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Gary Crampton
Book Review
A Critique of Dispensational ism, by John
H. Gerstner, Ph.D.; published by
Wolgemuth &: Hyatt Publishers, Inc.,
Brentwood, Tenn., 1991; xi, 275 pages;
$ 8.95;
Over the last few years there have
been a number of noteworthy books
written critiquing various aspects of
dispensationalism: Dispensationalism
Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow (1985),
by Curtis I. Crenshaw and Grover E.
Gunn, III; UnderstandingDispensationalists
(1987), by Vern S. Poythress; The Gospel
According to Jesus (1988), by John F.
MacArthur, Jr.; and House- Divided: The
Break-Up of Dispensational Theology
(1989), byGregL. Bahnsen and Kenneth
L. Genny, Jr. The serious student of the
Refonned faith would do well to have
these works in his library. Now there is
another such work which is tmly "must
reading" in this area: John H. Gersmer's
Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth (in
contradistinction to CI. Scofield'sRightly
Dividing tlte Word of Truth [1885]).
Typically Gersmer, there are no
punches pulled in this book. The author
sets out to "prove"that dispensationalism
is a dangerous theology. In fur too many
places, says Dr. Gersmer, it is in radical
opposition to the teachings of the Word
of God.].1. Packer has well stated that:
"In this book a clear-headed
classical Calvinist challenges con-
temporary dispensational theology.
Pussyfooting is not Dr. Gersmer's style;
the air, and conducts it with bradng
vigor. WithskiJIandthoroughlmowledge
he maps the geography of the gulf that
lies between the two posistions, and
invites the reader to agree that
dispensationalism is seriously astray. All
readers will be grateful to the author for
clarifying the issues more precisely than
any previous book has done. He sets out
to show that Calvinism and
and he proves his pOint" (Dustcover).
As we will see, according to Dr.
Gerstner, if dispensationalism is carried
to its logical conclusions, the gospel itself
is at stake. This is no small matter.
Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth is
subdividedintothreesections: the history
of dispensational ism, thephilosophyand
henneneutics of dispensationalism, and
the theology of dispensationalism. An
Appendix on "Dispensationalism and
Covenant Theology" completes the work.
Insection one, Dr. Gersmertraces the
because, "to keep abreast of the times,
one must first get abreast the times" (p.
7). Hereitisshownthatdispensationalism
is a nineteenth century development.
Says the author, the early church, the
middle ages, the Refonnation and post-
Refonnation eras knew nothing of
modem dispensationalism. (Dispen-
sationalists attempt to connect their
theology with the early church through
their"premillennialism." However, even
though some church leaders have heldto
a premillennial eschatology throughout
church history, it has been the "historical"
brand of premillennlalism, not the pre-
tlibulational rapture type endemic to
dispensationalism.) In fuct, the modem
daymovement began with the Plymouth
Brethren, "in the second decade of the
nineteenth century" (p. 21). The fire was
fueled by men such as John Nelson
Darby, B.W. Newton, F.W. Grant, C.E.
Stewart, F .E. Raven, and others in
In the United States, dispensa-
tionalism began under the teaching of
J.H. Brookes. CI. Scofield, withhisRighdy
Dividing the Word of Truth and Scofield
Reference Bible, has been a major fuctorin
the continuing propogation of this
movement. Thesehave been followed by
D.L. Moody, L.S. Chafer (the founder of
Dallas Theological Seminary), S.L.
Johnson, John Walvoord, Charles C
Ryrie, Hal Lindsey, and others. (And
sadly, dispensationalism has infected fur
too oJRny [so called] RefOlmed churches
As noted, section two deals with
"philosophy and hermeneutics."
"Dispensationalism," says the author, "is
rather short on theory and long on
practice .. .it says relatively little regarding
theological method, philosophy, natural
theology, and other introductory
matters, .. About henneneutics, however,
it says far more than necessary" (p. 73).
Very few men in the dispensational
camp are noted scholars of philosophy
and apologetics (Nonnan Geisler being a
"possible exception"). However, the tacit
to their preference for the "traditional"
methodology of an evidentialistic
apologetic (in contradistinction to
"presuppositionalism") .
