Slice It, Dice It, Anyway You Want It …
June 11th, 2007 by Sonja

I’ve been reading a new blog lately. It’s a guy out in California (I think). He’s got a unique perspective on life and Christianity. And definitely a unique presentation. His recent post, titled, “Big-Ass Bibles” was both amusing and thought-provoking. I enjoy his style and his topics.

In any case, in this recent post, he spoke frequently about some dispensationalist bibles he’d had and churches he’d been to. I’ve heard that term a lot during my journey, but I’ve never had a clear understanding of what it meant. So I finally looked it up myself. I’ve often asked others what it meant, but those definitions never stuck in my brain. When I do it myself, I tend to remember a little better. Just a little, mind you.

When I looked up dispensationalism in Wikipedia, I found the following description under history:

Dispensationalism was first introduced to North America by John Inglis (1813–1879), through a monthly magazine called Waymarks in the Wilderness (published intermittently between 1854 and 1872)[citation needed]. In 1866, Inglis organized the Believers’ Meeting for Bible Study, which introduced dispensationalist ideas to a small but influential circle of American evangelicals. After Inglis’ death, James H. Brookes (1830–1898), a pastor in St. Louis, organized the Niagara Bible Conference to continue the dissemination of dispensationalist ideas. Dispensationalism was boosted after Dwight L. Moody (1837–1899) learned of “dispensational truth” from an unidentified member of the Brethren in 1872. Moody became close to Brookes and other dispensationalists, and encouraged the spread of dispensationalism, but apparently never learned the nuances of the dispensationalist system. Dispensationalism began to evolve during this time, most significantly when a significant body of dispensationalists proposed the “post-tribulation” Rapture. Dispensationalist leaders in Moody’s circle include Reuben Archer Torrey (1856–1928), James M. Gray (1851–1925), Cyrus I. Scofield (1843–1921), William J. Erdman (1833–1923), A. C. Dixon (1854–1925), A. J. Gordon (1836–1895) and William Eugene Blackstone, author of the bestseller of the 1800s “Jesus is Coming” (Endorsed by Torrey and Erdman). These men were activist evangelists who promoted a host of Bible conferences and other missionary and evangelistic efforts. They also gave the dispensationalist movement institutional permanence by assuming leadership of the new independent Bible institutes such as the Moody Bible Institute (1886), the Bible Institute of Los Angeles—now Biola University (1907), and the Philadelphia College of the Bible—now Philadelphia Biblical University (1913). The network of related institutes that soon sprang up became the nucleus for the spread of American dispensationalism.

The energetic efforts of C. I. Scofield and his associates introduced dispensationalism to a wider audience in America and bestowed a measure of respectability through his Scofield Reference Bible. The publication of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909 by the Oxford University Press was something of an innovative literary coup for the movement, since for the first time, overtly dispensationalist notes were added to the pages of the biblical text. The Scofield Reference Bible became the leading bible used by independent Evangelicals and Fundamentalists in the U.S. for the next sixty years. Evangelist and bible teacher Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871–1952), who was strongly influenced by C. I. Scofield, founded Dallas Theological Seminary in 1924, which has become the flagship of dispensationalism in America. The so-called “Grace Movement”, which began in the 1930s with the teaching ministries of J.C. O’Hair, Cornelius R. Stam, Henry Hudson and Charles Baker has been mischaracterized as “ultra” or “hyper” dispensationalism (an actual misnomer according to the etymology of the Greek word base for “dispensation”). The contrasts between law and grace, prophecy and mystery, Israel and the church, the body of Christ were energized by Scofield, Barnhouse and Ironside in the hearts of these men and studied and proclaimed by O’Hair, Stam and a host of other “grace” teachers. Dispensationalism has come to dominate the American Evangelical scene, especially among nondenominational Bible churches, many Baptists, Armstrongists, and most Pentecostal and Charismatic groups.

