Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Elder's Children - Should They Be Believers or Merely Faithful?

For the benefit of a beloved brother-in-Christ, I would like to make available the following discussion into the area of an elder’s qualification concerning his children.

Should the elder’s children be professing believers of the Christian faith? This is the million-dollar question that has to be answered exegetically. Let me begin by putting the two parallel passages concerning this matter from the two pastoral epistles (PE) together in an accessible manner.

1 Timothy 3:4-5
Titus 1:6
He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? (ESV)
if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. (ESV)
τέκνα ἔχοντα ἐν ὑποταγῇ, μετὰ πάσης σεμνότητος – “keeping his children under control, with all dignity”

τέκνα ἔχων πιστά – “having faithful/believing children”

George Knight writes in his NIGNT commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, “Should πιστά in this clause be understood as “faithful” or as “believing”? The range of usage shows that either meaning is a possibility: The word can clearly mean “faithful,” as it does several times in the PE, including once with a noun, as here (2 Tim. 2:2: πιστοὶ ἀνθρώποι). It can also mean “believing” and does on several occasions in the PE, again including once with a noun (1 Tim. 6:2: πιστοὶ … δεσπόται). The context here and the parallel in 1 Tim. 3:4–5, however, provide some important indicators: The qualifying statement here, “not accused of dissipation or rebellion,” emphasizes behavior and seems to explain what it means for τέκνα to be πιστά. Likewise 1 Tim. 3:4 speaks of the overseer “keeping his children under control with all dignity.” In both cases the overseer is evaluated on the basis of his control of his children and their conduct. It is likely, therefore, that τέκνα ἔχων πιστά here is virtually equivalent to τέκνα ἔχοντα ἐν ὑποταγῇ in 1 Tim. 3:4. If that is so, then πιστά here means “faithful” in the sense of “submissive” or “obedient,” as a servant or steward is regarded as πιστός when he carries out the requests of his master.” (George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1992), 289–290.)

Let us think about this a little further. If we admit that Paul requires the same standards for elders in Ephesus and Crete, then we ought to regard the relevant passages within 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1 as referring to the same stringent requirements of all elders. It does not make sense for Paul to have one set of qualifications for the elders in the church of Ephesus, while giving another standard for elders (or more specifically, the children of elders) in the church of Crete.

That is why, where Paul does not mention "believing (pistos)" children in 1 Tim 3:4-5, we must also suspect that “believing children” might not be the actual rendering of τέκνα ἔχων πιστά (tekna echon pista) in Titus 1:6. Paul required elders in Ephesus to keep “his children under control, with all dignity,” which also means that these children ought to be obedient, not unruly, and submissive to the father's authority, which are behavioural requirements. Paul makes no explicit mention of this positive demand in his letter to Titus.

Paul’s letter to Titus implicitly contains similar standards for the elder’s children, albeit in the negative, “not accused of debauchery or rebellion.” Since Paul demands the same standard for elders from both churches, it must mean that, when pushed for a more precise meaning of pistos in Titus 1:6, we should choose the meaning which is consistent with the explicit meaning and description in 1 Tim 3:4-5. This is the analogy of Scripture in practice. Furthermore, the clearer passages (1 Tim 3:4-5) must always interpret the more obscure ones (where pistos in Titus 1:6 can have more than one meaning), and not vice versa. For these reasons, the phrase in Titus 1:6 “his children are believers” is better to be translated as “his children are faithful.”

Alexander Strauch writes, “The Greek word for “believe” is pistos, which can be translated either actively as “believing” (1 Tim. 6:2) or passively as “faithful,” “trustworthy,” or “dutiful” (2 Tim. 2:2).
The contrast made is not between believing and unbelieving children, but between obedient, respectful children and lawless, uncontrolled children. The strong terms “dissipation or rebellion” stress the children’s behavior, not their eternal state. A faithful child is obedient and submissive to the father. The concept is similar to that of the “faithful servant” who is considered to be faithful because he or she obeys the Master and does what the Master says (Matt. 24:45–51).

