Dispensational Synergism?
Visitor Email Regarding MacArthur's Ejection from BBN

Quite a large number of visitors have written me in the last two weeks to express their concern about the Bible Broadcasting Network having booted off John MacArthur from their radio station for preaching election. (This was the subject of an earlier essay). Some of them have even graciously taken the time to write the station itself to confront them on their outrageous accusation that MacArthur is some kind of hypercalvinist. One of these letters I have posted at the end of this short essay.

I also received a kind rebuke from a brother (who was not himself a dispensationalist) to remind me that there is nothing that demonstrates that Dispensationalism (as a system) requires synergism. And so he was claiming that my comments which claim there is such a thing as Dispensational soteriology (doctrine of salvation) were wholly inaccurate. He warned me that I was therefore making untrue statements about the movement.

And then I found a somewhat angry characterization of my essay about BBN where a fundamentalist pastor criticized me for linking dispensationalism and synergism. He claims I am slandering Dispensationalism, have a closed mind and that there is nothing inherent in Dispensationalism as a system which would itself exclude a monergistic position, even though he admits it is almost non-existent among its adherents.

While there is a great deal of truth in what both of these brothers say about Dispensationalism, I wish to explain why I think it is still accurate to have described that there is a unique brand of thinking which can only be characterized as "dispensational soteriology". Because the problem has become so prominent in most Dispensational circles, I believe that it must be addressed at some level. The following is my response to the pastor who accuses me of slandering Dispensationalists by linking them to synergistic theology.



Just a note to respond to your comment about my "slander" of dispensationalists:

Let me just first say that the letter the BBN sent out as to why they ejected MacArthur, itself claimed that the reason they disagree with MacArthur's position was because soteriologically he was Reformed and they were "Dispensationalists, rightly dividing the word of truth." This was part of their own statement and the reason they claim for rejecting MacArthur's broadcast. While you may not like the idea of my linking Dispensationalism with synergism, the phrase "dispensational soteriological innovations" was terminology I actually picked up from a dispensational ministry (MacArthur's). They obviously want to set themselves apart (as Reformed) from other dispensationalists on the doctrine of the new birth, while retaining their premillenial eschatology. Apparently John MacArthur became a five point Calvinist around the year 1997, according to my sources. .

Furthermore, your comment that "there is nothing inherent in either construct which would exclude the other" is correct. I agree with you and fully understand that Dispensationalism was not originally intended to be a soteriological system ... BUT it has, in fact, historically evolved into one. Dispensationalists, on a mass popular level, have developed their own unique soteriological constructs. They have their own brand of soteriology which is unique to them that has found mass appeal in their schools and churches, even if you don't find it written in a creed somewhere. (Well, in fact a synergistic position is clearly found in the Dallas Theological Seminary's doctrinal statement.) But even if there are a tiny handful of seminary professors in the dispensational camp who believe regeneration is monergistic, this has not trickled down and the vast majority of Dispensationalists who staunchly believe that faith precedes regeneration - that is, they still believe that faith can be produced by our unregenerated human nature (AKA synergism). They do embrace election however, and thus this kind of synergism is unique to Dispensationalism ... I acknowledge that it is not even approaching Arminianism, but it is, in fact, a type of synergism nonetheless.

It is important to distinguish between the system itself versus historical tendencies. I have no desire to misrepresent anybody. TECHNICALLY one can believe regeneration precedes faith and still be dispensational. But it has not been taught this way from the pulpit. As far as monergistic regeneration vs. synergism, at the pop level, the idea is approaching 100% acceptance in these churches; In the seminaries some hold to the more complex view that effectual calling precedes faith, and then regeneration (distinguished from effectual calling) follows faith.

Nevertheless, I acknowledge that Dispensationalists still hold that, illumination and the desire for faith is sovereignly granted by the Holy Spirit (though they change the terminology around a bit). Certainly, there were others in the camp who were Amyraldian/Arminian on the matter, and this is primarily a remnant of earlier dispensational traditions. Again, I agree that these positions are not inherently tied to the system, but some dispensational heroes (Chafer, et al) held to it, and their influence is still widely felt. How did these views evolve historically this way? To some extent, it has to do with the fact that dispensationalism did not grow primarily out of the Reformed tradition, but out of the Brethren movement, carrying elements of their views with it as baggage. These early Dispensationalists, being the root of the movement, appear to have had a a great deal of influence on these doctrines. So today, while there are no confessions in Dispensationalism, they have popularly adopted and integrated the soteriology of its founders (with a partially mixed "Reformed" system) to such an extent that you will unlikely ever hear a monergisistic position preached form the pulpit of a Dispensational church. That is, unless they have consciously embraced a more Reformed view, as MacArthur has. (Click Here to learn more how Dispensationalism developed historcially away from Classic Reformed Theology)

I must admit that it does baffle me that dispensationalists simultaneously embrace effectual calling and yet reject particular redemption. Was not effectual calling also a redemptive blessing Christ purchased for His people? (since all spiritual blessings are found in Christ) It therefore, appears as if they see this redemptive blessing as something given to His elect apart from Christ and His work. Since all are not given this effectual calling isn't it obvious that Christ died in a way for the elect in a way he did not for the non-elect? That is why I mention the introduction of confusion in Dispensational teaching. Some doctrinal positions they widely promote are mutually contradictory and, appear to me to be irreconcilable.

