Archive for September 7th, 2012

What Is Dispensationalism? Part 5

The Revised Dispensationalism of Charles C. Ryrie

The writings of John F. Walvoord, Alva J. McClain, E. Schuyler English, J. Dwight Pentecost, and Charles C. Ryrie contributed to the modifications found in Revised or Traditional Dispensationalism. Ryrie continues the shift away from defining a dispensation as a period of time (contra Scofield) but rather toward defining a dispensation as a stewardship, “A dispensation is a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purpose.”[1] Blaising mentions other peculiar features of Traditional Dispensationalism as compared to Classical Dispensationalism:

Revised dispensationalists proposed different views on the kingdom of God (no longer distinguished from the kingdom of heaven), emphasized to different degrees the applicability of Christ’s teachings to the church [e.g., the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer], and rejected the idea of dual spheres of eternal salvation [i.e., earthly and heavenly]. They saw the two purposes as anthropological (simply a difference between Israel and the church as such) rather than cosmological (heavenly versus earthly programs)[2] [brackets mine].

Ryrie is very helpful in demonstrating the essence of dispensationalism, “The essence of dispensationalism is (1) the recognition of a consistent distinction between Israel and the church, (2) a consistent and regular use of a literal principle of interpretation, and (3) a basic and primary conception of the purpose of God as his own glory rather than the salvation of mankind.”[3] These three points are foundational to Traditional Dispensationalism, and so long as they are maintained, one can identify as a traditional dispensationalist regardless of whether one holds to four, five, six, seven, or eight historical dispensations. Traditional dispensationalists understand these three key components to distinguish them from hermeneutical paradigm of Covenant Theology.

Up to this point, dispensationalism has communicated a hermeneutic that understands biblical history as made up of a string of successive administrations. During each administration, there is revelation from God concerning his will, the responsibility of humanity to respond appropriately to the divine will, the failure of humanity to fulfill its responsibility, the judgment of God ends the administration, and a new administration follows. God’s glory is the purpose and theme that harmonizes the administrations. However, Ryrie speaks of “carryovers” between dispensations that also contributed to a more harmonious relationship between the dispensations. For example, promises and some institutions continue from one dispensation to the next (covenants, the image of God in humanity, depravity of humanity, etc.), and some institutions are not only carried over but also developed in a following dispensation (sacrificial system, capital punishment, the Ten Commandments, etc.).[4]This nuance of “carryover,” continuity, and harmony between the dispensations eventually gave way to the final development of dispensationalism in our day—Progressive Dispensationalism.


[1] Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 28.

[2] Blaising, “Dispensation, Dispensationalism,” 345.

[3] Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 45.

[4] Ibid., 57–8.

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Election 2012: Can the Christian Vote This Year?

November is coming. As I begin to consider participating in my fourth presidential election, I find myself in a bit of a conundrum. Let me begin by expressing the mood of this post just in case you don’t intuitively catch it through the text. I come to this as an average Christian guy simply praying for thoughtfulness about and loyalty to the gospel of Jesus Christ as I consider candidates and issues in our current political and social context. I am a theologian by training and a pastor by vocation, not a political analyst, economist, or any other similar thing. I have traditionally made political decisions from a politically conservative position; that is, I am in favor of smaller government in America’s democratic context; I lean more toward the effectiveness of conservative economic principles; and I view health care as a commodity, not as an entitled right (IMO, it has to be paid for somehow; therefore, health care is something that should be available to working people, and of course compassionate and wise consideration should be given to the poor and disabled, but without the present sense of entitlement.) I have voted for a Republican in every previous election since 2000. There . . . now you know my political history . . . no secrets.

But this election is different. It is unlike any other I have faced. I am an evangelical Christian, which means (among other things) that I believe in (1) the Triune God of the Bible, (2) the orthodox Christian doctrine on the second Person of the Trinity—Jesus Christ, (3) the depravity of humanity (see Luther’s The Bondage of the Will), and (4) salvation for humanity by grace through faith in the faithful work of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:1–22). I agree with the Christian Church, which has always historically taken the position that abortion of a child is wrong (see Didache 2:2; Barnabas 19:5; as well all Scripture passages condemning child sacrifice and those in which we see Jesus’ great love for children).

