Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Dispensational Distinctive

There are many distinctives to dispensationalism, its view on the dispensations, it Israel/Church distinction, its strong view on the fulfillment of the promises to Israel in the millennium, and its almost unanimous view of the pre-tribulational rapture. All of these are important to dispensationalism, but I have been looking for the sine qua non of dispensationalism, the one or two distinctives that without which dispensationalism ceases to be dispensationalism. Or to phrase it in the positive, if you want to be a dispensationalist the one or two things to which you must hold.

I find this question intriguing because in discussing some of these distinctives I have found that some times we all agree on an issue yet one person claims to be dispensational and the other claims to be covenantal.

From what I can see there seems to be two things that a person must hold to be a dispensationalist. If you hold to these you are a dispensationalist, and if you deny one of them you are not. The first place you would think to look would be the idea of dispensations, after all this constitutes the name of the position. If someone were to say that they do not believe in dispensations then I don’t think they could be considered a dispensationalist, so it is extremely important. But to believe in dispensations does not necessarily make you a dispensationalist, so the answer must include something else.

The other distinctive a person must hold to besides some kind of belief in dispensations is the Israel/Church distinction. This seems to be one of the most important points in dispensationalism, if not the most import point. It seems to me that if a person holds to the idea that there is one people of God made up of Jews and Gentiles as I proposed in a post entitled Federal Headship and the Israel/Church Distinction, they are not really a dispensationalist even if they hold to many of the other doctrines that dispensationalism teaches. To truly be a dispensationalist you must believe that Israel and the church are distinct. The church is not Israel either ethnically or spiritually even if all have been saved by grace. The two groups have two distinct sets of promises and purposes and we cannot confuse them. To deny this seems to put a person outside of true dispensationalism and into some kind of middle ground position.

This seems to have been the position held by Dr. S. Lewis Johnson who stopped considering himself a dispensationalist because of his belief in the one people of God, and also strongly attested to by dispensationalists such as Ryrie, Scofield, Darby, and Chafer. Though I have not worked it out completely this is what I see as setting dispensationalism apart.

I do not write this as my dogmatic answer to the question but in seeking to work it out. So what do you think? Is this the sine qua non of dispensationalism? If not, what is?

God bless,



At Sunday, April 23, 2006 11:50:00 PM, Anonymous bobby grow said...

Hey Doug,

Good probing article! I would consider myself to be a "Progressive Dispensationalist", I still see a functional distinction between Israel and the Church--but do see only ONE people of God Eph 2. In other words I don't see the clean cut and dry distinction that Classical Disp. see here, i.e. two people's of God. This leads one to posit, as Ryrie has in his book "Dispensationalism", that there is more than one "New Cov.".

At Monday, April 24, 2006 4:52:00 AM, Blogger bluecollar said...

I believe in a one people of God in Ehp.2. But, I also believe Romans 11 shows that God will once again do a mighty work in national Israel bringing on a national revival.

At Monday, April 24, 2006 9:52:00 AM, Blogger Doug E. said...


Thanks for your response. Maybe my real question is, why would progressive dispensationalists still call themselve dispensationalists if they deny the essence of the position?

Maybe that is the question I am really struggling with. What is the sine qua non of progressive dispensationalism?

God Bless,


At Monday, April 24, 2006 9:56:00 AM, Blogger Doug E. said...

Hey Bluecollar,

I too hold that position. As do many covanantal theologians.

Thanks for your comment,


At Monday, April 24, 2006 1:17:00 PM, Blogger Joshua Ritchie said...

I agree with Bluecollar. So I'm not sure which category I would hae to get lumped into, but I feel like a hybrid of sorts.

Does that make me a heretic? ;)

Anyway, I started to read up on it a little, but am still working it out. I guess I can see where both sides are coming from which makes it hard to see which points are right from each view.

Maybe it's not an "all or nothing" sort of thing. Ok, enough rambling. Later.

At Monday, April 24, 2006 7:35:00 PM, Anonymous bobby grow said...

I don't think PD's deny the "essence" of Disp. I still see a "real" distinction between Israel and the Church--its just functional and not ontological. I still believe in dispensations, I just see them as succesive and building upon eachother; i.e. not the hard and fast distinction that the classical disp. sees here. I still see, according to Rom 9--11, and other passages of scripture, i.e. Ez 36--37; Gen 17; etc. I don't see the NT as providing a normative grid of interpretation (as the amil does).

I'm not sure there is a sine qua non for Prog Disp.

IN Christ,


At Monday, April 24, 2006 7:37:00 PM, Anonymous bobby grow said...

Woops got ahead of myself, I was saying: I still see, according to Rom 9--11, and other passages of scripture, i.e. Ez 36--37; Gen 17; etc. a future earthly reign of Christ on the throne of David in Jerusalem for a literal one thousand years.

At Monday, April 24, 2006 9:44:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan Moorhead said...

Doug, I agree that Israel/Church is the issue. Ryrie's other two points are not that helpful.

At Tuesday, April 25, 2006 10:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interestingly, Darby wasn't first in regard to the church/Israel distinction (or c/I dichotomy), the Gentile (or church) parenthesis, the literal method, or the pretribulation rapture; Irving preceded JND in everything and even Lacunza preceded JND in everything except that rapture view. Yahoo carries "Pretrib Rapture Diehards" which is must reading for all interested ones. While I'm at it, typing in "Thomas Ice (Bloopers)" and "Appendix F: Thou Shalt Not Steal" can cause a significant amount of sleep loss!

At Thursday, April 27, 2006 8:29:00 AM, Blogger AuthenticTruth said...

Doug, These posts on dispensationalism have been great. It has caused me to think these things through a little more deeply. I am with many of the comments like Blue Collar on this. I too see a distinction between Israel and the church, but that Scripture also teaches that there is one gospel for all of His people.


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