Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Was Christ God While on Earth?

by The Very Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th. D.
© 6 November 2007

In the previous blog entry I spoke of a Christology from above, by which we meant that it was the Second Person of the Holy Trinity who was Incarnate, and that He remained God. Sometimes we don’t draw the obvious conclusion from who God is—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—to the Incarnation, that God the Son cannot change. Even those who consider themselves conservative today have forgotten the Church’s teaching that Chalcedon in 451 clearly stated about the Son not giving up His deity in the Incarnation:

In agreement with the holy fathers we all unanimously teach that we should confess that our Lord Jesus Christ is one and the same Son; the same perfect in Godhead and the same perfect in manhood, truly God and truly man, the same of a rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father in Godhead and the same consubstantial with us in manhood; like us in all things except sin; begotten of the Father before all ages as regards his Godhead and in the last days the same, for us and for our salvation, begotten of the Virgin Mary the Theotokos as regards his manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, made known in two natures without confusion [the two natures did not merge in some way to form a third nature], without change [each nature remained fully what it was before the joining], without division [the two natures did not constitute two persons], without separation [the two natures were in union with the Person]; the differences of the natures being by no means removed because of the union but the property of each nature being preserved and coalescing in one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis [another word for person], not parted or divided into two persons but one and the same Son, only-begotten, divine Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets of old and Jesus Christ himself have taught us about him, and the creed of our fathers has handed down.[1]

Amidst this wonderful theology, one point the fathers were making is that in the Incarnation, the deity of the Son did not change in essence or in function. Incarnation was by addition, not by subtraction.

The Problem: Incarnation by Subtraction

I did my doctoral dissertation on the word-faith movement some years ago, and wrote a book on it entitled Man as God: The Word of Faith Movement (Available from Footstool Publications). Part of what makes their teaching so dangerous is that their view of Christ is contrary to the Church’s teaching over the centuries and, of course, contrary to the New Testament. They will say things such as Christ gave up His deity while on earth, or that He gave up the use of His deity. Either way, we do not have an Incarnation. The word-faith people especially want to emphasize that Christ only functioned as a man by the power of the Holy Spirit, for this means they can do all that Christ did. In other words, they destroy the uniqueness of the person of Christ by saying we have the same Holy Spirit and can do any miracle He did—if we have enough faith. Even one of their favorite passages to “prove” that the Son was not God (Phil 2:5ff), really says, as virtually all the fathers noted, that He was God on earth: “who, although existing in the form of God. . . .” As J. B. Lightfoot noted over 100 years ago, the word for “form” means “essence,” and the word for “existing” is not unlike the verb for “was” in John 1:1, denoting eternal existence.[2] The idea in this passage is that the Son, while continuing to exist in essence as God, added to Himself perfect humanity. Lightfoot was a tremendous patristic scholar, Greek scholar, and Anglican, whose works are so accurate and significant that scholars and Greek lexicons still quote him.

On another occasion, I was in a bookstore, and I saw a book written by a man with whom I attended seminary. I was glad to see him writing, so I purchased the book to be encouraged in the Gospel. To my horror, I read that Jesus did not function as God while on earth, that He was not omnipresent while on earth but His divinity was only in the “vicinity” of, but never far from, His humanity while on earth. I wrote the publisher, quoting John Walvoord against the author, stating that we did not so learn Christ at our seminary. Thus, the problem of the Incarnation is a pervasive one.

I’m not alone in seeing that the word-faith view of Christ is the main area of controversy. I know a man who graduated from Kenneth Hagin’s Rhema Bible College, read his way out of the movement, did a Ph. D. at Oxford in church history, and said that my work on this was especially important because their view of Christ was the main problem, which is what I addressed in the book. I’ve seen pastors come out of the movement once they realized the implications of it.

I’m not trying to be unkind. Perhaps these people mean well, but sincerity is not the issue; truth is the issue. The price to have the purity of the Gospel is eternal vigilance. We must constantly defend the old Gospel, not only from its enemies, but also from those who mean well but are misinformed. One’s faith is only as good as the object of his faith, and the object only as good as the propositions about that object. Here are a few reasons it is so important to maintain that Son was “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8) and that on earth He not only was unchanged as God but also functioned as God.

Solution: Incarnation by Addition

(1) If Jesus was not God or only functioned as man, what would this do to the Holy Trinity? This would mean God would be reduced to two persons, the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is no better if someone says He was God but did not function that way, which is to give with one hand and take back with the other.

Furthermore, how does this reconcile with the Council of Ephesus in 431:

If anyone shall say that Jesus as man is only energized by the Word of God, and that the glory of the only-begotten is attributed to Him as something not properly His: let him be anathema.

If any man shall say that the one Lord Jesus Christ was glorified by the Holy Spirit, so that He used through Him a power not His own and from Him received power against unclean spirits and power to work miracles before men and shall not rather confess that it was His own Spirit through which He worked these divine signs; let him be anathema.[3]

At Ephesus it was rightly understood that if the Son did not function as God, we have no redemption, for that would mean we only had a finite man who died on the Cross, not one who was also God. In turn, that would mean His work was only finite, not infinite.

Moreover, other early fathers maintained the same view as Ephesus:

Origen asserts that the rule of faith[4] lays down that the Logos “being made man remained that which he was before”; and Augustine, echoing the voice of the older tradition, says, “Thus he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, not losing the form of God; the form of a servant was added, the form of God not subtracted.” Athanasius and Gregory of Nyssa, while admitting that the Word so far emptied himself as to appear not in his native majesty but in the humility of human nature, yet insist on his unaltered substantial greatness; and this remained the established view. Athanasius, in opposition to the Arians . . . fights for the unchangeableness of the Logos as the palladium[5] of orthodoxy; the Logos does not increase in wisdom (Luke 2:52), is not hungry or troubled even unto death (John 12:27), is not in ignorance of the day of judgment, does not suffer or die—all these things happen only to his “flesh,” to his human nature. And after Athanasius not only the Atniochian school but even Apollianaris and Cyril make similarly strong assertions of the unchangeableness of the Godhead of the Logos. . . . By a corresponding train of thought, the “exaltation” of Phil. 2:9 is always in patristic theology referred exclusively to the human nature of Christ. In all this there is no room for such a theory as that of Thomasius [Christ emptied Himself of His deity]; in fact, it is more than once expressly opposed [emphasis added]. . . . Cyril’s attitude is unmistakable; . . . a limitation of the Godhead in Christ is essentially unthinkable on account of his unity with the Father[6]

But at the time that the Father appointed,[7] the Son of the living God added a human nature to Himself, conceived in the Virgin’s womb by the Holy Spirit. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity had added to His undiminished divine Person a perfect human nature, taken from Mary. His humanity came from Mary, as the Last Adam had to be in the lineage of the first Adam, of the fallen human race, not a new race created outside of the existing one. As redeemer He had to be one with us, yet outside us without sin. He took from her what was human as mankind was originally created, but not as fallen. He was fully human, having a real body and a rational soul. He got hungry, needed to sleep, had human emotions of joy and anger, but He never sinned. He was fully human as if not God.

