IS PENTECOSTALISM DISPENSATIONALIST?

Dispensation of Grace
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IS PENTECOSTALISM DISPENSATIONALIST? AN HONEST ANSWER TO A
HARD QUESTION
Tony Richie∗
Introduction
A surging crisis on the current global horizon centers on so-called “Christian Zionism.”
The controversy surrounding Christian Zionism arises from its association with political
practices in the unceasingly and increasingly unstable Middle East region involving
Israelis and Palestinians. Though an oversimplification, Christian Zionism is generally
speaking a theological position with political implications. However, Christian Zionism is
exceedingly difficult to address because it exists in variegated forms, ranging from
individuals or groups who generally support the right of contemporary Israelis to exist in
their ancient homeland to extensively organized political activists with agendas of
varying degrees of radicalism.1
The former usually cite biblical and humanitarian values
in vindication of their support for Israel. Some of the latter tend to be completely
uncritical of Israeli policies and practices, openly aggressive against their opponents, and
either totally unaware of or unconcerned with the plight of Palestinians and religious
others. Much of the basis for the latter position appears to be built upon a specific form of
dispensationalist ideology.

* Bishop Tony Richie (D. Min., Asbury Theological Seminary/D. Th. Candidate, UNISA), Senior Pastor,
New Harvest Church of God in Knoxville, TN, is also a missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador)
and does adjunct teaching at the Church of God Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). He serves the
Society for Pentecostal Studies as liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission (IRC) of the National
Council of Churches of Christ, and the IRC as liaison to christianzionism.org. 1
Components of the wide ranging and diverging views on Christian Zionism may be experienced by
surfing the competing websites of http://christianzionism.org and http://christian-zionism.org. Also, an
excellent source of fairly balanced information and overview may be found at
http://enwikepedia.org/wiki/ChristianZionism.
Richie Is Pentecostalism Dispensationalist?
As the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the USA’s War on
Terror, including wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and possibly soon, in Iran, surely suggest,
policies regarding the Mid East region can be volatile and even volcanic. The role of
religion is of central significance. Investigating foundations of faith-based philosophies
toward the regional and worldwide violence arising out of the current Mid East crisis
seems appropriate. This paper focuses on one such philosophy, dispensationalism, and its
role in the development of one movement, a major player on the world religious scene,
Pentecostalism. My question is not whether some or even many Pentecostals are
dispensationalists. That they are is an easily substantiated statistical fact. But I’m asking,
more pointedly, whether Pentecostalism itself is dispensationalist. In other words, is there
anything about Pentecostalism itself essentially, inevitably, or irretrievably entangled
with dispensational ideas?
A Personal Testimony
My sudden introduction to dispensationalism came almost immediately after my
conversion as a young adult. I was graciously given, by a devout Baptist deacon, a
Scofield Reference Bible (C. I. Scofield, 1909), based on the dispensationalist teaching of
John Nelson Darby (1800-82), and encouraged to digest its contents. Shortly thereafter,
when visiting my Pentecostal preacher father in another state I took it with me to ask for
advice on whether it was recommended reading. Dad wisely suggested I might profitably
study it but that I needed to keep in mind that only the biblical text was divinely inspired
and not the study notes and their interpretations. I devoured its contents. Thus I
discovered dispensationalism, a system of biblical interpretation that divides biblical
history and revelation into airtight compartments sealed off not only from our
2
Richie Is Pentecostalism Dispensationalist?
contemporary era but even from each other. The dispensational approach was attractive
to me because it seemed to make sense of some of the most complicated portions of
Scripture, such as the Books of Daniel and Revelation, and to provide a pattern for
understanding biblical prophecy, especially end-time events. But though initially thrilled
at insights it seemed to provide, I was eventually disappointed to discover it firmly
invalidated any continuing activity of spiritual gifts, including speaking in tongues,
divine healing, or miraculous signs of any kind. This ran completely counter to my
Pentecostal upbringing (cf. Acts 2, 10, 19:1-7; 1 Co 12-14). I also remember
astonishment at being informed Jesus’ glorious Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) is
inapplicable today because it falls into a different dispensation. I slowly used my Scofield
less and less, finally discarding it altogether.
However, a few years later I was pleased to be told that the Dake Annotated Bible
(Finis Dake, 1961, 1963) included all the insights of the Scofield Reference Bible and
more but still affirmed Pentecostal experience and the spiritual gifts. It was especially
noted for its dispensational insights on eschatology or biblical prophecy. At some
(sacrificial!) expense this time, I managed to acquire a copy. Again, I devoured its
contents avidly. Now a Pentecostal pastor myself I knew many colleagues who also used
a Dake. Nonetheless, and in spite of the almost encyclopedic knowledge of its author, I
began to sense a somewhat inexplicable inner tension between its dispensationalist
teachings, especially its proof text approach, and my own personal reading of the Bible.
Again, I slowly used it less and less, finally discarding it altogether. In this case,
however, the discarding was accompanied by guilt. After all, this was a Pentecostal study
Bible. I wondered a bit about what was happening. I was therefore greatly relieved as a
3
Richie Is Pentecostalism Dispensationalist?
pastor-student going through our denominational seminary (Church of God Theological
Seminary) to hear some of our professors (e.g., Hollis Gause and Steve Land) finally
explaining that Pentecostalism and dispensationalism are inherently and unquestionably
incompatible.2
Dispensationalist ideas, however, die hard. Though I have had to process
it slowly, personally I have come to understand the ultimately unsatisfactory nature of
dispensationalism both as a biblical hermeneutic and for Pentecostalism.3
But while I
reject “Darbyism”, or “fundamentalist dispensationalism,” I still seek to retain the
authentic eschatological energy of my beloved Pentecostalism.
I now realize that my personal push-pull experience with dispensationalism is an
individual reenactment of the overall Pentecostal movement’s encounter with
dispensationalism as well. As Pentecostal historian Dwight Wilson insightfully records,
Pentecostal interpretation of history, admittedly heavily “influenced by their
premillennialist belief that the restoration of Israel to Palestine is a sure sign of the
imminent return of Christ”, has still struggled with applying dispensationalism to
developments regarding the region, alternately embracing and eschewing significant
aspects.4
Both my personal testimony and Pentecostalism’s history imply an underlying
and irreparable discontinuity between traditional Darbyite dispensationalism and
contemporary Pentecostalism. And yet Pentecostals have displayed a peculiar fascination

