Diagnosing The Dispensational Malaise: An Opinion (Pt.1)

This is a follow-up to my post about the lack of young people at the Pre-Trib Conference.

I promised to write a kind of follow up to my musing about the disturbing absence of young people from the Pre-Trib Conference.  In this post I try to interact with some of the comments that were made and to do a bit of diagnosis of the problems I think I see within “The Dispensational Camp.”

In one of his comments on my previous lament my esteemed friend Tony Garland points to a general downgrade within the evangelical constituency as a whole.  The trend I am seeing is, therefore, part of a larger trend within the Churches.

In reply, while I think this needs consideration, I do not think it furnishes a major cause of the trend I believe I am seeing.  My reasons for saying this are that, firstly, if there is a trend away from more conservative positions – and there may be – this does not seem to have impacted those teaching Covenant Theology (CT) or Arminian theology or other positions within evangelicalism.  How is that to be accounted for?

Secondly, Dispensational theology (DT) was almost overnight replaced by Progressive Dispensationalism (PD) in many formerly Dispensational schools.  That this could happen as it did shows that the old teaching did not claim for itself the sort of credibility which is necessary for any teaching to persevere in the academy.  And while it might be admitted that DT came to be equated with the naivete of the post-war age, the question still lingers as to why it was abandoned so painlessly by so many former adherents and why many young dispensationalists continue to leave it after finding it unsatisfactory.

I must confess that I tend to resist defensive answers which divert attention away from what may be real concern within DT.  Tony himself is not averse to internal critique (besides, he is more gracious than I), but I believe he would even say that most leading Dispensationalists tend to react rather than re-think.

When a certain system is under the cosh its best friends will listen to the criticisms being leveled against it; take notice of any decline, and then seek to improve the system and arrest the decline:  not by going on the defensive, but by positively engaging the dispute by developing Dispensational doctrine and how it reflects Biblical revelation.  But this, by and large, has not been done.

It could be pointed out here that Covenant Theologians are themselves very sensitive to criticism, especially when it comes to the “doctrines of grace.”  But in reply I would point to the many and varied works of CT’s which make real contributions to the development and vivacity of that approach.  Moreover, these works cover a great deal of theological and apologetic ground.  They are interesting and serious and challenging (in the best sense of the word).  Whatever may be said about “the cult of Piper” or the “young, restless and reformed” brigade, it remains an insurmountable truth that John Piper has written fine works bringing his doctrine to bear on many important issues.  The same truth bears the imprimatur of the likes of John Frame, Wayne Grudem, D. A. Carson, G. K. Beale, Thomas Schreiner, Michael Horton, and a host of others.  Furthermore, their ranks are swelled by a wealth of young talent whose voices are beginning to be heard.

Over in the ranks of the PD’s we could assemble a large shelf of popular and academic books from many fields of study written over the past twenty years.  Meanwhile, there is scarcely anything to point to from classic Dispensationalists.  And the ailment reaches back a lot further than twenty years.

This is where I usually loose my sympathetic hearing 🙂    But I still insist that it takes a very little effort to push ones way past Hoehner on Ephesians or Fruchtenbaum’s Israelology to the vast open spaces unfilled with Dispensational works of equal caliber with those of the previously mentioned CT’s and PD’s.  What have Dispensationalists been writing about for the past half century (circa 1960)?  What are they writing about right now?  At what level?

I am no enemy of DT.  I am a traditional Dispensationalist!  But where do I have to turn for the best current Systematic Theology or Biblical Theology?  Where do I go for the best work on Apologetics and Worldview?  If I want a top-tier Commentary on Romans or Isaiah or Acts, who do I turn to?  These questions are not unimportant, neither are they beside the point.  They actually constitute a decisive prong of my argument.