But He was also fully God as if not human. He was the second Person of the Trinity, God of God, light of light, very God of very God, the same in essence as the Father in every way, existing from all eternity. When the Virgin conceived by the Holy Spirit, humanity was joined to His Person, not that His Person came into existence, not that He gave up His deity or the use of it. Indeed, He was unchangeable[8] so that His deity did not change one iota at the holy conception. He added to His divine person perfect humanity, but nothing divine was subtracted.[9] If He had ceased in any way to be God, there would have been no Trinity and no God, for God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Giving up His deity would be incarnation by deicide. Or if Christ had ceased to be fully God, there would have been two “gods” left, the Father and the Spirit, which would mean the death of God. A savior who is not fully God is a bridge broken at the far end, and a savior who is not fully man is a bridge broken at the near end. He would not reach fully either to God or man.

The problem some have with Christ being both God and man is that they do not see how He could function fully as man if He were God. But that is part of the mystery of the Incarnation. If He could not function as both at the same time, we are left with some very difficult theology. This would seem to mean He was man on earth but not God, but would also this mean that He is God now but not man? So if there is no continuity with the Son as God before the Incarnation, what was that Person born of Mary? Who is He now? But if He is both God and man now, fully functioning that way, why could not He have been the same while on earth? No, the Church has always taught that from the conception onward, Christ is both God and man, fully functioning that way forever. Even today, as our High Priest, He is fully man to identify with us and fully God to identify with the Father. Such had to be the case to be the Mediator, which by definition means an identity with us and with God but in one person so the two could come together.

(2) If Christ gave up His deity, there would be no redemption since God must accomplish it. If redemption could have been done only by a human who was not God, why did God send His Son? All we would need then would be Jeremiah filled with the Holy Spirit to come back and die on the cross for our sins.

(3) No, redemption must be done by one person who was both God and man, fully functioning in both natures. He had to be a man to redeem man from his sin and death, to be identified with the human race that lost relationship with God. As God He could not die, but as man He could. He had to be God to satisfy infinite holiness, to take an infinite penalty, an infinite curse. What He did in His atonement was absolutely dependent on who He was, the two aspects being inseparable. Adam sinned and died. Jesus must be one with the seed of Adam so that He could die.[10] Adam owed God perfect obedience. Jesus obeyed God perfectly for us.[11] Adam came under the penalty of sin, which was divine judgment. Jesus took our punishment.[12]

He had to be one Person so that what one nature did would be united with the other nature in the one Person, thus joining the work of both natures. If He had only been a man indwelt by God, He would have been a great prophet, but not the One who could redeem; just one of the prophets of old. Under this circumstance, when He died, we would be left with a dead man and a distant God. But as God-man in one person, when He shed His blood, it was the blood of God: “to shepherd the Church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”[13]

(4) If the Son gave up His deity while one earth, where is the doctrine of co-inherence of the Persons of the Trinity, which means “that each person manifests the fullness of God, which means that each person must manifest the other two persons as well”?[14] And does not this also mean that each person indwells the other two to the infinite degree? How could the Son of God gives this up, even temporarily? What kind of God are we left with if He can change His essence?

(5) If Christ only gradually became aware of who He was while on earth, we would have a gradual Incarnation, not one complete from the beginning. This carries its own refutation. If this were a gradual incarnation, this would in turn mean that Christ only had one nature for most of His incarnate years, so for all those years His work for us was human only. Moreover, considering that one’s self-knowledge identifies oneself, that when one has amnesia he is not the same person, we would have one who was completely unaware of Himself for most of His life. Can you imagine how absurd it would be to have Him suddenly “come to Himself” one day and say, “Hey, I just remembered I’m God.” But if He remembered He was God, it was not true, for God by definition is omniscient, but He would not have been such.

(7) If Incarnation by deicide is true, by giving up His deity or the use of it, how is God revealed since Jesus functioned only as a man? Whom do we know? Jesus said that the one who had seen Him had seen the Father (John 14:9), but how is this true if His deity is suppressed? With this view, we do not know God but only another prophet, though perhaps the greatest one of all, but still just a prophet.

(8) There is only one essence in God, and that essence is fully manifested by each divine Person, Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. If one Person can opt out of that essence, we must have more than one essence, or the essence must be divisible, denying the unity of God, or somehow the essence is not necessary to each person, so that perhaps later the Father can opt out. Or, if one person (the Son) can cease to function as God while still being God, we have meaningless words. What does it mean to have the essence of something without manifesting it? Can a dog not function as a dog, a whale not function as a whale, and so on? Someone will say, “God can do anything,” which is emphatically false. God cannot lie, cannot deny Himself, cannot cease to be God, and certainly cannot cease to function as God.

(9) Theologically, the Incarnate Son was the second person of the Holy Trinity, which meant that His self-consciousness was that of God the Son, the Son from all eternity, the One who cannot change (Heb 13:8). To elaborate, this meant that it was the second person of the Holy Trinity who was the person of the incarnation. He was not two persons. He could not be a human person apart from the divine person, for that would make Him two persons. The divine person without His divine nature does not and cannot exist. The PERSON who was the subject of the Incarnation was God the Son, who added a human nature to Himself but did not gave up His divine nature or nullify His divine person in some way. He did not add a human person to Himself, only an impersonal human nature. There was no separate human person, only the divine person before the Incarnation and then the divine-human Person after the Incarnation.

(10) The New Testament is clear that the Son functioned as God while on earth. For example, at age 12 He said He had to be about his Father’s business (Luke 2:49), thus revealing His divine self-knowledge. He claimed to be the I AM when the soldiers came to arrest Him, and by His divine power they went backwards and fell to the ground (John 18:6). He claimed to be able, like the Father, to reveal Himself sovereignly to the elect (Matt 11:27). He was on earth and in heaven at the same time (John 3:13, NKJ, majority text). The New Testament makes clear that Christ is the One who sustains all things (Heb. 1:3) and the one in whom all things hold together (Col. 1:17). Apart from Him, the universe has neither Preserver nor Governor; so who did this while He was allegedly not God or not functioning as God?

Indeed, if Jesus only did miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit, and not also His own power, then what did John mean when he said he wrote his Gospel around signs so that people would see the uniqueness of Christ as the Son of God and come to faith in Him (John 20:30-31)? If He were not unique and His miracles reveal such, if we can do all the same miracles by the Holy Spirit, then John’s statement makes no sense. So did Christ heal by the Holy Spirit? Of course, but not by the Holy Spirit only. As the Council of Ephesus reminded us, He did so by His own authority also. Indeed, in Matthew 9 when the Jews questioned His statement that the paralytic’s sins were forgiven, He said:

“For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—then He said to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” (Matt 9:5-6)

It was the “Son of Man” who had the divine authority both to heal and to forgive, and that miracle spoke to the uniqueness of His Incarnation, that He was both God and man, fully functioning that way all the time. Let us believe the Nicene Creed fully. AMEN.

