July 7, 2014

An Introduction to 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 World War II.

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 World War I 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 today 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 those 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.

Dr. David L. Cummins

For additional study see Brother George Zellers, Introduction to Dispensationalism


  1. Excellent Brother! There are many doctrines that are drawing the lines between true Biblicists and those that only feign a loyalty to the Word of God as their authority. A proper hermeneutic is one of them, and I'm convinced that it will, as all doctrine, divide the Biblicists from those that fall away into false teaching.

    1. Ps. Rogers:

      Thanks for your comments. IMO, that doctrinal divide is well in place. As men who still circulate in Baptist circles, have and seem bent on continuing to heap lavish praise on the so-called "conservative" evanagelicals, that divide will increase as more fall into traps of false teaching pouring from the pens and pulpits of the likes of Al Mohler, John Piper, Mark Dever, John MacArthur, T4G, et.al...


  2. Hey Lou,
    Thanks for posting this. I've looking into the topic of dispensationalism for a couple of years now. There are many sites that have sermons by Ryrie, Walvoord and even Sperry Chafer. I'd rather listen to them expound their teachings than read them. Why? It's too easy to read nuance into or be unkind with another's thoughts and take them as they weren't intended. I've found listening is better because how and why they say what they say is easier to pick up. Often times a writer is more measured in his words than when they are speaking. Obviously, a writer has more time to think about them. In my listening I came upon Lewis Sperry Chafer saying this:
    "....Don't be surpised if somebody says, 'Why of course the church is in the tribulation.' The church is NOT in the tribulation. She never goes through the tribulation, and anyone who falls for that notion has never understood what a Christian is. You cannot understand what a Christian really is and think that the church could ever go through the tribulation."
    (I didn't write down the sermon title, but I do have the audio file and can find it if you would like to hear it)

    What are we to do with this kind of statement?
    God Bless,
    Jay Edwards

  3. Thanks Lou for posting this article. Here is the crux of the matter, which hermeneutic? I've often said, give a man a Bible and have him read it for himself without any other human influence and he will become a dispensationalist and will never come up with a covenant theological system. The very premise of CT is flawed since there is no covenant of grace, as they propose, recorded for us in the Scriptures. It is a figment of human imagination and the end result is a disaster. The rise of CT within fundamental circles will be the death knell for what remains of a sound, clear voice of truth.
    For Jay, "What are we to do with this kind of statement?" We should be shouting AMEN! Chafer is absolutely right. Anyone who thinks that the church is going to go through any portion of the tribulation does not understand what a Christian really is.

    1. Brian: As always I appreciate your clear and precise commentary. As you say, and I agree, "CT is a figment of man's imagination."

      CT, Calvinism and Lordship Salvation is very appealing to those who think themselves scholarly, are not willing to by faith accept what God plainly says, but instead seem possess with having to work out a rational explanation for everything from the mind go the Infinite. That is why they happily fall into these theological traps, like CT, Calvinism and Lordship Salvation.

      Here is something that the author of our article here, Dr. David L.Cummins once said. I asked him to tell me about Calvinism and rationalistic fatalism. He replied with the following,

      Rationalistic fatalism is understandable in light of dictionary usage. According to Franklin’s Dictionary &Thesaurus, “rationalistic” is literally: “reliance on reason as the basis for the establishment of religious truth,” and “fatalism” is the “belief that fate determines events.” Of course “fate” is a cause beyond human control to determine. Looking at the statement in this
      light demonstrates that those referred to rely on reason rather than revelation as the basis for their theological moorings. The “circle logic” of five-point Calvinism is just that for the whole system crumbles when a single link in the chain is broken. One must approach the system with reason rather than faith. This of course leads to the fatalism just mentioned, which holds that God has predetermined the destiny of human souls and that all the witnessing, praying, and missionary effort in the world will not change the outcome.

      Thanks for the comments,