The parallel passage in 1 Timothy 3:4 states that the prospective elder must keep “his children under control with all dignity.” Since 1 Timothy 3:4 is the clearer passage, it should be allowed to help interpret the ambiguity of Titus 1:6. “Under control with all dignity” is closely parallel with “having trustworthy children.” In the Titus passage, however, the qualification is stated in a positive form—the elder must have children who are trustworthy and dutiful.

Those who interpret this qualification to mean that an elder must have believing, Christian children place an impossible burden upon a father. Even the best Christian fathers cannot guarantee that their children will believe. Salvation is a supernatural act of God. God, not good parents (although they are certainly used of God), ultimately brings salvation (John 1:12, 13).

 In striking contrast to faithful children are those who are wild or insubordinate: “not accused of dissipation or rebellion.” These are very strong words. “Dissipation” means “debauchery,” “profligacy,” or “wild, disorderly living” (cf. 1 Peter 4:3, 4; Luke 15:13). “Rebellion” means to be “disobedient,” “unruly,” or “insubordinate.” Wild, insubordinate children are a terrible reflection on the home, particularly on the father’s ability to guide and care for others. A man who aspires to eldership but has profligate children is not a viable candidate for church leadership.” (Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Eldership (Littleton, CO: Lewis and Roth Publishers, 1995), 229–230.)

A simple lemma search would also reveal that the word pistos is often translated as “faithful.” The following is a sample from the ESV translators.

Though an analogy can be drawn between the father at home and the pastor in the church, the home is NOT the church, and the father's role is only analogous to the elder's responsibilities in terms of headship and leadership. The father's role is a divine appointment as part of the Creation Ordinance in the garden of Eden. There is more to a father's role than merely spiritual headship. 1 Cor 11:3 is clear that the husband is the head of the wife, while Christ is his head. This means that, while the child is submissive to the father, the child is implicitly submitting himself under the father’s headship as appointed by Christ – and hence, submission to Christ Himself – via the Creation Ordinance. While the father as provider provides materially to the members of his household, the elder feeds the sheep with the Word. While the father is the protector of his wife and children from physical threats (and also from negative spiritual influences), the elder protects the sheep from wolves, false prophets and false teachings. The analogy stops here.

The local church as an expression of the visible, universal church under the New Covenant demands that her members ought to be spiritually alive. This is also one of the reasons why the local church examines the profession of every potential member of the church. Members of the home under the Creation Ordinance cannot be given the same demands of spiritual life in Christ. The home is primarily God's appointed model for human proliferation, not the manner by which the New Covenant members congregate and worship. That belongs to the local church.

Therefore, though analogous, the father's role is distinct from the elder’s, and the ability to rule is shown thus as a faithful dispensation of his role (as spiritual leader, provider, protector) in nurturing and educating the child in His Word, while his child submits to his leadership and shows a willingness to obey the father in his religion. I would clearly stop short of demanding baptism and church membership of a candidate’s children as a requirement for eldership.

The phrase “keeping his children submissive” (tekna echonta en hypotagē) refers to “a man who is able to keep his children under control with all dignity—to cause children to obey in a graceful manner because of loving, pastoral parenting. Too many pastors’ kids behave like rebellious little demons. It is not their fault. Many pastors discipline their children’s rear ends but fail to discipline their kids’ attitudes, the real catalyst of misbehavior. This doesn’t mean that the kids of a pastor should always be perfect, sweet little angels, but rather that they should be under the loving control of parents whose discipline nurtures within them a healthy fear of God.” (Patrick, Darrin. Church Planter: The Man, the Message, the Mission (p. 54). Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.)

Perusal of the following commentaries by a church father St. John Chrysostom, Matthew Henry, and the great Reformed Baptist theologian John Gill, will also demonstrate that Titus 1:6 refers to behavioural qualifications of an elder’s child, rather than salvific, spiritual requirements.

