Charles Ryrie has now been in the proverbial doghouse for almost 50 years since fingering a doxological center as one of the three sine qua non of dispensationalism. The response has been nothing short of vicious in some quarters, because, after all, Reformed theology is all about doxology (first question of the Catechism anyone?). But while It is likely that Ryrie’s abbreviated explanation of this point has lent to some of the vitriol, at the end of the day, I think he’s on to something: the unifying center of all God’s activity is not redemption. The Bible is more than heilsgeschichte. There’s more to God’s decree than saving his elect via the Christian Gospel. It’s bigger than that. It’s about God ruling his whole universe and extracting glory from all its parts.
While in theory Reformed theologians would agree with this assessment, in practice this does not always seem to follow. Which is part of the reason, I think, why there were such strong objections to my post of last week, where I suggested in passing that Christ and the Gospel are not themes of the OT. It was not enough for some readers that I identified in the OT a redemptive thread and a prophetic motif that takes Messianic shape (OK, maybe that adds up to a theme—fine, I won’t quibble any more over semantics if it prevents heart attacks). For some, though, calling these “a” theme is not enough—I must instead call these “the” theme of the Old Testament. Sorry—can’t go there, heart attack or no.
Why not? Because I see the Gospel as only a piece of God’s decree, not the whole. God extracts glory from his universe via the Gospel, to be sure. But he also extracts glory and satisfaction from his universe apart from the Gospel—from the heavens (Ps 19:1), the angels (Job 38:7; Ps 148:2), the pre-fall universe (Gen 1:31), and even the damned (Rom 9:22). All this leaves me uncomfortable with saying that it’s all about the Gospel.
Certainly the Gospel of God’s special grace in Christ is a big deal. You can’t enter the Kingdom of Christ without it. But there is also in God’s universal kingdom a common or civic aspect, detailed in the dominion mandate, formalized under Noah, and realized in part in the Jewish theocracy, that operates independently of and even prior to the theme of Gospel. And much of the Old Testament revolves around the theme of covenant faithfulness within whatever dispensational arrangement in which one found himself.
I’m not saying that one can be SAVED by covenant faithfulness (the error of the New Perspective, and perhaps also a few key early dispensationalists [Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1115 n. 2]). Salvation is secured only by trust in the redemptive promises of God that find their fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who bore the sins of and extended his own righteousness to all in every age who will believe. Please don’t hear me say anything else.
What I AM saying is that there is more to God’s plan than merely saving people. And so I’m comfortable (with this explanation) agreeing with Ryrie that the underlying purpose of God in the world is not the Gospel, but God’s Glory.
- Mark Snoeberger
- After growing up in the great state of Pennsylvania, I settled down in 1994 with my new bride, Heather, in Allen Park, Michigan, and have been here at Detroit Baptist Seminary ever since (with a bit of time away for doctoral work). Since 2007 I have been privileged to be a part of the systematic theology faculty here. I love teaching, researching and writing, hunting with my two boys, and enjoying any little bit of God's unadulterated creation I can find (which means I occasionally have to get out of Detroit). But all these things matter to me only because theology matters. For it is God himself who gives all men life and breath and everything else (Acts 17:25).