The Early Church Fathers and the Foundations of Dispensationalism -- By: Larry V. Crutchfield

Journal: Conservative Theological Journal
Volume: CTJ 02:4 (Mar 1998)
Article: The Early Church Fathers and the Foundations of Dispensationalism
Author: Larry V. Crutchfield


The Early Church Fathers and the Foundations of Dispensationalism

Larry V. Crutchfield

Professor of Early Christian History & Culture
Columbia Evangelical Seminary, Longview, WA

Part I—Setting the Stage: The Participants and Theological Principles in the Debate

The Issue

Decade after decade, dispensationalists have endured the charge by their opponents that there are no historical antecedents for their doctrine prior to John Nelson Darby (1800–1882) and the Plymouth Brethren. Millard J. Erickson, for example, asserts flatly that “No trace of this theology can be found in the early history of the church.”1 And Clarence B. Bass declares that “No dispensational writer has ever been able to offer … a single point of continuity between what is today known as dispensationalism and the historic premillennial view.”2

Such charges by one’s opponents are to be expected, but today the same charge is coming from within dispensational ranks. In his review of Progressive Dispensationalism, authored by Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Walter A. Elwell reports with obvious satisfaction that “It is…nice not to be told that virtually everyone in church history was a dispensationalist.” Elwell comes to this conclusion because “Blaising and Bock maintain that dispensationalism is both recent and different from most of what went before it.”3

Elwell’s gratuitous and patently false accusation that dispensationalists have claimed “everyone in church history” as their own can be dismissed out of hand. But Blaising and Bock’s attempt to sever dispensationalism from its historic roots requires a careful response. Dispensational premillennialism is neither as “recent” nor as “different from most of what went before it” as these two scholars suppose.

Dispensationalists, like Charles C. Ryrie, Arnold D. Ehlert, and many others, rightly maintain that “features” or rudimentary concepts of dispensational theology were held by the fathers of the early church and later by certain individuals after the Reformation.4 Ryrie and Ehlert readily acknowledge that modern, systematized dispensationalism must be traced to Darby.5 Nevertheless, they insist that there are historical and theological antecedents for this system of theology to be found even in the patristic era.

The Participants

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