THE FRUITS OF
“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20).
What are the FRUITS of Dispensationalism?
The following was written by George Ladd (Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God, page 49). Keep in mind that George Ladd was not a dispensationalist. He was a historic premillennialist.
It is doubtful if there has been any other circle of men who have done more by their influence in preaching, teaching and writing to promote a love for Bible study, a hunger for the deeper Christian life, a passion for evangelism and zeal for missions in the history of American Christianity.
Darrell Bock is a progressive dispensationalist who has abandoned many traditional teachings of dispensationalism (see our analysis on Progressive Dispensationalism). But Bock wrote favorably about dispensationalists in the article "Charting Dispensationalism," Christianity Today, September 12, 1994:
Dispensationalism [has] contributed so mightily to evangelicalism in the 20th century, popularizing the prophetic message of the Bible, standing for the trustworthiness of God’s Word in an era in which criticizing the Bible had become commonplace within the church.
Keith A. Mathison, in his strongly anti-dispensational book, Rightly Dividing the People of God? (preface, page x), writes the following:
The dispensationalists I know desire to believe only what the Scriptures teach.
This is quite a compliment coming from one who opposes dispensationalism. May our greatest flaw ever be that we believe only what the Scriptures teach! God’s Word and God’s Truth plus nothing!
Richard J. Mouw, a Reformed theologian, praised the "old dispensationalists" (in contrast to the new, progressive dispensationalists) in this way:
By their fruits ye shall know them, and I have benefited greatly from the spiritual fruits of dispensationalism. Throughout my youth, the majority of my spiritual mentors were dispensationalists. When I first began my personal devotional life, it was a Scofield Bible that I read on a daily basis. Dispensational charts hung on the walls at the Bible conference where I worked during my high school summers. At youth rallies and Bible clubs, from itinerant teachers and radio evangelists (including the founder of the seminary I now lead!), in handbooks and magazines, I learned the importance of "rightly dividing the Word of Truth."
Later on I was to hear many negative things said, especially by my Reformed colleagues, about dispensationalism's "heresies." But the criticisms never quite rang true. Dispensationalists were supposed to downplay the relevance of the Old Testament for the Christian life; but some of the best preaching I have ever heard on the Psalms was from dispensationalists. Dispensationalist theology drew strict theoretical boundaries between Jesus as Israel's Messiah and Jesus as the Lord of the church; but the Jesus I learned about from dispensationalists was a heaven-sent Savior who showed a matchless love for both Gentile and Jew. The dispensationalist perspective undercut Christian social concerns; but long before I had ever heard of Mother Teresa, I saw dispensationalists lovingly embrace the homeless in rescue missions. Whatever the defects of the older dispensationalism as a theological perspective, it embodied a spirituality that produced some of the most Christlike human beings I have ever known.
One hundred years ago, as dispensationalists anticipated the beginning of a new century, they were not optimistic. They expected wars and rumors of wars. They feared the coming of Antichrist. In contrast, mainline Protestantism and liberal theologians expressed a deep faith in historical progress. They saw the kingdom of God expending in its influence. The twentieth century was to be "the Christian century": war and poverty and famine would be virtually eliminated.
Now, I ask, who had a better sense of what was going to happen in the twentieth century? It seems obvious that Protestant liberalism was simply wrong in its predictions, whereas much of the dispensationalist scenario was vindicated. Why have we not given the dispensationalists more credit for their insights? Who was better equipped to prepare their children for the now much-heralded demise of Enlightenment optimism--the dispensationalists or their cultured despisers?
The answers seem to me to point clearly in the direction of vindication for the dispensationalists' view of history....Because of those theological instincts, as well as their very real spiritual gifts, that I raise up two cheers for the older dispensationalists. [Richard Mouw, "What the Old Dispensationalists Taught Me," Christianity Today, March 6, 1995, page 34].
