Never in the history of (my) blogging has one short sentence caused so much grief! The offending words appeared in 7 Reasons the Old Testament is Neglected, where I wrote:

Although unintended, the dispensational division of Scripture into different eras tends to relegate the Old Testament to a minor role in the life of the Church, and of the individual Christian.

Not exactly a PhD thesis; and I thought I was being quite gentle (“although unintended,” “tends to,” “minor role” not “no role” or “tiny role”). But almost immediately Twitter started poking its beak into my eye, a friendly pyromaniac built a pyre, and Jesse Johnson lit the match

Now I take my tongue out of my cheek and welcome my dispy friend and Old Testament scholar (see his outstanding work on Proverbs), Dan Phillips, to put me to the sword with his response to my observation.


My friend David Murray is extraordinarily kind to offer a poor, benighted dispensationalist the opportunity to respond to his brief word, as quoted on the Ligonier site. David’s remark was a short except from a book I’ve not yet had the pleasure of reading, so I’ll try to focus on the excerpt alone and not bring in the whole warehouse.

First, I think dispensationalists are owed credit for their reverence towards the Old Testament. At least some Covenant Theology adherents (hereafter CTA – not to be confused with the rock album) used to acknowledge, if grudgingly, the fact that dispensationalists to a man affirm the inerrancy and inspiration of the whole OT, and that they carry that conviction out in how they approach issues of authorship and historicity. By contrast, I could name some famous CTA’s who are best known for what they don’t believe of the OT.

So it is ironic for David approvingly to quote the late Gleason Archer concerning the neglect of the OT, when Archer himself was a towering OT scholar, the author of a terrific book of OT introduction – and a dispensationalist.

Second, if I may adduce myself: I’ve been a convinced dispensationalist for some 40 years. It was my conviction of the divine authority of the OT that led me to start learning Hebrew in the early 70s, take extra classes in it, major in OT studies for my MDiv, do a thesis on Proverbs, and teach an array of classes in Hebrew and OT matters. I’ve always preached and taught extensively from all over the OT. I even wrote this book on Proverbs that is said to have some value to it. In fact, I’m preaching Proverbs right now! Also, I had the great joy of speaking at a conference on Messiah in the OT, in which I argued that the whole OT, literally from first verse to last, pointed to Christ. That was in England… which is near Scotland, right?

All of this, I would insist, is not in spite of my convictions as a dispensationalist, but because of them

Third, blaming us for the OT’s neglect because “the dispensational division of Scripture into different eras tends to relegate the Old Testament to a minor role in the life of the Church, and of the individual Christian” rather makes me scratch my head. David, do you think murderers should be executed, like Cain wasn’t? Do you eat ham sandwiches, and lobster, and bacon? Would you eat pork haggis? Do you wear clothes of mixed fabric? Do you mow your lawn on Saturday? When you sin (if you sin), do you head off for Jerusalem with a lamb to look up the local Aaronic priest?

This is a red herring that should be laid to rest. Whether 2, 3, or 7, all Christians recognize “eras” in God’s unfolding revelation. Before they got defensive, CT theologians even had a word for it. What was it, now…? Oh yes, I remember: dispensation.”

Fourth, that said, I will admit that dispensationalists have not all done the job we should of stressing the unity of Scripture, the vast degree of continuity, the oneness of the redemptive story. While I’ll opine that CTAs have erred in hammering flat some of the many distinctive developments in God’s plan (past and future) to suit their views of unity, I will also confess that, in reaction, we dispensationalists have sometimes overstressed the distinctives. We may sometimes be guilty of giving our folks a view of the Bible as a series of disconnected episodes rather than an overarching narrative. It’s an area in which I’ve grown myself over the years. I think that’s a fault of individuals, though, not of the system.

Though more could be said, I’ll stop here, sincerely thanking my gracious host (and beloved brother) for this opportunity to put in a word from his faithful brothers laboring here at the back of the theological bus.

  • Lee

    Mmm, pork haggis….

