Monday, February 04, 2008

Versions of Dispensationalism

Here is something I wrote in the comments section of a previous blog post. I'm posting it here in case anyone missed it, and because some dispensationalists have been known read this blog, and if I'm misrepresenting them, I want them to call me out on it.

Dispensationalism (A General Definition) – Divides the Bible into two separate and distinct peoples: Israel and the Church, and the two do not mix or overlap.

Classic Dispensationalism – Sees the OT as applying only to Israel and promising a Messiah to rule over them only. Had Israel agreed to submit to Christ’s rule at his first coming, Christ would have set up his earthly kingdom among them at that time, but Israel refused. Therefore, God formed the church as an “intercalation” or “parenthesis” (an interruption) which stands between God’s 1st dealings with Israel and his 2nd dealing with Israel in the millennial period. None of the Old Testament promises of law or gospel apply to us Gentiles in the church at all. We are under the New Testament only and the OT promises are for the nation of Israel, not for us. This position was held by most old school dispensationalists.

Hyper Dispensationalism – Holds that not only the OT but also the Gospels and possibly other books of the NT are for Israel only. The Gospels with all of their laws and commands do not apply to us. Paul’s writings, primarily (sometimes exclusively) are for the Church. Hyper-Dispensationalism denies Lordship-Salvation because while Israel had to work for its salvation under the law dispensation, the Church does not work for its salvation under the gospel dispensation. This view is pretty rare today.

Progressive Dispensationalism – Affirms the “already – not yet” method of interpreting OT prophecy. The “Progressive Dispensationalists” say that the promises God made to Israel in the OT are “already” being fulfilled in the church (this is a move toward covenant theology), but are “yet” to be fulfilled for national Israel in the future millennial reign (this is like classic Dispensationalism). This view would only differ from my own in terms of eschatology. It would see a future for national Israel in the millennium, and I would see a future for true Israel in the final state. While I don’t agree with any form of Dispensationalism, this is the mildest form of it. I struggle with how this position can be viewed as logically consistent, since it claims that God can genuinely fulfill promises to national Israel in the church, but that God must fulfill those promises to national Israel in the future.

The way in which I believe all of these views err is that they think the OT promises of land and prosperity to national Israel were for that nation without respect to the faith or faithfulness of the Israelites. Thus, on that basis, they make a hard distinction between Israel (David) and the Church (Paul). They say that David and Paul are part of two totally distinct peoples with totally different promises. I believe that the promises God made to Israel are ours in Christ.


  1. I think your definition of dispensationalism is a bit unclear. A dispensation is not just about a 'people', it is about a time. The term comes from the Greek word meaning "stewardship" or "administration". Most dispensationalists believe there are more than two time periods in which God dealt differently with mankind. Israel and the Church are obviously two of the main ones, especially in the debate between cov. and disp.

    For full disclosure, I do tend toward the progressive dispensational view. I think it is best able to deal with the unconditional nature of God's promises to Israel, the words of Christ on earth and NT prophecy. My main problem with covenant theology is the idea that if, as you said, "the promises God made to Israel are ours in Christ" because Israel disobeyed, that means that God's promises are conditional. The collective obedience of the church is therefore required to gain God's promises or we will miss out just like Israel did and God will move to plan C.

  2. Thanks for the comment Nate. My general definition of dispensationalism was intended to to be broad and to distinguish it from CT. I think it is accurate and serves its purpose, though its certainly not comprehensive. It was not intended to be a definition of a "dispensation," but a general description of dispensationalism as a system from the perspective of CT.

    God makes both unconditional and conditional covenant promises. He makes unconditional promises to the elect, such as regeneration and the rest of the effectual causative saving work of the Spirit, and He makes conditional promises to the elect, such as justification (conditioned by faith) and joy (conditioned by obedience). These unconditional promises are made to the invisible people of God but God made conditional promises alone to the nation of Israel and the institutional church (the visible people of God).

    The collective obedience of the invisible church is indeed required to gain God's promises, or we will miss out just like Israel did (which was actually plan A). However, God unconditionally guarantees that his invisible church will fulfill all the conditions God puts on his promises. God's eschatological promises are conditioned on obedience, but the obedience of the elect was appointed in the decree, purchased in the atonement, and caused by the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Spirit. Therefore, the invisible church cannot fail to realize all the promises of God because the invisible church cannot fail to persevere to the end.

    Trusting Him for Blessings,

  3. I agree with almost everything you said.

    However, I would say that what you said about the church is also true of Israel. I think God's promise to Israel, "You will be my people and I will be your God", is quite similar to the promise Christ made that He "will build His church".

    What, specifically, causes you to think that God gives one group of elect (the church) the power to persevere, but not another group of "His people" (Israel)?

    I appreciate your response and can tell it is well thought out. Thanks for your time.

  4. Hi Nate, I'm sorry I'm only now getting back with you. By the way, I checked out your website. Thank you for serving the Lord on the mission field. May He bless you and keep you as you work to proclaim the kingdom.

    You asked, "What, specifically, causes you to think that God gives one group of elect (the church) the power to persevere, but not another group of "His people" (Israel)?"

    My answer is that God commanded Israel to "trust and obey." Israel had to believe in order to get the promises. Only the elect of the past, present and future ever trust and obey. Believers who are with Christ right now (including Jews and Gentiles) are one people in Him. There is no wall of separation between them.

    I believe that only the elect, the redeemed of Christ, will ever have a right to any of the blessings of the conditional promises God has made in the Bible. Also, only the elect are granted the unconditional promises God makes to work regeneration and faith in fallen human beings.

    Blessings in Christ,