Picking up where I left off, I will address the three key essentials of Dispensational theology. It is important that the reader recognize that this view or interpretation of the Bible is the only view that offers a coherent systematic view of the Bible, where the Biblical narrative offers a connected and integrated grand panorama of His-Story. It begins with and ends with an overarching story, and is not simply a collection of fables or myths. It is a historical record of humanity.
The first essential of Dispensationalism is not just a literal interpretation, but more fully a consistent literal hermeneutic. It is an interpretation that does not "spiritualize" or "allegoricalize"as does Covenant/Reformed interpretation. Simply put, Dispensationalism "makes sense" of the overall puzzle, it's like having the the box cover of a 1,000 piece puzzle to guide one through the assembling of the pieces in putting the puzzle together.
A literal interpretation is foundational to the Dispensational approach to understanding the Bible. It is really about common sense to first see it as God intended. This is not rocket science and does not require years of Biblical training. Some formal Bible education may even prove to be detrimental, and it really matter where that Biblical education comes from.
The second essential of Dispensationalism keeps Israel and the Church as distinct entities. Again, common sense makes sense. Anyone who fails to distinguish Israel and the Church consistently will inevitably wander aimlessly in attempting to make sense of what becomes nonsense. Dispensationalism is not complex at all.
Dispensationalists believe the Bible teaches that God's single program for history includes a distinct plan for Israel and the Jews, and a distinct plan for the Church. God's plan for history has two peoples: Israel/Jews and Church/believers. There is a third people, we call Gentiles but for now our focus is on the Dispensations and the rules for human life. They are not ways of salvation. There is only ONE way of salvation and that is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
The third essential of Dispensationalism is aptly summarized in a quote by Dr. Renald Showers, "The ultimate purpose of all history is the glory of God through the demonstration that He alone is the Sovereign God." Certainly this point is well dispersed throughout the Bible. Citing Ezekiel 36:22, "Therefore say unto the House of Israel. Thus saith the Lord GOD; I do not this for your sakes, O House of Israel, but for mine Holy Name's sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither ye went." This theme is found five times just in the book of Ezekiel: 20:9; 20:14; 20:22; 20:44; and 26:22. This point is explicitly found elsewhere in over 30 passages throughout the Bible.
We believe that Dispensationalism is a system of theology that has been properly developed from the Bible itself. It does not rest on any human before or now. Accusations by those opposed to the Dispensationalist hermeneutic often pontificate by stating that this is the creation of C.I. Scofield, then go on to tell the world had bad he was in their strawman attacks. They then attempt to buttress their words by attacking Dr. Tim LaHaye and Hal Lindsey, leading to the idea these men proclaim heresy about the Bible. Then they go on to attack the late Chuch Smith, Chuck Missler, and Jack Van Impe. The fact is most of those critics can't begin to hold a candle to any of the names noted.
Dispensationalism is essential to correctly understand the Bible, and especially Bible prophecy. No one will be able to "rightly divide God's Word" without understanding these great truths. Instead of being a hindrance to the "correct" understanding of God's Word, as critics contend, Dispensationalism is merely a "human" label for the correct approach to and a understanding of Scripture.
Initially, I was not a member of this hermeneutical school of Dispensational theology. I attended and graduated from two theological seminaries that taught the exact opposite of Dispensationalism, they taught the Covenant/Reformed hermeneutic. When I graduated, I was "confused" to put it mildly. I could not offer a coherent understanding of the Bible and I had at that point seven years and thousands of dollars of education, that for all intent and purpose, that was useless babble from the schools of higher criticism. I read all the required readings of Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Juilus Wellhausen, and all the names associated with Christian theology. I saw classmates, drop by the wayside, some became atheists and agnostics, others became drunks and skirt chasers, all because of the nonsense from going to institutions that prided themselves for their academic excellence and superiority. This is often is poked fun of by referring to seminaries as cemeteries. During a personal crisis that resulted when I learned that my wife had a terminal brain illness, I left pastoral ministry in anger at God. In seven years of theological education and not once did anyone teach us why bad things happen to good people. I came to a point where I sat at a rural unprotected railroad grade crossing near my home, planning to take my life by driving in front on an oncoming freight train. That morning, for unknown reasons, the train traffic had stopped. Normally the busy line between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia/New York saw a train at least every fifteen to twenty minutes during the morning hours of 8 and 12 noon. I sat for three hours with not so much as a peep on my railroad scanner. I had picked the spot because it was two hundred yards from an obscure curve in a rock cut hillside. No train traveling at 50-mph can stop in such a short distance and I figured I would leave this world in a story byline that "I tried to beat the train to the crossing and lost". I had plenty of life insurance that would have covered my children's future, and after almost three hours of being parked in a convenient spot, I turned my car radio on and strangely as it was, the station was playing "Blessed Assurance" and I was instantly broken! My radio was never previously set to a Christian station, it was always tuned to a local 24-hour news station. I was a caregiver for twenty-five years before my wife died from Huntingdon's Disease. I worked in the publishing business for two major New York publishers, and served a few small part-time churches before returning to to an Evangelical Seminary to do graduate work in church history and apologetics. As I renewed my study of the Bible, I began to see that everything that I had been taught in the Covenant/Reformed theology seminaries was all excrement. I came to the Dispensational hermeneutic on my own. I had not even heard of C.I. Scofield, would not have recognized his name. Out of curiosity, I came across a book a few years ago, written by someone down south that poisoned the opinions of others concerning C.I. Scofield, and then learned that it was all an effort to destroy and attack Dispensationalism, and it was done by attacking the messenger first.