Tony Garland makes an important observation when he says:

I myself am not overly concerned about the possible demise of dispensationalism. Why do I say that? Because of how I myself came to be a dispensationalist: I’m a dispensationalist first and foremost because of what I believe about how to read the Biblical text (a literal hermeneutic). The view that the scriptures are to be taken at face value will always enjoy an inherent advantage and will lead readers to see the distinctions at the core of the dispensational system. So long as people read the Bible much in the same way they read the back of a cereal box — using natural language — then there will be dispensationalists around. So I see the bigger issue to be a failure to hand off the baton to the upcoming generation (for a variety of reasons)…

I agree totally with that statement (even though I snipped the last part off where Tony says that DT is not alone in its decline – a sentiment I personally can’t agree with.  But if I grant him his point I am not relieved of my burden).  The trouble is that it does not really address Dispensational Theology, nor the dearth of written work above first year graduate level by DT’s.  And I am persuaded that there is a concrete connection between these phenomena and the abandonment of DT which is occurring.  What is more, I am also persuaded that the connection holds good in answer to the question of why hardly anyone under 50 attended the Pre-Trib Conference.  I truly believe I am witnessing a trend that can only be arrested when Dispensationalists stop writing paperbacks with solar eclipses on the cover and start reevaluating the system.  Chafer is fine, Ryrie is fine, but it does them an injustice to act as though there is little else to do.  Sterility and academic torpor sets in when such convictions are entertained.  But I must move on.

Another matter which concerns me about the state of DT comes from reading and interacting with former dispensationalists.  This problem may only be in my mind, but, for what it’s worth, I shall spill the beans (it is my blog!):

I think many former dispensationalists betray a pretty abysmal appreciation of DT, and this lack of appreciation may be traced back to how and what they were taught!

There, I said it!!  We can’t label all former DT’s ignoramuses.  And some of the most articulate ones have proved themselves to be pretty smart fellows.  How come they left a dispensationalism they barely understood?  and how come they embraced CT so easily?  Any thoughts anyone?

I may be irritating but at least I am probing the issues!  I don’t think a properly formulated Dispensational Theology has much of anything to fear.  Neither do I think it need be outclassed in any setting.  But it must define itself better.  And it must portray itself better.

That’s where I will leave it for the present.  Look forward to any thoughts, pro or con.  🙂


Diagnosing the Dispensational Malaise (2)

44 thoughts on “Diagnosing The Dispensational Malaise: An Opinion (Pt.1)”

  1. Paul,

    As always, I find myself in agreement with much of what you say. 🙂

    What I’m not so sure about is that the problem of a reduced number of young people entering the ranks of DT would be offset by the production of more current or comprehensive theological works by DT authors. As I mentioned elsewhere, if it did I’d be surprised because the truth of a Biblical system of interpretation does not stand or fall with advanced theological works made by smart people promoting that view – although such contributions no doubt further its cause. It seems to me that the differences between CT and DT are large enough in scope that they stand clear even from a basic reading of the text: one needn’t be a theologian to notice the key distinctions and their follow-on implications. While serious works from the DT camp on a broader range of topics are certainly to be encouraged (and their lack bemoaned), I personally wouldn’t expect that it should have a large affect on the trend. If a person rejects classic DT, does that rejection truly hinge on subtleties of deep theology which could have been mitigated by better or more current DT works?

    You asked, “We can’t label all former DT’s ignoramuses. And some of the most articulate ones have proved themselves to be pretty smart fellows. How come they left a dispensationalism they barely understood? and how come they embraced CT so easily? Any thoughts anyone?”

    I have a thought, although undoubtedly it will raise the ire of some CTs. If history finally proves that we DTs are correct in our understanding of the Jewish context of passages such as Matthew 25:31-46 and Revelation 12, then Scripture predicts that the broad trend in the culture prior to the return of Jesus will be a growing opposition to the Jews and Jerusalem (e.g., Zec. 12), not to mention Israel’s possession of a physical land (e.g., “They have also divided up My land”, Joel 3:2 cf. Gen. 13:14-15). If this is indeed how things are to play out, then one would expect that as we approach the time of these events there should be increased resistance to the idea of a continued Biblical significance of the nation of Israel in the plan of God. This, then, requires some way to negate covenantal promises made by God — either by outright denial (non-Christians) or by subverting their application in favor of a substitute (the imagined covenants of CT). This then, would be one reason for a growing abandonment of DT for CT — which conveniently dispenses with any future national role for Israel and the Jews. The recent book “Future Israel” by Barry Horner has much to say on this.

    In other words, DT and CT are not spiritually neutral: they can’t both be right in their major premises. One of them is further afield from Biblical truth than the other — and will find itself inadvertently opposing God’s will in relation to what He desires Christians to understand about the nature of the Church and “Israel” (whether it be ultimately found to be spiritual or national). It is my conviction, as an DT, that CT, in many cases unwittingly, serves to lead today’s people of God into a position of ignorance (or denial) regarding His continued promises to Israel such that they, prior to the second coming, will find themselves in a similar position to those Jews who were out-of-step with Biblical revelation regarding the suffering Messiah at His first coming – inadvertently, but sadly, in opposition to what God is doing in their time of history.