But the real issue, I believe, that needs to be discussed is the mass embracing of synergistic regeneration in dispensational churches. Say what you want about my slandering Dispensationalists, but the fact remains that synergism remains a very real belief that has historically taken hold of that movement en masse. So while you may not agree with my theological conclusions, but my statements about the reality of Dispensational soteriological innovations are correct. What else can we call Dispensationalism's own brand of soteriology, which is unique? It certainly is not Arminianism. For lack of a better term, "Dispensational Synergism" seems to be a pretty accurate description.



A brother wrote the following letter to me that explained how he was going
to respond to the Bible Broadcasting Network for claiming MacArthur was a Hypercalvinist.

Dear John

I have submitted a comment to the Bible Broadcasting Network regarding their
decision to boot MacArthur. I don't know if you would consider encouraging your
readers to write to them, but it scares me to think that biblical teaching is
offensive to so many Christians. Below is my response to them. Thank you for your
excellent website.

Brothers and sisters,

You have made a mistake in your characterization of John MacArthur's position on
election by calling it Hyper-Calvinism. Hyper-Calvinism is actually a historical
error battled by Charles Spurgeon, who was a 5-point Calvinist. Hyper-Calvinism
declares that, because of God's sovereignty, we should not evangelize the lost. It
is a grievous error and you slander your brother John MacArthur by lumping him into
a category with such heresies. MacArthur is strong on the doctrine of election just
as many today are (such as Sproul, Piper, Kennedy, Begg and many others) because
man's will is enslaved to sin. Many Christians whom you would be consider to be your
heroes held to this position: William Carrey (he was opposed by a Hyper-Calvinist) and
Charles Spurgeon just to name 2. You would do well to ask John MacArthur his position
about such dangerous heresies before you censor and slander one of your brothers by
calling them a Hyper-Calvinist. Please talk to a church historian and he should be able
to clear it up for you.

I appreciate your consideration of this and your love for John MacArthur that will
give him the credit he deserves. Thank you.

Another Question...

>>> Out of curiosity, weren't Chafer and Scofield out of Presbyterianism?

One must not forget JOHN NELSON DARBY who had fifty years of leadership among the Brethren. Dispensationalism has its roots in the Plymouth Brethren movement which began in the United Kingdom. Writers do not all agree as to the time and place of the Brethren's origin. The first "breaking of bread service" that I can find a record of was in 1827 in Dublin. The preponderance of the information would show that John Nelson Darby was in a real sense a key person and early teacher of the Brethren movement. Other names are very early identified with the movement; such as A.N. Groves; B.W. Newton; W.H. Dorman; E. Cronin; and J.G. Bullett. All of these men were early leaders in places like Dublin, Plymouth and Bristol. It would be generally agreed that John Nelson Darby was the energizing and guiding spirit in its beginning. These men had many differences and divisions among themselves in the early days and ever after.

The first record of Dispensationalism in the USA is 1864-65, when J.N. Darby twice visited the country. Through these two visits the 16th and Walnut Avenue Presbyterian Church in St. Louis (then pastored by Dr. James H. Brooks) became the principal center of Dispensationalism in America. How could it be!?! This is like trying to mix oil with water! A Presbyterian Church promoting Dispensationalism? Dr. Brooks became Darby's most prominent supporter and has been call the father of Dispensationalism in the U.S.

Scofield Dispensationalism brought a new kind of fundamentalism into many churches. This new dispensationalism unreformed, and uncalvinistic teaching came on the religious scene to fill a vacuum-a vacuum which existed because of liberalism. The churches had drifted away from the doctrinal roots expressed in the old confessions and creeds. Many of the best schools and seminaries had been taken over by liberals and modernists, beginning in the colleges and seminaries and spreading to the pulpits and the pews. Bible-believing Christians turned to those churches where the bible was believed and taught. This vacuum which Liberalism created in the churches provided a prime opportunity for the establishment and spread of the new Dispensational teaching. This resulted in the independent church movement, the independent Bible conference movement and the Bible school movement. Those who participated in them were almost all carrying Scofield Bibles and their leaders were predominantly Dispensational in their views.

The chronology follows this order: Darby to Scofield; Scofield to Chafer; Chafer to Dallas Theological Seminary. Many Dispensational Bible schools and colleges were born during this period, and they all were brought forth unreformed.

Chafer and Scofield were both ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as were most of the early faculty-the distinctive ideas of the Bible conference movement were not accepted by many Presbyterian leaders or by other mainline denominations as useful preparation for the ministry. They increasingly viewed the emphases as antithetical to historic Presbyterianisim. In the 1930s and 40s, Presbyterians in the North and South became openly hostile to dispensationalism. As a result, graduates of the seminary found placement in the mainline churches difficult.

Reflecting the influence of the Brethren movement, which made significant inroads into American evangelicalism in the late nineteenth century through the emerging Bible conference movement, Chafer embraced the teachings of dispensationalism, modern premillennialism, and pretribulational eschatology.

All honest Dispensationalists would agree that the Dispensational system of theology has a different view of the grace of God, the law of God, the church of God, the interpretation of the Word of God and the salvation of God. That is, its teaching are different from tested, respected historic creeds and confessions.

Some quotes from Ernest Reisinger