“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen…”

Here’s a remarkably helpful truth that gets pointed out once in a while in the biblical counseling world… but rarely sinks in and affects the way we think about the temptations we face.


There are basically three complaints, or excuses, people have when they face temptation:

  1. No one knows, or can understand, what I’m going through.
  2. This is too much for me to handle.
  3. There’s no way out — I have to sin.

How do you respond to someone who believes one or all of these excuses? Or how do you deal with these thoughts in your own soul? Well, you turn to Scripture and allow it to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (our youth camp’s theme verse this year!). Did you know that there is one Bible verse that answers all three of these excuses?

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to man. And God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. — 1 Corinthians 10:13

Look at what this verse tells us about temptation. First, you’re not facing anything new (“except what is common to man”). Second, God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able to resist and escape (“he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability”). Third, God Himself will provide you a way of escape from that temptation (“He will also provide the way of escape”), so that you can endure the trial and not succumb to sin. 1 Corinthians 10:13 systematically refutes every excuse people give for giving in to temptation and following their flesh, and verse 14 tells us that the fundamental issue is idolatry. The solution then is to “flee idolatry” and worship the one true God.

So, why do we still sin? If it’s not something we are powerless over (as 1 Cor 10:13 makes clear), why do we still choose to follow the flesh rather than follow Christ? Well, there are only three fundamental reasons believers don’t obey Christ at any given moment, but we’ll look at that another time!

virtus et honos

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Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 10 — on the Authority of the Doctrinal Statement]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.

This is the last section of the doctrinal statement, and the last post in this series. I hope it’s been interesting and perhaps helpful.


Section 10 — Authority of this Doctrinal Statement [1]

This doctrinal statement does not exhaust the extent of our beliefs. The Bible — as the inspired and inerrant Word of God, itself the very standard of truth — speaks authoritatively concerning doctrine, morality, and the proper conduct of mankind [2], and is the inceptive and final source of all that we believe [3]. For the purposes of this church’s doctrine, the Council of Elders bears the delegated responsibility of interpreting and communicating the Bible’s meaning and application for the church [4]. We do believe, however, that the foregoing doctrinal statement accurately represents the teaching of the Bible and, therefore, is binding upon all members.

(John 17:17; Acts 15:12–21; 20:28; Galatians 1:8; 2 Timothy 4:1–2; Titus 1:9; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:2–3; 2 Peter 1:19–20)


Notes:

1] The National Center for Life and Liberty strongly recommends, for legal and practical reasons, that the local church “should adopt, as part of its bylaws, a statement explaining that the Bible is the sole and final source of all the ministry believes and that the statement of faith, as a reflection of the major doctrinal and lifestyle beliefs of the ministry, is binding upon all members, staff, students, and volunteers.”

2] See the statement on the Scriptures

3] “Inceptive” means that the Bible is not just our final standard — it’s our starting point. The Bible is the first place we go to decide what we believe. What makes Scripture the standard of truth is that God’s word is the very source of truth. See note 3 on section 1 for more info.

4] No matter who you decide must biblically, or will practically, hold the final functional responsibility of “interpreting and communicating the Bible’s meaning and application for the church” — the council of elders, just the senior pastor, or the congregation as a whole — it needs to be specified in your documents, or you will face unbelievable division over who gets to decide on a difficult issue that arises one day. In my view, the elders are clearly given the authority to teach the Word to the congregation, with the congregation given the command to submit to and trust their leadership (while still holding the power as an assembly to remove an elder when he compromises the gospel or is otherwise no longer qualified to be an elder). Thus, this position is reflected in where I place the functional authority in this statement — with the leadership. Read my thoughts on church polity for more explanation.

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Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 9 part 4 — on Disputes and Accountability]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.


Disputes and Accountability Between Members: We believe that the church possesses all the resources necessary to resolve personal disputes between members, and that members are prohibited from bringing civil lawsuits against the church or other members of our assembly to resolve personal disputes [1]. Disputes among members are to be dealt with personally and privately, or brought before the Council of Elders [2].