    In my view, we shouldn’t assume that an abandonment of an understanding of the significance of Israel in history yet to unfold is largely to be explained by a lack of DT academic work or sound teaching. To be sure, these are contributing factors, but I think we must also recognize that other spiritual trends are also afoot.

    Having said this, I do agree that there are many ex-DT folk who represent it mainly as a straw-man — never having truly grasped what they thought they once believed. This, of course, has much to do with your stated concerns. There has undoubtedly been too great a focus on eschatology and not enough emphasis on the foundational framework beneath DT (hermeneutics, the nature of the Biblical covenants) from which the its distinctive eschatology and ecclesiology flow.

    1. I too have often observed a strong spiritual blockage against DT: individuals who profess Christ, yet despise national Israel and Jews generally, to the point that they outright reject anything the Bible says concerning the matter. A lot of it comes down to the same problem Arminians have with accepting the sovereignty of God in election– for such CT-type believers like it well enough that God elected them for salvation, but find the notion of God also choosing people (in the future at the Second Coming) apparently because of their nationality, something revolting and repugnant, and show the same attitude as semi-Pelagians against Calvinist teaching.

      But there are plenty of good resources available for anyone with a truly open heart, willing to accept the things in the Bible, and wanting to know more about dispensationalism and future Israel. I know in my own case, I had never been taught any millennial system in early years, and after that only heard the amillennial / preterist scheme. When I became disillusioned with the pastor over another issue (his attitude concerning biblical creation), the Lord used that circumstance to direct me to good biblical teaching available elsewhere — Internet resources, of which I found an abundance. I also observe that, at least in some cases of the ex-DT folks who switch to CT/NCT and attack the straw man of what they think DT is, their overall biblical understanding is very deficient — in many areas beyond basic CT/DT differences. They are smart enough and capable enough to study and learn right doctrine, but human laziness and hardness against truth dominates, and so they just stick with the little they do know (or think they know) and preach that.

      It’s sad that most church-going people don’t study the Bible enough for themselves, to see through such error, but it’s nothing new in our day. As Spurgeon observed, the majority of people do not really think about the doctrinal issues and will evaluate preaching they hear based on how the speaker sounds, his overall delivery, rather than the words and ideas conveyed.

      1. Lynda, there are resources out there and your blog directs people to some of the best. But in terms of books I see a trickle when I want to see a flood. In CT it is the other way round 🙂

        I also agree with your middle paragraph, although it is not entirely satisfactory as an answer to the problem.

        On your first paragraph I would say that although there is resistance such as you describe, this does not explain why CT is embraced and DT is abandoned.

        I’m putting it simplistically here, hoping you will get the gist of feelings.

    2. I agree that anti-Israelism (as described in Horner’s book) is a reason for why many do not embrace DT. I plan to write on this subject quite soon (DV). Suffice it to say I think you have a point.

      But my concern here is the question of what I see as a general decline in the ranks of young dispensationalists, and this, I think, cannot be explained by your thesis.

      I readily agree that the lack of good books by recent DT’s does not FULLY explain what I am noticing. However, it DOES indicate a state of affairs which is far from healthy if DT is to continue to have any voice in the Seminary – where, like it or not, it needs to have a voice. It is one symptom of the problem I have convinced myself I am witnessing.

  2. Hi Paul,

    One other point I wanted to respond to where you observe, “I truly believe I am witnessing a trend that can only be arrested when Dispensationalists stop writing paperbacks with solar eclipses on the cover and start reevaluating the system.” I think I know where you are going here — your reference to a specific cover art content and “paperback” are another way of saying books which tend to focus exclusively on eschatology, are often fairly shallow in their treatment of the topics, and tend toward sensationalism. Given that interpretation of your meaning, I’m on the same page.

