I periodically hear from Christian circles the accusation that dispensationalism teaches two modes of salvation, one for Israel and another for gentiles and the church. Dispensationalism is a way of viewing theology, and can be contrasted with a few other systems which differ on how to view God’s overall way of dealing with people over time.
Although I am no longer, I was a member of two dispensational churches, totaling about 18 years. During that time, I did not once hear taught the doctrine that there are two salvations. While I’m sure there may be some individual dispensationalists who believe this, I found the idea of two methods of salvation to be rather shocking, and if true, would likely qualify as heresy.
Lewis Sperry Chafer founded Dallas Theological Seminary in 1924, and published his Systematic Theology in 1952. DTS is one of the largest seminaries in the world, and the largest one that teaches dispensationalism, graduating somewhere around 600 to 800 people a year, going back some 70 years or so. Although I believe it does no longer, in the past Chafer’s Systemaic Theology was taught at DTS for many decades. If anywhere there was a “mainstream” teaching of dispensationalism, it would be here. Chafer systematized the teachings of his mentor, C. I. Scofield, who published the widely-influential Scofield Reference Bible, first published in 1909. I would estimate that DTS has graduated about 20,000 pastors in past decades, and is therefore the largest source of dispensational teaching by a wide margin. So here are some quotes from Chafer’s Systematic Theology:
“the individual Jew is now divinely reckoned to be as much in need of salvation as the individual Gentile (Rom. 3:9). These facts, related as they are to the present age-purpose—the calling out of the Church from both Jews and Gentiles alike (Eph. 3:6)—have no bearing upon the divine purpose for the coming kingdom age when, according to covenant promise, Israel will be saved and dwell safely in her own land (Deut. 30:3–6; Jer. 28:5–6; 33:15–17).”
(Vol. 3, Page 105.)
“it is also as clearly stated that no blood could ever avail for any remission of sin other than the blood of Christ. We conclude, therefore, that the nation Israel will yet be saved and her sins removed forever through the blood of Christ.”
(Vol. 3, Page 107.)
“God is righteously free to act in behalf of sinners only on the ground of the fact that the Lamb of God has taken away their sins. A major objective in the death of Christ is, therefore, the national salvation of Israel.”
(Vol. 3, Page 108.)
“National election, too often confused with individual election (note the Apostle’s warning to the nation Israel on this point as recorded in Rom. 9:4–13), anticipates no more than the ultimate blessing of Israel as a nation and their national preservation unto that end. Ahab and Jezebel along with Abraham and Sarah, were partakers alike in Israel’s national election. However, a judgment day for Israel is predicted when multitudes will be rejected (Ezek. 20:33–44; Dan. 12:1–3). There is, nonetheless, a recognition in the Bible of a spiritual remnant in all Israel’s generations; but that spiritual group shared no additional covenants, their distinction being due to their willingness to be more faithful to those relations to Jehovah which were the privileges extended to all in Israel. The remnant out of Israel in this age is “a remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom. 11:5), and is composed of those who are saved by faith in Christ, and therefore partake of the heavenly calling which pertains to the Church. It is not until a Deliverer comes out of Zion that all Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:27), and that salvation will not only be unto the realization of all their national, earthly covenants, but also unto the taking away of their sins (cf. Jer. 31:34). In the present time, as above stated, only a remnant out of Israel are being saved as individuals, which is according to the divine election in grace and unto the heavenly glory of the Church.”
(Vol. 3, Page 189-190.)
“The receiving of eternal life will be for Israelites, as it is in the case of the Christian, a feature of salvation itself; and salvation for Israel is, in Romans 11:26–32, declared to be after the present age-purpose of the fullness of the Gentiles which is now accompanied by Israel’s blindness (verse 25), and at the time when “there shall come out of Zion the Deliverer,” who shall “turn away ungodliness from Jacob.” “This,” Jehovah says, “is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.” Isaiah anticipates the same great moment of Israel’s salvation when he predicts that a nation shall be born “at once.””
(Vol. 4, Page 26.)
