I grew up among dispensationalists and the first Bible I bought, with my newspaper money, was a KJV Scofield Bible. The singular feature of dispensationalism that has bothered more than a few of us is the graphic realization that dispensationalism only arose at the end of the 19th Century, crept into the USA and virtually took over the evangelical world — well, that’s one of the stories that has been told. A more accurate story will tell you …
…..that for two generations there has been a battle between covenant theologians (think Westminster) and dispensationalists (think Dallas). At the time I was a college student that debate had pretty much subsided into benign neglect of one another.
The story that is not very often told, but has now been told with ample detail, is that in the first two or three decades of the 20th Century evangelicals didn’t really care about the issues that later created fierce debates between covenant types and dispensational types. Todd Mangum, in his now published dissertation,The Dispensational Covenant Rift, tells this story. One of the most significant elements of this story — and it is one that all serious dispensationalists and covenant theologians need to read and know — is that the rift among evangelicals was created between 1936 and 1944 but that prior to that these camps were amicably enjoying one another’s presence.
Perhaps the distinctive voice in the whole mix was Lewis Sperry Chafer, the architect of Dallas Theological Seminary’s early form of dispensationalism. The Westminster Confession guys, ever alert to wavering theology, finally decided he had crossed the line and by the mid 1940s deep lines had been drawn in the sand.
Todd Mangum not only tells this story, but he points out that neither side did a very good job of listening to one another carefully enough to carry on a serious conversation about what each side was believing. Sad, too, because the rift that broke open did not need the acrimony that occurred and the decades of cold war between the sides has only of recent years found some space for peaceful conversations.
If you are a serious covenant theologian or a dispensationalist, and you want to engage in meaningful conversation with the other side, Todd Mangum’s book is a must. Because it focuses on the most crucial events that split the evangelical movement and because it reprints official documents that shaped that split, this book will become a classic statement.