Our listeners have been asking for a podcast about leaving dispensationalism. We try to give the people what they want! Jon and Justin talk about why we are not dispensational. We talk personally and theologically, covering topics such as: the redemptive-historical framework of Scripture, covenant theology, law/gospel distinction, sanctification, and the ordinary means of grace.
Semper Reformanda Podcast: In our first ever Semper Reformanda podcast, we talk more in-depth about the differences between a confessional, reformed perspective and a dispensational perspective. We tell a story or two and share some of the things that we most want our listeners to know.
FREE EBOOK Theocast.org/primer
- Our podcast: Law/Gospel //youtu.be/EMSfwPUuuVk
- Our podcast: Demands of the Gospel? //youtu.be/VHUmO4eD8Lk
- Our podcast: Are You a Legalist or an Antinomian? //youtu.be/xvGhu9Pc2LA
- Our teaching series: Covenant Theology //youtu.be/iCfzmujnlHo
SUPPORT Theocast: //theocast.org/give/
FACEBOOK: Theocast: //www.facebook.com/Theocast.org
TWITTER: Theocast: //twitter.com/theocast_org
INSTAGRAM: Theocast: //www.instagram.com/theocast_org/
Justin Perdue: Hi, this is Justin. Today on Theocast, we are going to do our best to give the people what they want. By popular demand, we are going to try to answer the question why it is that we have left dispensationalism. Perhaps you’re out there and you have spent some time in a dispensationalist context, or maybe you’re just seeing aspects of dispensational teaching in your current environment. We’re going to have a conversation today about the distinctions between our perspective that is Reformed and confessional over and against the perspective that is dispensational. Jon and I are going to talk a little bit personally, we’re going to talk theologically. We hope that this is a clarifying conversation for you, and as always, we hope it encourages you in the Lord Jesus Christ. Stay tuned.
We’re going to talk today because of popular demand. We’re going to talk today about leaving dispensationalism. We’re just trying to give the people what they want, and we had a number of people on the Facebook group post about this. When the first post went up, there were lots of other people that chimed in and said, “Yes, please talk about this.” So we’re gonna talk about it a little bit today.
The episode is entitled, as already said, Leaving Dispensationalism. Just to clarify a little bit of what we’re going to try to do today, we’re not going to give a bunch of technical, deep, heady definitions of dispensational theology or anything like that. What we’re going to do is hopefully aim to have an approachable conversation where we talk about the high level distinctions between our Reformed confessional perspective and a dispensational perspective.
Before we even get into it, I’ll just go ahead and give a little bit of my background that is relevant right now, and then Jon, you can talk a little bit about you as well. My exposure to dispensational theology was more general in that I was a part of a church that was self-consciously liberal theologically, but had a very mixed bag in terms of the membership of the church. Many of the members of the church were conservative—at least theologically—and certainly conservative morally. They had been heavily influenced by the default dispensational evangelical-ish theology that was out there in the 20th century in America. I absorbed some of that and was never taught anything contrary to it. And so basically, by default, I would have had notions of, for example, the pre-tribulation rapture understanding of the end of the world. I definitely was aware of Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series. Whenever the judgment house thing would happen, there was definitely the rapture that occurred and the piles of clothes everywhere, and you don’t want to be left because then you’re gonna have to go through tribulation and all kinds of things. That was my exposure to it all.
Then I began to read and encounter different theology in my early to mid-twenties. And as I began to read, study, and investigate Scripture more on my own from a more Reformed covenantal perspective, I started to see the distinctions between what I had absorbed and what I was now learning.
That’s enough about me. Jon, why don’t you let the people know a little bit about your background? Because you, even more than I was, were steeped in dispensationalism, and even went to a postgraduate institution that would champion this kind of understanding of Scripture.