We believe that by seeking membership at this local church, the believer submits himself to the leadership and authority of the church [3], and commits [4] to pursue Christlikeness in thought, word, and conduct, seeking to faithfully love God and love others [5], to make and to be fully committed and competent disciples of Christ, joyfully and humbly seeking accountability with and for fellow members of the assembly, recognizing the potential for loving, corrective discipline in cases of unrepentant sin, as prescribed in Scripture, that the member may be restored to fellowship with both Christ and His church.

(Matthew 18:15–20; 22:37–39; 1 Corinthians 5:1–13; 6:1–8; 2 Corinthians 2:5–11; Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:31–32; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14–15; 1 Timothy 5:20; Titus 3:9–11)


Notes:

1] It may feel strange to include this in a doctrinal statement. But not only does it provide ample legal protection for your church (if a member seeks a lawsuit, all you have to do is point the judge to the member’s signature by which he agreed to this doctrinal statement, thus binding him to not pursue a lawsuit — this has happened and it does work), it is also a biblical standard (1 Cor 6:1-8) that, if understood and followed, fosters a greater depth of community.

2] We should always try to resolve disputes privately, including only the parties involved at first, and then bringing in another mature believer or two when necessary. Disputes should always be dealt with at the lowest level possible (Matthew 18:15–20).

3] Many will react to the language of submitting to the local church and it’s leadership, but in actuality, that language is more biblical than the language of voluntarily joining a church.

4] This commitment to pursue Christlikeness is not unique to those Christian’s who decide to join a church — it is the calling of every believer. The difference is simply that in the context of the local church the believer gains the resources, encouragment, training, and accountability to faithfully pursue this life of discipleship.

5] The two greatest commandments (Matt 22:37–39)

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Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 9 part 3 — on Gender, Family, and Divorce]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.


Gender Relationships: We believe that God has created both men and women in His image — equal in value and in standing before Christ — but that He has delegated differing and complementary functions/roles to men and women within the family and the church. God created the man to be head over the woman as Christ is head over the church, and this headship is to find expression in both the marriage relationship and in the church. We hold to and affirm, in full, the Danvers Statement on manhood and womanhood [1].

(Genesis 1:27–28; 2:20–23; Deuteronomy 22:5; Romans 1:26–29; 1 Corinthians 11:3–16; 14:34; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 5:18–33; Colossians 3:18-19; 1 Timothy 2:8–15; 1 Peter 3:1–7)

Family Relationships: We believe that God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. The husband is to lead his wife, and to love her as Christ loves the church. The wife is to respect her husband, and to submit herself to the Scriptural leadership of her husband, as the church submits to the headship of Christ. Children are a heritage from the Lord, and are to be viewed as a blessing in fulfillment of the creation mandate for the glory of God. Parents are to seek to cultivate wisdom and virtue in their children by developing within them rightly-ordered beliefs, morals, and affections, that they may better know, glorify, and enjoy God. Parents are responsible to oversee their children’s spiritual and moral instruction, which includes a consistent lifestyle example and appropriate discipline (including Scriptural corporal correction).

(Genesis 1:26–28; Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 6:5–9; Psalm 127:3–5; Proverbs 19:18; 22:6, 15; 23:13–14; Mark 10:6–9; 1 Corinthians 7:1–7; Ephesians 5:18–33; 6:1–4; Colossians 3:18–21; 1 Peter 3:1–7)

Divorce and Remarriage: We believe that God disapproves of and forbids divorce, and intends marriage to last until the death of a spouse. Divorce is regarded as adultery except on the grounds of sexual immorality or the abandonment of an unbelieving spouse [2]. However, marriage to an unbeliever is not solely a legitimate ground for a divorce [3]. Reconciliation should always be the first recourse [4], with divorce being only a last resort, since any breaking of the marriage covenant is a grievous violation of God’s intended design [5]. Divorce is also permissible when a believer is in an ungodly union, such as a homosexual “marriage” [6].

(Malachi 2:14–16; Matthew 5:31–32; 19:3–12; Luke 16:18; Romans 7:1–3; 1 Corinthians 7:10–16, 39; 1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6)


Notes:

1] Remember from the statement on the Scriptures that you can use a statement like this to reference an external document which then becomes as binding as your doctrinal statement.

