Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (2) – Theses 1-6


1. Contrary to the dispensationalists’ claim that their system is the result of a “plain interpretation” (Charles Ryrie) of Scripture, it is a relatively new innovation in Church history, having emerged only around 1830, and was wholly unknown to Christian scholars for the first eighteen hundred years of the Christian era.

Response: By “plain interpretation” Ryrie simply meant grammatico-historical hermeneutics (G-H) (see his book  Dispensationalism, 79-88).  There is nothing novel about this.  G-H was employed by the Reformers.   The issue is about whether to use G-H consistently across the board.  This, as Ryrie sates, is what sets off Dispensational hermeneutics from other theologies.

That “plain interpretation” only came to light in the 1830’s is an egregious error which any textbook touching upon the subject will rectify.  That it should be employed consistently when interpreting Scripture is more to the point.  But the point is a minor one.  The argument is that if something is “relatively new” it must be refused admittance.  This commits two clear errors:  1. this would have to apply to G-H (or Covenant Theology) circa 1550-1650.  G-H was not the preferred hermeneutic of the “Church” for over a thousand years!  It used to be “a relatively new innovation.”  2. But the main point here is that this abuses the quadrilateral – Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience.  One cannot use Tradition to trump Scripture.  Tradition (as Reason and Experience) is subservient to Scripture.  What really matters here is whether Dispensational theology is biblical.  I say it is.  The authors and signatories of the 95 Theses say otherwise.  That is where the matter must be settled.


2. Contrary to the dispensationalist theologians’ frequent claim that “premillennialism is the historic faith of the Church” (Charles Ryrie), the early premillennialist Justin Martyr states that “many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise.”  Premillennialist Irenaeus agreed.  A primitive form of each of today’s three main eschatological views existed from the Second Century onward.  (See premillennialist admissions by D. H. Kromminga, Millennium in the Church and Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology).

Response: We are glad that the reader is directed to two books to check out this assertion.  The “quotes” from Ryrie and Justin remind us of a Watchtower magazine.  No way to check them out.  But to get a better idea of Erickson’s opinion I submit the following:

“The first three centuries of the church were probably dominated by what we would today call premillennialism…” (Christian Theology, 1213 cf. 1215).

To this agree John Hannah (Our Legacy: The History of Christian Doctrine, 306), and James Orr (The Progress of Dogma, 345-346).  Orr writes, “So far as the early Churchhad a doctrine of the last things it was prevailingly chiliastic, i.e., millenarian.”  In a footnote he gives Papias, Justin and Irenaeus.  It would not be difficult to find similar statements in most authoritative texts.

This is another incidental matter.  That a minority held differing views on the millennium in the first three centuries may be true.  But premillennialism (though not dispensational) was the popular view.

3. Contrary to the dispensationalists’ attempt to link its history to that of early premillennial Church Fathers, those ancient premillennialists held positions that are fundamentally out of accord with the very foundational principles of dispensationalism, foundations which Ryrie calls “the linchpin of dispensationalism”, such as (1) a distinction between the Church and Israel (i.e., the Church is true Israel, “the true Israelitic race” (Justin Martyr) and (2) that “Judaism … has now come to an end” (Justin Martyr).

Response: Basing “Theses” upon unsubstantiated and undocumented quotations is not wise.  Where does Ryrie assert this?  Are these individuals trying to say that Ryrie or other Dispensational scholars have tried to claim that the early Church held to Dispensational theology?  Ryrie does notice “Dispensational-like Concepts” in the early Church (Dispensationalism, 63-64), but he says clearly (plainly?): “Dispensationalists recognize that as a system of theology it is recent in origin.” (63.  For more on these proto-dispensational concepts see e.g., David L. Larsen, The Company of Hope, ch.4).
Perhaps they are merely saying that Ryrie linked dispenasationalist belief in a literal millennium with early Church belief?  Well, yes, he did.  And why shouldn’t he?  Doesn’t that at least show that holding to premillennialism is not “an innovation”?

4. Despite dispensationalism’s claim of antiquity through its association with historic premillennialism, it radically breaks with historic premillennialism by promoting a millennium that is fundamentally Judaic rather than Christian.

Response: Dispensationalism only claims antiquity for a belief in a literal 1,000 year millennium and for some proto-dispensational schemes in the early Church.  It does not claim that Dispensational theology can be found in the Church fathers (see the documented quote from Ryrie above).

What of the “Judaic rather than Christian” view of the millennium?  This is true.  Dispensationalists see that the promises God made with Israel He made to the nation (this has to do with the doctrine of the Remnant).  Ergo if the fulfilment of these promises casts a “Judaic” hue upon the earthly reign of the King of Israel (Jesus) then so be it.  “The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” (Rom. 11:29).

What Christian influences there will be at that time is not extensively taught in Scripture.  But it will be marked, since we shall be reigning with Christ.  It is not our job to iron out what we don’t like about Scripture by devising non-literal interpretations.

5.  Contrary to many dispensationalists’ assertion that modern-day Jews are faithful to the Old Testament and worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Hagee), the New Testament teaches that there is no such thing as “orthodox Judaism.”  Any modern-day Jew who claims to believe the Old Testament and yet rejects Christ Jesus as Lord and God rejects the Old Testament also.

Response: Really?  John Hagee?  Is he an accepted authority?  Of course he is up the wrong turnpike.  Isn’t Harold Camping a non-millennialist?  Can we move on?

