Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (6) – Theses 18-23

18. Contrary to the dispensationalists’ structuring of law and grace as “antithetical concepts” (Charles Ryrie) with the result that “the doctrines of grace are to be sought in the Epistles, not in the Gospels” (Scofield Reference Bible – SRB, p. 989), the Gospels do declare the doctrines of grace, as we read in John 1:17, “For the law was given by Moses; but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ,” and in the Bible’s most famous verse: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Response: Dealing first with the Scofield quote, we are at least glad to get a reference!  But let’s reproduce the whole SRB quotation: “The doctrines of grace are to be sought in the Epistles, not in the Gospels; but those doctrines rest back upon the death and resurrection of Christ, and upon the great germ-truths to which He gave utterance, and of which the Epistles are the unfolding.  Furthermore, the only perfect example of perfect grace is the Christ of the Gospels.”

The only thing Scofield appears to be pointing out here is the Protestant view that the unfolding of the DOCTRINES of grace are in the Epistles.  That is why evangelicals tend to fetch their doctrinal underpinnings from places like Paul’s epistles to the Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, etc., more than from the Gospels. This is the old concern about “a canon within the canon,” which all evangelicals have been charged with; that is, deriving their doctrines from the Epistles in preference to the Gospels.  It is not peculiar to Dispensationalists.

I could not find the phrase “antithetical concepts” in Ryrie.  It may be there but I felt no need to send out a search party for it.  Ryrie is very clear on this matter: “In answer…to the…question as to the relation of the Mosaic`Law to grace, it was built upon what preceded without abrogating previously made promises, and it introduced a distinctive economy [dispensation] in God’s dealings with the world.  This is not double-talk, for we have already noted that a dispensation OFTEN INCORPORATES FEATURES FOUND IN OTHERS (I highlight this because CT’s are always saying each dispensation includes NO features of others).” – Dispensationalism, 111.

After citing Berkhof to show that CT’s see “dispensational” element to the Sinaitic covenant, Ryrie continues: “All writers, of whatever theological persuasion, are sensitive to the antithetical nature of law and grace, and at the same time they all desire to maintain the doctrine of salvation by grace at all times.  Both emphases are necessary, for there is an antithess between the law and grace (or what do John 1:17; Rom. 6:14, and Gal. 3:23 mean?), and salvation has always been by grace.” – Ibid.

19. Contrary to the dispensationalists’ historic position that the Sermon on the Mount was designed for Israel alone, to define kingdom living, and “is law, not grace” (SRB, p. 989), historic evangelical orthodoxy sees this great Sermon as applicable to the Church in the present era, applying the Beatitudes (Matt 5:2-12), calling us to be the salt of the earth (Matt 5:13), urging us to build our house on a rock (Matt 7:21-27), directing us to pray the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13), and more.

Response: That some older Dispensationalists viewed the Sermon on the Mount as for Israel, or as “law” is true.  But SRB should not be misunderstood here: “The Sermon on the Mount is law, not grace, for it demands as a condition of blessing (Mt.5:3-9) that perfect character which grace, through divine power, creates (Gal.5:22,23).”  Scofield and Chafer believed that the Sermon held many secondary applications for today.  Other Dispensationalists, meanwhile, like Ryrie (and perhaps the majority of others), recommend Lloyd-Jones’s exposition as an accurate interpretation at most points (see Ryrie, ibid, 98).  They also see an eschatological aspect to the Sermon in view of the coming Millennial Kingdom.  But so do some non-dispensationalists.  Furthermore, no Dispensationalist would deny what is said above about “historic evangelical orthodoxy’s” applying the Sermon to the Church.  Although many evangelicals might not be prepared to repeat “the Lord’s Prayer” as the 18th thesis appears to recommend.

All concerned should read John A. Martin’s “Dispensational Approaches to the Sermon on the Mount” in Toussaint & Dyer (eds.), Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, 35-48.

20. Despite the dispensationalists’ vigorous assertion that their system never has taught two ways of salvation (Couch), one by law-keeping and one by grace alone, the original Scofield Reference Bible, for instance, declared that the Abrahamic and new covenants differed from the Mosaic covenant regarding “salvation” in that “they impose but one condition, faith” (SRB, see note at Ex. 19:6).

