Dispensational Soteriological Innovations
by John Hendryx
This essay is written out of the deep concern for, and occasional frustration of seeing so many dispensational brothers holding to a hopelessly contradictory theology about salvation. It is my purpose in this short essay to show that dispensationalists who hold to so-called four-point Calvinism (who reject the doctrine of limited atonement), already believe in limited atonement without consciously knowing it. Here's why: Dispensationalists already correctly hold to in the biblical doctrine of efficacious/irresistible grace and I will show how this compels them to likewise embrace the biblical doctrine of particular redemption (AKA limited atonement). It is a biblical contradiction to hold to one without the other since all redemptive benefits find their source in Christ. It can be forcefully argued from the Bible and plain reason that the near-universal belief among dispensationalists in irresistible grace and their rejection of limited atonement gives rise to a fatally inconsistent view of the Scriptures and bifurcates the redemptive blessing of irresistible grace from the work of Christ. I intend to establish that particular redemption is the only biblical option left to us, if one is to also believe the biblical doctrine of efficacious/irresistible grace (as dispensationalists do).
Summary: Dispensationalists and Reformed theologians alike agree that all spiritual blessings have their origin in the person and work of Christ (Eph 1:3). But it seems that Dispensationalists perhaps conveniently have forgotten that irresistible grace is among these same spiritual blessings. Dispensationalists, like Calvinists, also teach the doctrine of irresistible grace, and likewise teach that this grace is applied by the Holy Spirit to the elect only (not to the non-elect). Therefore it infallibly follows that they must believe that Christ died for the elect (to secure irresistible grace) in a way that He did not for the non-elect. Therefore, either dispensationalists already do believe in the biblical doctrine of particular redemption without knowing it or they promote an unintelligible system of theology that is divorced from Christ with regard to the application of the work of redemption.
The Doctrinal Position of Dallas Theological Seminary
Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS), the Dispensational mother ship, widely promotes four of the five points of Calvinism (Amyraldianism). In agreement with traditional Calvinists the professors at this institution teach that man cannot save himself, God's grace is effectual (irresistible), His election is unconditional and the elect of God will be preserved by Him in such a way as to never ultimately fall away. Yet, in contrast to Reformed theology, DTS teaches a universal atonement, that Jesus died for all mankind (elect and non-elect) in the same way, and with the same intent.
It is notable, that, over time, Dispensationalism has developed in such a way that an overwhelming number of its adherents, scholars, institutions and churches have come to reject the doctrine of particular redemption. Some of their seminaries and Bible schools would even seem to have made it their hiring policy for professors. While there are some brave five-point Calvinists out there among dispensational institutions and churches it would appear to be the exception rather than the rule (John MacArthur would be one notable example of the exception, himself only embracing limited atonement in 1997). In these circles, those who believe Christ died only for the elect are not necessarily looked at as heretics, but merely like a strange bird. It is beyond the scope of this essay to explain why the Dispensationalist belief system has developed this way. Rather, my purpose is to show biblically and theologically why their position on the matter is both unscriptural and irrational. Accounting for the few exceptions who embrace particular redemption, Dispensationalists could be considered the Amyraldians of our time. But since this term is not widely used anymore, from here forward I will merely use the term dispensationalist, recognizing that there are a few exceptions. Note: While four-point Calvinism (Amyraldianism) is not itself an innovation of the dispensationalist, their particular understanding and development of of four-point Calvinism seems to be historically unique, as I will briefly explain.
A friend of mine who graduated from DTS, and is now a pastor, explained to me that DTS teaches that irresistible grace is where God reveals His beauty to the fallen sinner in such a way that His attraction cannot but draw the unregenerate sinner to Himself. He accurately pointed to John 6:37 as one of the texts that give conclusive evidence to this. While a Reformed view believes that this is also where regeneration and irresistible occurs, the dispensational hermeneutic, for some reason, requires that regeneration comes after faith. That faith is still a product of our unregenerated human nature. Nonetheless, in spite of the inconsistency here, they do amazingly teach that faith comes about efficaciously due to God's irresistible influences on the unregenerate elect, a spiritual blessing (they would agree with Calvinists) which is never given to the non-elect. In spite of this, they reject that Christ died in a way for the elect that He did not for the non-elect.
