Dispensationalism

Dispensational Worldview

Dispensational theology is an important perspective to know because it is so commonly found among church leaders within the evangelical world. Most would be shocked to realize that it only arose in its systematized form in the mid 1800s as the result of a man named John Darby. It was quickly spread with the popularity of prophetic Bible conferences in that era and with the aid of Scofield's recently printed study Bible. An important fact to realize about this theology is that it had a major influence in altering the way people engaged the culture. Many came to believe that any efforts toward cultural redemption was a waste of time and effort since it was written in prophecy that the church was going to lose to the forces of the anti-Christ. In fact, famous evangelist and dispensationalist D. L. Moody originated a saying that was used to describe these wasted efforts. He stated, "Why waste time polishing the brass on a sinking ship?" In other words, since Bible prophecy demonstrated that the church was going to lose against the forces of evil, why should we waste time and money trying to redeem the culture. 

As a result of the acceptance of dispensationalism, many church leaders abandoned any effort to address cultural issues and focused solely on sharing the Gospel. The form of Christianity they adhered to became a form of Gnostic dualism in which Christians were only concerned with "spiritual" things in life and hand nothing to do with the "non-spiritual" things of life. The result was that many Christians abandoned any efforts to influence the culture with Christianity. They literally turn the culture over to the pagans. Ideas have consequences! Too often the ideas will develop a unique worldview. In this case, the rise of dispensational theology undermined and replaced the covenant theology upon which America was founded. It would have a devastating impact on the culture as Christians withdrew and stayed focused solely on the "spiritual" facets of life. 


Summary of Dispensational Beliefs

Ken Gentry

Dispensationalism is the most recent eschatological position to arise within the Church. It arose in the 1800s around the time of other eschatological systems, such as those embedded in Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The 1800s was rife with eschatological speculation. Due to the complexity of dispensationalism, it is difficult to reduce it to its key features. Nevertheless, I believe that these capture something of the essentials of the system.

1. Redemptive history is divided up into seven categorically distinct dispensations, wherein God works with men under each dispensation in different ways. Hence, the name “dispensationalism.”

2. Christ offers renewed Davidic Kingdom — an earthly, political structure — to the Jews in the first century. They reject it, leading him to postpone it until the future.

3. The Church Age is a wholly unforseen and distinct era in the plan of God. It was altogether unknown to and unexpected by the Old Testament prophets.

4. God has a separate and distinct program and plan for racial Israel, as distinguished from the church. The church of Jesus Christ is a paren-thetical aside in the original plan of God.

5. The church may experience occasional small scale successes in history, but ultimately she will lose influence, fail in her mission, and become corrupt as worldwide evil intensifies toward the end of the Church Age.

6. Christ will return secretly in the sky to rapture living saints and resurrect the bodies of deceased saints (the first resurrection). He is removing them out of the world before the great tribulation. The judg-ment of the saints transpires in heaven during the seven-year great tribulation period before Christ’s bodily return to the earth.

7. At the conclusion of the seven-year great tribulation, Christ will return to the earth in order to establish and personally administer a Jewish political kingdom headquartered at Jerusalem for 1,000 years. During this time, Satan will be bound, and the temple and sacrificial system will be re-established in Jerusalem as memorials.

8. Toward the end of the Millennial Kingdom, Satan will be loosed so that he may surround and attack Christ at Jerusalem.

9. Christ will call down fire from heaven to destroy his enemies. The second resurrection and judgment of the wicked will occur, initiating the eternal order.

http://postmillennialism.com/2012/08/dispensational-features/



Origin and Beliefs of Dispensationalism

 

By Michael J. Vlach, Ph.D.

 

Introduction

Since the mid-1800s, the system of theology known as dispensationalism has exerted a great influence on how many Christians view the doctrines of ecclesiology, eschatology. These views will often determine how Christians perceive the future and therefore can affect how they will live out their lives. It displaced the covenant theology that was prevalent among evangelicals in the US prior to its arrival on the scene in the 1800s. In this article, we will examine the history of dispensationalism and look at some of the key beliefs associated with the system.

