Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Responding to Ryrie regarding John Edwards and Dispensations

Someone wrote in to Jamin Hubner the following question:
In Ryrie's book he mentions the dispensational scheme that Jonathan Edwards [sic] (not that Edwards was necessarily a dispensationalist) put forth in his work "A Compleat History or Survey of All the Dispensations". Would this not pre-date Darby? As I have not read this work by Edwards, perhaps I am missing the context, but Edwards' dispensational scheme has some similarities to the seven dispensations espoused by modern day dispensationalists.

The author of the comment is referring to the discussion of John Edwards (not Jonathan Edwards) in Ryrie's book, "Dispensationalism."  To answer the exact question, yes - it predates Darby.  On the other hand, as Ryrie himself points out, Edwards didn't believe in a literal 1,000 year physical reign of Jesus on Earth.  There may be some similarities. 

There is an important answer to these questions: it is not the designation "dispensation" or the recognition that God has dealt with people differently in different epochs of time that is controversial about dispensationalism.  So, whether or not Edwards' scheme of dispensations or dealings has some similarities to the schemes advocated by dispensationalists is a moot point.

Ryrie himself seems to recognize the mootness of such historical appeal.

Ryrie writes (shortly prior to his reference to John Edwards):
Dispensationalists recognize that as a system of theology it is recent in origin.  But there are historical references to that which eventually was systematized into dispensationalism.  There is evidence in the writings of men who lived long before Darby that the dispensational concept was part of their viewpoint.

After discussing some patristic and medieval authors, Ryrie explains:
It is not suggested, nor should it be inferred, that these early church fathers were dispensationalists in the later sense of the word. But it is true that some of them enunciated principles that later developed into dispensationalism, and it may be rightly said that they held to primitive or early dispensational-like concepts.

So, Jamin Hubner's own response to the question seems a little strange:
Dispensationalists typically play the pre-Darby card in an effort to justify their system, but is rarely an adequate appeal. The idea is to make associations and draw similarities between Darby and previous thinkers (e.g. Ireneaus, Edwards, some Reformers, etc.) to say Dispensationalism goes back (for some, they would say to the Apostles, while others would say back to the Reformers, etc.). But in reality, the thinkers are simply not teaching Darbyism. Resemblances, vague parallels and similarities are not enough to dismount Darby as essentially the Father of Dispensationalism (nor dismount Scofield as perhaps the chief popularizer). But that's not to say we shouldn't acknowledge that Darby had previous influences and that attempts have been made to try and systematize redemptive history, address the application of biblical law, and solve various hermeneutical issues. Certainly there have been such attempts.
 And again:
One could list countless other references. But, it's obviously absurd (and anachronistic) to say Calvin, Bavinck, or Spurgeon were Dispensationalists just because they speak of dispensations in redemptive history, and baseless to say from these facts that Darby's specific thought found its ultimate origins in these particular thinkers (since Christians from virtually every period have been talking about changes in redemptive history and various epochs; perhaps the author of the Hebrews was the first to put it so starkly). Even organizing such Dispensations into a structure does not add up to the profound and distinctive marks of Darby and Scofield's Dispensationalism (e.g. stark Israel/Church separation, hermeneutic regarding prophecy, premil pretrib eschatology including rapture of believers, etc.) - which is precisely what we mean by "Dispensationalism" today.

While there may be dispensationalists who make such claims, it seems pretty clear that Ryrie himself explicitly disavows such claims.  Instead, Ryrie makes much softer claims about doctrinal development, claims that don't claim that the "profound and distinctive marks" of dispensationalism were present in the pre-Darby era.

Ryrie instead argues:
There is no question that the Plymouth Brethren, of which John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) was a leader, had much to do with the systematizing and promoting of dispensationalism.  But neither Darby nor the Brethren originated the concepts involved in the system, and even if they had, that would not make them wrong if they can be shown to be biblical.

Indeed, under the title of "Straw Men," Ryrie explains:
In discussing the matter of the origins of dispensationalism, opponents of the teaching usually set up two straw men and then huff and puff until they are destroyed.  The first straw man is to say that dispensationalists assert that the system was taught in postapostolic times. Informed dispensationalists do not claim that.  They recognize that, as a system, dispensationalism was largely formulated by Darby, but that outlines of a dispensationalist approach to the Scriptures are found much earlier.  They only maintain that certain features of what eventually developed into dispensationalism are found in the teachings of the early church. 

Another typical example of the use of a straw man is this line of argument: pretribulationalism is not apostolic; pretribulationalism is dispensationalism; therefore, dispensationalism is not apostolic.  But dispensationalists do not claim that the system was developed in the first century; nor is it necessary that they be able to do so.

So, in fact, folks like Ryrie (and I assume Fred Butler would fall in this camp) are not claiming that the early or even Reformation-era church held to a pre-mil, pre-trib rapture.

It may be useful in dealing with dispensationals, therefore, to be careful in distinguishing.  On the one hand, we grant that the use of the term and even a difference in dealings (on some level) are concepts that pre-existed Darby.  Indeed, using that same standard, it seems that we might be classified as "primitive dispensationalists" (using Ryrie's standards) if we hold to covenant theology.  On the other hand, the more objectionable aspects of dispensationalism do not have the same noble lineage.

Ultimately, though, we agree with Ryrie that the test of history is not the ultimate test: the ultimate test is the test of Scripture.  If the teachings of dispensationalism are the teachings of Scripture, then we ought to hold them regardless of whether anyone held them between the time of the apostles and now.



Gene Clyatt said...

Thank you, TFan. Well stated.

ChaferDTS said...

