This World Is Not My Home: The Origins and Development of Dispensationalism

Michael D. Williams Christian Focus, Fearn, Scotland September 1, 2003
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As is well known, covenant theologians and dispensational theologians differ in their views on eschatology and related matters. Scholarly discussions of those differences can be beneficial in helping each side understand the other. But it is unfortunate if proponents of one view misrepresent the opposing view. Regrettably Williams, a covenant theologian, in analyzing the dispensationalism of C. I. Scofield and Lewis Sperry Chafer, repeatedly distorts their teachings. Williams’s scathing attacks against classic dispensationalism do not advance the cause of scholarly research.

Early on, Williams accuses Chafer of “cosmological dualism, the view that matter is inherently evil” (p. 44). Yet Williams admits that Chafer wrote that no material or physical thing is evil in itself (ibid.). Williams follows this up by calling Scofield and Chafer “gnostics” numerous times (pp. 30, 46, 49, 63, 65–66, 136, 162, 200, 202, 217, 220–22, 225, 227). By this he falsely accuses them of claiming an elitist, superior knowledge of the Bible and that believers, like the ancient gnostics, must detach themselves from the world “in order to achieve a mystical union with the high God” (p. 63). Scofield and Chafer’s gnosticism, according to Williams, is also seen in what he calls their “notion of salvation as release from creation” (p. 66), and he says their differentiation between Israel and the church is dualistic.

Williams writes that “Scofield and Chafer misunderstand the nature of grace” (p. 65). But what could be clearer than the note on John 1:17 in the Scofield Reference Bible that grace is “the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man,” and Chafer’s words that grace is what God extends to the lost for salvation from sin (Systematic Theology [Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1948], 7:178; cf. 3:225–66); and Chafer’s entire book Grace (1922; reprint, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1995).

“The idea,” Williams writes, “that godliness is something done to us rather than a goal for our pursuit … is most certainly not found in Scripture” (This World Is Not My Home, 151–52). This obviously overlooks Scofield’s and Chafer’s teaching that the believer’s sanctification, while positional at the moment of salvation, also calls for the believer to walk in the Spirit, be filled with the Spirit, and not grieve or quench the Spirit (see Scofield’s note on Galatians 5:22 and Chafer’s He That Is Spiritual [1918; rev. ed., Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967]). With Scofield’s and Chafer’s in-depth discussions of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life, one is hard-pressed to understand how Williams could write that in classical dispensationalism “the regeneration of the Holy Spirit does not restore or renew human nature” (This World Is Not My Home, 64).

One cannot help but be astonished that Williams would assert that to dispensationalists, “Jesus’ entire life, incarnation, and teachings are wholly lost to the church” (p. 199). And he adds the incredible statement, “The church’s Savior is not the Jesus of history but a Christ who could have just as easily have been a docetic ghost as a man of flesh and blood” (ibid.). How can such an assertion possibly be made in light of Chafer’s clear statements about the deity and humanity of Christ (e.g., Systematic Theology, 3:11–33; 5:7–42; 7:57, 194–96, 210)?

How can Williams state that the dispensational view of history has a “conclusion but no purpose” (p. 190), when Scofield and Chafer both discuss the eternal state in which all saints will dwell in God’s presence forever and He will be glorified?

Dispensationalists have often been falsely accused of teaching two ways of salvation, and Williams makes that same mistake. He writes that Scofield and Chafer taught that Israel obtained salvation by observing the Mosaic Law (This World Is Not My Home, p. 197), that “under the Mosaic administration the Jew obeyed the Law and so became righteous” (p. 202), that “under law God bestows righteousness in response to obedience” (p. 203), and “under the Mosaic dispensation the Jew is redeemed by the keeping of the law” (p. 207). But this contradicts Scofield’s statements in his reference Bible that “from beginning to end the Bible testifies to one redemption” (p. ix), “the method of salvation in O.T. and N.T. is the same” (note on Gal. 5:6), and the law “cannot save sinners” (note on Matt. 5:3). As early as 1922 Chafer clearly stated, “The law was never given as a means of salvation or justification” (Grace, 113), and “the law of Moses did not serve to institute right relations between an Israelite and God” (Systematic Theology, 4:159). Apparently Williams fails to understand that the Mosaic Law, according to dispensationalists, has always been viewed as a rule of life for Israel, a standard of living that promised blessings in this life for Israelites who followed its commands (Grace, 119, 146).

Williams makes much of the point that dispensationalism is unconcerned about reforming creation (e.g., This World Is Not My Home, 65, 200, 201, 221). Yet here is what Chafer wrote about the earth in the millennium: “The environment in the kingdom will be that of a purified, transformed earth [and] creation will be delivered from its present bondage and corruption” (Grace, 196). Chafer’s alleged lack of interest in man’s physical existence in the world (This World Is Not My Home, p. 48) conflicts with his clear statement, “There is as much promise for the future of the believer’s body as there is for the future of his soul and spirit” (Systematic Theology, 7:56).

Williams repeatedly attacks classic dispensationalists for making a distinction between Israel and the church. But these assaults suggest that he does not see a distinction between them. To mingle them, as if the church were in the Old Testament or the church were the “new Israel,” overlooks the uniqueness of the church’s beginning on the Day of Pentecost and the church’s unique nature consisting of believing Jews and Gentiles united as the body of Christ. To say that God’s promises to Israel made in the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants are fulfilled in some spiritual way in the church today is to read into the Scriptures something that is not there. Williams accuses Scofield and Chafer of eisegesis, and yet he himself is guilty of eisegesis, for nowhere does the Bible mention the covenant of redemption, the covenant of works, or the covenant of grace.

The dispensational teaching on the rapture, Williams says, does not arise from exegesis (This World Is Not My Home, 110, and 110 n. 39). How then does he interpret John 14:3 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18?

Williams challenges the view that millennial sacrifices will be offered, since this would restore the Levitical system (p. 132–33). But he overlooks the fact that many aspects of the Levitical system will not be restored in the millennium (Ezek. 43–46).

Other false assertions about dispensationalism in Williams’s work are these: God is inactive in the world (pp. 156–57); Christ’s second advent has no bearing on the believer’s present life (p. 161); Jesus “plays only a minor role in the eschatology of dispensationalism” (p. 201); the church will not coreign with Christ in the millennium, for the church will remain in heaven (pp. 191–92); the notes in the Old Testament of the Scofield Reference Bible are almost entirely devoted to typology (p. 214). These and others are so obviously erroneous that they need not be refuted here.

How can scholarly discussion be advanced when Williams twice calls dispensationalism “naïve” (pp. 178, 211) and says that the soteriology of Scofield and Chafer is “the product of fuzzy-headedness” (p. 210) and that their view of redemption is “a fatally wrongheaded notion” (p. 228)? It is unfortunate that so many unwarranted conclusions about dispensational theology have been drawn, and it is disturbing that misrepresentations abound in this book. Readers are encouraged to read Scofield’s and Chafer’s works and evaluate for themselves whether their views are faithful to God’s Word.

—Roy B. Zuck

July 1, 2005
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2005 vol. 162 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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