CLARKS SUMMIT, Pa.—More than twenty college professors, seminary professors, and ministry leaders have met for the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, held on the campus of Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, Pa.

Mike Stallard, dean of Baptist Bible Seminary, described the event as “a network of traditional dispensationalists looking for a positive statement of our beliefs about hermeneutics and theological method.”

Dispensational theology has been popularized by the recent best-selling series of Left Behind novels. And it is often critiqued on the popular level as being a less-than-rigorous theological system. Dispensationalists are frequently (and perhaps superficially) accused of teaching more than one way of salvation, two different returns of Christ, and a lack of social action.

But the participants in this council have deeper concerns, believing that the crucial issues hinge on the interpretive methods that Bible scholars use to discover the meaning of Scripture. Traditional dispensational theologians believe that the meaning of Scripture is clear—it can be understood by the average person in the pew on Sunday morning. Traditional dispensational theologians advocate a historical-grammatical interpretation of the Bible, taking each passage literally unless there is strong internal evidence to suggest the language is figurative.

Rather than viewing dispensational theology as a telescope that points only to Bible prophecy, traditional dispensationalists view their theology as the natural result of consistent methods of biblical interpretation. For this reason, much of the council’s discussion has centered on hermeneutics and theological method, organized around six topics assigned by Mike Stallard:

  1. The issue of hyperbole and poetry in prophecy
  2. The specific issue of extended metaphors
  3. Recognizing implicitly conditional prophecy
  4. How long will New Testament Use of the Old Testament Govern the Conversation?
  5. Why do traditional dispensationalists struggle to agree on the fulfillment of the New Covenant and its relationship to the church?
  6. The value of speech act theory for interpretation

Stallard arranged the conference schedule so that participants heard 20-minute papers, followed by lengthy periods of interaction. “I really would like for us to spend most of our time—not listening to a paper—but having a dialog among ourselves, discussing these issues,” Stallard said. “Our goal here is discussion.”

“I’d like to see some writing—some theological articles and books—result from this council,” Stallard said, suggesting that the council may release a brief preliminary statement that summarizes their work.

The council was marked by the participation of Charles Ryrie (Dallas Theological Seminary, retired), Robert Lightner (Dallas Theological Seminary), and Robert Thomas (The Master’s Seminary). The three scholars are generally regarded as architects of the modern dispensational theology that developed in the 1960s and 70s.

Most of the participants in the council were familiar with each other, having met at annual meetings of the Pre-Trib Study Group and the Evangelical Theological Society.

The participants represented a cross-section of college professors, seminary professors, and ministry leaders across the country: Daniel Anderson (Appalachian Bible College), William Arp (Baptist Bible Seminary), Rob Bigalke, Jr. (Eternal Ministries) , Doug Brown (Faith Baptist Bible College), Alan Cole (Faith Baptist Bible College), Christopher Cone (Tyndale Theological Seminary) , Rod Decker (Baptist Bible Seminary), Chuck Emert (Baptist Bible College), David Frederickson (Western Seminary/Sacramento), Ken Gardoski (Baptist Bible Semianry), John Greening (General Association of Regular Baptist Churches), Gary Gromacki (Baptist Bible Seminary), George Gunn (Shasta Bible College), J.B. Hixson (Free Grace Alliance), Thomas Ice (Liberty University), Jim Lytle (Baptist Bible College & Seminary), John Master (Philadelphia Biblical University), David Mappes (Baptist Bible Seminary), Jonathan Master (Capital Bible Seminary), Joe Parle (College of Biblical Studies/Houston), Mark Snoeberger (Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary), Mark Soto (Grace Theological Seminary), and Mike Stallard (Baptist Bible Seminary).