Archive for category Charles Ryrie

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.




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.

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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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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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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What Is Dispensationalism? Part 3

The Classic Dispensationalism of Cyrus Ingerson Scofield and Lewis Sperry Chafer

Out of the Bible Conference Movement came the man to whom Church history can attribute the first thorough analysis and expression of classic dispensationalism as an interpretive paradigm for the biblical story—Cyrus Ingerson Scofield.

After Scofield’s conversion, he realized that he knew very little about the Bible. With his analytical mind-set, Scofield set out to read and study the Scriptures. After all, it was not nearly as long as many other books he had studied before. Cyrus decided to start with the Book of Matthew in the New Testament. The first verse of the first chapter of Matthew starts with  “the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham . . . “Scofield had heard a little about David, but who was Abraham?  So he was forced to go back to Genesis and start at the beginning. Scofield was fortunate to have had James Brookes as a pastor and teacher in his early days as a believer, but Scofield was a man who had to study the Bible for himself in a way that made sense to him. Brookes had respected the teachings of James Darby, and Scofield found Darby’s age approach to dispensationalism helpful. Both Jonathan Edwards and Isaac Watts preached a prelude to dispensationalism. It is true that Scofield Memorial Church began as a Congregational Church with theology was  similar to that of the Presbyterian Church and John Calvin, but as Scofield grew in his knowledge of the Scriptures, he became convinced that a dispensational approach was the best way to teach the Scriptures and to help anyone understand the Bible.[1]

Scofield’s dispensational influence spread through two primary avenues. First, “[He] formed a board of Bible conference teachers and in 1909 produced through Oxford Press a reference Bible (second edition in 1917) which became famous throughout the United States and around the world. The Scofield Reference Bible was filled with expositional and theological annotations which put a ‘Bible Conference’ into the hands of thousands of evangelical Christians” [brackets mine].”[2] Here is a chart[3] that defines and describes Scofield’s classical dispensationalism according to his 1917 edition of the Scofield Reference Bible:

Dispensation Defined by Scofield: “The Dispensations are distinguished, exhibiting the majestic, progressive order of the divine dealings of God with humanity, ‘the increasing purpose’ which runs through and links together the ages, from the beginning of the life of man to the end in eternity. Augustine said: ‘Distinguish the ages, and the Scriptures harmonize’ . . . A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God. Seven such dispensations are distinguished in Scripture.”[4]

