Dallas Theological Seminary professors have edited a major new book calling
into question previous formulations of dispensationalism, while at the same
time attempting to develop a new kind of dispensationalism. This new approach has been labeled by
its advocates " Progressive Dispensationalism" (PD) in 1991. PD is often critical of older
dispensationalism while incorporating elements from theological systems which
in the past have been in opposition to traditional dispensational
understandings of the Bible.
Craig Blaising teaches Systematic Theology at Dallas and Dr. Darrell Bock is in
the New Testament Greek Department.
Their new book is Dispensationalism, Israel and The Church: The Search For Definition, (DIC) (Zondervan, 1992), which was
released in late September 1992.
It will not take those attempting to read this new book long to find
that this book is difficult to read because of it' s erudite and technical
style. This is a marked change
from a previous generation of dispensationalists, often typified by Dr. Charles
Ryrie, who were known for their clear, direct, and concise brand of scholarship. In DIC it is sometimes hard to get a grip
on what is being said, even after reading a passage several times.
CHANGES IN DISPENSATIONALISM
No one can debate
that some are proposing radical changes within the dispensational camp. The questions that arises relates to
the nature and virtue of the change.
While I do not agree with most of the changes being put forward by the
advocates of PD, I do want my disagreement to be irenic, since I know through
personal discussion with many who are proposing these changes believe that they
are doing the right thing. Also, I
do not believe that their writings, nor my personal discussions evidence a
personal dislike for dispensationalism as is often evident in many of the
attacks by " outsiders." However,
at the same time I believe that these men are in the process of destroying
dispensationalism. In personal
discussions with many of the older dispensationalists their either believe that
they have gone as far as one could go and still be said to be a dispensationalist
(if they good any further then they will have left dispensationalism, they
say), or some believe that they have already gone too far and should not be
viewed as a true dispensationalist.
am not opposed in any way to scholars attempting to discuss and sharpen a
system of theology, or even suggesting changes. As Craig Blaising has argued, change has always occurred
within dispensationalism. However,
I also reserve the right to say that I believe someone has gone too far. I believe that to be the case with
PD. There is a need for the changeless
truths of the theology of the Bible to be articulated to each new generation,
taking into account the particular ethos and questions produced by successive
experience within the dispensational movement has paralleled Stan Gundry' s statement
of self-examination from the book' s Foreword.
its best, within dispensationalism has always been a dynamic that drives it to
be constantly correcting itself in the light of Scripture. . . .
dispensationalism have always found it easier to identify the simplistic
approaches of Scofield, to criticize the excesses of Lewis Sperry Chafer, and
to poke fun at the charts of Clarence Larkin than to understand and appreciate
the self-critical and self-corrective drive that has characterized dispensationalism
at a deeper level.
However, just because dispensationalism does have a
history of development, does not mean that all proposals for change are
necessarily correct or necessarily wrong.
I know PD would agree. So
in the same spirit in which those within the PD camp felt free to voice their
criticism of older dispensationalists, I want to interact with these newer
goal in this article will be to give some of the background leading up to the
development of the PD movement; to explain PD in contrast with what older
dispensationalists have believed; and to interact with specific PD
viewpoints. Since I will not have
enough space in this article, I hope to continue interaction in future articles
in the coming year.
A BRIEF HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
a father of the PD movement can be identified, it would most likely be Dr.
Robert Saucy of the Talbot Graduate School of Theology in Southern
California. Dr. Saucy wrote a
number of articles throughout the 1980' s (beginning in 1984), dealing with
dispensational themes. In some of
these articles Dr. Saucy began to moderate a few of his dispensational
views. At the same time (during
the 80' s), other dispensationalists wrote articles in books and journals often
disagreeing with older dispensational interpretations of Scripture or
theology. Yet these writers still
considered themselves to be dispensationalists.
this environment of flux and redefinition, it is not surprising that an
organization arose meeting in conjunction with the annual Evangelical
Theological Society (ETS) convention in 1985, held at Talbot Seminary in
California. (These yearly
conventions usually meet in late October.) The " dispensational study group" (DSG) grew out of this
informal meeting at Talbot for the purpose of discussing " current trends and
ideas relating to the topic of dispensationalism."  It is the DSG which has been a leading
forum for PD.
