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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