How Leaky Dispensationalism Leads to Inaccurate Biblical Interpretation & Application

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Brannon Howse: Let’s talk about leaky dispensationalism. We can appreciate people and certain things about people’s ministries and yet we can disagree with them in a gentlemanly way, and it doesn’t mean we’re condemning everything they’ve ever written and everything they’ve ever said. It doesn’t mean we’re being unkind or personal. They are big boys and  they too are public figures that write about people who are public figures and we can do the same. And we can disagree on some sidebar issues, and yet agree on major doctrinal issues. So when we bring up certain names, that’s not a personal attack on anyone.  Thus, please don’t read too much into our public critique on what some well-known Bible teachers might believe. It’s not a discounting of their entire ministry or anything.

So with that said, you have people that are now leaky dispensationalists. What is a leaky dispensationalist? Because I think John MacArthur now has come out and called himself a leaky dispensationalist, hasn’t he?

Andy Woods: Right. A leaky dispensationalist is someone that pays attention to the differentiations of divine rules in some areas, but in other areas they don’t pay attention to it. So for example, there’s a very clear change of rules going on with early Matthew, because Jesus, John the Baptist, and the twelve said these words. Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. And that was an offer only to Israel. And I know that because Matthew 10:5-7 when Jesus was sending out the twelve to preach this, he says don’t preach this to the gentiles. Don’t preach this to the Samaritans. Go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. So this offer of the kingdom, and Israel could have had the kingdom in the first century had they responded to their king. So this offer was faithfully preached until Matthew 12. And by the time you get to Matthew 12:24 when the religious leaders of the nation attribute Christ’s miracles to the devil, the offer is withdrawn.

Brannon Howse: Yeah. That would – if someone attributes your work to the devil, that would tend to make you say you know this kingdom that I was offering you right here, right now? It’s off the table.

Andy Woods: Right.

Brannon Howse: Right? You know, I mean it showed their spiritual condition.

Andy Woods: It showed their condition, and they weren’t interested in the kingdom on Christ’s terms. They wanted it on their own terms, but not on Christ’s terms. And so Matthew’s gospel radically changes at that point. Never do you see that expression again until the end of times. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And now all of a sudden Jesus starts talking about a church. Something they’d never heard of before. He says I will build my church, Matthew 16:18, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. In other words, subsequent to the rejection of the offer of the kingdom, Jesus starts revealing a change of house rules. See that?

Brannon Howse: Um-hmm. Which is again the meaning of the word dispensationalism. House rules.

Andy Woods: That’s the whole concept. So by the time you get to the beginning of the church, Acts 2, and Paul is taking his missionary journeys and he goes into Philippi, and the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:30-31 says, what must I do to be saved? Paul doesn’t say repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. First of all, why would he be preaching that message in Philippi when Jesus said you preach that message only to Israel? So it’s obvious that the – I’m not saying the gospel changed, but the proclamation changed. And you start to see this change because you’re paying attention to how God is changing the rules. Does that make sense? So when a person take the expression repent for the kingdom of God is at hand and holds it out to the lost sinner today.

Brannon Howse: It makes no sense.

Andy Woods: It makes no sense. And so that’s what I mean by leaky dispensationalism. Now you mentioned John MacArthur and in his book The Gospel According to Jesus, page twenty-five, I mean here’s a direct quote so people won’t think we’re misrepresenting him. I mean, get the book yourself. It’s been out for decades, and you can read it and see.

He says, there’s a tendency however for dispensationalists to get carried away with compartmentalizing truth to the point that they make unbiblical differentiations. He goes on and he says, an almost obsessive desire is to categorize and contrast related truths has carried dispensational interpreters, like Charles Ryrie for example in his mind, beyond legitimate distinctions between Israel and the church. And here’s the key one. Many would draw hard lines between salvation and discipleship, between the church and the kingdom. Between Christ’s preaching and the apostolic message.

Brannon Howse: Right. So just to make sure we’re clear what he’s saying. Is he criticizing people who makes the hard distinctions?

Andy Woods: Yes, but he’s saying these distinctions are done by dispensationalists who are getting carried away.

