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Why I am No Longer a Dispensationalist

My Dispensational Upbringing

I have been taught Dispensationalism from my mother’s womb. I was born in a dispensational environment. It was assumed at my church to be a part of the Gospel. There was never another option presented. It made sense. It helped me put together the Scriptures in a way that cleared up so much confusion. And, to be honest, the emphasis on the coming tribulation, current events that prove the Bible’s prophecy, the fear that the Antichrist may be alive today (who is he?) was all quite exciting. But what might be the biggest attraction for me is the charts! Oh how I love charts. I think in charts. And dispensationalism is a theology of charts!

Making Fun of Dispensationalism

The first time I came across someone who was not a Dispensationalist was in 1999. I am not kidding. It was the first time! I don’t think I even knew if there was another view. It was when I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary (the bastion of Dispensationalism) and I was swimming with some guys who were at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Once they discovered I was a dispensationalist, they giggled and snickered. They made fun of the rapture, the sacrificial system during the millennium, and the mark of the beast (which, at that time, was some type of barcode). It was as if they patted me on the head and said “It’s okay . . . nice little dispensationalist.” I was so angry. I was humiliated. I was a second-rate theologian. They were “Covenantalists” (whatever that was). But they were the cool guys who believed in the historic Christian faith and I was the cultural Christian, believing in novel ideas.

The Novelty of Dispensationalism

This made me mad enough to start studying with great passion. And you know what I came to find out? Dispensationalism was a novel idea. It did not really catch on until the 19th century and was popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible (the standard Dispensational Sword of Truth—oh, and always in the NAS). This disturbed me. But what disturbed me most is that so many of the great theologians and personalities made fun of it. The Left Behind series was in full swing at this time. I think I was on the third book eagerly waiting for the fourth. But when I listened to a popular Reformed radio personality make jokes about the books, using them as foils and examples of how radical Christians can get, I stopped reading them. I was embarrassed to even have them on my shelf.

I was very conflicted. Dispensationalism still made a lot of sense, but I did not like the fact that it was new and my reformed crowd distanced themselves far from it. I remained a dispensationalist through seminary, but I tried to keep it a secret.

Scofield’s Slip

As the years went on, I realized that dispensationalism was a theology that was progressively developing. Yes, it was new and in it’s infancy it had many problems. Then there was that note in the Scofield Bible that suggested that the Old Testament saints were saved by works while the New Testament saints were saved by grace.

John 1:16

As a dispensation, grace begins with the death and resurrection of Christ… The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ.

I think it is pretty clear due to other notes (see his notes on Gal. 3:24) that Scofield did not believe in salvation by works, but this did not stop the anti-dispensationalists from continuing to assert that dispensationalism teaches two ways of salvation. On top of this, dispensationalism in the Walvoord era taught that there were two people’s of God and two different places for them in the millennium and the eschaton. This was quite disturbing. Oh, yeah . . . I almost forgot. He also taught that there were two New Covenants, one for the Church and one for Israel. Great guy, but some odd stuff there.

Maturing of Dispensationalism

Yet, again, dispensationalism was in development. It was going from infancy to adolescence to teen years and hopefully to a stable maturity. Charles Ryrie came in and stabilized the views quite a bit. He got rid of some of the vestiges and relics. His Dispensationalism represented the theology in its early 20s. He popped all the zits and the acne was gone. Dispensationalism under Ryie’s reign was strong and stable and lasted for a long time. But it was still maturing. Then came Darrel Bock . . . wait, its time for a chart!

dispensationalism1

Darrel Bock and Craig Blaising wrote a book in 2000 which represented yet another advancement in dispensationalism. Dispensationalism was definitely maturing. So persuasive was the book that most of the Dallas Seminary staff is now Progressive Dispensationalists. It is now the norm. No more two peoples of God. No more separate heavens. No more sharp divisions between the dispensations. And no more two New Covenants.

Book Recommendation: Progressive Dispensationalism

The Tainting of Dispensationalism

The problem with dispensationalism is that its opponents only attack the infancy stage of development. It is an easy target. But it is unfair and lacks credibility. Every doctrine that all Christians embrace have gone through development and had to mature. The doctrine of the Trinity took three hundred years to mature and articulate itself. Early church fathers, such as Justin Martyr, believed in it, but did not articulate it well. Even the Nicene Creed, as great as it is, barely gives the Holy Spirit a cameo. It is not until the Athanasian Creed (or around that time) in the fifth-century that we get our articulation of the Trinity in a definitive form.

