Thursday, September 6, 2012

One of My Favortie Dispensational Charts

While I cannot say, or at least prefer not to say, that I am a "dispensationalist" (mostly due to its implications in the minds of those who are ignorant of its intended general designation and not a specific kind of dispensationalist they often have in mind), I am dispensational. And one of the reasons that even the most modest student of Theology can and should accept the dispensational concept is reflected in this schematic by the late R.B. Thieme. It can be found at the R.B. Thieme, Jr., Bible Ministries website.

I significantly appreciate the three major distinctions or eras which Thieme presents in his divine outline of human history. It is consistent, not only in regard to dispensational theology but with other schools of theology (with the exception of amillenialists who would combine the christocentric and eschatological periods). Interestingly, this is a point where you may find common ground (at least in its most basic form with these three eras) with many other believers who do not share your overall dispensational approach. Those distinctive periods you can see at the top of the chart:

  • Theocentric 
  • Christocentric 
  • Eschatological
Some people bristle at organizational schematics charted this way when it pertains to Biblical doctrines or Biblical themes. Most of those I have encountered prefer more esoterically stated views which do not present such demonstrative boundaries. Others do not like it because dispensational charts began with art forms and schematics which used methods of illustration that have become dated work. That is, the method of charting and illustrating takes one back to another time in history. Hence, some transfer this dated art association onto the theology being reflected, often a prejudice unbeknown to themselves.

While it is true that some of the theology of such charts is imperfect and some wrong, neither the concept of charting and grafting nor the substance of the charting and grafting illustration should be treated as presumptive errors. Sadly, it is treated as methodological error and subsequently or by consequence theological error by many who appeal to being beyond charted enlightenment and prefer, instead, to communicate only in a volume of words. But conversely, should we stop using words because in the past the Bible Teaching with words of some men was imperfect or wrong? How silly on both ends.

Thieme identifies six unique dispensations in the three eras in his divine outline of human history:

  • The Age of the Gentiles (pre-Israel and the beginning of the Theocentric era)
  • The Age of Israel
  • The Age of the Hypostatic Union (which also appears to usher in the greater, Christocentric era)
  • The Church Age
  • The Tribulation (bringing in the Eschalogical era)
  • The Millenium 
The chart is not an exhaustively detailed one on purpose (I believe) which is why some charts from the past have not aged well. Such mechanical illustrations have real limits and are best suited for frame-work or theological bones. The details themselves are more effectively filled in through regular doctrinal instruction. That is to say, in order to narrow our focus to a particular dispensation, the details of that dispensation and how it relates to all other events along with any changes in the protocol for believers can only effectively be understood through the rigors of regular and repetitive teaching. Charts could, at best, crudely contain bits of all the necessary subordinate detailed information and in only having bits of other vital information, misunderstanding can arise the more detail is attempted with the limited medium of charts and/or graphs.

With regard to covenants, Thieme observes a critical distinction in recognizing that the Land Covenant to Israel is unconditional and never rescinded while the Mosaic Covenant of an earthly Kingdom is rescinded and supercede with a New Covenant which is expressed as the Church, the body of Chirst, which has distinct and certain protocols, far unlike that of the Mosaic Covenant. This New Covenant is to the entire world, without genetic or geographic distinction. 

In other words, Israel or the Jews are not "God's people" today, the church is but the Land Covenant, itself, is still in tact though Israel/the Jews are not God's people. This geographic unconditional covenant, of course, is much of what Middle East tension is about today and has been for centuries and why many in the United States believe that support for Israel's right to the geographic boundaries set forth in the Land Covenant is rightfully or justly asserted, protect and preserved.

I am also appreciative of Thieme's presentation of the Hypostatic Union of Christ-our Lord's earthly ministry-as a special dispensation. This is something I believe has been overlooked by many Theologians as a true categorical difference which mediates the Age of Israel and the Church Age. The special properties of our Lord and his ministry convince me that the special elevation as a dispensation by Thieme is valid.

So as these things go, enjoy it one way or the other.


Lou Martuneac said...


Here are three definitions on Dispensationalism that I appreciate.

J. Edwin Hartell, “A Dispensation is a period of time during which God deals in a particular way with man in respect to sin, and man’s responsibility.”

Charles Ryrie p. 28, “A dispensation may be defined as a stewardship, administration, over-sight or management of others’ property…A distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purpose…the emphasis is put on the biblical meaning of the word itself.”

H. A Ironside, In The Heavenlies, p. 67, “A dispensation, an economy then, is that particular order of condition of things prevailing in one special age, which does not necessarily prevail in another.”

Thanks for posting on this subject.


Alex Guggenheim said...

Thanks Lou. All of these possess the strongest features of dispensationalism. I find it amusing to read about people who say that separation with churches in institutions should not be done over things like dispensationalism. But in fact it is this very distinction that impacts and has consequences on the way we teach others how ecclesiastical ministry is to be accomplished, its boundaries and it's protocols.

Kevl said...

Hi Alex,

I share your thoughts in not wanting to take the personal title of a "Dispensationalist" however, I am Dispensational in my theology because I use the Historical-Grammatical Hermeneutic exclusively.

Probably my favorite Bible teacher, Renald E. Showers defines Dispensationalism this way:

"Dispensational Theology can be defined very simply as a system of theology which attempts to develop the Bible's philosophy of history on the basis of the sovereign rule of God. It represents the whole of Scripture and history as being covered by several dispensations of God's rule."

He defines the word dispensation as it is found in the NT this way:

"The word oikonomia appears nine times in the New Testament. In six of these appearances (Lk. 16:2-4; 1 Cor. 9:17; Eph. 3:2; Col. 1:25) it is translated stewardship or dispensation and refers to a responsible office or ministry entrusted to one's care by a higher authority. In the other three appearances (Eph. 1:10; 3:9; 1 Tim. 1:4) it is translated dispensation, fellowship, and edifying in the King James Version and administration in the New American Standard Bible. In these three passages it refers to a particular way of God's administering His rule over the world. Ephesians 1:10 is of special interest, for it appears to refer to the particular way that God will administer His rule in the coming Millennium (the Millennial Dispensation). Ephesians 3:9 and 1 Timothy 1:4 refer to the particular way that God administers His rule now (the present dispensation).

Finally he defines a dispensation in this way:

In light of the usage of the word for dispensation in the New Testament, the term dispensation as it relates to Dispensational Theology could be defined as a particular way of God's administering His rule over the world as He progressively works out His purpose for world history.

Interesting article!

Alex Guggenheim said...

Thanks K. I like the general definition Showers provides and the follow up material denoting the specific administrations. And they are not administrations in and o themselves without relationship to one another but as you noted in the end it is the in relationship to the progressive working out of God's purpose for world history