Our ministry senior theologian, Dr. Thomas S. McCall, comments below on a letter received by one of our readers from the president of Moody Bible Institute. Dr. McCall is very familiar with goings-on at seminaries, having graduated from Talbot Seminary and Dallas Theological Seminary. He is especially experienced in reading the communications of seminary presidents. In the article on page three, he deals with a letter from his alma mater.
Many of our readers are as concerned as we are about getting to the truth concerning the current changes in the teaching in our historically sound dispensational Bible schools and seminaries. Several have written to the various schools we have mentioned in our newsletter, and in particular, some readers wrote to Dr. Stowell, president of Moody Bible Institute, and received responses. Some of the responses have been forwarded to us with the request that we analyze them. Our analysis is as follows:
We can readily understand that Dr. Stowell would not want to discuss publicly the internal conflicts within the faculty of the institution he leads. However, it appears that he has engaged here in what the politicians call "damage control" in responding to our readers and has not been entirely forthcoming in explaining the problems that Moody has had in recent years concerning doctrinal issues.
To help clarify the problems, I would like to present the text of one of Dr. Stowell's letters below, line by line, and indicate critical areas in which pertinent facts have been overlooked:
I can assure you that we have not abandoned Israel, nor do we see Israel as a product of man's effort. None of our faculty members would believe that, and, in fact, we have one of the finest Jewish studies programs in the nation.
When he says that "we do not see Israel as a product of man's effort," he does not clarify what he is describing. Does he mean ancient Israel or the modern nation? The Progressive Dispensationalists, for instance, believe that ancient Israel was a creation of God, but that the modern nation of Israel is just a human invention and is not a fulfillment of Bible prophecy. This is a devastating viewpoint and has caused many Christians to ignore what the Lord is doing in our time in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ.
Moody indeed has the reputation of having "one of the finest Jewish studies programs in the nation," but there have been some recent problems. One of the professors who developed the program is Dr. Louis Goldberg, who, after retiring from Moody, moved to New York to work with Jews for Jesus. Dr. Goldberg has written a research paper deploring the fact that some of the teachers at Moody are now saying that many of the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament do not actually refer directly to the Messiah. Dr. Goldberg correctly explains that this anti-Messianic teaching is seriously undercutting the ministry of Jewish evangelism.
We remain fully grounded in the doctrines that we were founded on by D.L. Moody over 110 years ago.
In saying that Moody remains "fully grounded in the doctrines that we were founded on," President Stowell glosses over the numerous disputes within the undergraduate faculty that have developed during this past decade over matters such as:
(1) the original doctrinal statement
(2) a doctrinal clarification statement (which was negatively reacted to by faculty in March 1999)
(3) two books published by faculty member Marvin Pate supporting Progressive Dispensationalism (one of which provided a forum to propagate an amillennial view of the book of Revelation)
(4) a divisive internal debate among the faculty over "egalitarianism" (the teaching that men and women should have equal and identical roles in church government)
(5) the growing presence of liberal arts professors who are untrained in doctrinal issues causing them to be unsure regarding Moody's distinctive dispensational theological heritage.
This last problem area is reflected in the deletion of the school's "Here We Stand" document from an Academic Freedom Draft in 1995 (because it would have meant the removal of several faculty members if the doctrinal position were kept in that Freedom Statement). Furthermore, the requirement of Moody students to sign off on the Institute's doctrinal statement for graduation was removed in 1998 (preferring an alignment with a blander, more general belief in "the Christian faith" which would allow non-premillennialists and non-pretribulationists to graduate). President Stowell also overlooks the fact of a deterioration in morale since 1990 (cited in a 1997 faculty study), further exacerbated when two veteran conservative faculty members were actually fired in 1998, individuals who publicly voiced their concerns on these and other related doctrinal divergences.
To outsiders, then, Dr. Stowell presents one picture; but in actuality, the situation at the Institute is sadly dysfunctional when it comes to its undergraduate faculty! Our sources close to the situation have fully documented all of these sad developments in publications, faculty meeting minutes, correspondence and in the Moody Student newspaper.
Each member of our faculty is a staunch adherent to the distinction between Israel and the church and believes that God has a prophetically prescribed future in store for Israel.