Jon Moffitt: I’ve been in different kinds of dispensationalism. I grew up in the independent, fundamental Baptist world. My dad was a preacher for 20 years before he passed away in that world. And progressively coming out of it, for those of you that know anything about that world, my dad used to work for Jack Hyles, and then he slowly started to read men like John MacArthur and he started leaving it. The two colleges that I went to were both dispensational. Most of the churches I worked in in my early twenties were all dispensational. So I was very familiar with the branding and the style, I would even say, the hermeneutic and the theology. And then I ended up going to probably one of the most prominent dispensational schools that are conservative, and I would say Calvinistic, in today’s world. I went to the Master’s Seminary. And it was there that I really began to dive deep into the dispensational perspective, and understand the nuances and the different kinds of dispensationalism. So it’s not just dispensational theology—there’s actually different kinds. And this is not an overview of what this is because there’s plenty of information out there of what dispensationalism is. MacArthur and the school are probably more of a progressive dispensationalism.
Justin Perdue: Versus a classic historical dispensational view.
Jon Moffitt: Yeah. And there are definitely some differences. I think progressive is by far better hermeneutically than a traditional classical. There’s a lot of concerns that come from there.
What we’re going to really talk about is why I left it and why we don’t hold to that perspective.
Justin Perdue: Or at least why we’re not there today; why we believe something else.
Jon Moffitt: We’re going to talk about the major differences, and I would say these are differences that the majority—now, you I’m sure you can find a dispensationalist that’s going to counteract this; this is the thing about it is that theology just can get so broad. But I would say mainline dispensational, and I would even say mainline progressive dispensationalism, for the sake of this argument—my seminary, my alma mater, and John MacArthur would disagree with us. That’s really what this podcast is about; it is what we embrace to be what we think is biblical and historically accurate in our perspective. To be clear, Justin, I think it’s safe to say this; we need to say this: we love our dispensational brothers, we do not think they’re heretical. Again, I’m sure there’s some weirdo out there that holds to some weird doctrine and calls himself dispensationalist; I am not going to be the straw man who torches that. That is just not fair.
Justin Perdue: The only things that we would condemn from a dispensational perspective are things that most dispensationalists have already condemned themselves. Like the idea that there are two different covenants of salvation: one with Israel and one with the church. That has been rejected by the vast majority of people that would call themselves dispensationalists, and we too would look at that and say that is not at all faithful to Scripture, but is a false doctrine.
Jon Moffitt: That’s correct. Israel was not saved by the law and those underneath it are saved by Christ. That’s just not correct. Now that was taught by some, but it is not the prominent view today. And so we aren’t going to bring that up as one of the oppositions because that’s not what they’re saying, and we do not want to misrepresent them.
So I would say the easiest place to begin when we’re thinking about the differences and what my journey out of dispensational theology was… When I was actually in seminary, steeped in it, studying all the different books that I was reading. They had a lot. They were talking about continuity and discontinuity between the New Testament and the Old Testament, understanding that the different dispensations, and then of course I had classes on covenant theology and the way in which it was being presented.
As I began to read Scripture in really new eyes, when I stopped trying to read into the text—the moral application of being like David and or like Daniel—one of the things that I am very thankful for that my seminary taught me is to understand the authorial intent. What is the author’s intentions in writing the book? One of the things that I took from that, and sometimes our dispensational friends only go to the actual author, like Moses, the Psalms, Paul, etc. But the book is authored by one God, which is our sovereign Being, and we have to ask, what was His authorial intent? What can we look at from Scripture to determine what His intentions for writing these books? Then you can lower down into the individual authors, and then you can lower down even more into the individual applications of that text. For instance, what were they trying to communicate in this particular section or this paragraph?
So what I began to discover is that the Bible had one story. It was really describing one pushing narrative. Now the dispensationalist will say it’s the glory of God—it is the overarching purpose of God’s word and why He wrote it, which we’re not going to disagree with that because everything is for the glory of God. But you can’t just say this book is about God’s glory when it has in the very opening scene in Genesis 3 the major theme, which is the fall of man and God’s promise to restore men. So it’s redemption.
So I began to see Scripture unfold from a redemption or redemptive understanding, and, I would say, that it’s not only just redemptive but it’s redemption through history. So the technical term for it is a redemptive-historical understanding. When this was introduced to me and I was reading through the counter-arguments to covenant theology, I was taken aback by how can this not be right when it seems like all you have is the further progression of God’s promises to His people through covenants and prophecies to bring us the Messiah. I quickly began to see a redemptive-historical understanding of Scripture to be an accurate way of understanding how to explain the Bible.
