Last month I finished the free audit of the Baptist Covenant Theology course at the Founders Study Center. I found the lecture on Dispensationalism by Pastor Steve Garrick in Session 8 very helpful, so I thought I would share my notes. He gave a brief overview of the history, tenets, and implications of Dispensationalism.
I. History of Dispensationalism
John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) is known as the father of Dispensationalism. He formed the movement of the Plymouth Brethren and believed that Jesus' second coming was near. Darby's views were denounced by Charles Spurgeon.
Darby influenced C.I. Scofield. Scofield produced a study Bible that included dispensational tenets in 1909 (completely finished with both testaments in 1917).
Scofield influenced Lewis Sperry Chafer. Chafer founded Dallas Theological Seminary in 1924. He wrote an 8-volume Systematic Theology in 1928. His work is very tedious because the dispensational movement in America wedded itself to the scientific method of biblical exegesis (but not in a liberal way).
II. Major Tenets of Dispensationalism
A dispensation is a period of time in which man is given a particular test, man always fails the test, and God always brings judgment and ushers in a new dispensation with a new test. There are 7 Dispensations:
- Innocence (Adam & Eve -- judgment was the removal from Eden)
- Conscience (judgment was the Flood)
- Human government (judgment was the Tower of Babel)
- Promise (judgment was the Mosaic Law because their failure was the acceptance of the law!)
- Millennium (the kingdom of heaven on earth in Matt. 1-12 rejected by the Jews)
The Dispensation of Grace, which includes the church, is a parenthesis or insertion in God's plan. God was going along with His plan to bring about the Millennial kingdom, but He stops and brings in the church age (Matt. 13) until the rapture occurs; then He picks back up with His goal of bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth.
- A literal interpretation of the Bible where a word always means the same thing (it cannot be figurative); however, the Bible does not always use normative language; it can be apocalyptic, poetic, hyperbolic, etc.
- The church and Israel are completely separate and have nothing to do with each other; God's goal in history is the manifestation of His glory on earth.
III. Applications and Implications for Church Practice
Grace is a dispensation; therefore, it is a test. At the end of the age, we will fail (just like the law at Mt. Sinai). This leads to the following Gospel presentation: "God has a plan called the Gospel or grace...Do you accept it or not?" For the dispensationalist, the Gospel is a test; and therefore, it is human response oriented (similar to, but not based on Arminianism). Salvation is by faith, but the object of the faith is different in every dispensation (Law = sacrifices; Grace = cross of Christ).
- Every dispensation is unconditional with the exception of the passing of the test. Once the test is passed, God is obligated, no matter what, to bring in the promised blessing. The Gospel is a test. If you pass the test by accepting the Gospel, God is obligated to save you regardless of your actions. This supports the carnal Christian theory.
- All of God's plans on earth end in failure. The Gospel will end in failure; the Millennium will end in failure. This leads to a pessimistic view of Scripture that undermines the optimism found there.
- Law and grace cannot coexist; therefore, the law is not enforced in this age. This leads to antinominianism where Christians rule themselves based on man-made laws or they are "Spirit led".
- The New Covenant has nothing to do with the Church (Jer. 31:31). The restoration of the land to the nation of Israel is vitally linked to the New Covenant because it is the guarantee that Israel will get back to their land in the Millennium. Therefore, the church is not the fulfillment of God's plan on earth, which leads to a disregard for God's church today.
- Dispensationalism is a new scheme to interpret covenant theology, but its interpretation is not based on God's pursuing a plan of salvation for His people, but on God's pursuing a political entity on earth based on His desire to glorify Himself on earth.
- Dispensationalism leads to an Arminian mindset; Covenantalism leads to a Calvinistic mindset. It is difficult for a believer steeped in Dispensationalism to embrace the Doctrines of Grace. (In my opinion, this is why some SBC members are hostile toward Calvinism and why there's still an on-going debate within the SBC. See my blog post here.)
- New Covenant Theology is a slight form of dispensationalism because it has a different ethic according to the Old verses the New Testament (a different law).