Scofield and His Bible

CIScofield.jpgI don’t know how to measure the impact, but the Scofield Bible and its form of dispensationalism has probably shaped American conservative, populist evangelicalism more than any other set of ideas. I grew up with Scofield, the first Bible I bought was a Scofield Bible (and I still own that Morocco leather Bible), and many evangelicals of my age have a Scofield past. 

Dispensationalism, as is well known, has morphed enough to lead me to say, perhaps uncharitably, that it gave up most of its original arguments but sustained its central conclusions. I’d be glad to hear someone respond to that claim. However one wants to explain it, the average conservative evangelical in the USA believes in a pretribulation rapture, distinguishes law and grace in radical ways, and sees Israel’s becoming a nation to be a fulfillment of prophecy — and that the USA ought to stick with Israel because God has his eye especially on Israel.
Because of an early comment, I add these questions: How has dispensationalism changed in the last 20-30 years? What do you think are the “necessary beliefs” for dispensationalism?
But this post is a little more concerned with Scofield because Todd Mangum and Mark Sweetnam have published the best study to date on Scofield (character, life, theology) and on the Scofield Bible’s influence in both Britain and the USA: The Scofield Bible: Its History and Impact on the Evangelical Church

In very readable and accessible prose, not to forget the high level of civility and charity in interpreting the foibles and influence of Scofield, Mangum and Sweetman study the life of Scofield — his Confederate army years, his political years in Kansas that ended in disgrace, his conversion, his Bible studies and his Bible and his legacy of Christian ministries in all directions — as well as the theological roots of the Scofield Bible, the theology of the Scofield Bible itself, and the impact of the Scofield Bible in Britain, the USA and on evangelicalism.
Perhaps a detail or two on the theology: what drove Scofield and the Scofield Bible is grace, a grace that is set in powerful contrast with the Old Testament law and which grace personally saves individuals from sin and judgment and in which a forgiven sinner can stand, and the American version of dispensational premillennialism that sharply divided Israel (socio political) and the church (spiritual body). This is wrapped up in social conservatism. The Sermon on the Mount is pure law for Scofield; no grace. The Old Testament is law; the New Testament is grace (or most of the New Testament). This is neither Lutheranism nor Calvinism’s distinction between law and grace though.
The impact of the Scofield Bible, making personal Bible study easy and clear as it did, wildly exceeded anyone’s expecations and that Bible reshaped the culture of evangelicalism. 
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  • Luke

