Thursday, December 01, 2011

My Favorite Dispensationalist Quote. Ever.

Thirteen or fourteen years ago students in the Dispensationalism class at MBBC were assigned Alva McClain's Law and Grace as one of the required texts. I'm sure I read it at the time. Unfortunately, I didn't mark it at all. Flipping through the notes I might have written, from the vantage point of the present, would be a bit of theological archeology. Ah, what might have been.

The book is marginally useful—maddeningly frustrating by repeatedly ducking at least one foundational issue, while making a quite helpful contribution to the indefatigable specter of legalism. Maybe we'll get back to that later. Written in 1954, it feels a bit dated.

But one little snippet just about knocked me out of my chair towards the end of my recent re-read. Let me just say first that McClain is no junior varsity Dispensationalist. His The Greatness of the Kingdom is a Dispensationalist classic. He's actually much more thorough and persuasive than some of the more widely-known Dispensationalist authors. And he's highly regarded by Rolland McCune, who—perhaps more than any other living theologian—represents the Dispensational wing of the Dispensational Party.

So here's what McClain had to say:
I would like to encourage Christians who delight in finding the Lord Jesus Christ upon every page of Scripture. Do not permit yourselves to be frightened by those over-cautious souls who cry against what they call "too much typology." Doubtless there are some things which may properly be catalogued as "types" and the others not. But whatever you may call it, it is the privilege and highest duty of the Christian to discover and behold the face of the Lord Jesus in Scripture—everywhere! Far better to break a few rules of classical hermeneutics than to miss the vision of his blessed face. (67-68, emphasis added)


Paul said...

Oh the memories of that class--good times!

I just thumbed through my copy of Law & Grace and the ONLY marking in the entire book was on that very paragraph! I bracketed it off with the word "covenant" in the margin . . . Not sure what I was thinking.

Even though I surely missed the significance of what Alva was saying, I am glad at least these words caught my attention.

If only we could go back in time and take that class now? : )

Ben said...

Sounds to me like you were afraid McClain was on the slippery slope.

Paul said...

And here is his next paragraph:

"We need only one caution--let us be sure what we find is always true to the historic revelation of the Son as recorded in the NT. With this safeguard, there is no end to what we may find in the inspired record of the infinite and incarnate Son of God. And by finding him throughout Scripture, we shall be finding the perfect will of God in the wonderful context of His grace".

Ben said...

Good point. I suspect that the covenant theologians I know would find that statement far too open to bad allegorical interpretation.

Tim Batchelor said...

Hi Ben,

Merry Christmas.

If my comment is better for email, please let me know.

In your opinion, how important is it for a pastor to evaluate both D and CT and determine which one he believes? Are there any significant differences in the way D and CT define the gospel from each other? How would a firm belief in either one affect a pastor's preaching?

Ben said...


D and CT have very different views of how the whole Bible holds together. That has some direct implications on how you interpret and preach the OT and what you believe about the Church and the Kingdom of God as they're revealed in the NT. The best—probably the majority—of both camps are sound on the gospel.

But I'd argue that BOTH traditional D and CT misunderstand the whole Bible holds together. The Bible is structured around explicit covenants—Abrahamic, Sinaitic, Davidic, New, for starters. D and CT diverge in their understanding of the similarities and differences between those covenants. Both traditional D and CT actually marginalize the biblical covenants—D in favor of the dispensations and CT in favor of the extra-biblical, systematic categories of the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace.

Steve Wellum and Peter Gentry have a book coming out next summer that should address the issue pretty thoroughly. I can't recommend one single book on the topic, though others may be able to. I've posted links over the past few months to some things that have been helpful to me.

Tim Batchelor said...

Thanks Ben. Very Helpful.

Do you know if Edmund Clowney is a D or CT?

Ben said...

Tim, there are some variations within CT. I can't say exactly where Clowney fit in that sphere, but he was definitely CT.