[1] As quoted in Gerald Bray, Creeds, Councils, and Christ, p. 162ff. See also vol. 1, p. 544 of Christ in Christian Tradition, by Alos Grillmeier.
[2] J. B. Lightfoot, Philippians, p. 110ff.
[3] Henry R. Percival, The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1979), pp. 213-214.
[4] This was the faith deposited in the Church that was handed down from Apostles to bishops and others and was protected by the writings of the Apostles. The early fathers often speak of it. [5] The “pure silver,” so to speak.
[6] Schaff-Herzog, pp. 315-316.
[7] Galatians 4:4
[8] Hebrews 13:8
[9] The modern day heresy of kenosis states that Christ’s incarnation was by subtraction, that He gave up something of either His deity or the use of His deity.
[10] Hebrews 2:9
[11] Hebrews 2:10 (The grammar indicates that Jesus was bringing many sons to glory by His being made perfect.)
[12] Isaiah 53:5; Romans 3: 25; Galatians 3:13
[13] Acts 20:28
[14] Gerald Bray, The Doctrine of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 224.


More from Dean Crenshaw on the Incarnation (PDF)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Christology from Below vs. Christology from Above

(John 1:1-4, 14, 18)
by The Very Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D.
© 17 September 2007

It is becoming ever more common for modern Christian scholars to speak of a Christology from below. The problem is not so much the statement itself as it is with what they do with it. By this they mean that we must begin with the human Jesus and work our way back to the divine Son of God. They may challenge us that though John unequivocally begins with the Word as the second person of the Holy Trinity, yet Matthew begins with the Virgin Birth of the lowly Jesus. True, but Matthew quickly adds that He was Immanuel, which means “God with us.”

Yet the modern approach—contra 2,000 years of church history—begins with the historical man Christ and seeks to work back to God, if indeed it ever arrives at God, and whoever “God” may be. Of course, this nearly always results in a thoroughly human but not divine Christ. As Carl Henry rightly observes of this position:

Despite its deep ecclesial inroads, modernistic theology failed to stifle transcendent Christology. Modernism’s christological inconsistency Lawton traced to a vulnerable and indeed “wrong starting-point.” “In the realm of pure Christology,” he commented, it is “inexcusable . . . to begin with Christ’s humanity and human life, and . . . to work upwards . . . to the confession of his Deity. Those who do not begin with the fundamental Christian assumption that ‘the Word was made flesh,’ but . . . attempt to show how . . . a complete man as they suppose Christ to have been was united to God” cannot but end in confused and self-contradictory views.[1]

But the modern approach is basically to ignore John’s Gospel and to begin with a human Jesus, who—surprise, surprise—never quite reaches full divinity. James Dunn even says that it would be “irresponsible to use the Johannine testimony on Jesus’ divine sonship in our attempt to uncover the self-consciousness of Jesus himself.”[2] Yet St. Athanasius in his masterly defense of the deity of Christ in the early church (from the Council of Nicea 325) constantly uses the Gospel of John for the self-consciousness of the Son of God, as did the other early fathers.

But how does the Gospel of John begin? It begins with the diivine Word, eternal in being (“in the beginning was the Word”), states that He was with the Father from all eternity (“the Word was with God”), was Himself of the same essence as the Father (“the Word was God”), and that He was the Creator (“All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made”).

It is only after the Christology from above is given in clear terms that John gives us the Christology from below: “And the Word became flesh and [tabernacled] among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). We cannot appreciate verse 14 and the Word becoming flesh unless we first know who He was.

But the Christology from below is allegedly the “scientific” approach of modern criticism, allowing the documents to speak once the faith of the Church has been stripped out, which in turn means no supernaturalism. As Henry rightly says: “The notion that the biblical writers believed in miracles because as pre-scientific men they were ignorant of the laws of nature is preposterous.”[3]

Such arrogance assumes that the last one hundred fifty years is the measure of all things, that those who were there and saw the miracles invented them (read: lied), and that only now in this scientific age can we truly know what happened then. Of course, no historical fact can be scientifically tested by a repeated experiment, and the only way we can know any historical event is by documents and eyewitness testimony. It is not the objective history of the early church and the Gospels that is the problem, but the assumptions of the modern scholars and their neverending search for the “historical Jesus” that predetermine what they see.

Of course, Chalcedon and the whole Church for 2,000 years have a Christology from above, beginning with the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God. But there is much talk today of a functional Christ, meaning that it does not matter who Christ was, only what He did was important. But as the Church has noted from Nicea in 325 on, what He did is predicated on who He was. Functionality is based on ontology. To restate this: “Ontology and soteriology mutually condition one another.”[4] Or to put this in our terms, what Christ did was based on who He was.

The modern theologian considers his philosophical views as more substantive than God’s revelation. Once again, Henry is on target:

The recurring appeal to regnant modern philosophy as sufficient reason for abandoning incompatible views [such as rejecting Chalcedon] rests on a presumptive culture-pride more than on truth. Modern philosophy is not necessarily superior to ancient philosophy; at its best it even sometimes echoes enduring aspects of ancient philosophy. Nor has “modern philosophy” achieved a consensus. Nor is it necessarily superior to the philosophy of the future; the philosophy of the end-time will prevail over it.[5]

Let us forever remember that the Incarnation is not from below, not from mankind, but it is from above, from the realm of eternity. To put this another way, the Incarnation is by addition, not by subtraction. It was the eternal, divine Son of God who added to Himself perfect humanity that constituted the Incarnation, not the boy of Mary who somehow realized He had a divine mission one day when He was about thirty years old. Even at age twelve He said that He had to be about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49).[6] It was God the Son who became man, not a son of man who became in “some sense” divine. It was the eternal Son of God who constituted the Person of the Incarnation, for He had been the Son from all eternity, not a human person who “somehow” became divine or cognizant of some divine mission, as is often stated today. Amen.

[1] Carl F. H. Henry, The Identity of Jesus of Nazareth (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), p. 20.
[2] James D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making, p. 31. Italics are Dunn’s.
[3] Henry, 29.
[4] Henry, 94.
[5] Henry, 102.
[6] If we translate this “My Father’s house,” the idea is the same.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Genius of Anglicanism

by The Very Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D.
© 16 August 2007

Over the centuries the Church has struggled with primarily three heresies: Arianism (denying the deity of Christ), Gnosticism (separating the spiritual from the physical), and legalism (that one can earn his salvation). The irony is that the other side of the coin to legalism is license, that one can live like the devil and still go to heaven when he dies. I would like to consider legalism and license.

During the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church was selling indulgences, people literally paying for their sins in advance so they could enjoy them later, which is the flip side to legalism, a license to sin. Thus legalism implies license. It works like this: if one can earn his salvation (legalism), that puts him in charge of grace, and makes God his debtor. If he is in charge, he can refuse His grace and still claim to be a Christian (license).

The Protestant Reformation brought the Church back to a reasonable position from the legalism and the license of Rome. Statement after statement by the Reformers made it clear that one could not earn his salvation (contrary to legalism), but that faith without works was dead (contrary to license).

For example, in 1538 Cranmer said:

[We] are yet not justified on account of any worth or merit of penitence or other works or merits of [our] own, but freely by faith on account of Christ when we believe. . . .

