Why Dispensationalism is Important

New Evangelicalism and New Calvinism: The Same Disaster: Part 3

Part 1 ♦ Part 2 ♦ This is Part 3 ♦ Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 ♦ Part 7

Matt Recker

Francis Schaeffer lamented in his final book, “Accommodation, accommodation … to accommodate to the world spirit about us in our age is the most gross form of worldliness … and unhappily, today, we must say that in general the evangelical establishment has been accommodating to the forms of the world spirit as it finds expression in our day.”[1]. That was the great evangelical disaster according to Francis Schaeffer, and this series of articles is attempting to show that the New Evangelicalism that accommodated to the worldly spirit then is being carried on by the New Calvinism today. In this article I will deal with points three and four in the list below as they are somewhat related.

In 1956, in a Christian Life magazine article, “Is Evangelical Theology Changing,” the principles of the New Evangelicalism were enumerated. Here is a summary of those points:

    1. “A friendly attitude toward secular science”
    2. “A willingness to re-examine beliefs concerning the work of the Holy Spirit” [this emphasis contributed to a surge of charismatic teaching]
    3. “A more tolerant attitude toward varying views on eschatology”
    4. “A shift away from so-called extreme Dispensationalism” [the New Evangelicals objected to Dispensationalism’s pessimistic view of world history]
    5. “An increased emphasis on scholarship” [part of an attitude viewing fundamentalists as anti-intellectual]
    6. “A more definite recognition of social responsibility” [viewing fundamentalists as retreating from social and political involvement]
    7. “A re-opening of the subject of biblical inspiration” [a change which opened the door to question Biblical inerrancy]
    8. “A growing willingness of evangelical theologians to converse with liberal theologians” [finally resulting in evangelicals not seeing theological liberals as lost souls but merely misguided but well-meaning Christians][2]

The New Evangelical views of “a more tolerant attitude toward varying views on eschatology” and “a shift away from so-called extreme dispensationalism” on the surface are not doctrines of a fundamental nature. Obviously not all historic Fundamentalists agree on the timing of Christ’s coming and not all Biblicists are Dispensationalists. Nevertheless, Harold Ockenga, the first president of Fuller Seminary and originator of the term “New Evangelical,” clearly stated that his movement repudiated certain aspects of Fundamentalism that he deemed offensive. Specifically, Ockenga rejected the Fundamentalist’s ecclesiology (their view of the church), social theory (their view of the culture) and separatism (Biblical response to the apostasy of the church and worldliness of culture). These repudiated points are all centered in the Fundamentalist’s dispensational hermeneutic, which also greatly influenced its eschatology (view of future events).

As they tolerated varying views on eschatology and shifted away from dispensationalism, the New Evangelical embraced Calvinism or Reformed Theology. Thus, Fundamentalist dispensationalism was dismissed by New Evangelicals, and today is predominantly denied by New Calvinists. I do not believe that if a person rejects a Dispensational theology for Calvinism worldliness always results. However, New Evangelicals and New Calvinists appear motivated to reject Dispensational theology in order to be more accommodating to the world. Let’s consider how Dispensational Theology relates to one’s ecclesiology, eschatology, and view of culture. Then I would like to state why a Dispensational Theology is faithful to the Scripture.

How does Dispensational Theology affect one’s Ecclesiology?

According to 2 Timothy 3:1-7 the last days, which began with the incarnation of Christ, will be perilous and violent. Dispensationalists see that the professing church existing during these last days of peril will descend into apostasy leading to the rapture of the church. 1 John 2:17-18 tell us many antichrists will infiltrate the church. 1 John 4:1 reveals the truth that many false prophets are in the world. These will attempt to infiltrate the church, producing apostasy now, leading to the final apostasy in the last days. The Fundamentalist response to the apostasy was to “come out from among them, and be ye separate,” to “avoid them,” “withdraw,” “shun” cancerous teachings, “turn away,” and “contend for the faith” (2 Corinthians 6:17, Romans 16:17, 1 Timothy 6:5, 2 Timothy 2:16, 2 Timothy 3:5, Jude 3). Fundamentalists saw these passages as a ringing call to separate from false teachers or professing disobedient believers in order to preserve the purity of the Gospel and the church until Christ returns.

