Dispie chart

Twelve years ago this month I was digging trenches at an archaeological site in Israel. Unfortunately, I dug myself into a theological hole with my fellow excavators before we were even close to removing all the dirt from our square. One old-school professor at an East Coast college was particularly troubled by my admission of dispensational leanings. He gave me the predictable rundown of objections. “Doc, have you read Progressive Dispensationalism by Blaising and Bock?” I asked. “You might be surprised by some of the things that they say,” I quickly added. His response, which I’ll never forget, was both witty and warped: “I’m not interested in progressing in dispensationalism!”

I give the man props for his clever rhetoric. But if a guy chooses to ignore changes in the script, then it’s probably time to step off the stage. Of course, no one is obligated to get up to speed with current trends in dispensational thought. But I don’t think it’s out of line to say that folks who adopt a “talk to the hand” stance should be the last ones to dig in their heels.

Whew. This little series is proving rather cathartic. On to the business at hand…

Review: Three Brands of Dispensationalism

In Part 1 we introduced the three following schools of dispensational thought:

1. “Classic Dispensationalism” (CD)

2. “Revised” Dispensationalism (RD)

3. “Progressive” Dispensationalism (PD)

We then briefly compared the schools’ historical roots, primary distinctives, and well-known adherents. This was done with the sole intention of showing that the quip “birds of a feather…” won’t stick to dispensationalists—no matter how much they’re tarred!

In this second entry, I want to briefly compare CD, RD, and PD with respect to their hermeneutics, the dispensations, and biblical covenants.

Hermeneutic

We noted earlier that the CD scheme is driven by the belief that God is redeeming two distinct groups of people that will remain separate throughout eternity. Likewise, CD employs a two-pronged hermeneutic. On the one hand, CD adherents interpret the Old Testament literally to determine a text’s earthly purpose. On the other hand, they interpret the Old Testament spiritually to determine a text’s spiritual purpose. It is this “spiritual” reading of an Old Testament text that past popularizers of CD meant by the word “typology.”

RD rejects the spiritual interpretive method referred to as “typology” by CD adherents. Thus, RD does not employ a two-pronged hermeneutic. Instead, RD uses what it calls a “literal,” “plain,” or “normal” interpretation of Scripture. “Literal if possible” has become the mantra of most RD adherents.

Formally speaking, the PD hermeneutic (a.k.a., “complementary” hermeneutic) has been heavily influenced by studies in literary genre, literary form, and rhetorical structure. It is marked by an emphasis upon typology—not the spiritualizing version of “typology” employed by earlier CD adherents, but one that locates patterns of similarity between earlier and later historical persons or events. Practically speaking, the PD hermeneutic lets key Old Testament promises stand as originally given to their original recipients, while allowing New Testament revelation to “complement” those promises by broadening their application. More specifically, PD adherents believe that God leaves intact key Old Testament promises originally given to Israel, but he adds subsequent “riders” that extend the benefits of those promises to redeemed Gentiles.

Dispensations

CD views each dispensation as a period of time during which the human race is tested according to the specifically revealed will of God. The failure of mankind in any given dispensation results in the divine establishment of a new economy distinguishable from the one preceding it. Each distinguishable economy is self‑contained and mutually exclusive from other economies. Of present schemes, CD places the most emphasis upon the number of dispensations in Scripture (usually seven).

RD adherents generally maintain the dispensational scheme found in CD, but with two subtle revisions: (1) individual dispensations are not necessarily seen as watertight compartments (the distinctions between ages are not as sharp); and (2) the emphasis on the number of dispensations is significantly lessened.

PD adherents do not view the various dispensations as different arrangements, but rather as successive arrangements in progressive revelation. Any differences are primarily a matter of emphasis. The dispensations are to be seen as multifaceted expressions of redemption, all culminating in one redemptive plan that finally encompasses both political and spiritual elements.

Biblical Covenants

CD views the Abrahamic Covenant as foundational to all other covenants. It is interpreted literally to derive an earthly application and spiritually to derive a heavenly application. The Mosaic, Palestinian, and Davidic Covenants are all agreed to be earthly, but the New Covenant is viewed from different perspectives. Chafer saw a new covenant in the New Testament that was different from the New Covenant of Jeremiah, while Scofield applied his two-pronged hermeneutic to arrive at a simultaneously literal and spiritual application of Jeremiah’s New Covenant. According to CD adherents, all covenants find their fulfillment in the Millennium.

