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A Study of Dispensationalism
by Arthur Pink

"But there is further reason, and a pressing one today, why we should write upon our present subject, and that is to expose the modern and pernicious error of Dispensationalism. This is a device of the Enemy, designed to rob the children of no small part of that bread which their heavenly Father has provided for their souls; a device wherein the wily serpent appears as an angel of light, feigning to "make the Bible a new book" by simplifying much in it which perplexes the spiritually unlearned. It is sad to see how widely successful the devil has been by means of this subtle innovation."

Theology
The Inscripturated Word: A Sermon

P. Andrew Sandlin | It's easy to take for granted that everybody in the Church understands the basics of the Faith


But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

It’s easy to take for granted that everybody in the Church understands the basics of the Faith. This assumption is dangerous. Without the basics, we cannot move ahead in our task to strengthen the Church, evangelize the world, and Christianize our culture. The basics are truly basic — we cannot live without them. From time to time, we need to refresh our understanding of them. Paul once wrote, “To write the same things to you, to me is indeed not grievous [“irksome,” we would say], but for you it is safe” (Phil. 3:1). Don’t be annoyed that you hear the truth a little too much. It’s “safe” to hear it.

The Bible is certainly a basic of the Christian Faith. It’s conceivable that God could have accomplished His purposes with the human race without a written revelation1, but He chose not to do this. The first thing about the Bible you should understand, therefore, is that it is God’s written revelation. God has revealed Himself preeminently in Jesus Christ (Heb.1:1-2) and also in His creation (Ps. 19:1-6). The Bible, along with our Lord Himself and creation, constitutes God’s three-fold revelation in history. Unlike the other two forms, the Bible is written. It is written in and for history.

Divine Interpretation of History

The Bible is preeminently God’s written interpretation of His revelation in history. The Bible tells us virtually nothing about what God was doing in eternity “past.” (Somebody once asked Augustine what God was doing before creation, and he replied with something like, “Creating Hell for people who spend too much time in idle speculation.”) The Bible tells us very little about what we’ll be doing in eternity future. The Bible starts with God’s creation of the world and it ends with the conclusion of His redemptive work in history. The Bible’s not interested in telling us if angels have wings, or what color they are; whether the anti-Christ (whoever he is) will fly around in a rocket ship; or how old everybody will be in Heaven. The Bible tells us what God has done, what He is doing, and what He will do by means of His Son Jesus Christ and His covenant people in human history. It tells how that in Christ He’s bringing all things under His authority (Phil. 2:5-11). If you’re looking for something else in the Bible, you’re not likely to find it.

Inspired

Second, the Bible is God’s inspired Word. This language is used in 2 Timothy. Inspired means “God-breathed,” or, more accurately, breathed out by God. This refers specifically to the books of what we call the “Old Testament,” but we know that the New Testament is Scripture, too.

The fact that Scripture is breathed out by God is most significant. It means that God is the source of the Bible. We learn elsewhere a little more about this. Peter writes that the Old Testament prophets (many of whose words we find in Scripture) were “moved,” or carried along, by the Holy Ghost (2 Pet. 1:21). God “breathed out” the Scripture and He “carried along” the prophets of the Old Testament in having them communicate His revelation. In fact, we find some strange language in the New Testament about this. We read in Acts that “the Holy Spirit [spake] by the mouth of David” (Ac. 1:16). That is, these words were David’s words, but they were the words of the Holy Spirit as well. In other words, God used human language to convey His revelation.

There is a great mystery here. We see the marks of humanity all over the Bible. These words are men’s words. The Bible doesn’t come unto us in some “heavenly” language. It came originally in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, and it comes to us in our own language today. The writers in the Bible had different writing styles. John does not write like Peter, and Moses does not write like Joel. The prophecies of Isaiah are often highly polished literary pieces, but Amos was a shepherd, and his words are simple, not especially beautiful. In the New Testament, Paul was something of an intellectual, and he wrote quite differently from Mark. Yet all of these men spoke or wrote the very Word of God. How? Well, we don’t know. God didn’t dictate most of the Bible. He worked with the writers’ minds and personalities in such a way that what they spoke and what was eventually recorded was what He wanted written. This is the confluence of the divine and human in the Scriptures. It is the Word of God in — and as — human words.