Commenting on the clause, “Having faithful children, not accused of riot, or unruly,” Chrysostom writes, “We should observe what care he bestows upon children. For he who cannot be the instructor of his own children, how should he be the Teacher of others? If he cannot keep in order those whom he has had with him from the beginning, whom he has brought up, and without? For if the incompetency of the father had not been great, he would not have allowed those to become bad whom from the first he had under his power. For it is not possible, indeed it is not, that one should turn out ill who is brought up with much care, and has received great attention. Sins are not so prevalent by nature, as to overcome so much previous care. But if, occupied in the pursuit of wealth, he has made his children a secondary concern, and not bestowed much care upon them, even so he is unworthy. For if when nature prompted, he was so void of affection or so senseless, that he thought more of his wealth than of his children, how should he be raised to the Episcopal throne, and so great rule? For if he was unable to restrain them it is a great proof of his weakness; and if he was unconcerned, his want of affection is much to be blamed. He then that neglects his own children, how shall he take care of other men’s? And he has not only said, “not riotous,” but not even “accused of riot.” There must not be an ill report, or such an opinion of them.” (John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to Titus,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. James Tweed and Philip Schaff, vol. 13, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 524–525.)

Matthew Henry comments, “And, as to his children, having faithful children, obedient and good, brought up in the true Christian faith, and living according to it, at least as far as the endeavours of the parents can avail. It is for the honour of ministers that their children be faithful and pious, and such as become their religion. Not accused of riot, nor unruly, not justly so accused, as having given ground and occasion for it, for otherwise the most innocent may be falsely so charged; they must look to it therefore that there be no colour for such censure. Children so faithful, and obedient, and temperate, will be a good sign of faithfulness and diligence in the parent who has so educated and instructed them; and, from his faithfulness in the less, there may be encouragement to commit to him the greater, the rule and government of the church of God.” (Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2368.)

John Gill overtly exclaims that the elder’s child cannot be expected to be an elect. He says, “having faithful children; legitimate ones, born in lawful wedlock, in the same sense as such are called godly and holy, in Mal. 2:15; 1 Cor. 7:14 for by faithful children cannot be meant converted ones, or true believers in Christ; for it is not in the power of men to make their children such; and their not being so can never be an objection to their being elders, if otherwise qualified; at most the phrase can only intend, that they should be brought up in the faith, in the principles, doctrines, and ways of Christianity, or in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (John Gill, An Exposition of the New Testament, vol. 3, The Baptist Commentary Series (London: Mathews and Leigh, 1809), 349.)

In conclusion, the analogy of faith also demands that we recognise God's sovereignty in appointing whomever He wills to eternal life, and while godly men may show fruits of his godly leadership by having his children in subjection, we cannot make explicit what the Bible does not say - that is, that his children be elect!


Reformed hermeneutics distinguishes herself from the Dispensationalist's wooden literalism, the Charismatic's intentional anachronism, and the Modernist's naturalism via the usage of Analogia Scripturae and Analogia Fidei. For the benefit of those who are confused with these terminologies, the following prose might elucidate upon these terms further.

Analogy of Scripture (Analogia Scripturae)

The Bible was written over a period of approximately 2,000 years by 40 different human authors from three continents. But as Christians, we understand that the Bible ultimately has only one Divine Author – God Himself. Since God is the originator of His written Word, it is to be acknowledged that He would convey a coherent, unified message in the 66 books of both the Old and New Testaments. What He has revealed in one portion of His Word would agree with other portions of Holy Writ. This is because God is not a confused, irrational God.

The “Analogy of Scripture” presumes Divine authorship. It basically says that the portions of Scripture which appear difficult or unclear should be understood in accord with other clearer biblical texts which deal with the same issue or theme. This is expressed in the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, Paragraph 9 which states that:

“The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.”

Therefore, the “Analogy of Scripture” guards against the isolation of one text of Scripture from the context of the entire Bible. It also prevents the simplistic, irresponsible use of “proof-texts” in the derivation of doctrines. In other words, the Bible must interpret itself, and in the event of any difficulty in understanding a particular text of Scripture, the reader should use portions of clearer Scripture to understand the difficult, unclear passages.