RD retains the CD notion of a foundational Abrahamic Covenant, as well as earthly Mosaic, Palestinian, and Davidic Covenants. However, it looks from the cheap seats like RD adherents have, in some sense, returned to the spiritual hermeneutic of CD in their handling of the New Covenant. I don’t know how else to make sense of the fact that many RD proponents view the New Covenant as being spiritually fulfilled today while awaiting literal fulfillment in the Millennium.

PD also views the Abrahamic covenant as foundational, though the later Mosaic, Palestinian, Davidic, and New Covenants are seen as merely expounding upon it. For example, in this present age, the New Covenant is the form of the Abrahamic Covenant expressed, whereas the Davidic Covenant is the means of its expression. Belief in the successive, interconnected nature of biblical covenants leads PD adherents to find the inauguration of covenants in the present age, while looking for their consummation in the future. You have likely heard the phrase “already/not yet” used to describe this tension.

Looking Ahead

We’ve “already” seen significant differences between the interpretive approaches represented by CD, RD, and PD. But we’ve “not yet” touched upon the ramifications of these approaches where we feel them most. In our next (and final) installment, we’ll see what each school has to say about the Church, the Kingdom, and salvation. I’ll wrap things up with a quick review and suggest some further reading.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

    8 replies to "What Comes to Mind When You Hear the Word “Dispensationalism”? (Part 2)"

    • […] the next entry, I’ll take a quick, comparative look at CD, RD, and PD with respect to their hermeneutical […]

    • Eriol

      I have read this series with interest and appreciate your desire to engage in irenic theological discourse. I am not confident, though, that you have adequately or accurately represented the “Revised” (“Reformed”?) Dispensational position at all points.

      You wrote,

      “However, it looks from the cheap seats like RD adherents have, in some sense, returned to the spiritual hermeneutic of CD in their handling of the New Covenant. I don’t know how else to make sense of the fact that many RD proponents view the New Covenant as being spiritually fulfilled today while awaiting literal fulfillment in the Millennium.”

      and

      “Belief in the successive, interconnected nature of biblical covenants leads PD adherents to find the inauguration of covenants in the present age, while looking for their consummation in the future.”

      I cite these because I believe they are related. I do not find, in my reading of Pentecost, Ryrie, or others, the notion of “spiritualizing” the present-day experience of the New Covenant to be the fulfillment of the NC. Is it your contention that these RD writers are saying we are experiencing in full now – albeit spiritually – what Israel will one day enter into?

      When David and Solomon experienced the partial or “inauguratory” aspect of the Davidic and Palestinian Covenants, was that a “spiritualizing” of those covenants? I see a parallel between what the people of Israel might have experienced in said covenants (which were abrogated due to the people’s inability to keep the conditions of the unconditional covenants) and that which we enjoy in the present age. If it is spiritualizing to say we are experiencing the NC now, must it not also be said that our understanding of the Davidic and Solomonic kingdoms were spiritualizations of the unfulfilled covenants?

      Help me out here.

    • kolabok21

      That looks like one of Dr. Clarence Larkins Charts from one of his several books on dispensational truths.
      You can not find that type of book anymore in a postmodern world!!!

    • Ed Komoszewski

      Eriol, thanks for your comments. I always appreciate efforts to keep me honest!

      Of course, it’s not possible for me to be completely unbiased in choosing what cryptic remarks to include in a compact review, but I do want to make sure that I’m stating things fairly across the board. That said, I’ll try to address your comments in turn.

      I’ve never seen the label “reformed dispensationalism” used to distinguish one variety from another (I have, however, seen it used to refer to dispensationalists—of any variety—with a particular soteriological bent). That, of course, doesn’t mean that it hasn’t ever been used in the way that you’ve suggested, but the most common designations for Ryrie’s brand of dispensationalism, as far as I can tell, are “revised,” “essentialist,” and “normative.” Some don’t care for the term “revised,” but I think it’s a fair label given its origins as a revision of classic dispensationalism. “Essentialist” is a decent label, too, since this form of dispensationalism has core, non-negotiable essentials that progressive dispensationalism doesn’t share. But I prefer “revised” for the sake of clarity, since classic dispensationalism can also be defined by a set of essential beliefs. Of all the labels, I think that “normative” is the least helpful. After all, who doesn’t want to be “normal”?