Dr. Stowell returns to the problem of Progressive Dispensationalism and the strong conviction of the faculty who maintain "the distinction between Israel and the church and believes that God has a prophetically prescribed future in store for Israel." These are correct statements, as far as they go, but they do not address the issues at hand. The Progressive Dispensationalists, who are rapidly taking over the key theological positions in the schools, would agree with these statements. Nevertheless, they tend to blur the distinctions between Israel and the church and between the Church Age and the Millennium. As Dr. Walvoord and Dr. Ryrie have clearly pointed out, the Progressive Dispensationalists' concept that Christ is now sitting on the throne of David is a confusion and is Biblically erroneous. Prophetic teaching has become gradually less and less important to them and the students they influence. And, in any case, all sincere Bible readers see Israel's "prophetically prescribed future." The real issue is: Does Moody Bible Institute believe in Israel as a work of God and fulfillment of prophecy right now?
Each year our faculty members and Administrative team are required to agree with and sign our Doctrinal Statement (which remains the same as originally adopted in 1928 by our Board of Trustees) which holds to a pre-tribulation rapture view and a literal millennial reign of Christ.
Moody's 1928 doctrinal statement is very short in comparison with those of many of the seminaries, and does not cover a number of issues, specifically those that have to do with Progressive Dispensationalism, Egalitarianism or Messianic prophecy. The founders of Moody were strong traditional dispensationalists, did not believe that men and women were to have equal functions in the church, and were great champions of a literal interpretation of the Bible and the Messianic prophecies concerning the first and second comings of Christ. Should we remain silent when a significant number of teachers at Moody are uncertain regarding these truths, even though they dutifully sign the doctrinal statement? Similarly, an official document approved by Moody's administration in 1979 opposing contemporary egalitarianism is not being honored by some faculty members.
Our complaint against Moody Bible Institute, Dallas Theological Seminary, Talbot Theological Seminary and other formerly strong dispensational schools is not personal, but doctrinal and issue-oriented. We fear that as more and more professors adopt these divergent views, the further from the Scriptures, from evangelism, and from a true Christian relationship with Israel the graduates of these schools will move. We thank the Lord for the schools and teachers that are remaining faithful to the Word.
When I was in the doctoral program at Dallas Seminary, the leading dispensational graduate schools lived and breathed Biblical and doctrinal issues. Presidents and professors were famous for defending the doctrines concerning the Bible, Christ, the Church, Israel, and prophecy. Men like Dr. Chafer, Dr. Walvoord, Dr. Feinberg, Dr. Sweeting, Dr. Pentecost and others, some of whom I was honored to know as my professors, would labor long to make sure that faculty, students and public alike understood the great doctrinal challenges of the day and the Biblical responses to them. Dispensationalism, the Rapture, the Second Coming of Christ and the restoration of Israel were not things to be ashamed of, but to be defended eagerly and vociferously against the teachings of liberalism, amillennialism and other deviations from the truth. Doctrinal statements were not museum pieces to be brought out when some distraught pastor or supporter raised questions, but were living documents hammered out in the heat of Biblical discourse and godly argumentation.
It seems that those days are largely behind us. Try writing a serious inquiry about doctrinal problems to the formerly strong dispensational seminaries today. Instead of receiving a correspondingly serious response to the issues raised, one is likely to get a polite brush-off and an attack against anyone who would dare to question the changes in the teaching taking place. Take the case of one of our readers who was concerned about the issues raised in our newsletter and wrote to the President of Dallas Theological Seminary. He received the following response, which he forwarded to us:
Thank you for your letter dated February 28. Dr. Swindoll has asked me to respond. Since you asked four rather lengthy questions which would take much time to answer, I have included the DTS doctrinal statement which will answer the questions.
I hope you are not buying into the distortions that Zola Levitt has raised. We are not sure why he has published these issues in his newsletter without following the Matthew 18 principle and coming to discuss them with us first.
Paul E. Pettit
Asst. to the President
First of all, it is clear that doctrinal matters now are to be handled by an assistant. The assistant chosen to defend the position of the Seminary to the public, Rev. Pettit, received his Th.M. from DTS in 1996. Secondly, even assistants cannot spare the time to deal cogently with the issues raised. Instead, the reader is simply sent a copy of the doctrinal statement as a substitute for dealing with the questions. This might be alright if the professors in the classrooms were teaching what is in the doctrinal statement, which is a very fine doctrinal statement, indeed. The problem is that many of the key theological professors are teaching views that a number of Biblical scholars consider at variance to the doctrinal statement. As we have explained in previous newsletters, Dr. Walvoord, Dr. Ryrie and many others show conclusively that the key teaching of Progressive Dispensationalism, that Christ is currently seated on the throne of David in Heaven, is Biblically erroneous and leads to considerable eschatological confusion. Our conviction is that it is so confusing that it is in direct violation of the DTS doctrinal statement which proclaims that the dispensations of the church age and the millennium are not to be confused or intermingled:
We believe that three of these dispensations or rules of life are the subject of extended revelation in the Scriptures, viz., the dispensation of the Mosaic law, the present dispensation of grace, and the future dispensation of the millennial kingdom. We believe that these are distinct and are not to be intermingled or confused, as they are chronologically successive.
