Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (5) – Theses 11-17

11. Contrary to the dispensationalists’ structuring of redemptive history into several dispensations, the Bible establishes the basic divisions of redemptive history into the old covenant, and the new covenant (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:6; Heb 8:8; 9:15), even declaring that the “new covenant … has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete is ready to disappear” (Heb 8:13).

Response: No dispensationalist denies the division of the Bible into OT and NT.  Neither does he deny the “old covenant”/”new covenant” division (which is not the same).  These verses speak to the biblical covenants.  The passages, e.g. Hebrews 8:13 refer to the replacing of the Mosaic institutions by the work, both past and present, of Christ.  They do not bear upon the progressive revelation which is found within the outworking of these covenants.  Even CT’s identify differing periods of the outworking of the Covenant of Grace.

Any redemptive history must make a difference between Man in Eden and Man after the Fall.  In Romans 4 Paul makes a big point of Abraham receiving the promise before he was circumcised.  There are recognizable transitions in redemptive history.

12. Contrary to the dispensationalists’ frequent citation of the King James Version translation of 2 Tim 2:15, “rightly dividing” the truth, as evidence for the need to divide the biblical record into discrete dispensations, all modern versions of Scripture and non-dispensational commentators translate this verse without any allusion to “dividing” Scripture into discrete historical divisions at all, but rather show that it means to “handle accurately” (NASB) or “correctly handle” (NIV) the word of God.

Response: Some dispensationalists (Scofield, Larkin) emphasized the King James translation of 2 Tim. 2:15.  They layed the emphasis upon “correctly handling” the Word.  Some popular dispensationalists have incorrectly used the verse as a mandate to uncover divisions in Scripture, but this has not been true of most of its scholars.  E.g., Chafer (Systematic Theology); Pentecost (Things to Come); Ryrie (Dispensationalism) do not even cite the text.  And most others interpret it simply as correctly handling the Bible.  This hardly deserves mentioning.

13. Because the dispensational structuring of history was unknown to the Church prior to 1830, the dispensationalists’ claim to be “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” by structuring history that way implies that no one until then had “rightly divided” God’s word.

As most dispensationalists do not lay any stress on the verse, even when they cite it, this charge is obviously false.  That some amateur Bible students may have claimed this is undoubtedly true, but what does this prove about mature dispensationalisim?

This has every look of being a argument put into the mouths of “the dispensationalists” by people willing to scrape barrel-bottoms!

14. Dispensationalism’s argument that “the understanding of God’s differing economies is essential to a proper interpretation of His revelation within those various economies” (Charles Ryrie) is an example of the circular fallacy in logic:  for it requires understanding the distinctive character of a dispensation before one can understand the revelation in that dispensation, though one cannot know what that dispensation is without first understanding the unique nature of the revelation that gives that dispensation its distinctive character.

Response: Covenant theologians make exactly the same claim for their extra-biblical covenants of works and grace.  In fact, they are often quite adamant that not holding to “the Covenant of Grace” destroys the unity of Scripture (Thesis 10 presupposes CT).  Even if we read Ryrie’s statement in the worse light, the most that can be said is that both Dispensationalists and their opponents are sometimes guilty of overstatement and poor logic.  We all are!

But if we are a little less ready to pick up the nearest stone we suggest that Ryrie’s statement is not circular if he is speaking of the process of ongoing study.  He could have in mind a kind of “hermeneutical spiral” by which one appreciates the contents of a passage more and more.  That would not be circular reasoning.  It is a pity we weren’t given the documentation of the Ryrie quotation to help us in this matter!

15. Despite the dispensationalists’ popular presentation of seven distinct dispensations as necessary for properly understanding Scripture, scholars within dispensationalism admit that “one could have four, five, seven, or eight dispensations and be a consistent dispensationalist” (Charles Ryrie) so that the proper structuring of the dispensations is inconsequential.

Response: This “Thesis” seems to be pitting the Ryrie quotation above with another undocumented Ryrie quotation.  Nearly every Dispensationalist scholar will put little emphasis upon the number of dispensations.   The charge is trivial and rather desperate.

16. Despite the dispensationalists’ commitment to compartmentalizing history into distinct dispensations, wherein each “dispensation is a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purpose” and includes a “distinctive revelation, testing, failure, and judgment” (Charles Ryrie), recent dispensational scholars, such as Darrell Bock and Craig Blaising, admit that the features of the dispensations merge from one dispensation into the next, so that the earlier dispensation carries the seeds of the following dispensation.