Infallible

Third, the Bible is infallible2. This word is not used in the Bible, but it is a very good deduction. We read that God cannot lie (Tit. 1:2). We read that the Bible is His revelation (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We read that His Word is true (John 17:17). We read that His testimonies are sure, or certain (Ps.19: 7). We everywhere get the impression that God speaks the truth in the Bible. So, the Bible is not filled with mistakes, inaccuracies, or errors. We can trust what the Bible teaches.

This doesn’t mean that there are not problems in the Bible. Sometimes it seems as though certain Old Testament genealogies simply do not match up. Parallel accounts in the Gospels are not identical. These don’t denote that the Bible isn’t truthful. These apparent discrepancies are to be expected from a book written in and about history. Were the Bible nothing more than a nice, “pretty” Book, with “aesthetic wisdom” and ethical instruction, we might expect something different. But the Bible is often “gritty.” If you don’t believe this, read the book of Judges sometime. In the Old Testament we read mostly about Israel’s history — and history it certainly is. In the New Testament, we read first about Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, and then we read about the early Church, mostly in Paul’s Epistles. This is all anchored in history. Jesus was a real man who walked on a real earth and died a real death and came up from the grave in a real resurrection. Corinth and Sardis and Ephesus and Colosse were real cities that had real Churches with real problems. We can expect, therefore, that there are going to be all sorts of shades and variations as the Biblical writers deal with these real situations3. Because history is not uniform, and because the Bible is about history, we can expect that there will be lack of uniformity in the Bible’s expression — not its message, but its expression.

In most cases, the Biblical writers weren’t trying to solve all the world’s problems (only Jesus Christ can do that!). Rather, they are dealing with intense situations, and episodes that immediately confronted them. So, the Bible is completely truthful, but it is truthful for particular situations. The Bible is meant to help us right down in the “nitty-gritty” of life, not from a “safe distance.”

Self-Attesting

Fourth, we accept the Bible on the ground that it is, in fact, the Word of God. Theologians would say that the inspiration and authority of the Bible are “self-attesting.” This means that you can’t go “outside” the Bible to prove that it is God’s Word. How could you? To use Cornelius Van Til’s metaphor, that would be like trying to use a candle to find the sun. If the Bible is truly God’s Word, and we needed something apart from the Bible to accredit or verify it, then that factor would have greater authority than the Bible. Well, the only factor in the universe greater than the Bible is God Himself, Who wrote it. Therefore, only God can verify His Word! Science and archaeology and psychology and philosophy neither prove nor disprove the Bible.

To stand outside the Bible in order to prove the Bible is to stand in unbelief. The Bible tells us that without faith, it’s impossible to please God (Heb.11: 6). Until we come to the Bible with faith, we will never see it as the Word of God. We do not “prove” the Bible before we accept it. We accept it by faith, and then it “proves” itself to us! If the Bible is truly God’s Word, we can expect that only God can accredit it.

Authoritative

Fifth, the Bible is authoritative. The Scripture summons man to obey (Dt. 11:27-28; 2 Thes. 3:14). The Bible gives us not only God’s revelation about what He has done, is doing, and what He will do. It also gives us God’s revelation about what we are to do. God alone is God, and His Word communicates to man as His creature made in His image. Man is a rational creature, capable of understanding God’s language. God is the Creator, and we are His creatures. He tells us how we are to conduct our lives. He tells us this in Scripture.

Now, it’s crucial to recognize that the Bible is not authoritative only on “spiritual” matters — by this I mean responsibilities like love, prayer, Church attendance, and so on4. The Bible also tells us how to conduct marriage and train children, how we’re to deal with property, how we are to care for the earth and our “environment,” how justice should be maintained in politics, what should be our standards for art, how physicians should approach their patients, and so on, extensively. Now, the Bible does not answer everything about everything, and its very center is Jesus Christ; but it does give us authoritative direction on a large number of aspects of our life — not just the “spiritual” ones. If we limit the Bible’s authority to the so-called “spiritual” parts, we are really denying God’s authority in our lives. We are saying, “God, You can be authoritative in these aspects of my life, but not in others.” This, of course, is rebellion against God.