    However, I would like to observe that cover art which depicts “signs in the heavens” is completely in keeping with the revelation and imagery given by none other than the Holy Spirit. A tiny sampling of such passages from my own notes would include Isa 5:30; 13:10; 24:23; 30:26; 50:3; Jer 4:23-28; Eze 32:7; Joe 2:10; 2:31; 3:15; Am 8:9; Zec 14:6-7; Mt 2:1; 24:29; Mr 13:24; Lu 21:25; 23:45; Ac 2:20; 2Pe 3:10; Re 6:12; Re 8:12; Re 9:2. Since the sun and moon were created for “signs” (Hebrew oth, Gen. 1:14 cf. Luke 23:44-45) and not just for “seasons . . . days and years,” and God testifies by these same heavenly bodies, even to certify the certainty of His covenantal promises (Ps 89:35-37; Jer 31:35-37; 33:20-26; Re 12:1), I personally am not opposed to their appearance as cover artwork for works which focus on passages where they are employed within the inspired text itself. Especially since it seems to me that in their ultimate fulfillment, these events will be both literal and sensational on a global if not universal scale (Rev. 6:12).

    Thus, for instance, the use of a photo of the moonrise over the earth taken from space for the cover of my Revelation commentary. I was interested in depicting the theme of God’s redemption of the earth and establishment of the global rule of Jesus (Rev. 11:15), the redemption of the original dominion invested in Adam but lost through sin. I also needed a very high resolution image and one that was large enough to ‘wrap’ around both covers and spine of an 8.5 x 11 inch hardback cover. I also needed an image that was in the public domain so that I wouldn’t be tripping over copyright issues that could otherwise impede the distribution of the work. Thus, I turned to NASA images which were funded by the public and unencumbered by copyright complications. Will some people find the cover ‘sensational’? Perhaps. Is the cover unbiblical? No. God intents to redeem and recover that which mankind has perverted.

    In regard to the proliferation of sensational treatments focused on eschatology, I do think that has much to do with popular interests and ease of consumption. I also know that publishers are reluctant, in many cases, to take on more serious works due to financial risk and lack of Christian readership. I’m forever encountering less serious treatments of Revelation in Christian bookstores, but rarely see the excellent 2-volume work by Robert Thomas. Nor have I ever seen my own contribution which, for all its weak points at least attempts to undertake a serious treatment. Of course, this reluctance by publishers and the Christian reader is not unique to DT and does not address the question you originally raised in this post.

    1. Tony,

      Without trying to make you blush I would have to say that your Commentary on Revelation (A Revelation of Jesus Christ) stands closely behind Robert Thomas’s work on the Apocalypse.
      It is just such an exception to the general rule that I might call attention to. As an added plus it does not have a solar eclipse on the cover! 🙂

      You state, in regard to Christian publishers: “Of course, this reluctance by publishers and the Christian reader is not unique to DT and does not address the question you originally raised in this post.”

      True enough. The malaise I speak of must be accounted for in other ways. I will grant that there are external reasons for the problem (among which are, what’s cool and not cool; anti-Israelism; postmodernism, etc.), But these seem to me to be mere excuses if they are seen in isolation from the internal reasons for DT’s present health. It is with the internal reasons where, I am persuaded, the answers lie.

  3. I think part of it is that the current attitude among the majority of believers is “Dispensationalism…Who cares?”. It’s not exactly a household name. The doctrine itself has always seemed to be co-opted by a more fundamentalistic segment of the faith(who have not exactly kept it in balanced fashion), and the issues DT majors in are mostly futuristic prophecy which one cannot be often so dogmatic about, and Israel, which let’s face it, is not on everyone’s favorites list.

    I attend a Bible Study put on by an evanglistic ministry for Jewish people primarily, and as I looked around I realized, I was the youngest one there…and I ‘m 38. The next youngest might have been around 50 something. This is a DISPENSATIONAL bible study.

    It’s a tough issue to ponder. I just think it goes back to the general state of evanglicalism.

    1. A very interesting comment. Let me respond in Socratic fashion:

      1. If DT is true it needs to be co-opted by everyone surely? Granted that is not going to happen, what can be done to wrest DT from those who so poorly represent it – be they fundy’s or whatever?

      2. Why does DT major in “mostly futuristic prophecy”? Again, I grant that it does, but my question is, should it? Is that all it has to talk about? But I’ll comment more on this in another post).

      3. Your own experience reinforces mine. What is the remedy? I don’t believe in just blaming external causes. That is why I have written this post.

      Thanks as usual brother,


  4. Further…

    Perhaps b/c DT arose at a time in America when evangelicals were withdrawing from the major insitutions where liberalism was gaining ground, DT never had the impact upon the world that Protestant theology once did.