When it comes to henneneutics, says
Gerstner, the problem with
"They [dispensationlists] view their
theologyastheresult of the simple, literal
reading of SClipture" (p. 83). But in fact,
it is their theology which governs their
hermeneutics. Dispensational
"prooftexting" is all too often little more
than "spooftexting." In fact, states the
author, "Not only is it impossible to
interpretScriptureinaconsistently literal
fashion, buttheBibleitselfclearlyteaches
that parts of Scripture, especially
prophecy, are not intended to be taken in
a consistently literal fashion" (pp.
101,102). The sensus literalis Giteral
sense) henneneutic of the Reformation
(e.g., Calvin, Luther) is not that of
In section three, Dr. Gerstner comes
to the heart of the book: dispensational
"theology." "As a theology," he writes,
October, 1992 ~ TIlE COUNSEL of Chalcedon ~ 19
dispensationalism "belongs to the
Anninian or evangelical bmnch." Even
"while dispensationalism insistently
claims to be Calvinistic, careful scrutiny
reveals it to be Arminian" (p. 103).
Dispensationalists claim to hold to four
of the five pointsofCalvinisticsoteriology
(theydenouncelimitedatonement, while
allegedly adopting total depravity,
unconditional election, irresistible gmce,
and perseverance of the saints). But in
actnaIity, says Gerstner, they do not hold
to any of the five. Theirs is a "spurious
Calvinism" (chapter 7). Indeed,
dispensationalism is even "dubious
than one way of salvation (chapters 8-
the implanting in the soul of "a distinct
otuological entity or new self, which
indeed appears to be a pan of the divine
namre ... Thisresultsintwodistinctnatures
intheChtistian. Notbingactually happens
to the old nature at all, except that it has
an entirely different new nature placed
alongside it" (p. 232). Thus, justification
applies only to the new nature, which is
divine (which, of course, wouldnotneed
to be justified). The result: a person may
be justified (the new "spiritual" nature)
and not sanctified (the old, "catnaI"
nature). This, comments Gersmer, is in
connadistinction to the Reformed view,
which teaches that in regenemtion and
justification, "a new disposition is
the Christian is one person with two
stugglingprinciples, thenewonedestined
to conquer the old" (p. 232).
Finally, as noted above, Dr. Gersmer
concludes his book with an Appendix:
"Dispensationalism and Covenant
two "theologies" by using sixteen
arguments against Covenant theology,
found in Charles Lincoln's "The
(BibliothecaSaaa, 1943, pp.134-163)as
a foil. One by one, Dr. Gersmer shows
that Lincoln's arguments simply do not
stand upunderthe test ofHoly Scripture.
Even though Uncoln's work is the "best
dispensational presentationofthesubject
I [Gerstner]haveseen"(p.266), "Uncoln
hasnotshown that the 'all-time covenant
of gmce' is utuenab1e" (p. 271).
In summary, John H. Gerstner has
written a good book - a highly
recommended book. It is solidly biblical
and Reformed .. n
Further, according to Dr. Gersmer,
dispensationalism is militantly
antinomian, which is the antithesis of
true gmce (chapter 11). Overviewingthe
teachings of Darby, Scofield, Ironside,
Chafer, Walvoord, Ryrie, Lindsey,
Hodges, Thieme, and others, the author
concludes that "all traditional
dispensationalists teach that convened
Christian persons can (not may) live in
sin throughouttheirpost -conversionlives
withno threat to theiretemal destiny" (p.
209). This "carnal Christian"
antinomianism, claims Gerstner, is
"another gospel, which is in fact, no
gospel at all" (p. 230). Too, it seriously
undennines the Lordship of Christ
(chapter 13), by asserting that "a person
may have Christ as Savior but refuse to
accept Him asLordofone'slife" (p.251).
(Herein chapter 13, Dr. Gersmerproperly
recognizes John MacArthur's The Gospel
According t1J Jesus as an "epochal book"
with regard to the "Lordship salvation"
controversy. In it, MacArthur, a
dispensationalist himself, trenchantly
argues against the heresy of
Sermon Tapes
At the roots of such antinomianism
are the dispensational doctrines of
regeneration, justification, and
sanctification (chapter 12). In
dispeusationalism, regenerationinvolves
20 TIlE COUNSEL of Chalcedon October, 1992