Should every self-respecting Calvinist be a Dispy?

Derek Ouellette —  November 27, 2012 — Leave a comment

While I’ve grown generally less dogmatic over the years there are a few ideas I would be happy to see disappear from the Christian spectrum. One of those ideas is Dispensationalism, a view that believes that God has two plans and two people which has the adverse effect of colouring ones whole view of scripture including such opera magna themes as the mission of Israel, the mission of Jesus, the mission of the Church, the Kingdom of God, election, and – not least – eschatology.

Dispensationalism is also an odd cat in many ways. It lends itself in many ways to Calvinism, yet is reject by most Reformed churches. It would seem to not fit well with Arminianism, yet is popular among the Pentecostal/charismatic bunch.

I remember a few years back John MacArthur mustered as much brass as he could and gave a lecture to a room full of Covenantal Calvinists titled, ‘Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist is a Dispensationalist.’ The response was strong, with some Calvinists writing online articles against him and others writing complete books against him.

But I think MacArthur’s main point has merit to his claim.

Dispensationalism as a system of theology holds to a view of predestination matched only by that of Calvinism, at least in so far as Israel is concerned. It teaches that all Israel will be saved. Every last one. Every descendant of Abraham. Every blood relative. No matter how they lived on earth. In the end, they will someway, somehow, be saved. Why? Because they are the elect of God. Israel.

Calvinism and Dispensationalism are a perfect match when discussing election.

Calvinism and Dispensationalism are also a good match when discussing ethics.

See, Calvinism is also an odd cat in some ways. It is a biblical system to a great extent. But soon after laying it’s biblical and hermeneutical foundation it is forced to fill in the blanks and draw many unbiblical conclusions, compelled by logic. Putting aside for a moment it’s logical conclusions about God’s character (which is a devastating conclusion that most Calvinists would rather not acknowledge), Calvinism of all stripes seem to agree (as far as I am aware) that regeneration (born again) comes before faith and repentance which flatly contradicts the testimony of the scriptures (John 3:5, 16; Acts 2:28).

In it’s fear of anything that smacks of works-based salvation it creates problems with the concept of faith (which is a verb) and repentance (another verb) or anything, really, the might hint at not being “all of grace.”

In this regard Calvinism makes for another great bedfellow with Dispensationalism. This is because Dispensationalism teaches that the Sermon on the Mount is not a part of the gospel of Jesus, defined as salvation by grace alone through faith alone.

Charles Ryrie, avowed Dispensationalist and Calvinist says it bluntly enough. In responding to the claim that the Sermon on the Mount is “pure gospel,” he writes:

“Granted, the discourse contains several pointed invitations, but invitations to what? To believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again? Impossible to prove. To repent? Definitely. Who were to repent? The Jewish people to whom He was speaking. About what were they to repent? About their disobedience to God’s law. What law? The law of Moses… If the Sermon is ‘pure gospel,’ is it not presenting a works-salvation gospel?” (Dispensationalism, p. 110-111)

That paragraph is so packed with erroneous assumptions; erroneous assumptions about Israel, about the mission of Christ, about salvation, about the gospel. But it is, or seems to be, a natural conclusion to draw if one were a Calvinist who feared anything that smacked of works based salvation.

But what I find extremely odd about all of this talk is the fact that Pentecostals and Charismatics have jumped on board with Dispensationalism (accept, of course, the newly embraced Charismatic and Pentecostal Calvinists like C.J. Mahaney, Joshua Harris and James Smith, which is not odd at all!). Traditionally Pentecostal theology has been Wesleyan, which happens to be a branch of Arminianism. Since Arminian theology sees faith as a gracious gift of God, not a work unto salvation, and since it places faith in its proper place, prior to or simultaneous with the new birth. Since Arminian theology does not require a knee-jerk reaction or ostentatious fear of works being snuck in through the back door. And since Arminians reject the kind of election that Calvinists subscribe to. Dispensationalism and Arminianism make bad bedfellows.

Everything said within this post requires parsing. But I hope I’ve given you something to chew on.

Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.