first public gathering of the DSG was in conjunction with the ETS gathering in
Atlanta in 1986. Format of the
meetings have revolved around a major presentation followed by discussion. Craig Blaising made the first
presentation of a paper in Atlanta,
in which he argued that dispensationalism has changed over the years. This is the foundational apologetic
used to justify many of the major changes being suggested for
DSG meet at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Massachusetts in 1987. Darrell Bock of Dallas Seminary
presented his ground-breaking paper entitled " The Reign of Christ."  Bock' s suggestion that Christ is now
reigning (spiritually but not yet physically) on David' s throne, which
constitutes an inaugural fulfillment of the Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7 is a
tenet of PD which presents the greatest difficulty for older dispensationalists
to agree with. Traditionally
dispensationalists have distinguished between Christ' s ascension to the right
hand of the Father' s throne and the future time when He will descend from
heaven, thus leaving the right hand of the Father' s throne, and reign literally
from David' s throne in Jerusalem during the millennium. However, Bock has admittedly borrowed
the " already/not yet" dialectic from the late George E. Ladd (and other
European theologians) to support his view of the reign of Christ.
1988 the meeting was held in Wheaton, Illinois. Mark Bailey, who teaches Bible Exposition at Dallas
Seminary, presented a paper entitled " Dispensational Definitions of the
Kingdom." Bailey is not a PD, but
instead fits into the older dispensational mode. Dr. John Master of Philadelphia College of the Bible (also
not a PD) notes that during
the discussion period varying views were presented in attempts to define the
essentials of dispensationalism.
Dr. Charles Ryrie' s three-part " sine qua non" was discussed,
since his definition has dominated discussion since 1965. Master noted that it did not appear
that the audience could agree on the importance of these items in defining
dispensationalism. In fact, at the
conclusion of the meeting, there was no agreed upon definition of
Vern Poythress of Westminster Seminary, an millennial covenant theologian,
presented material from his book Understanding Dispensationalists at the 1989 meeting in San
Diego. This meeting signaled a
desire to open a dialogue with nondispensationalists, yet without coming to a
consensus within dispensationalism regarding the matter of essentials.
Orleans was the site of the 1990 meetings. Dialogue with amillennial covenant theologians continued as
Dr. Tremper Longman of Westminster, presented a paper, as did Dr. Elliot E.
Johnson of Dallas, both dealing with hermeneutics. Both men, from differing theological perspectives, claimed
to be using a grammatical, historical, and contextual approach to the
Scriptures. This is important in
light of the fact that dispensationalists have long boasted of using a consistently literal hermeneutic, while
accusing others of spiritualizing things like Israel and the church. This has lead to a belief by PD that
there is not really a hermeneutical distinction between dispensationalists and
nondispensationalists as Ryrie had declared in his sine qua non. " As evangelicals have worked together exploring these
developments," said Blaising, " the old divisions of spiritual versus literal
interpretation have been left behind" (DIC:32).
1991 they meet in Kansas City. Dr.
Doug Oss presented a paper on dispensationalism from the perspective of one
committed to the Pentecostal/charismatic movement. A major focus of the paper dealt with the question of the
cessation of gifts in the present dispensation. This meeting did not appear to have produce noticeable
development of PD. However, the
term " progressive dispensationalism" surfaced as a term which many following
the PD agenda began using to describe their new position. I will provide a description/definition
later in this paper.
the time of this writing, the most recent engagement (1992) took place in San
Francisco. This meeting involved a
presentation by Bock and Blaising of their new book DIC. I attended this meeting and the significance seemed to be
that this new formulation called PD finally has a written expression. It was also interesting to informally
observe that while PD have dominated the agenda surrounding the DSG, there is
far from overwhelming support from the rank and file at the meeting. Many questions and concerns remain to
be discussed in the days to come.
Further development of PD surely seems to be in the works with Robert
Saucy coming out with a book on the subject scheduled for a 1993 release
date. Bock and Blaising also plan
a follow up book for late 1993 or 1994.
and Bock have been the major forces behind the discussions of the DSG and in
formulating PD. Their material has
provided the framework for the discussions that have taken place over the last
few years. I have spent many hours
in personal discussion during these years with them (mainly with Blaising) in
an effort to understand what they are saying. I appreciate the time spent discussing these issues and do
not want to misrepresent their views.
However, it is difficult at times to understand just what they are
really saying. I have made every
effort to properly present their views.
Now I will attempt to describe PD.