 

History of Dispensationalism

Theologians continue to argue over the origin of dispensationalism. Those who are dispensationalists argue that the basic beliefs of dispensationalism were held by the apostles and the first generation church. Those who are not dispensationalists argue that dispensationalism is a fairly new theology that began in the 19th century. What is clear, though, is that dispensationalism, as a system, began to take shape in the mid-1800s directly as a result of the man that developed the system, John Nelson Darby.

 

John Nelson Darby

The beginning of systematized dispensationalism is usually linked with John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), a Plymouth Brethren minister. While at Trinity College in Dublin (1819), Darby came to believe in a future salvation and restoration of national Israel. Based on his study of Isaiah 32, Darby concluded that Israel, in a future dispensation, would enjoy earthly blessings that were different from the heavenly blessings experienced by the church. He thus saw a clear distinction between Israel and the church. Darby also came to believe in an “any moment” rapture of the church that was followed by Daniel’s Seventieth Week in which Israel would once again take center stage in God’s plan. After this period, Darby believed there would be a millennial kingdom in which God would fulfill His unconditional promises with Israel.1 According to Paul Enns, “Darby advanced the scheme of dispensationalism by noting that each dispensation places man under some condition. People also have some kind of responsibility before God. Darby also noted that each dispensation ends in failure. 2 Darby recognized seven dispensations: (1) Paradise state up to the Flood; (2) Noahic; (3) Abrahamic; (4) Israel; (5) Gentiles; (6) The Spirit; and (7) The Millennium. By his own testimony, Darby says his dispensational system of theology was fully formed by 1833.

 

The Brethren Movement

Dispensationalism first took shape within the Brethren Movement in early nineteenth century Britain. Those within the Brethren Movement rejected a special role for ordained clergy. They stressed the spiritual giftedness of ordinary believers and their freedom, under the Spirit’s guidance, to teach and admonish each other from Scripture. The writings of the Brethren had a broad impact on evangelical Protestantism and influenced ministers in the United States such as D. L. Moody, James Brookes, J. R. Graves, A. J. Gordon, and C. I. Scofield.3

 

The Bible Conference Movement

Beginning in the 1870s, various Bible conferences began to spring up in various parts of the United States. These conferences helped spread Dispensationalism. The Niagara conferences (1870—early 1900s) were not started to promote dispensationalism but dispensational ideas were often promoted at these conferences. The American Bible and Prophetic Conferences from 1878—1914 started promoting Darby's dispensational theology.

 

The Bible Institute Movement

In the late 1800s, several Bible institutes were founded that taught dispensational theology including The Nyack Bible Institute (1882), The Boston Missionary Training School (1889), and The Moody Bible Institute (1889).

 

The Scofield Reference Bible

C. I. Scofield, a participant in the Niagara conferences, formed a board of Bible conference teachers in 1909 and produced what came to be known as, the Scofield Reference Bible. This work became famous in the United States because of its theological annotations right next to the Scripture. This reference Bible became the greatest influence in helping to spread Darby's system of dispensationalism belief.

 

Dallas Theological Seminary

After World War I, many dispensational Bible schools were formed. Led by Dallas Theological Seminary (1924), dispensationalism began to be promoted in formal and academic settings. Under the promotion of Scofield, dispensationalism entered a scholastic period that was later carried on by his successor, Lewis Sperry Chafer. Further promotion of dispensationalism took place with the writing of Chafer’s eight-volume Systematic Theology.

 

Foundational Features of Dispensationalism 4

A Hermeneutical approach that stresses a literal fulfillment of Old Testament promises to Israel

Though the issue of “literal interpretation” is heavily debated today, many dispensationalists claim that consistent literal interpretation applied to all areas of the Bible, including Old Testament promises to Israel, is a distinguishing mark of dispensationalism.

Dispensationalists usually argue that the progress of revelation, including New Testament revelation, does not cancel Old Testament promises made with national Israel. Although there is internal debate concerning how much the church is related to the Old Testament covenants and promises, dispensationalists believe national Israel will see the literal fulfillment of the promises God made with her in the Old Testament.