6. Contrary to the dispensationalists’ assertion that the early Church was premillennial in its eschatology, “none of the major creeds of the church include premillennialism in their statements” (R.P. Lightner), even though the millennium is supposedly God’s plan for Israel and the very goal of history, which we should expect would make its way into our creeds.

Response: The mix and match of assertions is rather like reading a Gail Riplinger book. Now, the early Church was predominantly premillennial (try J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 465), but most if not all of the major creeds were formulated after the Second Century so one wouldn’t expect to find it there.

That will do for now.  There is nothing of any substance in any of these assertions.  The “Nicene Council” have gotten off to a bad start.  Maybe they will do better?  We think they will prove more formidable later, and we are glad of it.  But as far as the first six theses are concerned, there is nothing to write home about.

We do hope that if they are going to build “theses” on what somebody is supposed to have said, that they would be good enough to provide the right documentation so that we may check to see whether they are doing right by their Christian brothers, however we may differ on these things.

11 thoughts on “Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (2) – Theses 1-6”

  1. Jesus instituted the church to teach us what scripture means. It is the roman catholic church which was instituted by Jesus and was given this authority to interpret scripture. It is evident that tndividual believers have the ability to determine what exactly scripture should mean, but Jesus gave us a means of knowing with certainty what it is He is trying to tell us through the magisterium of the church.

    God Bless,

  2. Well, David, I think we are not likely to agree on your assertion, none of which is substantiated by Scripture. I am not here concerned with debating Roman Catholicism,but the 95 Theses of my Evangelical brothers. Besides, you will need to give substance to your opinions if you want to be taken more seriously.
    I do not mean to sound at all rude. In fact, you have highlighted one of the points I had made against the “Nicene Council,” which was that Tradition (even in the evangelical use of the term) can NEVER trump Scripture.

    Your views on this matter have been engaged by guys like Mike Gendron’s ‘Proclaiming the Gospel Ministries.’

    Kind regards.

  3. The meaning of the church in Scripture is an organism not an organisation. Christ lay down His life for the church. This is a called out body of believers, who own Christ as Lord and Saviour. The Lord Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man, we only can be redeemed through His blood. No catholic chuch or any other church can give you salvation, it is only accomplished through “…repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” God reveals Christ to us by His Holy Spirit through His Word. Look up these references, they are all Scriptural, no room to enlarge.

  4. #5 If John Hagee is not an authority for dispensationalist then why do so many of them follow him to Washington each year to lobby for support of Israel no matter what Israel wants to do to it’s neighbors.

    If he is “up the wrong turnpike” then why aren’t other dispensationalists trying to get the word out and counter his efforts in Washington? Aren’t Christians supposed to be peacemakers? Yet Hagee lobbys for anything but peace with Israel’s neighbors.

  5. Hagee is not taken seriously by mature Dispensationalists. He has a big following. So what? So does Harold Camping! So does Rod Parsley and Joel Osteen.

    Just because he happens to share some views with mainline Dispensationalists does not make it their business to “counter his efforts” any more than it makes it your business.

    Your comment about “what Israel wants to do to it’s neighbors” is reminiscent of the trend within Reformed CT to see the Israelis as aggressors and their neighbors as equitable and peace-loving. This is borne out of their problem with the existence of a national Israel that has supposedly been superceded by “the new Israel” – the Church. It is not supported by the facts, as any reading of, say, Randall Price’s ‘Unholy War’ will show.

    Do you know what was the chief reason for 9/11? America’s support for Israel. This is according to its planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Israel is filled with lost Jews and Arabs. They all need Christ. But Israel’s existence is and has been constantly under threat from its neighbors, not the other way round. If its leaders make dumb decisions which antagonize Palestinian Arabs it proves they are made from the same stuff as our leaders and the leaders of most other nations. And if John Hagee wants to lobby support for Israel while treating them as free from all wrongdoing that is his right, however misled he may happen to be. He’s an easy target for those opposed to Dispensationalism. But attacking him does not dent the system anymore than attacking Harold Camping dents 5 Point Calvinism.

  6. Well Rob, I, along with other serious Dispensationalists, believe the substance of the system is biblical (to the extent that a human system is), and that the theory is soundly based on a consistent use of grammatico-historical hermeneutics.

    Those who don’t like Dispensationalism are not consistent in their hermeneutics.

    Further, your point about “numerous essays and books” implies I am blissfully unaware of those pieces. I assure you you are mistaken.

    I shall check out your link, but I doubt it will give the coup de grace to Dispensationalism rightly understood.

  7. I skimmed through the article Rob linked.

    All the assertions made by Dina McNulty have been answered time and time again by Dispensationalists.

    I take the liberty of leaving Middletown Bible Church’s address page on Dispensationalism. See especially the section called, “Issues Relating to Israel and the Church”

  8. Hi Paul. I have a good one for you. An Amillennialist tried to claim I can’t cite any premillennial church fathers because they are not ” dispensational premilllennialist ” . The person basically claimed there is no connection between historical premillennialism and dispensational premillennialism in any manner. Yet fails to see that there are essential core issues which provides a connection between them. Then claimed I was trying to do what Mormons and Jehovah Wittnesses do with the church fathers. It appears Amillennialist and Postmillennialist today are becoming more and more unreasonable in their arguments againist dispensational premillennialism. The person demanded that I prove the church fathers were dispensationalist when I specifically stated that I don’t believe they were and that I only cited them for their general premillennial beliefs.

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