      As for my comments on the revised dispensational handling of the New Covenant, I think that I was fair. When I used the words “it looks from the cheap seats” and “in some sense” to preface my remarks about revised dispensationalists spiritualizing the New Covenant, it was to distance myself from any semblance of dogmatism. Further, I think I’m representing what revised dispensationalists have at least implied.

      In his 1953 book The Basis of the Premillennial Faith, Ryrie is quite pointed:

      If the Church does not have a new covenant then she is fulfilling Israel’s promises, for it has been shown that the Old Testament teaches that the new covenant is for Israel alone. If the Church is fulfilling Israel’s promises as contained in the new covenant or anywhere in Scripture, then premillennialism is weakened. One might well ask why there are not two aspects to one new covenant. This may be the case, and it is the position held by many premillennialists, but we agree that the amillennialist has every right to say of this view that it is ‘a practical admission that the new covenant is fulfilled in and to the Church.’ However, since the New Testament will support two new covenants, is it not more consistent premillennialism to consider that Israel and the Church each has a new covenant? (118)

      However, in 1975, Ryrie wrote in a Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia article on the New Covenant (1:392) that

      OT revelation of the covenant concerned Israel alone. The believer today is saved by the blood of the new covenant shed on the cross. All spiritual blessings are his because of this, and many of his blessings are the same as those promised to Israel under the OT revelation of the new covenant…. He is a minister of the new covenant, for there is no other basis than the blood of that covenant for the salvation of any today.

      It sure sounds as if, twenty years later, Ryrie changed his mind about there being two new covenants. If that is indeed the case, then I’m left to wonder by what means Ryrie applies the New Covenant to today’s believer. It won’t do, in my opinion, to say that Christ’s work made payment for the New Covenant to be inaugurated and thus we experience its benefits, while maintaining that the covenant’s inauguration is yet future (as I recall Ryrie suggesting in his revision of Dispensational Today, now simply called Dispensationalism).

      As a further example, Homer Kent wrote the following in Grace Theological Journal (“The New Covenant and the Church,” 6:2 [Fall ‘85]):

      [The New Covenant] will be fulfilled eschatologically with Israel but is participated in soteriologically by the church today.

      Kent notes that this is—or at least was at the time—the most common understanding among dispensational premillennialists. What’s more, Kent enlists a quote from Scofield—who openly admitted spiritualizing the New Covenant in relation to Church-age believers—as support for the above statement.

      No, I don’t know of any revised dispensationalists who would forthrightly say, “Our system is characterized by a literal interpretation of Scripture—except where the New Covenant and its application to believers today is concerned. We spiritualize things on that front.” But as I’ve said, I don’t know quite how to make sense of statements like those cited above. They, along with other statements I’ve seen and/or heard in the past, seem to suggest that New Covenant blessings are experienced by believers today even though the covenant has not been inaugurated and, in fact, awaits an encapsulated fulfillment in the future. I’m struggling to see how the blessings of a yet-to-be-inaugurated covenant intended for national Israel can apply to the Church right now apart from some degree of spiritualizing. The only way that I see to avoid seeming spiritualization of the covenant is to view it as presently inaugurated and expanded to include Gentile believers.

      I think it’s fair to say that revised dispensationalists have sensed this tension. John Master argues, if I remember correctly, that it’s not the New Covenant but a new covenant (of which there are many) that believers benefit spiritually from today. This allows him to say that the actualization of the New Covenant is entirely future. I’m not sure, though, that this isn’t overly nuanced. And not many—even in the revised dipsensational crowd—share Master’s view of multiple new covenants.

      DTS professor Elliott Johnson avoids the problem a bit differently. He distinguishes between the institution and inauguration of a covenant. According to Johnson, the New Covenant has been instituted insofar that its provisions were offered to Israel after Christ’s death, made available to the remnant at Pentecost, and extended to Gentiles in Acts 10. It was these provisions that became the basis of ministry described by Paul and the author of the Book of Hebrews. But the covenant will be inaugurated in an encapsulated fashion in the future. I’ve tried to get my arms around this distinction, but it’s just too subtle for me.