WHAT IS PROGRESSIVE DISPENSATIONALISM?
is hard to define exactly what PD is for a number of reasons. First, it is still in the development
stage. Second, it is easier to say
what they don' t believe and how they are different than older
dispensationalists, than what they actually believe since it appears that some
of their thought is tentative.
Third, even though the final chapter of DIC includes a section called
" Progressive Dispensationalism" (380-85) there is not really a definition or a
list of things that are essential to this new brand of dispensationalism. There is only a listing of " patterns"
(379) of those who claim to be dispensationalists.
is said to be " The Search for Definition," apparently the journey has
not yet reached its destination. Blaising does not think that anyone can isolate essentials of
dispensationalism, instead they can only observe patterns which those calling
themselves " dispensationalists" have put forth (379). By avoiding essentials and providing only descriptive patterns,
Blaising has in effect made it impossible (using his terms) to evaluate whether
or not one is truly a dispensationalist.
(How can a definition be formulated if their are no discernible
essentials?) Therefore, an issue
becomes whether or not to accept Blaising' s terms for the discussion or
not. If one uses an older form of
dispensationalism as a standard, then there would be a reasonable basis to
question whether or not PD is really a modified form of dispensationalism or
whether or not it is closer to a modified form of Covenant Theology, thus not
really dispensationalism at all.
One current professor at Dallas Seminary who is strongly opposed to this
new formulation of dispensationalism has described the issue to me as
follows: One has to decide whether
or not PD is merely rearranging the furniture in the room (i.e., development of
dispensationalism), or whether or not they are removing key pieces of furniture
from the room (i.e., abandonment of dispensationalism).
A Description of Progressive
tell us they are using the word " progressive" to refer to a progressive
fulfillment of God' s plan in history (380-82). They see a progressive relationship of past and present
dispensations as well as between the present and future dispensations. PD sees a greater continuity than did
older forms of dispensationalism.
This continuity is viewed as progress between the dispensations, thus
the term PD. " It is continuity
through progress: the progress of
promissory fulfillment." " This
continuity is variously expressed in terms of one (new) covenant that unifies
both dispensations" (381).
Blaising and Bock give the following explanation:
label progressive dispensationalism
is being suggested because of the way in which this dispensationalism views the
interrelationship of divine dispensations in history, their overall orientation
to the eternal kingdom of God (which is the final, eternal dispensation
embracing God and humanity), and the reflection of these historical and
eschatological relations in the literary features of Scripture. (380)
Features of Progressive Dispensationalism
Hermeneutics: Blaising is clear in his rejection of Ryrie' s insistence
that an essential element of " dispensationalism claims to employ principles of
literal, plain or normal, interpretation consistently." ,
Blaising says of Ryrie:
is quite insistent that the difference between a dispensational and a
nondispensational hermeneutic is that the former is consistent in the
employment of literal or normal interpretation. The presence of spiritual or allegorical interpretation to
any extent " in a system of interpretation is indicative of a nondispensational
Blaising and Bock do not believe that dispensationalists
practice a unique approach to hermeneutics.
issue is not a distinct hermeneutic but debate about how to apply the
hermeneutic that we share that we share. The question most
simply put is, How does " new" revelation impact " old" revelation and
and Bock want to put forth what they call a " complementary hermeneutic." Complementary hermeneutics appears to
be a synthesis of the two older approaches which have battled each other for
years- the spiritual and literal approaches- in their handling of how the New
Testament uses the Old Testament.
does the New Testament complement
Old Testament revelation?
According to this approach, the New Testament does introduce change and
advance; it does not merely repeat Old Testament revelation. In making complementary additions, however,
it does not jettison old promises.
The enhancement is not at the expense of the original promise. (392-3)
This hermeneutical approach is used to support their
" already/not yet" interpretation of the Davidic Covenant.
Covenant: Bock' s contribution to PD is the notion
that there is an unanticipated inauguration of the fulfillment of the Davidic
Covenant with Christ currently reigning on David' s throne spiritually. Bock uses a dialectical phrase
" already/not yet" (46) to support his form of realized eschatology. In the past, dispensationalists have
seen the current Church Age as distinct in purpose and administration from the
future Kingdom Age or Millennium.