Justin Perdue: We do not disagree with the dispensationalist that says that the Bible is about the glory of God, but we want to be more specific because we think the text is more specific and it’s more clear in terms of how it is that God gets glory for Himself. And certainly He is glorified in having His righteousness vindicated through judgment. And at the same time, it is quite clear that God is glorified, I’m going to go in and say is most glorified, in the work of redemption accomplished by His Son, Jesus. That is a big point of difference which dovetails with another piece.
Not only is our understanding of covenant theology at odds with a dispensational hermeneutic—with respect to the Bible and how it hangs together, how redemptive history unfolds, and the like—we also are going to be explicitly Christocentric; we’re going to be Jesus-centered in how we understand the Bible and its main point, that it is God’s plan of redemption accomplished through Christ that brings God glory. And our dispensational friends will disagree with us on that because for them, at the center of God’s plan to glorify Himself—of course, they’re not going to deny that Jesus is a part of this—but at the center of God’s plan to bring Himself glory is Israel and how God works through Israel. It’s a very Israel-centric hermeneutic where ours is unapologetically Jesus-centric in terms of how God goes about saving His people, what the point all along was. We’re basically taking our cue from Christ himself and certainly the apostles as they understand the entire Old Testament to be ultimately about Jesus, the Christ, and what he would come to do in order to accomplish redemption—all to the praise of God’s glorious grace.
Jon Moffitt: To maybe bring some clarity, what’s so hard is the nuance here. We don’t want to misrepresent. Hear our hearts and hear how we’re trying to express some technical differences.
Every dispensationalist I talked to would say, of course, Jesus is the point of the Bible. They wouldn’t reject that because to reject that would be weird.
Justin Perdue: How do you even reject such a statement?
Jon Moffitt: Right. So we don’t want to throw that straw man out there either. Their rejection is this: “Jon, you guys find Jesus under every rock. When you say it’s Christocentric, you’re saying that you need to find Jesus in every single verse.” I would say if you’re projecting upon the text, just like I would say people do when we think about projecting moral applications—be like Daniel, be like David—you shouldn’t do that either. That’s not what we’re saying. What we’re saying is the narrative and the purpose behind what was written is to further explain, clarify, and reveal the shadow of Christ as we get closer to the substance of Christ. So we think everything in the Old Testament is a greater shadow, a revealing of what’s going on when it comes to the actual substance of Christ. All of the Bible is Christocentric.
Justin Perdue: Like you’re saying, I think the big difference of where this comes out most pointedly is how we read and understand the Old Testament, because we read and understand the Old Testament with Christ at the center of it as well. We do not read anything going on about the nation of Israel, with the nation of Israel, and read that without Christ in view as the backdrop. I would even say a better way to phrase it is the lens through which we view Israel is Jesus. And so that, I think, is a difference between our perspective and a dispensational view. It is a hermeneutic and a hermeneutic is a means or a method of interpretation. We, again, are not forcing anything down on the text; we are taking our cue from Christ and the apostles and understanding that the point of the Bible is to reveal God’s plan of redemption through history as it has unfolded, and all of His plan to save His people has centered upon Christ. We would understand, like you said at the beginning, Jon, that yes, we’re concerned with authorial intent at the human level—Moses, Paul, David, whoever it may be—and we are primarily concerned with authorial intent at the divine level, because there is one Author of Scripture, namely the Holy Spirit who inspired men to write exactly what God would have written down. And so we want to get underneath any kind of human authorial intent and see exactly what God intends to reveal- and God has not left us in the dark on that. Because as we look at the entire canon and how it hangs together, we are able to better interpret the Old Testament in light of the New. And as we’ve said many times on here, the best interpreter of the Old Testament is the Holy Spirit speaking to us in the New Testament.
That’s where we’re going to come at odds, I think, with some of our dispensational friends. If we were to go to an Old Testament text, it’s going to come very obvious that the way that we’re coming at it is different.
Jon Moffitt: That’s really helpful. I think it’s encouraging to see where we do agree with our dispensational brothers. This is why we can call them our brothers. There’s a lot I’ve learned from them. They’ve been super helpful in their interpretation of Scripture. But I will say that it does impact your use of the Old Testament completely. My Alma mater did an entire lecture series on why they would reject a Christocentric understanding of the Old Testament. John MacArthur has openly stated that the primary reason he teaches from the New Testament is that we’re in the New Testament era.