Metaphors for the Word

Finally, the Bible is filled with metaphors about itself that convey to us what its role is.

For instance, David tells us in Psalm 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” The Word illumines where we are and where we need to be. To those uncertain of the Lord’s will for your life, pondering a difficult decision, at the proverbial fork in the road — immerse yourself in the Word of God, preferably on your knees in prayer.

In Jeremiah 23:29 we read the questions, “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” God in that context is warning against false prophets. The Word of God consumes error and breaks false doctrine. Know this: when there is false teaching in the Church, the Bible, not human ingenuity, crushes it like a hammer. When there is evil in society, it is Word of God that consumes it like a fire would. Therefore, when meeting cultural sins, we meet them with the Bible, not with mere human reasoning. In opposing abortion, we do not say, “This is contrary to the sanctity of life,” though this is true enough. Why is life sanctified? Because God says so in His Word (Gen. 9:6). John the Baptist confronted Herod for his immorality (Mk. 6:18). What did he say? “What you’re doing is not lawful — it’s contrary to God’s law.” This is the ground on which we oppose social evil.

But we also read that God’s Word is like food. In Jeremiah 15:16 the prophet declares, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.” David exults in the law, “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb” (Ps. 19:10). God’s law is as valuable as gold, but it is as sweet as honey to the taste. We eat to nourish and sustain ourselves. We become weak and emaciated if we do not eat. This is one reason many Christians are so weak in the Faith, why they fall so easily into temptations. They lack the nourishment of the Word of God. They don’t “eat” it!

But we don’t eat only for nourishment. We eat for enjoyment. There are certain foods we savor. We are to savor the Word of God. Do you delight to read the Word? If you love the Word, it is not a chore to read it. Perhaps every day we read a portion of it — perhaps we sit down and read through an entire book at one sitting, maybe John or Amos or Revelation. It excites us and satisfies us. It draws us close to God and inspires us with faith, and induces in us obedience.

But the Word is more. And this is almost spooky. The Word is alive. “For the word of God is quick [alive], and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb 4:12). The Word is not a book of antiquity that gathers dust on the shelf. It is active and alive. It creates faith (Rom. 10:17). It saves souls (1 Pet. 1:23). There is power inherent in the Word. It doesn’t need some other power to prop it up. Do you want to see souls saved? Declare the Word. Do you want to experience victory over sin? Read and obey the Word. Do you want to shake up a depraved culture? Trumpet the Word. The Word changes things. It changes people. It changes families. It changes Churches. It changes cultures.

Therefore, if you want to please God and do great exploits for Him, immerse yourself in the Bible. Love it, read it, consume it, obey it, defend it, propagate it, and exalt it.

1 The original verbal revelation stands behind the Bible. We must not make the mistake of thinking God’s verbal revelation first appeared in the Bible. It came to godly saints in history, many of whom later wrote down that revelation, which became the Scriptures. See Bernard Ramm, Special Revelation and the Word of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961).

2 Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Baker, Books, 1993), 318-326.

3 This is why Cullmann writes: “Anyone who underestimates the necessity and role of philological and historical exegesis in the first place proves that he has a false theological conception of the nature of biblical revelation. In fact, the very essence of the central affirmation of the Bible has to do with history,” Oscar Cullmann, “The Necessity and Function of Higher Criticism,” The Early Church (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1956), 7. Cullmann’s stress on historical revelation does not demand his advocacy of higher criticism.

4 Noel Weeks, The Sufficiency of Scripture (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1988).


  P. Andrew Sandlin, an ordained minister, is president of the Center for Cultural Leadership, a Christian educational foundation dedicated to reclaiming contemporary culture for Jesus Christ. An interdisciplinary scholar, he holds academic degrees or concentrations in English, English literature, history, and political science. He has written several monographs and books, including The Full Gospel: A Biblical Vocabulary of Salvation and Totalism, and hundreds of essays and articles, both scholarly and popular. Andrew and his wife Sharon have five children.  

 

 

 
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