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Dispensationalism Part 8: Charles C. Ryrie

Barry is the founder and Professor of the M.Div. program for Mindanao Grace Seminary, Philippines.

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Charles C. Ryrie

While attending Harvard College in Pennsylvanian Ryrie heard Lewis S. Chafer speak. Ryrie was captivated by Chafer and requested a private meeting with him. Ryrie said that it was after this meeting that he entered into ministry. He left Harvard and enrolled in Dallas Theological Seminary where he earned a Master of Theology degree in 1947. He later obtained a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh in 1953. Charles taught at Westmont College in Philadelphia (now Carin University) from 1958 until 1962. He then returned to DTS and served as the dean of Doctoral Theological Studies until his retirement in 1983.

Of the 50 books that Ryrie authored, he is most known for The Ryrie Study Bible (which includes more than 10,000 footnotes by him) and his book Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism was originally published in 1965 by Moody press under the title Dispensationalism Today. The book was revised and expanded in 1995. One might wonder why Ryrie would produce a study Bible given that Scofield had already published an annotated Bible from the Dispensational position. The answer is that Ryrie’s view of Dispensationalism was different than the Classical view that Scofield held.

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Revised Dispensationalism

For the sake of time and space we will focus only on the major differences between the Revised Dispensationalism of Ryrie and Classical Dispensationalism.

1) The first difference we find is in the number of recognized dispensations. While the Classical view holds to seven distinct ages, the Revised view is a bit cloudier. Ryrie says:

“Most dispensationalists see seven dispensations in God's plan (though throughout the history of dispensationalism they have not always been the same seven). Occasionally a dispensationalist may hold as few as four, and some hold as many as eight. The doctrinal statement of Dallas Theological Seminary (Article V) mentions only three by name (the Mosaic Law, the present dispensation of Grace, and the future dispensation of the Millennial Kingdom.)”[1]

Ryrie lists the five major time periods as:

“(1) Pre-Fall, (2) Post-Fall to the time of Moses, (3) the Law, (4) Grace, and (5) the Millennial Kingdom."[2]

He believes that it is possible for these five to be collapsed into 3 major Dispensations (see chart below). He calls into question as to whether there is much difference between the Dispensations of “Conscience" and "Government.” He further questions if the Eternal State should be considered a Dispensation.

Remembering the previous sections on Classical Dispensationalism, we can compare Ryrie and Scofield’s views as follows:

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Ryrie sees a radical distinction between the Law and the Promise (grace). “Promise and Law are sharply distinguished by Paul in Galatians 3 even though he maintains that the law did not annul the promise. And the Mosaic Law is kept so distinct from the promise to Abraham that it is difficult not to recognize a different dispensation. This is the essence of the definition, and if anything is kept distinct in that chapter, the law is. Therefore, the separate dispensation of Promise, or of the Patriarchs, is justified."[3]

I find this paragraph to be confusing. He says that the Law given to Moses is distinct from the promise given to Abraham but he does not make a different dispensation for the Promise. Secondly, he does not define exactly when all the elements of the promise are fulfilled. We are left to assume that they are future (Millennium). Ryrie says that it can be difficult to distinguish when one Dispensation ends and when another begins and that there seems to be carry-over at times from one age to the next. He does acknowledge a distinction between the Promise as given to Abraham and the Law as given to Moses, but also he does not make them separate from the Patriarchal Period. Regarding a Dispensation he says:

“What is the answer to the question? As a code of conduct and a specific revelation from God complete for its time, a dispensation ends. But some things may become part of succeeding codes in one way or another in the dispensations that follow. That is how, for example, Scripture can say that the law, and specifically the Ten Commandments, have been done away with (2 Cor. 3:7-11) and yet incorporate nine of those Ten Commandments plus other commandments in the law into the code of the dispensation of Grace."[4]

II. Both the Classical and the Revised see the Davidic Kingdom fulfillment as future. But there are a few distinctions. The Revised position believes the Holy Spirit will still be working in the Kingdom to convert people (whether He will indwell them or not is debated) while the Classical view sees the Holy Spirit as completely absent.

III. In the Revised position it is clear that salvation in all ages is by faith in Christ.

IV. The Revise position softens it view on the distinctions between Church and Israel in regards to salvation and their position in the eternal state. The Classical view says “Israel is earthly and the Church is heavenly.” The Revised view says that the Israelites who are saved are in Christ and will be part of the Bride in heaven.

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V. The Classical position views the Kingdom as totally future while the Revised view sees a partial fulfillment in the church age with the culmination of the Kingdom in the future age (the Millennium).

I should note here that there are some under the Dispensational umbrella who make the distinction between the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God. We will consider this in a future section.

VI. The Classical position sees the Sermon on the Mount as the guidelines for the behavior of the Jews in the Millennium while the Revised see it as ethics for this time that will be completely obeyed in the Kingdom.

Observations on Ryrie’s book Dispensationalism


One of the striking features in Ryrie’s book is his section on the development of Dispensationalism. He makes no mention or acknowledgment of Ribera, Lacunza, or even Irving in the development of Dispensational thought. Rather he gives a list of early Church-men (100-1200 AD). I believe this lays the basis for what will come to be called “Historical Pre-Millennialism.” I do hope to challenge this in a later section. Ryrie also includes men from the Post-Reformation period such as Jonathan Edwards, Isaac Watts, and the French philosopher and mystic Pierre Poiret. Poiret aside, I find Ryrie’s approach to be curious if not deceptive.

The lineage from Ribera to Darby has clearly been laid out and I believe is irrefutable. For him to not be aware of this is a serious over-sight and belays research that is far the below the standards for a person with a Ph.D. There is a second issue. While both Edwards and Watts acknowledge the workings of God with men through history as recorded in the Bible, it is wrong to call them “dispensations” as Scofield and Ryrie define the word. Given that Edwards was a Covenant Theologian and clearly post-millennial,[5] Ryrie’s inclusion of him seems deceptive.

Regarding Watts, I can find no clear statement about his eschatology. Some (esp. Dispensationalists) do accuse him of being a proto-Dispensationalists.[6] Without a smoking gun to affirm this, it is conjecture at best. There are two things to consider regarding Watts that calls into question whether he was Dispensational, despite the fact that the idea did not come into vogue until nearly a hundred years after his death.

In his book A Short View of the Whole Scripture History,[7]Watts refers to Eden as an “Age of Innocence.” It could be that Watt’s terminology is leading some to think he was Dispensational. However, he goes on to say that the promise of the seed of the woman that would crush the head of the serpent is Christ who is the head of the Church. Dispensationalists generally do not acknowledge this as the Proto-Euangelion (First-Gospel). Watts goes on to acknowledge the distinction between the Moral Law and the Ceremonial Law. He is clearly articulating a Covenant Theology view which is inconsistent with Dispensationalism.


Footnotes

[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Moddy Press, Chicago, , revised 1995, p. 37

[2] Ibid., p. 38

[3] Ibid., p. 44

[4] Ibid., p; 47

[5] See for example, J. Marcellus Kik, The Eschatology of Victory (Nutley, New

Jesey: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company,

1971), 7.

[6] I was unable to find the referenceRyrie sites in Watts' Works. This is probably due to the fact that I have an older or different version of Works. Ryrie sites the London edition but does not give the date. I have the London 1812 but I was not able to identify the references on the pages Ryrie sites. It would have also been helpful had Ryrie give the precise article or sermon of Watts as it might be found this way as well. I welcome any help in finding these citations.

[7] Isaac Watts, A Short View of the Whole Scripture History, 1777 p.29-30

See Part 1 HERE

Buy Ryrie's Dispensationalism

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