But rarely do people attack an early manifestation of the Trinity. They understand that it took time to mature. It is the same with Dispensationalism. It has matured. So has Covenant Theology. Both Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology have moved closer together. They have not compromised, they have simply matured.

disp-cov

Why I am Not a Dispensationalist

The Problem with Dispensationalism is that the name itself had been tainted to such a degree that it is not worth calling yourself one. It is like the word “Fundamentalist.” I am a Fundamentalist in the historic sense of the word, but I would never call myself one. It means something different today than it did back then.

Because of this, for me, it is best to say I am not a Dispensationalist. There are to many qualifiers that go with the term. If I say I am, then I am pegged for life. But my theology mirrors Progressive Dispensationalism very much. I only have a few changes. I actually called my view “Progressive Covenantalism” back in 2003 when I created The Theology Program (its in Ecclesiology and Eschatology). But there is a book that has come out (2012) called Kingdom Through Covenant that claimed the name. Though it is close to my view, it is not exactly. So, I can’t really call myself a Progressive Covenantalist anymore. I don’t know what to do. Who am I? What am I? Someone help!

(But to all you who know what I am talking about, I am still a dispensationalist . . . shhh, don’t tell anyone).

26 Responses to “Why I am No Longer a Dispensationalist”

  1. Michael, I certainly can’t describe it adequately in this comment box but “Israel, the Church, and the Last Days” by Juster and Intrater is worth a read based on your discussion here. On particular issues, you’d swear they were Dispensationalists, but they deny it and in other issues they seem much more like Covanentalists. For example, they affirm the Last Days began 2000 years ago but affirm different roles for Jew and Gentile today, even while affirming they’re alike as far as sin and salvation.

  2. I have one problem with most of the theological frameworks that have become labels bound up with people’s identity: they have a tendency to become more important than Scripture, at least in practice. When someone proposes a contradictory view, and argues it from Scripture, too many times he’s dismissed or even condemned for contradicting the framework without ever bothering to engage his Scriptural arguments – they are simply assumed to be bogus because they disagree with the normative framework.

    And I have seen this knee-jerk reaction from representatives of various interpretive frameworks — it is by no means a dispensational monopoly.

  3. I’m an Orthodox Preterist.

  4. Brother Stumblefoot May 21, 2015 at 8:16 pm

    Michael, I was a bit upset when I saw the title of this blog, but having read it, I think you were talking pretty much tongue-in-cheek. “But for those of you who know what I am talking about,
    I am still a Dispensationalist.” I am not sure I do know what you are talking about, (probably my problem, not yours) but evidently you are indeed, still a Dispensationalist.

    I don’t say a lot about my Dispensationalism either, and for the same reasons you mention. But i do think it cannot be dismissed or even well denied. Probably theological error stems more from moderating Dispensationalism, than from allowing it to mature and even expand. Incidentally, I don’t recall ever hearing of a “modernistic” Dispensationalist. (That line sounds familiar, have I borrowed it from someone?)

    My knowledge of Progressive Dispensationalism is limited. If there are points of the Classical Disp. position that need to yield toward Covenantal Theology, I am willing to do that, but on the other hand, if Dispensationalism ought to be expanded in some areas, we are diminished in blessing if we ignore these, as also we will be, should we yield any real Disp. truth to the Covenant position. There has been a rush within the past several decades to either tone down Dispensationalism, or to abandon it all together. This, in my opinion, has been to the great detriment of Evangelicalism.

  5. I am not sure I have dispensationalism figured out either.
    But then, I am not even sure I have the Trinity figured out yet.
    (I keep arguing with Charismatic types, how can you “get” the Holy Spirit separately from accepting Christ? If you have one of the Trinity, you have all, all the time. Period. Yes, I know there is the “infilling” temporarily, but that is more power in my opinion, not the entire entity of the H.S. )
    I definitely do not have Charismania figured out. I need more charts….

