Why I am a Dispensationalist
I am a dispensationalist because it is the system that allows me to consistently interpret the Bible according to a literal or normal hermeneutic. When I allow the Bible to mean what it says and read and interpret it in a normal fashion I come up with a dispensational framework. If this system is indeed the best it ought to be demonstrable in that is able to make the most sense out of Scripture. That being the case, I went on a search for one who does not take a dispensational approach to the Bible and desired to engage their ideas on the Scriptures to see which system adequately brings understanding to the text. Eric Adams, in his blog entitled, Why I am Not a Dispensationalist, seemed like a good start. He says:
God says that he will create a new heavens and a new earth. Look closely at how this is described.
“No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; For the child shall die one hundred years old, But the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; They shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; They shall not plant and another eat; For as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of My people, And My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, Nor bring forth children for trouble; For they shall be the descendants of the blessed of Yahweh, And their offspring with them. ‘It shall come to pass That before they call, I will answer; And while they are still speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, The lion shall eat straw like the ox, And dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,’ Says Yahweh” (Isaiah 65:20-25).
While many see this as a description of the eternal state, at least two events described do not fit: giving birth (v 20, 23) and death (v. 20). In eternity, there will be no birth and no death, so this passage must be describing the present age.
The best way to understand this is by applying the already/not yet principle. At Jesus’ first coming, he inaugurated the new heavens and the new earth. However, we do not yet see the consummation of the new heavens and the new earth.
Again, this passage invites us to take a long-term perspective on the present age. We do not appear to be anywhere close to seeing Isaiah 65:17-25 fulfilled, which means that the return of Christ must be a long ways off.
In this analysis Eric seems to suggest that this is speaking of either the eternal state or the present age. He totally neglects the Biblical distinction of a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on a literal throne. His covenant theology background betrays him at this point and he is hamstrung from being able to plainly read the Scripture. To illustrate this point is seems that Eric has no way to interpret verses in Isaiah and Zechariah that describe a time when the worldwide theocratic rule of Christ will include the execution of those in rebellion and drought and plague for those refusing to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of booths and worship the literal King (Isa. 11:1-5; 29:20-21; Zech. 14:9-16). Dr. Renald Showers sums up nicely some of the Scriptural necessities laid out in Scripture concerning this thousand-year span of Theocratic rule:
The special revelation which God has already given concerning the seventh dispensation is contained in numerous Old Testament passages (passages dealing with some of the major biblical covenants and prophecies concerning characteristics of the future theocratic kingdom), Gospel passages (such as Matthew 5-7; 19:28: 25:31-46), Acts 3:19-21, passages in the Epistles (such as 1 Corinthians 15:24-25; Ephesians 1:10; Hebrews 6:5), and Revelation 20:1-6. According to this special revelation, the Messiah, Jesus, will restore the theocratic Kingdom of God which was on earth before mankind’s fall, but was lost through that fall. The absolute, righteous, just rule of God will be enforced worldwide. Nature will be re- stored to its pre-fall condition (Matthew 19:28; Acts 3:19-21; Romans 8:18-23). The climate and natural elements will be controlled perfectly for the good of mankind (Isaiah 30:23-26; Ezekiel 47:1-2; Joel 2:21-26; Zechariah 14:8). There will be unprecedented growth and fruitage of trees (Isaiah 41:19-20; Ezekiel 36:8-11, 29-30; 47:6-7, 12; Joel 2:21-26). Animals will experience great productivity (Ezekiel 36:11; 47:8-10). Food will be abundant (Psalm 72:16; Isaiah 30:23-24; Jeremiah 31:10-14; Ezekiel 34:25-30; 36:29-30; Joel 2:21-26; Zechariah 8:11-12). All animals will be tame and vegetarian in diet (Isaiah 11:6-9; 65:25). Diseases and deformities will be abolished (Isaiah 29:18; 33:24; 35:5-6). Human life will experience great longevity (Isaiah 65:20-22). War will be abolished (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3). Satan will not be able to instigate any activity on the earth (Revelation 20:1-3). Mankind will be required to submit to the righteous rule of the Messiah.
What is interesting is that in the process of isogesis, reading ones theology into the text rather than exegesis, deriving ones theology out of the text, Eric comes to the conclusion that since in the eternal state there can be no death than this MUST BE talking about the present state. His theological position does not allow him to plainly read the passage. This is further compounded in his erroneous conclusion that denies the immanent return of Christ (Titus 2:11-13). One more pertinent observation is that Eric seems to borrow from the newly formed progressive dispensationalism to make some justification for the “already/no yet,” state of the kingdom. It is difficult to determine if he is a progressive dispensationalist or a covenant theology adherent at this point because the ramifications of both leave one with no clear way to read the Scripture.
