Last time you learned what dispensationalism is, today you’ll see the benefits of the system, as well as some of the problems with the three major types.
OT: Old Testament
NT: New Testament
CD: Classic Dispensationalism
RD: Revised Dispensationalism
PD: Progressive Dispensationalism
hermeneutic: an interpretive strategy
sine qua non: “without which not,” what is essential to something
eschatology: the doctrine of the end times
- Clean logical system
- Recognizes stages in history of redemption
- Honors Israel, eliminating anti-Semitism
- Teaches vigilance since Christ could return to rapture the Church at any moment
- Takes OT prophecy seriously
- Literal instead of allegorical interpretation
- Avoids legalism, embraces grace
Problems with Classic Dispensationalism (1830s-1950s)
- The time periods are arbitrary, overlapping, and artificial
- Separates Christ’s followers from his words (Luke 6.46; Matthew 7.21;
1 Timothy 6.3)
- Separate requirements for Israel and the Church (Galatians 3.6-9, 26-29; Ephesians 2.11-22; John 14.6)
- Separates Israel and the Church in the age to come (Galatians 3.29; Ephesians 4.4; Matthew 19.23-24)
- Interprets OT prophecies literally even when the NT does not (Jeremiah 31.31; Luke 22.20; 1 Corinthians 11.25; Hebrews 10.16-18)
Problems with Revised Dispensationalism (1950s-1990s)
Revised dispensationalism no longer believed Israel would be on earth while the Church lived in heaven but understood all of God’s people—both Jew and Gentile—inheriting the earth (kingdom of God = kingdom of heaven). However, Israel would still play a special role in the millennium. Also, Israel and the Church remain distinct throughout the Church age (dispensation of grace). RD sees the new covenant prophecy of Jeremiah 31 as applying to the Church.
Although RD made improvements in problem #4 they retained a clear enough distinction between Israel and the Church in the age to come. Secondly, by recognizing the NT interpretation of the Jeremiah 31 prophecy, they diverged from the literal-only approach to prophecy in this case while retaining that method for other cases. Although this diminishes problem #5, it also introduces an inconsistent hermeneutic. Thus, problems #1 through #5 remain for RD, though not as potent as the classic form.
Problems with Progressive Dispensationalism (1990s-Present)
Progressive dispensationalism introduced the ideas that successive dispensations build upon the previous, moving along God’s ultimate plan for our world. Also, PD emphasizes more continuity between Israel and the Church.
Craig Blaising, one of the architects of PD, wrote, “The plan of redemption has different aspects to it. One dispensation may emphasize one aspect more than another, for example the emphasis on divinely directed political affairs in the past dispensation and the emphasis on multiethnic spiritual identity in Christ in the present dispensation. But all these dispensations point to a future culmination in which God will both politically administer Israel and the Gentile nations and indwell all of them equally (without ethnic distinctions) by the Holy Spirit. Consequently, the dispensations progress by revealing different aspects of the final unified redemption.”
While retaining the dispensational structure, PD recognizes the value of covenants much more than RD and CD. They also see Christ’s words, such as the Sermon on the Mount, as relevant to Christians today. However, they retain the separation between God’s dealings with Israel and the Church both now and in the millennial age.
Stephen Wellum summarizes the situation this way: “[T]he sine qua non of dispensationalism (in all its varieties) is the Israel-church distinction. Furthermore and related to this distinction, there is the dual conviction that (1) Israel as a national, ethnic people, still awaits outstanding promises that have not yet been fulfilled in Christ and the church, especially national and territorial promises—all of which has theological implications for eschatology; and (2) ‘God’s relationship to the church differs in some significant ways from the dispensation with Israel,’ which has theological implications for soteriology and ecclesiology.”
- Blaising, Craig A. and Darrell L. Bock. Progressive Dispensationalism. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1993.
- Ryrie, Charles C. Dispensationalism. Charles C. Ryrie. 1995.
- Saucy, Robert. L. The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism: The Interface Between Dispensational & Non-Dispensational Theology. Grand Rapids:
- Vlach, Michael J. Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths. Los Angeles: Theological Studies Press, 2017.
- Feinberg, John S. Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1988.
- Merkle, Benjamin L. Discontinuity to Continuity: A Survey of Dispensational and Covenant Theologies. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020.
- Bahnsen, Greg L. and Kenneth L. Gentry, House Divided: The Break-up of Dispensational Theology. Ventura, CA: Nordskog Publishing, 1989.
- Mathison, Keith. Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God? Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1995.
- Poythress, Vern S. Understanding Dispensationalists. Second edition. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1993