Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"Understanding Dispensationalists" by Vern Poythress - a Review

This is probably the most even-handed critique of Dispensationalism available. There have been many books that have critiqued Dispensationalism's founding and history, as well as some of the more bizarre tenets of its chief teachers and adherents. And there is a place for that. Vern Poythress, however, takes a completely different approach. His goal, which he states very clearly, is one of dialogue, rather than immediate alienation.

Beginning with Darby and Scofield, and then moving on to more recent Dispensationalists, Poythress looks at some of the key hermeneutical distinctions that separate the system from Covenant theology. He then notes some recent developments in Covenant theology, and moves on to a critique of Dispensationalism.

Poythress raises alot of good issues, and the various lines of critique he offers are deserving of much consideration by Dispensationalists. He shows Dispensationalism’s failure to adequately deal with the New Testament’s interpretation of Old Testament-based typology. And his criticism of the lack of clarity and consistency in one of Dispensationalism’s main hermeneutical positions, that of the claim of a “literal” hermeneutic, is right on track. Poythress is an all-around brilliant guy, well-studied in linguistics as well as theology, which makes him particularly suited for this task.

And this brings us to a few minor problems I have with the book. Poythress is an Amillennialist, and not a Preterist. His exegesis is off in a couple of places because of this, but this is relatively tolerable. The real difficulties come with Poythress’s brilliance. Along with his knowledge of theology and linguistics, Poythress is a professor of science and mathematics. While he brings a technicality and detail to the discussion that is much needed because of this, the book is consequently very laborious reading in places. The sections particularly where he incorporates his linguistic knowledge would prove tough plowing for even most educated readers, if they have no understanding of linguistics themselves. Thankfully, this is not true of the entire book.

In summary, “Understanding Dispensationalists” offers a helpful critique of Dispensationalism, but is probably left to trained theologians and those laypeople who have a greater measure of theological knowledge. For the average layperson, I would recommend Keith Mathison’s “Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God?” instead.


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