March 6, 2014

Should We Overlook the Almost Rabid Contempt Many Conservative Evangelicals Express Toward Dispensationalism?

In various discussions with advocates of Calvinism, Lordship Salvation you will encounter men who reject a Dispensational approach to the Scriptures.

And should we overlook the almost rabid contempt many conservative evangelicals express toward dispensationalism (which, as Kraus and Sandeen have noted, was born ‘from within the womb of orthodox Calvinism’)?”
The preceding excerpt, from an extended comment, was written by Dr. Gerald Priest and was posted by him at the pseudo-fundamentalist Sharper Iron site (3/8/2010). The excerpt appeared in regard to Dr. Kevin Bauder who was then and continues today to be, as Dr. Priest stated,
quite lavish in his [Bauder’s] praise of conservative evangelicals while castigating so-called fundamentalists. Yet he has spent very little time warning us about the pitfalls and problems of conservative evangelicalism. What I fear is that we may be allowing a Trojan horse into the fundamentalist camp.” (For related reading see, Let’s Get “CRYSTAL” Clear on This: A Response to Kevin Bauder’s “Cannonball” Cogitations: “Foremost Defenders of the Gospel Today?”)
Introduction to Dispensationalism
There is nothing new I can add to a study of Dispensationalism.  For centuries theologians on both sides of the debate have articulated principles of Dispensationalism far better than I could ever hope to. For this article I have drawn from several contemporary theologians, primarily fundamentalist men.  The bulk of the following, however, I attribute to the late Dr. David L. Cummins. I have a set of recorded lectures he gave me on the subject of Dispensationalism. Much of what follows is a transcription from Dr. Cummings introduction to his lecture series on Dispensationalism.
Dr. David L. Cummins (8/1929-8/2009)

Several major theological systems have competed against each other since the Reformation.  The theological system that has been competing with Dispensationalism is commonly known as Covenant Theology. Covenant Theology (CT) is Calvinistic theology. CT has been refined as it passed through the Puritans and modern-day followers in the Presbyterian, Lutheran and Reformed churches. CT places a strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God and predestination.

Covenant theology is based on the theory that God has only one covenant with men (the covenant of grace) and only one people, represented by the Old and New Testament saints—one people, one church and one plan for all. These beliefs require the adherents of Covenant Theology to interpret prophecy in a nonliteral way.

Those who hold to Covenant Theology believe that there is, and has always been, only one people of God. They believe that Israel was the Church in the Old Testament, and the Church is Israel in the New Testament. Dispensationalism, on the other hand, is a system of theology with two primary distinctives: (1) a consistently literal interpretation of Scripture, especially Bible prophecy, and (2) a distinction between Israel and the Church in God's program.

Dispensationalism has been present in many forms for centuries.

Premillennialism can be found in the writings of early church fathers like Justin Martyr. “Premillennialism in Christian eschatology is the belief that Christ will literally reign on the earth for 1,000 years at his second coming.  It was not as developed as it is today, but it was present.

Amillennialism is a view in Christian eschatology named for its denial of a future, thousand-year, physical reign of Jesus Christ on the earth

Postmillennialism is an interpretation of chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation, which sees Christ's Second Coming as occurring after (Latin post-) the “Millennium” a Golden Age or era of Christian prosperity and dominance.

What follows will explore Dispensationalism, and demonstrate the biblical basis for a dispensational approach to Scripture.  As we begin it is best to understand what Dispensationalism really is.  Even without the use of that word we use a dispensational approach to primarily everything we read. 
J. Edwin Hartell, “A Dispensation is a period of time during which God deals in a particular way with man in respect to sin, and man’s responsibility.”  
Charles Ryrie, “A dispensation may be defined as a stewardship, administration, over-sight or management of others’ property…A distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purpose…the emphasis is put on the biblical meaning of the word itself.” 
 H. A Ironside, In The Heavenlies, p. 67, “A dispensation, an economy then, is that particular order of condition of things prevailing in one special age, which does not necessarily prevail in another.”
A dispensation then is God’s manner of dealing with His people in a given section of time.