Title of Each Dispensation

Description of Each Dispensation

Scripture Section of Scofield Reference Bible

Innocency “Man was created in innocency, placed in a perfect environment, subjected to an absolutely simple test, and warned of the consequence of disobedience. The woman fell through pride; the man, deliberately (1 Tim. 2:14). God restored His sinning creatures, but the dispensation of innocency ended in the judgment of the Expulsion (Gen. 3:24).”[5] Genesis 1:28–3:13
Conscience “By disobedience man came to a personal and experimental knowledge of good and evil—of good as obedience, of evil as disobedience to the known will of God. Through that knowledge conscience awoke. Expelled from Eden and placed under the second, or Adamic Covenant, man was responsible to do all known good, to abstain from all known evil, and to approach God through sacrifice. The result of this second testing of man is stated in Gen. 6:5, and the dispensation ended in the judgment of the Flood. Apparently ‘east of the garden’ (v. 24), where were the cherubims and the flame, remained the place of worship through this second dispensation.”[6] Genesis 3:22–7:23
Human Government “Under Conscience, as in Innocency, man utterly failed, and the judgment of the Flood marks the end of the second dispensation and the beginning of the third. The declaration of the Noahic Covenant subjects humanity to a new test. Its distinctive feature is the institution, for the first time, of human government—the government of man by man. The highest function of government is the judicial taking of life. All other governmental powers are implied in that. It follows that the third dispensation is distinctively that of human government. Man is responsible to govern the world for God. That responsibility rested upon the whole race, Jew and Gentile, until the failure of Israel under the Palestinian Covenant (Deut. 28:1–30:10) brought the judgment of the Captivities, when ‘the times of the Gentiles’ (see Lk. 21:24; Rev. 16:14) began, and the government of the world passed exclusively into Gentile hands (Dan. 2:36–45; Lk. 21:24; Acts 15:14–17). That both Israel and the Gentiles have governed for self, not God, is sadly apparent. The judgment of the confusion of tongues ended the racial testing; that of the captivities the Jewish; while the Gentile testing will end in the smiting of the Image (Dan. 2) and the judgment of the nations (Mat. 25:31–46).”[7] Genesis 8:20–11:9
Promise “For Abraham and his descendents it is evident that the Abraham Covenant (Gen. 15:18, note) made a great change. They became distinctively the heirs of promise. That covenant is wholly gracious and unconditional. The descendants of Abraham had but to abide in their own land to inherit every blessing. In Egypt they lost their blessings, but not their covenant. The Dispensation of Promise ended when Israel rashly accepted the law (Ex. 19:8). Grace had prepared  a deliverer (Moses), provided a sacrifice for the guilty, and by divine power brought them out of bondage (Ex. 19:4).; but at Sinai they exchanged grace for law. The Dispensation of Promise extends from Gen. 12:1 to Ex. 19:8, and was exclusively Israelitish. The dispensation must be distinguished from the covenant. The former is a mode of testing; the latter is everlasting because unconditional. The law did not abrogate the Abrahamic Covenant (Gal. 3:15-18), but was an intermediate disciplinary dealing ‘till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made’ (Gal. 3:19–29; 4:1–7). Only the dispensation, as a testing of Israel, ended at the giving of the law.”[8] Genesis 12:1–Exodus 19:8
Law “This dispensation extends from Sinai to Calvary—from the Exodus to the Cross. The history of Israel in the wilderness and in the land is one long record of the violation of the law. The testing of the nation by law ended in the judgment of the Captivities; but the dispensation itself ended at the Cross. (1) Man’s state at the beginning (Ex. 19:1–4). (2) His responsibility (Ex. 19:5, 6; Rom. 10:5). (3) His failure (2 Ki. 17:7–17, 19; Acts 2:22, 23). (4) The judgment (2 Ki. 17:1–6, 20; 25:1–11; Lk. 21:20–24).”[9] Exodus 19:8–Matthew 27:35
Grace “As a dispensation, grace begins with the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 3:24–26; 4:24, 25). The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ, with good works as a fruit of salvation (John 1:12, 13; 3:36; Mt. 21:37; 22:42; John 15:22, 25; Heb. 1:2; 1 John 5:10–12). The immediate result of this testing was the rejection of Christ by the Jews, and His crucifixion by Jew and Gentile (Acts 4:27). The predicted end of the testing of man under grace is the apostasy of the professing church (see ‘Apostasy,’ 2 Tim. 3:1–8, note), and the resultant apocalyptic judgments. Grace has a twofold manifestation: in salvation (Rom. 3:24 refs.), and in the walk and service of the saved (Rom. 6:15, refs.).”[10] John 1:17[–Revelation 20:3][11]
The Fulness of Times or The Kingdom “This, the seventh and last of the ordered ages which condition human life on the earth, is identical with the kingdom covenanted to David (2 Sam. 7:8–17; Zech. 12:8; Summary; Lk. 1:31–33; 1 Cor. 15:24;, Summary), and gathers into itself under Christ all past ‘times’: (1) The time of oppression and misrule ends by Christ taking His kingdom (Isa. 11:3, 4). (2) The time of testimony and divine forbearance ends in judgment (Mt. 25:31–46; Acts 17:30, 31; Rev. 20:7–15). (3) The time of toil ends in rest and reward (2 Thess. 1:6, 7). (4) The time of suffering ends in glory (Rom. 8:17, 18). (5) The time of Israel’s blindness and chastisement ends in restoration and conversion (Rom. 11:25–27). (6) The times of the Gentiles end in the smiting of the image and the setting up of the kingdom of the heavens (Dan. 2:34, 35; Rev. 19:15–21). (7) The time of creation’s thraldom ends in deliverance at the manifestation of the sons of God (Gen. 3:17; Isa. 11:6–8; Rom. 8:19-21).”[12] Revelation 20:4–22:21

Second, the First Congregational Church of Dallas was founded in 1877 by the American Home Missionary Society. Scofield became the pastor of the First Congregational Church of Dallas in 1883 and served in this capacity until 1895. After seven years, Scofield again returned to the pastorate of the church in 1903 and served until 1910. During this time, the work for the first edition of the Scofield Reference Bible was completed (1909). The First Congregational Church of Dallas was later renamed Scofield Memorial Church in 1923. Scofield Memorial Church served as an avenue through which C. I. Scofield was able to develop his dispensational system in written form as well as a central location for dispensational teaching.[13]

Lewis S. Chafer was also a former pastor of Scofield Memorial Church (1923–1926) and a classical dispensationalist. In 1924, the boards of Scofield Memorial Church and First Presbyterian Church joined Chafer in organizing the Evangelical Theological College, which later became Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS).[14] The importance of dispensationalism to Chafer as a hermeneutical blueprint is set forth in the preface of his Systematic Theology, “God’s program is as important to the theologian as the blueprint to the builder or the chart to the mariner. Without the knowledge of it, the preacher must drift aimlessly in doctrine and fail to a large degree in his attempts to harmonize and utilize the Scriptures.”[15]