    But should it have this impact, if it is the truth? I think so. However, DT needs to be defined and expanded beyond ecclesiology and eschatology. It is a relatively young theology, that has undergone much transformation. So there has been little consensus on what CT is, and perhaps more importantly, what’s it’s implications are.

    I think young people looking for a worldview, or rather to shape their view according to Scripture, need to be rooted in a sound knowledge of God and the Scriptures. I think they need to see that DT is part of that tradition and that it has implications beyond a limited sphere of thought, namely it has to be part of the big picture.

    Protestantism/evanglicalism matured through two major polemic struggles, namely jusitification by faith alone, and the Scriptures alone as the only infallible final authority. This gave evangleicals an ultimate starting point to work out all of life’s problems and to live in the world.

    I think the movement has gotten derailed from that and DT has the potential to lead in that regard, IF we can get out of the introsepction and isolation which has historically been the bane of DT, and get back to a more monergistic theology, and get away from the novelties or a semi-Arminian system that constantly seems to earn it a bad name.

    I think our “yoouts” are hungry for a big idea to shape of life, and for some reason DT is not meeting the need.

    I think Paul Henebury is a big step in the right direction. I think there is hope. DT needs to get back to the real business of THEOLOGY and not speculation in the future things. It needs a constant that can keep it grounded in Christ, whilst mining all of the riches of wisdom and knowledge in Him.

    I see some of that happening inthe good works of the likes Michael Rydelnik, Vlach, Henebury and others.

    The stregth of DT is it’s exegetical superiority. If we can just hone that into a full orbed worldview that is rigourous and yields the fruit of the spirit and the wisdom of the likes of the Puritans, etc.then I think DT will be successful.

    1. There is much food for thought here. I don’t know how much I can help matters, but I do agree that there is much in DT that needs to be developed and thought through on its own terms. Rydelnik is a good scholar and I hope to see more work from him. Vlach seems quite well rounded, although it should be recalled that he has PD sympathies. I don’t dismiss everything PD’s say. In fact I think Saucy and Blaising have made good points. My “beef” with PD is that it has divested itself of much of the good work done by DT’s of the past and has gone off in the wrong direction – that of rapprochement. Hence, Vlach hems in DT to ecclesiology and eschatology – something I find impossible given the premises with which DT investigates those very topics.

      Amen to that last paragraph!

  5. One of the problems with Dispensationalism is the poor quality of literature. The more scholarly works reflecting a DT viewpoint are often as dry as dust, biographies of Dispensationalists are poorly written. The Reformed Camp have excellent biographers like Iain Murray, Arnold Dallimore all producing works of excellent quality. Writers like the late Lloyd Jones who as well as informing the mind, warmed the heart. Of course more recent men like Piper and Sproul also produce high quality work. People are still greatly influenced by books and good reading. The need of the hour is for men who can write well and capture the hearts and minds of this generation with Dispensational Truth.

    1. Yes Mike, that is the need of the hour. And why is that? Because it is “Dispensational TRUTH”. If it were not true I would not be concerned about its fortunes. If it were not true I would not wish to see it developed. If it were not true….

      But I’m preaching 🙂 Part 2 of this post will say more on this

      God bless you and yours,


  6. An exciting discussion. I would add just one final quip to it: You need the *patience of Job* to deal with CTs and their take on Dispensationalism.

    Here’s praying for the answer we and Dr. Henebury are seeking.

    Pierre S. a.k.a zaphon

  7. Have you seen the new ST by Rolland McCune od DBTS? I’ve picked up the first two volumes, and will be getting the last this week…dispensational in approach, and I’ve enjoyed so far…just wish it was a hardback, and perhaps one volume like Grudem or Reymond for example…


  8. Paul, I can remember asking for advice about what systematic theology book to buy. That was around five years ago. I was told to stay away from anything dispensational. I didn’t even know what that term was then! Ironically, I’d always had difficulty lining up Scripture with what I’d been taught re Israel until I read disp materials.

    I’ve recently read your “The Extent of the Atonement 1 & 2”. It cleared up some issues I had. Which brings me to ask the question – could some sort of systematic theology manual eventually emerge out of Veritas?

    I thought about it, and you’re right – there isn’t enough new great stuff coming out of the disp camp. Whenever I have a question, I have to do the digging myself. However, many people won’t.

    Tony, I agree with Paul comparing your “A Testimony Of Jesus Christ” with R L Thomas’ work. And, once again, I’m grateful to your footnotes in pointing me to Dr Thomas’ two volumes.

