My Dispensational Upbringing
I have been taught Dispensationalism from my mother’s womb. I was born in a dispensational environment. It was assumed at my church to be a part of the Gospel. There was never another option presented. It made sense. It helped me put together the Scriptures in a way that cleared up so much confusion. And, to be honest, the emphasis on the coming tribulation, current events that prove the Bible’s prophecy, the fear that the Antichrist may be alive today (who is he?) was all quite exciting. But what might be the biggest attraction for me is the charts! Oh how I love charts. I think in charts. And dispensationalism is a theology of charts!
Making Fun of Dispensationalism
The first time I came across someone who was not a Dispensationalist was in 1999. I am not kidding. It was the first time! I don’t think I even knew if there was another view. It was when I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary (the bastion of Dispensationalism) and I was swimming with some guys who were at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Once they discovered I was a dispensationalist, they giggled and snickered. They made fun of the rapture, the sacrificial system during the millennium, and the mark of the beast (which, at that time, was some type of barcode). It was as if they patted me on the head and said “It’s okay . . . nice little dispensationalist.” I was so angry. I was humiliated. I was a second-rate theologian. They were “Covenantalists” (whatever that was). But they were the cool guys who believed in the historic Christian faith and I was the cultural Christian, believing in novel ideas.
The Novelty of Dispensationalism
This made me mad enough to start studying with great passion. And you know what I came to find out? Dispensationalism was a novel idea. It did not really catch on until the 19th century and was popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible (the standard Dispensational Sword of Truth—oh, and always in the NAS). This disturbed me. But what disturbed me most is that so many of the great theologians and personalities made fun of it. The Left Behind series was in full swing at this time. I think I was on the third book eagerly waiting for the fourth. But when I listened to a popular Reformed radio personality make jokes about the books, using them as foils and examples of how radical Christians can get, I stopped reading them. I was embarrassed to even have them on my shelf.
I was very conflicted. Dispensationalism still made a lot of sense, but I did not like the fact that it was new and my reformed crowd distanced themselves far from it. I remained a dispensationalist through seminary, but I tried to keep it a secret.
As the years went on, I realized that dispensationalism was a theology that was progressively developing. Yes, it was new and in it’s infancy it had many problems. Then there was that note in the Scofield Bible that suggested that the Old Testament saints were saved by works while the New Testament saints were saved by grace.
As a dispensation, grace begins with the death and resurrection of Christ… The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ.
I think it is pretty clear due to other notes (see his notes on Gal. 3:24) that Scofield did not believe in salvation by works, but this did not stop the anti-dispensationalists from continuing to assert that dispensationalism teaches two ways of salvation. On top of this, dispensationalism in the Walvoord era taught that there were two people’s of God and two different places for them in the millennium and the eschaton. This was quite disturbing. Oh, yeah . . . I almost forgot. He also taught that there were two New Covenants, one for the Church and one for Israel. Great guy, but some odd stuff there.
Maturing of Dispensationalism
Yet, again, dispensationalism was in development. It was going from infancy to adolescence to teen years and hopefully to a stable maturity. Charles Ryrie came in and stabilized the views quite a bit. He got rid of some of the vestiges and relics. His Dispensationalism represented the theology in its early 20s. He popped all the zits and the acne was gone. Dispensationalism under Ryie’s reign was strong and stable and lasted for a long time. But it was still maturing. Then came Darrel Bock . . . wait, its time for a chart!
Darrel Bock and Craig Blaising wrote a book in 2000 which represented yet another advancement in dispensationalism. Dispensationalism was definitely maturing. So persuasive was the book that most of the Dallas Seminary staff is now Progressive Dispensationalists. It is now the norm. No more two peoples of God. No more separate heavens. No more sharp divisions between the dispensations. And no more two New Covenants.
Book Recommendation: Progressive Dispensationalism
The Tainting of Dispensationalism
The problem with dispensationalism is that its opponents only attack the infancy stage of development. It is an easy target. But it is unfair and lacks credibility. Every doctrine that all Christians embrace have gone through development and had to mature. The doctrine of the Trinity took three hundred years to mature and articulate itself. Early church fathers, such as Justin Martyr, believed in it, but did not articulate it well. Even the Nicene Creed, as great as it is, barely gives the Holy Spirit a cameo. It is not until the Athanasian Creed (or around that time) in the fifth-century that we get our articulation of the Trinity in a definitive form.
But rarely do people attack an early manifestation of the Trinity. They understand that it took time to mature. It is the same with Dispensationalism. It has matured. So has Covenant Theology. Both Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology have moved closer together. They have not compromised, they have simply matured.
Why I am Not a Dispensationalist
The Problem with Dispensationalism is that the name itself had been tainted to such a degree that it is not worth calling yourself one. It is like the word “Fundamentalist.” I am a Fundamentalist in the historic sense of the word, but I would never call myself one. It means something different today than it did back then.
Because of this, for me, it is best to say I am not a Dispensationalist. There are to many qualifiers that go with the term. If I say I am, then I am pegged for life. But my theology mirrors Progressive Dispensationalism very much. I only have a few changes. I actually called my view “Progressive Covenantalism” back in 2003 when I created The Theology Program (its in Ecclesiology and Eschatology). But there is a book that has come out (2012) called Kingdom Through Covenant that claimed the name. Though it is close to my view, it is not exactly. So, I can’t really call myself a Progressive Covenantalist anymore. I don’t know what to do. Who am I? What am I? Someone help!
(But to all you who know what I am talking about, I am still a dispensationalist . . . shhh, don’t tell anyone).
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