Justin Perdue: We’re in the era of the gospel of the Messiah, and so the Old Testament is really not all that applicable other than to moralize it and apply it in those kinds of ways. Is that fair?
Jon Moffitt: Yeah. And if you go to his book on preaching, it’s been around for years, which he still holds to that. Basically you can use the Old Testament for great illustrations, and then there are sections about the prophecy of Christ. But as it relates to preaching Christ from the Old Testament, it’s just not something that they promote
Justin Perdue: Whereas for us, again, as Reformed guys who are covenantal in our theology, we hold to the three historic covenants: the first one being the covenant of redemption that was made in eternity past between the members of the Godhead, most pointedly between the Father and the Son, where the Father and Son agreed together about redemption and how it would be accomplished, then the Son is going to be the one to do it. Then we would understand the covenant of works that God made with Adam in the garden, and dispensationalists would disagree with us on that language. They would just say that’s just not in the Scripture. And then we also would understand the covenant of grace that is promised in Genesis 3:15, when God promises that there would be one who would be the seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head. We understand that to be the first promise of the covenant of grace that then is going to be revealed through further steps, and ultimately established through Christ in the new covenant. Dispensationalists would disagree with us completely with respect to that framework. They would say, “Well, that’s not in the Bible. You guys are imposing that down upon the text.” And we would just say, no, actually we are aiming to responsibly read the entire Bible and see how it hangs together as a whole, and therefore what we’re saying about these covenants actually comes up out of the text and then helps us understand the whole thing.
I’ll go ahead and throw these two words out there and briefly define them. When a dispensationalist would argue with us about covenant theology and say that those three covenants respectively are not in the Bible, I think two things are going on. One is a little bit of word-concept fallacy, where the words that you’re using are not in the Bible, and so we shouldn’t talk that way. And of course the greatest thing to bring up there is the word “trinity” is not in the Bible, yet it’s the best way we know to express the threeness and the oneness of God, so three-in-one. Trinity. The other thing that I think goes on with dispensationalist is because of their high view of the Bible and their high view of inerrancy, they do tend toward biblicism, where there’s just this, “Well, we need to see a chapter and verse in a text, and then we can talk this way. And what you’re saying is not there, chapter and verse, in that sense, and so we disagree with your theological framework.” To which again, our response is this stuff is very clearly revealed over the course of the whole canon from Genesis to Revelation, and it makes sense of the entire thing, and there’s this unified thread that runs through—and covenant theology in a redemptive-historical understanding, with Jesus at the center, all of that hangs together.
Jon Moffitt: We are thankful to our dispensational brothers. They do fight against the logical conclusion of biblicism, which ends up being open theism. Because if you have to have the actual text to say something, or you take every text literal and you won’t allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, and you do not allow the explanation of all of Scripture to apply, you could come to the conclusion that God doesn’t know the future, that God isn’t in the future, and that God isn’t eternal- and that’s what open theism has done. It’s the ultimate conclusion of biblicism.
Justin Perdue: And we will do a podcast on biblicism, I trust, in the next few months, because it’s something that Jon and I have talked about. Biblicism, basically, what you get there is people take words in the biblical text and they pit one text against another. They introduce a tension and a mystery that is actually not there, that can be harmonized and explained quite easily with appropriate hermeneutical tools. But biblicism actually unsettles us because it’s like this is saying this, and this is saying that, and apparently there’s a contradiction here, and there’s a mystery and a tension here—and that actually does not exist if we understand the Scripture rightly, we would argue. For example, from a covenantal, redemptive-historical, Christ-centered perspective.
Jon Moffitt: A dispensationalist would openly agree that they are not covenantal. As a matter of fact, it literally is A and B.
Justin Perdue: It’s oil and water.
Jon Moffitt: It is. There is a distinct difference that both covenantalists and historic dispensationalist are not going to agree on these frameworks of interpretation. And I will say that dispensationalism is a framework of interpretation. It’s how you interpret God’s word. They would say the way in which they understand the word of God to unfold and explain itself is through these seven dispensations, which we’re not going to get into, but they are going to interpret all of their Bible through those lenses. The application of it is going to come from that lens of a seven dispensation lens. Now, people are going to differ on what those dispensations are, it is broken up and there’s no continuity between the two.