  6. Aw Michael, I thought you completely jumped off that boat and swam ashore to the solid ground of CT like I did :) Good wrestling here, especially related to the evolution of both systems. I may not be a dispensationalist anymore, but it drives me crazy when people treat it as a monolith according to older articulations.

  7. Pre-Christ saints saved by works? Paul looked back to Abraham as a man whose faith was accounted to him for righteousness. From Abraham to Jesus it wasn’t works that saved anyone, but their faith (trust/loyalty) towards God that was evidenced by their obedience to God’s commands (although Moses defying God in order to prevent him destroying Israel suggests that the loyalty was regarded as more important that mere obedience).

    Nobody could claim to keep the Mosaic law better than the Pharisees, but Jesus condemned them as white-washed tombs because they engaged in mere observance of the law rather than the heart-loyalty that God demands. Not all obviously, some came to Jesus before the crucifixion, and many afterwards.

  8. So, do you still believe in the Rapture, Millennium sacrificial system? You never really stated clearly about that.

    • Wally,

      Yes I still believe in the rapture. I am a pre-tribulation most. I’ve never been very strong in my believe there, as it is not as clear as most things in the Bible,

      Wally,

      Yes I still believe in the rapture. I am a pre-tribulationalist. I’ve never been very strong in my believe there, as it is not as clear as it could be.

      As to the sacrificial system in the future, I don’t know, as I have never studied this issue with an much depth.

      Thanks for your response.

  9. What ever happened to the basics like:
    1. Separation of Israel & Church
    2. Literal interpretation
    3. Progressive revelation

    Most important factors might be “does it conform to the Bible” that is “does God treat mankind differently in different era’s”? Call it what you want but, there are still dispensations. Non-Biblical covenants surely can’t be the ticket for a correct interpretive system. These things matter!

  10. Like Michael, I grew up in a church culture where Dispensationalism (and a pre-tribulational rapture) was assumed. Reading “Countdown to Armageddon”, edited by Charles Ryrie, written to defend the pre-trib view, convinced me that the case for it was pretty weak. Subsequently, reading Robert Saucy’s “The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism” convinced me that I was not a dispensationalist of any stripe.

  11. Interesting article Michael. Certainly these days we can’t assume that people are using the same terms to mean the same thing. Therefore we need take the time and expend the effort required to clearly explain the basic concepts embedded in the descriptive categories we’re employing. As I see it the bottom line is this: Despite current “progressive” expressions of Covenantalism, Dispensationalism is still the only theological system which assigns to the Jewish people and the Land of Israel its proper biblical covenantal prominence and significance. And for me, that is more than enough reason to continue to identify as a dispensationalist.

  12. Saddened that you can’t take being made fun of. Saddened that you haven’t actually researched out dispensationalism. Just a little research reveals that dispensational thought goes all the way back to the church fathers, just like CT does. So what if someone doesn’t formalize it until the 19th century, no one formalized CT until the 16th century. You speak of dispensationalism “maturing” as if CT has not. You haven’t read much of CT’s history either then.
    The “maturing” of dispensationalism by Blaising and Bock was really more of an effort to marry CT with Dispensationalism, than a “maturing,” and sorry it doesn’t work. The hermeneutics of both (CT and dispensationalism) are not compatible with each other.
    Stop focusing on what men think and start focusing on reading the Word of God for yourself without the tainted glasses of anyone’s theological bent. I’m a dispensationalist not because that was what I was taught, for I’ve never had any teaching on the subject. Much like being a Baptist, I am one because that is what I find in my personal study of the Word of God. Set aside the books for a while and open the Book of books.

    • Bingo. Truth doesn’t evolve over time it is revealed over time.

      Scofield copied his age-ism system from Isaac Watts who was a covenant theology guy. And it seems, DTS has been defending and reconciling these ages ever since. Darby too recognized ages but he didn’t define a dispensation as a time period. Darby DID NOT view the church as a dispensation. Informed theologians like William Kelly, William Reed Newell, and Roy Huebner understood the truth revealed to JN Darby. They knew the positional truths of the church taught by Darby. They recognized the Church is now heavenly.

      Progressive Dispensationists may run the show in Dallas but they don’t really reflect the dispensational truths revealed to JN Darby in mid-1800’s. They certainly don’t define Dispensationalism in my mind. i’m sure Bock and Blaising are tired of defending Scofield. They are smart men and recognize the problems of his system.