Response: For arguments sake we shall allow that Scofield meant to teach two ways of salvation.  IF HE DID, HE WAS WRONG.  Does that mean ALL Dispensationalists must be painted with the same brush?  Darby certainly did not teach such a thing.  Neither did Brookes, or Peters or Scroggie or Sauer or Walvoord or Pentecost or McClain, or a hundred other Dispensationalists.

May I recommend interested readers (or anyone who is planning to lambast Dispensationalism) to read Tony Garland’s article, “Does Dispensationalism Teach Two Ways of Salvation?”

21. Contrary to the dispensationalists’ central affirmation of the  “plain interpretation” of Scripture (Charles Ryrie) employing (alleged) literalism, the depth of Scripture is such that it can perplex angels (1 Pet 1:12), the Apostle Peter (2 Pet 3:15-16), and potential converts (Acts 8:30-35); requires growth in grace to understand (Heb 5:11-14) and special teachers to explain (2 Tim 2:2); and is susceptible to false teachers distorting it (1 Tim 1:7).

Response: How do the Nicene Council know these things?  The reply comes back, “Because these verses plainly teach it!”  Next…

22. Despite the dispensationalists’ claim to be following “the principle of grammatical-historical interpretation” (Charles Ryrie), they have redefined the method in a way that is rejected by the majority of non-dispensational evangelicals (and even “progressive dispensationalists”) who see that the Bible, while true in all its parts, often speaks in figures and types—e.g., most evangelicals interpret the prophecy in Isaiah and Micah of “the mountain of the house of the Lord being established as the chief of the mountains” (Isa 2:2b, Mic. 4:1b) to refer to the exaltation of God’s people; whereas dispensationalism claims this text is referring to actual geological, tectonic, and volcanic mountain-building whereby “the Temple mount would be lifted up and exalted over all the other mountains” (John Sailhammer) during the millennium.

Response: Here is a standard definition of grammatical-historical (G-H) hermeneutics from a non-dispensationalist:

“Its fundamental principle is to gather from the Scriptures themselves the precise meaning which the writers intended to convey. It applies to the sacred books the same principles, the same grammatical process and exercise of common sense and reason, which we apply to other books. The grammatico-historical exegete…will inquire into the circumstances under which [the original author] wrote, the manners and customs of his age, and the purpose or object which he had in view. He has a right to assume that no sensible author will be knowingly inconsistent with himself, or seek to bewilder or mislead his readers.” – Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, 173.

Other examples from non-dispensationalists could be given.  It is the authors of the 95 Theses who are not totally forthcoming with their definitions.  For example, PD’s are open about the fact that they do not employ just G-H hermeneutics.  They call their approach grammatical-historical-literary-canonical or “complementary hermeneutics.”  CT’s will freight in theological interpretation alongside of G-H when they think it necessary.

Of course, “plain-sense [G-H] interpretation” does not ignore figures of speech in Scripture anymore than it does in daily conversation.  But it insists that these figures have a literal referent!  So it is with Isaiah 2:2f.  Indeed, why did the authors not cite the SRB  on these verses?

The difference in interpretation is not that Dispensationalists have to be literalistic and ignore all figures of speech or literary genre.  It is whether those who wish to ignore the contexts (e.g. “house of the Lord”; “Jerusalem,” “Jacob,” “last days”) are justified in introducing allegorical interpretation when none is needed.

23. Despite the dispensationalists’ conviction that their “plain interpretation” necessarily “gives to every word the same meaning it would have in normal usage” (Charles Ryrie) and is the only proper and defensible method for interpreting Scripture, by adopting this method they are denying the practice of Christ and the Apostles in the New Testament, as when the Lord points to John the Baptist as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Elijah’s return (Matt 10:13-14) and the Apostles apply the prophecy of the rebuilding of “the tabernacle of David” to the spiritual building of the Church (Acts 15:14-17), and many other such passages.

Response: Plain-sense interpretation does not alleviate all the difficulties involved in understanding Scripture (See Thesis 21 above).  Dispensationalists have never claimed to be able to unravel every verse infallibly.  We are all trying to study the Bible accurately, and we can all learn from each other.

