What is your position on Dispensational theology? Has John MacArthur written on this topic?


The following is a dialogue between John MacArthur and the Board of the IFCA (Independent Fundamental Churches of America). The subject was Dispensationalism:

Board Member: Alright, we will move on to the next category of dispensationalism; here's the first question. If view of some statements that seem to cast doubt on your position of being a dispensationalist, please clarify what your true position is. Are you mixing Reformed covenant views with dispensationalism? Elaborate your views by reviewing the number and characteristics of dispensations.

John MacArthur: And we're back to the preexilic kings--Well, I just want you to know that I am historical dispensationalist, pretribulational, premillenialist. I believe that from the Scripture--please note--from the Scripture, not the notes at the bottom of the page, emerges a dispensational hermeneutic. I believe that dispensationalism is a hermeneutic. But, I don 't believe it's a presuppositional hermeneutic; I believe it is a hermeneutic that rises out of an understanding of the text. So, I am a historic dispensationalist. I have never wavered on that--I have never moved from that position. What do you mean by that? What I mean primarily by that, is that you must distinguish in the way in which God rules in this world or the economy by which He mediates His rule in this world at different points in time.

Obviously, there was a point in time in which God mediated His rule through an innocent man. I have no problem with that at all. God walked and talked directly with Adam and Adam did what God told him to do without any interruption or hindrance whatsoever. God mediated His rule on the earth through man who had become king of the earth. When man fell, God had to mediate His rule in a different way. God then began to mediate His rule in the world through a fallen man and He had to use the revelation of Himself, which He did, first of all, to the patriarchs; which He did, by then giving the law . . . I believe that God's mediated rule on the earth is much more sophisticated after the law. There were obviously times and seasons which God overlooked: pre-law, as there are times and seasons which He was gracious with: pre-grace, if you want to make that distinction.

So, I see a difference before the fall, after the fall--before the law, after the law--before the cross, after the cross--before Christ comes and after He comes and then the eternal state. Now, I don't know how many of those there are--I haven't counted them all up. I'm not sure I want to dot all the i's and cross all the t's on human government and conscience and all that, but I do know that once man fell, God had to mediate His role on the earth through His Spirit, and His Spirit worked through conscience, and His spirit worked through the patriarchs, and then His Spirit worked through the prophets and the priests, and His Spirit, of course, brought the law and God mediated in that way. Then, of course once we come to the new covenant, God mediates His rule on the earth by the Spirit of God indwelling the church. The day will come when the church is raptured out and God will mediate His will on the earth in a direct way as He pours out judgment on the earth, takes the earth back, and then mediates His rule in the millennial kingdom for a thousand years, with Christ reigning on the throne until the eternal state, in which everything falls into the blending of God's sovereignty in the final form of our existence.

So, I would be a very historic dispensationalist. People ask me all the time, "Are you Reformed?" The Reformed people don't know what to do with me because they hear things that sound thrilling to them and then somewhere down the page they get confused again because I don't buy the "whole ball of wax." To be honest with you, all I'm doing is going in my church every week and preaching the next passage. That's all I've done for 20 years and so I just try to understand what it says. Somebody will say, "Oh, that sounds Reformed!" Somebody will say, "Oh, that's really dispensational." I'm just trying to be biblical. I really am. I'm not trying to build a system or advocate a system; I really do believe in a biblical theology, more than that, an exegetical theology.

I'm just trying to hammer that thing through and refine myself and I know that maybe there are times when it's contradictory. I spoke one Sunday night on why the antichrist will be a Jew, and somebody came to me and said, "You're wrong. He'll be a Gentile." So I studied all week and the next Sunday night I preached on why the antichrist will be a Gentile. (Audience Laughter) So, I don't know. For all I know, he might come from Pennsylvania--I don't know. (Loud Audience Laughter) I put my pants on just like you, go down to my little study, get out my books and do the best I can and have at it. I'm not trying to develop some sort of secret hidden agenda; I'm just trying to understand the Word of God. But, I do believe . . . and the major dispensational issue for today is--I believe with all my heart and soul that you cannot come up with a covenant view of theology and maintain any kind of coherent hermeneutics.

If you come up with covenant theology which assumes then that the church is the new Israel and all the promised blessings to Israel are now fulfilled in the church, if you come up with that view you have violated the basic premise of biblical interpretation, because what you have said is this: All of the curses of the Old Testament that were on Israel were fulfilled literally. Is that not true? Nobody argues that. It's a question I ask every covenant theologian, amillennialist, I ever meet and we have a discussion.

You tell me: were the curses promised to Israel for their sin fulfilled literally? They all say the same, "Yes!" Then answer this: the promises given by the prophets in the same breath, you're telling me, are all going to be fulfilled figuratively? That is an impossible hermeneutic! That is a divided hermeneutic! You can't have it both ways. They are either all literal or they're all figurative, but not one or the other. So, I believe that you literally confound the Scripture. Since I also believe in a literal, historical, grammatical, contextual, rule of interpretation, I'm stuck with a literal interpretation, so I have to have a literal Israel, in a literal kingdom, with a literal Christ, reigning in a literal Jerusalem, for a literal thousand years. (Audience Amens!) The best part is I'm going to be there (Audience Laughter) and so are you and we'll all get along perfectly (Audience Laughter). I tell my church this, you know, I say, "Look. Some of you people are very difficult to work with, but if you think you're going to give me ulcers or get me upset or make my life miserable, you're wrong, because I know something and what I know is someday you're going to be perfect, and I'm not going to lose my sanity trying to get you where you're going to get anyway." (Audience Laughter)

Board Member: O.K., this is the final question on dispensationalism; it has to do with your book "The Gospel According to Jesus." The question states, "that it [your book] is heavily footnoted with Reformed theologians, as well as including two prefaces by a Reformed man. Could you find no one from the dispensational, "premill," "pretrib" position, to write support for your views?

John MacArthur: I'm sure we could--the publisher made the choices. We had a number of people write those forwards. Part of the reason for that is to show . . . and I quoted a lot of people because I think through the years the Reformed theology that has come out of the Reformation, or the doctrine of salvation has been most carefully and thoughtfully preserved in Reformed circles. I think their soteriology and even their pneumatology has really been a very strong backbone for the church. I do not hold to a Reformed view, say, of ecclesiology or eschatology, but I think they have, in many ways, been the preservers.

Doesn't that seem right? I mean, if Martin Luther got everything else wrong and he got one thing right and that was the heart of it, and he just about did get everything else wrong, by the way. But, he got the part right about "the just shall live by faith." He got the part of "salvation by grace through faith plus and minus nothing" right and that is the backbone of Reformed theology . . . has maintained that strength and that's why I quote those people because through the centuries, they have been the most articulate proponents of the doctrines of salvation. They stand in good stead and I think--as far as I know--isn't James Boyce dispensational? From my viewpoint, he was a premillennial dispensationalist with Reformed soteriology and was.

The other reason we chose those two forewords: because they were really positive and we thought it might sort of get the people in the book and not think that I was coming off the wall with some new view (as many have thought.) I tried to mainstream myself a little bit in that way.

Added to Bible Bulletin Board's "Tony Capoccia's Questions and Answers" by:

Tony Capoccia
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