Approximately 20 years ago when the Lordship Salvation controversy was raging, John MacArthur referred to himself as a “leaky dispensationalist.” It seems that this was largely in response to allegations by dispensationalists that he was in danger of abandoning dispensationalism in favor of Reformed theology. The accusation went beyond an affirmation by MacArthur of all five points of Calvinism, which I think he had yet to affirm at that point. Largely the accusations centered around an embrace on the part of MacArthur of what was considered a more Reformed understanding of discipleship. (James Montgomery Boice also inveighed against what he called “The Dallas teaching” around the same time, although he had abandoned dispensationalism some years previously.)
Through the years it seems there has been some of confusion about what this “leaky dispensationalism” means, especially on the part of those who really aren’t that familiar with Dr. MacArthur. But evidently what is meant by the term is that, unlike their opponents in the Lordship debate, MacArthur, his associates and proteges (i.e. The Masters Seminary) believe that dispensationalism merely deals with ecclesiology and eschatology and does not impact soteriology, etc. Thus, they rejected the teaching of traditional dispensationalism (and Dallas Theological Seminary in particular) with regard to sanctification and perhaps other issues. With regard to ecclesiology and eschatology, I don’t see much difference between their views and those of more traditional dispensationalists with the exception of their lack of emphasis and/or abandonment of the concept of seven dispensations.
This was brought home for me in a recent series of posts on the Cripplegate blog as well as a message at the 2012 Shepherd’s Conference by Jesse Johnson. The message addressed Ray Comfort’s “Way of the Master” evangelistic method. (That’s something I’m not going to get into here.) But along the way, they lay out their view on the law.
Given the theological commitments of these men, holding the view of the law that they do is not surprising. But must admit that I was astonished by the assertion by Mike Riccardi that Tom Schreiner and Douglas Moo are covenant theologians! I’m sure they would be surprised to learn that they are covenantal! If it were not for that, I probably would not have been inclined to respond at all.
Here is the response I posted to the comments linked above:
I’ve enjoyed many of your posts in the past and have benefited from many of the posts on The Cripplegate by other authors as well. And I recognize, as I’m sure all do, that the text of Scripture is what really matters. I’ve long thought that the practice of tossing out labels is often a way for one to dismiss someone without reckoning with his arguments, whether it be due to unwillingness or inability. But, when accurately used, labels can simply be a convenient way to note the basic outlines of a disagreement or controversy that has been going on for generations. If the dispensational label here is illegitimate then shall we abandon the use of labels like Arminian as well?
Tom Schreiner is not a covenant theologian. That is, unless you’re operating from a point of view that consigns all non-dispensational theologians to the covenantal camp. Doug Moo is also not a covenantalist. One need look no further than his essay against covenantalism’s view of the law in “Continuity and Discontinuity” to see that. Besides this, both of them reject the idea of “one covenant of grace with two administrations” and perhaps other things that covenantalists usually teach with regard to theological covenants that they infer from the Scriptures.
No covenant theologian could agree with Schreiner’s view of the law. The threefold division of the law and the perpetuity of the moral law as found in the Ten Commandments (and the believer being under them as a rule of life i.e. the Third Use of the Law) is one of the hallmarks of Reformed covenant theology. Were one to compare Schreiner’s teaching on the law with that of the Westminster Standards or any other detailed Reformed confession or systematic theology of that general persuasion, (including covenantal Baptist ones) the differences are very clear.
While I’m not sure whether or not he would accept the label since there’s still no consensus on what exactly it is, (as opposed to what it opposes) Dr. Schreiner is closer to New Covenant Theology than he is to either dispensationalism or covenantalism. NCT’s position on the law (all flavors of NCT in this case) is much closer to that of dispensationalism than the essentially covenantal view that is being criticized in this series of posts. Now, NCT and related views do typically state that the Church is the “New Israel” and often does so in less nuanced ways than many CT’s have done. But NCT’s (and Schreiner’s) view of the moral law is about as far from CT as the east is from the west. A reaction against CT’s view of the moral law was the primary impetus behind the development of NCT in the first place.
Through the years, I’ve noticed a tendency for more traditional dispensationalists to place anyone who disagrees with them on things like pre-trib and related teachings into the covenantal camp. You see the same thing with many covenantalists doing the reverse, consigning men like Schreiner and Moo into the dispensational camp because of their views on the law and a rejection of their understanding of the covenant of grace. In this case, for you to assert that Schreiner and Moo are covenantal when they are anything but suggests to me a rather narrow dispensational orientation (and perhaps, education) that has more of an impact on your thinking than you may realize.
A few years ago I defended The Masters Seminary (TMS) against some young Reformed men who appeared to reject dispensationalism for superficial reasons. But I must say if this is in any way representative, then those who have left the school asserting that the education there is excessively one-sided and perhaps superficial with regard to the examination of other views may have a point. Admittedly I am only looking on from afar. I hasten to add that it appears that TMS (and MacArthur in general) have done very good work in training pastors in expository preaching as well as emphasizing Biblical counseling.
The Executive Director of Grace to You, (and renowned blogger) Phil Johnson, does accept the threefold division of the law. But he has been significantly impacted by Spurgeon, (which may account for the difference?) and has noted in the past that he is not affiliated with TMS in any direct way.