  9. Mac,

    I have no plans to issue a Systematic Theology via Veritas, but that may change. I have given it thought. I feel like I’m always chasing the next priority, so things will need to change a bit. 🙂

    1. Well, Paul, I hope Veritas does put out a Systematic Theology. Perhaps it can have a number of contributors to lessen the load. I pray that God provides the way. Thanks again for putting these posts together.

  10. One of the best sets of Systematic Theology is done by DR. Norman Geisler. He calls himself
    a moderate Calvinist, but his four volume set is good. I think that the moderate Calvinist and/or
    the moderate Arminianist are just other words for Biblicist, which is what I am. I was even told that the Biblicistick posistion was not Biblical by a Doctor of Theology from a certain school!
    Oh well, I have been a Dispensationist for fifty years. The so called decline of interest in the
    teachings of Dispensationalism, is because of the lack of agressive teaching on the part of the
    Dispensationalist themselves. We dispensationalists have the truth, and as the book of Jude
    admonishes us, we should contend for what we KNOW to be true! There is so much false doctrine swarming around, we are in dire need to live & teach what we know to be true.
    God bless, John Gregory

  11. I personally do not consider Dr. Norman Geisler a ” moderate Calvinist ” . He holds essenetially to an Arminian view of election with the exception is embracing eternal security. The views of Dr. Geisler is a departure from what Lewis Sperry Chafer , John Walvoord and Charles Ryrie taught from Scripture on it. I am a dispensational premillennialist and have been one for over 19 years . I have no doubt about the dispensationalism of Dr. Norman Geisler. My disagreement with him is over the issue of election and his use of strawman and misrepresentation of classical Calvinism. While I have some issues with some aspects of classical Calvinism I do not go around misrepresenting it like Dr. Geisler did. That caused an exchage between Dr. Geisler and Dr. James White. I may down the road buy Dr. Norman Geisler Systematic Theology but as of right now I remain convinced that Lewis Sperry Chafer Systematic Theology 8 in 4 volumes is the best dispensational systematic theology set which we have.

  12. Thank You for Your answer! I will try to purchase Chafer’s volumes as soon as I can, and I will
    enjoy reading them. Thank You again for leading me to them.
    John G.

  13. John, you’re most likely right that dispies can only blame themselves for the lack of interest. I notice that there’s an aggressive push (via books) by non-dispies in challenging all things dispensational. The great pity is that dispies are constantly misrepresented by so-called scholars. I’ve come across several books and talks by people who treat guys like Hagee as representing dispensationalism. In one talk by Craig Blomberg; he brought up two covenant theology when comparing historic premil with disp premil! A new book by Alistair Donaldson talks about Hagee again and again and has many misrepresentations of disp. It seems they’re critiquing a system they don’t even fully understand.

  14. Friends, the fact is there is not a good Systematic Theology by a dispensationalist that can compete with the Reformed guys. Chafer is large but ill-organized and too frequently unsophisticated when facing tougher issues. Geisler (which I have) is just not a top flight work. There are reasons for that, often to do with his philosophy. His best volume is Vol.4 (sorry John).

  15. I have both Chafer and Geisler. Chafer is ponderous and awkward for me. And I hear what others – who know better than I -say about Geisler. I’m seriously thinking about getting Culver but maybe Paul and Veritas can begin working on a systematic theology. No pressure, Paul.

  16. I use the follow dispensational systematic theology works together:

    1 ) Lewis Sperry Chafer Systematic Theology 8 in 4 volumes 2 ) The Principles Of Theology: An Introduction To The Thirty-Nine Articles by Dr. W.H. Griffth Thomas 3 ) Basic Theology by Dr. Charles C. Ryrie 4 ) Lectures In Systematic Theology by Dr. Henry C. Thiessen .

    While none of them are perfect never the less they left us with a good starting foundation on which we are to build upon. What is missing in them is an Israeological systematic formulation in them for it’s own section to be covered more specifically. I also see the need for a more clearer discussion on the dispensation of Law, Grace and Kindom with respect to the rule of life in those dispensations in a manner that is not subject to misunderstanding or misreading which had occured in earlier dispensational writings. I would also see the need for a discussion on the issue manner of salvation by God’s grace through faith in each of the 7 dispensations in Scripture and how each dispensation builds upon the other with progressive revelation. That was lacking in earlier dispensational writings. We are to ” test all things and hold fast to what is good ” . We must all remember no Bishop / Elder has infallibility in teaching doctrine. 🙂

    1. These are good choices, but they show the problem up. Thiessen is basic and overly dependent on Strong, and shares some of his ‘issues.’ Ryrie is good but, well, basic. WHGT is excellent and ought to be used more, but it is Anglican and has a few foibles that way. Chafer is good but not very deep, more is needed.