Why Do We Need to Understand Dispensationalism?
Without a dispensational approach the Bible becomes a maze of confusion, and/or it becomes a non-divine book of errors and contradiction. From various passages we will illustrate how the Bible leads to confusion apart from a dispensational approach:
Joel 3:10 & Isaiah 2:4  plowshares, swords” Which should we do?  With a dispensational approach it is both, in a particular time 
Matthew 10:5-6 & 28:19-20Go not to the Samaritans/Gentilesteach ALL nations.” Which shall we do?  Go only to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” or to “all nations? 
Psalm 51:11 & John 14:16 David had failed with Bathsheba and rebuked by Nathan. Cast me not away…take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” “…that He may abide with you forever.”
Is man to pray that the Spirit remain in his heart and not leave him, or accept the promise of Jesus when He said the Spirit will abide forever?  Both cannot be correct?  Both are correct and can be reconciled through dispensational truth. Without dispensational truth, these words of Christ would be confusing.
Psalm 58:6 & Matthew 5:43-44 Break their teeth.” Love your enemies.
An imprecatory Psalm asking God to act in retribution. Does Jesus contradict the Scriptures?  Of course not.
Deut. 11:14-17 & Matthew 5:45 God withdrawing water from the wicked. Sendeth rain on the just and unjust.” You cannot have it both ways!  Either we cannot take the Bible literally or there is some way to reconcile these passages in the Word of God.
Without a dispensational approach the Bible becomes a confusing maze…it becomes a non-divine book of errors and contradiction.

Illustration: The school principal may sign a teacher’s first weekly paycheck for $250.00.  The teacher would call and ask about this, the principal explains that this is his first week’s pay.  The teacher, however, demands his full pay.

The principal explains that he has read the academy’s charter and by-laws drafted in 1970 which states that a high school teacher’s annual pay is $12,000.00 and therefore sent him the corresponding wages.  The teacher replies that the principal been reading a document from under the old dispensation, that there have been revisions, and that I had better get with the new dispensation.

If we do not understand the time frame of historical events, the whole of history becomes confusing.  If I were to read a book on America’s involvement in war I might be confused if I did not read with a dispensational approach. 
On Monday I read about George Patton and WWII.

On Tuesday I read about George Washington, and am amazed that General Washington did not call in air strikes on the British.

On Wednesday night I read about General Pershing and WWI and question why he did not threaten to use the atomic bomb.

If I did not understand the differences in the time frame the history would be a confusing mess for me.  And so it is with those who fail to understand the dispensational differences in the Bible.

This is why the failure to understand dispensational truth has lead some to despair.  Some believers read the Bible from a “flat” dispensational view, that is, without any time barriers.  A “Flat” view has lead some believers to a post-millennial position that says, the world is going to get better and better by the preaching of the gospel, and the church will bring back her King, the Lord Jesus Christ.

If the Bible is not accepted dispensationally…
1)    Why don’t we sacrifice lambs on the altar for the forgiveness of sins?
2)    Why don’t we stone a man who (defiles) picks up stick on the Sabbath? (Num 15)
3)    Why did God intervene drastically in the past to destroy evil as in Sodom & Gomorrah; Yet, today we have similar scenes in San Francisco and other American cities that go without chastening?

Has God grown old or tired and decided to just let man have his way for now?  Unless we understand that we are living in the Day of Man, the Dispensation of Grace, the day of God’s silence, we shall be overwhelmed by these questions.

Without a dispensational view you can pray prayers that do not belong in this dispensation: 1) Ask God to kill all the abortionists. 2) “Take not thy Holy Spirit from meHebrews 13:5I will never leave thee…”

In the study of Dispensationalism we are going to see that in each dispensation man has a specific responsibility to a primary revelation given by God in a period of time.  Dispensations are characterized by man’s testing by God, by man’s failure, and then the judgment that falls from the hand of God.  There is a progressive revelation as God unfolds new truth about Himself or His purpose for man, and mans ability to receive it.  For example: Hebrews 1:1-2sundry times and divers manners…in these last days.”