The central issue at stake is not what camp one is in nor even which interpretation is more widely accepted. The central issue at stake is which system is hermeneutically consistent. A major thrust of the book, Progressive Dispensationalism, is the idea that complementary hermeneutics, the necessary product of progressive dispensationalism, is false. This is contrasted with the normal or literal method employed by dispensationalist since the beginning. The problem I have with a complementary hermeneutic is that it does not allow the reader of the Bible to be able to actually read the Bible and understand in plain language what is being said. A new dual language must be employed which is really not new at all. It is no different than Augustine using analogous language to build His city of God. This begets the requirement of special interpreters who can wade through the miry bog of knowing which part is the already and which part is the not yet. It leaves the student of Scripture reliant on certain commentaries and takes inductive Bible study out of the equation. This is serious because the very know-ability of the Bible is at stake.
Specifically at stake is the idea that the Bible can have a changed or reinterpreted meaning as further revelation came about. This is very similar to the Muslim idea of abrogation in the Koran where they believe that Mohammed, though clearly contradicting himself was in fact not doing so, according to them, because his later revelation cancelled and superceded the earlier one. This is the doctrine of Nisak and it is the reason the Muslim can defend the peaceful nature of the Koran on the one hand (especially to an infidel who is to be lied to in holy war), and totally embrace the annihilation of all Jews on the other. Their understanding of inerrancy is decidedly different than ours in the Bible that contains no contradictions or errors though written by not one over forty different authors. This is even more impressive when one does not use a hermeneutical trick like the Muslims to achieve this. At stake however is the fact that progressive dispensationalists and covenant theologians employ a similar doctrine in allowing the New Testament to override and actually CHANGE the original meaning of the old. The dispensationalist does not do this nor does the Scripture necessitate this. Bigalke, quoting Walvoord, had this to say:
The difference in interpretation originates when amillenarians and some premillenarians interpret the New Testament as contradicting or amending this concept to the extent of substituting a nonliteral fulfillment of theses hopes voiced in the Old Testament. The issues accordingly is not progressive revelation versus nonprogressive revelation but rather whether in progressive revelation there is contradiction or correction of what was commonly assumed to be the main tenor of the Old Testament.
Bigalke goes further saying: “Progressive revelation does not mean the New Testament changes Old Testament prophecies so that it cannot be understood apart from the New Testament.” This is an extremely important point and it is one that makes the preference for dispensational theology an almost prerequisite in any debate with a Muslim apologist in regards to inerrancy and inspiration.
Though the Bible is clear and straightforward many are offended by the dispensational use of a parenthesis in Daniel 9 for the church. Critics claim that there are no gaps in this prophecy and they further contend that the dispensationalist is making up one to fit their theology. Yet every one of these critics will without a doubt look at Isaiah 61:1-2 and assent to a gap. They must for Jesus Himself quotes from the first half of Isaiah 61:1-2 leaving out the “day of vengeance” part building a gap right in Luke chapter four. The thing is, Jesus did not change the meaning of the passage but rather illuminated the timing of the clear verse. No one debates a gap in this section for Jesus introduces one. It is difficult to see it but it is not a new meaning for the text. With a complementary hermeneutic the problem is seen when Old Testament Scriptures are given new meaning. The idea that Deuteronomy 25:4, “you shall not muzzle the ox when he treads out the grain,” is to be reinterpreted to also mean that you must pay your pastor is preposterous. It is not however preposterous to see Paul quoting from this passage to illustrate a point. Pastors do this all the time. When exegeting one passage they can illustrate their idea from many others without changing the meaning of the quoted passage in its original context. This is not reinterpretation but using illustrative material. If there is more than one interpretation to a given passage, which one is to be used? Who can know what is said? Why is the Catholic Church wrong in thinking that Mary represents the Ark of the Covenant? Why is covenant theology wrong in proclaiming that the lion and lamb lying down together is actually a representation of Paul going from a lion-like detractor of Christianity to a lamb-like follower of Christ? Ultimately if Scripture does not have its way there is no way to protect us from ourselves. Even the best intentions cannot stop us from using the text of the Bible to say all sorts of things. Augustine started off with good intentions but the consequences have left multitudes without the ability to read Scripture and understand it.
I undertook to explain why I am a dispensationalist and I have found in the process that it is the default view of every student of Scripture before adding another system. In other words if I were to be a Biblicist, simply reading and exegeting the Scriptures in a consistent and literal or normal manner, taking into account grammar and figures of speech, and even metaphor and simile as they are literally used, then I would be a dispensationalist. BlueLetterBible.com summed up their position after laying out a good summary of the major positions regarding Revelation 20 and had this to say:
As with any body of Christians, there are members of the Blue Letter Bible team with differing opinions on the matter. However, in light of all the Scriptures on the subject, the Blue Letter Bible feels that the most consistent viewpoint with a literal interpretation of the Bible is dispensational premillennialism. Our ultimate advice is to go to the Bible itself (Acts 17:11). The best way in which to interpret the Word of God is to see what it has to say about itself. And if, in the final analysis, you are yet undecided, do not fear for salvation is not built or broken on Revelation 20, but on the person of Jesus Christ.
This is a good ending point for though I find that I am passionate about my defense of the dispensational position I realize that I am often times debating other orthodox Christians. Let us then have grace as we vigorously sharpen each other up in our pursuit of Christ likeness.