In Matt.17:10-13 Jesus refers to John as Elijah who “has come already.”   So in some sense “Elijah” has come. Yet this is not the end of the matter.  For in John 1:21 John himself is asked whether he is Elijah and he forthrightly answers “I am not.”  But in another passage we are told that John “shall go…in the spirit and power of Elijah.” (Lk. 1:17).  In light of this perhaps it is best to see John as encapsulating the qualities of Elijah while not entirely replacing the eschatological Elijah.  This is Leon Morris’s interpretation.  (The authors need to correct the Matthew reference to 11:13-14).

Regarding Acts 15:14-17, we cannot go into it here.  It need only be noted that James does not say the prophets (the Amos citation seems representative) were fulfilled, only that they “agreed” that the Gentiles would also be brought in.  It is perfectly possible to apply this text to the Apostolic work while preserving its original eschatological integrity.

A good brief treatment of this passage is found in Stanley Toussaint’s Commentary on “Acts” in the Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, edited by Walvoord and Zuck.

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10 comments

  1. Hi Dr. Reluctant. I’ve been following with great interest your critique on the 95 thesis against dispensationalism. I’m just wondering if you are going to finish with the remaining 67. I am hopeful you will.

    God bless,

    Cesar

  2. I intend to, but it’s a long haul 🙂 I just hope the theses improve. Dispensationalism needs good critiques. But so far, sadly, the “Nicene” brethren appear to be content with ad hominen asides and petty charges. Let’s see if things improve.

  3. I just wanted to thank you for your efforts and will be following further installments with great interest. I’ve only recently got a hold of Ryrie’s Dispensationalism and am familiarizing myself with the differences between CD, PD and CT – somewhat of a hurdle for an ex Catholic! Your site is proving quite helpful – along with Pastor George Zeller’s middletownbiblechurch.org

    Blessings

  4. well thanks dude for your effort to defend dispensationalism.nicenecouncil.com is so aggressive to neglect the improtance of true dispensationalism. actually their interpretation of the bible has elements of dispensationalism! God speed!

  5. Here is something from the Writings of Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer which he dealt with the false accusation of him and Scofield of teaching two ways of salvation. I located it online and decided to copy and paste it here.

    [b]DISPENSATIONAL DISTINCTIONS[/b]

    In the late thirties/early forties, a great discussion was still revolving around doctrinal issues supported by C. I. Scofield and Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer of Dallas Theological Seminary. Chafer felt compelled to address these in his editorial section of Bibliotheca Sacra, the DTS Journal. Here is one of those editorials dealing with the dispensational teaching on salvation. I hope you find it stimulating.

    [b]INVENTING HERETICS THROUGH MISUNDERSTANDING by Lewis Sperry Chafer[/b]

    The present ill-conceived wave of resentment, which is being fostered by Covenant theologians against dispensational distinctions in Biblical interpretation has centered its contention of the assertion that those who recognize dispensational distinctions–especially the late Dr. C. I. Scofield and the Editor of Bibliotheca Sacra–teach that there are two ways by which one may be saved–one by law-observance and one by faith in Christ. It seems not to occur to the men who frame their protests against dispensational teachings that their contentions have no basis whatever upon which to rest, nor do they estimate the injury to other men when they, attempting to state what dispensationalists believe, publish what is utterly untrue; going so far as to secure the vote of an Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in condemnation of that which really does not exist.

    Are there two ways by which one may be saved? In reply to this question it may be stated that salvation of whatever specific character is always the work of God in behalf of man and never a work of man in behalf of God. This is to assert that God never saved any one person or group of persons on any other ground than that righteous freedom to do so, which the Cross of Christ secured. There is, therefore, but one way to be saved and that is by the power of God made possible through the sacrifice of Christ.

    The far lesser question as to the precise human terms upon which men may be saved is quite a different issue. This feature is of less import for the reason that man never contributes anything to his salvation whether he be one who keeps the Law or one who trusts Christ alone apart from human works. The colossal error, which supplies any point to the contention of those who accuse others of believing that there are two ways by which the lost may be saved, is just this, that neither works nor faith of themselves can ever save anyone. It is God’s undertaking and always on the ground, not of works or faith, but on the blood of Christ.

