“Dubious Evangelicalism”? A Response to John Gerstner’s Critique of Dispensationalism -- By: David L. Turner
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A Response to John Gerstner’s Critique
Distinguished church historian and apologist John Gerstner’s formal entrance into debate with dispensationalists began in 1982 with the publication of his Primer on Dispensationalism.2 Though converted through the witness of a dispensationalist, Gerstner soon afterward began what has become a fifty year career advocating reformed theology. Concern over questions about dispensational antinomianism led to his Primer. Now the lordship salvation controversy has rekindled his interest and led to his conviction that there has been no essential change in dispensationalism. According to Gerstner, “Dispensationalism today, as yesterday, is spurious Calvinism and dubious evangelicalism.”3 To demonstrate this thesis, he surveys the history of dispensationalism in 65 pages. Next he critiques dispensationalism’s philosophy and hermeneutics in 28 pages. The bulk of his book, the remaining 172 pages, addresses dispensational theology.
J. I. Packer, for one, agrees with Gerstner. He praises Gerstner’s “skill and thorough knowledge.” Speaking of a gulf between dispensationalism and Calvinism, Packer applauds Gerstner’s proof that the two systems are “radically opposed.”4 Along similar lines R. C. Sproul’s foreword lauds Gerstner as a “world-class historian” whose charges
GTJ 12:2 (Fall 91) p. 264
are delivered with “pinpoint accuracy.” According to Sproul there are only two alternatives. If Gerstner is right, dispensationalism “should be discarded as being a serious deviation from Biblical Christianity,” but if he is wrong, “he owes many a profound apology.”5
Readers should not minimize the seriousness of this book’s charges. If Sproul’s foreword is correct, dispensationalism is the “majority report” among American evangelicals.6 And if Gerstner is correct, dispensationalism may not even be worthy of the label “evangelical.” Thus Gerstner, along with his two prominent endorsers, evidently believe and charge that the majority of American evangelicals may not be evangelicals at all.
In response to this charge I have first engaged in a running commentary on Gerstner’s arguments as he presents them in the book. Then I have synthesized what I believe to be serious weaknesses in the argument. I have attempted to engage Ge...
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