2
I also remember a pivotal conversation with a fellow student and friend, now Dr. Robert Debelak of Lee
University, Cleveland, TN, who insisted biblical revelation is characterized by continuity rather than the
discontinuity so evident in dispensationalism. Recently, Rob pointed out that, while beyond the scope of
this paper, the (now dated) text by Dave McPherson, The Incredible Cover-Up (Medford, OR: Omega
Publications, 1975), sticks out as a critique of the Darby-Irving emphases in eschatology.
3
I still have positive appreciation for the motives of many dispensationalist teachers in attempting an in
depth approach to Bible study, and I am aware of various more flexible versions of a more classic and
historic dispensationalism in Irenaeus, Tertullian, Joachim of Fiore, John Fletcher, Jonathan Edwards, etc,
that have valuable features.
4
D. J. Wilson, “Eschatology, Pentecostal Perspectives on”, The New International Dictionary of the
Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (NIDPCM), ed. Stanley M. Burgess and assoc. ed. Eduard M. van
der Mass (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), pp. 601-05.
4
Richie Is Pentecostalism Dispensationalist?
with dispensationalism. Over the years, I have sat in several Pentecostal “prophecy
conferences” or “prophecy seminars,” not to mention local church Bible studies, with an
amazing array of colorful charts spread before the group as a “prophecy teacher”
enthusiastically explained the entire course of world events according to a
dispensationalist paradigm.
A Puzzling History
Pentecostal biblical scholar French Arrington details the popularization of
dispensationalism by John Nelson Darby and by C. I. Scofield. Arrington describes
dispensationalism as “an interpretive scheme grafted onto the traditional body of
Christian doctrine.” He defines it more specifically as a “basic assumption that God deals
with the human race in successive dispensations.” A dispensation is a period of time
marked by a beginning, a test, and termination in judgment through human failure or sin.
Though dispensationalism has influenced Pentecostal theology, probably because of the
avid attachment of both to eschatology, “the earliest pentecostal teachings were not tied
to directly to dispensationalism.” In Arrington’s opinion, the statements of faith of major
Pentecostal denominations do “commit them to premillennialism but not necessarily to
dispensationalism.” But many Pentecostals have indeed adopted a dispensationalist
paradigm. He links the appeal of dispensationalism for many Pentecostals to its being a
convenient but complicated puzzle that organizes biblical history and prophetic Scripture.
Arrington openly assesses the “marriage of the pentecostal emphasis to
dispensationalism” as “strange” because of the latter’s denial of the continuing validity of
spiritual gifts (cessationism) such as divine healing or speaking in tongues—important
practices for Pentecostals. Nevertheless, Arrington admits the influence of
5
Richie Is Pentecostalism Dispensationalist?
dispensationalism upon Pentecostalism has not been negligible. Yet Pentecostal writers
using dispensationalist paradigms have not usually done so uncritically or unequivocally,
and the movement’s recent scholars increasingly show still less dependency on
dispensationalism.5
Continuing Pentecostal attraction to dispensationalism becomes even
more puzzling in light of explicit and even acidic rejection of Pentecostals by
dispensationalist fundamentalists.6

