God's Plan for the Ages – Dispensations Lesson #36
January 27, 2015
This particular study is a focus on understanding a theological development that occurred about maybe 30 years ago, 25–30 years ago in Dispensationalism called “Progressive Dispensationalism.” This is also a wrap-up of the study that we’ve done for the last ten months. Some may be aware of this, but some may have never heard the term “Progressive Dispensationalism.” This study may cause some to go into the deep end instead of the shallow end of the pool, because this gets a little more technical in terms of a theological study. But for most of you who have gone through some of my series with me, this is basically the notes of what I teach every other year when I go over to Kiev and teach the students at the Word of God Bible Institute. It can easily be converted into a seminary class on Dispensations, and we’ll be using this some with students who want to get credit in a course on Dispensationalism at Chafer Seminary.
So as part of that we should definitely include a little bit on this development that basically came out of Dallas Seminary and was developed sadly by Dallas Seminary graduates back in the 1980s. Progressive Dispensationalism is the name. I will go into why it is called that in just a minute. It was a development that grew out of a dispensational study group. These are small different groups. You have Old Testament (OT) theology study groups, and New Testament (NT) theology study groups, textual criticism study groups, all kinds of breakout sessions and study groups that they have at the Evangelical Theological Society, which is the largest professional association of evangelical theologians in the country. If you are teaching in academics, if you are in Bible college, Bible institutes, seminary, any of those, then you are pretty much required to be a member. The only thing that you have to agree on is the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.
So there are a lot of people from full bore Armenians to ultra-Calvinists, five point Calvinists, and everything in between: Dispensationalists, covenant theologians, Lutherans, everything but Roman Catholics. Although I say that with an asterisks because about three or four years ago the president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) went back to the Roman Catholic church in the middle of his term as the president of the Evangelical Theological Society, which was quite a scandal, and he was forced to resign. So we live in a very strange world today. In 1986 this dispensational study group, which had been meeting and discussing issues related to Dispensationalism for several years, met in Atlanta, Georgia that year. This was approximately the same time that I had moved back to Dallas to work on my doctorate in theological studies. And they really came out with this new system which was designed to find some sort of middle ground between dispensational theology on the one hand and covenant theology on the other hand.
In my opinion it wasn’t very successful at all, and in the opinion of many covenant theologians it wasn’t very successful except they looked at these guys who were dispensationalists who were teaching this new system. And they said they are not willing to admit that they are no longer dispensationalists. There were numerous theologians who said that. The three men who were most responsible for this were Craig Blaizing, who I think now teaches at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I had him in a doctrinal seminar on Dispensationalism; Darrell Bock, who is a local Houston boy, who is a Jewish background believer, went to Kinkaid and went to Dallas Seminary out of Spring Branch Community Church. He was about two or three years ahead of me at Dallas Seminary; and then someone from an older generation, Dr. Robert Saucy from Talbot Seminary. These men were the three main architects of this new theology. Gary Brashear, who taught at Western Conservative Baptist Seminary at that time, wrote regarding this ETS meeting that “it seems that both moderate dispensationalists and moderate covenant theologians are moving toward each other in rapprochment.”
In other words they are trying to find a compromise, and one of my criticisms of this movement is that it was a desire to find a middle ground between two theological systems. It wasn’t motivated by a desire to understand the text more fully and more completely in order to base their theology on a text. In my opinion they ended up having to twist their hermeneutics, their system of interpretation, in order to fit a system that is really neither fish nor fowl. So it was that desire to find a middle ground that was their chief motivation and not to find an exegetically correct and Biblically correct theological system. Ryrie, in his book on Dispensationalism, devotes a chapter to Progressive Dispensationalism. He says that the term became an official title for their system in 1991. Now that may be when he nails it in some publication, but when I was in a doctrinal program in 1987, we were already calling it Progressive Dispensationalism at that time. But maybe they hadn’t settled on a term.