    That God has assigned different human requirements in various ages as the terms upon which He Himself saves on the ground of the death of Christ, is a truth of Scripture revelation and is recognized as true by those who receive their doctrine from the Sacred Text rather than from man-made creeds. Nevertheless, when the various human requirements of the different ages are investigated it is found that they come alike in the end to the basic reality that faith is exercised in God. And that one basic element of trust in God doubtless answers that which in every case God must require.

    The Bible indicates three different requirements as the human terms upon which man has been, or now may be, saved.

    First, God imputed righteousness to Abraham, which righteousness is the foremost feature of God’s salvation, on the sole ground that Abraham believed or amened God. Abraham believed God respecting a son whom he would himself generate. The passage–Genesis 15:2-6–should be considered with worthy attention. By divine design, Abraham was the pattern of salvation by grace and the great Apostle draws his illustrations regarding grace almost exclusively from the life of this one Old Testament character.

    Second, God imputes righteousness to those in this age who believe, which righteousness is the foremost feature of salvation, on the one demand that they believe; but this belief is not centered in a son which each individual might generate, as in the case of Abraham, but in the Son whom God has given to a lost world, who died for the world and whom God has raised from the dead to be a Saviour of those who do believe. In Romans 4:23, 24 it is written, “Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.” From this it will be seen that, though the specific object of faith–Isaac in the case of Abraham and Jesus Christ in the case of those becoming Christians–varies, both have a promise of God on which to rest and both believe God. It does not follow that men of all ages may be saved by believing any promise of God; it is only such promises as God has Himself made to be the terms upon which He will save. Both Abraham and the Christian come by faith under transforming power and neither one saves himself. He is saved by God alone and only through the righteous freedom which the death of Christ provides whereby a holy God can save sinful man.

    Third, the salvation of Israel, which salvation is dated to transpire at the second advent of Christ and according to Jehovah’s irrevocable covenant with that nation, and is unique in every particular. As to the fact of their salvation and the precise time of its achievement it is written, “And so all Israel shall be saved; as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins” ( Romans 11:26,27 ) .

    Almost all present confusion respecting dispensational interpretation arises from the persistent failure on the part of men to recognize that Israelites were by physical birth born into covenant relation to God and that the nation, as a nation, was redeemed as to all future generations when God called them out of Egypt. From that time on they are repeatedly addressed by Jehovah as “My redeemed.” This redemption was confirmed, as was all Old Testament redemption, by Christ on the Cross. Far beyond his own understanding the High Priest predicted, “Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not” ( John 11:49, 50 ) . Observe that this is the declaration of the High Priest regarding the one nation and is not of the whole world. Isaiah declared this very thing regarding Israel when he said, “He was taken from prison and from judgment; and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken” ( 53:8 ) . And again the same prophet states that it is in the time of Messiah’s second advent that “the year of my redeemed is come” (Isaiah 63:1-6), and in this great prediction Israel’s salvation alone is in view. As to the covenants with Israel, Jehovah’s oath secures

    (1) an everlasting nation ( Jeremiah 31:31-37 ) ,
    (2) an everlasting possession of their land ( Deuteronomy 30:5 ),
    (3) an everlasting throne ( 2 Samuel 7:16 ),
    (4) an everlasting King ( Jeremiah 33:14-17, 20, 21 ), and
    (5) an everlasting kingdom ( Isaiah 9:6, 7; Luke 1:31-33 ) .

    Regarding the nation and her promised salvation, it will be seen that they are to be saved because of the covenant Jehovah made with them to this end. When they are saved it will be because One died for that nation and on that righteous ground alone, which death for them they will then be moved by the Holy Spirit to accept by faith.

    Jehovah convenants their salvation as indicated in Romans 11:26, 27; but before they are saved and as an event in connection with Christ’s return, that people must pass through their national judgment ( cf. Ezekiel 20:33-44; Matthew 25:1-10, R.V. ) . Those who pass this judgment–likened as they are to five wise virgins–will then constitute the “all Israel” that shall be saved.

    It yet remains to be seen that the salvation of the nation Israel, though the precise character of that salvation has not been fully disclosed, extends to every individual. Jeremiah anticipates this when he writes, “But this shall be the convenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith 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. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:33, 34 ) .

