Readers of this blog may be curious as to what makes someone a dispensationalist. Simply put, dispensationalism is a set of doctrinal beliefs that deal with hermeneutics (how to read Scripture), ecclesiology (how the church operates), and eschatology (what the end times look like). Hence, a dispensationalist holds a distinctive set of beliefs about understanding Scripture, the role and function of the church, and about the end times.
I have written elsewhere about how one can define dispensationalism, but in this post I want to highlight seven fundamentally errant beliefs that are sometimes associated with dispensationalism. These are charges that are often leveled against dispensationalism in a variety of circles. I have listed them in their accusatory forms.
Dispensationalism teaches multiple ways of salvation.
Unfortunately, this myth is often repeated, but has no basis in reality. Some people accuse dispensationalists of believing OT saints were saved by keeping the Law while NT saints are saved by grace through faith. I am actually unaware of any dispensationalists that teach this. John Feinberg, a dispensationalist, wrote an excellent article about this issue, illustrating that belief in multiple ways of salvation is not a dispensational tenet.
Dispensationalism teaches a different view of regeneration.
Interestingly, R.C. Sproul is one individual who has used this accusation (see 44–45 min into this video). This is surprising since he is good friends with John MacArthur, a dispensationalist who definitely does not hold to a different view of regeneration. Further, although Sproul says that dispensationalists think that the Holy Spirit can come into someone’s life without changing it, MacArthur (and many other dispensationalists) do not teach that. This is actually an example of what I noted at the beginning of this post—dispensationalism is a system of hermeneutics which leads to a set of beliefs about the church and the end times. Hence, those are the main issues which are inherent to dispensationalism. As far as I’m aware of, most of my dispensational friends hold to reformed views of regeneration.
Dispensationalism is inherently antinomian.
In the same video clip cited above, Sproul mentions this critique of dispensationalism (see at 45 min). Although some dispensationalists may indeed be antinomian, that does not mean the system inherently embraces that position because—as stated before—dispensationalism is concerned about hermeneutics, the church, and the end times. Many of my dispensational friends even hold to the Reformed tripartite view (moral, civil, ceremonial) of the Law, although I personally disagree with the three fold division of the Law.
Dispensationalism teaches trichotomy.
In an audio clip (which I was unable to find), I remember listening to R. C. Sproul talk about the problems he had with dispensationalism. He said one of the major problems he had with dispensationalists is that they teach the viewpoint called trichotomy, the view that humans are comprised of three parts—body, soul, and spirit (most people hold to dichotomy, that the body is comprised of two parts—body, and soul/spirit). Although it may be possible that some dispensationalists teach trichotomy, I am not aware of any, and neither is it integral to the dispensational system.
Side note: although I was unable to find the recording, I was able to find Vlach’s comments on the same recording here.
Dispensationalism is inherently Arminian.
You are no doubt sick of me saying this, but dispensationalism is not a system which has integral views of soteriology. In light of this, a dispensationalist could hypothetically be either a Calvinist or an Arminian with regard to the doctrines of salvation. That doesn’t mean dispensationalists don’t care about the issue (most are quite passionate about soteriology). It just means that when someone says they are dispensational, that is not addressing their view of soteriology.
Dispensationalism teaches non-lordship salvation.
Lordship salvation is somewhat related to the previous complaint about regeneration. Although there are dispensationalists who do reject lordship salvation, again, it is not inherent to the system. John MacArthur, a noted dispensationalist, has written books clarifying his view of lordship salvation.
Dispensationalism inherently consists of seven dispensations.
I actually was taught seven dispensations in a Sunday School class while I was growing up, but as I got older I read more dispensationalists and realized that many didn’t even mention seven dispensations. Hence, the only thing that is inherently dispensational is the belief that God works in different ways in different times (but don’t all Christians believe that?).
Dispensationalism may not be popular in certain Reformed circles, but we need to make sure the record is clear—these issues are not to be leveled against dispensationalists. The issues listed above have nothing inherently to do with dispensationalism. Next post we will look at what issues are inherently linked with dispensationalism.
photo credit: Leo Reynolds number 7 via photopin (license)