Response: There is no “commitment to compartmentalizing history.”  There is a commitment to observing what the Scriptures say.  If this involves the recognition of dispensations so be it.

The Theses is saying some Dispensationalists disagree among themselves.  Are we to suppose that NO Covenant Theologians disagree among themselves?  Did Hoeksema agree with Berkhof?  Does Frame always agree with Horton?  Do all CT’s agree with Kline?

Whether Blaising & Bock are dispensationalists other than in name is a matter that has been discussed by both DT’s and CT’s.  Most traditional DT’s would agree with CT’s Vern Poythress and Keith Mathison that “Progressive Dispensationalism” totally redefines Dispensationalism, and is, in fact, much more closely related to the premillennialism of George E. Ladd.

17. Despite the dispensationalists’ affirmation of God’s grace in the Church Age, early forms of dispensationalism (and many populist forms even today) deny that grace characterized the Mosaic dispensation of law, as when C. I. Scofield stated that with the coming of Christ “the point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation” (cf. John 1:17), even though the Ten Commandments themselves open with a statement of God’s grace to Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exo 20:1).

Response: Grace has always characterized God’s dealings with sinful men.  No Dispensationalist would deny such a thing.  Dispensationalists do teach that the revelation of Divine grace increases within the progress of redemption, and this is especially true in reference to Jesus Christ (Jn.1:17. Cf. Rom. 10:4-10; Eph.3:2,7-8).

The Scofield quotation has been explained countless times.  Certain CT’s will bring it up perpetually as if it had never been addressed.  They will never stop.  Still, what Scofield meant was that there was no salvation under the Law if one flouted the sacrificial cult.  The sacrifices anticipated the Cross.  Good intentions didn’t cut it under Moses’ Law.  Substitutionary animal sacrifices were mandatory.  As such, they depended on the Cross. They were insufficient of themselves. 

John 1:17 cannot be ignored as if the revelation of grace under the Law was the same as it is after the Cross.

This objection, like many of the foregoing, is inconsequential.  The “Nicene Council” are grabbing at straws.  The “former dispensationalists” who signed the Theses ought to have known this.  Perhaps their aquaintance with Dispensationalism was rudamentary?  One thing is clear.  The “Nicene Council” would do better if they concentrated on more substantive charges and provided more documentation of them.

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8 comments

  1. Would anyone dare to say they’ve read everything and heard everything? Chances are they haven’t read “Edward Irving is Unnerving” on the Nov. 12 blog “Our Daily Bread” sponsored by media giant Joe Ortiz. It can turn anyone inside out! Marcie

  2. Marcie, let me point out a few things:

    1. Just because no one has read everything does not mean they are ignorant. Usually, it is those who have read very little who think they know more than they do.

    2. I am quite familiar with Dave MacPherson’s material. He gains notoriety from attacking Dispensationalism – especially the Pre-Trib. Rapture. It seems to be his “calling.”

    3. Whether Irving or Maggie MacDonald or whoever else believed this stuff (and they didn’t btw!) is totally irrelevant. What you and I (and MacPherson) ought to be concerned about is what the Bible has to say about all this.

    If you have anything substantial to add from your study of Scripture, or if you have a biblical question I would be glad to hear it. But don’t waste time on this propagandist nonsense. Neither I nor the brethren I am disagreeing with would fall for such piffle.

    If you want to be turned “outside-in” stop reading these people and study your Bible!

  3. Hi Paul,

    Regarding point #17: Would you agree that not only has the revelation of grace increased (via the NT) but also the provisions of grace (ie. Indwelling Holy Spirit, new self/new creation, resurrection power, etc)? What the church has by virtue of being in Christ the Risen One is incomparably greater than what the OT saints had, is it not?

