Reflections on Dispensationalism -- By: John F. Walvoord

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 158:630 (Apr 2001)
Article: Reflections on Dispensationalism
Author: John F. Walvoord

Reflections on Dispensationalism

John F. Walvoord

[John F. Walvoord is Chancellor and Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.]

One of the problems in theology today is that many people who refer to dispensationalism do not adequately understand its roots, and therefore they dismiss it without giving it due consideration.

To understand the long background of dispensationalism, I examined approximately one hundred books on systematic theology to seek to determine how they explain dispensationalism. Most of these theologies in the nineteenth century were postmillennial, and most of the ones in the twentieth century were amillennial. They represented almost every system of theology, including liberal and conservative, Calvinistic and Arminian. Relatively few were premillennial. About half of them, regardless of their theological background, recognized biblical dispensations. One of the most significant was that of Charles Hodge, outstanding Calvinistic theologian of the nineteenth century, who was postmillennial in his eschatology but who wrote that the Scriptures describe four dispensations: Adam to Abraham, Abraham to Moses, Moses to Christ, and the Gospel dispensation.1 And Louis Berkhof, an amillenarian, wrote that the Bible has two dispensations.2

Dispensations Related to Progressive Revelation

In the theological works that do discuss dispensations it is evident that acknowledging the presence of dispensations is not limited to a single theological system. Instead, such acknowledgement is based on progressive revelation, the fact that God continued to

reveal Himself to humankind through biblical history.

Dispensationalism is an approach to the Bible that recognizes differing moral responsibilities for people, in keeping with how much they knew about God and His ways. God’s revelation of Himself in different eras required moral responses on the part of humanity. In the Garden of Eden the only requirement for conduct was that Adam and Eve were to keep the Garden and not eat of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. With the entrance of sin, human conscience came in as the guideline for conduct. It proved to be faulty, however, and people continued to sin. Following conscience there was the Flood and with it the introduction of the concept of government and the command that murderers be executed. This, however, also ended in failure at the Tower of Babel. The introduction of the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 12 and

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