Does Dispensationalism Teach Two Modes of Salvation? (Part 3)

As a bible teacher and dispensationalist, I would periodically hear people make the claim that dispensationalism teaches two salvations. I found this very curious, for although I am no longer, I have been a member of two dispensational churches for many years, visited a number of dispensational churches, and heard a good number of dispensational teachers in the media, all the while never hearing any of them teach two modes of salvation. The teaching from dispensationalists was always uniform: salvation was only by faith in the finished work of the messiah Jesus. I would periodically hear individual people make claims that I disagreed with, but since followers of all theological systems can have individuals that teach most anything, I never counted these as authoritative. Are we to measure Calvinism by any random member of a reformed church, or are we to measure Calvinism by the main body of teaching of key followers of Calvin? Again, no dispensationalist pastor or teacher I ever met taught any way of salvation except through faith in Christ, myself included.

I would routinely challenge those who made this claim and would never get an answer. In my first post, one responder posted ten quotes in support of the position that dispensationalists teach a separate salvation for Israel and the church (see the comments on this post).  I will attempt to deal with these here.

Briefly, C. I. Scofield was arguably the first popularizer of dispensationalism when he published The Scofield Reference Bible, a very popular study bible of the early 1900s. Dispensationalism holds that God has different administrations or types of expectations for men of different ages. Clearly, the specifics of the law of Moses was not given to Adam before or after the garden. Before the Fall, Adam was to eat only vegetables, while after the Fall he could eat all types of meat. After Moses, Israel was commanded to eat only certain types of meat, and today we are again not commanded to avoid unclean meat.  Under the present age, we are not expected to keep every single command of the law of Moses as ancient Israel was commanded. So they were in the dispensation of law, we are in the dispensation of grace, but in all dispensations all people attain salvation the same way: by the payment of Jesus on the cross, not of any works that people do.  That said, if an Israelite were to callously disregard the Mosaic law, he would be out of the will of God by not trusting God as would a believer today who disobeys God.

Scofield’s notes in his study bible were widely influential. However, his notes were rather brief comments on certain verses, not a commentary or lengthy theology text.  Nevertheless, there are statements from Scofield that say troublesome things, such as:

“. . . grace begins with the death and resurrection of Christ…” (John 1:16)

““The righteous man under law became righteous by doing righteously; under grace he does righteously because he has been made righteous.” (1 John 3:7)

“. . . a new function, that of preaching the glad tidings of salvation through a crucified and risen Lord to Jew and Gentile alike.” (Matt. 10:2), “New” as if it were in contrast to a previous way.

“The Christian is not under the conditional Mosaic Covenant of works, the law, but under the unconditional New Covenant of grace.” (Exodus 19:25)

However, Scofield also said:

“The Scripture knows nothing of salvation by the imitation or influence of Christ’s life, but only by that life yielded up on the cross.” (Lev. 17:11)

“Gal. 3:6–25 explains the relation of the law to the Abrahamic Covenant: (1) the law cannot disannul that covenant; (2) it was “added” to convict of sin; (3) it was a child-leader unto Christ; (4) it was but a preparatory discipline “till the Seed should come.” (Ex. 19:1)

What are we to make of this? Part of the answer is this: Scofield taught that Israel’s position in God’s plan is dependent on the law. Exodus 19:5 says “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;  and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” This passage is clearly a conditional statement: if you obey, you will be to me a kingdom.  Scofield’s note on this verse says “What, under law, was condition, is under grace, freely given to every believer.” Therefore part of the answer is that Scofield made a distinction between what under law was conditionally dependent on obedience, namely national position and God making them “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” and individual salvation, which was only through faith in God’s finished work on the cross.

Further, another part of the answer is unfairly isolating phrases and sentences in Scofield’s notes. The quote I gave above of his comment on Ex. 19:25 seem to say that Israel was under a conditional covenant to salvation, but Scofield’s note on this verse clarifies:

The Commandments were a “ministry of condemnation” and of “death” (2 Cor. 3:7–9); the ordinances gave, in the high priest, a representative of the people with Jehovah; and in the sacrifices a “cover” (see “Atonement,” Lev. 16:6, note) for their sins in anticipation of the Cross (Heb. 5:1–3; 9:6–9; Rom. 3:25, 26). The Christian is not under the conditional Mosaic Covenant of works, the law, but under the unconditional New Covenant of grace (Rom. 3:21–27; 6:14, 15; Gal. 2:16; 3:10–14, 16–18, 24–26; 4:21–31; Heb. 10:11–17).

Thus Scofield taught that Israel’s attempt to obey the law only brought death, and the Mosaic sacrifices pointed to The Sacrifice, the one of Christ, which pays for all sin. OT sacrifices did not truly cover sin, but the sacrifice of Christ did.

