Are you sure you like being God’s afterthought?

According to this theory, the church age is an unforeseen parenthesis or interjection in the Jewish program prophesied by the Old Testament prophets. If the Jews had not rejected Jesus, the Jewish kingdom age would have begun at Christ’s first coming, according to this theory. But since the Jews did reject Christ, the prophetic program was supposedly interrupted, and the church age, totally unforeseen by the Old Testament prophets, was interjected.

Isaiah by Michelangelo (click image to enlarge)

Dr. Grover Gunn, Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church, has a paper defining the dispensationalist system and how it is not consistent with Biblical and historic church teachings about the last days. He says this about the responsibility of the Biblical interpreter:

A person’s theological system is his basic understanding of what the overall teachings of Scripture are and how they interrelate. A verse of Scripture taken strictly alone can often have more than one meaning. One important characteristic of the correct meaning of any verse is that the correct meaning must harmonize with the overall teaching of Scripture, which is summarized in the theological system. The interpreter’s job is on the one hand to interpret Scripture with the help of his theological system, and on the other hand to constantly evaluate and adjust his system in the light of Scripture. The interpreter must ever seek to insure that his theological system is indeed consistent with all the teachings of Scripture and also logically consistent within itself. This is a lifelong process for the interpreter. Really it is a life’s long process since the interpreter always builds on the work of previous interpreters and since the job is never completely finished.

Below is the introduction to his paper.

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Defining the Basic System

One does not have to look far today to find Christians who have been influenced in their understanding of prophecy and the church by dispensationalism. I wonder though how many of these people have consistently thought through dispensationalism as a system, have become familiar with the controlling presuppositions of this system, and know (and comfortably accept) all the major theological and exegetical implications of this system. My own conviction is that many people who are now favorably disposed toward dispensationalism would not be if they were only better exposed to the dispensational theological system and better read in the more theologically oriented dispensational writings such as Chafer’s Systematic Theology.

A person’s theological system is his basic understanding of what the overall teachings of Scripture are and how they interrelate. A verse of Scripture taken strictly alone can often have more than one meaning. One important characteristic of the correct meaning of any verse is that the correct meaning must harmonize with the overall teaching of Scripture, which is summarized in the theological system. The interpreter’s job is on the one hand to interpret Scripture with the help of his theological system, and on the other hand to constantly evaluate and adjust his system in the light of Scripture. The interpreter must ever seek to insure that his theological system is indeed consistent with all the teachings of Scripture and also logically consistent within itself. This is a lifelong process for the interpreter. Really it is a lives’ long process since the interpreter always builds on the work of previous interpreters and since the job is never completely finished.

What many do not realize is that the basic assumptions of dispensationalism as a theological system directly contradict certain teachings that have predominated in the Christian church throughout the centuries. The dispensationalists themselves have said that their system, which first began to be taught in the early nineteenth century, is actually a rediscovery of truths lost since the early days of Christianity. When I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, Alan Boyd was definitely one of the most intellectually gifted students there at that time. He studied in the original Greek the early church writings up to the death of Justin Martyr in order to gather evidence that dispensationalism was indeed the system of early Christianity. Specifically, he was historically evaluating in a master’s thesis Dr. Charles C. Ryrie’s claim: “Premillennialism is the historic faith of the Church.”1 Alan’s conclusion was that Dr. Ryrie’s statement was invalid,2 and he stated “based on classroom and private discussion,” that Dr. Ryrie had “clarified his position on these matters.”3 Alan found the prophetic “beliefs of the period studied” to be “generally inimical to those of the modern system.”4 He discovered that the premillennialists in the early church “were a rather limited number.”5 He concluded that those church fathers who were premillennial, such as Papias and Justin Martyr, had little in common with modern day dispensationalists.6 Alan as a dispensationalist explained his findings as an example of the rapid loss of New Testament truth in the early church.7 In other words, there is no extant concrete evidence that dispensationalism or anything significantly resembling it was ever taught in the church any time until the nineteenth century.

Dispensationalists like to contrast themselves with covenant theologians because they can claim that covenant theology is almost as recent a theological innovation as is dispensationalism. What they are referring to is the relatively recent development of the doctrine of the covenant of works. I personally do not believe this is a valid comparison. Dispensationalism is a foundational system that offered a new and different paradigm for understanding the church and prophecy. The covenant of works is a relatively minor doctrine that built on a previously accepted doctrinal foundation and that is not universally accepted among opponents of dispensationalism. In the chapters that follow, I will be contrasting dispensationalism not with the covenant of works but with reformed theology, the theology of the protestant reformation as systematized by John Calvin and his followers.

What are these modern dispensational assumptions that contradict basic, historic Christian teachings? To put it simply, historic Christianity has held that the Bible contains a unified progression of revelation in which God has one basic people (the people of God through the ages, the universal church). While acknowledging that God’s final purpose in every detail of history is His own glory, the church has historically held that God’s plan to save a people through the death of Christ is the unifying purpose that runs like a scarlet thread through all of redemptive history from Genesis to Revelation. In contrast, dispensationalists hold Biblical revelation to be an interrupted progression in which God has two basic peoples (the earthly seed Israel and the heavenly seed, the church). Dispensationalists tend in various degrees to deny that redemption through Christ is the basic unifying purpose in Scripture8 and to deny the basic continuity of God’s plan of salvation in the Old and New Testaments. This two people view of redemptive history can also lead to strong theorized dichotomies between law and grace, between conditional and unconditional covenants, between earthly and heavenly purposes, and between Jewish and Christian end time prophetic events.

When one examines in more detail the basics of the dispensational system, one finds three bedrock concepts …

Read the rest of his paper:

1 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith (Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1953), page 17, compare page 33.
2 Alan Patrick Boyd, “A Dispensational Premillennial Analysis of the Eschatology of the Post-Apostolic Fathers (until the Death of Justin Martyr)” (Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1977), page 89.
3 Ibid., unnumbered preface
4 Ibid., pages 90-91
5 Ibid., page 92, footnote 1.
6 Ibid., page 89.
7 Ibid., page 91, footnote 2.
8 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), page 102.

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