Dispensationalism and the Reformed Confessions

Discussion in 'The Confession of Faith' started by elnwood, Oct 30, 2006.

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  1. elnwood

    elnwood Puritan Board Junior

    Many of the early dispensationalists (Scofield, for example) were Presbyterian, and Presbyterians as recent as James Montgomery Boice held to dispensational characteristics, such as prophecies fulfilled in the nation of Israel and pretribulational premillennialism, while still holding to the confessional teachings of the covenant of works and grace.

    Though this "Reformed Dispensationalism" is practically extinct, does it violate the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Three Forms of Unity? If so, where?
  2. Casey

    Casey Puritan Board Junior

    Well, the Westminster Confession and Catechisms are rather clear that the Mosaic Dispensation was part of the administration of the one Covenant of Grace, and that Israel was the "church under age." Those two ideas in and of themselves seem to militate against the presuppositions of dispensationalism.
  3. ADKing

    ADKing Puritan Board Junior

    Although in the early 20th century many prominent dispensationalist teachers were affiliated with the PCUSA we must remember a few things.

    1. The PCUSA at that time was controlled by blatant liberals and discipline was not being exercised according to the confessional standards. Thus we cannot presume that because they were Presbyterians they were necessarily orthodox or holding to Presbyterian theology.

    2. Although at first Machen and his followers made common cause with dispensationalists against the liberals in the PCUSA to defend the "fundamentals", when they separated from the PCUSA many conservative Presbyterians began to realise the danger of Dispensationalism. John Murray wrote against it in the Presbyterian Guardian in an article called "The Reformed Faith and Modern Substitutes". Machen himself shortly before his death began to have great concern with dispensationalism as unorthodox and contrary to covenant theology.

    3. When the Bible Presbyterian Church was formed, they officially changed the WCF to explicitly teach premillennialism. This had to be done because the WCF as it stands does not teach premillennialism.

    4. Scofield clearly disagreed with the confessional stance on the covenant of works and grace. Consider this note from his reference Bible out of John 1.17

    (2) As a dispensation, grace begins with the death and resurrection of Christ Romans 3:24-26 4:24,25. The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ, with good works as a fruit of salvation, ; John 1:12,13; 3:36; Matthew 21:37; 22:24; John 15:22,25; Hebrews 1:2; 1 John 5:10-12. The immediate result of this testing was the rejection of Christ by the Jews, and His crucifixion by Jew and Gentile Acts 4:27. The predicted end of the testing of man under grace is the apostasy of the professing church: See "Apostasy" (See Scofield "2 Timothy 3:1") 2 Timothy 3:1-8 and the resultant apocalyptic judgments.

    Notice this is not covenant of grace vs. works. Rather Scofield is suggesting that legal obedience as the condition of salvation was the "test" during the dispensation of Moses! Compare this with WCF VII. 5-6

    V. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct andbuildd up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation, and is called the OldTestament.

    VI. Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed, are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper; which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

    I would suggest, therefore that there really isn't (nor was there ever) any such thing as "Reformed Dispensationalism". If anything, dispensationalism at its earliest roots (Darby --> Scofield) was extremely problematic. As time has passed, dispensationalists have had to face much criticism and their system has softened more and more. Ryrie represents a modification of Scofield in a better direction and in our own day "progressive dispensationalism" is a step closer than Ryrie. However, instead of continuing to modify a system built on hopeless presuppositions, dispensationalists should start over with covenant theology :)
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2006
  4. JM

    JM Puritan Board Professor

    Maybe they pulled a Finney and lied to get their papers?
  5. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    There was a fair amount of "chiliasm" in the 17th century among the Reformed. Piscator, Meade, and Alsted are among the three most prominent names associated with the rise of historic premillennialism among the Reformed. When the historicist scheme stopped working (starting the millennium in the 7th century was a bit awkward!) some just pole-vaulted the millennium into the future. The English civil war also fueled eschatological speculation and expectations of a coming earthly glorious age.

    That same expectation more or less morphed into versions of postmillennialism in succeeding periods.

    I doubt that it's accurate to use the adjective dispensational to describe Boice's eschatology. Historic premillennialism isn't dispensationalism.