Bob Lightner, who was a professor at Dallas Seminary for many years, said that there had been other titles like reconstructive dispensationalism, modified dispensationalism, new dispensationalism, neo-dispensationalism, revised dispensationalism, kingdom dispensationalism, and even changed dispensationalism. Now the idea of progressive, we’ll get into this a little more, but just so you understand this at the beginning, this term progressive emphasizes their idea of the OT covenants (slide 3). These would be the unconditional covenants that we’ve talked about. First the Abrahamic Covenant, and what were the three elements of the Abrahamic Covenant? Land, seed, and blessing. The land promise is developed in what covenant? Land Covenant, real estate covenant. Older theologians call it the Palestinian Covenant. The seed promise was developed in what covenant? The Davidic Covenant. And then the blessing covenant was developed in what? The New Covenant.
So in their view all of those covenants were inaugurated. That’s a key term to kind of listen to. If you hear a pastor say that he believes that the New Covenant was inaugurated at the Cross or inaugurated at Pentecost, right away you can pigeon hole him that he is not a traditional Dispensationalist. So their view is that these were inaugurated either at the Cross or Pentecost and in some sense are fulfilled today, but not completely; and so during this age we’re progressively moving toward a complete fulfillment which comes in the future. They apply this development to the Abrahamic Covenant and primarily to the blessing in the New Covenant and the seed or the Davidic Covenant. But they fail to address how in any sense this applies to the New Covenant. If it is going to apply to the Davidic Covenant and to the New Covenant, then it would also have to apply to the Land Covenant. But that would mean that Israel already had the land and would be progressively coming into it, and that just doesn’t fit. It doesn’t fit history at all.
So that’s the idea, using this terminology of inaugurated eschatology, another two dollar term they throw around; and that is the idea that we’re somehow already living in the early stage. The Church Age under this system becomes almost a front door or entry hall to the Kingdom. So in some sense the New Covenant has already been inaugurated. The Kingdom has already been inaugurated and it’s progressively coming in. So it minimizes the significance of the Church Age. It minimizes the significance of the church and makes the church and the Church Age sort of a prelude to the Millennial Kingdom. Now as they analyzed the history of dispensationalism, in their attempts to justify their shifts, they talked about the fact that there were basically three stages in the development of dispensational thinking. And this takes us back to a little bit of an understanding of the history of Dispensationalism, because their argument was that just as some of the later dispensational theologians like Walvoord, Ryrie, and Dwight Pentecost changed or modified what Darby had taught and what the early Dispensationalists taught in the 19th century, that that was just the same thing that they are doing.
But when you understand what they are doing, what happened with sort of the second generation or second era of Dispensationalists after Chafer, is that they were tightening the screws, and tightening the bolts, and they were straightening a few things out sort of like you get a house and it needs a new paint job. The furniture needs to be recovered. It needs new carpet. Maybe you need to take out the old cabinets and put in some new cabinets, but it is still the same house. But they were basically going next door and taking some of the old furniture out and putting it into a new house next door. They were really changing things. So they talk about the stages in the development of Dispensationalism (slide 4).
We’ll start with a timeline beginning around 1830. It was roughly around 1836–1837 that John Nelson Darby first articulates the doctrine of the Rapture. John Nelson Darby was an Irishman, a theologian that had been ordained as an Anglican. He left the Anglican Church and went through a period of time because of an injury where he was forced to get out of the ministry in order to recover.
During that time he read his Bible a lot. As a result of that time of Bible reading he came up with a revision of his understanding of Scripture. He left the Anglican Church. He became part of a movement that had already started. He wasn’t a founder of the Plymouth Brethren movement, but he became part of it, and he was the first to really systematize and articulate Dispensationalism. So we had John Nelson Darby whose dates are 1800–1882; and from the 1850s on he made a number of trips to the United States where he spoke in conferences and churches all over the United States and had a tremendous impact especially within Presbyterian circles. A lot of people don’t realize that a lot of the roots for Dispensational theology come out of Calvinism because a lot of reform theologians and Presbyterians, Anglicans in England, Presbyterians in the United States, were shifting to pre-millennialism. So in the context of some of the Bible conference movements in the late 19th century, they were shifting toward Dispensationalism.
