Ad Gloriam Dei

"Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." - 1 Corintians 10:31

"Let us pursue the things which make for peace and those by which one may edify another"- Romans 14:19

"As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend." - Proverbs 27:17

Thursday, June 29, 2006

What is Dispensationalism Today?

In discussing the Sabbath with a dispensationalist brother, I've been re-reading Ryrie’s "Dispensationalism Today" with a bit more thoroughness. This has led back to the question that keeps being asked again and again, due to the lack of a definitive confessional statement of Dispensational belief, what is Dispensationalism today? What beliefs bind this group together? Ryrie suggests 3 sine qua nons in his book:

1. The distinction between Israel and the Church.
2. The use of consistently literal interpretation, which doesn’t exclude the identification of figures of speech and symbols.
3. The belief that God’s plan for this world is primarily about God’s glory, rather salvation. (Seemingly we covenant theologians don’t put God’s glory first!)

I’ve recently come across the following statement in this very interesting on-line article, which is close to what I state in my first comment (but maybe all Davis's think alike!):

"In this author's estimation, the distinction between Israel and the Church as the sine qua non of Dispensationalism lacks clarity. The sine qua non of Dispensationalism would more clearly be stated as ‘a commitment to the earthly fulfilment of the land promise to national, ethnic Israel which is uniquely the 'seed' of Abraham with reference to the future fulfilment of the covenants of promise.’ This commitment is arrived at through their understanding of grammatical-historical interpretation."

As I said, this discussion originally began in another post, but I’d like to break it out onto a dedicated post, so I’ve copied the most recent comments from the original post into the comments section of this one.


Blogger Timothy Davis said...

The problem with Ryrie's sine qua non (RSQA) 1, "A dispensationalist keeps Israel and the Church distinct," is that it is no less distinctive than believing that that there are different periods in world history that have distinct administrations. I think that in both cases it is a question of degree, rather than the mere belief or not.

Many amillennialists (such as myself) and historic postmillennialists hold that Israel as a nation has a distinct destiny as declared in Romans 11, i.e. that Israel as a nation will turn to the Lord, but that they will become part of the Church though this. See Iain Murray’s "The Puritan Hope". Many modern amillennialists would disagree, but my camp would see that Israel in Romans 11 are clearly the nation and not the same as the second group in the phrase "Not all Israel are Israel" (Rom. 9).

Most (all?) dispensationalists agree with covenant theologians that believing Israelites have been absorbed into the entity of “the Church” within the present dispensation. So who are the distinct body that is Israel in this dispensation? Does this merely cover unbelieving Israel?

So it seems to me that it is the quality and degree of the distinction that is in dispute, and the extent of the two plans.

The real distinctions are, in my opinion:

1. Covenant theologians see various prophecies in the OT regarding Israel as being fulfilled in a 'spiritual' sense (for want of a better word!) because of how the NT interprets some of these passages, whereas dispensationalists believe that they cannot be interpreted in such a spiritual way due to their hermeneutic (although according to my wife some dispensationalists see some 'spiritual' fulfilment in the Church).

Ryrie acknowledges that both camps see that there are figures of speech/symbols and not everything is interpreted literally, e.g. the woman "Babylon" who sits on three hills in Revelation.

2. Dispensationalist believe in a rapture of the Church prior to the end of the ages and before the Millennium, its extinction as an earthly body at this point, and the re-emergence of Israel as God’s special people, but not as part of the Church. (Do all dispensationalists believe this?)

3. The belief that certain passages of Scripture are inapplicable to the Church as they were given to Israel as a distinct body, e.g. the Ten Commandments, rather than that certain ceremonies are fulfilled in Christ.

Again, it is the type of distinction between Israel and the Church, rather than the existence of a distinction as such.

Covenant theologians all see a distinction between Israel and the Church to some degree, e.g. not all Israelites ended up in the NT Church, but they do see a continuity in the people of God as set forth in the picture of the Olive Tree in Romans 11.

Thursday, June 29, 2006 10:42:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, Allen and Timothy,

Being formerly a dispy and a DTS grad, the fundamental difference that we have with dispys today IS the church/Israel distinction. All other arguments are merely arguments around the real issue that separates us. Dispys see the Israel as the people of God, and Gentiles as an afterthought, whereas those in Reformed camps see only believers through all ages as the people of God, not just those who are of the physical descent of Abraham.

By taking the latter position, we see that the Moral law is still applicable today because it was given to the people of God, not just those who's genetic descent is from Abraham. That is the difference. Once you understand this, then you can dialogue more clearly. I know that you have both touched upon it... but that is the key.



Thursday, June 29, 2006 12:26:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...

I could have dealt with what we perceive to be the typical dispensationalist, but I'm trying to get at what binds all types of dispensationalist together as a group.

The difference between dispensationalists and ourselves is more than that there is a distinction between Israel and the Church. It is the nature of the distinction that we disagree about.

Is it true that all dispensationalists "see Israel as the people of God, and Gentiles as an afterthought" (a.k.a. the parenthetical nature of the Church)?

Thursday, June 29, 2006 12:27:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'll reply in more detail tomorrow but I would hesitate with the belief that dispensationalists believe the church was an after-thought. I have never heard an academic dispensationalist say the church was an after-thought. They have all believed that the church was planned before the foundation of the earth, but of course it was a mystery in the OT and not revealed until the coming of Christ.