With giving new revelations that God provides the relationship and responsibility between man and God is heightened as a new dispensation is begun.  Dispensations are not sealed, self-contained units.  Not an effort to put God into a box.  Much of the revelation of the given dispensation is carried forward to the next dispensation, either in tact or with some adjustment.  For example:

Under the Dispensation of the Law God said, “Thou shalt not steal,” (Exodus 20:15). Under the Dispensation of Grace can we steal?  No!  Through the dispensations we are dealing with God’s principles, thus the body of God’s revelation, which man is responsible for is cumulative.  Therefore, I have more responsibility to God under grace than Adam had in the Dispensation of Innocence.

There is diversity, and yet there is unity in the dispensations: 1) Diversity in the sense that God provides sufficient revelation to create a new dealing of man with deity. 2) Because of the continuing principles from one dispensation to another there is a great similarity that provides unity.

Most scholars agree that there are seven definable dispensations; some say eight. They are the Dispensations of:

1)    Innocence                          Genesis 1:1-3:24
2)    Conscience                        Genesis 4:1-8:22-(Fall to the Flood)
3)    Human Government         Genesis 9-12 (Call of Abraham)
4)    Promise                             (From the call of Abraham to Mount Sinai)
5)    Law                                   (From Mt. Sinai to the Cross)
6)    Grace                                 (From the Cross to the Rapture)
7)    Kingdom                           (Second Coming to the Great White Throne)

In each dispensation we read of man’s:
1)    Condition
2)    Responsibility
3)    Failure
4)    God’s judgment
5)    God’s provision

In every dealing of God there is a blood sacrifice: “Without shedding of blood there is no remission,” (Hebrews 9:22).
1)    Innocence- an animal to clothe Adam and Eve
2)    Conscience- Abel’s altar
3)    Human Government- Noah’s altar
4)    Promise- Abraham’s altar
5)    Law- the sacrifice
6)    Grace- Christ’s death
7)    Kingdom- the memorial sacrifice

Faith is revealed in each of these Dispensations.  Much of the complaint against dispensationalists is that there is a teaching among them that God saved men in different ways. That is a lie!  No such teaching exists among dispensationalists!

Abraham believed God, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness,” (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3). “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” (Heb. 11:6).  Salvation has always been by faith!
Those who deny Dispensationalism read the same Bible I have, and it professes at least two dispensations. In the front of many Bibles it says, “HOLY BIBLE.” Then it will tell me that the books of the Bible are divided into Old & New Testaments. Old Testament: Genesis through Malachi. New Testament: Matthew through Revelation. For those who say, “There is no such thing as a dispensation,” the Bible clearly speaks of the dispensations. Paul recognized the dispensations.  Four times the Apostle Paul speaks of the dispensations:
For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me,” (1 Cor. 9:17). 
 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him,” (Eph. 1:10) If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward,” (Eph. 3:2). 
 Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God,” (Col. 1:25).
Those who say there are no dispensations hold within their hands a Bible that professes itself to be dispensational.

From the first dispensation we can prove that the Bible is dispensational.

In the dispensation of Innocence, when God created and placed Adam & Eve in the garden; how were they dressed?  Clothed in the light of God, but naked as far human garments are concerned.  Is that right or acceptable today? Of course not. Why is it not right?  Would you protest?  What if the say, “It is biblical, Adam and Eve did it.”  They would be wrong because of dispensations.  Even non-dispensationalists would have to agree that it makes sense to be clothed.

What would the diet of Adam and Eve have been?  VEGETARIAN!
How many will go home to day to a Vegetarian meal?  Why do many of us NOT eat as they ate?  Is it unlawful to eat as they did?  No!  Then you and I must believe in dispensations.

Even though who deny dispensational truth, must in practice say that God has dealt with man in different ways in different period of times. This is what we will investigate, so that when we read the Bible we will realize the setting in which God gives instruction. Is it all true? Yes, but we understand the Scripture according to setting dispensationally.