Remember, C.I. Scofield was ordained as a Congregationalist. He had pastored a church that was a Congregational church in Dallas, which is now called Scofield Memorial Church. Lewis Sperry Chafer was ordained as a Southern Presbyterian, and I believe ordained as a Congregationalist. They came out of that kind of a background. So you have Darby; you have C.I. Scofield, whose dates are 1843–1921. It’s between 1913 and 1917 that he publishes what many have believed is the foundational work for Dispensationalists, which was the Scofield Study Bible. I know many of you still have copies of the Scofield Reference Bible on your bookshelves. One of his most noted protégés was Lewis Sperry Chafer whose dates were 1871–1952. Then John Walvoord. Chafer founded Dallas Theological Seminary. Dr. Walvoord was his successor as the president of Dallas Theological Seminary.
So you had this era that they call classic Dispensationalism from Darby through Lewis Sperry Chafer. And then what they developed was called essentialist or normative Dispensationalism, which covered the period from roughly 1950 up to the present. The basic architects, they would say of normative or essentialist Dispensationalism, would be Alva J. McClain, who you probably aren’t familiar with, was at Grace Theological Seminary, John Walvoord, Dwight Pentecost, who just went to be with the Lord this last year, and Charles Ryrie, who is still alive. He is 89 years old and was at the Pre-Trib Conference I think for the banquet this last year. They call it essentialist because Ryrie in his book Dispensationalism Today that came out in the 1960s and was revised later to be called Dispensationalism, said that there are three essentials. Remember this, three essentials for Dispensationalism theology and what are they?
1. Literal interpretation of Scripture.
2. Distinction between Israel and the Church.
3. The overriding purpose for history is the glory of God.
This is in contrast to covenant theology, which uses allegorical or spiritual interpretation, especially when it comes to prophecy. Covenant theology does not hold to a distinction between Israel and the Church. They see Israel as the Church in the OT and the Church today is the New Israel. We are the “true” Israel of God. They don’t see a distinction between Israel and the Church, and God’s ultimate purpose in history is not doxological, it’s not His glory; it is redemptive. Now think about that. What’s the problem with that? Do angels get redeemed? No. Angels are left out of that whole scenario, which is one reason that you have had very little if anything written about the Angelic Conflict or Angelology coming out of the reformed camp because it’s not central to their understanding of the overall framework of Scripture.
Then in the mid 1980s you have the development of Progressive Dispensationalism. Now in classical Dispensationalism, in the early years with Darby, there were some real differences. I just finished doing some study on Darby. Darby did not think the first dispensation began until Noah, that everything before Noah was not a dispensation. Not only that, this will surprise you, he didn’t think the Church Age was a dispensation. But a lot of Darby’s views were not consistent with his basic definition of what a dispensation was. So he had basic terminology and ideas down, but they really needed to be refined and things needed to become consistent. So you have that development that occurs in basically most of the 1900s and its expansion, which was enormous. One of the impacts of Dispensationalism in the 19th century was missions and missionaries. Missions to Jews was especially a huge by-product of Dispensationalism because in Dispensationalism, with their understanding of the distinction between Israel and the Church, they understood the future role that God had for Israel and that they would be restored to their land and that the kingdom would come in the Millennium.
Dispensationalists are necessarily all pre-millennial, although all pre-millennialists are not necessarily Dispensationalists. Going over what we talked about a minute ago (slide 5), Ryrie’s essentials:
1. The literal, grammatical, historical hermeneutic.
2 The distinction between Israel and the Church.
3. The unifying principle of history is the glory of God.
One of the questions I have for Ryrie is – he doesn’t list them in this order. Ryrie puts the distinction between Israel and the Church first. I’ve always reversed one and two because I think our understanding of the distinction between Israel and the Church comes out of a literal hermeneutic. That needs to be number one. What we will see in this basic a flyover on Progressive Dispensationalism is that the real issue here is on hermeneutics, how you interpret the Scripture. Let’s just look at some of the characteristics of Progressive Dispensationalism (slide 6):
1. It teaches that Christ is already reigning in heaven on the throne of David, thus merging the Church with a present phase of the already inaugurated Davidic Covenant and Kingdom.
