(Read Part 1)

Modified/Essentialist or “Traditional” Dispensationalism: 1965—1982
The publication of Dispensationalism Today by Charles C. Ryrie (Moody Press, 1965) marked the beginning of another stage of dispensational refinement. Walvoord, Pentecost, Clarence Mason, Alva J. McClain, among others, also contributed.[1]

Ryrie laid down a three-fold sine qua non, or three irreducible minimum essentials of dispensational theology—the fundamental theological and historical distinction between Israel and the church, the consistent use of literal or normal interpretation of Scripture and the glory of God as the underlying purpose of the dispensations. This modification offered a new definition, with elaboration, of a dispensation that put the emphasis on the sovereignty of God and man’s stewardship of God’s truth: “A dispensation is a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purpose.”[2] Ryrie lessened somewhat the dichotomy between law and grace (via the continuing revelational principles, or carryovers, between the dispensations). But the position continued the pretribulational rapture of the church with exegetical, Biblical explication.

Progressive Dispensationalism: 1982—
An article by Kenneth Barker in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (March 1982) set in motion the present revisionism known as progressive dispensationalism. Others who assisted were Darrell Bock, Craig Blaising, Robert Saucy, Bruce Ware, Carl B. Hoch and W. Edward Glenny.[3]

A general overview here notes some of the basic structure of this thought. (1) It operates from hermeneutical principles that allow expanded meanings to accrue to Old Testament words. This greatly affects the relationship between the nation Israel and the New Testament church. (2) It rejects the sine qua non of essentialist dispensationalism, creating a problem of determining the actual boundaries, i.e., the essentials, of a dispensational approach to the Scriptures. (3) It sees a presently inaugurated Messianic kingdom in spiritual form that will also have an eschatological manifestation on earth. (4) It views the dispensations as stages in salvation history, positing much more continuity between law and grace than before. (5) It also holds, somewhat tenuously, to a pretribulational rapture of the church but with far less enthusiasm than in the previous periods.

Progressive dispensationalism’s new thought brought further effort by dispensationalists to clarify and promote their approach to the Scriptures. I am sure it played a large part in the reasoning of Dr. Pickering to issue a clear call of renewal more than two decades ago. Other groups and ministries are showing fresh exegetical, theological and practical responses, such as the Dispensational Publishing House. World events have probably contributed to such investigations into Bible prophecy and dispensational thought. Undoubtedly, simple fascination and curiosity had a part. It would be interesting and challenging to investigate the tributaries to dispensational thought of the last two decades or so. The field of interests is quite broad.

My personal concerns have to do with some of the new proposals for a dispensational approach to the Bible, i.e., a critique of some of the structural points that hitherto were not characteristic of dispensational thought. One major principle will be discussed here—biblical hermeneutics. There are other factors that could be dealt with profitably as well.

(To be continued)

Dr. Rolland D. McCune served at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary from 1981 to 2009 as professor of systematic theology, dean of the faculty and president. He previously taught at Central Baptist Seminary for 14 years. He is the author of A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, 3 vols. (Allen Park, MI: DBTS, 2008-2010) as well as other books and many journal articles. It is a truly a blessing to welcome him as a contributing author to Dispensational Publishing House.

Copyright © 2016 by Dr. Rolland D. McCune. Used by permission of the author.

[1] See, for example, the editorial committee of the New Scofield Reference Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967).

[2] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), p. 29.

[3] See the many contributors to Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, Darrell Bock and Craig Blaising, eds. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992).