Analogy of Faith (Analogia Fidei)

The “Analogy of Faith” is quite similar in meaning to the “Analogy of Scripture,” but it goes a step further.

Basically, it means that a particular biblical passage which deals with a Christian teaching must be interpreted and understood within the larger context of the Christian faith derived from the Bible as a whole. The “Analogy of Faith” takes for granted that there is an integrated, consistent theological meaning within Holy Writ.

In practice, the interpreter who utilizes the “Analogy of Faith” would first construct his understanding of a particular doctrine from the clear and unambiguous passages of Scripture. He then uses this understanding which he had derived from the clear portions of Scripture as a basis for the interpretation of the unclear portions. This manner of understanding the Bible likewise assumes a unified, coherent theme throughout Scripture. This is because the God of Truth, the God whom we worship and adore, is ultimately the author of His Word.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Sine Qua Non of Dispensationalism

The Israel/Church Distinction is the Sine Qua Non of Dispensationalism

As Dispensationalists cannot agree upon a unified agreement as to what “literal interpretation” is, Progressive Dispensationalists have proposed a returned to the first sine qua non (i.e. the distinction between Israel and the church) as its “distinguishing factor.”

Blaising, a progressive dispensationalist, observes that “among contemporary dispensationalists a general consensus exists that a distinction between Israel and the church is the essential distinguishing factor of dispensationalism.”[1] Saucy concurs, saying that “the key distinctive of dispensational theology . . . is the recognition of Israel as a nation set apart from other nations by God for the service of universal salvation for all peoples.”[2]

The recognition of the Israel/Church distinction as the sine qua non of Dispensational theology is consistent with the observations of Non-dispensationalists. For example, Poythress perceives that this distinction is more fundamental than a literal hermeneutics. He writes, “Their [the Dispensationalists’] approaches toward strict literalness seem to be subordinated to the more fundamental principle of dual destinations for Israel and the church.”[3]

Mathison, a Non-dispensationalist, likewise reaches the following conclusion:

“The only one of Ryrie’s three distinctives of dispensationalism that has always been acknowledged as true is the distinction between Israel and the church. The particular dispensationalist understanding of this distinction is the heart of that system of theology. Dispensationalism may, therefore, be defined as that system of theology which sees a fundamental distinction between Israel and the church. This distinction is the cornerstone of dispensational theology.[4]

Coming from a historical-theological approach, it is notable that Clarence Bass identifies the Israel/Church distinction as a novel theological innovation within Christendom:

“It is not that exegetes prior to his [John N. Darby’s] time did not see a covenant between God and Israel, or a future relation of Israel to the millennial reign, but they always viewed the church as a continuation of God’s single program of redemption begun in Israel. It is dispensationalism’s rigid insistence on a distinct cleavage between Israel and the church, and its belief in a later unconditional fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, that sets it off from the historic faith of the church.”[5]

As a previous Dispensationalist himself, Bass agrees that the distinctive of Dispensationalism is, indeed, the dichotomy between Israel and the Church.

Likewise, Charles Ryrie makes the following observations:

The essence of dispensationalism, then, is the distinction between Israel and the Church. This grows out of the dispensationalist’s consistent employment of normal or plain or historical-grammatical interpretation, and it reflects an understanding of the basic purpose of God in all His dealings with mankind as that of glorifying Himself through salvation and other purposes as well.”[6]

In this definition of Dispensationalism, Ryrie is making three assertions. First and foremost, the essence of Dispensationalism is the distinction between Israel and the church. This distinction is the result of an alleged, consistently literal hermeneutics. Furthermore, this distinction reflects the understanding that God’s fundamental purpose is to glorify Himself.[7]

Robert Lightner, a Professor of Systematic Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, reinforces the fact that a Dispensationalist is not merely one who adheres to a certain number of “distinguishable economies.” He further reaffirms that premillennialism cannot be equated with dispensationalism. Lightner writes:

