Why Dispensationalism is wrong....

Every time someone asks a candidate for licensure, "Tell me why dispensationalism is wrong," in the candidates and credentials committee of my presbytery I cringe.

I'm not a dispensationalist, but the answers sought and given are often caricatures rather than fair assessments.

Some years ago I sought to explain to one of the last dinosaurs of dispensationalism why dispensationalists couldn't be true Calvinists. The dispensationalist I was talking to was John Sailhamer. The setting of our talk was a breakfast at the 2000 meeting of the Evangelical Society in Boston--where John was assuming the presidency of ETS. The issues we discussed were Amyraldianism and the order of God's decrees (infralapsarianism vs. supralapsarianism). And what I learned was that I didn't know Reformed theology as well as my dispensationalist friend, let alone dispensationalism.

By the end of our conversation most of my cocksure views had been gently removed and I promised myself I would never again presume to define dispensationalism's faults--at least to a real live thinking dispensationalist. I don't agree with dispensationalism, but I'm not an expert on it. And when I did meet an expert, I found certain stock Reformed criticisms of dispensationalism rather threadbare. Dispensationalists deserve to be taken seriously. Reformed believers don't appreciate being accused of the things Arminians suggest against us. Most are false. We need to be as careful in what we say about dispensationalism as we ask Arminians to be toward us.

For more on illegitimate criticisms of dispensationalism read this post by Dan Phillips.


What a gracious note to sound. Thank you.

I had John for an extra Hebrew class. What a nice guy, what a fantastic teacher. Funny, too.

Question for you, David: do you like Poythress's book on the subject?


I would also submit that this type of inability is due to the fact that most candidates (and all too often ministers!) do not have a good grasp of covenantal theology beyond the barest of structures.

Dispensationalism is decidedly wrong, but it is foolish to throw up stereotypes (I have known strong FIVE pointers who were Dispensationalists). Having been a thorough-going Dispensationalist in my past (my first systematic was Chafer) I believe I can see the errors and point out why *they* are wrong, but at the same time also point out why so many Dispensationalists have stood far stronger than so many of *us* for inerrancy, evangelism, et al.

A telling thing was that when I asked a pastor friend for a book which fairly compared and contrasted the views of covenant theology and dispensationalism, he was not able to think of any--despite a personal library of thousands of volumes and pastoral degrees from two seminaries, one of which explicitly takes no stand on the controversy.

I'd guess that a great part of the problem is that the 150 years that have known dispensationalism as a named theological movement have also seen government education remove discussion of religious questions from the schools--not to mention the removal of vigorous logic and rhetoric from the curriculum. The substantive arguments which should be made are not because the men who should be making them never gained the "Lost Tools of Learning."

And at the risk of being a little bit rude here, I'd suggest that those who ask applicants "why is dispensationalism wrong?" might do well to brush off their copy of Watts' logic book as well. It's not just because it invites trite (and false) responses, but rather because it doesn't get at the real issue; whether the applicant is able to enunciate systematic theology (and its component exegetical/hermeneutical/etc.. rules) in a coherent way.

Most contemporary Reformed attacks on Dispensationalism have been extreme misfires. The late John Gerstner's book was an example of that. Reformed critics chronically do the following things:

1. Treat Dispensationalism as if it were a soteriology. This was Gerstner's #1 error. There is nothing essentially soteriological about Dispensationalism. It is basically pre-millennialism + an imminent view of the Rapture + a non-Israelitish ecclesiology + a view of the end of the Mosaic Covenant that is quite similar to the Lutheran view.

2. Foolishly cling to the nonsensical claim that Dispensationalism teaches two different ways to be saved (while ignoring all such similar statements by Reformed writers over the years, such as L. Berkhof).

3. Treat tabloid-style moneymakers like Hal Lindsey as normative dispensational theologian (while pretending that Harold Camping or Dooeyweerd don't exist). Reformed books about dispensationalism can't go twenty pages without talking about Hal Lindsey as if he's the crowned president of Dispensationalism.

>The late John Gerstner's book was an example of that.

You'll have to do better than that. Gerstner did a very good job skewering his target.

No doubt. If only his target had any relation to reality.

But then perhaps there would have been less skewering.

>No doubt. If only his target had any relation to reality.

Late and wrong.

Since the only possible response to hollow gainsaying is in the spirit of Proverbs 26:5, I'll just say:

Am not.

To infinity. No bombing, erasing, or Xing out.

It seems to me that Mr. Phillips is the one who started with bare assertion. Now, if Dr. Gerstner's book was wrong, let us hear the argument that Gerstner's book had little relation to reality and not just mere claims that it was.

That would be a exercise I would be delighted to observe.

So three years later, but when dispensational sources speak of multiple routes to salvation, under different covenants, after rapture, and of the crucifixion and church age as parentheses to what God actually was gonna do before the Jews frustrated him all because of wresting scriptures, it is decidedly soteriological: even systems that avoid explicit statements often imply the errors: having spent years steeped in dispensationalism, one thing I am growing quite unfond of is when an adherent asserts 'that's not true, that's a caricature', just because their oawn tradition or beliefs called by the same name differs (at least in their mind): it's as James White once said (who is no enemy of Macarthur et al.), he needed address every little deviation and mutant when the general systems or major exemplars, their origins, and written materials suffice: at least, you know, to expose the bad root; and note that normally I attend a RB congregation that would be considered a progressive outfit: money and needy-relative troubles confine me to be nearer and attend a PCA congregation which, I'll gladly boast, ain't so bad: my initial intro to principals of sound hermeneutics, theology, etc., was due to that wonderful presbyterian fellow who runs bible-researcher.com.

edit, 'he needn't', and not, 'he needed'

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