Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Things Dispensationalism Does Not Teach

In a blog article titled Things Dispensationalism Does NOT Teach, Southern Baptist Pastor Dave Miller indicated a bee had gotten under his bonnet, the Babylon Bee, that is.[1] On June 24, 2016 the Bee published Dispensationalists Frantically Adjust End-Times Charts To Include Brexit Vote, a satire on dispensationalism and the "Brexit" vote. Because Dave gets "a little annoyed whenever people take cheap shots at Dispensationalism," he set out to set us straight.

Now, I agree with some of his basic premises. For example, too many people show "disrespect and condescension" for a "doctrine held by sincere Christians" who believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. Further, critics often aim their cricticisms at the more fringe views rather than the essence of what Dispensationalists actually teach. Finally, some people think they have refuted Dispensationalism "simply by refuting the abuses of the doctrine." On the other hand, I felt Miller put too many eggs in the "scholarly" basket. My comments also seemed to get Dave "a little annoyed" and so I decided to bring them here to my blog rather than keep annoying him. (Then I forgot all about this and only now am getting around to posting it -- must not be that important.)

Here's a few things I think Dave got wrong.

In order to explain his view of Dispensationalism and set up what is to follow, Miller categorizes the system into three basic views: populist Dispensationalism, sensationalistic Dispensationalism, and scholarly Dispensationalism. In doing so he built a buffer against criticism of what he seems to think of as "Classic Dispensationalism". But, in doing so, he wrongly categorizes Dispensationalism. In his article What is Dispensationalism?, Michael Vlach of The Master’s Seminary divides this way: 1. Classical Dispensationalism (ca. 1850—1940s, e.g. John Nelson Darby, C. I. Scofield, Lewis Sperry Chafer); 2. Revised or Modified Dispensationalism (ca.1950—1985, e.g. John Walvoord, Dwight Pentecost, Charles Ryrie, Charles Feinberg, Alva J. McClain) and 3. Progressive Dispensationalism (1986—present, e.g. Craig A. Blaising, Darrell L. Bock, and Robert L. Saucy). While no categorization is not without its difficulties, Vlach's attempt is better than Miller's, setting theological and historical sights rather than serving a polemic purpose.

One problem with Miller's categorization is that populist, sensationalistic, and scholarly Dispensationalism exist among the various divisions of Dispensationalism and therefore cannot explain what he attempts to explain.[2] He seems to exclude Darby and Scofield from "Classic Dispensationalism", thereby relieving some of the problems associated with them. But there is a clear historical trajectory from them to the leading American proponent of scholarly Dispensationalism, the Dallas Theological Seminary -- J. N. Darby to J. H. Brookes; J. H. Brookes to C. I. Scofield; C. I. Scofield to Lewis Sperry Chafer; Lewis Sperry Chafer (the founder) to Dallas Theological Seminary. If we pull out these links, it is hard to understand the continuity (and discontinuity) of the system.

Pastor Miller says, "If you are going to refute Dispensationalism, you need to refute academic dispensationalism." I partially agree with this. Dispensationalism needs to be discussed and debated in the context of its clear teaching. But such a view about "academic dispensationalism" dismisses much of what is solidly and clearly in the Dispensational camp. There is no reason to think only the academics represent "real" Dispensationalism, or that adherents of "populist Dispensationalism" are not "real" Dispensationalists. In fact, one of the allures of Dispensationalism is that the Bible can be simply understood by ordinary folks using a literal hermenutic.

When one asserts that the populist doctrine does not represent the actual teaching of Dispensationalism, we must follow up with this question, "Who gets to decide that, and why?"

Important names in American Dispensational History
William E. Blackstone (1841–1935), James H. Brookes (1830-1897), Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871-1952), John Nelson Darby (1800–1882), A. C. Dixon (1854–1925), William J. Erdman (1833–1923), Arno Gaebelein (1861-1945), A. J. Gordon (1836–1895), James M. Gray (1851–1925), H. A. Ironside (1876–1951), Dwight L. Moody (1837–1899), J. Dwight Pentecost (1915 –2014), C. C. Ryrie (1925– 2016), Cyrus I. Scofield (1843–1921), Reuben Archer Torrey (1856–1928), John Walvoord (1910–2002)

Most of the leading Dispensationalists were not Baptists; three who were include:
J. R. Graves (1820–1893), W. A. Criswell (1909–2002), and John R. Rice (1895–1980)

[1] If you don’t like religious satire you might take offense at Babylon Bee’s humor. But they do spread the caricature's around pretty fairly!
[2] For example, Tim LaHaye (who holds doctorates from Western Theological Seminary and Liberty University) is best known for his Left Behind Series (popular, sensational). But his commentary Revelation, Illustrated and Made Plain follows much of the trajectory of men like Walvoord, Pentecost and Ryrie (moderate, scholarly).

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