2] There is a legitimate interpretation that views the abandonment of an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor 7:13–16) as the only ground for an allowable divorce (viewing Jesus’ statement regarding immorality as merely referring to when the adultery has happened, as opposed to giving a ground for acceptable divorce); however, I don’t hold this view, and instead interpret Jesus as allowing for divorce in the case of unrepentant sexual immorality on the part of one spouse.

3] I’ve heard of people using this as an excuse to get a divorce. However, Paul doesn’t seem to allow for the believer to initiate the divorce, but rather to merely agree to it if the unbeliever insists.

4] In fact, if a divorce happens and it was unbiblical, the two parties are to remain unmarried in order to allow for reconciliation. It is only after reconciliation is no longer possible (such as when one person wrongfully remarries) that the other person is biblically allowed to remarry.

5] If we took this to heart, there would be far less divorce in the church.

6] This statement explains how the church can respond to the situation of a homosexual couple that gets saved and wishes to conform their lives to God’s standards. The church can, and should, counsel that couple to legally end their union. This is allowable because we understand that, according to the biblical defintion, a homosexual union is not a true marriage in the first place, and the couple is living in a sinful, though legal, union that must be broken off in order to obey and glorify Christ and pursue a life of discipleship.

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Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 9 part 2 — Marriage and Sexuality]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.


Marriage: We believe that the only biblical marriage is the formal union of a man and a woman in a lifelong, exclusive, comprehensive covenant. [1]

(Genesis 2:24; Malachi 2:14–16; Matthew 19:4–6; Mark 10:6–9; Romans 7:2–3; 1 Corinthians 7:10–11, 39; Ephesians 5:22–33)

Human Sexuality: We believe that any other sexual activity, identity, or expression outside of this definition of a biblical marriage, including those that are becoming more accepted in the culture and the courts, are contrary to God’s natural design and purpose for sexual activity, and thus are sinful. Any form of sexual perversion such as (but not limited to [2]) fornication, adultery, incest, homosexuality, bisexuality, bestiality, pedophilia, pornography, any attempt to change one’s sex or gender, or disagreement with one’s biological sex, are sinful perversions of God’s gift of sex, gender, and marriage. God has created us male and female, and he desires that we find joy and contentment in His design.

We believe that gender is God-given, not socially constructed or self-determined. Gender distinctions are rooted in creation, and manifested in biological, emotional, and constitutional differences [3]. Being created as a man or woman is an essential [4] aspect of our identity, transcending social customs and cultural stereotypes.

(Genesis 2:18–25; Exodus 20:14; Leviticus 18:1–30; Matt 19:4–5; Mark 10:6–9; Romans 1:26–29; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:9–10; 1 Thessalonians 4:3–8; Hebrews 13:4; Jude 7)


Notes:

1] Having a clear, biblical definition of marriage will not make your church popular, but it will mean standing on the authority of the Word of God and not compromising truth for approval. Having clear statements on marriage and sexuality also serve to protect the church in matters such as hiring staff and hosting weddings, and are the first line of defense against related legal issues. If you have a simple policy that anyone the church hires must agree with and conform to the church’s doctrinal statement, you avoid alot of agony in court. If you have a facilities use policy that the church building is not to be used for anything that goes against the church’s doctrine, then you protect yourself from lawsuits for refusing to host homosexual weddings and the like. At least right now, this is still an effective means of legal protection for the church. The day is coming very soon when churches will lose tax-exempt status over these issues. But for now at least, why not use the simple provisions our legal system has in place (left over from a time when the government thought that freedom of religion was something worth protecting, and that churches were a good to society) to protect your church from unneeded attack and hardship in these moments before the unavoidable persecution arrives? Here is a great resource on the matter.

2] It’s helpful, but not necessary, to have a list of some specific things you’re referring to, though there is no way to mention every variety of sexual sin individually, but we acknowledge that we live in a Romans 1 society in which people are inventing new ways to distort God’s design every day. The best way to cover it all is to say that any sexual activity outside of a biblical marriage is sinful.