    I am a student at Dallas Seminary, which was founded by a man heavily influenced by Scofield (Lewis Sperry Chafer) and has been considered the dispensational training school of America (though I’m still looking for a student who really cares about the system). All that to say, even though I don’t know a great deal about dispensationalism proper and we don’t take an entire class on it, I speak with a little bit of knowledge and am somewhat able to evaluate your statement.
    You say that dispensationalism has morphed enough to lead you to say that it gave up most of its original arguments but sustained its central conclusions. I take this to mean even all dispensationalists today, which are found in a variety of forms, still hold to these conclusions. The picture you paint of dispensationalism above is accurate (pre-trib; stark dichotomy between law & grace, prophetic fulfillment of modern-day Israel; OT is law & NT is grace; Sermon on Mount is not for us, etc.). However, this was true of your grandfather’s dispensationalism up until about 1950-1960. Even though it has survived in the churches, in the academy is has been dead for 50 years.
    It morphed into what is called “revised dispensationalism” (more continuity b/t Testaments) & since the 1990s is now in a phase called “progressive dispensationalism” (even more continuity b/t Testaments). In my opinion, with each movement we can see a more healthy and well-balanced view of things like prophecy, Israel, the church, and law & grace. In fact, I would be willing to bet that you yourself would be quite surprised to find the majority of academic profs on campus here would completely agree with your views on most of these issues (of course, other than the rapture question). It is not accurate to speak of THE dispensationalism, nor has it been for over 50 years. When one says “dispensationalism” the first response by anybody knowledgeable about it is “what kind?” Just like we can no longer speak of THE New Perspective, neither can we speak of dispensationalism in such a monolithic & uniform manner, both regarding its arguments & conclusions.
    I don’t know one professor here who would agree with everything about your portrayal. They may agree with one or two things, but not everything. Furthermore, the majority of professors (who call themselves “progressive dispensationalists” which has been the route the school has been heading for 20 years) would disagree with every single one of those except the pre-trib rapture, which they have to believe or they can’t teach here (which I’ve yet to hear it taught & I’m in my 3rd year, so it’s not like it’s a soapbox or hallmark).
    So I would quibble with your statement and agree that dispensationalism has morphed (very, very much, actually) & given up most of its original arguments, but it has also given up many of its central conclusions. I particularly have in mind the element of continuity/discontinuity between the testaments. I also have in mind the view of prophecy. The overwhelming majority here find the Left Behind books just as laughable as anybody else, and find arguments about the modern day nation-state Israel being a fulfillment of prophecy, and therefore we must always support them no matter what, quite ludicrous just like you. On top of that, the view of prophecy proper is nowhere close to what dispensationalists have traditionally believed. For a fourth semester hebrew class last year, we read Brent Sandy’s “Plowshares & Pruninghooks” in an attempt to understand the prophetic genre, and the professor relied heavily upon his material for lectures.
    In any case, I’m no dispensational apologist & look at the Scofield/Darby/Chafer history with shame & embarrassment, but I do think we should understand the situation and represent all sides fairly. The folk/popular system is abhorrent & has done more harm than good, but today’s dispensationalists in the academy are far removed from Scofield et al. who came up with a system seemingly out of thin air that has no grounding in either tradition or scripture. As a student at DTS, I would appreciate people understanding that fact. I know it’s a fun straw-man to use the blanket statement “dispensationalism,” but try to clarify a little or use a different term.
    So I would say both many arguments & conclusions have been given up. Sorry the post is so long.

  • Tim

    I largely agree with much of you say, Luke, about the state of play at DTS, but it seems to me that this might go some way toward demonstrating just what Scot has said.
    First, the point concerns larger swaths of evangelicalism than DTS. There are still large pockets of dispensational conviction in North America, much of it “folk” Christianity found in churches and fundamentalist Bible colleges. These may have historical contacts with DTS and perhaps see themselves as custodians of “your grandfather’s dispensationalism.” In places like these, the essential elements of a Scofieldian outlook remain unchallenged. For example, in some conservative Baptist churches in the Midwest, for someone to make the claim that “we must live out the life of the Kingdom of God in our town” would elicit cries of departure from “sound biblical teaching.”
    Second, and to your point, the case of DTS is an exact illustration of Scot’s point. The DTS doctrinal statement still outlines an essentially dispensational framework, impressive in its lengthy description of this aspect of “doctrine.” Because of the stress over the last three decades on excellence in scholarship at DTS, however, the manner in which these things are handled “on the ground” and “in the classroom” has changed radically, as you’ve noted.
    So, it seems to me that to a great extent, the pockets of evangelicalism that have dispensational roots are still affected by dispensational ways of thinking, but the manner in which these things are spoken about, and the arguments that are made have changed.
    It seems to me that Scot was only pointing to this dynamic.

  • Ted M. Gossard

    Thanks, Scot for this post, and for the first two comments. Insightful and agrees with what I picked up in the early 1990’s as dispensationalism was morphing along the lines of further examination of continuity/discontinuity of the Old and New Testaments.
    I am still amazed at the hold the Scofield Bible had from my perspective. Some Mennonites, who ought to be strong on the Sermon on the Mount and the kingdom of God in Jesus being for today, used it when I was growing up. And oddly enough Pentecostals have been powerfully impacted as well, at least in regard to its eschatology. It did seem to be the default position of most all the churches, and its influence continues to this day, seen in popular Christian bookstores in best sellers.
    Thankfully I think things are changing on the popular level. People seem to be more open to the rich heritage that is ours through the entire church.
    Jesus community

  • Scot McKnight

    Tim, thanks. Yes, that’s what I was doing about modern dispensationalism — say that it had changed quite a bit. DTS’s framework is radically different than in the days of Scofield or Chafer. So, Luke, I’m well aware of progressive dispensationalism (Bock, Blaising et al) and how much it has shifted (which was my point), but it sustained many of the major conclusions.
    My post is about Scofieldian dispensationalism.
    So Luke — and others — here’s my question: When do these modifications result in something that is no longer really dispensationalism?