      Of course, Bryan, you will know that for me the dispensations (however many there are) are passe and are not “where it’s at”. The name “Dispensational” is unfortunate. My third article in this series addressed this a bit.

      Thanks as always for commenting.


  17. It is somewhat tragic to say that Dispensationalists can work on a Systematic Theology text that is par with our Covenantal brethren. I’ve heard from certain people that the faculty at TMS is trying to work on a multi-volume Systematic theology, wonder how that will turn out.

    1. Hi brother,

      I have heard something similar. I would purchase it but I would not expect many answers to the issues I have raised here or in the posts on “Dispensationalism and TULIP.”

      God bless,


  18. If The Master’s Seminary did complete a systematic theology set I would get it. I would also hope that it is very detailed and has additions to it that were lacking in earlier dispensational ones. I hope it will have 4 to as many as 10 volumes to it. I pray it is indepth. 🙂

  19. I wonder a reason there is no significant serious Bible exegetical works from dispensational perspective over the past 50 years is

    1. most teachers actually believe the rapture is soon (note: not imminent);
    2. the popular book sellers writes marketable stuff so the masses may get the message;
    3. most lay Christians believe it is a waste of time because 1. theology is for the “wise yet they become fools” liberals, and 2. “Look at the signs of the times – the rapture will certainly happen before the end of this year, there is no time left and we should go and preach Jesus’ soon Coming instead!”

    But then at the end of the day, is it worth the effort? I know the last remaining teacher in the Classic Pauline Dispensationalism camp states that he believes we will never see a Systematic Theology from the CPD perspective because of the late prophetic hour. Are signs of the times good enough to persuage people that CT teachers have their heads in the sand, and our teachings are proven by what’s happening? And just like many lay believers in the dispensationalism camp alludes, the hour is too late for nice things such as Systematic Theology to complete, we should indeed focus on simple evangelism to get as many people heard the gospel as we can?

  20. Joel,

    As we have no idea that we are in “the last hour” we had better get on with the business of being the church. Part of this is to explicate God’s Truth for the church. These articles address my concerns with the kind of mindset you speak of. If that “last remaining teacher of Classic Pauline Dispensationalism” (and I’m not sure what that is) really said what you report him saying, he certainly exemplifies the problem!

    Thanks for your comment


  21. I agree Dr Henebury, I have been trying to plead the need for more serious theological inputs to other dispensationalist on a major dispensational web forum online, and the replies from the forum’s moderators have been lukewarm, if not exactly antagonistic or even hostile. Many are satisfied by the quoting of a few introductory standard soundbites from popular authors, others are very happy with just John 3:16 on theology other than eschatology (and perhaps a belief in the anointing of the Holy Spirit if they are Pentecostal/charismatic), a couple buy into the whole pragmatism.

    As you say there is a wholesale self-reflection in our own camp to be humble and striving to learn why we hold to the truths as presented in systematic theology. (But then, there is likewise very little humility from the Calvinist camp as well from what I have come across online) If the Lord tarries I’m uncertain whether dispensationalism will be buried for 50 or 100 years given there is almost zero self-awareness of studying and writing our [dispensational] own theological studies and serious Bible studies on areas other than eschatology.

  22. Correction: should be “As you say there is an urgent need of a wholesale self-reflection in our own camp, to be humble and striving to learn why we hold to the truths as presented in systematic theology,,,”

  23. Thanks Joel,

    I know some dispensationalists see the problem. I agree that many Reformed brothers do come across as sanctimonious and superior. Not all though.

    Btw, I have just seen the Pre-Trib Conference brochure: ‘The Rapture in the 21st Century’! Nuff said.

    1. A popular-level Bible prophecy teacher released an article last week lamenting churches have abandoned Bible prophecy and as a result is turning against Israel politically. See what you think of his article, but I find there is a lack of looking at the issue.