3] That is, the makeup of maleness and femaleness is fundamentally different at the foundational, essential (see next note) level.

4] I’m using “essential” here in the technical sense of the word — that is, not to mean “really important,” but rather having to do with one’s essence, one’s ontology. In other words, we are not just created as humans, we are created as male or female humans.

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Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 9 — Moral Issues]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.


Section 9 — Moral Issues [1]

Euthanasia: We believe that the direct taking of an innocent human life is a moral evil regardless of the motivation. Life is a gift of God and must be respected from fertilization until natural death. An act or omission which causes death merely in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder contrary to the will of God. However, discontinuing medical procedures that merely prolong death, rather than prolong life, can be a legitimate refusal of over-zealous treatment.

(Exodus 20:13; 23:7; Matthew 5:21; Acts 17:28)

Abortion: We believe that human life begins at fertilization [2], and that the unborn child is a living human being. All human life is sacred, because we are created in the image of God. Abortion constitutes the unjustified, unexcused taking of God-given human life, and, therefore, is murder contrary to the will of God.

(Genesis 9:6; Exodus 21:22–25; Psalm 51:5; 139:13–16; Isaiah 49:1, 5; Jeremiah 1:5; 20:15–18; Luke 1:41–44)


Notes:

1] Remember from the explanation of my philosophy of doctrinal statements that I believe one of the components of a doctrinal statement should be to include those topics that have become hot-button issues in the surrounding culture, which includes moral issues like abortion, euthanasia, sexuality, marriage, and divorce.

2] The word “fertilization” is probably a better choice today than “conception,” because conception is generally meant to refer specifically to natural fertilization in the womb, whereas the more general term “fertilization” can include what is done in a laboratory.

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Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 8 — End Times]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.


Section 8 — End Times

The Rapture and Subsequent Events: We believe in the imminent, premillennial return of Christ for His people [1]. At that moment, all those in Christ [2], dead and alive, shall receive their glorified bodies, and be caught up in the air by the Lord and taken to heaven to await the establishment of Christ’s physical, everlasting kingdom on earth following the tribulation, the seventieth week of Daniel, when Christ will reign over all the earth from the Davidic throne in Jerusalem. At the end of the Millennium, there will be a final rebellion of Satan and his followers (fallen angels and living unbelievers) against the rule and authority of Christ, at which time they will be summarily destroyed — Satan, his fallen angels, and all the unsaved being thrown into the Lake of Fire to suffer eternal punishment. At this time, God will create a New Heaven and a New Earth in which there will be no more curse and no more death, where all believers will live in peace and fellowship with God in His kingdom forever.

(Daniel 9:25–27; Matthew 24:19–31; 19:28; 25:31–32; Luke 1:32–33; 1 Corinthians 15:26; 1 Thessalonians 4:14–18; Revelation 20–22)

The Eternal State: We believe that at death the souls of those who have trusted in Christ for salvation pass immediately into His presence and there remain in conscious bliss until the resurrection of the glorified body when Christ comes for His own, whereupon soul and body, thus reunited, shall enjoy fellowship with Him forever in glory; but the souls of the unbelieving remain after death conscious of condemnation and in misery until the final judgment of the great white throne at the close of the millennium, when soul and body, reunited, shall be cast into the lake of fire — not to be annihilated, but to suffer punishment and everlasting separation from the presence and glory of the Lord.

(Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:46; Luke 16:19–26; 23:42; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23; 2 Thessalonians 1:7–9; Jude 6; Revelation 20:11–15)


Notes:

1] I am very firm on the pre-millenial rapture, but not so firm on the pre-tribulational rapture. In fact, I haven’t even made the pre-trib rapture a part of my doctrinal statement (though it fits best). I personally am convinced that the rapture happens before the 7-year tribulation. There are three primary reasons I hold this view: 1) The pre-trib rapture most fully and consistently maintains the doctrine of imminency; 2) The pre-trib rapture is the only view that sufficiently explains where mortal unbelievers living in the millennium come from; 3) The pre-trib rapture best holds together as a view in light of various prophetic passages. However, I simply do not think the pre-trib rapture is explicit enough in Scripture to be dogmatic about it, since arguments can be made in favor of a rapture that is not pre-trib (though, in my opinion, all other views have significant problems with one or more various passages which a pre-trib rapture view resolves).