But then a few lines later he also added:

For good works are necessary to salvation, not because they justify the ungodly, nor because they are a price paid for sin, or a cause of justification; but because it is necessary that one who is already justified by faith and reconciled to God through Christ, should strive to do God’s will. . . .[1]

There is the balance. We are justified by faith in Christ apart from works, but the faith that justifies is living faith that necessarily produces works (James 2:14ff; 1 John 2:3-4).

So what is the problem? The problem is that legalism and license are still with us. Rome still has its problems with legalism and license, but so now does Protestantism. (Orthodoxy, which hates St Augustine and his biblical view of grace, has terrible problems with legalism and Pelagianism.) The Protestant revival fire of the 1500s that brought the Church back in line now needs to be brought back in line itself. We are selling grace as seen in the emerging church movement, as seen in the entertainment models for salvation, in the smorgasbord approach to Church where the “consumer” will pick and choose what he likes—not what is biblical.

Here in Houston we have several mega-churches that advertise their entertainment services each week. One has a stage play each Sunday, sometimes with motorcycles jumping on stage, another time with cars smashing into one another. Another mega-church has a large globe behind the preacher that gradually turns with not a cross in sight. Thus the symbolism is that the cross has been replaced with the world. I’ve never heard the preacher preach on sin or the cross. The slogan is “Find the champion in you,” not in God. Other churches have contemporary worship where the consumer, not God, is the center. In each case, the emphasis is on us humans and what we like, not on God and what He requires.

So am I just being mean spirited? They have large churches and we don’t, so I have to find something wrong with them? That is not the problem. If they were preaching the Gospel, I would rejoice, but one perhaps occasionally preaches the Gospel and the other one has announced that it will preach on sin, but will affirm the people. So how does all this connect with legalism and license?

Listen to the preaching from these mega-churches and what do you hear? It is not about God and His majesty and sovereignty. It is not about sin, the Ten Commandments, and judgment. It is not about Christ and His death on the Cross for our sins. It is five steps to financial success. It is six steps to have a good relationship with your wife. It is how to eat right and be healthy (not kidding). In other words, besides being man-centered, it is “You do this and you’ll be blessed,” which is legalism. It is putting “ought” as the way to “is,” making performance the way to grace. This is not the way of the Cross.

Since it is a smorgasbord approach, the Christian is taught that it does not matter where he attends, what services are important, or whether he even joins a church or not, but that whatever he does, God smiles and all is well (license with a vengeance).

Moreover, we also have the mish-mash approach to theology, with more and more people playing down any real theology. Just believe what you want. This is especially true in the emerging church approach. Are churches today Trinitarian? Who knows. Are they Incarnational? It is difficult to tell. Even otherwise conservative scholars are falling prey to kenosis theology, which teaches that Jesus did not know who He was until later in His ministry, if even then. Thus we have a gradual incarnation, or no incarnation. Then we have the increasingly popular universalism movement, with some following Barth, which is the ultimate license view: if all are going to heaven, eat, drink, be merry, make light of God’s sexual morals, live like the devil, for tomorrow we die and we all go to heaven. (A society that forgets hell goes there.)

So where does Anglicanism come into all this? If by Anglicanism we mean the historic Anglicanism, the one committed to the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the old Reformation Anglicanism, then it is just what is needed in today’s horrible Christian milieu.

This Anglicanism has a balance between the Cross and the Church. By emphasizing the Cross, it maintains that our relationship with God is not by our merits, not by our righteousness, but by the righteousness of Christ. On the altars of just about all Anglican churches is a cross, the center of our worship, the way we approach God, the mediation between us and God, our only hope in life and in death, the ultimate symbol pointing to the unconditional love of God for His people. It is the constant reminder that we do not earn grace, that we are sinners without hope, which is why the Son of God had to come, and it is God’s way of telling us not only that sin is real but that it is so awful that it took the death of His Son to save us. If the Cross is the not the center of worship and in our lives, we will necessarily fall into legalism, seeking to please God our way. The return of the doctrine of the Cross, with its emphasis on substitutionary atonement, was one of the great benefits of the Reformation, and especially of Anglicanism. (For one of the best books I’ve ever read, get The Cross of Christ, by John Stott, an Anglican scholar and minister.)

But the second pillar of true Anglicanism is an equal emphasis on the doctrine of the Church. By that we don’t mean some so-called rapture, but the importance of being part of a visible, local church that teaches the Word and administers the Sacraments. With regular oversight and with regular attendance to receive the Word and Sacrament, the Church should guard us from license, thinking we can live just any way we please. No one is so righteous as to be without some human authority over him, and God has given that human authority in the Church.

And Protestantism has lost its original fervor for the Church, and has now gone to the other extreme from Rome: We don’t need any church. We’ll just choose what we like, and do as we like. We think that any strong doctrine of authority in visible churches is Roman Catholic, which allegedly means that we can only go to God through human priests. That is not Anglicanism or Protestantism. Anglicanism (and Protestantism) eliminated the doctrine of the magic touch: if you’ve been touched by someone who has been touched by someone who has been touched by an Apostle, you have received grace. But now we’ve gone to the other extreme—we don’t want church at all, or we’ll make up our own version. Church is an add-on to our faith, but only if it’s convenient, if we don’t have a hunting or fishing trip planned, if the kids don’t have sports events to attend, or if company has not come in from out of town.

We forget that it was John Calvin himself, that great Protestant reformer in Geneva, who echoed St. Cyprian's assertion that we should not call God our Father if the Church is not our mother (Institutes, 4.1.4.). That is true Protestantism.

It was Puritanism, in reaction to English Anglicanism, that did not want a strong doctrine of the Church. Thus they emphasized individualism when they settled this country. At first they were a wonderful and godly people, but in time their individualism has become part of the reason we have inherited such a smorgasbord approach to worship today and to egalitarianism in our culture.

Again, Anglicanism has a striking balance: in our Books of Common Prayer, we have strong Trinitarian theology, strong doctrine of the Incarnation of God the Son, and the Cross is at the center. Sin also is at the heart of our theology as we confess our sins to God looking to the Cross for forgiveness. This protects us from legalism.

But Anglicanism also has strong worship with a healthy emphasis on Word and Sacrament. It sees itself as under the great Head of the Church, that its ministers are specially called by Christ and given to His Church to protect it from heresy and to help people in the Christian life (Eph 4:11-16). Christ’s own authority is in His Church; thus we must do things His way. A pastor is also guardian over the souls of those in his care. This protects us from license.

Perhaps an example will help us to understand this. In some circles, the Cross is rightly held up as the great cure for our sins, the only cure. But then the people are taught things like “you aren’t saved because you are in the Church, but you’re in the Church because you are saved.” In this mindset, the Cross is only for individuals, not for the corporate Church. It is only the individual who decides what his state before God is, and the Church is made irrelevant. This tells the individual that he does not have to come to worship and does not have to keep the commandments of God as the necessary evidence of his salvation (contrary to 1 John 2:3-4). It also tells the individual that what one does in worship does not matter, for the Church is irrelevant to his salvation. In other words, salvation is put completely outside the context of the Church.

