24 July 2005

Revised Dispensationalist?

I put Revised Dispensationalist in my description without explaining it partly because I view the blog as a place for that stage of the writing process that requires little or no research. However one of my professors saw my profile and asked me about the name, so I explain.

The generation of dispensationalists that includes Ryrie, McClain, Pentecost and others has been given different names. It would be appropriate to call them traditional because they represent the dispensational tradition over against the foundational modifications that the progressive dispensationalists are making (See Three Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999]). However, this appellation may overlook some healthy improvements Ryrie and the others have made to the dispensationalism that they inherited from Scofield and the rest (Herbert W. Bateman IV, “Dispensationalism Yesterday and Today,” in Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism, pp. 23–34). These improvements include: clarification on the definition of a dispensation (Dispensationalism, rev. and exp. [Chicago: Moody Press, 1999], p. 23), clarification on the salvation of OT saints (Ibid., p. 107), and systematization and centralization of the mediatorial Kingdom of God as God’s overarching goal for history (Alva J. McClain, Greatness of the Kingdom [Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1974]). Improvements like these continue to be made in articles like “Were Old Testament Believers Indwelt by the Spirit?” (Robert V. McCabe, DBSJ 9 [2004]: 215–264) and “Dispensationalism, the Church, and the New Covenant” (R. Bruce Compton, DBSJ 8 [2003]: 3–48). Most if not all of these refinements can be traced to one seminal clarification issued by Ryrie: a crisp summarization of the movement under a set of sina qua non; that is, for the first time a dispensationalist made clear what was essential to dispensationalism. Ryrie summarizes the three distinctive teachings, “The essence of dispensationalism, then, is (1) the distinction between Israel and the church. This grows out of the dispensationalist’s (2) consistent employment of normal or plain or historical-grammatical interpretation, and (3) it reflects an understanding of the basic purpose of God in all His dealings with mankind as that of glorifying Himself through salvation and other purposes as well” (Dispensationalism, p. 41). The vast influence of this definition caused some early progressive dispensationalists to call the dispensationalism of Ryrie’s generation “essentialist” (Craig A. Blaising, “Dispensationalism: the Search for Definition,” in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992], pp. 28–29). However, this term gave the unfortunate impression that the progressives were “non-essentialist.” That is, the term unfairly implied that there was nothing which distinguished Progressive dispensationalism from any other tradition, nothing indispensable to the position itself. Since that time the term “revised” has been used to describe the dispensationalists of the Ryrie, McClain or Pentecost sort (Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993], pp. 31–32). This term grants that these men were not the same at all points with their predecessors but that a great degree of historical and conceptual continuity was still patent. The changes had been made to the dispensational superstructure, not to the foundation. The points of difference are revisions, not reinventions. Admittedly this nomenclature has not been adopted universally by those who hold this position. Rolland D. McCune uses the phrase “revised dispensationalism” to describe progressive dispensationalists (Promise Unfulfilled [Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2004], p. 265). While he makes clear from context that the changes the progressives made were fundamental to dispensationalism itself, if this trend continues the label will no longer be useful for my purposes and another will need to be used.

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