Brannon Howse: Okay now, read again what they are. Many would also draw hard lines between salvation and discipleship, between the church and the kingdom. I men that’s a pretty basic one isn’t it. Between Christ’s preaching and the apostolic message. So the distinction I raised earlier about how Paul’s message was different than what Christ was preaching in early Matthew, he’s saying we’re getting carried away by making that basic observation. Between faith and repentance. Between the age of the law and the age of grace. So what he’s saying here is he doesn’t make those distinctions, and that leads to, at least in my opinion, a very confused gospel in the present.

Brannon Howse: Give me an example.

Andy Woods: Well, you go up to somebody and you have an evangelistic opportunity, and instead of holding out Christ crucified and resurrected and faith alone in Christ alone, you start talking about how they need to repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. What does that even mean? Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. That’s not what Paul said. What do you mean by at hand? And what kingdom are you talking about? And what does the word repentance mean?

I mean, we need to be very clear on what we’re saying to lost people. When we get the question what must I do to be saved, the answer is ––

Brannon Howse: Believe in the name Lord Jesus Christ and thou shall be saved. And the word believe is, correct me if I’m wrong, in the original language the word believe is to place one’s faith or trust in. In other words, it’s not I believe in Abraham Lincoln. I believe that Abraham Lincoln. I believe that Abraham Lincoln lived. I believe that George Washington lived. But I don’t believe in Abraham Lincoln. I don’t believe in George Washington. But when it comes to believing, when it comes to Christ, I don’t believe that just Christ lived. I believe in Christ. So it’s not just a belief that. It’s a belief in. Faith. Correct?

Andy Woods: Right.

Brannon Howse: Faith in. Trust in.

Andy Woods: Well, I would analogize it this way, and I’ve used this example before. Charles Blondin would walk across a tightrope suspended over Niagara Falls.

Brannon Howse: I remember that.

Andy Woods: And at some point he got so good at it he could push a wheelbarrow, and as the story goes he could do this blindfolded. At least that’s what the pictures indicate on the internet.

It’s just an illustration. So he would do this. He would go back and forth across this tightrope suspended over Niagara Falls. He could have fallen to his death easily. And crowds would gather you know, to watch him do this. And one day he yells out to the crowd, do you believe that I can perform this feat again? Do you believe I can push this tightrope, this wheelbarrow rather, across this tightrope suspended over Niagara Falls, and they all said we believe. And he said what? Which one of y’all wants to get into the wheelbarrow?

Brannon Howse: So they believed that, but they weren’t going to believe in with actual faith in.

They weren’t going to get in the wheelbarrow.

Andy Woods: Exactly. And Biblical faith is more than just intellectual ascent. It has to encompass the idea of trust. And this is where the word repentance comes in.

Brannon Howse: And you believe that faith and repentance is really the same thing. Correct?

Andy Woods: Two sides of the same coin.

Brannon Howse: Two sides. And isn’t that what Jesus told to go preach? Repent? That people should repent. And then we see faith and repentance, faith and repentance. Two sides of a coin.

Andy Woods: Two sides of the same coin. The word repentance in Greek is metánoia. Meta means change as in metastasized. Your cancer has metastasized or changed from one part of your body to another, or metamorphosis. That’s again another compound word. Noai, from that word we get the word notion or idea which comes from the mind.

Brannon Howse: So metánoia.

Andy Woods: Yeah. Metánoia in Greek form or metánoia in now form means change of mind. So when a person shifts their confidence away from themselves for their salvation or their religion or their Sunday school certificate, or whatever it is they’re trusting in, and puts that faith completely in Christ, not only have they believed or trusted at that point, but automatically they’ve changed their mind.

Brannon Howse: Because now they are acknowledging what they are, a sinner, who they are, a sinner, what they are, completely depraved, in the sense that there’s nothing they can do to earn their salvation. So what they are – or who they are, what they are, and what they deserve. They’re a sinner, they’re depraved, and what they deserve – hell. So they’ve acknowledged that.

Andy Woods: And it’s more than just acknowledging it. They’re trusting in the answer. And that’s what we would call ––

Brannon Howse: And that’s the faith and repentance.