Dispensationalism is often viewed as maintaining a pessimistic view of the church and world in general. Our response is we must be Biblical. As we see the direction of the world and the church, the Dispensationalist is validated. For example, the mainline denominations have essentially denied the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith and now even endorse same sex marriage. These and other doctrinal deviations validates the Dispensationalists Biblical view that apostasy will overtake the church in these last days.

How does Dispensational Theology affect one’s Eschatology?

By the time of the Tribulation period the apostasy of the church will be complete. During those final seven years of God’s dealing with National Israel prophesied by Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27) and revealed in detail by the Apostle John (Revelation 6-18), the Antichrist will use the professing church as his pawn in his rise to power. That religious system called “the Mother of Harlots” (Revelation 17) is likely composed of the Roman Catholic and apostate Protestant churches. After the Tribulation there will be a literal one thousand year rule of Jesus Christ on earth to fulfill God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David, including the promise of a real kingdom in a real land. In contrast, Reformed amillennialism employs a non-literal view of interpretation of Old Testament Kingdom promises and says either the church fulfills those promises on earth now or the saints fulfill them in heaven now. Meanwhile, post-millennialists view the world as essentially getting better and that through Gospel preaching and social justice the world will be Christianized and God’s Kingdom established. Both of these views can maintain a more positive perspective toward the present world system and thus be more acceptable to the unsaved culture, but the Dispensationalist would say they are not rooted in a literal hermeneutic or a realistic view of the present nature of the world.

How does Dispensational Theology influence one’s View of Culture?

While Dispensationalists have a heart to feed and clothe the poor, and care for the social needs of people in general, our main focus is upon their soul and eternal salvation. In Acts 16:9 when the Macedonian man cried, “Come over and help us,” immediately Paul answered the cry and set out, “assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them” (Acts 16:9). Those without the Gospel of salvation are in the greatest need of help, and the greatest help I can give anyone is to give them the Gospel. Dispensationalists view the world system as defined by the Apostle John as incurably evil, composed of the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. No amount of Gospel preaching will transform the world into anything to which we can conform. Christians will always be under the command to “be not conformed to this world” (Romans 12:1, 2).

One of the tenets of New Calvinism is to affirm culture and “redeem” aspects of it. Mark Driscoll, who started Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA in 1996, has written a book entitled, The Radical Reformission. Each chapter ends with a member testimonial, featuring individuals immersed in worldly activity that is fully acceptable to Driscoll’s New Calvinism. For example, he features a member who brews beer for a living and another who owns a tattoo and body piercing shop. Christians ought not invest their time or make their money in such worldly activity! One of those who founded Mars Hill church with Driscoll, Lief Moi, has since resigned, repenting of sins. He says one of those sins “was also being seduced by my successes and all that came with it.” For New Calvinists like Driscoll, outward success in ministry proves the rightness of it. Moi admitted that in his despair he had turned to alcohol. He confesses, “Over the years the alcohol consumption increased and finally resulted in 2 DUI’s within a few months a little over a year ago. I was depressed, felt hopeless, angry, alone (my own choosing), beat up and wrecked.” The consequences of worldly accommodation is tragic.[3]

On another occasion Driscoll tweeted that Hip Hop artist Jay-Z was a “genius.” His subtle endorsement demonstrates a respect for Jay-Z and his blasphemous hip hop culture.[4] Many New Calvinists accommodate the spirit of the present world.

Why be a Dispensationalist?

Much has been written to define dispensationalism, and so I need not write what has already been said. Briefly, however, this question is vital because it establishes one’s understanding of the flow of Biblical history and how to interpret the Bible as a whole. Both Dispensational and Covenant Theology attempt to develop a comprehensive understanding of history from a Biblical perspective. They seek to answer what is the ultimate purpose or goal of history in its progressive stages. I would like to simply share reasons why a Dispensational hermeneutic gives one an ecclesiology, eschatology, and view of our world that is both faithful to Scripture, realistic in view of reality, and superior to Covenant Theology in both.