They change the terminology. This is a big issue. Their interpretation is on the basis of OT passages. It was clear that the Messiah would reign on David’s throne in Jerusalem over Israel so they add to those prophecies something new that wasn’t there in the OT. When you press them for where that is – you ask Darrell Bock a question – well what’s your exegetical support? He will cite Acts 2 and Peter’s citation of Psalm 2 and Psalm 110. And you say, “well where is that?”, and he’ll say, “well it is ‘implied’ there.”
2. It is based on what they call a complementary hermeneutic.
Now what is our hermeneutic? This is your final exam – literal, grammatical, historical hermeneutic. They changed that definition and it’s no longer literal, grammatical, historical. The literal, grammatical, historical, literary, theological. They add two categories. Literary you have to interpret on the basis of genre or the kind or category of Scripture; and on the basis of theology. But see hermeneutics leads to theology. Your theology doesn’t develop your hermeneutics.
3. They see the overall purpose of God in history is Christological and that holistic redemption is the focus and goal of history.
That also has some serious problems because of the way they are playing with the term Christological. It’s Christological because they want to put Christ on David’s throne now. That’s what the distinction is. They play somewhat of a word game.
These three elements are in direct contrast to what Ryrie said. Remember, Ryrie says it’s a literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic. They say no, it’s a complementary hermeneutic. Walvoord says the emphasis is on the distinction between Israel and the Church; and they say no, this kind of gets blurred because Jesus is now reigning on David’s throne in heaven; and then as Ryrie pointed out, the purpose is the glory of God and they would say, no, the purpose is Christological. Just a couple of comments from covenant theologians: Willem VanGemeren (slide 7), who is a covenant theologian, said that “Bock agrees with covenant theology that the eschatological Kingdom was inaugurated in the ministry of Jesus.” This is what covenant theologians are saying. They understand that and Bruce Waltke (slide 8), who was a professor who had the OT department at Dallas Seminary, had a brilliant teaching assistant back in the late 1960s by the name of Charlie Clough.
I’ve seen Waltke stand up in front of class and somebody ask him a question and he’ll kind of stare off into space and he’ll say well, according to footnote 22 on page 37 in chapter 4 and then a two paragraph footnote he’ll just recall it from memory. Absolutely brilliant. He was offered a full professorship at Harvard when he got his PhD from Harvard in Semitic languages. But like a lot of people like that – they can’t think theologically. They are what I call grammatical technicians. They’re excellent in the language, but they’re not theologians. After Waltke left Dallas he went off; first he was Plymouth Brethren, then he went to Westminster and became covenant and A-Mil, and he’s just been all over the place. But he said that the “position of progressives is closer to covenant theology than to Dispensationalism.”
Then this last quote I have (slide 9) is from Vern Poythress, who also taught at Westminster I believe. He wrote a book that was a nasty critique filled with ad hominem arguments and straw man arguments and misrepresentations of Dispensationalism. But he said regarding Progressive Dispensationalism that it “is inherently unstable. I do not think that they will find it possible in the long run to create a safe haven theologically between classic Dispensationalism and covenantal Premillennialism. The forces that their own observations have set in motion will most likely lead to covenantal Premillennialism after the pattern of George Eldon Ladd.” Ladd taught at Fuller. Ladd is a big figure in the study of eschatology because he came up with this idea of I referred to earlier, inaugurated eschatology, otherwise known as the “already not yet view” of the Kingdom. That it’s already established, but it’s not yet fully here. So we’re already in the Kingdom, but yet fully here.
And remember, part of the signs of the Kingdom are what? Joel 2, “your young men will see dreams and your old men will see visions,” and the whole idea of direct revelation again. This was the foundation for the whole development of the Vineyard Movement and the Third Wave that because we’ve got this inaugurated eschatology today we’re already in the kingdom. We can expect these manifestations to the spirit today, speaking in tongues, and seeing dreams and visions, and God speaking to us today. According to the view of Progressive Dispensationalism, they completely bought into this “already not yet view” of the Kingdom. I remember running into Darrell (Bock) in the stacks of the library at Dallas Seminary and I’m not sure, but I think Tommy Ice was with me; and I was doing doctrinal research on the Vineyard Movement and I said, “Darrell, can you give me one exegetical or theological reason why the Vineyard Movement is wrong on their use of “already not yet” and why you shouldn’t approve of them because of your view of the “already not yet” view of the kingdom?” He couldn’t give me one. He just said, “because it isn’t.” I said that was not a very good answer. So this is what happens.