 

Belief that the unconditional, eternal covenants made with national Israel (Abrahamic, Davidic, and New) must be fulfilled literally with national Israel

Although the church may participate in or partially fulfill the biblical covenants, they do not take over the covenants to the exclusion of national Israel. Physical and spiritual promises to Israel must be fulfilled with Israel.

 

Distinct future for national Israel

“Only Dispensationalism clearly sees a distinctive future for ethnic Israel as a nation.”5 This future includes a restoration of the nation with a distinct identity and function.

 

The church is distinct from Israel

The church does not replace or continue Israel, and is never referred to as Israel. According to dispensationalists, the church did not exist in the Old Testament and did not begin until the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Old Testament promises to Israel, then, cannot be entirely fulfilled with the church.

Evidences often used by dispensationalists to show that the church is distinct from Israel include: (a) Jesus viewed the church as future in Matthew 16:18; (b) an essential element of the church—Spirit baptism—did not begin until the Day of Pentecost (compare 1 Cor. 12:13 with Acts 2); (c) Christ became Head of the church as a result of His resurrection (compare Eph. 4:15; Col. 1:18 with Eph. 1:19-23); (d) the spiritual gifts associated with the church (cf. Eph. 4:7-12; 1 Cor. 12:11-13) were not given until the ascension of Christ; (e) the “new man” nature of the church (cf. Eph. 2:15) shows that the church is a NT organism and not something incorporated into Israel; (f) the foundation of the church is Jesus Christ and the New Testament apostles and prophets (cf. Eph. 2:20); (g) the author, Luke, keeps Israel and the church distinct.

On this last point, Fruchtenbaum states, “In the book of Acts, both Israel and the church exist simultaneously. The term Israel is used twenty times and ekklesia (church) nineteen times, yet the two groups are always kept distinct.”6

 

Multiple senses of “seed of Abraham”

According to Feinberg, the designation “seed of Abraham” is used in different ways in Scripture. First it is used in reference to ethnic, biological Jews (cf. Romans 9—11). Second, it is used in a political sense. Third, it is used in a spiritual sense to refer to people, whether Jew or Gentile, who are spiritually related to God by faith (cf. Romans 4:11-12; Galatians 3:7). Feinberg argues that the spiritual sense of the title does not take over the physical sense to such an extent that the physical seed of Abraham is no longer related to the biblical covenants.

 

Philosophy of history that emphasizes both the spiritual and physical aspects of God’s covenants

According to John Feinberg, “nondispensational treatments of the nature of the covenants and of Israel’s future invariably emphasize soteriological and spiritual issues, whereas dispensational treatments emphasize both the spiritual/soteriological and the social, economic, and political aspects of things.” 7

Other significant, although not necessarily exclusive features of dispensationalism, include: (1) the authority of Scripture; (2) belief in dispensations; (3) emphasis on Bible prophecy; (4) futuristic premillennialism; (5) pretribulationism; and (6) a view of imminency that sees Christ’s return as an “any-moment” possibility.

 

Variations Within Dispensationalism

The above features characterize the beliefs of those within the dispensational tradition. However, as Blaising writes, “Dispensationalism has not been a static tradition.” 8 There is no standard creed that freezes its theological development at any given point in history. Blaising offers three forms of dispensational thought:

 

1. Classical Dispensationalism (ca. 1850—1940s) Classical dispensationalism refers to the views of British and American dispensationalists between the writings of Darby and Chafer’s eight-volumeSystematic Theology. The interpretive notes of the Scofield Reference Bible are often seen as the key representation of the classical dispensational tradition.9

One important feature of classical dispensationalism was its dualistic idea of redemption. In this tradition, God is seen as pursuing two different purposes. One is related to heaven and the other to the earth. The “heavenly humanity was to be made up of all the redeemed from all dispensations who would be resurrected from the dead. Whereas the earthly humanity concerned people who had not died but who were preserved by God from death, the heavenly humanity was made up of all the saved who had died, whom God would resurrect from the dead.” 10

Blaising notes that the heavenly, spiritual, and individualistic nature of the church in classical dispensationalism underscored the well-known view that the church is a parenthesis in the history of redemption.11 In this tradition, there was little emphasis on social or political activity for the church.