It is dangerous to use the Bible as a sanctified Ouija Board. Some Christians say that they will use the Bible to find God’s will for me. They close eyes, flip the pages and stick their finger in on a verse and begin to read, and say, “This is what God wants me to do.” See- Matthew 27:5; Judges 7:17

Dispensational truth will bring the Bible into focus as how we are to interpret and apply the Scriptures.


  1. The problem most people have with Dispensationalism is not Dispensationalism it is with the Historical Grammatical Hermeneutic that if followed from cover to cover results in one having a Dispensational position. The problem they have with it is that the Bible cannot then mean whatever they want it to mean, it can mean only what it says it means.

    I don't mean to state that holders of other positions do not take the Bible seriously, but Dispensationalism comes from taking every word of the Bible seriously not just the themes that we see in the Bible.

    When the Brethren use the Historical Grammatical Hermeneutic any Brother in any Assembly can dismantle any heretical teaching with clarity and force. This makes it exceedingly difficult for charismatic leaders to lead huge sections of the Church which is His Body into new doctrines and practices. Thus, this hermeneutic is opposed in every area where the Church has been commercialized and/or subjected to extra-biblical bondage.

    1. Hello Kev:

      Thanks for sharing your perspective.


  2. Thanks Lou for posting this article. This is getting to the heart of the matter for so much that is afflicting Fundamentalism/Independent Baptists. A literal hermeneutic will lead to a dispensational understanding and an emphasis upon looking solely at the Scriptures; ultimately leading to the understanding that the average Joe in the pew can understand the Scriptures. The CT approach requires that readers of the Scriptures turn their attention to men/a man in order to understand the Scriptures because the average Joe cannot decipher the hidden/deep/allegorical/spiritualized things, he needs a theologian/another man to tell him what the Scriptures really say. This ties the average Joe to another man instead of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Word for his spiritual growth which then really doesn't much happen.

  3. I don't have any problem with the dispensational perspective at all. Some are extreme enough to almost speak of it as heresy. I do have issues with dispensational pre-millenialism. I most definitely would consider myself an historic pre-millenialist, though. I know this isn't the place for a full on discussion. Actually, the real issue I have with churches that teach dispensationalism is, that is the only perspective they usually teach. When they do talk about other perspectives, rarely do they do it in terms that a person from whatever perspective would do it. Our churches would be much healthier if our people were taught the all of the main perspectives (pre-mil, a-mil and post-mil) in the words of their proponents. Most of what I had heard regarding the other 3 perspectives was a dispensationalist teaching the other guys perspective from his dispensational perspective. The fear of losing people to the other perspectives seem to outweigh any benefit teachers and pastors see in it. Dispensational pre-millenialism (according to conservative dispensational scholars) is the newest kid on the block when it comes to the other 3 positions in 2,000 years of church history. Why would we only teach our people what the church has seen over the last 175 years? I'm not knocking dispensationalism, I think its proponents take the scripture very seriously. It's all I've known growing up.
    God Bless,
    Jay Edwards

    1. Hello Jay,

      If I may, I would like to respond to a couple of your comments.

      The Church which is His Body is not a secular classroom. We are exhorted again and again in Scripture that what we teach must be absolutely true. From marking and separating from false teachers, to stopping their mouths, to rightly dividing the Word of Truth, to letting there being few Teachers because those who teach will be judged for it... and so on...

      There is no requirement for false views to be given fair time. While I agree that arguing against a Strawman is foolishness. However, I think your generalizations about what assemblies which do and do not teach Dispensationalism teach and how they do so is based on your impression (attained I do not know) more than it is on experience. You, as one human being, cannot know what you have stated from experience as you can only be in one place at one time and you have limited time and travel ability.