It is beyond us how anyone who teaches Progressive Dispensationalism can honestly sign this doctrinal statement, which all DTS professors are required to do every year. Certainly, these questions deserve a reasoned answer, not a dismissive one.
Secondly, Rev. Pettit accuses Zola of distorting the position of DTS and of failing to follow the principles of Matthew 18 in not coming to him first before writing the articles. How have we distorted the position of the Seminary? Leading professors there have written books promoting the divergent views of Progressive Dispensationalism, indicating that the earlier views of the leaders of the Seminary were defective, or not progressive enough. Who is doing the distorting?
We are merely pointing out to the general Christian public what is well known throughout the conservative theological community. The assistant is attempting to state that the professors are all teaching what is in the doctrinal statement, but we are convinced that dominant professors are deviating from it in critical areas. There is, therefore, not only a doctrinal problem, but one of integrity as well. It really is a distortion to teach one thing in the classrooms and present something else to the supporting public.
Concerning Matthew 18, the assistant appears to think we have raised these objections in a vacuum. Zola and I met on the Seminary campus with a number of the leaders of the administration, faculty and board of directors of DTS several years ago, expressing our concerns about Progressive Dispensationalism, a bias against modern Israel and other matters. This was when the doctrine of Progressive Dispensationalism first appeared on the theological radar screen. Since then, I have submitted an article to the Seminary journal, Bibliotheca Sacra, endeavoring to refute these changes in the Seminary position. Zola also has spoken at the Seminary Chapel, urging the students and faculty to support the Biblical reality of the modern state of Israel as a harbinger of the Second Coming of Christ. We are in regular communication with Dr. Walvoord, the Chancellor, who recently wrote to Zola and me a cogent letter defending the Seminary, but agreeing with us that Progressive Dispensationalism is Biblically erroneous. In any case, I have personally asked repeatedly to meet with Dr. Swindoll and have received no reply.
The Seminary is fully aware of the firestorm in theological circles that has been caused by these new views. Whole movements have arisen as a result, such as the Pre-Trib Study Group, because prophecy is so uninteresting to many of the current professors and graduates of the formerly strong dispensational seminaries. Whole new seminaries, such as Tyndale Seminary in Fort Worth, have been formed, claiming to be "Old Dallas," in contrast with the newer views at DTS. It is only the supporting Christian public that is largely unaware of what is going on. When we attempt to inform our readers of these realities, our positions and views are not attacked, but we ourselves. We are considered less than honorable when we raise questions about the doctrines that are being spread wholesale in the classrooms of our once fine dispensational schools and seminaries.
We think it is high time for a serious, dispassionate public discourse to take place concerning these important matters. It may yet be possible for our seminaries and Bible schools to return to their role as defenders of the great dispensational truths, and "the Bible as it is for men as they are."
These are the sort of letters our readers receive from high-ranking seminary leaders. Zola answers them below.
From: Paul Pettit [Assistant to the President of Dallas Theological
3909 Swiss Avenue
Dallas, Texas 75204
To: Zola Levitt Ministries
Subject: Progressive Dispensationalism
Why is Zola so afraid of Progressive Dispensationalism? Why doesn't he sit down and try to understand it instead of attacking it and making himself look rather foolish? In the March newsletter he says, "the dispensations are progressive... I guess that's why they call it Progressive Dispensationalism." Huh? Is that the best he could come up with in his research? Does he know this topic is being seriously debated in the leading theological seminaries? Thanks!
Dear Dr. Pettit:
I'm not afraid of Progressive Dispensationalism; I'm afraid of students ignorant of End Times prophecy and Israel heading our churches someday. I'm afraid of shrewd administrators resting on past laurels and virtually operating businesses. I'm afraid of seminaries expanding enrollments only to use up millions of dollars to build buildings and establish banks. And it saddens me greatly that "this topic is being seriously debated in the leading theological seminaries." Believe me, I understand your errors perfectly and so do my viewers and readers. Do you ever stop for a moment and ask yourself, "What are we really doing to the Christian community when we compromise like this on doctrine?"
