oikos, meaning house, and nemo, meaning to administer, manage, or dispense. Literally, an oikonomia is a house-management or household administration. In its theological usage it is well suited to describe what we might call a divine economy. This is much the way the word is used in Ephesians 1:10; 3:2, 9; Colossians 1:25-26, and 1 Timothy 1:4. These passages also show that Paul held to the reality of certain dispensations in the broad sense given above.

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Signs? Prophets? Miracles?

Reprinted with permission from Baptist Bulletin Sep/Oct 2013. All rights reserved.

Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics meets

CLARKS SUMMIT, Pa.—“Traditional dispensationalists do not have a place where we can go to talk to each other,” says Mike Stallard as he welcomes the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, meeting on the campus of Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, Pa.

Stallard, the seminary dean, is explaining why the council was formed in 2008, and why the steering committee has planned two days of talk. Lots of talk.

Thirty theologians sit at the front of the room at long tables, members of the council. Most of them have their laptops open, looking at papers while the author reads them to the group. The wonky presentation style is familiar to anyone who has attended an academic conference, except the schedule leaves plenty of time for questions. Stallard describes it as “more of a discussion group than a presenter group.”

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Promises to Israel: We Should Expect Literal Fulfillment

If Israel has been chosen to perform a special role in the divine plan, what promises have been given to Israel that will enable that ancient people to fulfill that role?

The Apostle Paul is clear on the great privileges that God has granted Israel. He wrote in Romans 9:4: “who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises.” Paul nowhere intimates that these great privileges have been annulled, forfeited, or cancelled. As a matter of fact the three chapters of which this verse is a part (Rom. 9-11) have as one of their purposes to emphasize that God has not cancelled His promises to Israel or transferred them to some other people! What says Paul in Romans 11:1?: “I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.”

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The Preservation of the Jewish People, Part 1

Some time ago in my Sojourners class I spoke on “The Greatest Reason That the Bible is True” from Deut. 29-30, which deals with the promises of punishment for Israel’s disobedience (fulfilled) and the promises of blessing for them (beginning to be fulfilled in their return to the Land). One of the greatest evidences that the promises are true is that God has preserved the Jewish people through their trials. Here are some further thoughts on that subject—in three parts.

A visiting preacher opened his message with the following provocative statement, “Today I want to tell you how to destroy the Jewish people,” which was the title of the sermon in the Church Bulletin: “How to Destroy the Jewish People.” That rather inflammatory title had also appeared in the local newspaper that week as part of an advertisement for the special meetings the church was conducting with their guest. In a short time, the announced sermon title had resulted in no small commotion in the small town. So significant was the brouhaha that the local rabbi had taken notice and was actually sitting in a pew that morning! Needless to say, the atmosphere in the 11:00 a.m. service at was more than a little charged with emotional electricity.

The preacher then continued his opening remarks with the announcement of his text for the sermon. Has asked his hearers to listen to the words of Jer. 31:31-33. “Behold, the days come, says the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, says the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

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Fidelity-to-Jacob Theology

When it comes to interpreting Scripture, there are a number of common paradigms in use within the evangelical world. Traditional Dispensationalism, Progressive Dispensationalism, Olive Tree Theology, Covenant Theology, New Covenant Theology, Replacement Theology, and Supersessionism are among them.

Some of us fall in between the cracks. For example, I am somewhere between Traditional Dispensationalism, Progressive Dispensationalism, and Olive Tree Theology (developed by Messianic Jew David Stern in Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel).

I am suggesting we need a new, broader term to help make the major division between these viewpoints clear. So I am proposing that those of us who believe that God will fulfill the promises he made to ethnic Israel embrace the clear-cut label, “Fidelity-to-Jacob Theology.” This grouping should include many traditional and progressive dispensationalists, those who embrace olive tree theology, and some others.

This dividing line is an important one and significantly influences how we interpret Scripture. The points of this broad hermeneutic are:

1. The promises God made to Israel (Jacob) will stand.

Since replacement theologians and others sometimes refer to the church as “spiritual Israel” or “the new Israel,” I have chosen the term “Jacob” to emphasize the national and ethnic nature of these promises. God will faithfully keep the promises to the people with whom he made the promises—with the terms understood as they would have been understood at the time. There is no slight of hand, no change of definition, no alterations or added conditions, no “drop-in” coded replacement of words. Instead, God’s promises are completely transparent and God’s integrity certain. Because He is sovereign, even human unbelief cannot inhibit His determinations.

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