Forged From Reformation: How Dispensational Thought Advances the Reformed Legacy. Edited by Christopher Cone and James I. Fazio. El Cajon, CA: Southern California Seminary Press, 2017. 582 pp. Paper, $39.95.
In addition to an introduction and conclusion, this book is made up of 16 essays by various writers (Thomas Ice, Patrick Belvill, James I. Fazio, Cory M. Marsh, Kevin D. Zuber, Brian Moulton, Andy Woods, Ron J. Bigalke, Thomas S. Baurain, Jeremiah Mutie, Grant Hawley, Glenn R. Krieder, Paul J. Scharf, Christopher Cone, and Luther Smith). The essays are divided into two main parts. The first forms a historical and contextual backdrop of key issues related to the Protestant Reformation and how these issues have developed since the 1500s. The second part addresses the five solas upon which the Reformation was based. The point is to show how Dispensational thought is in conformity with the beginnings of the Reformation and that this conformity is often greater than what is expressed in the Reformed tradition itself.
Thomas Ice argues that the reforms of the Protestant Reformation led to Dispensational thought. One major reason is that both used the grammatical-historical hermeneutic in exegesis. This, among other things, leads the exegete to conclude that God is not finished with the nation of Israel. The NT does not interpret the OT but is a continuation of the OT as it begins to be fulfilled (pp. 19-22). Dispensational theologians followed the Reformation’s insistence on a literal interpretation of the Bible and rejection of the allegorical method. This hermeneutic led to certain conclusions. At the end of the Reformation period, there was widespread belief in the conversion of the Jews. These things eventually led to premillennial Dispensationalism (pp. 30-33). Dispensationalism, with its recognition of a difference between Israel and the Church, developed in the Reformed community, especially within Calvinistic circles (p. 39).
I particularly enjoyed James Fazio’s chapter on J. N. Darby. He argues that Darby was heavily influenced by the principles of the Reformation. Darby advanced these principles. It was not an accident that Darby was a harsh critic of Roman Catholicism (p. 83). He was also a critic of the state church to which he belonged when he started in ministry. Like the original Reformers, this Irish Reformer stood for the truth as he understood it and exhibited bravery in the face of opposition (p. 94).
Like Luther, Darby held to a literal, grammatical-historical hermeneutic and the priesthood of every believer (p. 98). As is well-known, he strongly supported the idea of independent, local assemblies. This father of modern-day Dispensationalism had a major influence on people like Moody, Scofield, and Lewis Sperry Chafer.
Readers of the JOTGES will appreciate Jeremiah Mutie’s essay on how the Reformation influenced the Dispensational view of sola Scriptura. He argues that both Reformed and Lutheran traditions have left the Reformation’s teaching that the Scriptures are clear on what God wants a person to know (pp. 362-65). They have replaced such a view with the idea that the Scriptures are “sufficient.”
There is an interesting historical discussion on the millenarian Millerites of the 19th century, which led to Adventism. They desired to return to the clear teachings of the Scriptures, but did so with a “woodenly-literal” hermeneutic (p. 366). Darby and the Plymouth Brethren arose at the same time in Europe and were also millenarian in their beliefs. Mutie’s view is that only the Dispensationalists maintained a consistent, literal hermeneutic. This led them to reject the idea of setting a date for the return of the Lord, which the Millerites did.
Glenn Kreider discusses another issue close to the heart of Free Grace advocates. His essay is on the issue of sola fide. It discusses how there has been confusion when it comes to Dispensationalism and the means of eternal salvation in the OT. Kreider says that Dispensationalism maintains that salvation has always been by grace through faith and was made possible by the death of Christ (p. 423).
There is a great historical discussion on how opponents of Dispensationalism have mistakenly charged it with teaching different means of salvation in different dispensations. This was the result of “unguarded” comments by people like Darby, Chafer and Scofield (pp. 426-34). Kreider believes that if these men wrote today, they would be more careful in how they worded certain things in this area.
Kreider does not discuss the idea that people in the OT were saved by faith in the coming Messiah. He seems to accept the view of monergism, that man is unable to believe and therefore even faith is a work of God. This would conform with the Reformation’s view that man is incapable of saving himself in any way. That salvation is by grace through faith comes from a literal hermeneutic birthed in the Reformation (p. 425).
Kreider approvingly quotes from Charles Ryrie and says that the “object of faith in every age is God” (p. 434). This is an unguarded comment in itself, since the object is Christ. Kreider is correct, however, when he says that the content of that faith is dependent upon progressive revelation. What the OT believer knew about the coming Christ is different from what a person knows of Him after His ministry.
Although Kreider appears to accept the idea that faith is a gift of God, he says that there are differences among Dispensationalists. In a footnote, he discusses the different views of what faith is and includes in his discussion the writings of Zane Hodges (pp. 436-37)
This book is a great mixture of theology and history. It shows that in the final analysis what drove the development of Dispensationalism was not a desire to form a system of eschatology. That would be putting the cart before the horse. Instead, it was a desire to get back to the clear teachings of the Scriptures. A consistent, literal hermeneutic led to the teachings of Dispensationalism. This was also a hallmark of the Reformation. As a result, Dispensationalism has more in common with the beginnings of the Reformation than the later developments of Reformed thought. This book is easy to read, and the layman can understand the points being made. I recommend it.
Kenneth W. Yates
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society