Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Revising Simplicity

by Ken Gentry, Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

NiceneCouncil.com will soon be publishing a new biography on Scofield, titled: The Praise of Folly: The Enigmatic Life & Theology of C. I. Scofield. This work is a much needed follow-up to Joseph C. Canfield’s The Incredible Scofield and His Book. It corrects some mistakes in Canfield and introduces some newly discovered materials on Scofield.

Lutzweiler writes with authority as a former long-time dispensationalist. He was a graduate of Moody Bible Institute (1956) and Wheaton College (B.A. in Bible and Theology, 1960). He served on the editorial staff of The Alliance Witness (now Alliance Life), official organ of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, from 1962 to 1964, at the invitation of Dr. A. W. Tozer. From 1964–72 he was Administrative Assistant to Dr. Spiros Zodhiates at AMG International.

In his careful and compelling detective work, Lutzweiler exposes some of the more shady sides of Scofield. Dispensationalist readers will be disappointed in Scofield’s life, just as non-dispensationalist readers are disappointed in his doctrine.

One aspect of Lutzweiler’s study shows some of the doctrinal errors in the Scofield Reference Bible. Before he does so, he reminds his reader that the first biography of Scofield was by Charles G. Trumbull, a personal friend of Scofield. In his work Trumbull wrote the famous, oft-quoted line that the Scofield Reference Bible was "God-planned, God-guided, God-illuminated, and God-energized" (Trumbull, The Life Story of C. I. Scofield, p. 114).

Furthermore, as noted in previous blogs, dispensationalism prides itself in its "plain and simple" method of interpretation. Consequently, when you combine the (alleged) plain and simple approach to interpretation with Trumbull’s declaration that the Scofield Reference Bible was "God-planned, God-guided, God-illuminated, and God-energized," you should have a reference Bible with a clear and abiding presentation of the dispensational system.

Nevertheless, somehow the "God-planned" and "God-guided" work built on the "plain and simple" method of interpretation has had to endure several revisions. How is it this reference Bible presenting something so "plain and simple" should produce a need for revision? And especially if the whole work was "God-planned" and "God-guided"? Perhaps things are not as "plain and simple" as we are led to believe. Even more, it appears that the Scofield Reference Bible — so cherished by millions — was not as "God-planned" and "God-guided" as so many have believed.

To make matters worse, historically we find on-going revisions in the system of theology itself — not just in its major presentation in the Scofield Reference Bible. Initially we have what dispensationalist theologian Craig L. Blaising classifies as "classic dispensationalism." This is the original system created by J. N. Darby, picked up, popularized, and promoted by C. I. Scofield, and given careful theological systematization by L. S. Chafer.

Yet this "plain and simple" system undergoes serious emendation to become C. C. Ryrie’s "revised dispensationalism." (This name derives from the 1967 New Scofield Reference Bible, which greatly revised the previous edition.) This is generally the system held by televangelists, every prophet-of-the-month, and the leading, best-selling newspaper exegetes, as well as Joe Dispensationalists in the pew. Ryrie’s system prevailed for about thirty years (mid-1950s through mid-1980s). Then arose "progressive dispensationalism," spearheaded by Blaising and Darrell L. Bock. They even declare Ryrie’s plain and simple hermeneutic to be "naive" and "simplistic."

Progressive dispensationalism has not taken the market by storm, but it has undermined the theological structure of the prevailing system. In fact, it has moved much closer to historic covenantal thought. And for these two things, we can be thankful.

To make matters worse still, dispensationalism is one of the most complex and ornate systems of theology available to evangelicals. It has two different peoples of God, two different programs, seven different dispensations (each having its own revelation, test, and failure), several literal comings of Christ, assorted judgments, and more. How could a plain and simple hermeneutic lead to such a complex system of thought? The mind boggles.

The popular brand of dispensationalism boasts of its "plain and simple" system, but then has to revise itself frequently. This should be disconcerting to dispensationalists. Unfortunately, the average dispensationalist would rather die than think. In fact, he does.