By Raymond Harris
First Entry: Theology: A Root of Argumentation
NOTE: Remember that it is not my intention to compose a research paper giving a critical examination of theological perspectives; my reasoning is somewhat simple, doing such an investigation seems to appeal to a small audience. Instead, I am attempting to reveal how I believe the theology is attempting to process biblical teachings. Within that framework, I will reveal some of my thoughts about why I agree or disagree with the theological perspective.
What is Dispensational Theology?
Dispensational Theology is a theological system that has its origins in the Protestant church of the 1800s1 and is based on an application of the definition dispensation. Dictionary.com provides several definitions for dispensation2
1. an act or instance of dispensing; distribution.
2. something that is distributed or given out.
3. a certain order, system, or arrangement; administration or management.
Notice that dispensation is partly defined by the word dispensing which has the root word dispense which in part, means “to deal out; distribute” or “to administer”.3 This means that Dispensational Theology wants Bible readers to see the Bible as a structured management system by which God has managed humanity.
With direct application for Biblical interpretation, dispensationalism processes theological interpretation through the belief structure of seeing God manage humanity. Dispensational Theology sees God manage humanity by having Him deal out certain instructions (laws); then God having someone distribute those laws, along with God having someone administer those laws; which ultimately means that God has provided a system of guidance to humanity.
On a certain level Dispensational Theology sounds logical and quite reasonable, and seems that it might even have some NT support when considering that the English word dispensation is found within three of Paul’s letters.4
Dispensational Theology’s Process of Biblical Teachings
Like all categories of Theology, Dispensational Theology is diverse and quite in-depth. But, for me, it seems that the most succinct way to explain Dispensational Theology is that it is an idea that God has managed humanity and has revealed himself to humanity according to time frame. As I understand it, at the minimum, Dispensational Theology has at least two things:
1) Time frames are no fewer than three but can be as many as eight;5
2) Under each dispensation, all humanity is amenable (accountable, answerable, responsible) to certain God-given “laws” or they are eternally lost.
Dispensational Time Frames
This section addresses point number one: Time frames are no fewer than three but can be as many as eight. Within the Restoration Movement, I was taught that God managed humanity in three dispensations: Patriarchal, Mosaical (or Jewish), and Christian. Here is how this teaching works.
1. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the Twelve Patriarchs (the 12 sons of Jacob) lived in the Patriarchal Dispensation governed by some “law” that existed prior to the Law of Moses. Dispensational theology seems to hold that this patriarchal “time frame” is found from Genesis Chapter One through Exodus Chapter Eighteen.
2. Moses (specifically the last 40 years of his 120 years), The Wilderness Wanderings, the Conquest, the Judges, Kings Saul, David, Solomon, the Divided Kingdom, the Prophets, those in the Captivity and those in the Intertestamental time period all lived in the Mosaical (Jewish) Dispensation governed by the Law of Moses. Dispensational theology seems to hold that this Mosaical “time frame” is found from Exodus Chapter Nineteen through Malachi and includes the Intertestamental time period (the 400 years of “silence” between the events of Malachi and the events found in the Gospel of Matthew).
3. Jesus, the 12 Apostles, the First Century Church as well as the Modern Day Church all lived or currently live in the Christian Dispensation governed by the Law of Christ. Restoration Movement Dispensational theology seems to hold that this Christian “time frame” is found from Matthew Chapter One through Revelation and through the End of Time.
Interestingly, the number of dispensation time frames may change depending on which Protestant Church you are from, but the Three Dispensations was what I was taught because of Restoration Movement association. And I am sure that arguments abound on the correct number of time frames, but the number of time frames is not my focus. My focus, giving no attention to the number, is that Dispensational Theology believes that God manages humanity through time-framed management. But beyond time-framed management, my understanding is that one dispensational time frame neither influences nor interacts with the other dispensational time frames; in other words, each dispensational time frame is isolated and independent.
Amenability within Dispensational Time Frames
This section addresses point number two: Under each dispensation, all humanity is amenable (accountable, answerable, responsible) to certain God-given “laws” or they are lost.