Dispensationalism, especially of the popular Darby-Scofield type, evidences
innate elements essentially at odds with the authentic ethos of Pentecostal spirituality and
theology. Pentecostalism is not dispensationalist.7
Elements of dispensationalism militate
against Pentecostalism. An unfortunate fact is that Pentecostals allowed themselves to be
lured into accepting a dispensationalist theology that literally by definition undermines
their own identity. An important challenge of the maturing movement is straightening out
this error and its implications. If we deem dispensationalism deficient, then what are
appropriate alternative approaches to interpreting biblical history and addressing current
and future events from a point of view affirming scriptural inspiration and authority,
including its prophetic or predictive elements, but avoiding esoteric and exclusivist
hermeneutics and ideology (see below)?

5
F. L. Arrington, “Dispensationalism,” NIDPCM, pp. 584-86 (585). Cf. Gerald T. Sheppard,
“Pentecostalism and the Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism: The Anatomy of an Uneasy Relationship”,
Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 6 (Fall 1984), pp. 5-34. 6
Cf. H. V. Synan, “Evangelicalism,” NIDPCM, pp. 613-16 (615) and “Fundamentalism,” NIDPCM, pp.
655-658 (657-58).
7
A sort of general dispensationalism identifying the present ‘Age of the Spirit’ including eschatological
and prophetic elements may indeed be intrinsic to Pentecostalism, at least in its early, North American,
classical form. See M. D. Palmer, “Ethics in the Classical Pentecostal Tradition,” NIDPCM, pp. 605-610
(606). If so, distinctions between fundamentalist dispensationalism are still sharp.
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Richie Is Pentecostalism Dispensationalist?
A Promiscuous Spirituality
Before discussing an adequate alternative for Pentecostals to fundamentalist
dispensationalism, showing that the Pentecostal movement has had a tendency toward a
spirituality overflowing the banks of expected (respectable!?) boundaries may be helpful.
This overflowing energy is particularly indicative of Pentecostalism’s innate ability to
mitigate the harshness and narrowness of the typical dispensationalist mindset, and
illustrates an incompatibility of its authentic and original ethos with obvious exclusive
and reclusive tendencies in dispensationalism. In spite of some sharp history to the
contrary, Pentecostalism at times displays a surprising and delightful tendency to be
ecumenical and inclusive.8
For instance, the Azusa Street Revival and Mission clearly
incorporated several streams of spirituality in an eclectic (and electric!) energizing force.
African-American and Wesleyan-Holiness spiritualities met and meshed with American
revivalism and Southern mores to produce a potent form of pragmatic biblical
primitivism and restorationism.9
Eclectic and ecumenical tendencies are further
exemplified in the rise and reach of the mid-twentieth century Charismatic Renewal, and
in the vitality of current non-Western (Africa, Latin America, and Asia) varieties of
Pentecostalism.10 In fact, in a discussion of the eclectic and ecumenical nature of
Pentecostalism titled “Three Streams—One River”, historian and analyst of