Now, as stated earlier, the real foundation and the real battle that we see in our culture today is over hermeneutics. We see this most clearly at the Supreme Court level. It’s how do you interpret the Constitution? Is it a living document that takes on new meaning with each generation? Or is the meaning inherent in the will and the intent of the authors? Does it have objective solid meaning that doesn’t change with the generations? So this becomes the issue. When you get into an era of subjectivity in a culture, then the battle is no longer on objective truth because you’ve rejected that. Our culture has completely rejected objective truth and objective meaning. It doesn’t exist. So that’s where the battle is. How do you know anything? How do you know what something means? Is it inherent in what you read? Is it in the will of the author or the one who produced the work? Or is it in the mind of the one who is perceiving it? Ever since Immanuel Kant came along, we’ve seen this huge shift to where it’s in the mind of the person who is perceiving it. He assigns meaning to whatever it is he’s reading or listening to or looking at in the case of art.
Complementary Hermeneutics (slide 10) – “Progressive Dispensationalism replaces the literal, historical, grammatical, single meaning of the text hermeneutic” (that is what we believe) with the literal, historical, grammatical, literary, theological method.” They add two things. How do you understand what a text means? Well you have to understand – this really comes in to play in prophecy – you have to understand that there’s a genre called the apocalyptic. But apocalyptic was non-biblical. Apocalyptic was what happened in the Apocrypha and the Psuedepigrapha. Apocalyptic had to do with Jewish mysticism in the intertestamental period. It doesn’t have to do with prophecy. Just because there are symbols doesn’t mean its apocalyptic. But they confuse all of this. This is a huge battle that goes on at the seminary level. I remember Andy Woods, who is the pastor of Sugar Land Bible Church, had a doctrinal course at Dallas Seminary just on this. He was the only guy in the class who understood it. There were just battles royal over these issues, that prophecy is prophecy. That is a biblical category.
Apocalyptic literature is a non-biblical category. You can’t read that back into the Bible. It’s the old question: what comes first the chicken or the egg? God created the chicken first. God created first the truth of God’s Word; it precedes all other systems and all other religions. There’s simply a pale distorted consequence of man’s rejection of truth. So you can’t come along and look at apocalyptic literature and say that’s what influenced the Bible. No, apocalyptic literature is a perversion of the prophetic literature that’s in Scripture. But apocalyptic is another big word that you hear. Inaugurated, you’re already not yet, apocalyptic literature, just right away you know this isn’t anybody we want to listen to. Regarding their interpretation Darrell Bock said (slide 11), “The NT does introduce change and advance; it does not merely repeat OT revelation. In making complementary additions, however, it does not jettison old promises.” What he is basically saying is that there are new things that are added but these new things that are added do change the meaning of what was there in the OT. It doesn’t just enhance it. So you go back to OT prophecies, you would never get out of those OT prophecies what they say is being read into this. So it is really important to understand this.
I have another statement here from the progressives. They say that, Progressive Dispensationalists are not rejecting literal interpretation completely. They are rejecting consistent traditional historical-grammatical interpretation. I believe this is from Robert Thomas, “Traditional Dispensationalists have always employed a consistent and literal interpretation of the Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Today a new compromised hermeneutic of the former is being employed by Progressive Dispensationalists called a complementary hermeneutic.” So this is the view that Darrell Bock is promoting. So what he means by this is that the NT adds new and different meaning to OT passages that were not part of the meaning of the OT passage. This is what Robert Thomas said (slide 12). You remember Robert Thomas who was here about six or seven years ago. He taught on hermeneutics. He’s got a whole chapter in his book on Evangelical Hermeneutics on Progressive Dispensationalism. He says that “it,” that is Progressive Dispensationalism, “has replaced grammatical-historical interpretation with a system of hermeneutics called historical, grammatical, literary, theological. Several comparisons that illustrated the differences between the two hermeneutical systems relate to the function of the interpreter, the historical dimension, the ‘single-meaning’ principle….”
