A few years ago I was preaching
a series on "Dispensationalism" when an elder's wife came and said that those
things were too theological for her. A young man at the same meeting came and
said he had never heard of the term "Dispensations" before, even though he had
been raised in an assembly. The "Brethren Movement," through its well-known
leader, J. N. Darby, has played a significant role in systematizing and spreading
Dispensationalism; yet many today in the movement would not be able to defend
it or even know how to define it. Perhaps as you read this, you are saying to
yourself, "So what? Doctrine isn't so important--it's loving your brother and
being tolerant that is the key to Christian living." In many assemblies the
amount of time, or lack thereof, given to the systematic teaching of the Word
of God bears this out.

The Bible says in 2 Timothy
2:15, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to
be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." To paraphrase, we need to be
diligent in our Bible study so that when we stand before God to give an account,
we may not be ashamed due to a careless handling of His precious Word. To this
end, may I suggest three books for your study? These are study books. They could
be used as a basis for a group study on the very foundation of the way we approach
the Scriptures.

God revealed Himself in
history. The events of history that are selected by God's Spirit are selected
so we might understand the revelation of God and His purposes for mankind and
the universe in general, thus answering the eternal questions: "Why am I here?"
and "Where am I going?" There are two systems of interpretation of the Bible's
history that are most prevalent today. One is called "Covenant Theology" and
the other is "Dispensational Theology." These two systems are dramatically different.
They differ in the goal of history and the fundamental way in which Scripture
is viewed. A very fine book has been written to compare these two systems. Renald
Showers gives an overview of Covenant Theology and shows its strengths and weaknesses.
He devotes a larger part of the book to an examination of Dispensational Theology
and demonstrates its superiority over Covenant Theology. There Really Is
a Difference
, the book's title, is a good description of the book's contents.
It does make a difference which of these two systems you follow, for it greatly
affects your understanding of God's ultimate goal in history and the way in
which you view its history.

If in fact you are convinced
by Renald Showers' book that Dispensational Theology is for you, then there
is another book you must study. It is called Dispensationalism Today
by Charles Ryrie. It has been around a while, but is still available. This is
an excellent book on the definition, the origins, the hermeneutics, and distinctive
features of Dispensationalism. When you get through with this book, you will
be able to defend its precepts and understand its principles.

There is an aspect of Dispensationalism
which concerns the future events of the Bible. As Charles Ryrie says in his
book, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith, "All dispensationalists are
premillennialists, but not all premillennialists are dispensationalists." To
understand this statement and to see the outworking of prophecy from a dispensational
standpoint, this book is "must reading."

Why are any of these books
important? Because if I am to open my Bible to study it, I must have a consistent
interpretive guideline. It is the lack of this which is bringing much error
into the church and is causing so much discouragement among God's people. May
we be delivered from error as we "rightly divide the Word of Truth."