Justin Perdue: But those seven dispensations in and of themselves or a theological system and framework. I think what’s interesting is that the dispensationalist argument against Reformed covenantal types like us is that we are using and relying too much upon a theological framework or a theological system, and implication is they are not. Those seven dispensations—that’s a system and a framework of its own.
The other thing that can sometimes happen is, at least I’ve heard this before, a dispensationalist will say, “We’re just using the Bible, whereas you guys are using confessions and creeds and things like this alongside the Scripture.” Humbly, I would say this: what do you think that Scofield Study Bible is? That thing has some stuff that’s not in the biblical text too that very much sounds like a confessional or a creed of sorts. It certainly contains some kind of a theological system in it, and you’re claiming that you’re not doing that.
Jon Moffitt: I very rarely meet somebody who can fully explain dispensationalism and they came up with it on their own. It’s been handed down to them. I just have never really met someone who fully explained dispensationalism and then a dispensationalist goes, “You know that’s dispensational theology.” Again, is it out there? Sure. Broadly speaking, that is not the case.
We have to be careful that just because it’s not a specific verse or word in the Bible doesn’t mean the concept doesn’t stand. The Trinity, or even the eternality of God, or the sovereignty of God—these big concepts, a lot of time, it takes a lot of Scripture to help explain what’s going on with this theological understanding, or we could say system, or we could say systematic of understanding it. So when I began to understand covenant theology and the hermeneutic of it, I very much embraced the idea of it because it was consistent with the flow of Scripture, and it was consistent with the explanation of Scripture. Just to be clear, Justin and I are Reformed in our understanding from a covenantal perspective of the London Baptist Confession. If you want to know the technical phrase of that, it would be the 1689 Federalism is our understanding of that. Full explanation of that in the link or in our comments. We did a whole five-part series on our perspective of covenant theology. So we’ll move on from that. We don’t need to spend more time there.
Justin Perdue: Last thing I may say before we move on to another item. I’ve referenced this earlier, and I think you have too, Jon. The fact that Israel is such a big deal in terms of a dispensational theological framework, where Israel becomes a big point of emphasis and focus from a dispensational perspective, to the point that I think, at least as I’ve always heard it taught and explained, and even as you and I have talked—and I think this holds water but you can push back on me if you think this is overstating it—but I think that in a dispensational view, Israel, in terms of God’s people and God’s saving His people, Israel is the point and the church is kind of the parenthesis. Whereas from our perspective, we would say it’s actually maybe the opposite: that Israel is the parenthesis and that the church, God’s people, the Jew and the Gentile, the elect from all nations, tribes, and peoples around the throne of God—that’s the point, and that Israel was the parenthesis. That’s a fundamentally different perspective there, too, in terms of how we understand God’s purposes in redemption and what He’s always been out to accomplish.
Jon Moffitt: And I will say because of these two theological differences, the dispensationalist has a heavy view on in time theology, the rapture. Now, this may not be true today of all dispensationalists, but of the ones I grew up in, and Tim LaHaye, and you were talking about the Left Behind series. The in time theology was a scare tactic to get you to live straight.
Justin Perdue: It was all fear and judgment.
Jon Moffitt: Yeah. There was no assurance on Christ and resting in Christ while looking forward to the return of Christ. I was dreading the return of Christ. I did not want him to come.
Justin Perdue: It was a frightening reality.
Jon Moffitt: We would do the whole “scare people by leaving our clothes all over” for a youth group. I actually watched the original Left Behind series back in the seventies, I think. It was very disturbing.
The number one question we get all the time, because a lot of dispensationalists are listening to us, they ask us what our hermeneutic on in time theology is. Because it’s so emphasized and it’s so part of the theological system that what you believe about the return of Christ is of paramount, for whatever reason.
We’re not gonna do a podcast on this today, but I’m gonna just throw this out there that dispensationalists, amillennialists, postmillennialists, historic premillennialists—any of those positions that you want to take, they all agree that Christ is coming back, he’s going to rule, and reign and we will live with him forever in our new bodies, in a new heavens and a new earth—in a physical realm, not a spiritual realm. All positions hold that. Our brothers, we do not need to be calling each other heretics in our disagreements on these positions. Justin and I have our perspective. Whatever reason in the dispensational world, the return of Christ and those details, if you don’t get it wrong, you are a heretic in some way.
