A Dispensational Discourse with Dr. James I. Fazio

By PAUL J. SCHARF, M.Div.

Editor in Chief

Editor’s Note: I have really become acquainted with Dr. James I. Fazio only during the last few months, since I was given the opportunity and privilege of contributing to the forthcoming volume called Forged from Reformation, of which he is the co-general editor. In interviewing him, I sensed a kindred spirit, with numerous areas of overlapping interests, and I was fascinated with our discussion about the history of dispensationalism and its tie to the Reformation. I think that you will also find Dr. Fazio to be very thought-provoking. I offer this interview, then, as a fitting way to prepare our minds for the rest of this anniversary month—one of the highlights of which will be the release of Forged from Reformation. May God be pleased to use that work for His glory.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (Rom. 1:16-17)

Dr. James Fazio said that he became a dispensationalist long before he knew what that word meant.

“I was raised by my mother, who is an English teacher, and I started reading at a very early age,” he stated.

“I have always approached any written work in a normal means of reading language. I became a dispensationalist by reading Scripture.”

Fazio explained: “The early chapters of Genesis never mystified me. Similarly, when I read ‘1,000 years’ in Revelation, that did not present a problem for me. I just took it at face value. I did not even know it was dispensational.”

The first time that Fazio heard that word, about 20 years ago, it was used in a derogatory sense by the pastor of the church in which he was serving. He began to research it and, to his surprise, “I found out, I guess I am dispensational!”

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Fazio continued to research the subject, but wanted more depth.

“I got to the point where I said, ‘As much reading and study as I am doing, why don’t I build toward a degree?’ That is when I decided that I really wanted to go to Bible college,” he noted. “I wanted to know what I am talking about.”

He also wanted to go to a school that taught dispensationalism, and was drawn to the emphasis on Biblical languages that he found at Southern California Seminary, where he now teaches and serves as the dean of Bible and theology.

(Southern California Seminary meets on the campus of Shadow Mountain Community Church, with Dr. David Jeremiah serving as its chancellor. Yet, Fazio explained that this school is actually more than 70 years old, long pre-dating that relationship with the church.)

Fazio has come a long way in his studies since that time—earning four degrees at the seminary, which prepared him for his latest academic endeavor of pursuing the doctor of philosophy degree from the Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

It is unusual to be able to complete such a degree from a distance, but Fazio will be devoting most of his time to his academic pursuits for the next three school years. He recently returned from a trip to the United Kingdom for orientation and to research his dissertation topic: “The Ecclesiology of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882).”

His doctoral advisor is Crawford Gribben, a renowned historian who has worked with Timothy Stunt, the world’s leading Darby scholar.

“Dispensationalism predates Darby,” Fazio said. “Most people know dispensationalism through the lens of Dallas Theological Seminary, and it only goes back as far as Scofield.”

“DTS and the Scofield Reference Bible popularized dispensationalism,” Fazio added. “So we know dispensationalism through the conflict between Baptists and Presbyterians, and it is very fractured. We are just knowing it through a 20th-century American context—and it predates all of that. We have a lot to pull out of history—it is very rich. But it has been neglected.”

“I have had a long-standing interest in church history,” said Fazio, who has had a heavy focus on the Reformation for some time. “Looking at Luther, Wycliffe, I am very impressed at what they had to do to take a stand,” he said.

“I have seen a strong comparison between Martin Luther—the kind of man that God used—and John Nelson Darby. It has always stood out as so stark to me. Watching a guy who was so principled, who would break with the Catholic Church. I will be reading Luther and it makes me think, ‘Wow this reminds me of Darby!’”

Fazio is drawn to the fact that both men wanted to reform the church but found it to be inflexible—forcing them to go outside of it. “I could have said the same things [about Luther] and just substituted the word ‘Darby,’” said Fazio. “He was not one man in a vacuum—he was one man in a chain.”

While teaching a class alongside Dr. Christopher Cone three years ago, Fazio had an idea for a book.

