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I've been told that it's rare to find someone who combines Dispensationalism and Reformed/Calvinistic doctrine (such as John MacArthur). Why is this? What ideas don't mesh well?

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Could you elaborate on where you heard this? Ideally with a link or quote from some written source. (I don't have the impression that the assertion is true at all.) –  Jon Ericson May 31 '13 at 18:38
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@JonEricson - A valid answer would be "That's wrong." But here is a link: rcsprouljr.com/blog/ask-rc/rc-reformed-view-eschatology –  Mr. Jefferson May 31 '13 at 18:38
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I don't know about rare but it is certainly not the norm and that is because the two constructs don't mesh well. This will take some careful thinking to articulate well... –  Caleb May 31 '13 at 18:55

4 Answers 4

The reason these two are seldom found together seems to be primarily because of the difference of the view of the church between covenant theology and dispensationalism. Although some (like MacArthur) continue to maintain the distinction between the church and Israel (as in dispensationalism), most 5 point Calvinists follow covenant theology which denies this distinction - placing the beginning of the church at least back to Abraham, and logically back to Adam. Therefore, although dispensationalism maintains that everyone has always been saved by grace through faith, the specific object of that faith in Reformed theology is understood to be Christ - while dispensationalism would recognize the role of the progress of revelation such that the basis for salvation was the Cross, the object was not as clearly seen as the incarnate Son of God. Actually, it is even more complex than this, but this gets you going in the right direction.

Dave James The Alliance for Biblical Integrity

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Decent answer/nice first post. Just for your information, Stack Exchange discourages the use of signature lines. Such information can be placed on your user page. As a new user you might want to check out the about page and the FAQ. –  Paul A. Clayton Jun 3 '13 at 18:12

One reason could be that Reformed doctrine takes covenantal thinking into account; this allows for quite a bit of continuity between the two Testaments, with also some very distinct discontinuities. Reformed doctrine, for example, would see the covenants in the OT as building, one upon the other, in scope, until you have the New Covenant with Jesus Christ, which is so powerful it's retroactive in including the OT saints. Dispensationalism, on the other hand, allows for very few continuities between the testaments, if any.

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Calvinism is historically linked with covenant theology, which stresses St. Paul's account of God's plan in the New Testament: the promise was given to Abraham and his Seed through faith and that promise belongs to all the people of God through Christ. Faithful people of the Old Testament era did not receive the entirety of what God promised because only with us could they reach that completion (since it is through Christ). This point is mentioned in the book of Hebrews. In other words, continuity in God's plan, according to St. Paul, is the significant element, not the distinctions or changes that served as a part of that grand plan. It's a matter of seeing the big picture and understanding that the differences through time become irrelevant, more or less. Dispensationalists prefer to focus on those differences and to hold onto them in spite of St. Paul's conclusion. They foresee a further working out of God's plan even though St. Paul's argument is that all things climax or culminate with the cross. Dispensationalists are usually not Calvinistic because these two systems are not historically linked. Dispensationalists usually stress freewill when it comes to whether or not people believe the gospel. In my opinion it is not necessarilyt unreasonable to mix and match beliefs here and it does happen at times, as with the case of John MacArthur. But it is my belief that Dispensationalism represents a misunderstanding of the overall plan of God.

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This answer is O.K., but it would be a lot better if you could add references. See How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? –  David Stratton Jan 3 at 1:04

There are a number of sharp distinctions, but they are definitely not impossible to put together. The most important criteria in being able to mix belief systems is how much we are willing to stretch (as is not stick loyally to) the potentially less truthful parts of one belief system so that they may be covered by the more truthful parts of another belief system. At the very least, we need to be able to see the truthful parts in any belief system we encounter and be willing to adapt our own beliefs to conform to new-found truth.

In the case of Calvinism and Dispensationalism, Calvinists focus on the Covenant, which has continued from Abraham into today, only through different forms. Dispensationalists stress the divisions between time periods and the different ways God deals with his people throughout time. The also strongly disagree on the idea of "God's people"; Calvinists tend to put the Israelites and Christians together as part of the same promise, while dispensationalists will see the two as completely different.

If someone on either sides refuses to see the truth in the other perspective, they can't mesh. One way in which they could work together is to see that God has indeed been using covenants in different forms throughout time, as the Calvinists believe. Then add onto that the realization that the primary interaction between God and humanity has varied through history (there was indeed a time when people primarily relied on their conscience for morality, a time when the patriarchs lived by faith in God's promise, a time when the Israelites obeyed God by following His written law, and now we are in a time where we see that God saves His people through grace).

However, in order for this mixing to even start working, a dispensationalist would need to be able to suspend his belief that those dispensations were the method of salvation for God's people in favor of the idea that all of God's people are saved through faith. In turn, a Calvinist would need to be willing to divide history into stages in the first place. From my experience, people are often unwilling to drop the beliefs they grew up with (or beliefs they came upon during their own research), which is why it's so hard for Calvinists and dispensationalists (which come from very different perspectives) to compromise.

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