Misrepresentations of Dispensationalism

Despite exhibiting many positive traits Reformed covenant theologians can usually be relied upon to do two things.  The first is to misrepresent Classic Arminianism, and the second is to misrepresent Classic Dispensationalism.  They often misrepresent Classic Arminianism by calling it Semi-Pelagianism and claiming the driving force behind the theology is “freewill.”  Neither of those claims is remotely true as anyone who has read Jacob Arminius is well aware.

Now I am not among the devotees of the former, but am happy to be included within the ranks of Classic Dispensationalists – even if I reserve the right to question the validity of defining the system via “dispensations.”  Here, if anything, the distortions are even worse.  I have previously highlighted such things when critiquing the vaunted “95 Theses Against Dispensationalism”

Now, following on the heels of a display of ignorance about Dispensationalism from Sinclair Ferguson and R. C. Sproul, here is a short rebuttal of a false claim about the new book Christ’s Prophetic Plans by Michael Vlach.  It is one thing to disagree with someone; and quite another to misrepresent them!

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27 comments

  1. Thanks for your article. I am no fan of Sproul. His personal knowledge of dispensationalism comes from the very flawed information from my mentor the late Dr. John Gerstner. Covenant theologians complain of being misrepresented yet they themselves most often do more than their fair share of it. Dr. Gerstner’s book againist dispensationalism being a prime example of it. I have no idea why they do this but it has caused me to distince myself away from alot of those who hold to covenant theology. I get an amen from them when I refute Arminianism and then condemn me as heretical when I defend dispensationalism from Scripture. That has happend to me on several reformed messaged boards. I was even banned from one just because I was refuting gross misrepresentations being made by a member there. I documented each and every misrepresentation to confirm what I said was true and I was still banned.

    1. I did a typo there in a sentence.

      ” His personal knowledge of dispensationalism comes from the very flawed information from ***my *** ( < typo ) mentor the late Dr. John Gerstner. "

      I meant to write that His personal knowledge of dispensationalism comes from the very flawed information from HIS mentor the late Dr. John Gerstner.

  2. Paul,

    Don’t you get the feeling (as I do) that being a presuppositionalist and a dispensationalist you have to constantly keep answering the same tired and tiresome — false and flawed — objections? There was Copan’s really bad critique of presuppositionalism Gospel Coalition and here’s one along the same lines re: dispensationalism; MVlach has another posting on his blog about a video featuring S Ferguson and RC Sproul offering the old canard about dispensationalism teaching two ways of salvation! (Please!)
    What’s funny is if we say “replacement” (even though some on that side do use that word–as MValch has shown) they howl “Unfair! Strawman!” So we try to be fair and use the hugely cumbersome “supersessionism” — but they still howl. Ah well . . . it’s why I keep coming back to your blog!

    Thanks
    Kevin Zuber

    1. Kevin,

      Yes I watched the Sproul interview with Ferguson. Talk about shared ignorance! And it was you who put me on to Copan’s piece. I am still weighing up whether I want to write about that – I’ll be in CA. for a month and may not have much time for such things. Besides, I’ll only post something if I can be constructive!

      I do wish we could articulate our beliefs more heuristically. I’m going to “test-drive” my so-called Rules of Affinity on some unsuspecting pastors over the coming weeks. These “rules” or guidelines attempt to test the strength of the connection between a given theological proposition and the texts used to support them. Should be fun 😉

      God bless you and yours.

      Your brother,

      Paul

    2. I think being Presuppositional and Dispensational makes us seem like odd balls to some of our Covenantal Presuppositionalist, and then also weird that we are presuppositionalists from some Dispensationalists…

      1. Over here any church who is making any semblence of apologetics are usually more expositional in nature (Reformed, Calvary Chapel, Brethren). Most of the mainstream churches considered evangelical are Pentecostal/charismatic in nature, and from my days attending one and visited the big churches not much or zero apologetics is done. In practice, even Reformed circles often resort to evidential apologetics as the starting point, and switching to presuppositional apologetics as the hearers got more engaged.

        To me it doesn’t matter what others think whether we are neatly housed in any existing theological camps. If we truly believe the Bible is the Word of God and exegete the teachings in proper contexts we will always ruffle feathers of a group here and anotehr group there. To paraphrase Dan Phillips’ description on Bible authority, “If the Bible teaches both dispensationalism and presuppositionalism, so be it”.

        Amen to that.

      2. Good point! You bring out the “Covenantal” label which is what some of these Reformed Westminster guys are now using instead of Presuppositionalism. I don’t like that. While Van Til would probably been happy with it, the fact is, his apologetics is just “Biblical” and not Reformed per se. John frame gets this I think.

        One of the main reasons I am presuppositional is because it depends on plain-sense grammatico-historical hermeneutics of the old variety. Hence, it goes well with Dispensationalism.

        Thanks for the comment.

        P.