“I said to Chris, ‘This story—this history—we really need to put this material into a book form.’ I have long had an interest in writing a book on the solas of the Reformation, and how dispensationalists are true to the solas of the Reformation.”

Fazio wanted this book to represent “the broader dispensational community” and to show that dispensationalists are “the true inheritors of the Reformation solas.”

“As this 500-year anniversary was approaching, I said this really needs to be done,” Fazio remembered. “If I do not do it now, I am really missing an opportunity.”

The result is Forged from Reformation, which is currently in the final stages of publication from SCS Press. Cone, now the president of Calvary University, is the book’s other co-general editor.

“It represents the dispensational community,” said Fazio. He noted that, between the contributors and the endorsements, “There is scarcely a dispensational thinker out there who has not signed on to it.”

Fazio believes that the book will live on long after Oct. 31, 2017, has come and gone.

Mark Hitchcock said something in his endorsement: This is something that everyone will have to reckon with—you have to consider it. It speaks to something that there is scarcely a whisper about,” Fazio stated. “So many books today are just rehashing the same thing. This has never been said before, and it is being shouted from the mountain tops. It is very clear; it is very compelling. I think it is going to start a conversation. People have not talked or thought about these issues before. It will frame it in a whole new way of thinking about these things.”

Fazio believes that we as dispensationalists should not be scared of the Reformation “because it has the word reform in it.”

“We need to look at the bigger picture of history and the development of Christian thought on a broader scale,” he added. “It demands this full, robust understanding. I think the book will have an impact where it will change the conversations that people are having.”

“Many dispensationalists today have a very partial, at best, perspective. It is a reductionistic image of dispensationalism—centered on eschatology. That is the heritage of DTS and Scofield,” Fazio stated. “I have always been centered on looking at dispensationalism—not just through those lenses. That is a picture of dispensational eschatology—it is not the whole thing. Dispensational thought encompasses a hermeneutical approach to the Scriptures, and touches on every area of theology. It is an approach that puts Scripture first—I think that is a dispensational heritage. But you have had dispensationalists who just appeal to other dispensationalists.”

Fazio continued: “The Reformed appeal just to the Reformers—they are not standing on Reformation principles. They are making the very same mistakes as the Reformers. They are not following the Reformational process.”

“They are not able to break out of that,” he stated. “Following in the footsteps of the Reformers is a lot better than following in the footsteps of the Roman Catholics, but it is still limited. The Reformers, like Lazarus, carried with them the stench of death.”

“We need to see the impact of dispensationalism on the church, Christian practice, the Christian’s relationship to the 10 commandments,” Fazio said. It is not enough, he noted, just to compare and replace Israelite concepts with church concepts. Rather, we need to understand the utter uniqueness of the church.

“It is a whole new creation,” Fazio said, “and understanding that is dispensational. It is understanding where we are in the Christian’s relationship to the present economy of God.”

“It is not good enough to just repeat the seven dispensations. We need to follow the approach that the Reformers followed to the Scriptures.”

Fazio said that the danger otherwise is that dispensationalists—who only appeal to the dispensational giants—will be just like the Reformed, who only appeal to the Reformers. Thus, we will end up “just repeating the former generations’ mistakes and successes.”

“We need to follow the Reformers’ approach, not follow the Reformers’ footsteps. I think that dispensationalism allows for that. We are more true to the spirit of the Reformation than the Reformed are. They are not challenging; they have to mirror what has been said already. We are not innovating, we are not creating something new, we are deriving from Scripture, through the exegetical process, our theological conclusions.”

And what do we need to do to appeal to today’s students?

According to Fazio, “We need to focus on hermeneutics.”

“I have no doubt that if we teach grammatical, historical hermeneutics to our students, they will walk away with dispensational conclusions. But we do not need to teach the conclusions, we need to teach the process,” he said.

“We need to teach them the hermeneutical approach and let them draw the rest from the Scriptures.”

Previously in this series:

Copyright © 2017 Dispensational Publishing House, Inc.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



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