From: Dr. Howard A. Whaley
Senior Vice-President and Dean of Education
Moody Bible Institute,
820 N. La Salle Boulevard
Chicago, Illinois 60610-3284
To: M.K. [reader]
...I suspect I know the source of your concern and would just say that his representation of both Moody and Dallas is without factual basis and even his characterizations of various theological positions are designed to serve his personal intent rather than any elaboration of the truth
To: Dr. Whaley, How many personal attacks do I have to put up with from those who can't defend what they teach? - Zola
Dear Zola and Staff:
Enclosed is a very simple letter asking President Swindoll their position on Israel and Progressive Dispensationalism. I was disheartened to read in your February newsletter about what this seminary holds to. I love reading your newsletters and watching your program, while also listening to John Hagee and Chuck Swindoll on the radio. . .
. . . It will be interesting to see if I get a response from Dallas Seminary in regards to my questions. If I do, I will forward it on to you.
May the Lord continue to bless your ministry, and thank you for all you do, Zola. Enclosed is a love gift for your ministry. In the meantime, I am praying for the peace of Jerusalem.
In His service, - K.E.
I wouldn't count on much of a response from Dallas Seminary, though your letter was very well worded and your questions directly to the point. But please see the "reply" (on page 3) another of our viewers received from Paul Pettit (assistant to the president) of that seminary. Zola
[Zola's son and general manager of Zola Levitt Ministries ]
I just wanted you to know that the announcement you ran in the February edition of your Levitt Letter has produced fabulous results. Boxes of books and magazines are coming in almost daily, even from Alaska. Your ministry has some of the most compassionate people on earth. What a joy it is for me to write each one a personal letter and tell them how much we appreciate their giving time and money so our inmates can be kept occupied. I feel that many disturbances have been avoided because we have good reading material available.
Thank you again for supporting our ministry. The Lord certainly has been good to provide our needs at critical times.
God bless you and your ministry,
Chaplain Keith Francis
Collin County Justice Center
4300 Community Blvd., McKinney, TX 75070
How great God is! Recently I got handed your newsletter. It just happened to cover Progressive Dispensationalism. I have had questions nagging in the back of my mind about that for years. Your letter covered the topic very well. Thank you.
Please put me on your mailing list. Thank you! In Christ,
We have received requests to define Progressive Dispensationalism, the doctrine we have criticized at such well-respected seminaries as Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Theological Seminary. Our staff theologian, Todd Baker, has expertly discussed the flaw in that doctrine in his article on page 8. Todd has noted that the Progressive Dispensationalists purposely confuse the throne of God in heaven with the throne of David. God's throne in heaven is obviously not an earthly place. We see it in Revelation, and it is spoken of elsewhere in Scripture. David's throne was certainly earthly and will be in the Kingdom to come. By saying they are the same throne, the Progressive Dispensationalists effectively cut Israel out of the prophetic picture and accelerate a Kingdom event-Jesus literally sitting on the throne of David in Jerusalem-to the present day.
According to the Progressive Dispensationalists, Jesus is now sitting on the throne of David in heaven, and we are enjoying the beginning of the Kingdom at this point. It doesn't take a deep theologian to see the flaw in this reasoning.
While the following article clarifies all of those issues with the relevant Scriptures, I am concerned mainly with the effort, however unconscious, to shut out Israel and the Chosen People from the Kingdom to come. This is a completely wasted exercise on the part of those who are, to say it kindly, not particularly preferential to those whom God loves, the Jews. For Moody Bible Institute, Dallas Seminary, and any number of other fine Bible schools who formerly supported Israel and praised the Chosen People to have turned to an error of this magnitude is shocking. The logical end of this doctrine, out-and-out Replacement Theology, would be the complete dispossession of those whom God chose and the Land He promised from Christian thinking. This simply must not happen.
Today there is a growing movement within dispensational theology that is gaining influence among some leading dispensational seminaries and churches across the land. It is called "Progressive Dispensationalism." Traditional dispensationalism has always maintained a clear distinction between Israel and the Church, and that the Messianic Kingdom, of which the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:8-16; Ps. 89) is a main feature, still is a future earthly event that will occur when Christ returns to Jerusalem to reign over the earth for 1,000 years (Rev. 19:11 - 20:1-6).
