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OLD DISPENSATIONALISM IS FADING FAST

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  6 Comments

Dispensationalism has been undergoing a gradual, evolutionary change of mammoth proportions since the late 1980s. Beginning then, many dispensational scholars began tinkering with the system trying to make it more palatable to evangelical theologians — as well as more biblical. They are doing a pretty good job on both accounts. Their new system is called “progressive dispensationalism.” But their work is not done. And it will not be done until they remove the word “dispensationalism” from their title. In other words, their work will not be complete until they no longer classify themselves as dispensationalists. I think that day is coming. (I will not, however, predict the day and the hour lest I become like unto them.)

You can hear the alarm being sounded in the more popular, more traditional dispensational camp. That is, you can hear it from those few traditional dispensationalists who are somewhat studious and alert. The average dispensationalist-in-the-pew is too busy trying to identify the Antichrist, predict the date of the Rapture, and create a better system for full-color, fold-out charts. (I was just kidding about the last point: as strong advocates of the tri-partite view of man they are resolutely committed to tri-fold charts.)

In the 1990s a number of books attacking progressive dispensationalism were published by the old guard. And several significant debate books were generated out of their intermural debate. One of these debate books was: Herbert W. Bateman, ed., Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism: A Comparison of Traditional and Progressive Views (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999). In this work we see the enormous changes being effected on the theological sub-structure of dispensationalism. (The more popular brand of dispensationalism that dominates the market does not have a theological sub-structure. Their simple motto is: “I believe therefore it am”).

To get a feel for the radical nature of the changes being effected, we may quote a brief section of this book, a couple of paragraphs by Stanley D. Toussaint, an older school dispensationalist. Toussaint writes on p. 227:

“In his classic work Dispensationalism Today, Ryrie sets forth a threefold sine qua non of dispensationalism — a distinction between Israel and the church, a literal hermeneutic, and the glory of God as His purpose on earth. Of these three, undoubtedly the most important is the distinction between Israel and the church. Ryrie calls this ‘the most basic theological test of whether or not a man is a dispensationalist.’ He calls it the ‘essence of dispensationalism.’ He goes so far as to say, ‘The nature of the church is a crucial point of difference between dispensationalism and other doctrinal viewpoints. Indeed, ecclesiology, or the doctrine of the church, is the touchstone of dispensationalism.’ All dispensationalists would agree that these statements are true. However, the degree of the difference has been and still is a matter of debate. If the church and Israel become so blurred in dispensationalism that there is no separation between them, dispensationalism will become as extinct as the pitied dodo bird.”

As you can see: the foundational touchstone of dispensationalism is being reformulated. And “if the foundations be destroyed, what will the populist do?”

Since dispensationalism is a theological system, we can expect that reworking the foundations will impact the rest of their theology. And such is certainly the case. Toussaint goes on to note on p. 228:

“Progressive dispensationalism has taken a new tack. It still makes something of a difference between Israel and the church, but that distinction is not nearly as sharp. Those who hold to this position believe that the promised kingdom has already begun; progressive dispensationalists assert that the Old Testament covenants and promises have had a beginning, a partial fulfillment in the church, but will have their ultimate fulfillment in the Millennium and eternity. Their view of the kingdom is similar to Ladd’s; that is, progressive dispensationalists believe that the kingdom was present when Christ ministered on earth but His reign was not initiated until His ascension. At that time He took His seat on the throne of David. Thus, the kingdom has been inaugurated but will come in fullness only in the millennium and eternity.”

These are enormously significant alterations occurring in this popular eschatological system. Dispensationalism is in serious trouble. It is not simply changing, it is becoming its opposite. But again: they are not there yet, though the prospects look good for the final demise of dispensationalism. Of course, if the average dispensationalist ever gets wind of what their theologians are doing, they will simply write it off as another one of the signs of the times. And they will return to the mountain top with their friends to eagerly wait.

