A friend at church who–like so many of us–grew up believing the dispensationalism she was taught, is now beginning to question it. She had asked me about some good resources about this very popular, although very recent, teaching. Dispensationalism is a movement that started in Ireland in the early- mid-nineteenth century. It has since grown and evolved over time, so that now it is hard to talk about “dispensationalism” and may be better to speak of “dispensationalisms.”
Dispensationalism approaches the bible by dividing it into various dispensations (generally seven of them), that outline different ways that God relates to his people. The hallmark of dispensationalism is their brand of premillennialism that emphasises a seven year tribulation, a pre-tribulational rapture of the church, the resumption of God’s plan for national Israel and an entirely future millennial reign of Christ on earth.
In our day, the most popular exposition of dispensational theology is found in the Left Behind series of books and movies. Though most theologically robust dispensationalists would likely distance themselves from this franchise.
Dispensationalism can be a confusing study–not least because of the complexity of their understanding of eschatology. That, coupled with their reading of redemptive history, makes such a study at times overwhelming. I’ve warned my friend not to get too caught up in it at this time in her life, there are other theological issues that she should settle on first. Nonetheless, I recommended Vern S. Poythress’ excellent little study Understanding Dispensationalists. It is an irenic take on the movement, which is a breath of fresh air considering all of the vitriolic debate that often accompanies the discussion. Poythress has the entirety of the book available online at his website and I link to each chapter below.
While I am most emphatically not a dispensationalist, nor am I even premillennial, I do appreciate many dispensational theologians. From classic Calvinists like the Bonar brothers and M’Cheyne, to modern-day theologians like Darrell Bock and Bruce Ware, we have a lot to learn from these thinkers, aside from their dispensational perspectives.
So here is Poythress:
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Getting Dispensationalists and Nondispensationalists to Listen to Each Another
Chapter 2: Characteristics of Scofield Dispensationalism
Chapter 3: Variations of Dispensationalism
Chapter 4: Developments in Covenant Theology
Chapter 5: The Near Impossibility of Simple Refutations
Chapter 6: Strategy for Dialogue With Dispensationalists
Chapter 7: The Last Trumpet
Chapter 8: What is Literal Interpretation?
Chapter 9: Dispensational Expositions of Literalness
Chapter 10: Interpretive Viewpoint in Old Testament Israel
Chapter 11: The Challenge of Typology
Chapter 12: Hebrews 12:22-24
Chapter 13: The Fulfillment of Israel in Christ
Chapter 14: Other Areas for Potential Exploration