  • Riley

    Dispensationalists tend to use the Old Testament as a manual of practical life principles and moral examplars, like for example by preaching Proverbs, not so much as an unfolding prelude to redemption. In the New Testament we see the apostles preaching Christ and salvation from the Old Testament as well as drawing on moral exemplars from the lives of OT saints. A balanced approach to the OT will include both.

    • Andrea

      You make the assumption, Mr. Riley, that Proverbs can not be preached except as a “manual of practical life principles and moral examplars.” This assumption does discredit both to the book of Proverbs and to the man who here acknowledges preaching from it.

      Having listened to every one of the 9 sermons that Mr. Phillips has preached from Proverbs so far, I can affirm that he is at least as focused on the gospel in every one of them as my Presbyterian pastor is in his weekly sermons. Moral precepts in both the Old and New Testament are to be acknowledged, heeded, and obeyed as appropriate to the counsel of scripture as a whole. Which means, of course, that to obey we must be aware that we cannot fully obey apart from the application of Christ’s work to our lives.

      Mr. Phillips’ explanation of what Proverbs are and what they are meant to do gives them their proper place as a schoolmaster that sends us to Christ. He defines wisdom as skill for living in fear of YHWH, and emphasizes the complete submission to God’s wisdom, as incarnated in Christ.

      If the balance of his sermons is typical of Dispensationalists (and I know of a few other prominent ones whose sermons are similarly rich with the gospel)then your assertion of how dispensationalists tend to treat the OT really ought to be re-examined.

      • Dan Phillips

        Andrea, you absolutely made my day. Thank you, and glory to God.

      • Riley

        I don’t claim to know Dr. Phillips or his preaching, and I grant everything you say. Yet my observation is still valid. And it’s pretty common knowledge. Were Abraham and David saved in essentially the same way that we are? That is, through faith in Christ by regeneration of the Holy Spirit? The dispensationalist says, no. Covenant theologians say, yes. Redemptive historical preaching of the gospel of Christ from the Old Testament text itself, and not simply using the OT as a schoolmaster to drive to Christ and the gospel, tends to be a hallmark of covenant theologians and to not be done by dispensationalists.

        I grant, however, that it is very possible to be out of balance the other way, too, by ignoring moral precepts and exemplars in clearly moral texts, as many of the Proverbs are. I used Proverbs as an example because, preached faithfully, it contains many moral lessons for Christians to follow. This is generally not something dispensationalists shy away from. What they tend to not see as much is the salvation of Christ in the Old Testament itself.

        • Michael

          “Were Abraham and David saved in essentially the same way that we are? That is, through faith in Christ by regeneration of the Holy Spirit? The dispensationalist says, no.”

          Straw man. Prove it!

        • Dan Phillips

          So, if some dispensationalist wrote a book on the Gospel in the whole Bible, say, or on Proverbs — that’d be helpful? And if it took a different approach than what you attribute to “the dispensationalist,” you’d expect to be hearing about it far and wide? Like it was newsworthy, or something?

          And you yourself would be beating the drum to get the word out, right? Because you’d never want to make such serious accusations against brothers in Christ if they were just dead wrong, I’m sure.

          • Riley

            I’d say that if he took a different position from the classical dispensationalist conception, he was trending away from dispensationalism, possibly in the right direction. To the extent that dispensationalism has been on a moderating and modifying trend, seeing more continuity than the classic version, it is trending in the direction of covenant theology. And someday, they just may get there. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I am pastoring a church which has drunk heavily of dispensationalism, so this is personal to me, and it can be a destructive doctrine. But, yes, the more moderate variety, is, well, better.

        • Dan Phillips

          “Dr.” Phillips. Heh.

  • Pastor Pants

    I do think it was a misrepresentation and it was very gracious of you to allow him to respond. Thank you.

  • Fred Butler

    It was “offensive” because it was just an ignorant non-sequitur coming from a guy who otherwise ought to know better. It would be like saying the reason why denominations are going liberal is because of postmodernism, encroaching leftism, covenant theology, etc.