“Granted, there are differences among dispensationalists over the number of dispensations and, as already stated, over the time when the church began. The question then becomes, What is the least common denominator? What must one believe to be classified legitimately as a dispensationalist? It certainly is not the number of distinguishable economies one holds to. “It is not the fact that Scofield taught seven dispensations and Hodge only four that makes the former a dispensationalist and the latter not.” Since some committed premillennialists reject dispensationalism, premillennialism is not determinative either. One must look elsewhere for the sine qua non of dispensationalism.”[8]

Lightner subsequently concludes that the “all-determinative” sine qua non of Dispensationalism is the distinction between Israel and the Church:

“Friends and foes of dispensationalism must agree that the all-determinative conviction without which one cannot be a dispensationalist is the distinction between God’s program for Israel and His program for the church. This distinction is based solidly on the literal (or as many dispensationalists prefer to call it, the normal) interpretation of Scripture. A consistently literal or normal hermeneutic brings one to see distinctions in God’s program with Israel and His program with the church, and that underscores the theological rather than the soteriological nature of God’s primary purpose in the world.”[9]

Bateman, in his concluding essay in Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism: A Comparison of Traditional and Progressive Views, documents the general consensus amongst Dispensationalists. This consensus, that “Israel is not the church,” is what distinguishes a Dispensationalist from a Non-dispensationalist. Bateman writes:

“What, then, unites one dispensationalist to another? Simply put, the basic unifying issue for all dispensationalists is that Israel is not the church. In fact, [Charles] Ryrie maintains that such a distinction is “the most basic theological test of whether or not a person is a dispensationalist.” What is contended among dispensationalists, as we have seen in these essays, is how to define the nature of the Israel/church distinction. . . . Dispensationalists are, however, agreed and like-minded in their stress on the uniqueness of the church and their confidence that a future exists for national Israel.”[10]

In this section, we have seen that it has been unanimously agreed upon that the sine qua non of Dispensationalism is, indeed, the Israel/Church distinction. We can logically deduce that a Dispensationalist is inevitably one who embraces the sine qua non of Dispensationalism, i.e. the distinction between Israel and the Church.

We saw in earlier blog posts that Khoo, the Academic Dean of Far Eastern Bible College, agrees that “God has two programmes in His salvation plan: one for Israel, and another for the Church.”[11] He also admits that Far Eastern Bible College embraces the sine qua non of Dispensationalism.[12]

Despite his adherence to a Reformed soteriology i.e. the five points of Calvinism, famous pastor-teacher - John F. MacArthur Jr. - rightly describes himself as a Dispensationalist. In the following transcript from Bible Questions and Answers, MacArthur says:

Here’s my dispensationalism - I’ll give it to you in one sentence: there’s a difference between the church and Israel - period! If you understand that, you understand the essence of what I believe is a legitimate, biblical dispensationalism. That permits a kingdom, that demands a kingdom, and that makes you premillennial.”[13]

Although MacArthur rejects antinomianism and accepts Reformed soteriology, he does not call himself a Reformed theologian. He perceives that he is a Dispensationalist simply because he adopts the sine qua non of Dispensationalism.

Blaising, a Progressive Dispensationalist, similarly emphasizes that progressive dispensationalists are dispensational because they “clearly articulate (1) a future for ethnic Israel and (2) distinguish between the Church and Israel as functioning institutions throughout the plan of God.”[14]

It becomes apparent that Bible Presbyterians may need to redefine their theological-hermeneutical grid, or perhaps even simpler, to rename their theological appellation. Since they embrace the sine qua non of Dispensationalism, is there, therefore, a need to drop the label “Reformed?” Otherwise, one would have to redefine the sine qua non of Dispensationalism, so as to preserve the “Reformed” designation.

Various Degrees of Distinction between Israel and the Church

It is generally agreed that Dispensationalists of different varieties hold to various degrees of distinction or dichotomy between Israel and the Church. These range from a radical dichotomy adhered to by Classical Dispensationalists, to a more moderate Israel/Church distinction held by Progressive Dispensationalists.