Read more: here, here, here, and here.

2] I changed this from “all believers” to “all those in Christ” not only because it matches the language Paul uses (1 Thess 4:16), but also because there is a legitimate interpretation among some dispensational theologians that this refers only to church-age believers (since they say only church-age believers are “in Christ”), leaving Old Testament saints to be resurrected either at the beginning or end of the Millennium (Rev 20:4–5). I don’t hold this view, but instead hold that all believers, Old and New Testament believers, are resurrected at the rapture. However, because the other view is a legitimate and common interpretation, I don’t mind simply saying “all those in Christ” and allowing us to understand the reference in slightly different ways.

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Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 7 part 3 — on Israel]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement, a section at a time, in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.


Israel: We believe that the church is distinct from, and has not replaced or fulfilled [1], the nation Israel in the plan of God, but that God permanently selected Israel as His covenant nation, for which certain covenants would be fulfilled for the display of God’s glory and faithfulness. Israel is now dispersed and oppressed because of disobedience and the rejection of their Messiah, Jesus Christ, but will be regathered in their promised land, in peace, in the future kingdom of Christ to enjoy fully the blessings and promises of God’s covenants with ethnic, national Israel. According to a normative reading of Scripture, the nation of Israel has particular covenants of promise given to it (e.g. Abrahamic, Davidic, New) which have not all been fulfilled in every detail. Nevertheless, they must be fulfilled if the veracity of the promises of God is not to be called into question [2]. The hope of the literal fulfillment of these covenants is to those Israelites identified in Scripture as the Remnant. These are the true Jews in every dispensation — the Israel of God. [3]

(Genesis 12:1–3; 13:14–17; 2 Samuel 7:16; Psalm 89:3–4; 20–37; 132:11; Jeremiah 23:5–6; 31:31–34; 32:37–41; 33:19–21; Ezekiel 11:17–21; 36:24–38; 37:21–28; Romans 9–11; Galatians 6:16)


Notes:

1] Many covenant theologians do not like the term “replacement theology,” preferring instead to view the church as being the fulfillment, or continuation, of Israel. Some, however, do explicitly teach that the church has replaced Israel, since the covenant promises given to Israel have now been transferred to the church (so they say). Sometimes it is said that the church began with Abraham, in which case “church” is equated with the called people of God, or something. Other times, “church” is used to refer to all saved people of all time (starting with Adam). Inconsistent and confusing — yes. This doctrinal statement rejects all such variations of Covenant Theology.

2] If we cannot trust the plain meaning of God’s language in his covenants, what of His Word can we trust? Notice that the glory and character of God is at stake. God Himself views His covenant-keeping character as one of the most essential aspects of His glory, so we dare not dismiss His covenant promises to the nation of Israel.

3] Notice that I have not used the term “dispensational” or “dispensationalism” in this statement, and yet clearly maintain a dispensational position. This is because some people just have an automatic visceral reaction to terms like “dispensationalism,” without even taking the time to see what dispensationalists have to say. So, for the sake of not turning people off immediately by the use of the term, I haven’t used it — even though anyone carefully reading this doctrinal statement will recognize that it is dispensational in it’s interpretation.

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The Purpose of the Church

This is a great article posted by a friend of mine over at his academic blog.