Here is another example. I know a very sweet Christian lady who has been baptized three times because two times she decided (not the Church) that she had not really meant it when she said she believed in Jesus. On the contrary, it is not we who decide to join Christ’s Church, but it is He who decides to join us through His ordained and appointed ministers. And once we have received the sign of entrance, we must never receive it again, for baptism does not belong to the individual but to Christ. The first time she was baptized Christ was serious, and thus she never needs it again. If she is in control of her Christian life, then an option is license, using the Church and sacraments according to her rules, not Christ’s rules, or no Church at all. We have the smorgasbord approach again.

The genius of Anglicanism is that the Cross and the Church complement one another. On the one hand, the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ where He died for our sins guards us from legalism, from thinking we can earn our way into God’s favor. On the other hand, the Church is Christ’s gracious institution to keep us in line, where the means of grace are administered to His people. The two go together, for the Church should lead us to God via the Cross, and the Cross should lead us back to the Church. We must not think of these as separate.

With Rome, you can only have access to the Cross through the Church, which promotes their legalism. With modern day Protestantism, you can have the Cross apart from the Church, which is license. With Anglicanism you have the Cross in the context of the Church, which is balance.

[1] Gerald Bray, Documents of the English Reformation, pp 187-88.

Why I Am No Longer a Dispensationalist

© 2002 Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw
(PLEASE WATCH OUR WEB SITE FOR THE REPRINT OF THE BOOK and for audio files on “The Middle East, the Jews, the Land, and Biblical Prophecy” by Dr Crenshaw: http://www.footstoolpublications.com/ )

(This is a personal letter to one of my past dispensational Bible college professors who wanted to know why I had left dispensationalism. I have rewritten some of the letter for broader distribution. In particular, some of the harder hitting points, such as the section on repentance, were not in the original letter, though they were in the book (Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow) I wrote that I sent him.)

Dear Dr. . . . ,

You asked me about my ecclesiology (doctrine of the Church); you have asked me about it previously. I have deliberately not pursued it with you as I do not want that to come between us. I did not want to debate you about it at lunch recently but to enjoy the fellowship in the Gospel. Indeed, the ecclesiology issue is an “in house” debate among evangelicals. The basic theology I learned at Mid-South Bible College (MSBC, now Crichton College) and from my mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5 applies to me) I have never laid aside but adhere to it tenaciously. The Trinity, hypostatic union, Virgin Birth (actually virgin conception, as Dr. Crichton rightly stated)—in short, the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed, Chalcedon on the Person of Christ, are what the Church has defined as evangelical orthodoxy for centuries, with justification by faith alone in Christ alone added during the Reformation as a necessary implication of the Apostolic faith. Cranmer quotes the early fathers who held to “faith alone,” even using those very words. Our doctrinal statement here at Cranmer Theological House is the Thirty-Nine Articles, which you would find quite satisfying in most points.

But regarding my ecclesiology, I have enclosed my part of a book that Grover Gunn and I wrote in 1984, Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow. (This was not in the original letter: It sold well for 15 years but is now out of print. Many are asking for it so it needs to be brought back into print. A photographic copy of the latest edition can be purchased from Cranmer House for $15.00 postage paid.) I graduated from DTS; and Gunn finished all the courses, but they would not allow him to graduate, which seems to me both illegal and immoral. Most of your questions regarding my ecclesiology will be answered in the pages from the book you now have. But I shall give you my personal history.

When I went to Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) in 1972 (as the first MSBC student with an accredited degree), I was convinced of dispensationalism. The first year there I had no doubts, but mid-way through the second year I was in rapid Greek reading when a professor (Dr. Ed. Blum) stated that there were two views of sanctification on campus. (The question was raised from the passage we were “Greeking,” as we used to say.) We were told that there was the Walvoord/Ryrie/Pentecost view, which was Arminian, carnal Christian, and higher life without perseverance, and then there was the perseverance or Calvinistic view. Naturally, I told myself that I was of the former view since I had been taught that at MSBC. But the seed Blum planted stayed with me, causing me later to question my assumptions regarding grace and later the assumptions of dispensationalism itself.

Later that year I took an elective in apologetics from the same professor, and we read thousands of pages. We read many of the rationalists and Arminian apologists, and finished the course by reading Van Til’s Defense of the Faith. As you may recall, for many years he taught apologetics at Westminster in Philadelphia. Van Til’s book stirred my thinking, not only in apologetics, but also to challenge my own theological presuppositions. As time went on, I read Warfield, Calvin’s Institutes, Luther’s Bondage of the Will, The Westminster Confession of Faith, John Owen, and many other Reformed works. I had many personal conversations with Charles Ryrie, and I discovered to my utter shock that he was basically ignorant of the Reformation and Reformed writings, often incorrectly quoting them or misrepresenting their beliefs. I had placed the big three (Walvoord/Ryrie/Pente-cost) on such a pedestal that it took me two years at DTS to accept their fallibility. For example, in one class when Ryrie was promoting his unlimited atonement view, he said that even the great John Owen had not discussed 2 Peter 2:1 in his volume on the atonement. I went to the library, opened volume ten of Owen’s works, looked in the index, and then read Owen’s careful explanation of it. It took me all of three minutes to find it, and another five minutes to read it. Either Ryrie had not looked it up, or he had forgotten about it. This was typical of the big three dispensational men regarding the Reformed writings. If they were wrong here, were they also wrong in other areas?

(Once when I was teaching with you at MSBC in 1977 after graduating from DTS, Walvoord came to Memphis, and I’m sure that he had me in mind when at a luncheon he made comments about the Calvinistic doctrine of “limited” atonement. His ignorance on the topic was typical, especially when he thought he was making significant statements against the Reformed view, but did not even understand them, engaging in straw men.)

But one conversation in particular I had with Ryrie was a turning point in my thinking; it took place not long before I graduated in 1976. I went to his office and asked him to prove dispensationalism, that I would be the devil’s advocate for covenantal theology. He was glad to oblige. (Three other students were with me, only one of whom is still dispensational and that only mildly.) He went to Matthew 16:18 where Jesus said “I shall build My Church,” which was a future tense Greek verb, implying to Ryrie that it did not exist at the time. My response was that such an inference on a future tense was very tenuous, that it was not necessarily supported by the Greek grammars, and that the Church was mentioned in Matthew 18 anyway, only two chapters later. Thus it did exist, as Jesus Himself stated. Of course, Ryrie stated that Matthew 16 had the “technical” use of the word “church” while Matthew 18 had the “non-technical” use. That was a point I was not willing to concede but seemed to me to be assuming what he wanted to prove.

Next he invoked Ephesians 2:20 where the Church is built on the foundation of apostles and prophets, meaning that it did not exist before the apostles. He reasoned that since apostles were mentioned first that the prophets must have been limited to NT ones. But I rejoined that the context spoke of OT Israel and the NT Church as being in one body (see my notes) thus favoring OT prophets. Even further, in the context Jesus Himself was the chief cornerstone, and was He not also such for the OT saints or were they saved without Jesus? Did they have some other foundation, contrary to 1 Corinthians 3:11?