Another significant tribute to a dispensationalist comes from the pen of Reformed scholar John M. Frame and is entitled "Remembering Donald B. Fullerton." See http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_articles/Remembering_fullerton.htm Frame acknowledges that his Reformed friends often disparage and ridicule dispensationalists, whereas he himself owes a great debt to the movement, especially due to one godly dispensationalist, Donald Fullerton, who had a great influence upon his life during his college days at Princeton.
Donald Fullerton served briefly on the mission field in Pakistan until poor health forced him to return to the United States. Instead, he devoted his life to the mission field of Princeton University where he headed up a campus Bible ministry called PEF (Princeton Evangelical Fellowship). The emphasis was on evangelism and discipleship and Dr. Fullerton was a gifted Bible teacher. Countless men were saved and trained in the Word of God under this man, and a number of them became missionaries and pastors throughout the world, including Dr. John C. Whitcomb (internationally known Old Testament scholar, creationist, and author).
John Frame arrived as a freshman on the Princeton campus in 1957 and had the privilege of sitting under Fullerton's ministry. The following are Frame's remembrances of a dispensationalist who impacted his life in a significant way:
PEF was exactly what I needed. Contrary to my inflated opinion of myself, I needed solid teaching. Fullerton supplied that need. PEF encouraged the students to go deeper and deeper into Scripture, prayer and evangelism. To discuss theological issues with PEF'ers, you had to know your Bible! PEF took me far deeper into Scripture than I had ever gone before. I memorized a large number of Bible passages during my years at Princeton, and when I am teaching and writing theology even today, those are the passages that spring most readily to mind.
When Fullerton spoke about God and the Bible he was deadly serious. He was constantly about his Father's business. When he met a new student, it usually did not take more than thirty seconds for him to get on the subject of Jesus and the gospel. Then Fullerton would talk with the student as long as possible and necessary, to discern his spiritual condition, to present the gospel, to answer questions, to urge a decision. When we students sought to lead others to Christ, our main strategy was usually to maneuver them into a situation where they could have a good talk with Dr. Fullerton. Not every student who talked with him was converted, but many were. It seemed to us that, humanly speaking, if anyone could get the gospel through to a Princeton student, it was Dr. Fullerton.
[Frame now describes the personal one on one Bible study he had with Dr. Fullerton] I would arrive at his house. We'd sit opposite one another at his kitchen table. With me, he started at Genesis and worked through it verse by verse. He was concerned to emphasize the literal truth of the events described there.
Fullerton strongly emphasized the inerrancy of Scripture, the deity of Christ, the certainty of the Resurrection, and in general the miraculous character of the Christian worldview. He hated liberalism and neo-orthodoxy. Though I had flirted with liberalism in my senior year of high school, I never went back to it, thanks largely to Fullerton's powerful argument. He simply showed us what Christ Himself said about the Scriptures and the testimonies of other prophets and apostles, in other words, the Bible's witness to itself.
He also showed us that the Bible contains a very strong polemic against false teachers. Christians are to shun these (2 Tim. 3:5).
Fullerton knew dispensational theology thoroughly and had a great gift for expounding it and illustrating it....I never actually bought the dispensational system, but I could never bring myself to believe that it was as serious an error as the Gerstner disciples made it out to be.
Fullerton considered himself simply a student of the Bible. He had a strong emphasis on the Lordship of Christ. Commands given by Christ and the apostles are to be obeyed, Fullerton taught, and such obedience is the basic substance of the Christian life.
I attended most every PEF meeting and drank in the teaching with enthusiasm, as much of it as I agreed with, and I agreed with far more than I disagreed with. I loved the prayer meetings and tried on a number of occasions to bring non-Christians to the Bible studies.
Fullerton had a very high regard for Alva McLain, President of Grace Seminary, and for his theological work, The Greatness of the Kingdom. That book, he said, was the most balanced formulation of biblical theology that he knew.