      All of that said, I admit that Master and Johnson would take exception to my comment, however tentative, about revised dispensationalists spiritualizing the New Covenant in application to present-day believers. But that’s why I was careful to say that “many RD proponents view the New Covenant as being spiritually fulfilled today” (emphasis added). It’s been my experience (both in my undergraduate and graduate training under dispensationalists) that revised dispensationalists in general use language like that seen in the above quotations from Ryrie (1975) and Kent. Still, I could have been even more careful with my language (or not opened the can of worms at all!). I let too much of my bias show through, unnecessarily so, and I regret that.

      With respect to your final comments, I do not think that David’s or Solomon’s experiences of partial blessings afforded by inaugurated covenants constitute any form of spiritualizing. My comments were made with respect to a covenant that revised dispensationalists insist has not been inaugurated. I’m trying to understand how a covenant that has not been inaugurated somehow manages to dispense its blessings now. That was the thinking behind my statement about the revised dispensational handling of the New Covenant. But, again, I could—and should—have left that out of my summary, given my overarching purpose for this series and my genuine desire to keep my biases under wraps. All I can say is that my life continues to exhibit proof that the New Covenant hasn’t been consummated yet. On that we can all agree!

    • Eriol

      Ed:

      Actually, my name is Mike: I used “Eriol” when I developed one of my “Lord of the Rings” blogs and haven’t replaced it.

      I appreciate the time you have taken to respond to my comment. Your post, as well as your comment, was very heuristic (albeit not persuasive) and helped me push the envelope and pursue my own thoughts on the matter.

      I have read “PD” by Bock and Blaising as well as “CD” by Bateman and, of course, Ryrie’s works. (I’ve also read Chafer’s ST and studied Scofield’s, Pentecost’s, and others’ writings, too.) I did not choose to attend DTS, graduating instead from Denver Seminary where I studied under Lewis and Demarest for ST and, among others, Donald Burdick for NT. What I have learned of dispensationalism has been a result of independent study and listening to hours and hours of lectures from S. Lewis Johnson (to whom I am greatly indebted, although I do not share his Reformed position. But, to employ one of his more humorous quotes, “Now he knows!”). I defer, therefore, to your greater knowledge of history and development of dispensationalism. I hope to learn, not argue, from your articles and subsequent comments.

      Let me make a few quick clarifications and comments before focusing on my main area of interest.

      1. My suggestion of “Reformed” was not serious. I have had too many “discussions” with Reformed individuals online to seriously suggest that label for dispensationalists of any stripe! Sorry for the confusion.

      2. “Revised” is adequate, although I would prefer something along the lines of “Refined” or “Modern” (in contrast to “Classic”). But the Revised label will probably stick and should be used to avoid confusion. Personally, “Revised” conjures up associations with the RSV and is a bit distasteful. Perhaps “NAS Dispensationalism”?

      3. Following up on my “NAS” comment, my humor is frequently occluded by the medium of writing. I like my wine and humor very dry, thank you. I’ll try to note attempted humor in the future so as not to waste time.

      4. “. . . who doesn’t want to be ‘normal’?” Never ask this of a psychologist.

      5. I would revise (refine?) Ryrie’s 1975 comment as Kent seems to have done, making it read,

      “The believer today is saved by the blood of the new covenant shed on the cross. All soteriological blessings are his because of this . . .”

      Which leads to my main point:

      By adducing the experiences of David and Solomon, I was attempting to make a point about all unconditional covenants and dispensations. That is, all such covenants are offered to God’s people within a particular dispensation; sometimes the dispensation is initiated by the giving of a covenant (e.g., Abrahamic and Mosaic). The failure to fulfill the stewardship of the operant dispensation results in a – what? revocation? postponement? – interruption in the experience of the covenant promises and blessings for that generation.