Key theologians : John Nelson Darby, C. I. Scofield, Lewis Sperry Chafer

 

2. Revised or Modified Dispensationalism (ca.1950—1985) Revised dispensationalists abandoned the eternal dualism of heavenly and earthly peoples. The emphasis in this strand of the dispensational tradition was on two peoples of God—Israel and the church. These two groups are structured differently with different dispensational roles and responsibilities, but the salvation they each receive is the same. The distinction between Israel and the church, as different anthropological groups, will continue throughout eternity.

Revised dispensationalists usually reject the idea that there are two new covenants—one for Israel and one for the church. They also see the church and Israel as existing together during the millennium and eternal state.

Key theologians : John Walvoord, Dwight Pentecost, Charles Ryrie, Charles Feinberg, Alva J. McClain.

 

3. Progressive Dispensationalism (1986—present) What does “progressive” mean? The title “progressive dispensationalism” refers to the “progressive” relationship of the successive dispensations to one another.12 Charles Ryrie notes that, “The adjective ‘progressive’ refers to a central tenet that the Abrahamic, Davidic, and new covenants are being progressively fulfilled today (as well as having fulfillments in the millennial kingdom).” 13

 

“One of the striking differences between progressive and earlier dispensationalists, is that progressives do not view the church as an anthropological category in the same class as terms like Israel, Gentile Nations, Jews, and Gentile people. The church is neither a separate race of humanity (in contrast to Jews and Gentiles) nor a competing nation alongside Israel and Gentile nations. . . . The church is precisely redeemed humanity itself (both Jews and Gentiles) as it exists in this dispensation prior to the coming of Christ.”14

 

Progressive dispensationalists see more continuity between Israel and the church than the other two variations within dispensationalism. They stress that both Israel and the church compose the “people of God” and both are related to the blessings of the New Covenant. This spiritual equality, however, does not mean that there are not functional distinctions between the groups. Progressive dispensationalists do not equate the church as Israel in this age and they still see a future distinct identity and function for ethnic Israel in the coming millennial kingdom. Progressive dispensationalists like Blaising and Bock see an already/not yet aspect to the Davidic reign of Christ, seeing the Davidic reign as being inaugurated during the present church age. The full fulfillment of this reign awaits Israel in the millennium.

 

Key theologians : Craig A. Blaising, Darrell L. Bock, and Robert L. Saucy

 

References:

1. See Floyd Elmore, "Darby, John Nelson," Dictionary of Premillennial Theology, Mal Couch, ed., (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1996) 83-84.

2. Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody, 1989) 516.

3. See Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Wheaton: Victor, 1993) 10.

4. These essentials of Dispensationalism are taken from John S. Feinberg's, "Systems of Discontinuity," Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments, ed. John S. Feinberg (Wheaton: Crossway, 1988) 67-85. At this point we acknowledge the well-known sine qua non of Dispensationalism as put forth by Charles C. Ryrie. According to Ryrie, Dispensationalism is based on the three following characteristics: (1) a distinction between Israel and the church; (2) literal hermeneutics; and (3) A view which sees the glory of God as the underlying purpose of God in the world. See Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995) 38-40.

5. Feinberg, 83.

6. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology. Tustin: Ariel, 1994) 118.

7. Feinberg, 85.

8. Blaising and Bock, 21.

9. Blaising and Bock, 22.

10. Blaising and Bock, 24.

11. Blaising and Bock, 27.

12. Blaising and Bock, 49.

13. Charles C. Ryrie, "Update on Dispensationalism," Issues in Dispensationalism, John R. Master and Wesley R. Willis, eds. (Chicago: Moody, 1994) 20.

14. Blaising and Bock, 49.

 

 

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