  • Phil

    So what you’re asking is whether progressive dis. is different enough to be considered something new, or that it is holding weakly onto the original claims of dis? eventually returning to a non dis. theology of pre-mil?
    As to comment in general, I can’t get over the lack of willingness to follow or distrust of scholarship within evangelicalism proper in regards to classic dis. As an associate pastor I definitely hold a minority view (not for) dis. within our congregation, even though I follow the denom. doctrine. If I was as outspoken as others about eschatology I would find the support cut out from under me as our senior pastor and most of our elders are dis. of some sort.

  • Scott Harris

    This has immediately become a very interesting discussion!
    It is fascinating to have a third-year Dallas Seminary student say:
    “Even though it has survived in the churches, in the academy it has been dead for 50 years,”
    to say that he looks “at the Scofield/Darby/Chafer history with shame & embarrassment”,
    “The folk/popular system is abhorrent & has done more harm than good,” and
    “Scofield et al. . . . came up with a system seemingly out of thin air that has no grounding in either tradition or scripture.”
    But since it remains so powerful in “folk” Christianity, and so surprisingly powerful in the politics of U.S. foreign policy, I want Christians today to understand traditional dispensationalism, however many academics laugh at it.
    If Luke is representing them adequately, I wonder if some of these academics would be willing to laugh a little louder–so that some “folk” could hear them outside the classroom.

  • Eric R

    I’m a DTS grad, and Associate Pastor in a DIsp. church. We’ve had a DTS men as senior pastors since 1969. All of our current pastors are DTS grads.
    Scot, I love your questions in #4. I consider myself a Dispy, but truthfully, I think I’m a fairly pitiful example. I’ve been thinking too that Disp. is morphing back into some form of historical pre-millenialism. Most of my classmates and peers were much more in line with the Reformer’s view of Law/Grace than Classical Disp. I almost abandoned the system entirely when I began to discover how Schofield et. al. treated the Sermon on the Mount.
    Scott (#6),
    “But since it remains so powerful in “folk” Christianity, and so surprisingly powerful in the politics of U.S. foreign policy, I want Christians today to understand traditional dispensationalism, however many academics laugh at it.”
    As pastor in the Dispy world, this is tremendously difficult. For me, the idea that the current Israeli state deserves unquestioning loyalty is ludicrous. However, I have to be very cautious and patient in how I talk about the issue. Like every other field of study, what happens in the academy doesn’t find its way to the popular level for many years, if at all. In fact, DTS grads are beginning to not be trusted in more fundy Disp. circles. The seminary may turn out grads that are more in line with the broader church, but that doesn’t mean that the churches will give these grads a fair hearing. I am all too aware that if I speak too loudly, too often, I’ll be looking for a new church sooner rather than later.

  • Taylor George

    Anti-intellectualism and anti-education have been values of many who have been involved in dispensational movements. At least it was in the Plymouth Brethren movement that I was a part of. Therefore, what Dallas seminary is doing is not necessarily seen as authoritative for the movement.

  • ron

    Still have my Scofield Bible here some place, given to me as a teenager. I have moved so far beyond Scofield. I have to say I wouldn’t subscribe to anything in that line of theology – I guess I can thank all those teachers at Regent College (Vancouver, BC), Toronto School of Theology and the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary for scrubbing it out of me…

  • I was a student at DTS from 1971-1975 and there were rumblings between the exegetical classes (e.g., I Cor in Greek) and the theology classes. I was told by my Greek prof to never use 1 Cor 13 to argue for the meaning of “when the perfect comes” as the completion of the NT canon, therefore, the (horrible phrase) “sign gifts” were rendered obsolete. A good friend, after being interviewed by tow profs, graduated as an avowed post-tribber. At the time CC Ryrie ruled the dispensational roost and his *sine qua non* for dispensationalism was the absolute distinction between Israel and “the church.” As Tim (comment #1) noted, that Ryrian dyspy distinctive has fallen on bad ground.
    Som DTS grads who know better are reluctant to talk and “laugh” too loudly because their vocational positions might be in jeopardy. The popular dyspy hold is to this day a strangle hold.