TF , thank you very much for your objective and reasonable article. You covered the main aspects of what I saw that was wrong in what Jasmin Hubner wrote. Good job on your article here ! :)

Fred Butler said...

I just noticed: You gave me my own tag. It looks as if I have had it for a while. Makes me kind of all aflutter having my own tag at such a prominent place. I'll need to step back and have a moment.

Chad Ressler said...

"It may be useful in dealing with dispensationals, therefore, to be careful in distinguishing. On the one hand, we grant that the use of the term and even a difference in dealings (on some level) are concepts that pre-existed Darby. Indeed, using that same standard, it seems that we might be classified as "primitive dispensationalists" (using Ryrie's standards) if we hold to covenant theology."

Thanks for the clarification answer to my question TF. I was the one who originally submitted the question to Jamin. My goal is to gain a better understanding of both dispensationalism and covenant theology in order to see which one lines up with Scripture and therefore which one I should adopt. I had read one of Jamin's articles on the origins of dispensationalism, and I guess my thought process was that it seemed as though these ideas pre-dated Darby, in at least a somewhat nascent form, not necessarily that the individuals were themselves dispensationalists, therefore lending some historical support (even though that is NOT the ultimate test) to dispensationalism. Perhaps my confusion was in how terms are being defined.

Natamllc said...

As before TF, you lead your followers once again to the precipice of intelligent design!

"(since Christians from virtually every period have been talking about changes in redemptive history and various epochs; perhaps the author of the Hebrews was the first to put it so starkly)."


What seems to me to counter this issue comes starkly from the word oft repeated in Scripture, "eternal". He puts eternity in our hearts. He redeems us with His own blood securing our eternal redemption. We receive from His equitable deed an eternal inheritance. There is the giving of the gift is eternal Life in Him. We are called to His eternal glory. There is an eternal damnation. Some receive eternal salvation.

The question I want answers to comes from Paul's writing to the Ephesians that we are to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ in such a way we find rest and those with ears to hear do also!

Ok, just how is that done, then?

Also, it seems the quest for definition spinning God down to understanding His Word leads us away from the honor of His Faith to one of concepts thus giving some temporal comfort in attaining to such knowledge. If one can see the clouds form on the horizon, one prepares if one is wise? The fool hearty just go on and suffer the consequence of their stupid error!

What I am reduced to, then, is the same as our father Abraham was reduced to, I suppose? I learn from Abraham throughout the Scriptures, settled, to live in the same Faith as he and by sufferings and disciplines, "many" for me, it brings into me the peaceable fruit of His Righteousness thus giving me the understanding I need to divorce myself from mine!

That does not cause me to escape some of the emotional and feeble questions that occur to me when I have fully spoken or listened to the book of the Revelation given to John to give to His servants the things that must soon take place.

For instance, what about this?

Rev 3:10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.
Rev 3:11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.


ChaferDTS said...

Hi there Chad. I will recommend some of the best materials for information from the dispensational premillennial perspective which would be most useful for you.

For it's theological teachings you should read :

1. Lewis Sperry Chafer Systematic Theology 8 in 4 volumes; 2. Basic Theology by Dr. Charles Ryrie; 3. Lectures In Systematic Theology by Dr. Hendry C. Thiessen and 4. The Millennial Kingdom : A Basic Text In Premillennial Theology by Dr. John F. Walvoord. This will give you a good overview on traditional or classical dispensational theology.

For an exposition or commentaries on Scripture from the dispensational premillennial perspective you should read :

1. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty OT and NT 2 volumes edited by Dr. John F. Walvoord & Dr. Roy B. Zuck ; 2 . The Mac Arthur New Testament Commentary Series 28 volumes; 3. Unger's Commentary On The Old Testament by Dr. Merrill F. Unger; 4. Daniel The Key To Prophectic Revelation A Commentary by Dr. John F. Walvoord ; and 5. The Revelation Of Jesus Christ A Commentary by Dr. John F. Walvoord.

Chad Ressler said...

Thank you for your recommendations. I have some of the material, it appears, and will look into getting some of the others. I think the only Systematic Theology text from a dispensational perspective that I have is Thiessen.

ChaferDTS said...

You are welcome. I disagree with the Arminian soteriology of Dr. Thiessen . :) The others I listed would be more helpful with more detailed information. But he does hold to dispensationalism for sure. For good information on Covenant Theology you should read Dr. Charles Hodge Systematic Theology which represents a presbyterian covenant theology view in contrast to a Reformed Baptist covenant theology. I have studied Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. I have learned a great deal from both sides.

Gene Clyatt said...

Chad, a great online resource to check out is the teachings of the late Dr. S. Lewis Johnson at http://www.sljinstitute.net/

Dr. Johnson was both Calvinistic and Dispensational. I've learned a lot from his writings.

ChaferDTS said...

I know of him. He was a very good theologian.

Chad Ressler said...

I do have Hodge's 3-Volume Systematic Theology which I think I will bump up on my reading list then.

Gene Clyatt said...

Yes, he taught at DTS :o)

Drcol said...

So it would seem wise for all to do their own Scriptural study after all ...yes???...yes!!!
But let me ask one and all...how many of us are totally reliant on just our own study bar nothing else to assist us. I for do not rely on just my own understanding for I accept that I am standing on the shoulders on folk much more able to understand many things than I am able and that includes my understanding of the Scriptures. Therefore I am aided greatly by such men as Dr. Charles Ryrie, Dr. Chuck Missler, Dr. Robby Dean, Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum and many more.
Cheers all......Dr Col ........Shalom

turretinfan said...

"So it would seem wise for all to do their own Scriptural study after all ...yes???...yes!!!"
Of course.