The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism: The Interface between Dispensational and Non-Dispensational Theology

By Robert L.. Saucy
Grand Rapids : Zondervan (1993). 336 Pages.

Reviewed by
5.1 (Spring 1994) : 111-113

This long-awaited volume from Robert Saucy, a respected author who has a reputation for being progressively dispensational "before progressive dispensationalism was cool" (to borrow some phraseology from the pop music world), is not disappointing. Its pages are worthy of attention from all students committed to the authority of God's Word, no matter where they might currently light along the theological continuum between continuity and discontinuity. To be sure, some non-dispensationalists will cast its messages as another chorus of the same old song, and some coming from a "traditional" or "classical" dispensational heritage will express alarm over what they perceive to be further "concessions" to the tenets of nondispensational theology. Even within the progressive "camp," some unashamed label-wearers will think that Saucy has gone too far on such-and-such an issue, with others (and possibly even some of the aforementioned "some"!) will look upon the author as exhibiting signs of retrogressional dispensationalism in reference to other important issues. None of these challenges or concerns will diminish the valuable contribution of The Case for Progesssive Dispensationalism.

Regardless of the potential for reactionary critiques, Saucy has crystallized the major issues and has done so through an admirable methodology. Consequently, this treatise makes significant advancements beyond that proof-texting modus operandi so characteristic of most systematic-theological interchanges, especially in the polemical arena of dispensationalism. He has caused a salient data-reservoir to surface in presenting his case quite inductively. Through enlisting even those who do not hold the high view of Scripture held in common by conservative dispensational and nondispensational proponents, he has skillfully woven together the best exegetical notations from all camps. The well researched substructure of the volume is undoubtedly its greatest strength. This will hopefully produce as a byproduct another significant toning down of the emotionally charged atmosphere that has historically characterized these debates. The author has done all that could be expected of him in bringing this normally heated "interface" onto the more fertile ground of biblical exegesis.

Most of the data presentations in this work are quite good. In relation to the larger issue of premillennialism, chaps. 2, 3, 4, and 12, dealing respectively with the Abrahamic Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, the Kingdom, and "The Future Purpose of Israel," are especially good in that though compressed, they are yet quite comprehensive.

For the most part, Saucy's data interpretations are credible and commendable (in the estimate of this reviewer, 95% plus). On the negative side of this overwhelmingly positive contribution, an example of an apparent weakness manifested itself in the discussion of the Kingdom (e.g., 84, 98-110). At times the author seems to support the exegetical inferences of both reign and realm nuances for the Kingdom, i.e., the already-but-not-yet motif or inaugurated but yet-tobe fulfilled perspective, but at other junctures his arguments and subconclusions seemed to be driven by a controlling mediatorial presupposition. For most readers this shift will leave an impression of ambivalence at best and of contradiction at worst. Or could it be (for those familiar with Saucy's primary pedagogical procedure) that this section is purposely dialectical?

Two issues deserve further treatment. There was need to treat the issues of conditionality and unconditionality in reference to the "promissory" and "administrative" covenants more thoroughly (cf. 59 n. 1). Another omission is certainly not unique to Saucy's writings; a 112 The Master's Seminary Journal desert drought condition prevails regarding the role of the Holy Spirit throughout the epochs of salvation history. Although references to the Holy Spirit are not totally absent from The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, several of its systematic-theological generalizations (e.g., 17, 57, 116-18, 167 ff.) need to be tested at the presuppositional level by that same thoroughly exegetical methodology that characterizes the majority of its discussions.

Organizationally, the argument progresses well, especially in light of the need to address so many different but yet interrelated topics. The titles of chap. 10, "The Pauline Prophecies about Israel," and chap. 11, "Other New Testament Prophecies," need at least a mental note of revision, however, since significant Pauline overflow appears in the discussion of the latter chapter.

Overall, high-protein theological nutrients pack this book's 315 pages of text. Consequently, Saucy's expressed hope for this volume will be actualized among all who come to it with open Bibles and open minds: "It is hoped that this [book] will both give traditional dispensationalists a greater understanding of what some of their colleagues are saying, and aid the ongoing dialogue with non-dispensationalist" (8).