Dispensationalists have made a distinction between Christ' s current
reign at the right hand of the Father (Rev. 3:21) and His future reign on earth
in Jerusalem during the Millennium upon David' s Throne, thus fulfilling the
blessings of the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7). In the past, nondispensationalists have seen the present
Church Age as a realized form of the Kingdom. They do not make a distinction between Christ' s present
session at the Father' s right hand and the rule of Christ on David' s
throne. Thus, creating a conflict
between dispensationalists and nondispensationalists over the timing of the
has attempted to merge the two views by creating out of thin air (in my
opinion), an artificial view that the Kingdom is both present and future at the
same time. Thus, the current
Church Age is not distinct from the future Kingdom. Instead Bock views our current age as " the ' already,' the
' sneak preview,' or the ' invisible' kingdom rule of Jesus" (65). Bock explains:
Thus the new community, the
church, is the showcase of God' s present reign through Messiah Jesus, who inaugurates
the fulfillment of God' s promises. . . . Jesus reigns from heaven invisibly but
powerfully, transforming people through his Spirit. . . . He invites all into
God' s kingdom, where promises are beginning to be realized, a kingdom that
functions distinct from and in
the midst of the kingdoms of
earth. The current phase of the
kingdom has continuity with the kingdom to come, because it shares the call to
reflect the activity and presence of God' s righteousness in the world. (65-6)
than following traditional logic that reasons if the church is currently in the
Messianic Kingdom, then it is present and not future. Instead Bock says that there is also a future phase of the
Kingdom, yet to be fulfilled. Bock
In the second stage, the
promise moves to ultimate consummation. . . . When Jesus returns, he will do
all that the prophets of the Old Testament promised. The language chosen specifically ties itself to the concept
of Israel' s restoration, which is an element that is totally absent in the
current activity of Jesus. . . . There is no indication that earthly and
Israelitic elements in Old Testament promises have been lost in the activity of
the two stages. In the " not yet,"
visible, consummative kingdom, Jesus will rule on earth. He will rule before and over all. (66)
a future issue I hope to deal more in depth with Bock' s views, but some
problems with his view include: 1)
His use of an invalid spiritual hermeneutic at key points to support his
" already" view of the Kingdom. 2)
After reading the presentation of his view I do not see where Bock gets from
the Bible the dialectic of " already/not yet." This is simply an arbitrary device to allow him to support a
realized kingdom and at the same time hold to a premillennial futurism. I think a dialectical approach is
employed by both theologians when they attempt to blend elements of
contradictory ideas. Bock and
others like him simply need to make up their minds. 3) As John Master pointed out at ETS this year, how can
something be both fulfilled and yet not fulfilled? This is an amazing use of a word that has a clear sense of
finality to it. 4) If Bock' s
exegetical approach can be used to support a current spiritual Davidic
fulfillment (even though partial) then why can' t the same approach be used to
apply an " already" fulfillment to Israel' s land promises found in the
Palestinian Covenant? Put another
way, why stop where PD has stopped thus far in breaking down distinctions? Why not apply this wonderful new
development of dispensationalism across the board?
and the Church: PD blunts distinctions between Israel
and the Church, while the older forms of dispensationalism highlight
distinctions. Even though some
distinctions are maintained by PD I wonder how long it will be before this new
form of " dispensationalism" will become the highway leading one totally away
from most, if not all, of the distinctions of dispensationalism? Blaising explains that their search for
a new dispensationalism
has led many dispensationalists
to abandon the transcendental distinction of heavenly verse earthly peoples in favor of a historical
distinction in the divine
purpose. The unity of divine
revelation, of the various dispensations, is found in the goal of history, the
kingdom of God. (33)
of the few distinctions which PD has maintained from older dispensationalism is
their rejection of replacement theology.
If a full replacement of Israel for the church were to start to happen,
then no one could successfully argue that this could be a valid form of
dispensationalism. PD current
commitment to a futurist eschatology keeps them from totally commingling the
church and Israel. But their is no
question about their overall tendency to stress unity of the dispensations at
the expense of diversity when compared to older dispensationalism.
of the problems created by PD' s de emphasis on distinctions between God' s plan
for Israel and His plan for the church include: 1) The church loses its distinctiveness as a special work of
God apart from Israel. Thus, the
church is reduced to a second rate expression of the Kingdom lacking the
fullness of God' s power that will accompany the future " phase" of the Kingdom. 2) Since much of the theological
support for the pretribulational rapture is based upon the exegetical
conclusion that God's plan for the church is totally distinct from His plan for
Israel, then this change will only undermine support for the pretrib position.