However, proponents of Progressive Dispensationalism have changed some of this with their interpretation of Acts 2 (particularly verses 30-36). They teach from Acts 2:30 that the throne of God in heaven where Jesus now sits is the throne of David. Hence, Jesus is currently reigning from David's throne in heaven, and the Messianic Kingdom is now inaugurated and is beginning to be fulfilled! What was once clearly a future event is now, somehow, a present reality. This is a disturbing departure from a normal literal understanding of Bible prophecy that views the Throne of David as an earthly throne Christ will sit on and reign from Jerusalem when He returns (Is. 2:1-5; Ezk. 43:1-7).
To believe this is now being "progressively" fulfilled blurs the distinction between Israel and the Church and minimizes the prophetic importance and position of modern-day Israel. The context of Acts 2 does not teach that Jesus is now reigning on the throne of David. Rather, the main point of Peter's sermon is that God has demonstrated the man Jesus, who was crucified by the Jewish leaders, to be "both Lord and Christ" by the following three events in Acts 2: (1) By the resurrection v. 31; (2) By the exaltation at God's right hand v. 33; (3) By sending the Holy Spirit of promise v. 33. The gist of Acts 2:30-36 is Christ's resurrection and exaltation at the right hand of God on the heavenly throne that guarantees His future reign on the earthly Davidic thrones as David's Lord and greater descendant.
Nowhere in Acts or, for that matter, in the entire Bible does one find the earthly throne of David and the heavenly throne of God explicitly identified as ever being the same.
They are always distinct and different in Scripture. In the book of Acts, it is even more evident that Christ is not presently reigning on the throne of David as Progressive Dispensationalism claims. Luke opens Acts with Christ's post-resurrection ministry to the disciples for forty days. During that time, Jesus spoke to them "of things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). Surely, in all that time, if Jesus were to shortly reign on the throne of David in heaven, He would have plainly told them of this important change and transference of David's throne from earth to heaven when they asked Him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). Christ did not reply, "You are mistaken about this Jewish misconception of an earthly throne and Kingdom in Israel. The throne of David has been transferred to the throne of God in heaven where I will ascend and shortly reign from."
Instead, Jesus told the disciples that God the Father has appointed the time and season in the future when the Davidic Kingdom will be established in Israel (Acts 1:7). In the meantime, they were to go out and preach the Gospel in all the world, starting in Jerusalem (Acts 1:8). The Davidic rule and Kingdom did not begin when the Lord ascended to heaven, or He would have obviously told them so when questioned about the time and season for the establishment of the Kingdom in Israel. If Jesus is currently reigning on David's throne in heaven, then Acts 15:16-18 contradicts this novel idea of Progressive Dispensationalism. The passage in Acts 15 deals with the issue of Gentile salvation and whether or not Gentiles must be circumcised and observe the Mosaic law to become Christians. James answers for the group at the Jerusalem Council by saying the calling out of Gentile believers is in keeping with the future promise of a Davidic Kingdom in Israel. Once the present age ends after the taking out of a Gentile body of believers "for His name" (a distinct characteristic and divine work of the present age), Christ will return to rebuild and restore "the tabernacle of David." The phrase "Tabernacle of David" is a descriptive synonym of the Davidic throne and earthly Kingdom that has long been in ruins (Acts 15:16). It still remains this way during the present age and awaits the final restoration at the return of Christ to earth. If Christ were reigning on the throne of David in heaven at this time, why then did James say the Davidic monarchy was still in ruins? The only reasonable and clear answer is that Jesus has yet to return to earth to repair and rebuild it when He comes to reign on an earthly throne of David in Jerusalem, not heaven.
Clearly, in the book of Acts, the Jewish disciples, along with the Jewish Church of Jerusalem, were looking forward to a future, earthly, literal Davidic Messianic Kingdom in Israel to be ruled over by the Messiah Jesus. It was not spiritualized and transferred to heaven where Christ presently is, contrary to the belief of Progressive Dispensationalism. Carried to its logical conclusion, Progressive Dispensationalism could lead to saying the Church is Israel followed by a denial of the Jewish people's status as God's Chosen People and the vital role Israel will play in the future Davidic Kingdom to come. Christ is King over the created universe and His Church. He will be an earthly King over a redeemed Israel as their Davidic ruler on David's earthly throne when He returns to earth. Therefore, ...
Christ's rule from the throne of David totally awaits a future fulfillment currently not realized now.
from Zola's Newsletter: May 2000: Volume 22, Number 5