  • Among dispensationalists, your question is the elephant in the room. Many of the Scofield and Ryrian dispensationalists as well as Progressive dispensationalists (like myself) realize that Progressive Dispensationalism has more in common with those who hold a Covenant or New Covenant position and those who are historical pre-mil and amil than the more traditional dispy positions. Because of this, groups such as the fundamentalist Baptist GARBC have been critical of Progressive Dispys as well as Covenant Theology in Plenary sessions and workshops at their recent national conference (the conference was called “Cutting Straight”). Because of my views on the Kingdom being “already/not yet” and that the Church should be involved in justice and mercy ministries as much as they are in doing evangelism/discipleship due to the social implications of the gospel, I often find myself having to defend myself and others from strawman accusations by my fellow Baptists…….
    From my perspective, one’s view of Israel on the continuity/discontinuity scale probably determines whether one is no longer a dispensationalist. Most progressive dispys realize that there is only one people of God, yet God has some future plan for Israel.

  • By the way, how many of you here remember the sheet chart stretched across the front of the church with the 7 dispensations so neatly presented and the horror! of “The Great Tribulation”? And the Bible history dating to 4004 B.C.?

  • I find Luke’s comments particularly interesting. I don’t subscribe to disp theology and didn’t graduate from schools that do either (Abilene Christian undergrad and grad, SMU doctoral) BUT, I did my grad work in Abilene while living in Dallas and it was easier to take Greek at DTS. I had to sign a document stating that I would not say or do anything to dispute disp while on campus. And our young Greek prof used nearly every NT text we translated as an platform for defending disp theo. It was equal parts frustrating and humorous. In my interactions on campus, it was common for conversations to turn to the subject (not by my doing…I’d signed a paper you know), and several people grilled me when they learned that I was from a traditionally non-disp denomination – not very hospitable since I wasn’t allowed to defend myself.
    I’m sure Luke’s comments accurately reflect his experience and perhaps the school has changed significantly since I took Greek. However, my brief relationship with DTS in 03 suggested that premil disp was still important at that time, at least in the circles I encountered.

  • too clarify, I’m currently doing doctoral work at SMU – haven’t graduated from there yet.

  • Scot, what struck me about this post is not the argument for or against dispensational ideas. I would ask how you feel about the changing nature of your faith? It is arguably what I appreciate about your blog and willingness to write out loud. Coming to terms with the idea that our faith changes over time reveals the strange nature of it. Care to share?

  • Richard

    I was enrolled in a course taught by an adjunct that wanted to use Ryrie’s Biblical Theology as the base text. Unfortunately/fortunately the prof had health concerns (that have since been resolved) that allowed the class to be dropped without consequence.
    It might be laughed at in higher level academics but it’s an all too credible view to the non-academic sphere.
    Reminds me of your posts on eschatology earlier this year Scott M. When will pastors begin correcting the popular errors that don’t hold water in Scripture or logically?

  • ron

    I once asked John Walvoord to reconcile Act 15:15-18 with its original context in Amos 9:11-12. I asked him if the “tent of David” was the church. He said, “I don’t know.” Interesting.

  • ron

    Yes, John, remember it well — I saw one about 8 years ago — in perfect condition… 🙂

  • ron

    I am curious do think that the emerging church movement is a reaction to Scofield and his impact on the ‘culture of evangelicalism’?

  • Lee

    Another way to state ron’s good question (#19) is this:
    To what extent are Scofield and his Bible responsible for the evangelical context to which the emerging church movements are reacting?
    Excellent question!

