Friday, December 18, 2009

A.W. Pink: A Study of Dispensationalism - Part 1

Now that I've graduated and it's Christmas break, I have a bit of time for some recreational reading! One of the books I've always wanted to read but never got around to reading is A.W. Pink's (1886-1952) A Study of Dispensationalism. I realize it's not the best or most thorough critique of the Dispensational system. For a critique of Dispensationalism respected even by Dispensationalists, I recommend Understanding Dispensationalists by Vern Poythress. Still, Pink's book is a piece of history that I think is worth knowing. So, I'm going to read it and blog about it. Here's a bit of biography: A.W. Pink began his theological journey as a Dispensationalist, but he started to move toward Covenant Theology in 1929. Pink took the dispute between Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology very personally, which is evidenced by the fact that his book is full of spicy and passionate verbiage. For example, Pink said, "consciously or unconsciously, Dispensationalists are, in reality, repeating the sin of Jehoiakim, who mutilated God's Word with his penknife (Jer 36:23)." Pink believed that the Dispensationalists were as bad as the liberal higher critics who utterly destroyed the unity and integrity of the Bible.

What is at Stake
Pink began by explaining that he had just written extensively on the inspiration and interpretation of Scripture; therefore, he felt compelled to write about the application of Scripture. To do that, Pink thought he needed to refute Dispensationalism. This is an important point. The differences between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism, according to Pink, are about the Bible's application. He believed that we can defend the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of the Bible, but if we interpret Scripture so that large portions of it don't apply to us, as the Dispensationalists do, then we haven't really established the Bible's authority.

Another interesting fact is that throughout Pink's entire volume, he never mentions eschatology (end times) or the doctrine of baptism (whether we should baptize infants or believers). Many people wrongly think of Covenant Theology as being synonymous with a certain kind of eschatology or with infant baptism. Pink's book, however, never mentions either of those doctrines. Historically, Baptists and non-Baptists have been covenant theologians. Benjamin Keach was a Baptist covenant theologian (Pink himself was a Baptist); John Flavel was a non-Baptist covenant theologian. Theologians from every millennial persuasion (pre, a, and post) have been covenant theologians: John Gill (premil), Louis Berkhof (amil), and Jonathan Edwards (postmil). The real heart of the dispute between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism is about how much of the Bible applies to us today.

Pink pointed to a text often quoted by Dispensationalists in support of their system: "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth" (2 Tim 2:15). Dispensationalists, according to Pink, claim the word "dividing" refers to "correctly partitioning the Scriptures unto the different peoples to whom they belong." Dispensationalists say that part of the Bible is to the Jews, while another smaller part is to believing Gentiles. The Old Testament, from Genesis 12 onward, is to ethnic Jews only. Some (hyper) Dispensationalists even went so far as to say that the four Gospels are Jewish, that James, 1&2 Peter, 1,2&3 John, and Jude are to godly Jews in the future tribulation period. All Dispensationalists agree that nothing in the Bible that was written to national Jews applies to Gentile believers. Dispensationalism insists that to "rightly divide" the Word of God is to divide the the Jewish Scriptures from the Christian Scriptures. Of course, that is an incorrect interpretation of 2 Tim 2:15. Pink explained that to "rightly divide" the Word of God (2 Tim 2:15) simply means to interpret and apply the Bible correctly.

The Unity of the Bible
Rather than dividing the Jewish from the Christian Scriptures, the Bible presents itself as a unified book with a single story that applies to all of God's people of all time periods. Romans 15:4 says, "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." The Old Testament was written to instruct us, to help us persevere, to encourage us and to give us hope through its promises! 1 Corinthians 10:11 says, "Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come." The things that happened in the Old Testament are a present example to us, and the text explicitly says that Old Testament examples serve to instruct us. Speaking of the Old and New Testaments, 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness." Speaking of the Old Testament alone, Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15 "from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." The Old Testament is gospel! The Old Testament gives wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ. Pink says, "The Old Testament believers were saved with the same salvation, were indebted to the same Redeemer, were renewed by the same Spirit, and were partakers of the same heavenly inheritance as are New Testament believers."

The Diversity of the Bible
None of this should be understood as a denial of the differences between the Testaments. Though the Old and New Testaments preach the same law and gospel, and though there is only one people of God in both Testaments, there are differences between them. The book of Hebrews, for example, mentions a better hope, covenant, promise, and sacrifice in the New Testament, but the book of Hebrews also teaches us that the "betterness" of the New Testament has to do with the contrast between the shadow (OT) and the substance (NT). There are two Testaments for four reasons, Pink says. First, the testamental contrast distinctly differentiates the covenant of works from the covenant of grace. The covenant of grace is shadowed in the Old and brightly illumined in the New, both of which are set against the backdrop of the garden covenant of works. Second, the contrast shows how two different companies, Jews and Gentiles, are united in one body, Christ. Third, the contrast highlights the wonderful providence of God, which ensures that God's promises are kept throughout the history of redemption. Fourth, the contrast allows the Old Testament types to be confirmed and manifest in the New Testament antitypes.


  1. I know this is an older article, and I haven't read this book, but I am a Calvinist that has rejected covenant theology. At least the brand of it I was taught. The one that says the old and new covenants are actually the same covenant, just with some changes. 2 Tim 2:15 is actually not a good verse to support dispensationalism. However, Rom 7:1-6, Gal 4:21-31, 2 Cor 3, and Hebrews chapters 8-10 are really good ones. It's funny to me how so many Calvinists would tear down arminianism because they have to dance around so many clear texts, but then they themselves would do a waltz around these ( and many others ). However, my view of dispensationalism does not invalidate any scripture. The law, though given to the nation of Israel, still has a use in the new covenant. 1 Tim 1:8-11. That passage is the one ( in conjunction with the ones I listed ) that convinced me Paul preached against covenant theology in Galations. His letter to Timothy calls it a gospel issue in verse 11. The law is to lead sinners to Jesus, not to be lived by. If one is walking in love, by the Spirit, he will be blameless by the law, and not need the law to show him how to live ( living by the Spirit, not the letter [ see 2 Cor 3 ]). Israel needed the law because the covenant was with a nation, and there were lost people in that covenant. Lost people need a list of rules to live by because righteous living will not come natural to them. The true born again Spirit filled believer in the new covenant will have the Spirit and a new nature to lead him in the ways of righteousness. The law then becomes only a weapon of spiritual warfare to win the lost, not a guide for how to live.

  2. Hey Stewart, thanks for the comment. Historic Baptist covenant theology (in the line of Keach, Gill, Spurgeon etc.), does not say the old and new covenants are the same covenant, but that there is one promise of grace, one gospel, that runs like a thread through the whole Bible. This is called the covenant of grace.

    Covenant theology does recognize a continuing use of the moral law of God for the believer, summarized in the Ten Commandments. Romans 13:8-10 show that the commandments regulate and direct love to God and love to men. I doubt you're arguing that we can love God and love men while breaking any one of the Ten Commandments. You are right that the Ten Commandments don't motivate or produce our love for God. The gospel of Jesus Christ (the covenant of grace) does that. But the Ten Commandments direct our steps of love for Him. Galatians 6:2 tells us to "fulfill the law of Christ." In Romans 7:12, Paul says, "The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good," and then he says, "For I delight in the law of God in my inner being" (Rom 7:22). In Matthew 5:17, Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets" and "Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great" (Matt 5:19).