My Thoughts on the Dispensational Study Group at ETS

Written by Michael Vlach on .

Last Tuesday (Nov 16) was the 25th anniversary of the Dispensational Study Group at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in San Francisco. Craig Blaising, of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, offered a discussion on the validity of labels in distinguishing types of Dispensationalism. Bruce Compton, of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, gave a response to Blaising.


Then Darrell Bock, of Dallas Theological Seminary, discussed his view of “already/not yet” eschatology from Luke and Acts. Robert Saucy of Talbot School of Theology responded to Bock. Then there was a discussion panel with the contributors.


Blaising’s message was especially helpful and insightful. He showed how Dispensationalism has undergone developments through the years. He pointed out that modifications are often met with resistance whenever they happen. In fact, one Classical dispensationalist he mentioned was very critical of the changes made by John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, Alva J. McClain, and others who defined Dispensationalism of the 1950s to 80s. It is interesting to note that these guys were viewed as compromisers during their day by some.


Of course, Progressive Dispensationalism has been controversial and criticized but Blaising points out that modifications have been an accepted part of the dispensational tradition. He said that at Dallas Theological Seminary the discussions were cordial and friendships were maintained between progressives and non-progressives.


Bruce Compton offered a gracious response to Blaising, defending Charles Ryrie’s sine qua non of Dispensationalism—literal hermeneutics; distinction between church and Israel; and emphasis on the glory of God.


Bock argued that the “already/not yet” concept did not start with Ladd but was taught by others like Kümmel. Bock believes that Luke/Acts teaches the concept as well. Saucy asserts that there is a present fulfillment of some aspects of the Abrahamic and New covenants but is uncomfortable with the claim that the messianic reign of Christ is taking place today.

The panel discussion was interesting. Compton believes there is a pendulum swing against Dispensationalism today, but he is hopeful the pendulum will swing back toward Dispensationalism.

In what I thought was the most significant part of the night, the panel and some in the crowd expressed hope that further discussions between Progressive dispensationalists and Traditional dispensationalists should continue, but the time has come for dispensationalists to offer a more unified defense of Dispensationalism. More emphasis should be given to dispensational commentaries and works on hermeneutics. I agree with this. Blaising singled out the subject of Supersessionism (Replacement Theology) as being a major issue that dispensationalists should respond to. No argument from me on that one (smile).

This was a profitable meeting and I was glad to be there.