Jamin Hubner offers his advice to a fan.
Apparently, a tender soul stumbled across some disturbing information that contradicts Jamin’s anti-Dispensational meta-narrative.
I have recently wanted to become more familiar with the subject of dispensationalism vs. covenant theology. I am currently reading Dispensationalism by Ryrie and have Michael Horton’s book on Covenant Theology (if you have a better recommendation I will purchase it). As I am downloading your lectures on apologetics, I decided to check for articles on this topic and came across your article Where Dispensationalism Came From. In Ryrie’s book he mentions the dispensational scheme that Jonathan Edwards (not that Edwards was necessarily a dispensationalist) put forth in his work “A Compleat History or Survey of All the Dispensations”. Would this not pre-date Darby? As I have not read this work by Edwards, perhaps I am missing the context, but Edwards’ dispensational scheme has some similarities to the seven dispensations espoused by modern day dispensationalists.
In response to this specific question, Jamin replies,
Dispensationalists typically play the pre-Darby card in an effort to justify their system, but is rarely an adequate appeal. The idea is to make associations and draw similarities between Darby and previous thinkers (e.g. Ireneaus, Edwards, some Reformers, etc.) to say Dispensationalism goes back (for some, they would say to the Apostles, while others would say back to the Reformers, etc.). But in reality, the thinkers are simply not teaching Darbyism. Resemblances, vague parallels and similarities are not enough to dismount Darby as essentially the Father of Dispensationalism (nor dismount Scofield as perhaps the chief popularizer). But that’s not to say we shouldn’t acknowledge that Darby had previous influences and that attempts have been made to try and systematize redemptive history, address the application of biblical law, and solve various hermeneutical issues. Certainly there have been such attempts.
Yes Edwards pre-dates Darby (Edwards died in 1758, Darby in 1882). Edwards talked about dispensations – as did about any non-dispensational theologian during the Reformation to Modern Age.
Jamin is one of those YRR guys who counts himself liberated from the shackles of fundamentalist Dispensationalism. Like many of his youthful “born-again” Reformed ilk blogging these days, he tosses out the bath water with the baby.
It isn’t that he was just taught wrongly about Dispensationalism. It is that Dispensationalism is cultic heresy of the rankest order that must be destroyed. Of course, Jamin doesn’t necessarily speak against Dispensationalism with such warlike “take-no-prisoners” language. Rather, he paints Dispensational adherents as a bunch of biblically illiterate dullards enslaved to their traditions.
One of the theological urban myths Jamin has latched onto is the idea that Dispensationalism is erroneous because it has its origins with J.N. Darby in the 1800s. This can be a rather problematic claim, especially if it can be shown there were pastors and theologians who held to Dispensational ideas who predate Darby.
Additionally, Jamin thinks Covenant Theology has a “trail of blood” like lineage that can be traced all the way back to the Apostles. This of course is wishful historical revisionism and should be beneath a guy who hosts a so-called peer-reviewed theological journal.
I’ll consider three problems with Jamin’s response.
First, the historical reality is that Covenant Theology, as an organized theological system, is really just a couple of hundred years older than Dispensationalism, so one can say it is just as “new.” The modern form had it’s beginnings with the emergence of Calvinism. Dutch theologian, Johannes Cocceius, is often designated as the founder of Covenant Theology, publishing his work on Federalism in 1648 after the WCF was hammered out. He is basically the “Darby” of his day.
Additionally, even though there may had been first generation Reformers who laid some ground work for CT, like Caspar Olevianus and Zacharius Ursinus, it was the second, third, and even later generations of Reformers like William Ames and Hermann Witsius who began developing Covenant Theology as we know it today, as they built upon Cocceius’s previous work.
And if we are gonna get a bit closer to home for Jamin, Reformed Baptist articulation of CT came nearly 100 years or more after the credo-Reformed articulation.
Secondly, Jamin is just as guilty of playing a “pre-Darby” card, or a “pre-Cocceius” card, and he is mistaken about that card. While it is true certain seed elements of Covenant Theology were written about by pre-Reformed theologians, it is just as true certain seed elements of Dispensationalism was mentioned by similar writers, if not, in some cases, the exact same writers.
Ryrie devotes an entire chapter to this, but Jamin, and his inquirer, over look it. Moreover, Jamin also misrepresents what Ryrie says on this matter. Even Ryrie is aware of over eager Dispensationalists who exaggerate the pre-Darby historical evidence. He writes,
The first strawman is to say that dispensationalists assert that the system was taught in postapostolic times. Informed dispensationalists do not claim that. They recognize that, as a system, dispensationalism was largely formulated by Darby, but the outlines of a dispensationalist approach to the Scriptures are found much earlier. They only maintain that certain features of what eventually developed into dispensationalism are found in the teachings of the early church. [Ryrie, 62].
We can say the same thing about Covenant Theology.
And then third, I am made to wonder if Jamin has even seriously read Ryrie’s book or just merely second or third hand critiques of it. If he has, he didn’t read closely, nor does his inquirer, because the “John Edwards” they mention is not the Jonathan Edwards most people know who preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and was instrumental in the First Great Awakening as Jamin suggests.
The John Edwards in question, as far as Ryrie is concerned, was a Calvinistic minister in the Church of England who lived from 1637 to 1716. He published two volumes entitled A Compleat History or Survey of All the Dispensations, and as Ryrie states, the purpose of his books was “to display all the Transactions of Divine Providence relating to the Methods of Religion, from the Creation to the end of the World, from the first chapter of Genesis to the last of the Revelation.” [Ryrie, 66].
In order to keep this anonymous inquirer from being grossly ill-informed on the matters of Dispensational theology, I would refer him to my post highlighting some essential works in Dispensational thinking. Though Ryrie is an obvious choice with understanding background material, there are others who can also offer a fuller perspective on these matters.