      As for the recency of Dispensationalism this was addressed quickly in the article you are replying to but it is discussed in detail in Ryrie's book Dispensationalism which I highly recommend. The recency argument falls apart when it is examined in any kind of detail. However, to answer your question (without agreeing to the assertions in it) I will state that no matter what was not seen in the past by particular people Dispensationalism is expressly stated in the Scriptures. We are bound to teach the Truth, not what has been historically taught.

      For some humour to make my point:

      There is no passage in the Bible that says to the Brother - teach what your Brothers have taught throughout the ages even if My Word says otherwise..

      I am a retired avionics professional. When I was working in the field we didn't teach our techs to understand and maintain all other types of systems, we taught them to understand and maintain the ones they were required to work on. We didn't teach them Russian and American practices, we taught them Canadian practices (I am a Canadian).

      Why? Were we closed minded? Did we not want to loose our people to these other nations? No. Because these people were being trained to do things that are important, that lives depend on. We took what we taught them and how we taught them seriously.

      Should the preacher who teaches Dispensationalism be afraid to loose those under his teaching influence to other "systems of theology"? He better be! If he is not afraid for the ones he teaches that they might adopt error then he is in no state to be teaching them in the first place.

      These systems are not just academic exercises, they change a person's entire walk with Christ. People will have drastically different outcomes at the Judgment Seat of Christ based on what they do here, and what they do here depends to the largest extent on what they believe they should be doing here. False systems will not provide good results.

      Jay, I would no more teach Covenant Theology than I would teach people about drinking cyanid. It would be better that the dear one never hear of any such practice at all.

    2. Jay:

      You wrote, “The fear of losing people to the other perspectives seem to outweigh any benefit teachers and pastors see in it.”

      I don’t believe there is a benefit to giving equal time to any false teaching. Beyond a simple awareness, going into details on what various cuts might believe or in depth teaching on any false teaching, such as Covenant Theology, the pastor runs the risk of steering those under how watch care in the very false teaching that he sought to protect them from. IMO if you give someone enough information they just might wind up seeking more on their own and tragically fall into a trap.

      I recall an evangelism seminar class I taught at PCC. One young man spent the summer witnessing to Mormons. Discussion with him revealed that the entire training time was spent learning about the Mormon Church and its abhorrent doctrines. He was quote well versed on Mormon teachings. The young man, however, could not quote to me one verse from the Bible on the deity of Christ.


      PS: I may have an article up on “Progressive Dispensationalism” in the near future, but only to expose the problems with it.

  4. If the church would rightly divide the truth and understand dispensations there wouldnt be all these different denominations.Right now most people dont have a clue about these things in the churches.

  5. Decades before I ever dreamed I would eventually teach in a Baptist bible college, I took the SCOFIELD CORRESPONDENCE COURSE through Moody Bible Institute I know t that there are a few areas of refinements in dispensationalism theology since Scofield's (every theology text should come with SOME disclaimer), but it gave me an excellent overall view of the Scriptures and how the Lord deals with mankind. As others have stated in their responses, dispensationalism is the RESULT of taking the Bible in a literal, grammatical, historical sense.

    1. The entry above was submitted by Dr. Dana Everson.

  6. Jay, I would encourage you to read Lou's posting of Dr. Nuttall's article, What is Truth? Part two, no doubt, will be posted soon by Lou since Dr. Nuttall just sent it out. "Dispensational Pre-millennialism" is not the new kid on the block by any stretch. You would do well to read p. 1209 in Millard Erickson's Christian Theology, and the Premillennialism entry in The Dictionary of Premillennial Theology. Especially the later. As I skimmed a bit about "historic premillennialism" that you refer to, I see that it is yet another attempt by CT to try to cover all the bases since the amill and postmill positions are already prevalent amongst their theologians.
    As a pastor, I would never teach several "views" of anything to my flock. They come desiring the Truth. There is only one "view" of the Truth and that is the Biblical view, all else is man made and error.
    Again, read, Dr. Nuttall's articles. They will greatly help.

    1. Brian/Jay:

      Here is a link to Part 1 of Dr. Clay Nuttall's What is Truth, Part 1. Part 2 will appear here tomorrow.