8
See Tony Richie, “‘The Unity of the Spirit’”: Are Pentecostals Inherently Ecumenists and Inclusivists”?
Journal of the European Pentecostal Theological Association, 26.1 (2006), pp. 21-35. 9
Cf. Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. Azusa Street Mission & Revival: The Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement
(Nashville: Nelson, 2006), Douglas Jacobsen, Thinking in the Spirit: Theologies of the Early Pentecostal
Movement (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2003), Grant Wacker, Heaven Below:
Early Pentecostals and American Culture (London, Eng: Harvard University Press, 2001). 10 Cf. Harold D. Hunter and Peter D. Hocken, editors, All Together in One Place: Theological Papers from
the Brighton Conference on World Evangelization (JPTSup 4, Sheffield, Eng: Sheffield Academic Press,
1993) and Allan Anderson and Walter J. Hollenweger, editors, Pentecostals after a Century: Global
Perspectives on a Movement in Transition (JPTSup 15, Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press,
1999).
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Richie Is Pentecostalism Dispensationalist?
Pentecostalism Vinson Synan predicted that “the future of Christianity will be molded by
the developing Third-World, indigenous pentecostal churches interacting with the
vigorous charismatic elements in the traditional churches.”11 These words now seem
almost prophetic nearly twenty-five years later.
Clearly an argument may be made that Pentecostalism cannot be strictly
contained within the restrictive confines of dispensationalist ideology. Therefore, though
some, or even many, Pentecostals have been and are dispensationalists, Pentecostalism
itself refuses to be bound to or by dispensationalism. The overflowing energy of
Pentecostal rivers of the Spirit (cf. John 7:37-39) reaches fertile fields in all kinds of
surprising places and doctrinal paradigms. Therefore, being a Pentecostal and not being a
dispensationalist is not only possible but perhaps quite preferable. The freedom of the
liberating presence of the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Co 3:17) breaks the bands of arid
dispensationalist dogmatism. Doors and windows are opened for the Spirit’s blowing
wind (cf. John 3:8) to breathe fresh air into all the halls, rooms, and corners of the
Pentecostal household. Without denigrating Pentecostals who see dispensationalism as
integral for their world outlook, Pentecostalism itself will not be denied a wider reach.
A Provocative Theology
R. Hollis Gause, a prominent Pentecostal theologian (Church of God, Cleveland, TN),
elucidates an alternative to fundamentalist dispensationalism through a careful
comparison-contrast of dispensational theology and a theology of progressive revelation.
Gause explains that progressive revelation does not divide up biblical history as
dispensationalism. It does not hermeneutically distinguish between the Church, Israel,

11 Vinson Synan, In the latter Days: The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Twentieth Century (Ann
Arbor, MI: Servant, 1984), pp. 135-46 (145).
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Richie Is Pentecostalism Dispensationalist?
and the kingdom of God. The nature of God, the history of salvation, and the character of
the people of God are progressively revealed. Earlier events anticipate and predict later
events. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit gives Scripture a progressive and even
prophetic or predictive quality. In stark contrast to the hermeneutical compartmentalizing
of dispensationalism, progressive revelation affirms a more unified approach to biblical
interpretation and understanding. Gause concludes that “the view of progressive and
unified revelation of the history of salvation offers the better interpretation of Scripture.”
For Gause, considerations of the unchangeableness and unity of God and God’s Word
consistently lead to this conclusion.12 Interestingly, Gause does not sacrifice
Pentecostalism’s staunch emphasis on premillennial eschatology through his espousal of
progressive revelation. The premillennialism, however, explicated in his study of the
Book of Revelation is of a decidedly different flavor than the Darby-Scofield-Dake type.
It is less esoteric, more open. It is concerned with God’s activity and sovereignty
throughout history and its providentially teleological redemptive consummation rather
than with designing elaborate last days predictive schemas of events.
Progressive revelation, therefore, based solidly on the ubiquitous and unified
character of God and of God’s Word rather than on the frailties and vicissitudes of human
knowledge and nature, is for Pentecostalism a more attractive option than
dispensationalism. It is also provocative in a positive sense. It is provocative for
Pentecostals because it calls for serious rethinking and substantial revision of political
and theological ideologies inordinately tied to dispensationalism. This would, of course,
among many other matters, include covertly and overtly aggressive attitudes toward

12 R. Hollis Gause, Revelation: God’s Stamp of Sovereignty on History (Cleveland: Pathway, 1983), pp. 18-
21. Significantly, this book was published by the Church of God denominational publishing house.
9
Richie Is Pentecostalism Dispensationalist?
world politics and religious others regarding the Mid East, particularly between Israelis
and Palestinians or Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It is also provocative for many nonPentecostal Christians because its maturity and moderation call for reconsideration of an
all-too-often casual casting away of the central significance of eschatology in Christian
faith and life. This would include, of course, how political and theological ideologies
ought to be appropriately centered in and shaped by conviction that the consummation of
human history is ultimately directed toward a divinely ordained destiny in Christ.
Conclusion
We have deemed dispensationalism to be deficient for Pentecostalism due to divergent
identities. When we apply this assertion to the surging crisis in the Mid East concerning
Christian Zionism and its international implications certain responsibilities become
clearly incumbent upon us. Regrettably, war rages on in our world, raping and ravaging it
without reprieve. To the extent that our theological positions direct and shape our
political practices, including issues of war and peace, truly devout people cannot and
should not avoid addressing the role of religion in the reality of war. Obviously,
Christians are called and commanded to be peacemakers and pursuers of peace (Matt 5:9;
Heb 12:14).13
We have already observed that our theological positions have political
ramifications. This, of course, is the case for both Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals.
Accordingly, Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal Christians, including so-called
conservatives, liberals, moderates, or progressives, are called upon to provide a viable