But we must ask, where did the spiritual blessing of irresistible grace come from? From Christ or somewhere else?
A Fatal Defect in Dispensational Four-Point Dogma
Lets go through this slowly. Dispensationalists agree that the elect are given efficacious grace and the non-elect are not. We agree so far. In light of this I must point out as a reminder (as if we could somehow overlook this) that all redemptive blessings we have can be traced back to the work of Christ, according to Scripture (Eph 1:3). If it were not for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to deliver us, then all that is justly left to us all is the great winepress of the fury of the wrath of God almighty. The dispensationalist seems to have forgotten that even the benefit of efficacious grace is to be found rooted in Christ and His work. In other words, since this blessing is only given to some and not others, it infallibly follows that such a blessing was purchased only for those He intended to save and not everyone. Would someone dare argue that some spiritual blessings are to be found outside of Christ? I didn't think so. Therefore, to embrace efficacious grace and, at the same time, teach a universal atonement is to contradict the plain unity and logic of Scripture. Even 4-point dispensationalists believe and teach that the redemptive benefit of efficacious/irresistible grace is for the elect only since, they agree, the non-elect do not receive this benefit. Therefore, even by their own standards, Christ must have died in a way for the elect that He did not for the non-elect. If efficacious grace is among those spiritual blessings which Christ purchased for his people on the cross (as are all spiritual blessings) then the unavoidable, and only reasonable conclusion is that the non-elect were not included in this particular redemptive blessing for which Christ died. Anything less is an unbiblical bifurcation (separation) of Christ and His redemptive benefits.
A Dispensationalist might try to counter by saying this grace is based on election and not Christ's work, but it would go against everything we know to be true. Election is merely the superstructure, the overall blueprint of God's plan to carry out redemption for His elect in time and does not itself save anyone, i.e. is not itself the work of redemption. Without the cross, as previously mentioned, God could only reveal His wrath to us in such a close encounter. Would these dispensationalists argue for Christless redemptive benefits? In other words, so-called four-point Calvinism has been utterly debunked and, therefore, we should move on from the question. God's grace is always rooted in the cross, and is therefore efficacious for the regeneration of His elect ONLY ... a blessing never intended for the non-elect. The Scriptures themselves give testimony to this:
"... According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable..." 1 Pet 1:3 3
Clearly Christ's resurrection power unites and efficaciously gives rise to the living hope of the elect in Christ. Our union with Christ in the resurrection (applied by the Spirit) raises our fallen soul from spiritual death unto a living faith. This is all accomplished in Christ which is in turn applied to the elect sinner by the Holy Spirit. It seems incomprehensible to me that while dispensationalists have a hard time swallowing the idea that Jesus died in a way for the elect that He did not for the non-elect, yet have no trouble embracing the concept that God gives efficacious grace to His people only (and that, apart from the work of Christ). Not only does this show the persons of the Trinity having conflicting goals in accomplishing and applying salvation but shows a willingness to abandon the Scripture in order to favor their own hermeneutic. But even more, this reveals that dispensationalists really do believe in a personal or particular atonement but seem unwilling to admit it. Not one Dispensationalist has stepped up to the plate to defeat this argument. This is simply because they cannot. It is over and four-point Calvinism has been proven to be insufficient to explain reality as revealed in Holy Scripture.
Other traditional Reformed doctrines that most dispensationalists reject include monergistic regeneration.
Is it Possible to Deny Limited Atonement and Still Believe in Unconditional Election? by John Hendryx
Dispensational Synergism? Visitor Email Regarding MacArthur's Ejection from BBN
The Five Points of Calvinism Defined, Defended and Documented Afterward by John MacArthur