Next he used the argument from Acts 2 that the Church was formed on the Day of Pentecost by the baptism of the Spirit, making reference to 1 Corinthians 12:13, meaning that it did not exist prior to Pentecost. My response was that if the OT saints were not included in the Church, then how were they saved? Was not the Lord’s death retroactive to them, which he admitted to some extent (whatever that meant), but then excluded them from the Church! And did not Peter quote Joel in this Acts passage, stating that this was what the OT had predicted? If His death was retroactive, why would not the Church also be retroactive, or better, progressive (OT bud to NT flower)? How could His death be retroactive for them if Christ did not legally represent them? And if He legally represented them, they were part of His body, in His Church. I agreed that Acts is a new phase of the one people of God.

Then I asked him about Ephesians 1:4 where Paul says that we were predestined before the world to be in Christ; did not that include all the elect of all ages? He unhesitatingly stated that such was true. Then I observed: “That included Moses, which means Moses is in Christ, and therefore he is in the Church.” Ryrie just about dropped his teeth on the desk. He said that he had never heard a covenant theologian use that argument, and stammered for an answer. That in turn caused me to drop my teeth since it was such a standard covenantal argument. It indicated that Mr. Dispensationalism himself had not read the Reformed writings to miss such a basic argument. This caused me to have doubts about dispensationalism, for if Ryrie had misrepresented and misunderstood the Reformed so badly, could it be that his own system was flawed? Though I did not change my theology immediately, the conversation stayed with me over the years. (And obviously it is still with me vividly.)

Furthermore, I argued, there is one new covenant made with Israel and the Church (Jer. 31:31ff; Heb. 8), which speaks of one people of God. It used to be common for dispensationalists to speak of two new covenants (Ryrie did at one time), but they have been challenged so much by scholars all over the world for such strained exegesis that I know of no dispensational scholar today who still maintains such. Perhaps some popular preacher would, but there is just no excuse for it. It is not only exegetically impossible, but it necessarily implies two kinds of salvation, which the Church has always seen to be completely erroneous. It strongly implies two brides for Christ.

When I graduated from DTS in 1976, I was still a dispensationalist, and the first church I had was such. During my first pastorate, I taught with you at Mid-South Bible College for a couple of courses. I pursued the Reformed writings after my first pastorate and after teaching at MSBC, which eventually led me into Presbyterianism and covenant theology, and now into Anglicanism. Since those days, the early fathers and the Reformers, none of whom were dispensational, have only confirmed my position, but all were covenantal in their view, every one of them holding to infant baptism, which is necessarily built on the unity of the Old Testament with the New Testament and on the unity of the people of God in both testaments. Indeed, infant baptism was not challenged until the Reformation and then only by a few Anabaptists. The basis for infant baptism is covenantal unity between the Testaments (see Col. 2:11-12; 1 Cor 10:1ff for a NT infant baptism!).

Then the historical argument greatly disturbed me. (This was and still is a hurdle that I cannot imagine one overcoming.) I had been taught both at Mid-South Bible College and at Dallas Theological Seminary to have little respect for the history of the Church in the area of eschatology (read dispensationalism) and the doctrines of grace. Dispensationalism is not found in the Church before 1870 or so and not developed until the early 20th century. While I was attending DTS, Dr. Walvoord (the president of the seminary at the time) commissioned one of the church history professors to study the early church for signs of dispensationalism. When the professor reported that there were no signs, Walvoord stated that it did not matter since it was biblical. This autonomous spirit, disconnecting oneself from the history of the Church, still permeates dispensationalism. By Sola Scriptura the Reformers did not mean “just the Bible and me.” In other words, the Bible was the ultimate authority, not the only authority. Even the great Presbyterian protestant Charles Hodge stated: “If the Bible be the only infallible rule of faith and practice; and if . . . the Spirit guides the people of God . . . into the knowledge of the truth, then the presumption is invincible that what all true Christians believe to be the sense of Scripture is its sense” (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:437).

But the historical argument bothered me greatly. Something as novel as dispensationalism, first appearing in the history of the Church in the late 1800s, taught against by the whole history of the Church by maintaining covenant unity between the Testaments, has the 99.999% presumption of being wrong. Indeed, the early fathers opposed dispensationalism in principle when they opposed Marcion who rejected the OT as having anything to do with the Church and when they proclaimed the Bible was one book for one people of God. Likewise, every Reformation confession written states the same, not the least of which is our own Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. This theology of one Bible, one people of God, continued unchallenged for almost 1900 years until Darby, being unheard of in the Creeds and in the Reformation confessions. How could the best theologians in the history of the early fathers and the Reformation and post-Reformation miss something allegedly so important? Was everyone wrong for 2,000 years except the modern dispensationalists, who are today still a small minority when we consider Christendom as a whole, and are primarily a USA phenomenon? (Our isolationism here from the rest of the Christian world is astonishing. There is a strong group of Christians in southern India who claim to go back to the Apostle Thomas. I was in seminary with one of them. We know for sure they were there in the third century. They were for the most part cut off from the West and the rest of Christendom. But what is their theology? They hold to the creeds, to Chalcedon, have bishops, and have had little to no contact with dispensationalism. We think American Christianity is all there is.)

Then there was the ever-present “literal” hermeneutic, which allegedly gave rise to the whole dispensational system. I took a course my senior year at DTS entitled “The NT’s use of the OT,” taught by S. Lewis Johnson, one of the finest scholars that DTS ever produced. He had been head of the OT department at one time, was head of the NT department for many years, and was being groomed to be head of the theology department when DTS fired him for his Calvinism. (DTS considered the “rapture” more important than the doctrines of salvation, which also bothered me tremendously.) He virtually sight read both Hebrew and Greek, not to mention French, German, and Latin. A dictum repeated at DTS ad nauseam was that since the OT prophecies of Christ were all fulfilled literally, so the NT prophecies of His Second Coming would be so fulfilled. The problem was that no one seemed to have checked out the OT prophecies as fulfilled in the NT. I did so check on the whole NT, and only 35% were fulfilled “literally” (whatever that may mean), the balance being anti-types, analogies, eschatological Yahweh fulfillment, and so forth (see my book). This course more than any other course at DTS raised doubts about the so-called literal hermeneutic in my mind.

After seven consecutive years of formal studying in dispensational institutions, it became my contention that the so-called literal hermeneutic was not the basis for dispensationalism but the result of it. They had not understood their own presupposition, that their distinction between Israel and the Church had actually produced the hermeneutic, and they forced prophecies to be fulfilled according to their humanistic understanding of literal. Now I have been vindicated as the new or progressive dispensationalists have abandoned the literal hermeneutic with a vengeance, essentially stating what I’ve been saying for 25 years. (See the book edited by Craig Blaising, Progressive Dispensationalism who was a fellow student when I was at DTS; see also Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism.) Indeed, scholars all over the world have taken them to task for their “literal” hermeneutic, which, in my opinion, virtually has no definition, at least by them (see my chapter on it enclosed).