BLAISING' S HISTORICAL JUSTIFICATION
DIC begins with a historical polemic
in the Introduction by Craig Blaising in an apparent attempt to justify the
need for their new brand of dispensationalism and most likely to lay a
groundwork for those who might suggest that PD has gone too far and is no
longer a valid form of dispensationalism.
In the final chapter of the book Blaising and Bock deny that an essential of dispensationalism is the
distinction between Israel and the church (they still hold to distinctions,
they just do not believe that they are essential) and conclude that if this were
the case " then any change or modification of that view is departure"
(377). They then show why they
interpret the history of dispensationalism as a futile attempt to locate
essentials when they declare:
The problem with this is
that it ignores the fact that essentialist dispensationalism that which found its dispensational identity in
the sine qua non) was only
one form of a tradition in which other forms preceded it. This in itself raised the possibility
that other forms may also follow. . . . It leads us to search for a new
definition of dispensationalism, one that embraces the various historical
manifestations of the tradition and that places the emergence of this
postessentialist form of dispensationalism in perspective. (377-8)
Their search did not lead them to find a new sine qua
dispensationalism, instead they only observed " patterns" of what
dispensationalists in the past have believed. This agnostic conclusion serves their purpose. If essentials cannot be clarified then
their new PD cannot be viewed as a departure from dispensationalism. So the matter of dispensationalism' s
history is of central importance in evaluating their case for PD.
least two items are important to Blaising' s interpretation of American dispensationalism. First, is his classification and
interpretation of the stages of American dispensationalism. Second, his conclusion that Ryrie has
been wrong to see historic essentials that have given definition to
dispensationalism. Instead he
believes that dispensationalism has always been in flux and void of true
universal characteristics. These
two items, if true, would lend support to Blaising' s claim that PD is simply
another turn of the wheel in the development of dispensationalism, instead of a
departure from dispensationalism as some have charged. It should also be pointed out that
Blaising' s historical interpretation is an attack upon Ryrie' s brand of
dispensationalism and his view of the history of dispensationalism. If Ryrie' s dispensationalism or view of
dispensationalism' s history is correct, then PD would have to be judged from
that framework to be a departure form dispensationalism. Thus, Blaising' s historical arguments
are crucial to making the case for PD as a new development in dispensationalism
and not a departure.
Overview of American Dispensationalism
begins his historical argument by dividing the development of American
dispensationalism into four stages of development: 1) Niagara premillennialism, 2) Scofieldism, 3) essentialist
dispensationalism of Charles Ryrie, and 4) progressive dispensationalism or
I do not have any particular problem with these categories, other than
with the title essentialist dispensationalism. The essentialist label implies that Ryrie invented the sine
qua non late in
the game, instead of observing and distilling the essence of historic
Blaising' s interpretation of the history of dispensationalism is used by him to
put a spin upon the development of dispensationalism that allows advocates of
PD to justify their radical changes, I will interact with key elements of each
era of American dispensationalism.
annual gathering of the Niagara Bible Conference (1883-1897) was spearheaded by
the father of American dispensationalism- James H. Brookes- with the aid of A.J.
Gordon. Niagara grew out of
earlier Bible Study conferences that were being held as early as 1878 in
Clifton Springs, New York. Blaising correctly notes that these
conferences were " the forum for introducing and developing American
dispensationalism." " Two features
of the conference," continues Blaising, " especially lent themselves to the
development of dispensationalism" (16).
The first feature " a view of the church that went beyond local churches
and denominations" (16). " The
second feature of the Niagara Conference that lent itself to the development of
dispensationalism was its emphasis on the Bible" (17).
first point Blaising makes regards the ecumenical nature of the Niagara Bible
Studies. " Niagara sought a visible
experience of unity among those who belonged to and continued in different
churches and denominations," notes Blaising. DIC gives the impression that PD is restoring dispensationalism to the
ecumenical unity of Niagara that was fractured by the narrow dogmatism of
While it is true that Niagara dispensationalism featured a certain kind
of ecumenical unity, I think that there are significant differences between the
" community of scholars" (385) assembled around PD in our day and the dynamics
responsible for earlier dispensationalism.
differences between the unity of Niagara and that of the modern movement is
more like two high-speed trains, on separate tracks, passing each other, going
in opposite directions. Further
explanation of this first point moves us into discussion of Blaising' s second
feature, the emphasis on the Bible.