See, what “the function of the interpreter” means is that meaning is now assigned by the interpreter. Another phrase that they use is that you have a pre-understanding when you come to the text. That pre-understanding shapes your understanding of the text. This is a very postmodern idea. We all have preconceptions when we come to the text of the Bible. But we let the Bible change our preconceptions. How do you think so many people who weren’t Dispensationalists became Dispensationalists? Not because they had already been taught Dispensationalism or came to it with that pre-understanding, but because the Word of God changed their views; and it works in the other direction as well. But for them it is that pre-understanding. The reason you are a Dispensationalist, Robby, is because you have that pre-understanding. If you’d just open your mind you’d see covenant theology there. So “single meaning” principle is a classic historical principle of hermeneutics that a text means only one thing. It may have several applications but it has only one meaning. The author, human and divine, only intended to communicate one thing.
The issue of “sensus plenior” and “the importance of thoroughness” is a whole other issue I am not going to get into for this particular study; but “the bottom line,” he says, “is that the choice between Dispensationalism and Progressive Dispensationalism amounts to a choice of which system of hermeneutics an interpreter chooses to follow.” That’s the issue. It’s how you are going to understand what the text says. Then my good friend Tommy Ice (slide 13) says this, “The complementary approach put forth by Blaising and Bock is claimed to be a synthesis combining the answer of older Dispensationalism, which demonstrates a greater sensitivity to ‘the historical interpretation of the OT,’ while adopting covenant theology’s view that includes the ‘adding of new revelation.’ ” Bock has suggested in the process of interpreting Peter’s use of Joel in Acts 2 that the “eschaton has begun.” That’s a fancy way of saying the end times has already begun; the Millennial Kingdom has already begun. The “eschaton has begun; the movement toward the culmination of the eschaton has started, as have the benefits associated with the coming of the Day of the Lord.”
According to him, we’re already in the entry way of the Millennial Kingdom. You just didn’t know that. That’s so A-millennial or even Post-millennial. We’re on the entry, the doorstep of the Millennial Kingdom. That’s why Tommy always says, “if this is in anyway the Millennial Kingdom I must be living in a millennial ghetto.” They admit that they shifted away because the old system literal, grammatical, historical just wasn’t good enough. Craig Blaising (slide 14) wrote, “Hermeneutics has become much more complex today than when Charles Ryrie affirmed literal interpretation.” It almost sounds like you’re reading a democrat talk about the Constitution doesn’t it? You know interpreting the Constitution is just…. The world is just so much more complex today. But truth is truth and absolutes are absolutes. It is a lot “more complex today than then Charles Ryrie affirmed literal interpretation as a ‘clear, plain, normal’ method of interpretation…. Literary interpretation has developed so that some things which earlier interpreters thought they ‘clearly’ saw in Scripture are not ‘clearly’ seen today at all.”
For them it is just ambiguous. Usually I think that when people think the Bible is ambiguous, it is because they don’t like what it says. Then Blaising and Bock wrote (slide 15), I’m not going to read that whole quote, but basically they are saying that in the 1950s and 1960s evangelicals were shying away from typology, but unfortunately as they were developing more biblical ideas, it showed the lack of capabilities in their limited literal, historical, grammatical interpretation. Then one other quote (slide 16) just because this is important: McQuilkin and Mullen wrote a great critique of evangelical hermeneutics and how subjective it’s become in a postmodern society. See, the world is constantly getting into the Church. And people are thinking subjectively. Postmodernism basically means that anything can mean what you want it to mean. You look at something and you read it and you can read whatever you want to in it and you can assign the meaning to it yourself because what they intended is irrelevant and probably unknowable.
They wrote in a book on hermeneutics “It,” that is post modern thinking, “is said by some to be the logical development of modernism toward ever greater relativity, not only in the perception of truth but also of reality itself. On this view, Postmodernism would be the logical outcome of Enlightenment thinking.” Enlightenment thinking cut the anchor to authority, i.e., God. So once you slip your anchor you can just drift and drift and drift, and we’ve drifted so far away now that nobody knows anything no matter how educated they are. They go on to say, “On this view Postmodernism would be the logical outcome of Enlightenment thinking, the final step of recognizing that meaning is created in part, at least, by my personal perceptions…. The role of the interpreter, the knowing subject, is being redefined not merely for how meaning is to be understood and communicated but actually for how the interpreter participates in the creation of meaning and even, for some, the creation of whatever reality there is.”