On this topic, I do honestly wonder about certain, rare ethical situations caused by today’s medical and technological advancements. A brief story here, when my wife went into premature labor at 20 weeks with our twins, Hadlee and Jaxon, I was nearly faced with a decision that humbled my conservative political views on this issue a bit and caused me to diligently consider what Scripture had to say to me as a husband and a father. Hadlee was born first, and she lived only a few minutes. There was a chance that Jaxon could survive; however, this came with some risk. I remember very vividly the doctor pulling me aside and saying to me that the pregnancy had been compromised which put both Aimee and Jaxon at risk. He advised me that should the situation require such a decision, that I/we would need to be prepared to choose whose life we would seek to protect. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe where I found myself . . . never in a million years would I have thought that I would have to make such a decision. In order to prepare, I first spent time in a long season of prayer. Then, I searched the Scripture for guidance about my responsibilities to God as both a husband and a father. After having done this, I felt sure of a conviction that my relationship to my wife took precedence over every other earthly relationship according to Scripture. I communicated to Aimee that should a decision need to be made, that I felt sure that the right thing to do was to protect her life. However, such a decision did not have to be made; little Jaxon came on his own . . . too early and his life expired after only a few minutes.

Continuing on, I am also in agreement with the historic position of the Christian Church on marriage. For the Church, the reason marriage must be between a man and a woman is a theological reason. God created a male and a female to be joined in a one flesh covenant because it was decided long before creation that such a human relationship would image what God the Son would do for his Bride, the Church (see Ephesians 5:32).

So what’s my dilemma? We have two candidates this election — Mr. Romney and current President Barack Obama — neither of whom I can endorse wholeheartedly as a Christian. Mitt Romney, as has been well publicized, is a faithful member and leader in the Mormon LDS Church. His election (really even his nomination and campaigning) has and will no doubt bring Mormonism into the public view—for the good of it or for the bad of it is yet to be seen . . . more on this later. My problem with this is that Mormonism is heretical and deceptively so. If you were to read the LDS Beliefs, you would most likely not see anything too different from what you may expect from your Christian church’s doctrinal statement, but this is where you would be terribly wrong. Little words full of meaning are left out (e.g., “eternal” in Article 1 of the 13 is only associated with the Father, not with the Son, nor the Spirit—this is intentional by the LDS, which does not believe in the eternal existence of the Son and the Spirit but only the Father). Further, unorthodox doctrines are employed (e.g., see Articles 2, 3–4, 8, and 10). Of the four orthodox Christian doctrines that I mentioned above, the LDS rejects all four, and in so doing, they are guilty of preaching “another gospel” about which Paul has some very strong words (see Galatians 1:8–9). So, how does this relate to politics for me as a thinking Christian. Well, can I vote for a candidate whose religious views may lead to confusing Americans about orthodox Christian theology and therefore allow for a false gospel to be popularized? And don’t compare previous Roman Catholic presidents with a potential Mormon president please—that is not an accurate parallel. I would feel more comfortable voting for a man of no religion than a man advancing a false and confusing gospel.

Then, there is the incumbent, President Barack Obama. I cannot endorse wholeheartedly his position on abortion, which in some sense seems compassionate toward women, but is too free so as to neglect the humanity and life of the unborn:

The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way. We also recognize that health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. We strongly and unequivocally support a woman’s decision to have a child by providing affordable health care and ensuring the availability of and access to programs that help women during pregnancy and after the birth of a child, including caring adoption programs (taken from http://www.barackobama.com/women).