    I first heard the best preaching/teaching on the OT from a Dispensational Bible professor from Master’s College. He totally shaped the way I read the Bible with his 3 year course on the OT.

    • David Murray

      Maybe “ignorant” is a bit strong Fred. “Limited knowledge” might be more accurate. I based my remarks party on my own (limited) experience, largely Scottish, and also on reading things like this from John Macarthur (whom I love and admire btw).

      It does not diminish my respect for you guys in any way. We are on the same “team” and I didn’t think about the company I was putting you in with that post. In my own mind I certainly wasn’t classifying you as equivalent to liberals, etc.

      As Dan points out, I’ve learned a ton from dispensationalists. Whatever our principles, neither CT’s nor Dispensationalists, are always consistent in their practice!

      • Dan Phillips

        As to respect, I’ll echo your last comments, David. If I were to empty my shelves of authors whose perspectives I didn’t fully share, every last one of the very best books I have, that have done me the greatest good, would be gone.

      • Fred Butler

        I apologize for coming across too strong. I mean “ignorant” in the sense of “I’m ignorant of all the particulars surrounding the marrow controversy back in the 1700s.” I certainly didn’t mean it in a name-calling sense.

        It is just ruffling when I read of folks who make these broad generalizations about the so-called disastrous effects of Dispensationalism allegedly has on Christian theology and Christians reading the Bible or doing church or whatever, and rarely if at all, is there any genuine evidence cited to back up the claim. When it is all boiled down, the claims are more urban legend that reality.


        • Brent

          I understood what Dr. Murray said and it rang true to my own experience. I grew up in a Baptist, dispensational church. We were taught the the old testament was for the Jews and laid the foundation for Jesus’ coming, but for new testament believers it only served to give moral examples of what not or what to do. We really only needed the new testament now. All scripture was God’s word, but not all applied to us after the cross in the same way as to those before the cross. And it seems to me that it wasn’t just my church that had this understanding in the ’70′s. I even went to a world famous bible college in the 80′s and the new testament was given more weight than the old. Right or wrong, Dr. Murray’s statement was my personal experience. 

          • Dan Phillips

            “All scripture was God’s word, but not all applied to us after the cross in the same way as to those before the cross.”

            And you think otherwise now? So, no pork haggis for you?

          • Brent

            No haggis whatsoever for me based on my culinary hermeneutic. Sounds gross. Anyways, what I meant was that most of the people in the church of my youth wondered why we needed the OT any more because it didn’t apply to us after the cross. It was a different dispensation. No, I no longer believe this way. And I do love my bacon.

          • Elaine Bittencourt

            Was it a Calvinist church?

            I ask because what you describe has been my experience with non-calvinist churches, where not only they dismiss the OT but various NT passages as not relevant at all for today. Point in case, 1 Tim. 2:12 – for starters.

            That approach to Scripture has nothing to do with one being dispensational.

          • Brent

            No, it was definitely Arminian. But I think dispensationalism did contribute to the thinking I stated. Since the Jews had rejected Jesus, God turned to the church and thus, “our” Bible is the New Testament. The Old Testament was for the Jews and the prophecies would be fulfilled in the millennial reign of Christ. This is what I remember of dispensationalism. It might be “old school” but it was what I was raised in.

      • David Bissett

        David, Loved your book, and I appreciate your having Dan post here on your blog. His points were helpful to me too. You are both a good model for gentleman-ly blogging!

        The comments section, however, does show the limitations of this medium. Such back and forth interaction is always more profitable in person (which is why I comment so very rarely online).

        Yours by divine mercy, db

  • RStarke

    David – I think this post has forever cemented your name in my mind as the Christian blogger who most consistently and bravely takes on the toughest of topics and doesn’t just toe the line between truth and grace, but totally owns it.

    I *was* also going to say that this particular interchange between you and my long time friend Dan gave me hope for the Christian Internet as a whole, but Fred’s rather graceless comment has plunged me back into relentless pessimism and despair. Still, well done to both of you. I was helped and heartened, if only momentarily. :)

    • Jonathan Hunt

      I also felt the same despair on reading the comment.

