A Reflection on the ‘Positives’ of Dispensationalism
Let me try not to be so negative about Dispensationalism. I can remember a time where I almost reveled in the themes of dispensationalism, I am sure like many others. Indeed, I will have to admit, that dispensationalism has not fully left me, nor do I think it ever really will. I am too much of the belief that various hermeneutical systems that claim to have a pigeon hole on the truth and reality of Scripture are over confident. And even though, and admittedly so, dispensationalism is quite idiosyncratic (but which system isn’t?), it still works from pretty standard and Evangelical hermeneutical assumptions; it just presses them in a kind of way that gets a little eccentric—to say the least.
But what is it that I can say that is positive about Dispensationalism?
- It wants to take the Bible very seriously.
- It wants to believe that God communicates clearly, and in a straightforward way.
- It believes that God is still acting in history, ordering events toward their ultimate reality in the coming of Jesus Christ as the Son of David.
- It has a strong emphasis upon the nation of Israel (this is positive because unlike some theologies, dispensationalism sees the nation of Israel as essential to the identity of God’s mediated work to the nations in the world).
- It has an excitement about the second coming of Christ.
- It is comprehensible to the common person.
- It interprets Scripture through the grammatical-historical lens (even if that is through the LGH, or Literal Grammatical Historical lens).
None of the above is in any particular order of priority. But, having been trained, born and bred in this system, I do think there are some of these positive things consisting within the dispensational framework. I know, because I know many of its best scholars (my former professors), that these scholars are quite capable in the craft they ply; they have a strong handle of the biblical languages; and they have a desire to communicate that in a way that is literal (in a very straightforward way) and accessible for the masses of Christianity; and in a way that believes that God not only gave his Word back then, but that when He gave it back then, He gave it for now and the future as well. Indeed, this is a major underwriting theme for dispensationalists (one that I still hold; i.e. the theme); that is, that dispensationalists work from a futurist mode of operation. They believe that many of the biblical prophecies had a historical, typological referent, but that there is an ultimate eschatological anti-typological referent that will be realized in some time future, at the ‘end of time’ (as it were). So, attendant with this, then, the dispensationalist views biblical-prophetic history (as they would say) as very linear and progressive; as something that unfolds in stages, or even ‘dispensations’, if you will.
So there are still elements of dispensationalism that are present, deeply so, in my own approach to interpreting scripture; and in particular, the way I understand biblical prophecy. But I am of the opinion that what is called historic premillennialism is the better way, and that dispensationalism would do better to go that way, instead of the way they have. That said, as I opened this post up, I am not at all opposed to the idea that dispensationalism could be more correct, in the end, than it is not (I doubt that it is). But we will see.