  • Scot McKnight

    ron, in a word — no. Yes for Brian McLaren — definitely. Yes for some others. But overall no.
    Jonathan… that would take us too far afield for now. I’ve actually posted some stuff on how I read Matthew 24 and in that I tell some of my story, but for me it was two-fold:
    Discovering Ladd got it right more than dispensationalism, including his post trib stance.
    Discovering 70 AD as more significant and more the aim of Jesus’ and some early Christians’ eschatology.

  • Matt Edwards

    I graduated from DTS in 2005 (ThM) and did a year in the PhD department (NT) there.
    Contrary to what Luke said, Classical Dispensationalism is not dead at DTS (or at least it wasn’t in 2005). I would agree that most of the professors are Progressive Dispensationalists, especially in the OT and NT departments. However, some of the old school guys are still around and still teach the classical version. When I was on campus, there were even discussions/debates about classical versus progressive, and the two camps co-existed peacefully and ministered side-by-side. (Like I said, this was the case in 2005.)
    For me, the strongest argument for dispensationalism was always the “unconditional” promise God made to Abraham that was never fully fulfilled. Coupled with some of the unfulfilled prophecies in the OT and Romans 11, and I was left to conclude that there had to be a future for ethnic Israel. However, like Luke, I also read Sandy’s book in fourth semester Hebrew and participated in some class discussions about “Conditional Elements in ‘Unconditional’ Prophecies,” and was left scratching my head about the basis for my belief in dispensationalism. I eventually gave it up (in the classical form). Ironically, I entered DTS a classical dispensationalist and left a progressive dispensationalist/historic premillennialist.
    To answer Scot’s question about what makes a dispensationalist, the slogan at DTS (but I don’t know if it originated there) is “Salvation has always been by grace through faith. It has always been a result of the cross. But the content of saving faith has looked different throughout history.” In other words, Moses was saved by grace through faith because of Jesus, even though his faith looked like obeying the law.
    Another characteristic of DTS’s dispensationalism is their hermeneutic. They take the OT at face value and don’t try to apply everything to Jesus.
    The only other things that I think they would insist on are premillennialism and “ethnic Israel is not the church.”

  • dopderbeck

    I grew up first in a Brethren church — the birthplace of Darbyite dispensationalism — and then in a strongly classical dispensationalist nondenominational church.
    In my experience, classical dispensationalism gave North American evangelicalism its tendency towards suspicion of the broader culture, including suspicion of other Christian traditions. The church I grew up in had regular “Bible conferences” in which the speakers tied current world events into the “end times” framework.
    The negative to this approach, which in my experience is a very significant negative, is that it provides a faith that at the end of the day is mostly hopeless. There is no point in doing anything other than a very narrow kind of evangelism if this scheme is taken to its logical place (though few of its proponents were that consistent in practice). I think the emerging church / missional church movement is, in fact, a direct reaction to this negative view of life and culture — at list it is for me.
    The positive things I gained from my experience include a seriousness about scripture and the study of scripture.
    BTW, I have a first edition of a book called “Dispensational Truth” that contains all those pull-out charts that John and others mentioned. Very interesting, and maybe a little creepy at the same time.
    I appreciate folks such as Dan Wallace and Darrell Bock who work in the “progressive dispensational” vein. Still, any eschatology that incorporates an immanent “rapture” and tribulation strikes me as hopeless, so ultimately I’m not sure what the “progressive” part buys.