“L. S. Chafer did not emphasize the time aspect of a dispensation,”[16] rather he understood a dispensation to primarily be a stewardship. Today, Dallas Theological Seminary continues to be engaged in the articulation and development of dispensationalism. Article V of The Doctrinal Statement of DTS clearly communicates the school’s position on The Dispensations[17]:

We believe that the dispensations are stewardships by which God administers His purpose on the earth through man under varying responsibilities. We believe that the changes in the dispensational dealings of God with man depend on changed conditions or situations in which man is successively found with relation to God, and that these changes are the result of the failures of man and the judgments of God. We believe that different administrative responsibilities of this character are manifest in the biblical record, that they span the entire history of mankind, and that each ends in the failure of man under the respective test and in an ensuing judgment from God. We believe that three of these dispensations or rules of life are the subject of extended revelation in the Scriptures, viz., the dispensation of the Mosaic Law, the present dispensation of grace, and the future dispensation of the millennial kingdom. We believe that these are distinct and are not to be intermingled or confused, as they are chronologically successive . . .[18]


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

[2] Blaising and Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, 10–11.

[3] For several helpful charts and descriptions of a variety of dispensational viewpoints, see Ibid., 31–56.

[4] C. I. Scofield, ed., Scofield Reference Bible, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1917), iii, 5.

[5] Ibid., 5.

[6] Ibid., 10.

[7] Ibid., 16.

[8] Ibid., 20.

[9] Ibid., 94.

[10] Ibid., 1115.

[11] Ibid., 1250, 1349; C. I. Scofield and E. Schuyler English, eds., Scofield Reference Bible, 3rd ed. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1967), 1273, 1373. The 1967 revision had to be consulted here because of a lack of clarity in the 1917 edition.

[12] Scofield, Scofield Reference Bible, 1250; Scofield and English, Scofield Reference Bible, 1373–74.

[13] The information in this paragraph was provided by Lolana Thompson, ed., “Guide to Scofield Memorial Church Selected Records”, October 2005, (accessed May 19, 2012).

[14] Ibid.

[15] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 & 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1976), xiii.

[16] Rosenlund, “An Overview of Dispensationalism.”

[17] It should be noted that this article on The Dispensations is identical to the doctrinal statement of Scofield Memorial Church.

[18] See the Scofield Memorial Church or Dallas Theological Seminary Doctrinal Statement for the full articulation of the doctrine of The Dispensations.

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What Is Dispensationalism? Part 2

Describing the Theological Viewpoints within Dispensationalism

Many have contributed to the theological development of dispensationalism, and it is helpful to consider some of these contributions so that the reader gains a context in which to fit the nuances and peculiar developments of dispensational thought throughout Church history.

The Origin of Dispensational Thought: The Early Church and John Nelson Darby

Dispensationalism is not among those doctrines that received formal theological development in the days of the early Church. The doctrinal focus of the early Church largely grew out of reactions to the doctrinal controversies of its time and the necessity for doctrinal clarity regarding the apostles’ teaching. We find that those doctrines which are core to the Christian Church were hammered out in the early centuries, such as the Trinity, the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, and sinful humanity’s experience of God’s grace in salvation. While these doctrines received most of the formal attention of the Christian Church early on, it can be observed that other inquiries were made beyond these core doctrines at informal and indirect levels. For example, “Some early Christian writers (such as Irenaeus and Augustine) saw all of history as a series of dispensations which they identified with major structural units of the biblical narrative.”8 This is not to say that Irenaeus and Augustine were dispensationalists as we think of such a label today! However, let it suffice to say that these men made observations that later become reflected in dispensational thought.

Charles Ryrie writes in his work Dispensationalism, “There is no question that the Plymouth Brethren, of which John Nelson Darby (1800–1882) was a leader, had much to do with the systematizing and promoting of dispensationalism.”9 While debates may rage about when exactly the formal system of dispensensationalism originated, most scholars attribute its origin to Darby. “The origin of the movement lie in England with John Nelson Darby (1800–82).”10 Ryrie proposes Darby’s dispensational scheme to appear as follows: the Paradisaical State to the Flood; Noah; Abraham; Israel (a) under the law, (b) under the priesthood, (c) under the kings; Gentiles; the Spirit; and the Millennium.11 Darby believed and taught key eschatological themes generally held by those who identify as dispensationalists, such as the pre-tribulational rapture of the Church, the coming of the Antichrist, the third temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, a time of Great Tribulation is approaching for both Israel and the nations, and the necessary distinction between Israel and the Church.12 Not only are Darby and the Brethren most likely the originators of dispensationalism as a formal system, but also their movement catalyzed an increasing desire among other evangelical Prostestants to “freely gather in Christ to worship and study the Scriptures”13 that would pave the way for dispensational thought to spread through the Bible Conference Movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.