      In addition, saying the Bible prophecy teaching had its heyday from 1970 and 1995 is committing an atrocity in telling church history – prophecy has long been taught right from Darby and there were definitely widespread even before WWII (see Thomas Ice’s articles on the history of dispensationalism). Third, he regards John Hagee as a solid brother when he isn’t even if he is more right on in the End Times than, say, J.I. Packer for example.

      My superficial observation is people who hold to such views as represented in the article will not accept or even consider your series’ observation in any way whatsoever. We all have our work cut out for us.


      Some snippets

      “In the heyday of Bible prophecy teaching, say, from 1970 until 1995, American scholars quietly seethed. Their dislike of anything that pointed to the Jews re-entry into history (and God’s provision for them) led them to resent the efforts of people like Hal Lindsey.

      Certainly, there have been plenty of prophecy teachers who have fallen into the trap of “predicting” events and using Bible prophecy to do it. Yet this is completely irrelevant when talking about what the Bible actually says about the subject. It is a monumental tragedy that “prophecy haters” have been able to successfully lump Scripture with prophecy teachers and thus persuade people that the Bible itself is “wrong” about prophecy.

      The effect has been to marginalize Bible prophecy at a time when it is more relevant than ever.


  24. Joel, you have hit the nail on the head!

    “My superficial observation is people who hold to such views as represented in the article will not accept or even consider your series’ observation in any way whatsoever.”

    It’s not superficial brother. Would you believe that one prominent dispensationalist called me Anti-Semitic because I teach that to focus on future Israel above the contemporary Church is to ignore what God is doing NOW! I take second place to no one when it comes to God’s covenants with Israel, and their literal fulfillment. But to fixate on Israel is wrong and contrary to the present work of the Holy Spirit.

  25. Revisiting these posts after all these years. There are so many great observations. I like the comment below.

    “Would you believe that one prominent dispensationalist called me Anti-Semitic because I teach that to focus on future Israel above the contemporary Church is to ignore what God is doing NOW! I take second place to no one when it comes to God’s covenants with Israel, and their literal fulfillment. But to fixate on Israel is wrong and contrary to the present work of the Holy Spirit.”

    I am currently seeing too much fixating on Israel at the expense of the present work of the Holy Spirit.

    1. Alf,

      I’m afraid saying this sort of thing doesn’t go down well with many in the Dispensational community. Even though men like Dr. Fruchtenbaum are more careful in their treatment of Messianic Judaism (no emphasis on shawl’s or sabbath or calling Paul “Sha’ul”), I still believe there is far too much emphasis on Talmud and Mishnah traditions. .

      1. Paul, although if you open the Talmud one striking thing is how much the prose resembles all the Books in the New Testament. The way I see it is that the original
        Christianity was born out of a Jewish context, and we seem to be tearing it out for some reason.

        Another factor which I’m still wrestling with is, the Jews traditionally never get concerned with the philosophical/theological implications of doctrines. Such as predestination: the Jews accept the Word as it is and to them God’s revelation to us is what to believe and the way to live for Him. Much of the debates about predestination, to me, seems to be asking from a very Greek mindset on wanting to systematise doctrines. Similarly I feel Calvinism as a theology appears to me a very Western Europe strand in theology. As the original NT era Jews were “Easterners”, is Calvinism just a European Christian philosophy developed with biblical
        Christianity as its root??

      2. Hi Joel,

        I overlooked this for some reason.

        It is much more likely that the authors/compilers of the Talmud would make it appear that certain sayings in the NT were original to Judaism than the other way around. We ,are talking many centuries between one and the other, and Rabbis did also claim that certain views found in the Greeks were original to Moses. So while I am open to there being crossover between second temple Judaism and Christianity, I think we need solid evidence of it.

        As to your comment about philosophy and your comment about “the Jews accept the Word as it is and to them God’s revelation to us is what to believe and the way to live for Him”; well, I think you are mistaken on both counts. While they did not approach Scripture philosophically, they did have a philosophy. The Sadduccees, for instance, held to an immanentistic view of the world, where angelic activity was not allowed. And as for them taking the Bible “as it is”, well I’m afraid the outrageous interpretations of Scripture in some traditions, as well as the “protection” of Scripture by surrounding it with a wall of rabbinic interpretations very much argues against your thesis. You cannot really get an idea of Jewish interpretation by reading Messianic Christian literature. You have to try to grasp 1. second temple viewpoints, and 2. later rabbinic viewpoints.

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