  • Luke

    Thanks for the comments everybody.
    Matt (#22), I did not mean to imply that anything that is not progressive dispensationalism has been dead at the school for some time, because this is not the case. However, the dispensationalism of Scofield, Darby, & Chafer IS dead & has been for over 50 years. Even Walvoord was a “revised” dispensationalist. The BE department is still very much revised, but they’re the “remnant” so to speak. Their dispensationalism is not dead at DTS, but the future doesn’t look too bright.
    Bret (#13), I’m sorry to hear about your experience at DTS. I can honestly say I haven’t encountered it one time as of yet. Nobody has to sign a document stating that they will not say or do anything to dispute dispensationalism while on campus, so I have no idea where you’re getting that. As far as the Greek class, this seems like an apocryphal story. Without exception all the NT & OT profs are progressive, and none of them have an axe to grind about the system. What your experience was 6 years ago may have been different, but perhaps you were reading a little too much into it. Everybody that knows me here knows that I am no classical dispensationalist & we don’t debate it nor do I receive flak & ridicule, and quite frankly nobody cares if you are from a dispensational tradition or not. Either the school has changed demonstrably since 2003, you only encountered a very small percentage of the student population, or you had a victim mindset. I can assure you what you say is no longer the case.
    Scott (#6), good comments brother. I think it’s important for others to understand traditional dispensationalism & its impact as well. I also wish the academics would laugh a little louder as well, and I’m sure many of them want to. Since it’s still so strong at a popular level though, and since most of the donors are at this popular level, to speak too loudly would probably be suicide. They take the route of reforming with a quiet voice from the inside as opposed to screaming from the roof tops. The graduates of today’s DTS will be more willing to do what you say in the future, and I assure you that I will do my part to let the “folk” hear & understand the issues outside of the classroom (even though I don’t have the goal of going the independent Bible church route). You can’t drop it all on people at once because they can’t handle it and you won’t have a job for long. It’s sad that people who go into this tradition will have to spend the majority of their time demonstrating how many wrong beliefs people have as opposed to instructing them about the right ones.

  • I teach folks from all over the world to write dissertations for a graduate school in Seattle which has one chapter on Theology that provides a resting place for the solution they have tackled in their ministry problem. They are from all ethnic groups and all flavors of denominations.
    I have found that they are impregnated with dispensational theology while being unaware of the word itself. They often speak about the OT law and NT grace separation and Israel within a dispy viewpoint. When I converse with them about such items, they are unaware of the roots of why they think that way and are often surprised that there is an alternative way to think. So, it seems that it is not just an American church problem, but that we have successfully transported it globally.

  • Luke

    Well, I just wrote a response to Scot but I lost it. Oh well. I was basically saying a dispensationalist is one who believes Jews have a future in God’s plan, places an emphasis on progressive revelation, is pre-millenial, and believes in the rapture (which is where I part ways with it). Since they do not have deep historical roots they can kind of go wherever they want I suppose.
    If we’re defining it historically, then I suppose maybe today’s current academic version can’t be truly called “dispensational.” Just let them call themselves that so they can keep their jobs and the donors happy 😉
    I reader earlier commented about how what happens in the academy typically takes time to trickle down to the popular level. This is true. Because of that, there is hope that in the future we won’t have to deal with this escapist, fundamentalist, and unhealthy theology as much and can focus on things more constructive for the sake of the kingdom.

  • David

    “Another characteristic of DTS’s dispensationalism is their hermeneutic. They take the OT at face value and don’t try to apply everything to Jesus.”
    I am curious about what Matt wrote here. I have long been a member of churches in the Reformed tradition, which is where I was raised. The Reformed tradition reads the Bible in redemptive-historical fashion, which sees the whole of scripture as a grand narrative of creation, fall and redemption in Jesus Christ. This means that we read the Old Testament as Christians and see Jesus as the culmination of the promises made to God’s people of the older covenant. The emphasis here is definitely on continuity. Herman Bavinck and Herman Ridderbos would be typical of this approach.
    I’ve not had that much contact with dispensationalism over the years, but I’m wondering whether adherents would actually object to the Reformed redemptive-historical approach, or would they accept it and merely reinterpret it according to their own scheme?

  • Ernest Manges

    The four essential features of classic dispensationalism:
    1) the stark distinction between Israel and the Church
    2) a rigid hermeneutical approach that insists upon literal readings of every OT prophecy relating to the restoration of Israel
    3) the view of the Church as not belonging to this present world
    4) the teaching of a secret rapture that removes the church from this world before the return of Christ (known as the pre-tribulation rapture)
    From more than 20 years of missionary experience I can affirm Winn’s comment (# 25) that classic dispensationalism continues to this day to carry a LOT of weight among conservative believers outside the USA. I’ve seen this personally in my teaching in Africa, Europe and Asia.