I owe much to PEF....I am immensely grateful to Dr. Fullerton and the PEF for making me a biblicist (that is, deriving doctrines directly from Biblical exegesis, which was Fullerton's method).
My Reformed friends often disparage and ridicule the "broad evangelical," "fundamentalist," and "dispensational" traditions....Because of PEF, my evaluation of "broad evangelicalism" was very different. I did not think Fullerton's teaching was superficial at all. There was great depth to it, underscored by the powerful, godly example of his life. His teaching on the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Christ were powerful and deeply Biblical. He showed a passion for holiness that I rarely saw in Reformed circles, including a passion for prayer and evangelism. Reformed people talked about evangelism and missions, but frankly they did not do it nearly to the extent I had seen in the PEF. Fullerton and PEF cared deeply about people, spending hours in mutual prayer, exhortation, counseling, gospel witness. I never experienced that depth of fellowship in any Reformed church or institution. In fact, the Reformed consensus often seemed to be that such mutual commitment, such perseverance in prayer, such passion for the Lord, should be deprecated as "Pietism." Reformed people have a knack for condemning others with the use of historical labels.
PEF made me a much better follower of Jesus. I will never regret being part of this semi-Arminian, dispensationalist, separatist, tee-totaling, semi-victorious life, pietistic, biblicistic group called PEF. And the greatest part of that experience was the godly example of Donald B. Fullerton. He was not a perfect man, but I am yet today an imitator of his, since he imitated Jesus.
John Frame's kind words towards a dispensationalist is in sharp contrast to the writings of John Gerstner. Gerstner wrote a vicious attack against dispensationalism in his book Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth. In light of this, it is interesting to notice that on page one of his introduction, he wrote the following:
My conversion came about, I believe,
through the witness of a dispensationalist.
This statement is significant because throughout the book he attacks dispensationalists for proclaiming a false gospel, but at the beginning of the book he makes the amazing statement that he owes his conversion to the faithful witness of a dispensationalist! It must not be too much of a false gospel if it was the power of God unto salvation for John Gerstner! How beautiful are the feet of the dispensationalist who carried the gospel to John Gerstner!
Clarence Bass, another critic of dispensationalism, wrote:
I was reared in the dispensational system, and the formative years of my spiritual development occurred under the ministry of a godly pastor who taught it (Backgrounds to Dispensationalism, p.9).
Bass also wrote the following about Darby who might be considered the pioneer and founder of dispensationalism:
Simple in taste, benevolent in disposition, kind in temperament, considerate in his awareness of others, humble in spirit, sympathetic in nature . . . .The single motivation of Darby’s entire life was his love for Christ. If any principle is sufficient to explain the multiple facets of his personality, most probably it is this love. Because of it he has been called ‘a saint of the highest and purest stamp.’ He preferred being with the poor, for he was essentially humble in spirit. This characteristic endeared him to the folk of humble status and was perhaps one of the secrets of his success with the poor Romanists of Ireland and the peasants of France and Switzerland . . . . He professed to require a New Testament precedent for every act of doctrine, and never ceased to apply the Scriptures to himself . . . . All that he said was based on texts aptly quoted and logically enforced . . . . [Darby had] a great heart filled with love for Christ and passionately determined to do all that was necessary to protect His cause . . . . [Darby had] a zeal for maintaining doctrinal purity . . . .With simple faith in the Scriptures as the inspired Word from whence came all guidance and instruction, he had a single approach: abstaining from the abstract philosophical argument, he simply opened the Bible and absorbed its message with little regard for extraneous study. . . . One of his chief contributions to the theological literature is his TRANSLATION OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES, an entirely free and independent rendering of the whole original text, using all known helps. (Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism, Chapter II).
May all true believers imitate Darby as he imitated Christ (1 Cor. 11:1), especially when it comes to: 1) his fervent love for Christ and for His cause; 2) his fervent love for the Scriptures and his desire to be loyal to them.