Niagara was a Bible Study conference that met together to inductively
study the Bible with an eye on answering attacks on the Bible coming from a
growing modernist movement.
Ryrie' s disagreement with Kraus' understanding of the purpose behind
Niagara supports this point:
His [Kraus] attempt to link
the prophetic conferences with dispensationalism is in reverse gear. He tries to show that since there was
some dispensational teaching in the conferences this was the cause of their
being convened. The truth is that
the calling of prophetic conferences as a protest to modernism was the cause,
and a gradual understanding of dispensationalism was the effect. The conferences led to
dispensationalism, not vice versa.
To be sure there was an inevitable and eventual link between the
conferences and dispensationalism, but dispensationalism grew out of the independent study which resulted from the interest in
unity was the product of those from within liberal denominations who meet
together for Bible Study to counter the lack of biblical input they were not
receiving from their mainline churches.
The result was that they saw in dispensationalism an answer to
modernism' s approach to tearing down the biblical faith. PD is not made up of those who are
dissatisfied with liberal denominations, instead they are Evangelicals who are
dissatisfied with the dispensationalism of their forefathers and have met
together to change it. Our Niagara
fathers were premillennialists and they did not include amillennialists and
postmillennialists (for the main part) in their formulations. Today, however, PD' s are including
nonpremillennialists in their " community" which helps explain why they are
arriving at a synthesis between premillennialism and " an inaugurated
eschatology"  (i.e., an
amillennial or postmillennial view that the current age is the Davidic kingdom
or millennium) as stated in their " already/not yet" dialectic. The Niagara fathers meet for inductive
Bible Study and the result was the formulation of dispensationalism. However, today, PD has been the
product, in my opinion, of ideas that need to be supported by study of the
Bible. Niagara stressed
distinctions found in Bible Study, while PD stresses continuity and unity in
the Bible. Niagara used as its
standard for resolving differences an appeal to the Bible, while PD seems to
place great weight up theological dialogue between opposing theological
says " Niagara dispensationalism was inclusive; it had no distinct identity as
' dispensationalism.' But
dispensations and dispensational ideas were present in the study of
premillennialism" (20, f.n.). This
is an interesting statement. How
could " Niagara dispensationalism" be classified as dispensationalism and yet
not be considered dispensationalism?
I believe a better understanding of Niagara dispensationalism would see
their view of dispensations (the early term for dispensationalism) as more
dispensational than Blaising would admit.
Like the perspective of many modern television shows and movies,
Blaising wants to project the modern ethos upon a previous generation that
viewed their concerns from a different perspective. About half of Kraus' book Dispensationalism In America covers the Niagara period in
which he believes that their views of dispensations clearly constituted
dispensationalism. There was just
as much talk during the Niagara period about learning to distinguish the
dispensations as there has been since Ryrie' s day where similar interests have
been expressed in term of distinguishing between Israel and the Church.
desire to have his readers view Niagara as a time of strong ecumenical
sentiment, I believe, is to overrate and misinterpret the true place of unity
at the conference. It was a
feature of Niagara, but to emphasize it as one of the two or three key elements
at Niagara goes to far. Instead,
it appears that Blaising is stressing this feature because he wants it to be an
aspect of the current dialogue on dispensationalism. This would cast PD in a better light if he can compare
today' s noble efforts with those of our natal past. An ecumenical impulse such as this could be one of the
hidden motives explaining the rise of PD.
leadership of Niagara developed a detailed doctrinal statement of essentials
(clearly an essentialist mentality which Blaising opposes) that served to
narrow and eliminate those who did not want to unite under such a restrictive
banner. The attitude at Niagara,
while opposing harsh and inflammatory rhetoric, was that they would stand for what
they believed the Bible taught regardless of the impact upon the " community of
scholars." On the other hand, PD' s
unity is based upon an inclusive,
" don' t-let-doctrinal-differences-stand-in-our-way" kind of unity. Blaising and Bock have concluded that,
" this is the nature of theological dialogue in the context of community"
(394). The following statement
clearly indicates that they place unity, at least on this matter, above
This work indicates where many
dispensationalists are today, while recognizing that it is part of a larger
theological community that is the body of Christ. Our discussion should continue, but not at the expense of
our unity. (394)
" promotion of a nonpartisan method of Bible study" (18) often known today as
the inductive approach, consisted of three features, according to
Blaising. They are 1)
Christocentricity, 2) piety, and 3) an inductive or scientific approach to
Bible Study (18).