  • Matt Edwards

    “The Reformed tradition reads the Bible in redemptive-historical fashion, which sees the whole of scripture as a grand narrative of creation, fall and redemption in Jesus Christ. This means that we read the Old Testament as Christians and see Jesus as the culmination of the promises made to God’s people of the older covenant. The emphasis here is definitely on continuity.”
    Dispensationalists and the Reformed both see continuity and discontinuity between the testaments, but Dispensationalists would emphasize discontinuity more than the Reformed. I don’t object to the Reformed hermeneutic per se, but I have seen it lead many a preacher to make interpretive fallacies. Here are some classic examples:
    1. Reading Trinitarianism into the Old Tesatament. When God says, “Let us make man in our own image” in Genesis 1:26, this does not indicate a conversation within the Trinity. God is probably speaking to the Heavenly Host. Also, the Hebrew name for God, elohim, being plural does not prove the Trinity. It is more likely a plural of majesty.
    2. Reading other New Testament theological developments into the Old Testament. Resurrection is the typical victim, especially in 2 Samuel 12:23, in which David says about his dead son, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” This does not mean that David’s son was in heaven, but more likely that he was in sheol (the ground), the place where David anticipated he would go when he died.
    3. Identifying “types” of Christ. The Reformed would see parallels between the ministries of Elijah and Christ and say, “Elijah is a type of Christ.” Dispensationalists would say, “Jesus patterned his ministry after that of Elijah.”
    Dispensationalists are not the only ones who see development of theology, but they typically emphasize it more than those of the Reformed tradition. Dispensationalists don’t deny “types” of Christ in the Old Testament, they just seek to be realistic about what the human authors/readers understood.

  • David

    Thanks, Matt. I appreciate your comments. Let me respond by indicating that not all Reformed Christians would make the moves you indicate under your three points above. I know personally of Reformed Christians who would share your scepticism over, e.g., reading the Trinity into Genesis 1. True, there are many who would indeed see the plural Elohim as indicative of the Trinity. But it is certainly not a necessary marker of all who claim the Reformed label.
    I agree as well with you that David almost certainly meant that he would join his deceased son in Sheol. In fact, I had not before heard the interpretation you cite above.
    As I mentioned before, I grew up in a Reformed church but our family began attending a Baptist church when I was eleven. It was not a dispensationalist church, but there were dispensationalists among the parishioners. I flirted with this position in my teens, but when I read the Bible through from cover to cover for the first time, I failed to see the distinctive dispensationalist doctrines, especially the so-called secret rapture. So I rejected the position for good.
    I am pleased to know that contemporary dispensationalists have abandoned some of the more quirky elements of Scofield’s account. In that respect, this may parallel similar developments in, say, Seventh Day Adventism and the Worldwide Church of God, where there have been moves towards the mainstream of the larger Christian tradition. I think these are good signs.
    I might add here that our church library has what I believe may be a first edition of the Scofield Reference Bible. Inside the front cover is the name of the original owner along with the date, 1914! Whether this volume would have any value for collectors of rare books I can’t say.

  • bwg

    A little late in the conversation and along a different vein: I do a lecture on Scofield each year and, after commenting that I’d love to read the ‘helps’ of the 1909 version, a student picked one up on ebay and presented it as an end-of-term gift. Its beautiful in spite of its theology.

