Why I Am a Dispensationalist
I am a dispensationalist in my theological conclusions — not because I carried a Scofield Reference Bible to church as an 18 year-old, nor because the man that led me to Christ was a dispensationalist, nor because I attended a dispensational seminary for my theological education. Each of the preceding factors encouraged me along the way, but they were not decisive. Let me share three concepts that cause me to see dispensational contours in the pages of Scripture.
Progressive revelation. God gave revelation over the course of time. When looking at the progress of revelation, we find that at times, God chose to alter His relationship to mankind. This divinely chosen adjustment of mankind’s relationship to God, rooted in divine revelation, we call dispensationalism. The word for dispensation is oikonomia. The word implies a management of a home environment or a stewardship. God grants a stewardship of life to men and women grounded in the boundaries of His revelation. This is what Paul meant when he wrote “of the dispensation of the grace of God” and how God “by revelation . . . made known to me the mystery” so that Christians can “read” and “understand” what God was doing (Eph. 3:2–4). God gave revelation in order to adjust mankind’s relationship to Himself and His work. Dispensational interpreters are endeavoring to understand Biblical history marked by God’s revelatory transitions.
Hermeneutics. A dispensational reader of Scripture consistently uses a normative approach for all of Scripture. The difference between a dispensational hermeneutic and a non-dispensational hermeneutic can be illustrated in Isaiah 11. Note how each approaches the three sections of this passage. (1) Both hermeneutic approaches take the first 5 verses literally, understanding that the Messiah will come from the stem of Jesse (11:1), will have the Spirit rest upon Him (11:2), will judge with righteousness (11:4), and will be faithful in all he does (11:5). (2) In verses 6–10, non-dispensationalists are divided; some join the dispensational reader’s conclusion and accept Isaiah’s promise as literal realities of the future kingdom, while others view the paragraph as allegorical blessings for the church. (3) In verses 11–16, non-dispensationalist readers usually agree that these verses should be rendered in a more allegorical sense. Dispensational readers, on the other hand, accept Isaiah’s promise as the literal reunification of Israel and its regathering in the Holy Land during the coming kingdom. In short, the dispensational hermeneutic maintains the same normative hermeneutic throughout Chapter 11, while the non-dispensationalist struggles whether or not to adopt a figurative hermeneutic after verse 5. Since consistency ought to be the norm for the interpreter, the dispensational approach seems most satisfying.
Church and Israel. As a dispensationalist, I recognize an exegetical distinction between the Church and Israel. Scriptures may use similar imagery for both Israel and the Church, but the Scriptures never identify the Church as Israel. Both spiritual communities may share similar features because they both relate to the same God. For example, Peter exhorted Christians to be holy because God is holy (1 Pet. 1:15), just as Moses earlier exhorted the people of Israel to the same spiritual state (Lev. 11:45). Holiness was expected of a person walking with God, whether that person was an OT saint or NT saint. Recognizing the distinction between these two spiritual communities leads me to see distinctions in their eschatological destinies. When Jesus returns in His Second Advent, He will establish the Kingdom of God on earth. The nation of Israel will be regathered in the Holy Land and the Church will reign with the King.
Having been in the ministry for over 40 years, I can say that following the dispensational contours of God’s progress of revelation has allowed me to appreciate what God has accomplished in the OT and will yet accomplish under his New Covenant. I treasure the Scriptures as being directly from the mind of God to the heart of mankind. Therefore, I want to know exactly what God says and what he means by what he says—there is no greater joy!
This article is from the "Truth from the Agora" section of the Exposition, VBTS's monthly e-bulletin authored by President Daniel Davey. Click HERE to sign-up to receive the Exposition each month.