Justin Perdue: If you don’t get it right, and if you don’t have a particular view on it, then you are less than, at best, if not anathema in terms of how you would be viewed.
I agree with you, Jon. Whenever I talk about eschatology, even teaching our membership class at our church, our elders are united in our perspective. I don’t tell people what that is. And I also will say to them, “Here’s what you need to agree on: that Jesus is coming back, that it’s going to be personal, it’s going to be visible, it’s going to be bodily, it’s going to be glorious. And that there will be a judgment according to righteousness, and that all those in Christ will be resurrected on to eternal life, and to live with God forever and with each other in a new heavens and a new earth that’s just as physical as this. If we believe those things, we’re good to go.” We’re going to be charitable there.
All right. Let’s move on.
Jon Moffitt: We got two more we gotta get to. Law-gospel distinction. Justin, real quick, tell us what it is and why it’s different.
Justin Perdue: I can talk about what the law-gospel distinction is first.
We’ve done some podcasts, and I’m sure we’ll link to this in the show notes. We’ve done several podcasts on law-gospel distinction. And even the podcasts that would have released a few weeks ago at this point called Are You a Legalist or an Antinomian? is a very good law-gospel podcast in itself where we understand that there is a distinction between the law and the gospel where they need to be kept distinct. The law reveals, most pointedly and fundamentally, in God’s moral law what God requires of humanity if we are going to be righteous in His sight. And then the gospel, distinct from the law, reveals what God has done for us through Christ. So the law tells us what we need to do, the gospel tells us what God has done through Jesus for us in our place.
And so the law, as we understand it, because of the fall and because we are all born corrupt, we’re born sinful, we all stand condemned by the law. And so the things that the law demands of us, we can’t do. And then the gospel though, on the flip side, is completely about what Jesus has done and actually contains not one single word of anything that we need to do. It is the news of Christ and what he has accomplished for us in our place that we receive simply by faith, by trusting in Christ.
That distinction between law and gospel is huge in a confessional Reformed theological framework, and it has everything to do with assurance and peace before God. Because when we blend law and gospel or confuse those two categories, a lot of bad things happen. But perhaps the first thing that often occurs is you end up turning the gospel into a kind of covenant of works, where there are things that you need to do in order to be saved, even by Christ. There are things that the gospel demands of us that we need to be doing, and we would disagree with that notion. There are no demands made in the gospel, but it is a proclamation and a declaration of something that has already been done for us that we receive.
And so we would live and die on this hill. We would contend for this. We would stake our ministries on this: the distinction between law and gospel. A dispensationalist is not going to agree with us on this law-gospel distinction perspective.
Why don’t you unpack that a little bit in terms of where the disagreement would lie?
Jon Moffitt: There are articles by prominent evangelicals that are out there that are dispensationalist, people that I graduated from school with, and even my own school would say, “We don’t see this hermeneutic.” To be clear, again, not every Bible verse in the Bible can be defined as either law or gospel. There’s narrative and all those things. So don’t be thinking that we’re trying to put this on into every verse. But when we’re in a passage, we do have to ask ourselves if we’re being told what we must do to save ourselves or are we being told what was done so that we are saved?
Justin Perdue: Are we being told what we need to do in order to be righteous?
Jon Moffitt: That’s right. I would even say the three uses of the law is also a great definition of something that’s different probably between dispensationalism and Reformed. What happens when you’re not careful to separate the law from the gospel, and I would say not all dispensationalist would hold to lordship salvation, but because of men like John MacArthur who has made dispensationalism, Calvinism, and lordship salvation so popular over the last 30 or 40 years. 50 years, I think, he’s now been preaching. Bless his heart for that. Faithful man. Anyways, because of that, law-gospel distinction begins to break down lordship salvation because the passages that are used to promote lordship salvation or actually law, not gospel. They would say for instance, books that have been read, Hard to Believe, The Gospel According to Jesus, The Gospel According to the Apostles—all of those are hard passages. Like when the rich young ruler comes and says, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That’s a law passage we turn into a gospel passage.
