CHARLES C. RYRIE
by Paul P. Enns
Charles Caldwell Ryrie (b. 1925) is a graduate of Haverford College (B.A.), Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M., Th.D.) and the University of Edinburgh, Scotland (Ph.D.). For many years he served as professor of systematic theology and dean of doctoral studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, where he challenged students to precision in theological speaking and writing. Dr. Ryrie is especially gifted in his ability to clarify profound theological truths in simple, precise language. He has enabled people to understand biblical truth that they would otherwise not readily comprehend and in this he has made an inestimable contribution to the Christian world.
Dr. Ryrie's writings have consistently been on the theological cutting edge, addressing the critical issues of the day and speaking on behalf of dispensational premillennialism. In his classic text, Dispensationalism Today (1965), and his recent update, Dispensationalism (1995), Ryrie clarifies many of the misunderstandings that opponents of premillennialism and dispensationalism have leveled. He notes that even Louis Berkhof, a covenant theologian, makes (dispensational) distinctions, differentiating the OT from the NT and seeing four subdivisions in the OT. Ryrie defines a dispensation as "a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God's purpose" (Dispensationalism, 28). In a dispensation God places people under a stewardship or responsibility, people invariably failing the test, with a corresponding judgment and change.
Ryrie clearly delineates the sine qua non of dispensationalism:
1. Dispensationalism keeps Israel and the church distinct. This is the most basic test of dispensationalism.
2. The distinction between Israel and the church is born out of a system of hermeneutics that is usually called literal interpretation. Dispensationalism interprets words in their normal or plain meaning; it does not spiritualize or allegorize the text. The strength of dispensationalism is its consistently literal, or plain, interpretation of Scripture.
3. The underlying purpose of God in the world is the glory of God (pp. 39-40). In contrast to covenant theology (which sees salvation as the underlying purpose) and progressive dispensationalism (which emphasizes a Christological center), dispensationalism sees a broader purpose – the glory of God. (This theme is developed in Transformed By His Glory) For this reason, the number of dispensations is not the critical issue in dispensationalism – as long as one is true to the three essentials of dispensationalism. Three dispensations – law, grace, and kingdom – receive most of the treatment in Scripture; however, it is possible to recognize other dispensations and while the historic sevenfold scheme of dispensations is not inspired, they seem to be distinguishable economies in God's program.
Dr. Ryrie also interacts with progressive (revisionist) dispensationalism as held by Darrell Bock, Craig Blaising and Robert Saucy. This revisionist dispensationalism represents a major departure from normative dispensationalism. A major tenet of progressive dispensationalism is its belief that the Abrahamic, Davidic, and new covenants are already inaugurated and beginning to be fulfilled (already/not yet). They understand Christ as already seated and reigning on the throne of David in heaven. Ryrie questions, "Why is no mention made of an already inaugurated Palestinian covenant (Deuteronomy 29-30)?" (p. 163). The revisionist teaching of "already/not yet” is not new. C. H. Dodd taught it early in the twentieth century; George Ladd, the covenant premillennialist, and amillennialists A. Hoekema and R. C. Sproul have taught variations of it. Even nondispensationalists recognize that progressive dispensationalism has changed to covenant dispensationalism and has moved closer to covenant theology. The revisionists' failure to make a clear and consistent distinction between Israel and the church and the teaching that Christ is currently reigning on the throne of David in heaven is assuredly closer to covenant theology than to normative dispensationalism.
Originally a doctoral dissertation, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith established the Old Testament foundation of premillennialism: "Holding to a literal interpretation of the Scriptures, [premillennialists) believe that the promises made to Abraham and David are unconditional and have had or will have a literal fulfillment. In no sense have these promises made to Israel been abrogated or fulfilled by the church, which is a distinct body in this age having promises and a destiny different from Israel's" (p. 12). With this foundation, Ryrie develops the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12:1-3), showing that this covenant awaits a literal, future fulfillment with the establishment of Israel in the Promised Land. This can only be properly understood when recognizing the distinction between Israel and the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:32). The church does not receive the fulfillment of these promises; they were made to Israel and will be fulfilled to that nation.
Premillennialism is further established through the unconditional Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7:12-16), which promises: (1) a posterity; (2) David's throne will be established forever; (3) David's kingdom will be established forever (p. 77). Many OT passages confirm the future fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (Psalm 89; Isaiah 9:6-7; Jeremiah 23:5-6; 30:8-9; 33:14-21; Ezekiel 37:24-25; Daniel 7:13-14; Hosea 3:4-5; Amos 9:11). Christ did not inaugurate this kingdom at His First Advent; it awaits His future return for fulfillment (p. 93).
Premillennialism also has a basis in the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34), which provides unconditional grace, forgiveness, and restoration to the favor and blessing of God. While an aspect of it applies to the church, its complete fulfillment "requires the regathering of all Israel, their spiritual rebirth, and the return of Christ” (p. 111). Ultimately, "the new covenant is for Israel" (p. 124) and awaits fulfillment at Jesus' return.
While recognizing Ryrie's important contributions to many critical theological issues, perhaps his most noteworthy contribution is the Ryrie Study Bible, now in an expanded edition (1995). g