Next, Scofield, and even others such as Chafer, at times seem to indicate that obedience to the law was a demonstration of faith, much as baptism would be today. This is not the same as conditioning salvation on obedience to the law.

We now turn to Chafer. He is quoted as having said, when speaking of the future messianic kingdom, “there will be a return to the legal kingdom grounds”. Statements such as this, and others speaking of the legal dispensation of Moses or the future kingdom, do not condition salvation, but a mode of administration or dispensation. Are we to deny that God gave Moses a law? That Israel was commanded to keep it and conditions applied to this law, per Deut. 30:15-19? Or that the New Testament claims that the blood of bulls and goats saves no man (Heb. 10:4)? Again, giving commandments under Moses does not mean that is how men were saved in those days no more than the command to make disciples and baptize means this is how we are saved today.

We must admit, however, that Scofield and Chafer do have some troubling statements. I do not want to gloss over or excuse such passages. However, it seems unsafe to base all of dispensationalism, or even all of Scofield or Chafer, on a few isolated sentences made in short notes on individual verses. Further, the lengthy quotes from Chafer I gave in the first and second posts show that Chafer, at length in those passages, clearly taught one mode of salvation. When confronted with this very charge, Chafer denied it vehemently. That other passages seem unclear or contradictory are by no means an affirmation of a clear, blanket teaching of two salvations.  At most we can charge them with inconsistency, not heresy.

When we add other well-known dispensational teachers such as John McArthur, Norman Geisler, Charles Swindoll, Charles Ryrie, Tony Evans, J. Vernon McGee, and many others, surely we can put a stop to blanket falsehoods that claim all dispensationalists teach two salvations.






About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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4 Responses to Does Dispensationalism Teach Two Modes of Salvation? (Part 3)

  1. Mike G. says:

    Hello, I read your “about” page and I gather that you have parted ways with dispensationalist thinking in favor of classic theology. I became Anglican a couple of years ago but I have not let go of dispensational thinking. (It frustrates me somewhat that Anglicans by and large refuse to entertain even the slightest possibility of an earthly millennial reign to come.) I am curious to know what moved you away from a dispensational understanding, and I wonder if you would care to recommend a particular book or website. By the way, I agree than an emphasis on evangelism should have a high priority these days and, happily, my rector has told me to prepare to teach an adult Sunday School series on the subject.

    • humblesmith says:

      I am still a dispensationalist. I’ve not seen any other systems that are as consistent in handling the scriptures. In but one example, clearly God’s covenant with Abraham is forever, as the text says repeatedly. I’ve found that most of the critics of dispensationalism do not actually read dispensationalists but rather repeat criticisms from other critics.

      The works on dispensationalism that I would suggest are listed below.
      Dispensationalism, by Charles Ryrie: I think this is the single best work on the subject. Ryrie deals with most the critics and lays out a descent overview.
      Systematic Theology, by Normal Geisler: This has sections on eschatology and also deals with several aspects of the subject, including the people who take dispensationalism too far.
      Chafer’s Systematic Theology was the first to explain the subject.
      Things to Come, by Dwight Pentecost: a large work on dispensationalist eschatology.
      Progressive Dispensationalism, by Blaising and Bock. Modifies dispensationalism a bit.
      There Really is a Difference: A Comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology, by Renald Showers: this is a light and easy read for beginners. The author’s bias shows through, and experienced theologians will have a lot to target, but this is a great introduction for those new to the subject.

      From a biblical standpoint, I’d merely point to the many passages that if we merely take them at face value will lead to an earthly reign of Christ. This is in no conflict with classical theology or Thomism as a theological approach. As a protestant I disagree with Aquinas on several points, as I do with some dispensationalists.

      • Mike G. says:

        Thanks for all of the info! I jumped to the wrong conclusion when I read that you believe in historic theology. That’s because the folks I’ve conversed with who oppose dispensationalism have all been quick to point out its “newness” in the church; they say dispensationalism was never taught prior to (allegedly) the 1600s, and if this theology were correct then we’d have had early church theologians writing about it. They’re emphasizing that the early church viewpoints are the historic (and therefore most likely to be accurate) views. Plus, of course, Darby started as an Anglican and got kicked out for his ideas about communion and worship, so Anglicans consequently are especially stout against it.

        They do have me wondering why Origen, Augustine, or someone like them didn’t write about it. Any ideas about that?

        • humblesmith says:

          The Ryrie book has an entire chapter on this. He states that yes, the compiled system of dispensationalism is relatively recent, but quotes elements of it from several authors in the early and mid-centuries. I suggest getting his book. I simply respond with the same argument as Geisler: I know of no one who thinks we are still in the same administration before God as Adam was before the fall; I know of no one who holds the entirety of the Mosaic law was in place prior to Moses; Almost no one holds that the Mosaic law, as written, remains as an obligation today; and almost everyone believes in some sort of future state when Christ returns. This is the framework upon which dispensationalism is built.

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