Justin Perdue: We collapsed the two categories and we ended up confusing both the law and the gospel.
Really quick, Jon, to pick up on what you said about the uses of the law—I’m only going to talk about one of them. For us as Reformed guys, and we’ve got Lutheran friends who would agree with us on this as well, the first and greatest use of the law is to show us our sin and to drive us to Christ—and a dispensationalist, to my understanding, would not articulate the point of the law that way. Because again, it has everything to do with our redemptive-historical hermeneutic and a Christ-centered hermeneutic in answering what was the law for. We are ultimately going to understand that, ala Paul in Romans 5 and Galatians 3, that the law came in to increase the trespass, to bankrupt us, and crush us so that we might be driven to Christ who fulfilled the law for us in his active obedience, in his perfect life.
That’s the active obedience of Jesus in fulfilling the law is another huge tenant of our theology that is a result of our study of Scripture, but also it dovetails beautifully with how we understand the law in the first place.
We can just move forward.
Jon Moffitt: I do have some thoughts on that, but we’re going to save that for Semper Reformanda a little bit later.
The last one, I would say, is predominantly… again, not in all cases, but historically, why I moved to this direction and away from a dispensational understanding of Scripture is the idea of sanctification being either synergistic—the work that we do—or monergistic—the work that God does. Historically speaking, dispensationalism is a very synergistic movement. There are some who would promote a monergistic perspective, but historically speaking, and the way I was taught in seminary and growing up is that your progress in the Christian life, or how you become more like Christ, is dependent upon your own efforts. It’s not primarily your efforts. It’s like Christ is working in you and you’re working. So they aren’t saying all the sanctification is all your work. That would be unfair.
Justin Perdue: Sanctifying yourself in your own strength—of course not. They’re going to acknowledge the grace of God and the work of God, but it is very much an understanding that we need to do our part, and that we need to cooperate with the grace of God in our sanctification. Whereas for us, from a more Reformed perspective, we are unashamed in saying that we understand rather than synergism—two workers—we understand that there’s one worker, monergism, in terms of our understanding of sanctification. And that one worker, of course, is God.
Basically, to put it bluntly, the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. We, in no part, in no way do the work of sanctification. Now, we participate in our sanctification because we are alive now. We have been given spiritual life in Christ. We have been raised to walk in newness of life in him and thereby by the virtue of being alive, we participate, but we do not do the work.
Jon Moffitt: I think another way of saying that is we observe. Like we can observe the work of sanctification in our lives. Paul gives us ways in which we see that the way in which we are growing in the knowledge and the maturity of Christ, and the trust of Christ, and an increase of grace and mercy towards each other, and love and affection towards each other. Those are all the works of the Holy Spirit in sanctification. A lot of times when I heard… and again, this is not of all dispensations, but the breed I came from, sanctification was you didn’t cuss, you stopped drinking, and you stopped going to movies, and you’re being sanctified. That’s just moral action change and some of it is not even wrong.
Justin Perdue: Yeah. And what I mean in using that word “participate”, just like I would say that every human being who is alive participates in life because he or she is alive. And that’s all I’m saying; we participate in our sanctification because we are now alive, and yet God works and God is the only one who can change the heart, and God is the only one who can conform us into the likeness and image of His Son. And He is faithful to do it. And He has promised us that it will happen, and that we will be sanctified in this life and we will be fully sanctified at the point of the resurrection, and we can bank on that. It’s not in jeopardy.
Not only that synergism-monergism piece, but also something that we’re going to emphasize heavily from a Reformed perspective is how it is that we ordinarily grow in the Christian life. And that would be, for us, an understanding of the ordinary means of grace. And so those ordinary means, just to be very clear, most prominently are the Word of God, sacrament, and prayer. And then some would maybe even add in song in the midst of the gathered church as well, as we’re built up and edified in that way. But the church gathered, the saints assembled together to sit under Word, to partake of the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper, baptism, to pray, and sing. That’s how we understand that we are ordinarily and primarily grown in the faith. And that emphasis is somewhat unique.
Now a dispensationalist is not going to disagree with any of those things. But it’s going to really be about the emphasis and what is put first.