Classical Dispensationalism

By the term “Classical Dispensationalist,” I refer to theologians like Cyrus I. Scofield, Lewis Sperry Chafer, A. C. Gaebelein, and Clarence Larkin. Classic Dispensationalists maintain a metaphysical distinction between Israel and the Church. They believe that Israel and the Church will be forever distinguished even unto eternity. Israel will inhabit the New Earth, and the Church heaven. Thus, there seems to be an eternal separation between Israel and the Church in this variety of Dispensationalism.

Toussaint explains:

“In the original form of Darby’s dispensationalism, the line drawn between Israel and the church was heavy, dark, and broad. According to Darby, the promises to the church are spiritual and heavenly whereas those to Israel and the nations are earthly. The Tribulation and the Millennium do not concern the church for those prophecies are earthly.”[15]

Burns elucidates that according to Classical Dispensationalism, “the underlying premise was that national Israel, as the physical seed of Abraham, was to be eternally bifurcated from the church, a heavenly mystery that could not have been known in a dispensation of earthly issues.”[16]

Hence, in the classical form of Dispensationalism, we see a radical dichotomy between Israel and the Church.

Revised/Normative Dispensationalism

As Dispensationalism developed, “the New Scofield Reference Bible, Ryrie’s Dispensationalism Today, and other dispensationalists in the mid-twentieth century modified the heavenly/earthly dualistic language, diminished future distinctions between the peoples of God, and debated about how the new covenant should be applied in the present age.”[17]

Revised Dispensationalists include John F. Walvoord, Charles C. Ryrie, J. Dwight Pentecost and Alva J. McClain. These Dispensationalists jettisoned the eternal metaphysical distinction between Israel and the Church. They allowed a temporal, earthly distinction rooted in a difference between two redemptive-historical purposes, rather than in two different programs extending towards eternity.

Campbell, a Dispensationalist and Professor of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary, elaborates:

“The distinction between Israel and the church extends beyond the present age into the future. Some dispensationalists [i.e. Classical Dispensationalists] make a sharp distinction between Israel as God’s earthly people and the church as God’s heavenly people, both continuing as such throughout eternity. Others [i.e. Normative Dispensationalists] favor a blurring of such distinctions in eternity. Charles C. Ryrie states, “The redeemed in the Body of Christ, the Church of this dispensation, are the continuation of the line of redeemed from other ages, but they form a distinct group in the heavenly Zion (Heb. 12:22–24).’”[18]

Revised Dispensationalists perceive two groups of God’s redeemed humanity existing in and confined to redemptive history. The Church exists with its own principles and purposes differing from those of national Israel. According to Campbell,

“The church of Jesus Christ has a glorious future. Her destiny includes being taken out of this world before the Tribulation woes to be with Christ (John 14:1-3), being a part of the “ruling aristocracy” on earth during Christ’s millennial reign, and serving God along with other members of His family in the New Jerusalem for all eternity.”[19]

Israel’s ultimate historical purpose will be realized in the future, literal, earthly millennium. This is understood as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants with national Israel. Following the millennium, there will be a union of the two people in one redeemed mass forever.

Blaising summarizes the differences between the Classical and Revised/Normative varieties of Dispensationalism:

“It is amazing that in the writings of Walvoord, Pentecost, Ryrie, and McClain published in the 1950s and 1960s, the heavenly/earthly dualistic language is gone. A distinction between Israel and the church is vigorously asserted and all the theological structures of distinction are present except that the eternal destinies of the two peoples now share the same sphere. Consequently the heavenly/ earthly descriptions are dropped. Thus is begun a slow movement away from the scholastic, classic, absolute distinction [between Israel and the Church] found from Darby to Chafer . . . .”[20]

Progressive Dispensationalism

Recent decades saw the rise of a new variety of Dispensationalism which has moved in a more covenantal direction, while maintaining the Israel/Church distinction, premillennialism, and emended dispensational distinctives. As will be discussed later, Progressive Dispensationalists allow an inaugurated phase of the Kingdom, while maintaining that the ultimate fulfillment of the Davidic covenant lies in the earthly millennium. Revised Dispensationalists, on the other hand, insist that the Kingdom is still in the future.