Even those who take the parenthetical approach (with the future establishment of the kingdom of God, God in some senses, has taken a break from ethnic Israel, but will reestablish them just prior to and during the Tribulation and millennium), they would never say the church was an after-thought.

I will reply more tomorrow to what you have said Timothy but find what you are saying interesting and will be good to interact on it.

Thursday, June 29, 2006 12:27:00 pm  
Blogger Allen R. Mickle, Jr. said...


I will concede that not all covenant theologians hold to a complete replacement theology. But, many do believe that the church has replaced ethnic Israel. Perhaps, that is one area where dispensationalists (and I am talking about classical dispensationalists, not progressives) are trying to be more consitent with their views on Israel and the Church, whereas covenant theologians cannot agree to the depth of a distinction between Israel and the Church (as you yourself has noted).

I would see these issues of Israel/Church distinctions as being grounded in the issue of hermeneutics. Despite what Mr. Hammons has said, I think the way dispensationalists arive at their understanding of the distinctions between Israel and the Church arise because of their hermeneutics, while covenant theologians (Can we just start calling them covenantalists? Although, dispensationalists do believe in covenants... hmm.) arive at differing conclusions because of employing differing hermeneutical guidelines.

Just a thought.

Thursday, June 29, 2006 1:22:00 pm  
Blogger Allen R. Mickle, Jr. said...

I would also note, that if you want to see some work in modern classical dispensationalism one should check out the following books (simply because Ryrie is not the sole systematizer of dispensationalism:

Herbert V. Bateman, ed. Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism: A Comparison of Traditional and Progressive Views. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1999.

Renald E. Showers. There Really is a Difference! A Comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology. Bellmawr, NJ, 1990.

Wesley R. Willis and John R. Master, eds. Issues in Dispensationalism. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1994.

And finally, because I think a lot of the issues boil down to hermeneutics and how we understand certain issues in the OT in relationship to issues in the NT (especially the Kingdom of God and the Law), I would recommend:

Alva J. McClain. The Greatness of the Kingdom. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1974.

_____. Law and Grace. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1954.

Interestingly Timothy, McClain was Culver's theology professor.

Just thought I would throw out some helpful resources.

Thursday, June 29, 2006 1:31:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...


Okay, let's feel free to talk about "dispies" and "covies". I was avoiding the use of the abbreviation "dispy", so as to avoid unnecessary offence.

What would you define as the SQN of dispyism, i.e. what makes a dispy a dispy?

Do you view yourself as a "modern classical dispy"?

P.S. You'll need to distinguish between Timothys!

Thursday, June 29, 2006 6:53:00 pm  
Blogger Allen R. Mickle, Jr. said...

Timothy Davis,

Yes, I guess I would call myself a modern classical dispensationalist. I do not embrace Progressive Dispensationalism if that is what you mean.

I guess I would say based upon our discussions on Ryrie's sine qua non's that the first would have to be our hermeneutic, which ultimately leads to our understand of the Kingdom, the Law, and Israel and the Church.


Friday, June 30, 2006 2:44:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...


You said, "Even those who take the parenthetical approach..." Do you and other modern, classical dispies (MCDs) not take thsi approach?

Do you believe that the Church will cease to exist as an earthly body after the Rapture?

Friday, June 30, 2006 9:57:00 pm  
Blogger Allen R. Mickle, Jr. said...


Sorry about the delay in replying. Lots going on here. On Saturday it was Canada day and was gone most of the day. My family is coming to visit me in Nova Scotia from Ontario this weekend also so I have lots going on!

In answer to your second question first, yes, I beleive the church will cease to exist on earth. The church will only exist in heaven at that time. During the Tribulation, those who are saved, will in some senses be more like OT saints than the church.

To your first question, I do not have any particular issue with saying it is a "parenthesis" but many take it pejoratively that we make the church to be an after-thought (and I don't believe that because I believe in a Sovereign God who has ordained all things to come to pass!). There is a good article though on the differences of opinion on the parenthesis issue amongst dispensationalists (on differing approaches to it) but can't think of it. Give me a couple days and I'll pass on the reference to you. My books are in a jumbled mess still from the move!


Monday, July 03, 2006 6:25:00 pm  
Blogger Timothy Davis said...


Thanks for taking the time to tell me what you believe. I desire to see greater unity in the true, visible Church of Christ (those who give a credible profession of faith) and understanding each others views is crucial to this. We are both Fundamentalists in the original use of that term in that we both hold to the fundamentals of the faith, in contradistinction to the so-called Liberals and other heretics, and are thus brothers in Christ.

Monday, July 03, 2006 6:40:00 pm  
Blogger Allen R. Mickle, Jr. said...


Not a problem. Despite your differences, I have enjoyed the discussion. I have many brothers and sisters in Christ who are united around the Fundamentals of the Faith and yet disagree on many things (including dispensationalism/covenantalism). If you have any more questions for me, please feel free to ask them. Lord willing we'll have a great time discussing Culver's systematic theology this fall!


Wednesday, July 05, 2006 5:56:00 pm  

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