The Transcendental Argument Against Dispensationalism: What is Dispensationalism?

As I mentioned in my first post in this series, I am not planning to make a historical argument against Dispensationalism. So, this post is not meant to be an outline of the historical development of Dispensationalism as much as it is meant to be an explanation of the core tenets of the system. What must one believe to be considered a Dispensationalist?

There are a few streams of Dispensationalism that exist, each with their own spin on the hermeneutic:

  1. Classical Dispensationalism
  2. Progressive Dispensationalism
  3. Hyper Dispensationalism

In this series, my goal is mainly to address the hermeneutic, interpretations and views of the Classical & Progressive Dispensationalists. Though I believe many of my points will be relevant to Hyper Dispensationalism, it is not my main focus.

So, what are the tenets of Progressive Dispensationalism? Robert Saucy describes the Progressive position as “a mediating position between non-Dispensationalism and traditional Dispensationalism”[1] One of the struggles in understanding Progressive Dispensationalism is that there has been no systematic theology written with a Progressive Dispensational hermeneutic. In fact, it seems impossible at the present time to address Progressive Dispensationalism without first becoming familiar with the Classical view.

Ryrie writes that the essential requirements for one to be considered a Dispensationalist are as follows:

1. A dispensationalist keeps Israel and the church distinct…This is probably the most basic theological test of whether or not a person is a dispensationalist, and it is undoubtedly the most practical and conclusive. The one who fails to distinguish Israel and the church consistently will inevitably not hold to dispensational distinctions; and one who does will.[2]

2. This distinction between Israel and the church is born out of a system of hermeneutics that is usually called literal interpretation.. The word literal is perhaps not as good as either the word normal or plain, but in any case it is interpretation that does not spiritualize or allegorize as nondispensational interpretation often does.[3]

And finally:

3. A third aspect of the sine qua non of dispensationalism is a rather technical matter that will be discussed more fully later (see chapter 5). It concerns the underlying purpose of God in the world. The covenant theologian, in practice, believes this purpose to be salvation… and the dispensationalist says the purpose is broader than that; namely, the glory of God.[4]

Ryrie sums up Dispensationalism in terms of these three distinctives:

The essence of dispensationalism, then, is the distinction between Israel and the church. This grows out of the dispensationalist’s consistent employment of normal or plain or historical-grammatical interpretation, and it reflects an understanding of the basic purpose of God in all His dealings with mankind as that of glorifying Himself through salvation and other purposes as well.[5]

So, to have a discussion of Dispensationalism, these three fundamentals must be addressed. Any arguments regarding specific interpretations of texts, while helpful, and important, must be made in light of the fundamental commitments of the view itself. If the presuppositions to which the Dispensationalist holds cannot account for his beliefs concerning scripture then the presuppositions must be abandoned.

As this series continues, we will explore further the developments which Progressive Dispensationalism has made to these tenets and discuss whether or not a consistent application of these hermeneutical principles can allow us to interpret scripture intelligibly and consistently.


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Next: Coming Soon!


  1. [1]Saucy, Robert L. The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1993.: 27.
  2. [2]Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. Dispensationalism. Chicago: Moody Press, 1995.: 33.
  3. [3]Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 1995.: 33-4.
  4. [4]Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 1995.: 34.
  5. [5]Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 1995.: 35.



It’s interesting that you cite Ryrie — and I find his self-assessment to hold up pretty well among contemporary evangelicals in their understanding of Scripture. So given that #2 is the basis for #1, I have from time to time taken a token verse from the pages of sub-biblical teachings (outside of the pale of evangelicalism) and asked for the literal/normal/plain reading. They almost always come back with the sub-biblical interpretation. “Congratulations, you’re now a Roman Catholic!”

So, I am curious how different dispensational schools develop their hermeneutics and clarify their understanding of how Scripture should be interpreted. I’m even more acutely interested in their respective takes on the regula fidei … or how they compare hermeneutical systems with theirs.


I’ll be tracking this.

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