Stephen D. Campbell

ISeeker-Sensitive-Modelntroduction

In 1961 Donald McGavran, a third generation missionary to India, published a book that began a dramatic shift in the way that thousands of American pastors viewed the church.  The book is titled “The Bridges of God,” and in it McGavran discussed the effects of sociology on the spread of the Gospel.  McGavran later founded the School of World Missions at Fuller Theological Seminary, where many of the most prominent seeker-sensitive pastors were educated.  Robert Schuller, the only son of Crystal Cathedral founder Robert H. Schuller, is a prominent televangelist who received his Master of Divinity at Fuller.  Over the years Robert Schuller has had two major disciples, namely Bill Hybel (Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois) and Rick Warren (Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California), who  have both out shined him in their level of influence.  With the help of these men the Church Growth…

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Review of “Dispensationalism,” by Charles Ryrie

Summary

Just prior to Dr. Charles Ryrie’s recent passing, I thoroughly read through His book, Dispensationalism. In that work, Ryrie seeks to lay out a thorough explanation of the theological framework known as dispensationalism. Ryrie notes in the opening chapter that dispensationalism as a system has been often misunderstood and misrepresented by those who oppose it (pg. 11). He then defends the need to examine dispensationalism in light of the number of scholars who suggest that the system is “dangerous,” “unscriptural,” and “heresy” (pg. 16). Ryrie then delineates several ways in which dispensationalism is helpful in providing biblical distinctions, offering a coherent philosophy of history, and employing a consistent interpretive hermeneutic.

In the next chapter, Ryrie offers a helpful examination of the classic definition of a dispensation from Scofield, and offers his own definition of what exactly a dispensation is: “a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purpose” (33). This chapter also includes an introduction to Ryrie’s famous sine qua non of dispensationalism. Ryrie makes a crucial clarification that the essence of dispensationalism is not in the belief in dispensations, the number of dispensations, or a premillennial eschatology (45). Ryrie includes three characteristics without which Ryrie says dispensationalism is no longer dispensationalism: a distinction retained between Israel and the church (46); a consistent literal hermeneutic, which Ryrie also calls “normal,” or “plain” hermeneutics (47); the understanding that the overarching purpose of God in history is His own glory (48).

In the third chapter, Ryrie explains the elements of a Biblical dispensation. He then gives an overview of the dispensations according to his understanding, which include the dispensations of Innocency, Conscience, Civil Government, Promise (or Patriarchal Rule), Mosaic Law, Grace, and the Millennium. In the fourth chapter, Ryrie addresses the origins of dispensational theology, noting that various beliefs we would today categorize as “dispensational” predate John Nelson Darby in the work of men such as Pierre Poiret, Jonathan Edwards, Isaac Watts, and even some of the church fathers (such as Papias, Tertullian, and Justin Martyr).

Ryrie then gives a helpfully clarifying discussion of the consistent hermeneutic employed by dispensationalism, which is one of the key characteristics noted by Ryrie as a sine qua non. Ryrie explains that this does not imply literalistic interpretations of symbols and figures of speech. He explains that “every word… would have the same meaning it would have in normal usage, whether in writing, speaking, or thinking. It is sometimes called the principle of grammatical-historical interpretation since the meaning of each word is determined by grammatical and historical considerations” (90). He also weighs the hermeneutical approach of traditional, progressive, and non-dispensational theologians, giving explanations of each.

The next chapter defends dispensationalism’s view of salvation against the charge of many that dispensationalism teaches multiple ways of salvation. Ryrie explains that this charge is due to the misconceptions of anti-dispensationalists. In fact, Ryrie points out that many non-dispensationalists themselves can at times give the impression that there has been more than one way of salvation.

The next two chapters deal with ecclesiology and eschatology respectively. These are the areas of strength for traditional dispensational theology (though they lack in their understanding that dispensational theology effects every area of systematic theology), and Ryrie’s discussion here definitively illustrates why dispensationalism is justified in its distinction of Israel and the church. In chapter nine, Ryrie gives one of the most comprehensive rebuttals of Progressive Dispensationalism to come from a traditional dispensationalist. Ryrie makes a strong case that the “complementary hermeneutic” employed by Progressive Dispensationalism is not helpful, and often fails to properly engage the text at the exegetical level. Ryrie implies that Progressive Dispensationalism is inherently unstable, and that it will inevitably merge into covenant premillennialism.
Ryrie gives a substantive overview of covenant theology in chapter ten, while chapter eleven focuses upon ultra-dispensationalism. In the final chapter, Ryrie gives an honest plea for integrity in scholarship and for the fair representation of opposing views.

