Dispensationalism Tomorrow & Beyond: A Theological Collection in Honor of Charles C. Ryrie

By Christopher Cone, ed.
Fort Worth, Tex. : Tyndale Seminary (2008). 508 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
19.2 (Fall 2008) : 260-262

Twenty-three chapters seek to reflect Dispensationalism in its best, most defensible light. They celebrate Ryrie, long-time Professor of Systematic Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, and author of the definitive Dispensationalism Today. He also did The Ryrie Study Bible, Premillennialism and the Christian Faith, Biblical Theology of the New Testament, The Grace of God, The Holy Spirit, Revelation, Acts, Basic Theology, Balancing the Christian Life, So Great Salvation, “Epistles of John” (Wycliffe Bible Commentary), The Miracles of Jesus, The Bible and Tomorrow’s News, and a number of journal articles and chapters in other books. He even has written the first chapter in the current book, advocating “The Necessity of Dispensationalism.”

Cone is president of Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute. He joins Ryrie and fifteen other writers. Robert Thomas of The Master’s Seminary contributes Chapters 6 (“T he Principle of the Single Meaning”) and 9 (“The New Testament Use of the Old Testament”) from his own book, Evangelical Hermeneutics.

Some chapters are of substantial help. Others might give the impression that they stress points found more or less in systems the work opposes, such as amillennialism. The work joins a large number of books in the past three decades which collect chapters by main exponents of a premillennial dispensational conviction.

In Cone’s “Four Pillars of Dispensationalism,” this reviewer must confess that only one of these points seems to distinguish dispensationalism substantially from other theologies. This is his fourth point, using consistent, literal hermeneutics to explain Scripture. Cone lists a lot of ideas to favor a historical/grammatical method (25-30). Parts of this seem inconclusive in rejecting one system’s handling of biblical phenomena and favoring another. Some will conclude that certain dispensational interpreters on specific passages practice solid and natural hermeneutics, but other dispensational views on texts meet with rejection even from many others in the system. And passages are open to different interpretations, some of which have more solid proof. However, candidly, this is also true of systems that the book opposes, such as amillennialism and postmillennialism. Dispensationalists do contend for a basic approach that often measures texts according to the most natural, evident, straightforward sense that the words convey.

Charles Ray in “Basic Distinctives of Dispensationalism” (chapter 4) presses some interesting points. One is the difficulty that amillennialists face in conceiving of Satan as bound in the present age (Rev 20:2) when quite a number of NT passages are lucid on the very strong, deceptive activity of Satan or demons today (48-49). A further point is the non-premillennial idea that has the church present since the beginning of the Bible (50). Contrary to this, Ray shows, dispensationalists argue for distinguishing Israel and the church, and say the church began at Pentecost (Acts 2). Among Ray’s observations are these: non-mention of the church in the OT, Paul’s calling the church a “mystery hidd en in God,” not made known in pre-NT generations (51), the church as yet future in Matt 16:18, the church as “one new man [person]” (Eph 2:15), not an o ld entity to which God is simply continuing to add more people. With these is the factor that the apostles were at a stage of the church’s foundation in Eph 2:20, not integrated after it was far along in a lengthy history (52).

Ray also sensitively reconsiders NT texts in which covenant theologians equate the church with Israel (53-58). An example is Gal 6:16, “the Israel of God.” He defends rendering the word kai there in the primary sense as “and,” so as to refer to Gentiles who believe (distinct from people of Israel) “and the Israel of God,” i.e., people ethnically of Israel who also are genuinely of God (55). This fits with the idea that Israel is Israel in an ethnic sense in its vast multiplied occurrences in the NT, just as in the OT (56).

Some will wonder about wording in chapter 13 where “the day of the Lord” seems limited to being a time of God’s wrath. Some passages appear to see the “day” (era) as continuing on to include blessing in the kingdom that follows judgment. For example Joel 3:14 seems to focus on judgment in “the day of the Lord,” and in the context about that time v. 18 refers to blessing “in that day,” naturally the “day” the context defines.

Both judgment and blessing will occur in a “day” in which God shows extraordinarily that He is indeed “Lord.” Later, the current work does cite Paul Enns to the effect that the Day of the Lord even carries through the millennium (280), conceding that it also includes a blessing aspect. The work also allows that among relevant texts, 1 Cor 5:5 is one which states that “the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (282). If so, statements of chapter 13 at different points would be more effective if everywhere consistent, i.e., the “day” is only one of wrath, or within it God also shows his Lordship in blessing for which the judgment has cleared the way.

Ray’s chapters 14-15 craft a very careful look at interpretations of Dan 9:24-27. He shows that views lack defensible evidence when they posit that the “sevens” refer to days, weeks, or months. He argues it as more reasonable that the reference is to years. His contribution also helps on views about which period the “seventy sevens” covers. He defends the meaning of years as actual years, the first sixty-nine transpiring before the Messiah’s death and the end of the seventieth seven at the Messiah’s Second Advent.

John Whitcomb’s detailed reasoning that the two witnesses (Revelation 11) are two individuals comes in chapter 17. He argues that numbers in the Revelation are, for the most part, sensible if seen as literal (359). He even makes an ambitious effort to support the two witnesses being Elijah and Moses brought back from the afterlife. Not all dispensationalists can agree that Moses will die twice, and so far apart, once in Deut 34:5-7 and again in Rev 11:7-8. And not all will concede that Elijah personally needs to be one of the two future heralds. For example, Daniel Wong has developed much reasoning against the probability that the two are Moses and Elijah, rather the two are future servants who are as yet unknown (“The Two Witnesses in Revelation 11,” Bibliotheca Sacra 154, July-September 1997).

Jerry Hullinger in chapter 18 assesses in diligent detail views on the time of the temple in Ezekiel 40–48. H e argues against it being just an ideal and not a literal temple, or Solomon’s historical temple, or the church (Eph 2:11ff.) or Christ (John 2:19), or the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21–22 (377-85). He himself reasons that it meets the best hermeneutical demands to see it as literal during the millennium, after Christ’s Second Coming.

Chapter 21 has the sobering arguments of Ron Bigalke, Jr., to defend dispensational teachers as advocating social action to improve the world. He shows evidence to argue unfairness of Reformed claims that the system is socially irresponsible, indifferent, and concerned only with the future.

The work has enough to show that dispensationalists in a number of passages ought to be taken seriously. They seek to explain Bible verses in their most natural sense, and some individual efforts reasonably achieve this.