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I vividly recall eating breakfast with a seminary professor who was advising me about future ministry. At the time, I was not sure whether God was calling me to a pastoral or academic route. He asked me what I would like to accomplish if I were to become a professor someday, and I replied, “I want to destroy the teaching of dispensationalism in America!” O how zeal is wasted on the young and foolish. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the system of interpreting Scripture known as dispensationalism is a misinterpretation of God’s plan for history and his people. But there are many worldly ways of arguing in the battle of ideas, and there is a godly and Christ-honoring way to do the same. Poythress, more than anyone else I know of, models the godly way of discussing theology with brothers in Christ in a spirit of grace to win them to a better way of interpreting the Word of God we both revere.
Thankfully, dispensational influence is waning in American Christianity. My opinion is that it “jumped the shark” when the Left Behind movie and novel series were released. Several reasons account for this: (1) the movie and books revealed how sensational the dispensational story really is, and how unbelievable it can be next to an open Bible; (2) the evolution of dispensational theology from the early days of Darby, Chafer, and Scofield to the progressives Blaising and Bock moving closer to covenant theology in several key respects; and (3) the new strategy of critiquing dispensationalism embodied by Poythress. Poythress demonstrates the most fruitful path for helping our dispensationalist friends is to build bridges of commonality (shared theological and ecclesiastical roots), show where Presbyterianism can (and cannot) tolerate views held by dispensationalists based not on animosity but on confessional commitments, and reveal how both sides value the same thing in our doctrine (the one way of salvation in Christ alone) and are not as far apart as they used to be. Furthermore, it occurs to me that Poythress not only directly addresses dispensationalism in his teaching and writing, but more often writes constructively and persuasively as a Presbyterian covenant theologian on subjects that are near and dear to dispensational theology. For example, he has written a layman’s commentary on the book of Revelation (The Returning King), a large book on the Christotelic Law of Moses (The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses), and covenantal multi-perspectival hermeneutics (Symphonic Theology). He more or less eschews the polemical style, opting for winning others to the truth via persuasion and calm reason. His is a voice that can (and should) be read profitably by dispensationalists and covenant theologians alike. He has certainly challenged and convicted me to be more pastoral in doing theology, apologetics, preaching, and teaching. In a word, Poythress is a practical Calvinist.