Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dispensational Men of Straw Demolished: 2

The long response to a few words in a comment thread contines.

Mr. Phillips asks:
“Are you unable to grant that someone can say "Oh yes, it's all about the glory of God," but then while he handles the actual details of the text, he hammers everything down to what (it emerges is) his real theme — for instance, a putative single, textually-questionable covenant of redemption? If massive amounts of uncongenial details are made subservient to this theory, is one not allowed to observe that the theory has overwhelmed the evidence? Is someone's stated belief or priority always his actual belief or priority?”
Oh, certainly we do. We also however think it is a sin, namely lying, to say that you hold to a position when you know that you do not. Therefore we are very reluctant to charge anyone with disingenuous behaviour unless there is plain evidence of it, that is unless there is an obvious and real contradiction. We have read many books by many writers of different schools, Arminian, Calvinistic, Amillennial, post-millennial, pre-millennial, even dispensationalist, protestant and Roman Catholic, and in each case we have approached the work in a an attitude of charity, that is, while someone may define terms differently from us, we shall assume that he means what he says.

Secondly, there is an error here. Our subject was this: Does dispensationalism alone teach that God's end in all His dealings with men is His own glory. Yet Mr. Phillips' argument actually comes down to "Covenant Theologians teach that there is only one covenant, the covenant of redemption, therefore they do not make the glory of God the centre of all His dealings with man." This is a non sequitur. The conclusion does not follow from the premise. Using the same argument wecould say that Dispensationalists do not believe that God's end in His dealings with men is His own glory, but to test mankind. Only we think it to be a lousy argument, so we'd never use it.

And it is possible for a person's language to be misunderstood, so that they appear to be teaching what they do not. Let us give an example that is germane to this debate: Dispensationalists say that they believe there is only one way of salvation in all the dispensations. I believe them when they say that. So, when I read C.I. Scofield saying as he contrasts the dispensations of law and grace:
“The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ.” (SRB [Oxford University Press, 1917] P. 1115 note 2)

I assume that he is using the term ‘condition of salvation’ in a loose way, because he says that there is only one way of salvation through all dispensations - that is charity. If I read in Lewis Sperry Chafer:
“The essential elements of a grace administration - faith as the sole basis of acceptance with God, unmerited acceptance through a perfect standing in Christ, the present possession of eternal life, an absolute security from all condemnation, and the enabling power of the indwelling Spirit - are not found in the kingdom administration.” (Dispensationalism [Dallas Seminary Press, 1951], P. 416)
I assume again that he is speaking loosely, and does not think that people in the Kingdom dispensation will be saved through their own merit apart from or in addition to the perfect righteousness of Christ. That is charity.

Or I could take another example. When we recall that Dr. Barry Horner is a dispensationalist, and therefore would agree with Ryrie that the centre of history is the glory of God, we do not say “Well, in ‘Future Israel’ (his only major work that we are aware of) it sounds like he really makes a distinction between Israel and the Church the centre of history. No, we say ‘he believes that the reason behind this distinction is the glory of God’, even if he does not explicitly say that. It is the same when we read or hear Dr. MacArthur’s controversial sermon, we do no say “Well, whatever he might say, he obviously really thinks that the centre of history is a distinction between Israel and the Church’. No, I say “he says that the centre of history is the glory of God, and obviously he thinks that this Israel-Church distinction is for that glory.” That is charity. To act otherwise would be uncharitable for us. We prefer the clear statements of writers to anyone’s inferences from what they say. Sin has affected our minds as well as the rest of us, and that means that we can make mistaken inferences. I doubt that any Covenant Theologian has made such apparently contradictory statements as those we have quoted from Scofield and Chafer, but we are quite prepared to believe that both men believed that salvation in all dispensations is, was and shall be through Christ and never through human merit.

More, God willing, next time.

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