Several weeks ago I was reading the book reviews in the Dallas Seminary journal Bibliotheca Sacra and appreciated a review by Larry Waters of Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament by David Murray. Since I am preparing a series of lessons for my church called “Glimpses of the Gospel in the Hebrew Bible” I thought Murray’s book would be a helpful resource.
I ordered the book from Amazon and began reading it last night. I was disappointed to see that the author made two negative comments about Dispensationalism within the brief introductory chapter of the book!
Murry lists the reasons why the church has neglected the Old Testament. Among those mentioned are liberalism, ignorance, irrelevance, laziness and Dispensationalism. He says, “The Dispensational division of Scripture into different eras tends to relegate the Old Testament to a minor role in the life of the church and of the individual Christian” (p. 6). Explaining how we can get the Old Testament back into the lives of Christians Murray says “we must avoid the weaknesses of Dispensationalism” (p. 8).
Murray echoes the customary criticism that Dispensationalists impose an artificial structure of “dispensations” on Scripture, dividing up the biblical revelation into various periods.
I put the book down and asked myself, “Why does Dispensationalism get such a bad rap?” Murray echoes the customary criticism that Dispensationalists impose an artificial structure of “dispensations” on Scripture, dividing up the biblical revelation into various periods. Also, there is the charge that Dispensationalists tend to neglect the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) in favor of New Testament revelation.
I didn’t hear the term “Dispensationalism” until I began attending Western Seminary as a student in the early seventies. But I came to learn from that early encounter with Dallas Seminary trained teachers that the Old Testament presents an economy of law and the New Testament presents an economy of grace. That made sense to me. And I concluded that most anybody who has an Old and New Testament is a Dispensationalist.
I also discovered that “dispensation” is a biblical concept. Paul uses the term “dispensation” (oikonomia), also translated “administration” or “stewardship,” in Ephesians 3:2 with reference to the “dispensation of God’s grace.” The word literally means “house rule.” Again in 3:9 Paul uses the word to refer to the “administration of the mystery” of God’s grace which was hidden in the prior dispensation. God’s “house rule” for the present administration of the New Covenant is different from the past administration of the Old Covenant.
David Murray warns that Dispensationalists neglect the Hebrew Scriptures in favor of the New Testament revelation. Having studied both at Western Seminary and Dallas Seminary under Dispensational professors, there was never a single one who suggested that the Old Testament was any less important or relevant than the New Testament. Listening to the lectures of Drs. Stanley Ellisen, Ronald Allen, Charles Ryrie and Dwight Pentecost gave me a love for the Hebrew Bible and a deep and abiding appreciation for its message. Because of my love for the Hebrew Bible I spend more time teaching the Torah than any other section of Scripture. It is there in the Torah that God introduces Himself, and from His self-revelation we get to know Him.
One doesn’t have to embrace the full seven dispensations of the Scofield Study Notes to be a “Dispensationalist.”
Most Christians would agree that the Old Covenant mediated by Moses at Mt. Sinai is different than the New Covenant mediated by Jesus through His death at Calvary. That requires a minimum of two divine administrations or dispensations. And if we assume that the eternal state is different from the present church age, we can postulate a third dispensation. If there is a difference between the eternal state and the Messianic Kingdom, then we have a fourth dispensation. One doesn’t have to embrace the full seven dispensations of the Scofield Study Notes to be a “Dispensationalist.”
I am more than a bit weary of hearing the negative rap about Dispensationalism. Let’s recognize that anyone with an Old and New Testament is Dispensational. And even if we can’t embrace someone else’s theological perspective, we can be respectful.
For further study on what it means to be a Dispensationalist, I recommend an article by Darrell Bock, “Why I am A Dispensationalist with a Small ‘d’” (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 1998, pp. 383-396).