      • Dan Phillips

        …but Riley’s comment, coming under this post with all the specific links and comments it had in it, didn’t?

        • Jonathan Hunt

          Point taken, DJP.

    • Elaine Bittencourt

      What is so graceless to say that a comment is ignorant? Fred’s words were “it was just an ignorant non-sequitur”. As you can clearly see, he wasn’t referring to a person.

      How about if we deal with the issue and not make this personal?


    • Fred Butler

      Sorry to send you into a shame spiral. If I may throw you a line and pull you out to the shore…

      • RStarke

        Now an apology and a clarification. Back up to hope and sunny optimism I go. Phew- I need a nap.

  • Jonathan Hunt

    I wonder if you could have expressed your point in a way which distinguished between the widely-differing streams of dispensationalism, or whether it is no longer possible to say _anything_ critical about the ‘d’ word because of many years of patronising and misrepresentative ‘d-slamming’ from the ‘reformed’ camp.

  • James

    Looks like the first line under “fourth…” admits that dispensationalists have in fact “tended toward” what David said. Is it possible that although it has tended toward this in the past, it might not necessarily tend toward this in the future? Perhaps, but I do not see either ignorance or intemperance in what David wrote.

    I would be glad to see him proved wrong. As a “CTA” preacher, I often hear recovering dispensationalists rejoice over how much of Christ there is in the Old Testament, and how glorious it is to read in the Old Testament about the same God they know, interact by the same grace they live by, with believers who have been saved in the same way that they have. They marvel that Jesus is everywhere in the Bible, and not just introduced in Matthew, or maybe a few Psalms or Isaiah 53.

    Dispensationalism might not necessarily tend toward such impoverished handling of the Old Testament. But it certainly has tended to in the past. If we could just get all dispensationalists to reduce dispensationalism to Christ’s abolishing of the church-state of Israel and superseding of ceremonial law, as Dan did in his response, it would be a good start.

    • Elaine Bittencourt

      “Is it possible that although it has tended toward this in the past, it might not necessarily tend toward this in the future?”

      Define past and future, in time frames.

      See, Dave says that he based his remarks (also) in one interview John MacArthur did 11 years ago.

      Did anyone even listen to that interview? I fail to see how anything that MacArthur says proves the point of the “thesis”. Furthermore, one pastor-teacher talking about his own ministry doesn’t encompass a whole system. MacArthur was being very personal on that interview, talking about how he decided to preach through the entire NT in the beginning of his ministry and why.

      I’ve seen people accuse us of being too much OT centered, never not enough. First time.

  • Doc B

    It takes a good man to allow his opponent into his locker room to give a speech to his team. It takes another good man to go into the opponent’s locker room and state his case in front of the other team.

    I think there is a lot to be learned from this exchange and how the two bloggers have handled it, totally aside from the topic itself.

    Thank you both for demonstrating grace toward the other.

  • Jesse JOhnson

    You are very kind in linking to the post above, and I’m thankful for your lighthearted attitude above. I’m grateful for your ministry and this blog, and I’m grateful for the kindness you demonstrated in posting this from Dan. Thanks for your faithfulness,

  • Terry Rayburn

    1. Neither Dispensationalism nor Covenant Theology prevents someone from valuing, preaching, and finding Christ in the OT.

    2. Dispensationalism has evolved dramatically since I attended a Dispensational Bible Institute in the ’70′s.

    They were still promoting the theology of Scofield and Chafer, for example, who were clearly confused [to give them the benefit of the doubt] on the way of salvation for the different dispensations. I don’t know of anyone who fights for that anymore.

    They were so dividing of dispensations that they were horrified when MacArthur (a fellow I.F.C.A. guy) preached and wrote on Kingdom Living Here And Now, from the Sermon On The Mount, in 1980. They considered it like “reading other folks’ [the Jews'] mail”, and relegated it to the future millennium, even for application purposes.