Progressives also see Christ as sitting on the throne of David at this present age, albeit in a spiritual sense. Revised Dispensationalists dispute this view, saying that Jesus is currently exalted at the right hand of the Father, but not sitting on David’s throne in any sense. Unlike Progressives, Revised Dispensationalists do not accept the proposition that Christ’s messianic kingdom reign has begun.

Burns writes:

“A more moderate dispensational position has arisen in recent years. On the basis of the New Testament’s use of crucial Old Testament texts, progressive dispensationalists acknowledge degrees of Old Testament content in the church, though complete fulfillment of Israel’s promises awaits the Millennium as an intermediate kingdom that exists with Israel’s Messiah ruling in the midst of the nations. The progressives insist on distinguishing Israel and the church, but they see both continuity and discontinuity in Israel/church and Old/New testamental relationships. Thus, the fulfillments of messianic promises relate to both present and future ages and both advents of Messiah, an “already-not yet” mediating position.”[21] 

Progressive dispensationalists are “progressive” in the sense that they view each successive dispensation as building upon and developing the principles of the preceding economy. This allows the progression of the one plan of God for His one redeemed people, rather than distinguishing two separate plans and peoples. However, Progressives maintain that the one divine purpose for redeemed humanity will only be ultimately realized in the earthly, Davidic Kingdom. The millennial phase of God’s redemptive-historical plan is necessary so as to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies for national Israel.

Progressive Dispensationalists, of all varieties of Dispensationalism, see the least radical dichotomy or distinction between Israel and the Church.[22] But as Blaising has asserted, Progressives are bona fide Dispensationalists because they see a future for ethnic Israel, while distinguishing between the Church and Israel as functioning institutions throughout God’s redemptive-historical plan.[23]

Craig A. Blaising, Darrell L. Bock, and Robert L. Saucy are all considered to be Progressive Dispensationalists.


[1] Blaising, “Development of Dispensationalism by Contemporary Dispensationalists,” 273.
[2] Robert L. Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), 221. Saucy is also a Progressive Dispensationalist.
[3] Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists, 78.
[4] Mathison, Dispensationalism, 8, emphasis mine.
[5] Clarence Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism: Its Historical Genesis and Ecclesiastical Implications (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1960; reprint, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2005), 27.
[6] Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 41, emphasis mine.
[7] This is what Mathison observes. See Mathison, Dispensationalism, 5.
[8] Robert P. Lightner, “Theological Perspectives on Theonomy,” Bibliotheca Sacra 143 (1986): 34, quoting Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, 44.
[9] Ibid., emphasis mine.
[10] Herbert W. Bateman IV, “Dispensationalism Tomorrow,” in Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism: A Comparison of Traditional and Progressive Views, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1999), 308-309, quoting Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 39.
[11] Khoo, Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology, 32.
[12] See Khoo, Dispensationalism Examined, 11; idem, Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology, 46.
[13] John MacArthur, Jr., Bible Questions and Answers (Panorama City, CA: Word of Grace, 1994), sound cassette GC 70-15. Transcribed by Tony Capoccia, Bible Bulletin Board [article on-line]; available from; Internet; accessed 14 October 2005, emphasis mine.
[14] Blaising, “Why I Am a Dispensationalist with a Small ‘d,’” 390.
[15] Toussaint, “Israel and the Church of a Traditional Dispensationalist,” 228.
[16] J. Lanier Burns, “Israel and the Church of a Progressive Dispensationalist,” in Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism: A Comparison of Traditional and Progressive Views, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI, MI: Kregel, 1999), 272.
[17] Ibid., 273.
[18] Campbell, “The Church in God’s Prophetic Program,” 149-150, quoting Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, 154, emphasis mine.
[19] Ibid., 161.
[20] Blaising, “Development of Dispensationalism by Contemporary Dispensationalists,” 276.
[21] Burns, “Israel and the Church of a Progressive Dispensationalist,” 273.
[22] Also see Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 131-135 for a succinct discussion of the Israel/Church distinction of Progressive Dispensationalists.
[23] See Blaising, “Why I Am a Dispensationalist with a Small ‘d,’” 390.