Soooo …. read that little list of bona fides. Whew. It makes me tired. But here’s the thing. When I look at the time line and put it next to the time line of what was happening in U.S. secular culture at the time, I see that these men were doing the same thing in church/theology that the industrial barons were doing in industry … that is they were streamlining, standardizing, typing, instituting. They were making theology efficient. It happened throughout western Christendom … oh, excuse me, Protestant Christendom.

Please don’t think I’m picking on the dispensationalists.  They weren’t the only show in town to do this.  I think the millenialists did it too.  Or maybe they didn’t.  My point is this, it was culturally relevant during the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th to codify and systematize everything.  Everything included Christianity.  It’s how Darwin proved his theory of evolution.  It’s how Dewey created his decimal system for cataloging library books.  It’s how Piaget based his educational theory and Freud his psychiatric theory.  It’s how we manage our understanding of the life, the universe and everything today.

What we are discovering in many of these disciplines is that while systemization may work well in the hard sciences (i.e. the periodic table of elements for chemistry), the soft sciences must be more pliable and flexible.  The systems that people create look more like a dance than a chart.  Push button Y and reaction Z will not necessarily always happen.  We are finding that is particularly true in our public education system these days.  People are individuals and they learn in different manners.  Trying to force them to learn in lock step with thousands of others is creating a disaster on a large scale.

This is also particularly true in church and with God.  We are finding that there is a great deal more mystery  to God than was previously understood.  S/He cannot be reduced to a few propositional truths that are easily found in scripture.  While the Bible is God -breathed, we must never make the mistake of thinking that that is all there is to God.   We might have a few difficulties with our picture of God, because we don’t have all the clues.  In fact, I believe that the Apostle Paul said it best in I Corinthians, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face” … we don’t have it all yet, we just know a little.  There is more to come, a great deal more.  Relax, be still and know that S/He is God.  Everything else is just chafe.

4 Responses  
  • Steve Hayes writes:
    June 11th, 200711:51 pmat

    It should also be noted that Dispensationalism created a huge rift between Evangelicals on the one hand, and Pentecostal/charismatic Christians on the other, because the Dispensationalists maintained that speaking in tongues did not belong to the church age, and therefore any instance of it today must be of demonic origin.

    A big problem with Dispensationalism, from non-Dispensational points of view, is that it slices up the Bible and says that large chunks of it don’t apply today, because they belong to other dispensations.

  • Julie Clawson writes:
    June 12th, 200710:41 amat

    Its interesting how out of all the systems being formed around that time period only Mormonism and dispensationalism caught on. Good marketing imho (the dominance of truth to others).

    I grew up under dispensationalism. Every pastor I had went to DTS. There was a vague awareness that there were others out there who called themselves Christians but had different theology, but they obviously weren’t true believers and that theology was only good for ridicule. It honestly took until I went away to a non-denominational (although controlled by dispensationalism) college that I was exposed to other streams of the Christian tradition.

  • Phil Wyman writes:
    June 12th, 200711:43 pmat

    Hey Sonja and Steve,

    It is particularly interesting that many Pentecostals are dispensationalists in their eschatology, but fail to recognize the that it is generally at odds with the coninuation of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. Go figure! I suppose the lack of formal training for early Pentecostals had its price.

  • aBhantiarna Solas writes:
    June 13th, 20076:17 amat

    I love all this discussion … I didn\’t think there would be any, since I know barely anything about this whole subject.

    My main point is that what the early dispensationalists did was \”culturally relevant\” for their time. There were other Protestant theologians doing the same thing; creating theology systems that we are still using. The problem is that now people in the IC are using those systems and calling them Biblically founded as if those systems were part of the Bible, not culturally relevant to a time in history (e.g. the late 19th/early 20th centuries). Those \”systems\” of thought have become just as much part of the Bible for people as the Bible itself is. I think that this is one of the places where the tectonic plates grind together quite a bit. It\’s where I see people like John MacArthur throwing himself on his sword (for example) to protect \”the truth.\”

    I hope all of that makes some sense?

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