But the greatest weakness of dispensationalism was what they considered their greatest strength and the essence of their system: two peoples of God, two bodies, an OT people and a NT people, Israel versus the Church, however we want to state it. And this is what drove me out of dispensationalism as the last straw. I agree that the two peoples doctrine is what makes dispensationalism what it is. But if there is a danger to dispensationalism, it is precisely with the two peoples of God doctrine, which necessarily implies two ways of salvation, even though they try to deny this. There is no salvation except in union with Christ, and how could another body of people be saved apart from union with Him? If they are saved by Him, how is it done? Can He legally represent them without being their Head and they His body, His people? Is Christ a bigamist, having two brides, an OT bride and a NT one? There is no way to have salvation except in union with Christ. The first Adam was the head of all humanity, and the Last Adam was the head of the elect of God, Israel, the body, the Church (see Gal. 6:16; Heb. 2:9ff; Eph. 2:11ff). There are no other options. Christ is the head of one body, not two, which is what the Church has said for 2,000 years. There is one Lord, one faith, one circumcision/baptism (Eph. 4:5; Col. 2:11-12).

You stated at our luncheon recently that Dr. Crichton (the president of MSBC) would commonly state that the Old Testament saints were headless, having no covenantal head. If so, they have no salvation. If Christ is their savior, He must be their head. If He is not their covenantal Head, He is not their savior. But if the OT and NT saints are saved by the same grace, the same salvation, by the same covenant Head, Christ, what is the point of two peoples of God? What does one body have that the other does not have? I have never seen this dilemma solved by dispensationalists. The progressive dispensationalists are still struggling with it, which is why dispensationalism is now in its third major redefinition and why they are saying that Christ is now reigning on David’s throne. As you may recall, Walvoord/Pentecost /Ryrie have taught that David’s throne is a literal seat in Jerusalem to be occupied by the Lord after the Second Coming in the so-called millennium. Now this is being challenged by Dallas Theological Seminary professors themselves, so where is the literal hermeneutic?

The relationship of Old Testament to New Testament is bud to flower, as every scholar has seen for 2,000 years, from St. Augustine to Calvin to the vast majority of Christians today. If one does not see this, he maintains at least two ways of salvation, an OT way and a NT way, Christ related one way to the OT saints and another way to the NT saints, necessarily implying two brides. And that is just another reason dispensationalism will never avoid the charge of two ways of salvation until they drop this two peoples of God idea, which would mean they would no longer be dispensationalists. Again, there is one Lord, one faith, and one circumcision/baptism (Eph. 4:5, which in context includes both OT and NT saints, see Eph. 2:12ff and my notes on it in the material I’ve sent you). This two peoples of God idea is the major reason I left dispensationalism.

Then there was the related issue of how OT saints were saved. C. I Scofield and Lewis Sperry Chafer (one of the founders of DTS) taught that Old Testament saints were saved by their own works. In volume seven of Chafer’s Systematic Theology: Doctrinal Summarization under “justification,” Chafer emphatically states that OT saints were “just because of their own works for God, whereas New Testament justification is God’s work for man in answer to faith.” That teaching runs through all seven volumes of his theology as Grover Gunn has documented quite well in his part of our book.

Of course Ryrie tried to avoid the charge of two or more ways of salvation by saying—contrary to Chafer and Scofield—that the Old Testament saints were saved by faith and grace. But even granted Ryrie’s concession, he still had two peoples of God which necessarily means two ways of salvation: Israel without a covenant head as savior and the Church with a covenant Head, the Savior.

Furthermore, he disallowed any saving knowledge to the content of the OT saints’ faith, saying, for example, that Abraham was saved by belief that he would have a large family (“Your seed shall be as the sand”). What does that have to do with his own sins, with a savior, or with the Messiah to come (and he did look to the Messiah: John 8:56)? With each OT saint having a different content to his faith, we have as many ways to be saved as there were OT saints. Indeed, if one has no soteriological content to his faith, he really has no faith in any meaningful sense. If I learned anything at the Bible college where you taught and at DTS, it was that true faith embraces propositions, which is also why the early Church had so many councils to define the correct propositions about the Holy Trinity and Christ. DTS guarantees the dichotomy between OT Israel and the NT Church by denying that any OT saint could have had Messianic content to his/her faith. In the DTS doctrinal statement as recently as several months ago, DTS still said that “it was historically impossible” for the OT saints to have had “as the conscious of their faith the incarnate, crucified Son, the Lamb of God” and that the OT saints “did not comprehend” that “the sacrifices depicted the person and work of Christ.” Incredible. That is clearly two plans of salvation (or more), an OT nebulous faith in God but without any concept of personal sin, repentance, Messiah, etc, and a NT concrete faith in Jesus as Savior who will forgive one’s sins.

Contrast that with Article VII of the Thirty-Nine Articles: “The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers [the OT saints] did look only for transitory [temporal] promises.” Such statements could be multiplied over hundreds of times from the fathers and the reformers. Therefore, such disunity to the Bible and two peoples of God, stating that the OT saints only looked for temporal promises, is also a major reason why I left dispensationalism.

Indeed, it was never the case that “Israel” or the seed of Abraham was composed only of physical descendents from Abraham, but dispensationalists think so. There was a physical seed, but “not all Israel is Israel.” All the circumcised were in covenant with Yahweh, but then many had fallen from the covenant (John 8:32ff; 1 Cor 10:1ff) and Gentiles were also part of the body of Israel. Dispensationalists consider the physical Jews in Palestine today to be the chosen people of God, in covenant with Him, even though they deny Christ! Even in Abraham’s time, there were many in Abraham’s household who were circumcised and not descendents of Abraham. Others (such as Ishmael) were his seed, but were not part of the covenant. In John 8, the Lord said that the Jewish leaders with whom He was dialoging were the seed of Abraham as physical descendents, but were really of their father the devil (John 8:33-44). Just look at the genealogy of Christ in Matthew chapter one to see that there were Gentile women in His line. Thus, as Paul stated, the true Jew was not the one outwardly circumcised but the one inwardly circumcised of the heart (Rom 2:28-29). We cannot identify the “Jewish” nation with a physical seed but with a covenant seed. Thus to say that the “Jews” in Palestine today are the chosen people of God is to identify them with a physical seed. (Today the Church is the new “nation”, 1 Peter 2:9-10.) The physical seed idea is contrary to all of Scripture from Genesis through the New Testament. It is interesting, by the way, that dispensationalists who so oppose infant baptism because one’s physical relationship to the covenant means nothing promote the same idea with a vengeance when it comes to physical Jews!