    Steve

  4. Hi Paul,

    Another (lengthier) comment on point #17. The issue of OT salvation has come up twice in my life. The first time involved the giving of the gospel for the first time to the people group we were working with in Africa. Though we were both coming from a dispensational perspective, my partner and I disagreed on how to explain OT salvation. On one hand, we knew that OT saints weren’t saved by works (ie. by doing the sacrifices) but on the other hand we knew that they were under the law and that obedience to God involved the sacrifices. Perhaps the most difficult passages to explain were those that tied sacrifices to atonement and forgiveness:
    Lev.6:6 Then he shall bring to the priest his guilt offering to the Lord, a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation, for a guilt offering, 7 and the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord, and he will be forgiven for any one of the things which he may have done to incur guilt.” (Also Lev.4:20,26 and many more)

    That was 13 years ago. Now I find myself discussing this issue once again though this time with a good friend who has been heavily influenced by CT thinking. His first contention against dispensationalism was that it taught salvation and propitiation through the animal sacrifices. And I totally understand that from his perspective it is pointless to talk about the merits of dispensationalism if I cannot fully dispel these charges.

    Along this line, I think the statement, “Substitutionary animal sacrifices were mandatory” needs to be clarified unless you truly mean they were mandatory for salvation. (And if that is what you mean I cannot agree. If there is something I must do in order to be saved, I am saved (at least partially) by my works.)

    I lean heavily toward the thought that the OT sacrifices were a matter of obedience and fellowship and that the OT salvation “message” is not very explicit.

    Your thoughts?

    Thanks,

    Steve

    1. Steve,

      Thanks for the query. First, let me point you to this piece on “The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament” – https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2010/02/06/repost-the-holy-spirit-in-the-old-testament-1/

      Next, the sacrificial system was designed only for Israel under the Mosaic covenant. The question arises, are unsaved Gentiles under the Mosaic covenant? The answer to the question put in that way must be “No”, because the covenant was not made with them. But if we ask, are Gentiles under the Decalogue, minus the sabbath (as a moral reflection of God’s eternal character), then the answer must be “Yes.” It is always wrong to worship idols, commit adultery, murder, covet, etc.

      But you are about right when you speak of “obedience and fellowship”. I shall be reviewing a book on this subject quite soon, but it will be enough to say here that the twin purposes of imitating God and attracting or maintaining His presence.

      You ask about my line, “substitutionary animal sacrifices were mandatory.” Well, we know they could never take away sin (Heb. 10:4), although they could sanctify externally (Heb. 9:13). As I say, “The sacrifices anticipated the Cross.” As such, they depended on the Cross. They were insufficient of themselves (I shall include that line ;-)).

      You write, “I think the statement, “Substitutionary animal sacrifices were mandatory” needs to be clarified unless you truly mean they were mandatory for salvation. (And if that is what you mean I cannot agree. If there is something I must do in order to be saved, I am saved (at least partially) by my works.)”

      Under the Mosaic covenant they were mandatory. Not to sacrifice was a sign of disobedience, as you imply. If an OT Israelite was right, he would sacrifice. Not to earn salvation (works), but to show that his faith in the coming Savior was living and true (cf. James 2). Simply sacrificing saved noone. But not sacrificing displayed unbelief in God’s grace.

      In wicked times (e.g. in the days of Amos or Hosea), was it possible not to sacrifice and instead concentrate on acts of mercy and be saved? No. First because that really would be salvation by works, and also because of the nature of sacrifice in their worship.

      Hope that helps a bit.

      God bless you and yours,

      Paul

  5. Hi Paul,

    Wow, I just finished all your posts on this subject! Thank you for hanging in there to answer all 95 theses.

    The biggest thing that stands out to me in your writings is that you seek to let the Scriptures speak for themselves. I want to have a clear conscience in the way I approach the Word; I want to exegete and not eisegete. Thank you so much for the encouragement.

    I read the article you mention above as well as other related material on your blog. I appreciate the things you are saying and have been giving them careful thought.

    It is interesting to me that something so important as salvation is so little described in the OT.

    BTW, have you read this article http://www.biblicalreader.com/btr/Salvation_in_the_OT.htm? It is a worthwhile read. The author (Sam Smith) makes the case that indwelling and regeneration go hand-in-hand and that neither can be proven from the OT. He also does a good job of refuting Feinberg’s contention that “Since he decreed it [Christ’s death], it was an accomplished fact in history.” This is exactly what my friend believes but I see serious problems with this view. [The problem is that it probably seems to my friend that I am dishonoring the work of Christ by not attributing all the benefits of that work to OT saints. This may be one of the main reasons CTers won’t even consider DT.]

    If you do take the time to read the article I would appreciate your thoughts.

    Thanks again,

    Steve

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