The well of Hermeneutics was long ago poisoned by Roman Catholic false teachers, subsequently by the Jesuits, who infiltrated Protestant churches and schools, and finally into the Translation Societies. In the 19th century the heresies of the cults came along and further confused the laity of the church.
Getting back to our understanding what a dispensation is, it is seen as an administration of God's economy that includes the following elements:
++Promises from God
++Commandments from God that test humanity's obedience
++Principles for humanity to live by
++Humanity's failure to keep God's commands
++Progressive revelation of God's plan for history
I noted the generally accepted periods or dispensations in the first part of this series of posts. For review, they include the following:
3. Human Government
The first dispensation is commonly referred to during the first period or Dispensations as the Edenic and Adamic Covenants. While they are not actually covenants, but for learning purposes, they can be discussed for comparison purposes.
1. The Edenic Covenant and the Dispensation of Innocence. The first covenant involved man's physical existence on Earth. Adam had no history and therefore no knowledge of how to care for his physical needs. Rather than leaving man to experiment with ways to provide for his necessities, God revealed to Adam how he should care for his human needs. Mankind's primary needs have not significantly changed throughout time.
When God created Adam sinless in the Garden, He gave Adam certain principles to follow. If Adam kept these principles, he would prosper:
1. Replenish the Earth with children -(Genesis 1:28).
2. Use nature (subdue the Earth) for food, shelter, and clothing -(Genesis 1:28).
3. Have dominion over animal life -(Genesis 1:28).
4. Eat fruit and vegetables -(Genesis 1:28).
5. Work for sustenance -(Genesis 2:15).
6. Obey God (abstaining from eating of the tree that God prohibited) the tree of the knowledge of good and evil -(Genesis 2:17).
The Edenic Covenant is tied to the Dispensation of Innocence, whereby God tested man to see if he would live by God's conditions. God told man not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil -(Genesis 2:17. The Dispensation ended in man's failure - Eve was deceived -(1 Timothy 2:14), and Adam deliberately disobeyed. As a result, the first man had personal and experiential knowledge of good and evil. What seemed like a simple, limited act of eating fruit ended in a broad, conscious knowledge of right and wrong. In the next Dispensation, the descendants of Adam were responsible for this new awareness of sin.
Because Adam could not keep the conditions of the first Dispensation, God judged him. The judgment was expulsion from the Garden. The first Dispensation - and the others as well - reveals that natural man is incapable of obeying or pleasing God. Man lost the benefits of living in the innocent environment of Eden. This point should be noted by those that think they will achieve God's love from strict obedience to the Law will not earn them brownie points. Its a futile effort. But the Covenantal Principle would continue: Man was responsible to provide for his own needs. As a result of man's failure, God placed cherubim at the entrance to the Garden to keep man from returning -(Genesis 3:24). What does this tell you about God's character?
Next we will look at the Adamic Covenant and the Dispensation of Conscience. The second covenant grew out of man's failure in the first Dispensation. The Adamic Covenant promised not only redemption for humanity but also judgment for the one who was responsible for the first sin.
2. The Adamic Covenant and the Dispensation of Conscience. The Adamic Covenant and the Dispensation of Conscience included:
1. God cursed the serpent, Satan's tool, and reduced it from a beautiful creature to a hated reptile.
2. God promised destruction for Satan in a future blow to the head -(Genesis 3:15). Genesis 3:15 is the very first Biblical prophecy unfolding the master plan of redeeming mankind.