“There is great force added to the whole program of Israel’s regathering, repentance, restoration, salvation, and realization of her covenants, when, by the proper elimination of the present age, these are seen to follow directly upon the rejection of their King.”
(Vol. 4, Page 321-322.)
Again, these quotes are from what could be called the most influential dispensational teacher of the last 100 years. Another influential dispensationalist is Norman Geisler, who in his Systematic Theology also affirms one salvation for all. I therefore maintain that this is mainstream dispensationalism, not the extreme views that are sometime painted as dispensational, or views possibly held by individuals.
Putting together the quotes above, Chafer is saying that in the future, most of the nation of Israel will repent at once, believe in Christ, and be saved by Jesus’ blood. The last quote specifically mentions repentance. Therefore, while I admit there may be some that call themselves dispensational that would hold to two salvations, this does not represent the bulk of dispensational teachings in the last 70 years. Two salvations was never taught by Chafer.
As far as mainstream dispensationalism teaching that there are two salvations, one for Israel and one for the church, it is simply not true. It teaches, and has always taught, that as far as individual salvation goes, all are one in Christ Jesus.
As a Christian who was a member of two dispensationalist churches for 18 years and earned a seminary degree from a dispensationalist seminary (SES), I affirm that I have never heard a dispensationalist pastor or Bible teacher hold to two salvations. Chafer taught that Israel had a national election separate from the individual Jew, but this is another matter (see below). Israel must repent and believe in Jesus just as gentiles, which was taught to at least 20,000 dispensational pastors over the last 70 years.
So far, I’ve seen no direct quotes from any dispenationalist theology text that says any different. I’ve seen non-dispensationalists giving accusations, but not a word of citation from a noted dispensationalist. Perhaps they are there and I have missed them; if so, I would be interested in any primary source quote from a dispensational theology text that says Israel is saved by some other means other than faith in Christ. I’ve found none.
Perhaps the confusion is created by dispensationalists’ teachings about the covenants and kingdom roles of Israel and the church. Norman Geisler has explained the difference between Traditional Dispensationalism (Darby, Scofield, Chafer), Revised Dispensationalism (Walvoord, Ryrie), and Progressive Dispensationalism (Blaising, Bock):
[Traditional Dispensationalism] holds that the Old Testament covenants known as the Abrahamic, the Davidic, and the new were made strictly with the nation of Israel and its literal descendants and will be literally fulfilled in them. This involved the belief that there were two new covenants, one for Israel (yet to be fulfilled) and one for the church (presently being fulfilled). Further, Israel and the church forms two separate peoples of God, one earthly and the other heavenly. Hence, they will have two destinies, one in heaven for the church and one on earth for Israel.
Revised dispensationalism . . . affirms that there is yet a literal national fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant to Israel. However, it holds that there is only one new covenant , which, while having a later literal fulfillment in national Israel, has a present application to the church. Most revised dispensationalists hold . . . all are part of one overall people of God who share in spiritual redemption wrought by Christ.
[Progressive dispensationalists] insist that there is a present inaugural fulfillment in the church. Thus, they maintain that fulfillment of the Davidic covenant began at Christ’s ascension to God’s right hand and will later come to earth at the Second Coming. Like covenant theologians, they both stress the view that there is one people of god . . . (Geisler, Systematic Theology, vol 4, 499-500)
As we can see from this comparison, the emphasis here is on eschatological fulfillment of covenants, not on salvation. The issue is whether or not Christ’s kingdom is written on hearts or physically on the earth in the latter days, or whether the earthly kingdom is only ethnic Jews or many nations. We should all approach this with a bit of caution, for it is difficult to properly mesh Jeremiah 31, the book of Hebrews, and Jesus’ upper room statements about the new covenant. But we can be sure of this: all mainstream dispensationalists teach one salvation, by repentance and faith in Jesus.
Geisler does include a critique of some ultradispensationalists (Baker, Bullinger, O’Hair), but the issues in question are not salvation (see vol. 4, 680ff).