8 Blaising, “Dispensation, Dispensationalism.” Also see especially, Charles C. Ryrie,
Dispensationalism (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995), 63–67. Ryrie provides the reader with a helpful section that
investigates “historical references to that which eventually was systematized into dispensationalism.” Here, he
discusses Justin Martyr (110–165), Irenaeus (130–200), Clement of Alexandria (150–220), Saint Augustine (354–
430), Joachim of Fiore (ca. 1135–1202), Pierre Poiret (1646–1719), John Edwards (1637–1716), and Isaac Watts

9 Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 67.

10 McGrath, Christian Theology, 455.

11 Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 68–69. Ryrie comments that Scofield certainly did not primarily follow Darby in the development of his dispensational scheme, rather he seems to have been influenced more by the structure proposed by Isaac Watts. See 69–71.

12 Paul R. Wilkinson, “John Nelson Darby and His Views on Israel,” Bibliotheca Sacra 166, no. 661 (March 2009): 92–93.

13 Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 10.

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What Is Dispensationalism? Part 1

In the past, I have not been great about sequential blogging . . . just haven’t developed the discipline yet I suppose. However, this series is already written! So, all I have to do is copy and past each week. The following posts have their origin in a paper that I wrote to assist a publication effort at Scofield Memorial Church in Dallas, TX. In 2012, we celebrate 135 years as a local church in Dallas, TX. There were several contributors to the work, including professors from Dallas Theological Seminary, former and present pastors of Scofield Memorial Church, and congregation members, especially Peggy Rosenlund. This paper is a very, very small part of the above mentioned publication. I enjoyed writing it, and I hope it will inform your understanding of dispensational theology.

Scofield Memorial Church Worship Center

C. I. Scofield’s Pulpit with Stained Glass Missions Window in Background


Dispensationalism is a distinctive feature in the doctrinal statement of Scofield Memorial Church,[1] as should be expected considering that the man whose name the church continues to bear to this day—Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843–1921)[2]—was perhaps the most influential promulgator of dispensational thought. The goal of this brief article is to inform the reader by answering the question, “What Is Dispensationalism?” In order to answer this question, the article will attempt to provide a biblical context for understanding the term dispensation, to broadly describe the theological viewpoints within dispensationalism, and to trace unique nuances and significant developments in dispensationalism from its origin to the present day conversation.

Defining the Term Dispensation

The English term dispensation communicates the idea of “a management order, arrangement, or administration.”[3] The Greek substantives οἰκονόμος and οἰκονομία and their verbal counterpart οἰκονομέω are three terms found in the Bible, which are of interest to us. Οἰκονόμος, designates the manager himself as opposed to the act or duty of managing or administrating.  This term is employed by Paul in Galatians 4:2 and Titus 1:7 and by Peter in 1 Peter 4:10. The second substantive, οἰκονομία, may distinctly refer to the “responsibility of management” (e.g., management of a household, estate, or a divine office).[4] “Paul applies the idea of administration to the office of an apostle” (1 Cor. 9:17).[5] Similarly, the Greek Septuagint version of Isaiah employs the term in 22:19–21 to speak of both a formal office or position as well as the authority that accompanies the office. It may also designate a “state of being arranged,” ordered, or planned (e.g., as “God’s unique plan” to arrange for the redemption of humans, Eph. 3:9).[6] Lastly, the substantive may refer to a ”program of instruction” or “training” as seems to be demonstrated in 1 Timothy 1:4.[7] The verbal expression of the word group, οἰκονομέω, is employed in Luke 16:2 to describe the act of managing or administrating a household for an owner or master, in the Greek Septuagint at Psalm 111:5 [112:5] for one who conducts his affairs with justice.

We must not commit the exegetical fallacy that the presence of a certain word in the Bible necessitates the presence of a certain theology in the Bible; that is, the presence of the terms related to dispensation does not necessarily a dispensational theology make! Further, the theological idea of dispensationalism may be present in the Scriptures even when the specific terminology is not. Therefore, the purpose of the above word study is to gain an understanding of the concepts behind these key words that will serve us in the theological development that is ahead.

[1] Scofield Memorial Church, “Scofield Church Doctrinal Statement” (Scofield Memorial Church, 2006),

[2] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed. (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 455.

[3] Craig A. Blaising, “Dispensation, Dispensationalism,” ed. Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001).

[4] W.F. Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, ed. Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, and Viktor Reichmann, 3rd ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 697.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 698.

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