    3. That’s part of the problem with entrenching oneself in a “school” of theology, but having said that, Dispensationalism was the Rising Sun on the radical contrast between the now-obsolete Old Covenant and the New Covenant (as promised to Israel, but graciously shared by us “grafted-in” Gentiles).

    In “my (limited) experience”, to use David Murray’s useful phrase, I have not encountered any CT guys who really emphasize that contrast to this day.

    And I don’t believe that sharp contrast, or a good New Covenant exposition of Romans 6-8, would have come about without those Dispensational “pioneers”.

    4. Full disclosure – I’m neither Disp. nor CT. I think there is a whole world of understanding to be had by breaking from such “schools” in favor of a vital study (with a Calvinistic soteriology) from that New Covenant paradigm.

    This path is being taken by some serious scholars and preachers, whom I hesitate to name because they entail some “baggage” for some of you (Piper, Carson, Schreiner, e.g.).

    While doing so, we’d be foolish not to learn from our Disp. and CT brothers at every opportunity.

    5. Finally (and spurred by both the irenic comments above, and the prickly ones — and preaching to myself first), “Have fervent love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins [not to mention 'ignorances']“.

  • ScriptureZealot

    That’s nice that you just put that up there without comment at the end. And thanks for creatively using italic type for your text and not having to read it for all of his.

    It’s great to see a nice exchange between the two main participants. I’ve actually been seeing a little more of this lately, and I hope it increases. 2 Thess 1:3

  • Joey Cochran

    Great interchange fellas. This is a great model for robust and congenial dialogue on doctrinal matters that should not divide. I am sharpened by your mutual sharpening and an looking forward to reading my copy of Jesus on Every Page.

    To continue the discussion — Is it warranted to still call dispensationalism a “system”? I say this keeping in mind that I attended the regional ETS meeting at Dallas Seminary in March. One very green PhD student wrote a paper on Dispensationalism referring to it as a system over and over again. His prof slated to be the reader for this dissertation in process asked the PhD student this same question. Bear in mind this is an Associate Professor of the flagship Dispensationalist school. Afterwards a group of us bantered on the various via media positions and how every single Dispensational scholar has his own perspective on both hermeneutics and the relationship between Israel and the Church. I think it is hard to make general statements about a hermeneutic with such a spectrum.

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  • Richard Hutto

    Obviously Dan and many others do not fit David’s discription. However, in my experience many do and thus I don’t find it ill-conceived for Dispensationalism to have made his list. I have even known a Master’s Seminary guy to not only disregard the OT (in practice only) but caution against trying to apply the beatitudes to our lives as they too were “for Israel”.

    • Fred Butler

      Can you provide us with some examples? I always hear about “some guy” or “some guys.” Even if they exist, to list them in a group that contains “liberalism, laziness, and Christ-less preaching” is igno… I mean extremely limited in knowledge.

      • Elaine Bittencourt

        Fred =)

        I agree with you, instead of making those type of references provide examples, not allusions.

        We have also seen too much of this misconception about dispensationalism around, and that bugs me to no end. If anyone has to say anything about dispensationalism, at least find out what it is about before commenting on it. Some time ago I heard a preacher refer, mockingly, to the belief in “some secret rapture”. Then Richard Mayhue’s word came to my mind, saying that this is such a misrepresentation of the rapture teaching that it should be put to rest once and for all. I guess repeating an idea (true or false) over and over again makes it valid, and when someone of credibility repeats it as true it’s really sad.

        Finally, let’s deal with what Dispensationalism teaches TODAY.

      • Richard Hutto

        No, I will not name names. I know these people personally (I went to church with them and they are my friends) and it would be inappropriate. I guess we simply disagree as to what qualifies as ignorant.

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  • David Murray

    Just to say I’m reading all the comments and listening carefully. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to contribute to the discussion so far. PRTS conference this week.

  • Chad Vegas

    As a former dispensationalist, I understood your point. Especially given the fact that I have heard John MacArthur say he taught thru the NT because he is a minister of the NC. I wondered why that wouldnt compel him to preach thru the OT as well. I did, however, wonder why not throw that charge at the Anabaptists as well?