Another reason for my departure is dispensationalism’s tendency to deny the lordship of Christ in salvation. Of course, some dispensationalists, such as John MacArthur and his followers, adamantly deny such gross error, but DTS promotes it with such vehemence that one stands amazed. (I can’t imagine standing before Christ at the Last Day having preached that one could be saved in his sins rather than from them, that it is possible to be a “Judas” and still go to heaven.) DTS has a section entitled Eternal Security in its doctrinal statement, but then denies perseverance of the saints, which means that one can have Christ as Savior while rejecting His Lordship. To use the modern vernacular, that is promoting “once saved always saved” but without perseverance, which means one can have genuine faith without works. I’m not aware of anyone in the history of the Church fossilizing such horrible theology in its institutional and formal statement, published to the world. Ryrie in Balancing the Christian Life even states that anyone who teaches such lordship salvation is teaching another gospel! That means for the past 2,000 years 99.9999% of the Church has perished. Much of dispensationalism is off base, but this one tenet, like the two peoples of God issue and works salvation of OT saints, is outside the bounds of historic orthodoxy. The whole Church for 2,000 years and 95% of Christendom today rises up against such an idea. Never in the history of the Church—and here I include all three branches of Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism—has anyone heard of anything so monstrous as the DTS teaching that repentance, by which is meant a turning from one sins, is not necessary for salvation. According to DTS, NT “repentance” is only a change of mind about Christ, not also a change of mind about one’s sins. One can allegedly have Christ and his sins also. How one could possibly come to Christ for forgiveness of sins and still love his sins is an indomitable mystery. It would be tantamount to raping someone and saying, “Forgive me but I intend to do it again.” (See my chapter on repentance in my book, Lordship Salvation: The Only Kind There Is. There has recently been another dissertation at DTS (Ph.D.!) denying repentance in salvation with the usual plethora of straw men against the Reformed scholars. But this is not just a Reformed issue but an issue in every branch of Christendom since Pentecost.)

And consider the doctrinal statement of DTS. It is greatly imbalanced, having one sentence on the Holy Trinity and several long paragraphs on its view of dispensations and prophecy. This imbalance continues with those who will not allow one to be a member of their church unless their prophecy is “right” while rarely asking questions about the potential member’s view of God. One’s view of antichrist is now more important than one’s view of Christ, at least on a practical level. This produces Christians who can expound long and hard on Israel, antichrist, end time prophecy but who have very little understanding of the most basic teaching of the Church since the Apostles: the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation (these two stand or fall together, as I’m sure you would agree).

Who knows the future of dispensationalism? They themselves do not know where they are going. I have recently talked to professors at DTS who do not want the Ryrie dispensationalism but the progressive dispensationalism, which at least means no literal hermeneutic and no pre-tribulation rapture. I hope it means they will embrace repentance. I have conversed with recent graduates who tell me that the pre-tribulation rapture idea is hardly mentioned at DTS these days, and that while some still harp on the literal hermeneutic yet most deny it. Tommy Ice, a graduate of DTS, sees the implications of the new dispensationalism at DTS, and he, as a dispensationalist, is writing against the professors at DTS! But the weight of scholarship is against him. This is very ironic and has never happened in DTS history that one of its graduates would challenge that DTS is not consistently dispensational! In his latest edition of his landmark book, Dispensationalism (formerly Dispensationalism Today), Ryrie is also challenging DTS!

It will be a relief when DTS drops the pre-tribulation rapture, which in my humble opinion has done tremendous harm to Christianity. It is based on very tenuous inferences, divides the people of God into two peoples, makes “Israel” in the Near East seem to be the people of God even in a state of denying Christ, and puts the USA in a precarious position with other nations when Christian Zionists push us to support them with the erroneous idea that the “land” is theirs. The Jews have so intermarried since the time of Christ that no one even knows who they are anymore. Some are black, some are white, some are olive, and some we don’t know what they are.

Sadly, the pre-tribulation rapture has become part of the non-negotiable faith in many circles—even though the Church did not hear about it until recently—and some think that if you don’t believe it that you are liberal. (Recently when Walvoord died—a godly Christian man, let me add—the DTS alumni newsletter noted that he was a great defender of the faith, defending such critical doctrines as the pre-trib rapture. It is too bad that he spent so much time on such a non-essential issue.) It is sad to see the ancient creeds ignored but the pre-trib rapture doctrine promoted as if it were as important as an ancient creed. These are wrong theological priorities to the extreme. The effect of such wrong priorities can be seen in Tim LaHaye selling 50 million (and counting) copies of the left behind series on the antichrist, but evangelicals will not purchase 10 thousand copies of a book about Christ. All the end time hysterical weirdoes who embarrass the Church with their errant predictions, such as Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, Pat Robertson, Paul and Cheryl Crouch on TBN and TBN in general, are dispensationalists. Hal Lindsey was invited to DTS for the 50th anniversary in 1974 while I was studying there, and his hermeneutic was so incompetent with his helicopters in the book of Revelation (“literal”?) that even the DTS professors said he would never be invited back again. To my knowledge, he never has been back. Yet TBN regularly has him on as (and I quote) “the world’s greatest prophecy expert.” He and Jack van Impe are constantly going through the latest news articles to demonstrate that we are in the last days, which is more eisegesis (reading into the text) than exegesis (reading out of the text). The pre-tribulation rapture doctrine with its escape motif and Satan as lord of the world who has predestined the failure of Christ and of the Church (Would God predestined His own failure?) has produced an impotent Church that will not stand against the culture. As dispensationalist J. Vernon McGee once said: “Why polish the brass on a sinking ship?” Such statements have immobilized dispensational churches. Thus as our culture slides ever more into the sins of the Canaanites, it has the blessing of the dispensationalists, for this allegedly means Christ is coming that much sooner to bail us out, for allegedly things must get worse and worse just before He returns. It is to our shame that the Roman Catholic Church has led the way in the opposition to abortion.

Then consider the absurdity of the whole dispensational scheme. When things are really bad, the Lord Jesus comes secretly to “rapture” His Church (a “secret” Second Coming), the man of sin/anti-Christ is manifested, and we have seven years of great tribulation. During the seven years, God again deals with Israel as an Old Testament nation while the Church is in heaven. Incredible. How anyone on earth could be saved without a visible Church and without any other Christians to evangelize them is a serious problem dispensationalists have not worked out except to say some sinners read tracts and the Bible and are converted. Though God could save people however He chooses, He has always chosen to use His visible Church (or His Israel) as His instrument and its sacraments. Such theology makes the visible Church totally irrelevant. What happens to baptism and the Lord’s Supper during this alleged seven years, and what sacraments are available is another enormous corner dispensationalists have painted themselves into. All three branches of the Church have always considered the sacraments (at least baptism and the Lord’s Supper) as non-negotiable, as necessary for salvation, but now they are gone! Apparently, they are not needed. All we need is autonomous individualism—incredible. But all is a complete failure once again, and at the end of the seven years comes the public and non-secret second [sic] Second Coming, at which point Christ establishes His 1,000 year reign from Jerusalem, the animal sacrifices are reestablished, and the temple is rebuilt! Now we are back to the types and shadows of the Old Testament in complete denial of the whole book of Hebrews, and the advancement God made over the animal sacrifices to the once for all sacrifice of Christ and advancement over the land of Israel to the whole world is forfeited to a literal hermeneutic. All this comes from a distinction between Israel and the Church as two separate peoples of God.

I guess I given you more than you asked, but I hope that this will not cause us to break fellowship. I count many dispensationalists as my brothers in Christ and my personal friends, including you. I would like for it to remain so.

In His death and resurrection,
Rev Dr Curtis Crenshaw, ThD

(P.S. This professor’s response was non-engaging, very gracious, stating that he would not break fellowship with me. We continue to email one another.)