  1. Dispensational Theology biblically, comprehensively and truthfully views the ultimate goal of history “for God to glorify Himself by demonstrating the fact that He alone is the sovereign God.”[5] Covenant Theology sees history’s ultimate goal as being the “glory of God through the redemption of the elect.”[6] In other words, dispensationalism sees the ultimate goal of history as doxological, not soteriological. Not the betterment of mankind or his social position but the glory of God alone is the ultimate goal of history. New Evangelicalism’s man-centeredness leads to an emphasis placing human need, whether social or spiritual, above God’s glory. This resulted in New Evangelicalism’s descent into unbiblical ecumenical evangelism, and it leads the New Calvinist into a greater slide of cooperation with wolves in sheep’s clothing in the cause of evangelism and social Gospel programs. As long as the Gospel is preached, disobedient associations are allowed. This is why, for example, in the upcoming Passion Conference led by Louie Giglio, a charismatic woman pastor, Christine Caine from Hillsong is speaking alongside New Calvinists Francis Chan and Matt Chandler (President of Acts 29 Network, formerly led by Mark Driscoll).
  2. Dispensational theology takes a literal (normal) view of Scripture consistently, from Genesis to Revelation. At the heart of a literal interpretation of Scripture is the discovery of the author’s original intent. From the beginning of from the Old into the New Testament. That is an essential key of a literal hermeneutic. Surely, the reformers interpreted Scripture related to salvation literally, but Old Testament kingdom promises relating to the Nation of Israel being a distinct entity from the church, were not. Calvin adopted Augustine amillennialism and viewed Old Testament Israel as a spiritualized church, and the church as a spiritualized Israel. Covenant Theology, which comes from this, generally fails to interpret the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David as literally fulfilled by National Israel. This is not consistent with authorial intent. As one reads God’s promises to the Patriarchs throughout Genesis (12:1-3; 15:5-21; 17:4-8; 26:3; 28:13, 14) and His promise to David that one would sit on his throne forever (2 Samuel 7:12-16), one must see the promises related to a literal land, nation, and the Messiah to rule “the uttermost parts of the earth” (Psalm 2:8). Dispensationalism believes in a literal 1000 year kingdom rule of Jesus Christ where National Israel will inherit a literal land and the Messiah as king will inherit the throne of David in the city of Jerusalem. The New Calvinism, within its Covenant context, regularly spiritualizes away the earthly kingdom with either amillennial or post-millennial views.
  3. Dispensational theology makes a clear distinction between Israel and the Church by applying a literal interpretation of Scripture. Covenant Theology sees the church as existing in Old Testament times, and that the church now essentially replaces Israel in reference to promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. Replacing Israel with the church leads to dangerous positions. Biblically, it leads to a more allegorical interpretation of Scripture. Socially, it leads to a more politically correct position, for being pro-Israel is an offense in this world. But God chose National Israel and they are still a nation fighting for existence surrounded by nations that hate them and do not believe they have even a right to exist. Yet they survive, because they are a nation to which God has chosen to make promises, not all of which are fulfilled. Satan hates Israel. If He can destroy Israel, he can thwart the promises and faithfulness of God. Fundamentalism is primarily a movement built upon a Dispensational theology, because dispensationalism alone maintains the right view of God’s ultimate purpose in history, a consistently literal hermeneutic, and a right view of the church and its relationship to Israel. Furthermore, a Dispensational hermeneutic will result in a Biblical view of culture and lead a Christian to a God-glorifying reason to separate from the sins of the world and to contend for the faith maintaining the purity of the Gospel, notwithstanding the consequences or the costs. In many ways, the New Calvinism has grown out of the ashes of “the great evangelical disaster.” The New Calvinists have even stronger ties to Calvinistic theology and an even stronger accommodation to the world. I will speak more about this in coming articles.

Matt Recker is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in New York City.

  1. Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, p. 141, 142 []
  2. “Is Evangelical Theology Changing?” Christian Life, March 1956, pp. 17-19. []
  3. http://repentantpastor.com/confessions/lief-mois-confession-2/ []
  4. http://www.driscollcontroversy.com/?page_id=582 []
  5. Renald Showers, There Really is a Difference, p. 50 []
  6. Ibid, p. 20. []