Jon Moffitt: Historically, the Reformed have seen our sanctification in Christ. The protection of the believer, the growth of the believer, and the confession of the believer are primarily from the New Testament given to the local church. So we are to not forsake the assembling of ourselves, that we are to function properly so we build ourselves up in love to maturity in Christ, to the full knowledge of Christ, so that no one is tossed about by every wind of doctrine. This is given to us in Hebrews 10 and Ephesians 4. You are given these primary means. “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” So there’s a heavy emphasis on God’s Word, the gathered people, the sacraments—those are not to be done individually. You aren’t to take the Lord’s Table by yourself. You aren’t to be baptizing by yourself.
Justin Perdue: 1 Corinthians 10, 1 Corinthians 11, etc.
Jon Moffitt: Exactly. Even the concept of prayer. Majority of the Bible speaks of prayer in a corporate reality, there is obviously an individual aspect of it, but if you’re going to weigh it, it is a primary means of a corporate gathering so that we are building each other up, we’re carrying each other’s burdens, James 3, we’re confessing our sins to one another. So the ordinary way in which God grows His people is within the local assembly through the ordinary means. Dispensationalism traditionally has emphasized spiritual disciplines, and I would even say the priesthood of all believers, which is something we absolutely say, amen, our faith is not tied to a priest, but we are tied to Christ, the ultimate priest.
Justin Perdue: There is one mediator between God and man.
Jon Moffitt: Right. But that doesn’t mean now that your sanctification is primarily in your hands because it’s between you, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible. That’s an individualistic understanding. It’s something that I wouldn’t say all dispensationalists hold to, but predominantly—this is why I walked away from them—because they don’t promote, they do not emphasize the ordinary means. It’s not their primary means of spiritual growth; primary means of spiritual growth for them is individual efforts in pursuit of the Lord.
Justin Perdue: One last observation and this is not a huge thing. Even the language that we’ll use about the ordinary means and the terminology, some of that is a little different. I know, at least in my experience, dispensationalists would be very uncomfortable with the word “sacraments”, and to describe the table and baptism. I guess in the minds of many, it’s associated with Roman Catholicism, and it may be for them part and parcel of a sacerdotal theology where we would understand that the sacraments just operate on their own. And that is not at all what we mean, though I do think in our framework, we have a very high view of the sacraments as a means of grace, where God is present and is really there to bless, sustain, and nourish us through the table and through baptism as well. And it’s His testimony to us of what He’s going to do. So that’s a big thing, too, even as just a small subset of that ordinary means conversation.
We have bumped up against our time cap here. Hopefully some of the things that we said were of use for you in clarifying things. Hopefully you can see some of the high level differences that would exist between a Reformed confessional understanding and a dispensational view.
Jon Moffitt: So this is brand new; our first initial announcement on the podcast. We record multiple weeks out in advance, so sometimes we’re behind on stuff, but we have a new ministry. It’s a new part of Theocast called Semper Reformanda—always reforming. Semper Reformanda is our new way for you to join in on two things. First of all, we have a brand new podcast called the Semper Reformanda podcast. We’re going in that next. This is high level conversations where we take what we introduced to you in this podcast, and we’re going to go a little bit deeper and more technical. Secondly, that podcast is designed to go along with a brand new program called SR groups, Semper Reformanda groups, where you can now sign up. We are developing these groups right now, but you can sign up for a local group in your city that you can go to and now have discussions on this very subject with other people who are having the same question. So we will provide discussion questions and you can download our app, which should be available now. You can go down to the Apple store, look for the Semper Reformanda app, you can download that and then sign up for a local group. In order to do that, you have to be an SR member. If you want to be an SR member, just go to sr.theocast.org and you can learn more about that. That’s it.
Justin Perdue: And even in the SR podcast, which is where we’re going, the Semper Reformanda podcasts, even if we don’t get more technical in every aspect of it, we certainly will be a little bit more transparent and it’s a little more of a safe space and family time. We hope that that podcast has that kind of feel. If that sounds interesting to you, then go to our website, theocast.org, and you would learn anything that you need to know about becoming a part of Semper Reformanda and joining the Reformation there.
All right, Jon. Here we go. We’re going to see what we can give to people over there in our new SR podcast. We’ll talk to many of you over there. We’ll talk with the rest of you again next week.