      But hang in there folks. Read the old guys and stop focusing on the cookie cutter ages of Watts and Scofield. Before you dive into a new complicated system of Kingdom now and Kingdom then, understand the truths revealed to Darby. They are incredible and different from what we see in Scofield’s notes.

  13. Lisa Robinson May 22, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    Michael, I am just curious. A point Gentry and Wellum made repeated in Kingdom through Covenant was that the real sina que non of dispensationalism was distinction of the church and Israel. I’m wondering if based on that premise and the fact that you still hold to a pre-trib pre-mill position, if you really still are a dispensationalist but just in need of a better descriptor than progressive.

    Also, for the comments that reference that PD is an attempt to marry CT with dispensationalism. I don’t think that’s quite right. If I understand positions put forth by Blaising, Block, Burns, etc the attempt is to reconcile a Christo-centric reading of Scripture with the outworking of redemptive history such that the change brought on by the first Advent doesn’t disrupt the foreshadowing and fulfillment of the OT. That’s different than saying how can we blend the two positions.

  14. Kenneth Glenn Koons May 22, 2015 at 9:39 pm

    This is an honest and fun article. Jesus will work it all out as we wait and see and ‘occupy the time’ by living with the Fruit of Spirit and acting upon His direction . That people used to die over these words is another interesting time for discussion when denominationalism began. Just ask Menno Simmons. As a retired pastor and History Prof, Mike, I enjoy your truthfulness and investigations.

  15. Ain’t nobody going to Heaven bragging that “I was right and you were wrong.” Except me. And my position is that when all is revealed, we’ll know that we all saw only in part. And then we’ll gather around the throne and sing “Glory to the Lamb that was slain!” So, lighten up, guys, and enjoy your discussions.

  16. Sounds like I was raised in a similar church environment. When I went to college and seminary, there didn’t seem to be the same intellectual rigor among the dispensationalists as there was among reformed and covenant theologians. The dispensationalists seemed to be twisting Scripture to fit dispensationalism, whereas the others were explaining Scripture.

  17. Bill Tanksley May 26, 2015 at 8:49 am

    Michael,

    Thanks for being open and honest about your struggles with the dispensational point of view. I was also raised and educated in dispensational theology. However, one point I did get from my professor was that both covenant theology and dispensational theology are a means to understanding the whole of Scripture. That has allowed me freedom to explore the weaknesses and strengths of both. I’m not sure what to call myself, but I am somewhere in between. Sounds like you might be in a similar situation. We are always learning.

  18. I was raised in a diverse background. I was baptized in a Church of the Brethren that didn’t practice a particular hermeneutic. Their only real convictions as a denomination are the Trinity, believer’s baptism, and pacifism. After my mom succumbed to cancer, my dad remarried a Lutheran and we all became Lutherans. Lutheran catechism doesn’t teach a particular hermeneutic, only what Luther taught about the sacraments, the Lord’s prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostle’s Creed. Later on, I was taken in by a wild family of Independent Fundamentalist Baptists who gave me a book on Dispensational Hermeneutics, a KJV Scofield Bible, and a series of lessons on why the King James is the only true English Bible, Reformed theology is wrong, and Dispensationalism is right. I didn’t exactly agree with them, but I was hooked on hermeneutics after that. I soon thereafter enrolled at Columbia Bible College where I was taught a far better hermeneutic using Roberson McQuilkin’s Understanding and Applying the Bible.

    There are sensibilities in Dispensationalism that are good to take into consideration, but they aren’t any different than simply looking at the context of the period of history that a text of Scripture was written in. If anything, letters like Romans and Hebrews point out that there is no fundamental difference between the “dispensations” of law and grace. There are functional differences resulting from either looking forward to the coming Messiah or living in light of the work he accomplished during his first coming. Otherwise, it’s all the same.