Where this applies to Progressive Dispensationalism is their idea that the pre-understanding of the interpreter shapes his interpretation of Scripture. In other words, there’s an inherent rejection of the idea that the interpreter can have any level of objectivity. The reason you are a Dispensationalist is because that is what you were taught. But that ends up in a fallacious circular argument. As a result of this hermeneutic (slide 17), Jesus is currently reigning from David’s throne in heaven, which adds a totally new dimension to the OT predictions. The OT predictions are that David’s throne is on earth. Now we’ve got this whole new thing that is added to the OT prophets. Again, it’s just significantly changing what Dispensationalists have taught today. The whole idea of complementary hermeneutics is such that if it was applied unilaterally to all of Scripture, the original recipients of the revelation could not know definitely and precisely what the text meant. That’s amillennial. You can’t really know what God promised Abraham in terms of the land until you get into the NT. Because then, according to their view, when you get into the NT you discover the land isn’t in a piece of real estate between the Mediterranean and the Jordon River; it’s heaven! Right?
I know some of you are great Stonewall Jackson fans. What happened when Stonewall Jackson died? He wanted to be crossed over the river. What river was that? The Jordon. That’s what he is thinking because that’s how Presbyterians thought. When you died you crossed the Jordon. The Jordon wasn’t a literal river; it was going from this life to heaven. And when you crossed into the Promised Land, it wasn’t a physical land; it was heaven! They are not literal. So that’s what happens. Abraham couldn’t understand God’s promise because he thought he was talking about physical real estate. But you get into the NT and all of a sudden you find out that it was heaven that God was promising Abraham! You didn’t know that did you? Someone commented, “He couldn’t walk it.” That’s right. How could he walk the breadth of the land?
How did Progressive Dispensationalists view dispensations (slide 18)? Well they see it as they have four dispensations:
1. The Patriarchal dispensation, which goes from Creation to Sinai.
2. The Mosaic dispensation, which goes from Sinai to Christ’s ascension.
3. An Ecclesial dispensation, which goes from the ascension to the Second Coming.
4. The Zionic dispensation, which has two parts, the Millennial Kingdom and then on into Eternity.
The Progressive Dispensationalists understand dispensations not as different administrative arrangements between God and the human race, but as successive arrangements in progressive revelation. It removes objectivity from it. It’s not God changing the way He administers human history from one period to the next. It is just a shift in progressive revelation. This is what is happening in Genesis 1. Genesis 1 isn’t talking about six literal days. Those literal days are just literary structures. That’s basically what they are saying; this is just how the literature is organized. It’s not really about a change in administration. That’s one problem.
Another problem is that in doing this they are emphasizing what all these administrations have in common, which is what theologians call continuity, and they are ignoring the differences. But it is the differences that are significant. Just as Maurice Chevalier in Gigi, “Viva la difference!” It’s not what men and women have in common. It’s the difference that’s so important! That’s the issue in Dispensationalism. It’s the difference between these eras that is important. It’s not what they have in common. Nobody’s arguing about things that they have in common. At best this leads to a dilution of the uniqueness of the Church Age, and at worst it leads to a complete destruction and obliteration of the Church Age. It becomes sort of a second or third class dispensation. Going along with that they deny that the present Church Age was a mystery in the OT. The word “mystery” means something that has not been revealed. But in Progressive Dispensationalism they just say the Church Age wasn’t realized.
What does that mean? And that the Church Age is just a progressive stage in the revelation of the kingdom. It really minimizes its significance. So when we look at their dispensational chart it’s difficult to understand why progressives begin with the patriarchal dispensation. They don’t talk about what goes on before the Fall. And when they lump everything together in one dispensation it ignores the major events such as the Fall and the Flood and the new major revelations given by God in Genesis 3 and in Genesis 9. Ryrie says this about that, “to lump post-Fall conditions in the Abrahamic Covenant under common stewardship arrangement or dispensation is artificial to say the least.” He’s such a gentleman.
