This book by James D. Quiggle is an important resource. His goal, as stated in the introduction, is to discuss four distinctive doctrines of Dispensational theology and to contrast them with Covenant theology. His work opens with chapters that define Dispensationalism, and another that provides a history of Dispensational thought in the early church. This chapter is particularly useful. The author shows that the use of a literal hermeneutic, the recognition of several dispensations from Adam to the end of the age, the distinction between Israel and the Church, and beliefs in the rapture of the church, the millennial kingdom of Jesus, and the restoration of Israel were all present from the immediate post-apostolic age. These beliefs were over-shadowed by the amillennialism of Augustine from approximately 400 A.D. However, they were revived in the seventeenth century, long before Darby and Scofield. This chapter should put to death the argument that Dispensationalism is “too new to be true”. Unfortunately, it won’t. Instead critics will continue to use this argument. However, this chapter will equip you to counter the claim.
The core of this work are the chapters on Dispensational hermeneutics, soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. I think it is particularly commendable that the author looked beyond the Dispensational impact to ecclesiology and eschatology. Areas that are typically identified as the scope of Dispensational distinctiveness. I would have liked to have seen him continue to explore other areas of systematic theology, including Israelology. However, since the book weighs in at almost 400 pages, I appreciate the need to focus on key areas.
The core chapters have several things to commend them. First, they provide a clear articulation of the fundamental dispensational beliefs in each area. Second, he interacts with Reformed views in each area. I think it is very helpful to see the opposing views side by side. Furthermore, he is careful not to erect Reformed strawmen but allows mainstream Reformed authors, both exegetes and theologians, to speak for themselves. Third, he grounds his critique of the Reformed position in scripture. Early in the book he made the point that the Reformed, largely amillennial view, cannot be supported scripturally if a consistently literal hermeneutic is used. He clearly proves that point through the book.
I have a few critiques or criticisms, but I think, on the whole they are relatively minor. They should not be understood to mean that the book should be dismissed. Only that it should be used, like all books written by men, with discernment. First, in trying to achieve his goal of contrasting Dispensational and Covenant theologies the author often fell into detailed and lengthy discussions of dispensationalism. To some extent this is unavoidable. However, I think it sometimes became too focused on explaining dispensationalism and not focused enough on the contrast with covenant theology. The chapter on hermeneutics is a good example. I found its forty-four pages to be a comprehensive and useful primer on bibliology and hermeneutics. There were some references to contrasting Covenant approaches, but not many. In my opinion, it would have benefitted by focusing more sharply on non-literal approaches taken by Covenant exegetes and theologians.
Second, the writer sometimes takes a minority position on some texts. For example, he does not think that Genesis 3:15 is to be regarded as a protoevangelium (pp. 105-108). He also seems to hold to a two New Covenant view, one for the church and one for Israel (pp. 31, 330-331). While these views are well within the bounds of orthodoxy, the reader should be aware they are minority views.
Third, I would have appreciated more interaction with current Covenant exegetes and theologians. A scan through the sources cited shows that most, but not all to be fair, of the views critiqued were drawn from books published in the 1980’s and before. The Dispensational resources were much more current. The most current sources cited were the authors own works.
Fourth, the writer started out early in the book making a contrast between Reformed and Covenant thinking but quickly fell into using the terms synonymously. In my opinion we weaken Dispensationalism when we cut ourselves off from our Reformed roots. This is not to say that Dispensationalists must be Calvinists, although most early Dispensational leaders were. This is to say however, that it is best for us to recognize the fact that both Dispensational and Covenant Theologies grew from the root of the reformation by drawing the contrast between Dispensational and Covenant views, not between Dispensational and Reformed.
As I said, these are relatively minor comments and shouldn’t be construed as marginalizing the work in any way. This is a good purchase and a good use of time for a reader looking for a grounding in mostly mainstream Dispensational thought with a contrast to Reformed thinking. If you want a copy just click on the book cover above and you will be whisked to Amazon.