      My understanding of PD (which is limited, admittedly) is that the inauguration of the NC will evolve or morph into the realization of the covenant in the future. My own thinking is that the promises are forfeited by the recipients of the covenant due to their failure to fulfill their stewardship in that dispensation. Thus, the present dispensation (Grace or Church) will end in judgment and be followed by the implementation (or offer) of the covenant promises and blessings in a new dispensation (the Kingdom). This is not to suggest that the church has supplanted Israel and now inherits the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant; I won’t go into that for the sake of brevity, but know that I do keep Israel and the Church distinct eschatologically, if not ontologically.

      Within every dispensation, as you know, there is always a faithful remnant. During this present intercalation, the Church is analogous – and only analogous – to the remnants of earlier dispensations. The true, faithful believers during the time of the united kingdom, therefore, enjoyed the limited, tangible, and temporal benefits of the Davidic and Palestinian Covenants; when the nation as a steward failed, however, the promises and blessings were revoked for that dispensational generation. People at that time enjoyed a sin-limited experience of certain aspects of the expanded Abraham Covenant even as believers today enter into the soteriological and – yes – spiritual (not to be confused with spiritualized) blessings of the New Covenant.

      If this transitory implementation of the NC is what PDs mean by “inauguration,” then I agree. But I get the sense that they/you mean something quite different, i.e., a present-day implementation of the New Covenant with Christ on the Davidic throne in heaven which will continue into the next age. While it is certainly true that some aspects of earlier dispensations carry over to subsequent dispensations, I would stop short of the enthronement of Jesus Christ in His capacity as the Davidic King who will rule over His people in the same fashion as He will rule in the coming dispensation.

      I will stop at this point, for two reasons: first, I’m not sure I’m being clear on this and don’t want to be confusing or confused; second, I’m only now putting pen to paper (parchment?) and thus my statements are tentative. I would hope this could be a dialectic and allow me to further develop my thinking on this.

      A quote about iron sharpening iron would be good here, if only I could think of one.

      Thanks again for the posts, extended reply, and reading this. I’ll understand if you don’t want to pursue this at this time.

      Mike

      BTW, I would suggest not trying to keep your biases/beliefs out of your posts. First, it’s impossible; second, you have a right to express your beliefs. All that fairness requires is that you state your beliefs/biases up-front and then do as fair a job as possible – which you do very well.

    • vangelicmonk

      Good discussion so far on a subject I need to continually study. I have
      enjoyed observing things so far. I’m sure I will get into a greater discussion
      at a later point.

    • Jacob Sweeney

      I have been looking for the final installment of this series on the website and it doesn’t appear to be up. What the final post ever written or has it become lost?

    • Paige-Patric Samuels

      The exponents of Covenant theology seems somewhat apothadic in their argument towards Dispensationalism . As they see in the New Testament the Nation of Israel as a metaphor for the church. Resulting in replacement theology.
      Ryrie, seem to view two covenant, as if one fail so let me try another, this view has now been abandoned. It is not to clear where Dallas theological Seminary and Moody Bible College are in the way of Dispensationalism. As they seem to a tendency to move toward Reformed thinking. As if the reformed view is the best and only way believers Pristis should be view in relation to their Soterialogy and ecclisiology. I have used Ryrie Dispenstational view points in tern John Walvoord, Chafer, Bullinger, AE. Knoch Concrdant Publishing Concern etc. System over 20 years, It is difficult to ignore some basic principals in understanding the principal of Scriptures one is .-Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved , a worker who had no need to be ashamed, , rightly handling (Lit. correctly cutting) ESV, does not highlight the metaphor, the Greek element othotomeo,which comes from the a Greek word family orthodontic-correcting irregular teeth. Orthopedics correct joints of bones. Orthography correct spelling. From this we can deduce then, that their must be a correct cutting, ( not taking a scissors and cut up the scriptures), but to be able to see the truth relating to the Church that makes up Christ body, the truth that relates to the Bride-‘the Nation of Israel.’ What is the eschatology relating to the church? What is the eschatology relating to the Nation of Israel. Currently I see a lot of anti-Semitic ism, in the Church, in terms of there theology as to the nation of Israel, As it appears they cease to exist. A final but not conclusive not on this Miles Coverdale (Translated ) the first Bible into English in 1535. said:-It shall greatly help thee to understand scripture, if thou mark not only what is spoken or written …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.