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Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

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Ken is a Presbyterian pastor and the author or co-author of over thirty books, most on eschatology. He has been married since 1971, and has three children and several grandchildren. He is a graduate of Tennessee Temple University (B.A., 1973), Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1977), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th.M., 1986; Th.D., 1988). He currently pastors Living Hope Presbyterian Church (affiliated with the RPCGA) in Greer, SC. Much of his writing is in the field of eschatology, including his 600 page book, He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology and his 400 page, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (his Th.D. dissertation). He contributed chapters to two Zondervan CounterPoints books on eschatological issues: Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (edited by Darrell L. Bock) and Four Views on the Book of Revelation (edited by C. Marvin Pate). He also debated Thomas D. Ice in Kregel's The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? His books have been published by American Vision, Baker, Zondervan, Kregel, P & R, Greenhaven Press, Nordskog, Wipf & Stock, and several other publishers. He has published scores of articles in such publications as Tabletalk, Westminster Theological Journal, Evangelical Theological Society Journal, Banner of Truth, Christianity Today, Antithesis, Contra Mundum, and others. He has spoken at over 100 conferences in America, the Caribbean, and Australia. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and a Church Council Committee member of Coalition on Revival.

6 responses to OLD DISPENSATIONALISM IS FADING FAST

  1. William Donelson July 11, 2012 at 6:30

    It’s good to see the next generation of those at Dallas and “company” are indeed asking the hard questions … and even attempting to address them.
    How sad however, that far too many in the pews and pulpits in various churches have the immature mind of a five-year-old little boy who says “you don’t agree with me, therefore we cannot be friends…I am going to take my ball and go home…”
    I am currently dealing with this immature mind set with a fellow ‘pastor’. In his mind if we cannot agree on dispensationalism, then we should end fellowship before it gets ‘ugly!’ (his word not mine!) How emotionally immature and I dare say academically shallow to feel threatened by a discussion on hermeneutics.
    May God open their hearts and minds to learn what is written on the pages of the biblical text and stop just repeating the ‘company-line’… or (to put a sharp point on it) stop playing pastor.
    Sorry, but after many years of trying to share the idea of just thinking and evaluating one’s own hermeneutic…and being rejected over and over again on the basis of emotionalism…. well I guess I need to get off my soap-box.
    Pray for me to be under His control and not my own emotions. WBD

    • Noa Napoleon July 11, 2012 at 6:30

      Get used to it William!

      At stake however is much more that just hermeneutic issues. Dispyʻs describe a God who is partial, schizophrenic, and racially prejudiced!

      The dispy guards his doctrine as fervently as the Government guards it entitlements programs to so called minorities. Say a word against these entitlements and you are the antichrist who is trying to destroy the “Constitution!”

  2. Thank you for this post. I too am encouraged by the “progression” that Dispensationalism has made, but I still feel like continues to hold on to unnecessary errors in interpretation.

  3. Noa Napoleon July 11, 2012 at 6:30

    Since the dispensationalists see two separate peoples, the church and Israel, they also make the distinction between two kingdoms. They do this by subordinating the eternal one to the temporary one….

    “In that he saith, a new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and wax old is ready to vanish away.”

    The kingdom of God has been expanded to encompass and govern all peopleʻs. The terms and conditions have changed as well as the system of delivery but they are still governed by the same faithful God who supplies all that is needed to sustain and cause to grow. The problem it seems to me is this. The dispy seeʻs earthly promises (kingdom promises) as being assigned exclusively or primarily to natural Israel, and not to a wider or global people of God. This is nothing new. The Jews have always failed to understand the expended Kingdom concept. The church, the dispyʻs teach, is not the Kingdom of God yet, Israel is the Kingdom of God. Church and Kingdom are cast in entirely different ages etc. This is why they call the church age the “parenthetical” period. The kingdom of God, they like to say, was postponed because the Jews did not accept their Messiah. In order to sustain this system of interpretation they have had to create a future golden age whereby the Kingdom of God is automatically accepted by every soul living at the time, unlike it is now where in order to enter the Kingdom one needs to believe, repent and be baptized etc.

    • Noa Napoleon July 11, 2012 at 6:30

      OOOOPS! Correction!

      I wrote… “The church, the dispyʻs teach, is not the Kingdom of God yet, Israel is the Kingdom of God.”

      I was trying to say that that dispensationalists have taught that the church age is a prelude to the kingdom age. This seems like replacement theology to me? The difference now we are talking about the Kingdom of God not Israel. These are not synonymous terms even if we are talking about the church. If the Kingdom of God was postponed until after the tribulation as they teach it was, Kingdom work cannot be possible! Some have made the case that the result of dispensational indoctrination is…. “church planting” has replaced “kingdom building.”

  4. Loved the article! It cracked me up more than once! Thank you!

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