What Is Dispensationalism? Part 6

The Progressive Dispensationalism of Robert L. Saucy, Darrell L. Bock, and Craig A. Blaising

Progressive Dispensationalists agree that the overarching theme of biblical history is God’s glory, that Israel and the Church remain distinct yet sharing in the outworking of God’s program,[1] and that the Scriptures should be interpreted literally[2]; however, how might the earthly, heavenly, national, political, social, and spiritual purposes of God revealed throughout the dispensations be redeemed and reconciled so as to produce a more uniform hermeneutic for interpreting biblical history? This is the goal of Progressive Dispensationalism; therefore, the movement both shares the heritage of Classical and Revised Dispensationalism and sets forth its own distinctions as it seeks to continue to develop the continuity between the purposes of the dispensations.

Consider the Progressive description of a dispensation, “the Bible presents a way of understanding God’s relationship with human beings in terms of arrangements (dispensations) which He has instituted in the course of history. He manages the way in which human beings are to relate to Him and to one another through these arrangements which He has set up.”[3] Progressive Dispensationalism proposes “holistic redemption in progressive revelation,”[4] which means that all the purposes of God and all the administrations given to humanity by God throughout the dispensations will find ultimate redemption and culmination in the final future dispensation.[5] Thus, “the dispensations progress by revealing different aspects of the final unified redemption.”[6]

There are four areas that specifically distinguish Progressive Dispensationalists from Revised or Traditional Dispensationalists: (1) the kingdom, (2) the Davidic reign of Christ, (3) the New Covenant, and (4) the articulation of the distinction between Israel and the Church.[7] Regarding the first three, Progressives instruct that these things have been inaugurated but will not be fully realized until the final dispensation; whereas, Revised Dispensationalists would place things solely in the final dispensation. Regarding the fourth, Blaising writes,

The church then had its own future separate from the redemption promised to Jews and Gentiles in the past and future dispensations. Progressive dispensationalists, however, while seeing the church as a new manifestation of grace, believe that this grace is precisely in keeping with the promises of the Old Testament . . . 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, 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), nor is it a group of angelic-like humans destined for the heavens in contrast to the rest of redeemed humanity on the earth. The church is precisely redeemed humanity itself (both Jews and Gentiles) as it exists in this dispensation prior to the coming of Christ. When Paul speaks of the church as “one new man” in Christ (Eph. 2:15), he means precisely redeemed humanity as opposed to the unsaved. Jews and Gentiles outside of Christ are “the world,” the “old man” . . . But Paul’s point is that the blessings of the Spirit which constititute the church as the new dispensation are given equally without ethnic, gender, or class distinction.[8]

Considering these four peculiarities of Progressive Dispensationalists, it is clear that they remain in the dispensational camp. As their title suggests (and as the Revised Dispensationalists before them), they have served dispensational thinkers by providing theological movement within the system’s primary tenets, especially by suggesting an already/not yet eschatology and by suggesting we consider how the unique details revealed in previous dispensations may be viewed from the perspective of the final future dispensation.

Final Thoughts and Considerations

As you can see, the answer to the question, “What Is Dispensationalism?” is a complex and deep dialogue. It depends who you ask! This isn’t totally true. Like any system of theology, the broad details are agreed upon by those who hold the position; however, it is when we dive deeper into the details of a position, when nuances and peculiarities begin to take shape, that dispensationalists begin to disagree among themselves.

The dispensational hermeneutic has roots that stretch deep into the reflections and theological development of Church history, but only within the last two centuries has it broken through the ground with a visible and formal presence. Certainly, there is more room for it to grow. At Scofield Memorial Church, we are thankful to share in the heritage of dispensational theology. May we continue to be faithful as a local church who is a steward of the dispensation of God’s grace given to us in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in doing so, may the glory of God shine forth from this place.

 

 

Bibliography

Arndt, W.F., Walter Bauer, F.W. Danker, and F.W. Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. Edited by Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, and Viktor Reichmann. 3rd ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Blaising, Craig A., and Darrell L. Bock. Progressive Dispensationalism. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993.

Blaising, Craig A. “Dispensation, Dispensationalism.” Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Chafer, Lewis S. Systematic Theology. Vol. 1 & 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1976.

Lewis, G. R. “Ultradispensationalism.” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

McGrath, Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. 5th ed. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.

Rosenlund, Peggy. “An Overview of Dispensationalism”, May 16, 2012. (accessed May 22, 2012).

Ryrie, Charles C. Dispensationalism. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995.

Saucy, Robert L. The Church in God’s Program. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1972.

Scofield, C. I., and E. Schuyler English, eds. Scofield Reference Bible. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Scofield, C. I., ed. Scofield Reference Bible. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1917.

Scofield Memorial Church. “Scofield Church Doctrinal Statement”. Scofield Memorial Church, 2006. http://www.scofield.org/publications.

Thompson, Lolana, ed. “Guide to Scofield Memorial Church Selected Records”, October 2005. (accessed May 19, 2012).

Wilkinson, Paul R. “John Nelson Darby and His Views on Israel.” Bibliotheca Sacra 166, no. 661 (March 2009): 84–99.


[1] Robert L. Saucy, The Church in God’s Program (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1972), 81–2.

[2] Blaising and Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, 57–105. Progressive Dispensationalists offer us an enhanced literal interpretation of the Scripture by developing what is meant by “literal.” Of particular help, they develop how we read texts and how the text speaks. For example, they promote genre awareness as well as three levels of reading the Scriptures: (1) historical-exegetical, (2) biblical-theological, and (3) canonical-systematic.

[3] Ibid., 111.

[4] Ibid., 46.

[5] Ibid., 48–9.

[6] Ibid., 48.

[7] Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 165–174.

[8] Blaising and Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, 49–50.

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