  3. I traced where Sproul got this false idea of dispensationalist of teaching more than way of salvation. It is directly traced back to Wrongly Dividing The Word Of Truth a critique of dispensationalism by Dr. John Gerstner, 3rd edition on page 151. Gerstner in it intentionally misrepresented and rewrote what Lewis Sperry Chafer said in his systematic theology. Gerstner stated ( refering to Chafer ) ” he remarks in the final volume of his Systematic Theology that, in the Old Testament men were justified by the Law, while in the New Testament faith was without works. ”

    Yet that is not what Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote at all. Gerstner intentionally and dishonestly changed it to say something else in order to make it look like Chafer taught 2 ways of salvation . Here is what Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote ” According to the Old Testament men were just because they were true and faithful in keeping the Mosiac Law. ” Then he cites Micah 6:8 for it and then says ” Men were therefore just because of their works for God whereas New Testament justification is God’s work for man in answer to faith ( Rom. 5:1 ) ” . That is taken from Volume 7 on page 219. In context Chafer was contrasting justification in the eyes of men and justification before God. I can find many more examples of where Gerstner did that to other dispensationalist in that book as well. I really wish leading dispensational scholars would have pointed this out years ago when Gerstner’s book came out. Or at least none that I am aware of or have access to.A whole long listing would serve well to discredit that book besides the evident strawman that have been pointed out in it. Many Covenant Calvinist follow the miscitation of Gerstner in their anti-dispensational blogs or sites.

      1. That is a good article .I had read it before. 🙂 I had in mind all the miscitations itself that Gerstner did in his book of Chafer, Walvoord, Ryrie and Lightner. His miscitations itself were more than enough to believe that the book was very bad. Then finding misrepresentations only added more fuel . The book was anything but objective. And it showed me the level of contempt that a good deal of Covenant theologians have towards dispensationalist.

      2. Jeremy and Bryan,

        As you know, I am a strong advocate of a holistic and heuristic approach to ‘Dispensationalism’ which I nickname “Biblical Covenantalism.” Vlach does restrict it to matters of ecclesiology and eschatology. Guys like GES focus 0n soteriology. I focus on everything! The method demands it.

        Also, I think it is a mistake to say that dispensational hermeneutics leads to “calvinistic” soteriology. I see Bryan is astute enough not to say it leads to “Calvinism” and he’s right. I tend towards a “Calvinistic” soteriology, but I do not think a Classic Arminianism can be distinguished well from a moderate Calvinism in many places – e.g. God’s sovereignty, the need of grace to draw the sinner, and human depravity. These are dealt with in different ways at times, but the starting place is very close in these matters. I advise any doubters to read Arminius if they question my statements.

        Another thing. The “dispensations” are theologically mute for the most part, and so may misdirect the process of composing a full systematics from true grammatical-historical hermeneutics.

  4. “This is a sad testimony Bryan. A little amusing if you don’t mind me saying so – but sad.”

    It taught me to always be alert with followers of covenant theology and others on message boards and in person. It shows me how unreasonable they can be when they are shown to be in error. I just laugh when they try and use the historical argument in order to disprove dispensationalism from a historical stand point. They will never subject themselves to that at all.

  5. I am relatively new to all of this, and so terminology is important. What does it mean to be a “presuppositionalist?” I think I understand how it is used when you referred to Fred Butler’s article in your “God-Fearing Apologetics” post. But I’m not exactly sure how you’re using it here. Thank you and God bless.

      1. Thank you Paul & Fred, I to was struggling to understand the difference in the use of “presuppositionalist” like David.

  6. Paul, I know you saw this in the article: “You will find that Dispensationalism is primarily about hermeneutics, the church, and the end times, but you won’t find it promoting any specific soteriological view because Dispensationalism is mostly about hermeneutics, ecclesiology, and eschatology.” That’s why for all of Vlach’s work many young theological hopefuls will opt-out or opt-away from dispensationalism. It’s not well rounded as a system.

    1. I think what Vlach is talking about is that dispensationalist as far as soteriology is concerned are divided on the issue of election. Some are Calvinistic and some are Arminian. Basically being a dispensationalist in itself wont settle if one is Calvinistic or Arminian. Though if one properly followed the literal grammatical historical method one would be Calvinistic without doubt. Dispensationalist do agree with Covenant Theology on a single way of salvation. The differences lie with respect to the Old Testament on the content of faith. Dispensationalist do need to formulate it’s doctrine of salvation though without depending on previous findings from other systems of theology. I am saying dispensationalist must do their own exposition of the doctrine of salvation on it’s own. A good example of what is found in the New Scofield Study Bible and the Scofield III study Bible in it’s notes which explains the dispensations and the method of salvation and brings it together with the Covenants of Scripture. Basically dispensationalism should be based on it’s own exposition of Scripture in order to formulate doctrinal teachings . This would build up a whole systematic theology from a dispensationalist perspective that find’s itself on it’s own.

  7. Paul (et al),
    I am looking for thoughts on leaving a local assembly where the preaching has taken a distinctly CT bent. (I am most decidedly pre-mill, pre-trib, Dispen) I have had discussions with the pastor, and he is aware of the difference, but is convinced that he must preach his CT convictions. The Gospel is clearly and properly presented each week and I know some believe this is a “secondary” issue, but when you are sitting under teaching you disagree with every week, what else can be done?