  • Great discussion! And, thanks Scot, for the kind plug of the book!
    I’ll throw in two points to the discussion: 1) one of the observations that Mark Sweetnam and I make in the book is that Scofield advocated WHAT CAME LATER TO BE KNOWN AS DISPENSATIONALISM, but he wasn’t TRYING to promulgate a partisan theology of any kind (other than conservatism over liberalism). You’ll have to read the book to see the case for this point. 🙂 The major contribution of the Scofield Bible at the time was its cross reference helps, its basic background info on each book, its practical helps to any preacher/teacher scrambling to prepare a weekly sermon or Sunday School lesson. And that was Scofield’s intent: to provide practical help in reading and understanding the Bible to the everyday, work-a-day Bible reader, teacher, or preacher. The Scofieldian theology — which Scofield himself does not seem to realize was a minority position even among Bible-believing scholars at the time — just happened to get enfolded into his commentary along with these helps.
    2) “Dispensationalism” was a tag originally coined by critics of the Scofield-Chafer theology. “Dispensationalism” became a label conceded to by “dispensationalists” only once the discussion had become polarized and politicized.
    One plausible perspective is that dispensationalists have given up most of its original arguments but retained its original conclusions. Another plausible perspective might be that dispensationalism has grown and matured and moderated itself, and as the polarization and politicization has cooled down over the years, its original arguments and stances have become less “central” to the constituency built around “dispensationalist concerns,” providing a cool moment to repair and (quietly) retract flaws in the original arguments and viewpoints.

  • David

    Years ago I read one of Francis Schaeffer’s books (I can no longer recall which one) and was astonished to find evidence that he believed in a pretribulation rapture, which seemed most unusual for someone who is normally identified as a fairly confessional Presbyterian. There’s obviously a story to be told here.
    It’s remarkable that DTS and other dispensational institutions manage to hold onto the secret rapture since that’s the one distinctive teaching that takes some, shall we say, imagination to find in scripture.

  • Soren McMillan

    To respond to Scot’s question, “When do these modifications result in something that is no longer really dispensationalism?”
    As a DTS graduate, I remember taking a course in Eschatology from a “progressive dispensationalist.” He indicated that THE critical problem for dispensationalism is the relevance of Jeremiah’s New Covenant to believers today. This is the theological “elephant in the room.” Once dispensationalism acknowledges that believers in Jesus in the “New Testament” era are now living under the New Covenant in any way, shape, or form, the rest of “dispensational” theological development will involve allowing the rest of its theological convictions to fall in line with the major premise, that of the New Covenant currently being in effect. In other words, once that theological move is made with respect to the New Covenant, all else is merely hashing out details.

  • Lee

    It seems that the opinion of almost everyone who has commented here is that classic dispensationalism is on its way out or is evolving into quite different forms in the academic world, and that it will eventually evolve or diminish among other Christians as well.
    Do any of you know of a published article, summary or internet post that says this without a hostile tone? If so, it would help me very much in my interactions with the people I serve in ministry.
    Thank you!

  • Alan Hawkins

    Excellent assessment of the impact of the CSB… count me out as an advocate. What is needed and what I have spent time pondering is a new popular eschatology that changes the mythology of American end times thought.
    This would be a work to reset fresh categories that could usurp those of pretribulationalism in the popular mind. The idea is both possible and exceedingly necessary. What the CSB did for evangelical Bible reading The Late Great Planet Earth implanted in pop Christian culture.
    It would take a combination of clear and better categories, accessible writing style, and some politically impacting social event related to Christian believers on a scale of the 9/11 crisis.
    Something will have to dislodge Israel and reinstate the church in the popular mind. Of all the injuries pretribulationalism has done to the evangelical mind none is so injurious as the diminishing of the glorious accomplishment of the cross and outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh. Israel has replaced the church in the popular mind as the focus of the work of the Cross. Rather than being amazed at the ingathering of nations under Israel’s Big Tent, people are focusing on the political vicissitudes of the Jewish people.
    I believe the transition will come and the thing I have envisioned here will be accomplished. Let’s get to work.

  • Janey

    We are looking for the rapture and hope you are also! There are some Google articles throwing light on pretrib rapture defender Thomas Ice that you might like to see, namely, “Pretrib Expert John Walvoord Melts Ice” and “Edward Irving is Unnerving” (both found on Joe Ortiz’s “End Times Passover” blog) – plus other Google articles like “Pretrib Rapture Diehards,” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” “Thomas Ice (Hired Gun),” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” and “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty” (the last two in colorful versions on the “Powered by Christ Ministries” site). Are you Dr. Ice ready as well as rapture ready?

  • Ken

    Scofield was probably the biggest reason why the Pre-Trib doctrine went mainstream. It certainly had never been mainstream before his time.