is said by Blaising to mean that " [a]ll Scripture points to Christ and is
interpreted correctly only with respect to Christ" (18). Contrary to Blaising this is a feature
that has been an emphasis universally recognized by all dispensationalists
(Luke 24:27, 44). Yet Blaising and
Bock want to give the impression that PD has returned to the Christocentricity
of Niagara and that the Scofield and Ryrie (essentialist) eras had abandoned
this principle with their alleged " anthropologically centered" (383) and
" doxological unity" (27).
What is needed today is a new approach
to defining dispensationalism. . . . one that may rehabilitate and revise
features that were central to an earlier dispensationalism but may have been
eclipsed by the concerns of an intervening generation [such as Scofield and Ryrie- TDI]
(such as the factors of exclusivity and Christocentricity, which present-day
dispensationalists share more closely with the Niagara dispensationalists than
they do with their immediate predecessors). (30)
Scofield and Ryrie demonstrate that
they are just as Christocentric as Niagara:
The Central Theme of the
Bible is Christ. It is this
manifestation of Jesus Christ, his Person as " God manifest in the flesh" (1
Tim. 3:16), his sacrificial death, and his resurrection, which constitute the
Gospel. Unto this all preceding
Scripture leads, from this all following Scripture proceeds. . . . etc. (The
Scofield Reference Bible, 1917
edition: vi; 1967 edition: xi)
The outstanding theme that
ties those sixty-six books together is God' s provision of a Savior in Jesus
Christ. The Old Testament predicts
His coming, and the New Testament announces the good news of His coming. Not every verse, of course, directly
mentions Him, but He is the theme that ties the Bible together. (Ryrie' s
Concise Guide to the Bible Here' s
Life Publishers, 1983:13)
and Bock use this point about Christocentricity as their integrating principle
between Old and New Testament theology. (382)
The dispensationalism of
this book distinguishes itself from the immediately preceding dispensationalism
[i.e., Ryrie- TDI] and Scofieldism by the fact that instead of being
anthropologically centered on two peoples, it is Christologically centered.
It appears to me that Blaising and Bock are using
Christocentricity in a different way than Niagara and other
dispensationalists. They seem to
be using it as a mechanism to break down dispensational distinctives (hardly
the same direction that those of the Niagara era were moving). They seem to be using Christocentricity
in the same way that a Covenant Theologian uses the covenant to argue against
distinctions seen by dispensationalists.
Christocentricity is one of the devices they use to argue for a present
form of a Davidic rule for Christ.
The movement from the past
to the present and then to the future dispensations is not due to a plan for
two different kinds of people but rather is due to the history of Christ' s
fulfilling the plan of holistic redemption in phases (dispensations). (383)
Blaising to describe PD as Christocentric, as set against the characterization
that Scofield's dispensationalism is anthropologically centered or Ryrie's is
defectively theocentric is an arbitrary judgment. I could just as likely say (I am not saying this, just
illustrating) that Blaising and Bock's dispensationalism is influenced by Karl
Barth, since Barth often is described as having a Christocentric theology. It would be better to see each brand of
dispensationalism as having a certain view of each aspect of theology. Each view has an anthropological
dimension. Each view has a
Christological position, etc. So
it does not make one form of dispensationalism any better or more heroic
(better able to explain the Bible) to say that PD is Christocentric, as set
against other forms of dispensationalism.
the next issue I want to deal with Blaising's attempt to cast a bad light upon
inductive Bible study and literal hermeneutics. I am not saying that Blaising rejects inductive Bible study
and a form of literal hermeneutics, but that he wants to taint older systems of
dispensationalism as having been influenced for the bad by secular thought from
the culture. With all the current
discussion of preunderstanding and the need to be aware of cultural influences
upon how we view the Bible, I did not see a self-examination in this area by
Blaising. Has the existential
idealism of modern America influenced their hermeneutics and theology causing
them to devalue consistent literal interpretation for an element of
spiritualization? These matters
will have to wait until next issue, since as finite creatures we are limited by
boundaries such as space and time.
NOTE: This was
the first in a series of articles on PD, but no other articles were ever