    1. Gary,

      I would be wary of leaving over this issue. Believers should be able to work together with their differences in most situations. However, this would not be the case if a. the pastoral staff feel threatened in some way by your presence, or, b. you teach sunday school and could not agree to teach what the pastor requires.

      Remember, the pastor must teach what he believes is right even if we may disagree.

      I was a member of a Grace Baptist Church in England without agreeing with all their teachings – especially on the Last Things. However, I had to leave eventually for mutual reasons. But I had somewhere to go! Presently I attend a Southern Baptist Church in Texas and find I and the pastor can amicably agree to disagree on some things. But then, he is not a 5 pointer nor is he CT amillennial.

      May God guide you

      Your brother,

      Paul

      1. Gary,

        I’ve been in similar situations and agree with Paul’s comments. Even if you and the pastoral staff “agree to disagree” on these areas, the question often comes down to how comfortable the pastoral staff is with you continuing to hold a position they don’t espouse. This can work just fine in many cases. However, if the pastoral staff sees you expressing your view as a challenge or undermining their work, then they are not likely to take kindly to your continued presence–however much they may initial express they are OK with it. A key question to answer is, as Paul alludes to above, is an area of your gifting/calling that of teacher in which case will you be required to teach positions you don’t advocate and, more importantly, suppress positions you believe are found in Scripture. It’s one thing to teach a breadth of views (including those that the pastoral staff may hold) and quite another if you have to hold back on what you see Scripture to teach. Again, this is more of an issue for those who are called as elders/teachers in the body of Christ.

        This gets back to a key function of the local church: 1) the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry which involves; 2) facilitating each believer to grow in their gifts. Growing in teaching gifts where the teaching one holds is decidedly unwelcome has practical limits. This led to my departure from one church to find a much better fit at another–where I eventually became copastor. But, I would also echo Paul’s concern: it is best if you have a church to go to before you depart (on good terms) from one where the fit isn’t as good for your gifts. Too many people bail out of a fellowship over non-critical issues before finding a better place to attend. All too frequently this results in being out of fellowship for protracted periods which is definitely not the Lord’s will.

        I can feel for you — been there too. The very first church I was saved in was Pentecostal, CT, and a strong champion of replacement theology. As I grew in my knowledge and came to understand my calling, I had to leave. The pastor and I continued to remain on good terms – to this day.

        However you wind up progressing, but absolutely sure you do not undermine the work of the pastoral staff. If they are you feel it is heading that way, it is likely best to try and find a better fit.

    2. Paul and Tony, thanks for the suggestions and I agree it’s not an issue to separate fellowship unless you are in a teaching position. Gary, unless you are in a confessionally Reformed church such as OPC, URCNA or a conservative Lutheran church like WELS where they will literally show dispensationalists the door, the church won’t kick you out over doctrinal issues.

      Also Gay, my experience may give you some encouragement. Over in my part of the world charismatic and Pentecostalism reign supreme in evangelicalism. Most are also infected by the seeker sensitive model of church (Bill Hybels), purpose driven church movement (Rick Warren), plus the social gospel to a large extent. And the gospel is more defined as Jesus’ love of the world in loving people, and sin is watered down as the mistakes we make in life. Even though they teach premillennialism and the Jewish people are still God’s chosen people. Christmas and Easter stories are angled more on the tribulations of Jesus’ earthly family and friends and not in His incarnation, death, and resurrection.

      On the dispensational churches, the Calvary Chapel is in fellowship with much of these churches in doctrinal mess plus they buy into bad eccessiology and unlimited free will, while the fundamental Baptists overlook weightier teachings for traditions of men. Not sure about Brethren churches though.

      This leaves the minority Reformed (or we call them gospel-centred) churches are the only ones upholding sin, salvation, church not to be conformed to the world. Even though they hold to replacement theology, I think in this case it is their teachings on the core of Christian faith that is more important. This is why I have to foresake many premillennial churches here.

  8. Thanks for this. I too am concerned about the lack of young dispensationalists. I’m just concerned that many my age and younger are heading over to the “cool group” rather than allowing the text of Scripture to speak for itself. I’m interested in knowing your thoughts on how to get more active in this.

  9. Rick, my only hope for dispensationalism is that it ceases being “dispensationalism” – i.e. it stops defining itself by dispensations and starts opening up the possibilities of the biblical covenants and defining its procedures by them. Then a fully-rounded theology which includes ALL the corpora of theology, not merely ecclesiology and eschatology, will be created, with the result that a Dispensational worldview will be created and proclaimed. You may be interested in four posts I did a while back called ‘Diagnosing the Dispensational Malaise’: https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/diagnosing-the-dispensational-malaise-an-opinion-pt-1/

    On a more negative note, it must stop being populist and cow-towing to the Tim LaHaye’s of this world. I do not see present dispensationalists doing this I’m afraid!

    God bless you

    Paul H.

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