  19. Enjoyed the article. There is a lot of moving around on eschatology, and indeed, it appears to be undergoing a radical re-examination. With a measure of teeth-gnashing in studying eschatology for several years, I moved into the preterist camp. I have an article “A Critical Examination of Dispensationalism” here (scroll down): http://prophecyquestions.com/2014/02/01/articles-by-charles-meek/

  20. I was a Dispensationalist. My first papa key at 16 was 50% spent on a Scofield bible. I used to teach it and in my late teens and twenties was known in my area as the prophecy guy. I am not all worked through on the details now, then I knew every detail of revelation ,every bowl and trumpet. now I’m a big picture guy. What tipped it for me? Israel, just ISRAEL. The key verses of neither circumcision or circumcision count for anything only a new creation, The Kingdom is taken from you and given to a nation that will bear it’s fruit, and he is not a JEW who is one outwardly, all did it for me. The temple and sacrificial system also finished me off, if the OT can be modified because Christ has come. Then so can our understanding of temple, land, people and nation. I could not stomach a literal fulfillment of Ezekiel’s temple with sacrifice of sins , blood dripping everywhere and garment end priests. It’s no longer the land….it’s the WORLD that Abraham b came heir of, I await the Aaliyah …..the return from the four corners of the earth to …….feast with Abraham in the kingdom of God. I’m happier, bigger vision, happy to leave the details

  21. Robert Eaglestone May 29, 2015 at 11:01 am

    @Ron Q: The Separation of Israel & Church, and perhaps even Progressive Revelation, are both implications, not fundamentals. They’re implications of, for the lack of a better term, the “Dispensational hermeneutic”, one that takes the literal, plain, (perhaps even local-context?) meaning of Bible verses quite seriously.

    It seems to me that hermeneutics usefully defines the system, be it New Covenant Theology, Covenant Theology, and Dispensational Theology. And therefore hermeneutics explains the differences between the three.

  22. Butch Pursley May 29, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    I am a dispensationalist and not ashamed to be called one. What bothers me the most are CTs who act as if you must be stupid and uneducated to hold to dispensationalism. I hold this view because it flows from a consistent literal hermeneutic. It also provides the best way to deal with the differences between Israel and the Church. Too many times “straw man” arguments are used to attack dispensationalism. When Matt says “The dispensationalists seemed to be twisting Scripture to fit dispensationalism, whereas the others were explaining Scripture.” I find the opposite to be true, a literal approach to prophetic passages is automatically rejected often with no other explanation other than we just know the literal approach cannot be true.

  23. Donald Kaspersen May 30, 2015 at 12:27 am

    There were many views about how Christ would come the first time, all of which were wrong. It is good to keep that in mind. The world conditions in the last days, described in scripture, seem closer than before, but it is in those days that the understanding of the scripture is greatest.
    I recall a friend who was sent to assist an elderly pastor as part of his pastoral training. The old man had an eschatological chart that went around one of the Sunday school walls. At the place where the word antichrist was printed there were a number of names. I don’t remember them exactly, but it was something like this: Kaiser Wilhelm II (crossed out), Mussolini(crossed out), Hitler(crossed out), Stalin(crossed out), Khrushchev.
    When my friend came in one Sunday, he found the old man taking the chart down in disgust. “Every time I get good candidate for the Antichrist, someone takes him down(Khrushchev was deposed several days before),” the point being that each of his selections represents a sea change in its moment, a time when the common opinion in the church was that things couldn’t get much worse before the rapture.
    I have no particular preference for or against the rapture of the church, but if tribulation works patience, patience experience, experience hope because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, as Paul tells us, does it matter whether we do or don’t go through the great tribulation? I need to be attentive to the scripture, the signs of the times, the care of His beloved, His heart for the world, but do I have to have a stand on issues that I lack the information to decide.
    We all make decisions based on our understanding and our understanding is based on the milieu we have lived in. That is why the Holy Spirit was given to lead and guide us into all truth. He, de riguer, lives and has always lived in the mileu of the Trinity. When there are widespread disagreements in the church one of two hypotheses occur: that one group is right in line with the Holy Spirit or that none are. It seems to me, “in honor preferring one another,” we almost always opt to be right, without reservation. When we say, ” let God be true and every man a liar,” we manage to exclude ourselves from “every man,” to our detriment and the church’s.
    In any case, is there something I have missed in the scripture? Are we going to get eschatology grades in heaven? A pluses for those who got it right and D minuses for those who didn’t? Will those with the As be able to lord it over those with the Ds? Carnality in heaven. Now that’s a concept.
    Let us love one another, for love is of God.

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