The three dispensations pretty much follow the book arrangement in the Christian Bible, but the interesting item is that, as I understand it, the three dispensations do not interact with each other. This means that the Patriarchal Dispensation is self-contained and does not interact with either the Mosaical or Christian Dispensations. Which means that the Mosaical Dispensation is self-contained and does not interact with either the Patriarchal or Christian Dispensations. Which means that the Christian Dispensation is self-contained and does not interact with either the Patriarchal or Mosaical Dispensations. Thereby making each Dispensation isolated from the other two.
Dispensational Theology seems nice enough because it breaks the Bible into time frames that are easily identifiable, but this theological system seems to have a weakness. The weakness is amenability (one’s answerability to God by “laws”). This means that Noah is amenable to his laws, but Moses is not amenable to the “law of Noah,” which means that modern day believers are not amenable to the “law of Noah”. But those who lived in the time period of the Patriarchs (the Patriarchal Dispensation – Genesis One through Exodus Eighteen) are all amenable to the “law of Noah” except, perhaps, for those who lived prior to the Flood.
To test the soundness of amenability, let us place a seemingly prominent Christian assertion that every human is amenable to the “law of Christ” because this is the “Christian Dispensation” and apply this amenability assertion to the time period of Abraham.
We know from Scripture that Abraham was called by God (Genesis 12.1-3), subsequently God entered into a Covenant with Abram (Genesis 15.1-21) and later God required Abraham and his household males to wear a sign (circumcision) to prove their faithful covenant status (Genesis 17.1-27). Abraham and his household from that moment forward were amenable to God’s covenant and circumcision. But what do we do about all the people outside of Abraham’s household?
If we take the current Christian belief about amenability and place that concept of amenability in Abraham’s time frame; then what we have done is to make humanity amenable to the “law of circumcision.” This would make everyone in Abraham’s time frame amenable to the “law of circumcision” which means everyone outside of Abraham and his household would be lost to hell because they did not wear “the sign” of circumcision. This simply cannot be true, if for no other reason, than it would make the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob an unjust God and unjust He is not.
Application of Testing
The serious truth is that the Scriptures reveal nothing about Abraham’s brothers ever being circumcised, nor the circumcision status of the descendents of the Hamites or the Japethites, or the remaining Shemites (for Abraham is a Shemite descendent). So for us, in evaluating Dispensational Theology the question becomes: to what were those outside of the “law of circumcision” amenable?
These non-Abrahamic peoples, these non “law of circumcision” peoples must have been amenable to something, the question is: to what? The only item that seems to make any sense is to have those non-Abrahamic peoples remain amenable to the “law of Noah” (which was established in Genesis Nine, which is also called the Noadic Covenant).
For sake of brevity, it seems proper to conclude that Abraham became amenable for an additional level of faithfulness. His circumcision did not remove nor negate the “law of Noah” (Noadic Covenant). It simply means that Abraham was answerable to the Noadic System, and yet he, his household, and his descendents, were also to remain faithful to the “law of circumcision” (also called the Abrahamic Covenant).
Since the Church of Christ has ingrained it in me to seek the first century church, and it seems that Dispensational theology originated in the 1800s, I ask myself: why was I taught Dispensational Theology? To me, utilizing Dispensational Theology seems to violate the impetus (the driving force) of the Restoration Movement: seek the First Century Church and the First Century Church’s understanding of God’s Word.
While I am certain that Dispensational Theology has merit, I am no longer persuaded that Dispensational Theology is the clearest theological method for interpretation of Scripture, especially in light of Amenability Testing.
In the Amenability Testing, we have to accept that God allowed all non-Abrahamic peoples access to Him because God is the God of all nations, not just the God of Abraham. This amenability test reveals what I consider to be the greatest weakness of Dispensational Theology: What do we do with those who are outside “the law”? In observing this weakness, I believe it suggests that I should ask: How does God work within the Scriptures? The answer to which I am becoming more convinced is Covenant Theology.
1. Dispensational Theology origins in the 1800s Protestant church, Wikipedia.
2. “Dispensation,” Dictionary.com.
3. “Dispense,” Dictionary.com.
4. “Dispensation in Paul’s letters” 1 Corinthians 9.17; Ephesians 1.10, 3.2; Colossians 1.25, KJV.
5. “Three to Eight Dispensations,” Wikipedia.com.
SOME RESEARCH LINKS
The links are not provided to affirm or deny my perspective; they are, however, provided so that my readers can continue their study drawing their own conclusions.