    Thus it is disclosed that the salvation of an Israelite, who lived in the Mosaic age, which age will be completed in the coming Tribulation, was guaranteed by Covenant; yet the individual could, by failing to do God’s revealed will as contained in the Mosaic Law, sacrifice his place in the coming Kingdom and be cut off from his people ( cf. Luke 10:25-28; 18:18-21; Matthew 8:11,12; 24:50,51; 25:29,30 ). Jehovah’s salvation of Israel will be on the ground of Christ’s death. The human terms, because of the covenant promise regarding their salvation, are not the same as that required of Abraham or of any individual in this age, whether Jew or Gentile.

    Once again and finally, let it be asserted that salvation of any character or of any people or upon any varied human terms is the work of God in behalf of man and is righteously executed by God on the sole basis of the death of Christ. It is puerile to intimate that there could be a salvation achieved alone by the power of either law-works or faith. It is only God’s power set free through Christ’s death that can save and it is always and only through Christ’s death, whatever the human responsibility may be.

    1. i know I’m late to the game here, sorry.
      Are there two ways to be saved? I’d say yes 🙂 ( Lev. 18:5)
      the real question is, who has kept the law? Let’s go through the commandments.. Which of us has never broken the law (James 2:10)?
      Thus, there are two possibilities laid out for salvation, but only One has fulfilled the law.
      God’s law is a mirror to reveal our true nature. We are enemies of God through wicked works, in our natural state. Christ fulfilled the law perfectly. He’s the only one who has ever qualified or will ever qualify. God’s law demands MORAL PERFECTION. Those who wish to import portions of the law as part of their salvation or duties must realize that the law condemns. It doesn’t justify one before God (Romans 3:19-20).
      The just live by faith (Hab 2:4).
      Abraham was justified by faith. We don’t trust in works of the law.
      The argument between dispensationalism and covenantal folks doesn’t rest on salvific things naturally, but instead that dispensationalists don’t believe that the church is one with Israel. Could and were Israelites before Christ saved? absolutely. How were they saved? faith (Hab 2:4). They understood they needed a redeemer and looked forward to that promised One (Gen 3:15). Faith involved obedience to the law, since taking God at His Word includes obedience to that Word. Abraham was justified by faith, but obedient to the commandment to circumcise (Gen 17:23-27).
      We obey God’s commandment in the church age by receiving Christ (on a man’s responsibility level) and trusting in His finished work. Anything more (requiring works for salvation) is heresy. There are many commands in the NT that we are given, and do we lose our salvation when we don’t always measure up? No. Again, salvation through faith. (although a lack of obedience could reveal a lack of salvation, our obedience doesn’t DETERMINE our salvation). Did Abraham sin? absolutely. He was justified by faith, and his salvation didn’t depend on his works. Did Moses sin? absolutely. He failed the law of Moses (rebellion against God – Numbers 20:12).
      Did he lose his salvation? no. He lost the ability to enter the promised land.

      Let’s look at some differences between believers in Israel under the Mosaic Law and the Church-age believers – Christians:
      1. every Christian (church age believer) has the indwelling Holy Spirit sanctifying (Romans 8 (9ff) )
      2. every Church Age believer is under a New Covenant (Hebrews 8) — this doesn’t negate the fact that ethnic Israel must still experience this heart surgery.. The New Covenant wasn’t declared till later in Israel’s history, so where does that leave Israelites before that period? We do need to be logical in our understanding of Scripture. Things are bound by time.
      3. In Church Age animal sacrifices are over (Hebrews 9:12ff, and elsewhere)
      4. circumcision not required (Galatians 2)

      I’m no expert on Covenantalism or Dispensationalism, but that’s just a short list, and there are a lot more. Everyone should be able to agree that all Church age believers have the indwelling Holy Spirit and that most OT believers didn’t receive (in general) the Holy Spirit at all, along with the Church age lack of sacrifices, tabernacle, circumcision, etc.
      Covenantal (and modern Judaism) attempts to cover this over just won’t cut it.
      Mosaic law had to be for a specific time and people ONLY.

      thanks again for your great blog, Paul!
      blessings

      1. Matt, this is a good account of some of the things to look for and think about when reading Scripture. I think our CT friends have crafted a theologico-deductive system which creates a hermeneutical vortex out of which they cannot escape. Of course, they have no wish to, but it then means they cannot see well beyond the requirements of their system. Perhaps this explains why their criticisms of DT are often disappointing?

        Your brother,

        P.

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