Response

Overall, I believe this book is very well done, and worth reading. If anyone wishes to understand Revised, or Traditional, Dispensationalism, this may be the best book to reference. I especially thought that Ryrie interacted surprisingly well with Progressive Dispensationalism. While I did not finally agree with every one of his critiques, for the most part I found him to be fair, while also deftly pointing out hermeneutical and systemic flaws within Progressive Dispensationalism. Ryrie’s stated task, of explaining and defending the use of traditional dispensationalism in light of various criticisms, was, for the most part, well accomplished.

Critique

One weakness to note is that I did not find an actual definition of dispensationalism itself in the beginning of the book. There were several clear definitions of what a dispensation is, but this falls far short of providing a definition of dispensationalism itself. This may be because he hoped to use the sine qua non to provide his own definition. While that was a beneficial and convincing discussion, however, the book still seemed to lack a concise definition of dispensational theology in the form of a sentence or paragraph similar to his definitions of a dispensation.

While this is partly because of my own biases, I believe another weakness of the book is Ryrie’s over-emphasis of the dispensations themselves, while failing to articulate more clearly areas of key distinction between dispensational and non-dispensational theology. I believe the title “dispensationalism” itself may not be a helpful or wise title to use at all. By utilizing this title, we automatically, even if only subconsciously, are defining the system by the dispensations, when even Ryrie himself noted that the existence and number of dispensations are not the defining marks of the system. Not only is it an unhelpful title for dispensationalists themselves, but I think it may be unwise to use the term because of the rampant misunderstanding and misuse by non-dispensationalists of which Ryrie speaks in the opening chapter.

I believe defining dispensationalism by the dispensations runs the risk, and indeed, often becomes victim, of failing to recognize the primary distinguishing differences between dispensational and covenant (or any other variation of non-dispensational) theology. It seems that the foundational difference between dispensational and covenant theology is one of hermeneutics (a point with which I believe Ryrie would fundamentally agree). That is, the hermeneutic with which one comes to the Scripture will largely — primarily — determine whether the reader ends up holding to certain interpretations of Scripture which we categorize as “dispensational” interpretations, or whether he will arrive at interpretations we categorize as “covenantal,” or “progressive dispensational,” or any other title we call various groupings of interpretations. While I believe that Ryrie would, fundamentally, agree with this, he seemed to continue to emphasize the dispensations and various arbitrary differences between dispensational and non-dispensational theologians.

As I understand it, the primary area in which these differing hermeneutical approaches will affect one’s interpretation of Scripture is in the biblical covenants (I hope to write another short post about this specifically). For example, understanding the distinction between Israel and the church is a helpful way to summarize a dispensational distinction; but this results from the interpretive effect one’s literal hermeneutic has on the covenants — specifically, the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic. Ryrie’s (and my) disagreements with Progressive Dispensationalism primarily revolve around differing hermeneutical approaches to the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants. Again, I believe Ryrie would largely agree with this. However, I believe he failed to properly bring out the distinctions of the consistent literal hermeneutic (which itself is primarily arrived at by observing how God gives and enforces His covenants) as the foundational element which leads to one’s interpretation of the permanence, extent, and relationships between the covenants, which then has drastic implications on one’s understanding of the nature of Israel and the phenomenon of the church.

Again, overall, I believe Dispensationalism is a worthy and helpful book. Having carefully read the book in its entirety for the first time, I found this work to have greatly benefited me in my understanding of traditional dispensational views. I found Ryrie’s discussion of the origin of dispensationalism, and his critique of progressive dispensationalism to be especially helpful. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to look further into the differences between dispensational and covenantal theology, as well as the differences between traditional and progressive dispensational interpretations of continuity, discontinuity, and the nature of the covenants. I would then urge the reader to continue to broaden his exposure to various dispensational authors, since the best way to arrive at your own systematized theology is by reading as much as you can, taking the best from each author, leaving behind the not-so-good parts (while respecting the author for what he does bring to the table), and mixing and formulating it all together into one consistent theology.

Happy studying!

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