(Read Part 3)

Publisher’s Note: What follows from Dr. Parker Reardon is one common view of soteriology among dispensational teachers. Dispensational Publishing House presents the various views in an effort to develop healthy debate and thinking. Our founder is non-Calvinistic and an adherent of Free Grace theology, but also teaches that we should “question the assumptions” of all our beliefs. We have printed articles from both a Calvinistic and Lordship salvation perspective as well as a non-Calvinistic, Free Grace perspective. It is in the spirit of healthy debate that this article is given in full by its author. 

In this series we are taking a deeper look at some of the major differences between dispensational and covenantal theology. We first evaluated the basic elements of “Covenantal Thought.” In this article, we will investigate the third of four “Issues of Contention” between the two schools of thought.

Soteriology (salvation)

There is a soteriological issue to address. Some in the covenantal camp accuse dispensationalists of teaching two ways of salvation—one under the old covenant with the law and another under the new covenant.[1] R. C. Sproul, after noting that the Westminster Confession refers to dispensations, says, “Reformed theology knows nothing of different testing periods or different redemptive agendas for Israel and the church.”[2]

I agree that there is continuity in the manner of salvation from the Old Testament to the New Testament. People have always been saved by grace, through faith in Christ—whether an old covenant saint or a new covenant saint. Before Jesus Christ came to earth to live His perfect life of obedience to the Father and die as a substitute for sinners, the diligent followers of Yahweh held to the promise of the coming Messiah (Gen. 3:15). They were looking forward to His coming in anticipation of the fulfillment of a long line of prophecy (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3).

On this side of the cross, however, we look back 2,000 years ago to this same event and place repentant faith in Him alone. Salvation and righteousness are received by faith in the crucified, resurrected and ascended Savior.

Another erroneous teaching that dispensationalists are accused of by some covenantalists is the introduction of “non-lordship salvation.”[3] One of the flagship schools that had been greatly used by the Lord in advancing dispensational thought has been Dallas Theological Seminary. It is no secret, though, that advocates of non-lordship salvation[4] have been on the faculty at that school.

We need to be reminded that DTS was an unabashed Presbyterian school in its early days, with ordained Presbyterian minister Lewis Sperry Chafer as its founder and first president. In 1944, a committee was convened to figure out if dispensationalism was compatible with the Westminster Confession. Due to an unfortunate ruling finding the two views incompatible, DTS grads were left partnering solely with Bible churches rather than Presbyterian ones. Sadly, other wrong assessments of dispensationalism followed and remain apparently unchallenged by many, such as John Gerstner’s less-than-kind critique, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth (Aurora, CO: Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers, 1991).

Yet there have been faithful Bible teachers from within the dispensational camp who have sounded the alarm in favor of Lordship salvation and who have maintained the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation and other Calvinistic teachings regarding salvation.

The Lord graciously used John MacArthur, among others, to put this argument to rest nearly 30 years ago. In his landmark work on the subject, Faith Works, MacArthur includes a whole appendix on “What is Dispensationalism and What Does it Have to do With Lordship Salvation?” While presenting the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ over those whom He truly redeems, John MacArthur also acknowledges:

I am a dispensationalist because dispensationalism generally understands and applies Scripture—particularly prophetic Scripture—in a way that is more consistent with the normal, literal approach I believe is God’s design for interpreting Scripture.[5]

He rightly sides with Gerstner’s critique and attack of antinomian[6] doctrine from within the dispensational camp.[7]

So why do modern scholars such as R. C. Sproul (a student of Gerstner, who did not understand or agree with dispensational teaching) and Sinclair Ferguson, to name just a couple,  still offer this argument, so many years after the debate over ”Calvinistic-dispensationalism” has been muted? Furthermore, good research has been done to present the case that dispensational theology came out of the same Reformed camp which so much derides dispensationalism now.

Thomas Ice offers helpful evidence in his article, “The Calvinistic Heritage of Dispensationalism,” showing that the early promoters and practitioners of dispensational thought staunchly affirmed the doctrines of grace.[8] So dispensationalism came out of the same theological group that accuses dispensationalists of holding to non-lordship salvation.

(Read Part 5)

Review the entire series:

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

Read Part 3

Dr. Parker Reardon is a graduate of Word of Life Bible Institute, Pensacola Christian College and The Master’s Seminary, where he received a doctorate in expository preaching. He is currently serving as the main teaching elder/pastor at Applegate Community Church in Grants Pass, Ore., and as adjunct professor of theology for Liberty University and adjunct professor of Bible and theology for Pacific Bible College. Reardon’s sermons and writings may be accessed at BiblicalExpositor.org. It is with great eagerness that we present him as a contributing author to Dispensational Publishing House for the benefit of our readers.

Copyright © 2017 by Dr. Parker Reardon. Used by permission of the author.

Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995
by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

[1] Teaching fellows of Ligonier include this discussion at an April 16, 2012, recording, called “Ligonier Q&A – R.C. Sproul, R.C. Sproul Jr, Steve Lawson, Robert Godfrey, Sinclair Ferguson.” Unfortunately, some early dispensationalists, like C.I. Scofield, confused the issue as he presents in his study notes in reference to John 1:17, saying that under the law, God’s blessings were earned (Scofield Reference Bible, [New York: Oxford University Press, 1945], p. 1,115). This note was enhanced in a subsequent revision. Also, there was the dualistic idea of redemption, emphasized in Scofield’s notes, among “classic dispensationalists,” teaching that the church is a parenthesis in God’s plan of redemption.

[2] What is Reformed Theology? (Ada, MI: Baker Books, 2016), p. 115.

[3] This was espoused by R. C. Sproul and Sinclair Ferguson on April 12, 2012, in “Ligonier Q&A – R.C. Sproul, R.C. Sproul Jr, Steve Lawson, Robert Godfrey, Sinclair Ferguson.”, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZUPOWB4Nfg>; Internet; accessed 10 June 2016.

[4] See “An Introduction to Lordship Salvation,” <https://www.gty.org/library/articles/A114/an-introduction-to-lordship-salvation?Term=lordship%209%20distinctives>; Internet; accessed 17 March 2017. This presents an excellent summary of nine distinctives of Lordship salvation.

[5] Faith Works (Grand Rapids: W Publishing Group, 1993), p. 220.

[6] “This is the idea that behavior is unrelated to faith, or that Christians are not bound by any moral law. Antinomianism radically separates justification and sanctification, making practical holiness elective.” Ibid, p. 259.

[7] Ibid, p. 224.

[8] “The Calvinistic Heritage of Dispensationalism,” <http://www.pre-trib.org/articles/view/calvinistic-heritage-of-dispensationalism> ; Internet; accessed 3 June 2016.