3. God promised that the woman would bear a seed, a redeemer for mankind who would destroy Satan -(Genesis 3:15).
4. God would provide for the physical necessities of life through hard and despised physical work -(Genesis 3:19).
5. God cursed nature (the creation). It reluctantly gives its fruit for man's necessities, and its beauty is veiled -(Genesis 3:17-19).
6. The woman would have multiplied sorrow in childbirth and be submission to her husband -(Genesis 3:16).
7. The human race would experience physical death -(Romans 5:12).
Because man failed to live up to the test of the Dispensation of Innocence, God gave him a second Dispensational test. Mankind could not go back, so it went forward to its next test. As humanity entered a hostile environment outside the Garden, God gave a second set of conditions to live by. This Dispensation of Conscience is guided by the living by the limited knowledge of right and wrong that Adam and Eve experientially accumulated. God introduced the Adamic Covenant at the beginning of this Dispensation.
During the Dispensation of Conscience, man enjoyed long life but was still not able to follow his conscience. Humanity failed the test and revealed that it would not keep the general principles of goodness. Instead "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" -(Genesis 6:5), and "it repented the Lord that He had made man" -(Genesis 6:6). The Dispensation of Conscience ended in the judgment of the Flood. In the last thirty years we have learned much from archeology, paleontology, medicine, and geology that fills in the gaps of history pertaining to the subject of Genesis 6, as to why God expressed regrets of His creating mankind. God destroyed humanity via the Flood chiefly because the gene pool of man had been polluted and corrupted by intercourse between fallen angels and women. We have evidence today that suggests God's Flood did not eliminate all of the angelic beings. In fact, there are many examples of how the Genesis 6 account has been discovered to have greater substance than first thought.
After the Flood wiped out society and left only eight people alive, God introduced a new covenant with new promises. It came with a new Dispensation and new tests as well. The principles of the first and second covenant continue (people must provide for themselves and live by their conscience), but now man no longer lives as a private individual, responsible only to himself. We refer to this as the Noachic Covenant and the Dispensation of Human Government.
3. The Noachic Covenant and the Dispensation of Human Government. The Noachic Covenant includes the institution of human government. Mankind is to live in a corporate society. Prior to this, people lived in extended families ruled by tribal heads. But as society became larger, people came to be organized under corporate government.
After the Flood, God made a Covenant with Noah and gave the Rainbow as a sign: "This is the token of the Covenant which I make between Me and you." -(Genesis 9:12). The Noachic Covenant became the third period of time, the Dispensation of Human Government. God no longer allows the conscience of individuals to be the sole basis of human life. Mankind failed to live according to personal conscience, so God punished mankind through the universal Flood.
In the Covenant of Human Government, God confirms elements of of the previous covenants: man is to subdue the Earth and provide for his necessities -(Genesis 9:3), and the physical laws of the universe will remain ordered -(Genesis 8:22). God also adds a new promise. The Earth will never have another universal Flood -(Genesis 9:15). The core of the Noachic Covenant was the judicial taking of life -(Genesis 9:6), which is the ultimate expression of government.
The test of the Dispensation of Human Government was for humanity to divide into nations or societies and govern itself. The Bible does not tell us a whole lot about how men lived under its test. Most of the generatons of the sons of Noah, and Genesis 10 is only representative of this lengthy and mysterious period of time. However, the judgments that end this era are well known.
Humanity's failure is evident from the Divine judgment of the Tower of Babel -(Genesis 11:6-8). Even though mankind failed the Dispensation of Government, God did not dissolve the principles He gave Noah. The principles of government and the principles from the first two covenant continued forward.
Everything heretofore is based upon a "Literal" reading of the text. In my next post I will continue with the remaining Covenants that make up the Dispensational Hermeneutic. The fact is that God said what He meant, and meant what He said. Once we begin to "spiritualize" away the "literal" meaning of the words of Scripture, we are in danger of telling "spiritual lies". The Bible is a historical [His-Story] document with no equal in the story of humanity. It is also prophetic, and tells us how history will conclude. These points are not to be subject of debate because they are self-evident to even the casual reader of the Bible. At the conclusion of my posts on Dispensationalism, I will deal with the Covenant/Reformed theology for you to compare and decide for yourselves which position offers a Biblical Worldview of history and life.