13 I am not here advocating or arguing for absolute pacifism, though some Pentecostals have and do. See D.
J. Wilson, “Pacifism,” NIDPCM, pp. 953-55. Cf. Pentecostal Charismatic Peace Fellowship at
http://www.pentecostalpeace.org. Personally, I am here simply stressing a strong preference for peace so
far as is possible.
10
Richie Is Pentecostalism Dispensationalist?
alternative to fundamentalist dispensationalism for our people in the pews. In my opinion,
the shape of our response ought to include the following minimal elements. First, it
should take seriously the biblical teaching on eschatology. Second, it should apply
biblical eschatology with ethical responsibly to today’s local and global societal settings.
Third, it should candidly confess the limitations of all our paradigmatic models. Fourth,
and finally, it should center its doctrine and practice in a stress on the temporal and
eschatological preeminence of love. All of the above principles are simply amplifications
of an eschatologically underrated biblical chapter from Apostle Paul—1 Corinthians 13.
Lord, grant us sufficient grace to thus think, speak, and act; in Jesus’ name. Amen!
11

3 Comments

  • Troy Day
    Reply November 30, 2019

    Troy Day

    THANK YOU Tony Richie for this valuable text AND Nelson Banuchi for providing a working link to it It is now part of our permanent records NOT to be removed by any censure in the future …

    Joshua Nielsen Dustin Wilcox I would like to offer this as your valuble resource in reaching Pentecostal eschatology given you may not be Pentecostal though claiming some AG experience or such

    Anyhow the paper is essential to understand the Pentecostal mind in eschatology and how it has developed through the years With some risk for starters I will say I find Hollis Gause book on Revelation not essentially Pentecostal and somewhat circular as Daniel J Hesse suggested back in the day about some theology This is not to say Gause is not monumental to Pentecostal theology – we even have published in this group and discussed his lecture notes on holiness sanctification and they are a tremendous contribution. Sad he never published them in a book – my comment is strictly about his Revelation book cir. 1970 as well as similar books by the professor circles around him in recent years. I find their Revelation commentaries holistic but not essentially Pentecostal

    I can offer quite the inside on DAKE from using his MANY works not jsut DARB for half century or so and owning and studying original first prints of Dake, Darby, Scofiled and most proudly Larkin (first print 1919)

    Joshua Nielsen if you dont know who Durham or Dake were for Pentecostalism my first impression was correct. Just to repeat here again – neither Calvin nor dispensations are truly Pentecostal Ppl enforce them on our eschatology where they dont belong and never have I forget if it was Vinson Synan or Donald W. Dayton who made the rightful comment in this group before that DAKE’s definition of dispensation was NOT the same like Scofield and Darby So goes for Pentecostals

    However, Tony Richie, I’ve seen Dake use a lot and I mean a lot from Rev. Clarence Larkin (1850–1924) Clarence was not Pentecostal His Dispensational Truth as firstly brought by DallasTS was not Pentecostal theology About the Pentecostal movement Clarence Larkin wrote:

    “But the conduct of those possessed, in which they fall to the ground and writhe in contortions, causing disarrangement’s of the clothing and disgraceful scenes, is more a characteristic of demon possession, than a work of the Holy Spirit. From what has been said we see that we are living in “Perilous Times,” and that all about us are “Seducing Spirits,” and that they will become more active as the Dispensation draws to its close, and that we must exert the greatest care lest we be led astray.” (“From Holy Laughter to Holy Fire” by Michael L. Brown, pages 197&198)

  • Salvatore Tropea Sr
    Reply November 30, 2019

    Salvatore Tropea Sr

    Pentecost is not an ‘ism’ but a Biblical Doctrine which is generational. Peter said The Promise is “to as many as the Lord shall call!”

  • Troy Day
    Reply November 30, 2019

    Troy Day

    Pentecost is not an ‘ism’ but what is Pentecostalism?

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