Further, I cannot—in my understanding of the marriage covenant represented in Scripture as well as Scripture’s clear teaching that all humans since the fall have perverted human sexuality—endorse his position on same-sex marriage:

So, what am I to do? This is the evangelical Christian dilemma in 2012—to ignore the dilemma is not thoughtful nor good—there is a dilemma. Now, I could just drink the “Republican Kool-aid” as a traditional Republican and not think too deeply about these things, but I can’t. Or, I could side with the more progressive and trendy democratic party (clearly more trendy than the Republicans) because there is a mood of progress about them, but I can’t do this either. The whole “lesser of two evils” is not a justifiable Christian ethic—evil is always evil. I do support small government, so maybe that should be my guiding light to the Romney camp, but can I do this at the expense of the clarity of the gospel? And let’s be honest—do either parties really believe in small government today?

I feel like a sheep being led to the slaughter-house. There’s no good way to go. Even if I decide not to vote—I have committed the gravest sin in America—to not exercise my right in the democracy. In many other places and in the days of monarchs and emperors, I wouldn’t have had to worry about this dilemma. The people in power would be in power—regardless of my opinion—until they just weren’t in power anymore. I would have had no other choice but to seek God, the truly Sovereign King, who gives a hearing at his throne of grace to humble sinners concerned for his/her nation and its leaders. Yet to an American, is praying really doing something? Let me ask this, is praying doing enough? I and you probably feel that it is not—that we must cast our vote and do our part. I don’t know about you brothers and sisters, but I don’t see our part making much of a difference in our country no matter who wins every four years in November.

The real problem here is that we have forgotten how to depend on God as our Sovereign. We Americans have a history being a people who always have to “do something” (and no I am not speaking about hard work here) and then feel like we have fixed things (or at least tried) by our participation in the political process. But where do we Christians go when we are presented with a context like the one we are now facing? Do you decide to contribute to a decision that potentially does harm in the advance of the gospel? Do you vote for a candidate who holds moral positions that violate your conscience? What do we do?

It is time, brothers and sisters, for us to return to God. When is the last time you met with God about the advance of the gospel in our nation? When is the last time you met with God about the moral bankruptcy of our people? The road to being a good American citizen begins with a heart that hungers and thirsts after the things in the heart of God. Consider Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I recently watched a documentary on Bonhoeffer and am now reading a biography about him. Bonhoeffer was a German, theologian, and pastor in the days of World War II and Nazi Germany. In his day, it was very clear that the church had ceased to be a group of people who could think critically about ideologies. This is why most of the church gave the blessing of God upon Adolf Hitler. Tell me Christian brother or sister, to what ideology are you most loyal? Is it to the Republican idea? Is it to the Democratic idea? I hope that your first and foremost loyalty is to Jesus Christ, which does not lead one to become inactive in the affairs of his/her nation (as Bonhoeffer clearly illustrates by his life); however, thinking through the gospel implications of things allows a citizen to act in a godly way in the midst of godless nations. You see, the German church was too late in its attempt to call Christians to think critically and biblically about politics. What about us? What about the American church?

For everything made evident is light, and for this reason it says:
“Awake, O sleeper!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you!”
Therefore be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise, taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is (Ephesians 5:14–17).

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What Is Dispensationalism? Part 4

Ultradispensationalism: Comparing Acts 28 Dispensationalism, Acts 13 Dispensationalism, and Acts 2 Dispensationalism

One common tenet of all dispensationalists—though it may vary in degree—is the distinction between the nation of Israel and the Church in the program of God. However, not all dispensationalists agree on the time which gave way to this dispensational shift. Acts 2 dispensationalism is the most common view, which teaches that the beginning of the Church coincides with the pouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Those who hold to one of the next two views are often referred to as ultradispensationalists. Acts 13 dispensationalists believe that the Church began “when Paul started his mission to Jews and Gentiles (Acts 13:2).”[1] Lastly, Acts 28 dispensationalists, sometimes referred to as Bullingerism “after its leading proponent—Ethelbert William Bullinger (1837–1913),” instruct that the dispensation of the Church (a.k.a. Grace) did not begin until Paul announces that the Jews have finally rejected the kingdom of God  and that the gospel will go onward to the Gentiles (Acts 28:26–28).[2]


[1] G. R. Lewis, “Ultradispensationalism,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 1225.

[2] Ibid.

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