The second thing is that there’s not a problem beginning the Mosaic dispensation at Sinai, but there is no biblical reason to end at Christ’s ascension. Christ’s death on the Cross was the end of the Law, not the Day of Pentecost. So that just doesn’t make sense at all. The Bible clearly makes the dividing point the death of Christ in passages like Romans 3:20, Galatians 3:18–25, and Colossians 2:14. The only reason to end it at Christ’s ascension is because of their “already not yet” presupposition. See, their pre-understanding is shaping their interpretation of Scripture. So this just shows how their theology is shaping their hermeneutic. They’re consistent with their view. So for them the New Covenant was inaugurated at the Cross, whereas traditional Dispensationalists would say it was ratified at the Cross, but it doesn’t go into effect until Jesus returns because the New Covenant is between the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
Another confusing thing is calling the Church Age the Ecclesial dispensation. This is because it doesn’t show a distinction of what happens at the Rapture when the Church leaves at the beginning of the Tribulation. But in the early days of its development, it was believed the Pre-Trib Rapture was not an important issue for Progressive Dispensationalists. However, a couple of years ago a book came out for people to understand different positions called Four Views on the Rapture. In this book Craig Blaising wrote the chapter on the Pre-Trib Rapture, which was really good. He did a great job defending it, which really was surprising considering his positions as a Progressive Dispensationalist. This basically breaks things down in terms of distinctions of the Church today, which impacts their views on the distinction with Church and Israel.
This lesson should give you an idea of Progressive Dispensationalism and why it is a problem. It comes down to first of all their hermeneutic and that it’s not a literal, historical, grammatical hermeneutic; and how that impacts their understanding of the Church. It impacts their understanding of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the coming of the Holy Spirit because they will say it’s some kind of indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the OT. I remember Craig Blaising trying to float trial balloons in that study I was in. He was trying to say that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was in the OT and regeneration didn’t begin until the Church Age, which is a very odd idea because Romans 6 is talking about baptism of the Holy Spirit that is essentially identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. How can you have that in the OT? Further, it frees us from the sin nature. But this is appealing to an eclectic mindset that dominates our culture today. We don’t want to make distinctions. We want to just have a big tent and have everybody together and just wrap your arms around each other and we’re all just going to be happy in Jesus forever. Let’s not think too deeply or too precisely.
I don’t mean to ridicule these men. They are brilliant. Most of these men have two or three PhDs. It is their system, though, that is not consistent because it is shaped by their presuppositions, which is, we need to find a theological synthesis between covenant theology and Dispensationalism, which in my opinion is self defeating.
A student during this lesson asked, “it seems to me there is a lot of subtlety in Progressive Dispensationalism.” And my response was, “yes, there is a lot of subtlety. That’s why people get sucked into things that are deceptive – because the serpent was the most subtle creature in the Garden.”
This student goes on to say, “Craig Blaising gave a lecture at South Houston Baptist Theological Seminary last semester as part of a conference on eschatology. Having listened to Blaising’s lecture on 1 Thessalonians 4 and the Rapture, had I not known his position in Progressive Dispensationalism I would not have guessed it. How does the Rapture fit into the Progressive Dispensationalist scheme if it is really more akin to covenant Pre-mil theology?”
Answer: Blaising is orthodox and he’s pretty solid on the Pre-Trib Rapture. The question was how does the Pre-Trib Rapture fit within Progressive Dispensationalism? And in the early years, I would say from the mid 80s up until 2000 it was not something that they really addressed. The thinking that we had at that time was that Progressive Dispensationalists were just going to dump the Rapture. But like I said in this lesson, Craig did a fabulous job defending the Pre-Trib Rapture. It is just that within their system, it is not something that most Progressive Dispensationalists make a big deal about. It is not something that they think is critical. And that flows out of their minimalization of the significance of the Church Age. Although there may be some exceptions, to date most Progressive Dispensationalists, like the founders Darrell Bock, Craig Blaising, Bob Saucy, many of the others that were foundational architects of this, did not dump the Pre-Trib Rapture. It just wasn’t as significant for them.
This now should wrap up this series on Dispensationalism.