  6. elnwood

    elnwood Puritan Board Junior

    Dr. Clark, why do you describe Boice's view as historical premillennialism? Did he use this term, or are there elements of his eschatology that are more consistent with historical premillennialism than dispensational premillennialism? Because as far I have studied him, his eschatology has more in common with dispensationalists than with, say, George Eldon Ladd.
  7. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    Dispensationalism divides redemptive history into distinct epochs breaking up the unity of the covenant of grace. Boice was a Christ-centered preacher.

    My impression is that, in his later years anyway, he moved toward a more amillennial eschatology, but that's based on recollections of comments and asides more than anything else.

    I ran up to the library to check three of his works.

    His survey, Foundations of the Faith (vol 1) doesn't speak to it as far as I can tell. His 1974 book, The Last and Future World argues for a future conversion of ethnic Israel to the Christian faith (a view held by more than a few Reformed folk) and vol. 3 of his Romans commentary defends this view at length from pp. 1287ff. On p. 1323ff he argues for a future blessing of ethnic Israel (see also pp. 1370ff), but on pp. 1346-47 he makes clear that there is but one people, Jews and Gentiles, and one way of salvation in Christ. There are not two parallel peoples of God; wherein necessity of faith in Christ is diminished - views essential to dispensationalism and denied by Boice.

    I don't agree with Boice's exegesis but he wasn't arguing a dispensational point of view as far as I can tell.


  8. elnwood

    elnwood Puritan Board Junior

    Dr. Clark,

    I have read Boice's Last and Future World and Boice's Commentary on Romans and Daniel. His commentary in Daniel makes it clear that he thinks the 70th week of Daniel is the tribulation period before the future millennium, and Last and Future World says that he think there will be a future physical land that was promised for ethnic Israel in the millennium, and that the temple will be rebuilt and sacrifices will resume.

    Historic premillennialists are usually not pretribulational, and and don't think that there is a physical land promise for ethnic Israel. I am not calling Boice a dispensationalist (he identifies himself as a Covenant Theologian, and his work in Genesis is clearly covenantal), but I do think it is accurate to say that his published work on eschatology (soteriology aside) is dispensational rather than historic premillennial, in that his interpretation of future prophecy is guided by a distinction between Israel and the Church, and his exegesis of future events, as far as I can tell, is indistinguishable from modern dispensationalists.

    Also, I don't know any dispensationalist today who says that salvation in the Old Testament, or salvation for ethnic Jews, is a different way of salvation, or a salvation that is not through Christ, so I don't think it would be accurate to call that an essential to dispensationalism. A modern classical dispensationalist like Charles Ryrie would not hold to this. And certainly any dispensationalist would balk if told that their preaching was not Christ-centered.

    And as an aside (hopefully not too off-topic), does breaking up redemptive history into distinct epochs necessarily break up the unity of the Covenant of Grace? After all, Covenant Theologians break up history into at least two epochs, New Covenant and Old Covenant, each with their own signs and seals, but under the same Covenant of Grace.

  9. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior


    Can you give page references showing where Boice taught re-institution of sacrifices? I did not see that in my review of Boice titles mentioned.

    You say he makes a distinction between Israel and the church. I see a conversion of national Israel. Could you check the pages I cite? Our interpretations would seem to be incompatible.


  10. elnwood

    elnwood Puritan Board Junior

    Boice discusses it in Chapter 6, God's Plan for the Jews, Last and Future World from page 90-93. He recognizes disagreements on this issue but spends a great deal of effort justifying the position of a rebuilt temple.

    When I said Boice makes a distinction between Israel in the church, what I meant was that he usually interprets future promises to Israel in the Old Testament to refer to ethnic Israel, and I meant he does this specifically in the area of eschatology. I'll say it again to be clear -- I'm only referring to his eschatology, not to soteriology or how he sub-divides redemptive history.

    While others who are Reformed also see a future conversion of Israel (usually historic premillennialists), I believe most of those will do so almost entirely based on Romans 11 and not rely on Old Testament promises, and thus do not see physical land promises, temple sacrifices or a 70th week for ethnic Israel.
  11. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    Boice wrote that book very early in his ministry and it doesn't represent his mature view, which was historic premil.

    From this thread:

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