Andy Woods: That’s faith and repentance. And Lewis Sperry Chafer, who founded Dallas Seminary and he’s you know, the seminary –– Named after him. Chafer Theological Seminary, writes this. In his systematic theology, Volume 7, pages 265 to 266, he says, this vital newness of mind is part of believing, and after all, and therefore it may be and is used as a synonym for believing. So there he’s talking about repentance, and he’s talking about repentance the way we’re discussing it is not an antonym for belief. It’s a synonym. Synonym is a different word, same meaning.

So people ask me well, have you believed or have you repented? And my answer is yes. The moment I trusted Christ for my salvation is the moment my mind changed, because I wasn’t trusting in myself anymore, or religion, but I was trusting exclusively in Christ. And you see, that is the pure gospel that Paul is preaching in the book of Acts. And Jesus is not preaching that the way I’ve described it in early Matthew when he’s offering the kingdom to Israel. He’s offering the nation something. He’s not dealing with personal salvation. So when you start to grab passages that deal with God’s dealings with a nation and you muddy the waters and sort of incorporate it into what the church will be preaching today, that’s leaky dispensationalism.

Brannon Howse: Leaky dispensationalism. As an example Jesus, was it in Matthew 24 talks about persevering? The perseverance of the saints, or persevering. He who perseveres to the end shall be saved. Right?

Andy Woods: Yes

Brannon Howse: And that’s Matthew 24. And MacArthur teaches everything we would believe up to about that verse. Right? And then what does he say?

Andy Woods: Well then he goes on sort of a soteriological kick where he gets into this whole subject of well you know what? If you’re really a Christian you’d better persevere through good works to the end of your life or you’re not a Christian. Now that’s a theological idea, but you don’t find that in Matthew 24. When Jesus says in Matthew 24, I think it’s about verse thirteen, he who endures to the end will be saved. That’s talking about the tribulation period.

Brannon Howse: So he’s talking to the Jews.

Andy Woods: He’s talking to the Jews. And what’s just happened? The temple has been desecrated. Matthew 24:15. Satan, Revelation 12, has been cast out of heaven. He plummets to the earth. He begins to pursue the nation of Israel to destroy her, because Satan’s goal is always to eradicate Israel so the kingdom through Israel can’t ever come.

Brannon Howse: Right. Because if Satan can wipe out the Jewish people through the holocaust and Hitler, or through whatever else happens along the way, through the eradication of the Jewish people then there’s no Jewish people to come to Christ, to come Jesus Christ and thus to have a great revival, that then rolls into the the millennial kingdom. Right? So if he can destroy the Jews, the millennial kingdom doesn’t come, Christ loses, and Satan wins.

Andy Woods: And Satan stays in authority over the earth, and he’ll never be bound or tossed into the lake of fire at the end.

Brannon Howse: So this is why Satan is always after the Jewish people. It’s spiritual to the very end.

Andy Woods: Yeah. There’s a spiritual reason for antisemitism.

Brannon Howse: Yes.

Andy Woods: But Matthew 24, in that context Jesus says, the one who perseveres to the end will be saved. Saved meaning protected physically from the antichrist that’s trying to kill the Jewish people, because Jesus is going to come at the end of the tribulation period and protect them. So if you make it to the end you’ll be saved or protected by Jesus through his personal return to the earth from the wrath of Satan and the antichrist.

Brannon Howse: And those that didn’t make it, they went on to heaven and that’s the ones that have been given robes that are crying out how much longer, right?

Andy Woods: Right.

Brannon Howse: So the Jews that are killed and martyred for their faith in Yeshua Messiah, they go on to heaven.

Andy Woods: Right.

Brannon Howse: The other ones who persevere and make it through, they get saved because God says if he didn’t send Christ to stop it, there’d be no one left. Right? So saved is not talking about salvation.

Andy Woods: It’s not talking about going to heaven. It’s talking about physical protection.

It’s like if I left early and got to the office early and I missed the traffic jam, I got saved from a traffic jam. I’m not talking about going to heaven.

So the word saved there in Matthew 24:13 has a specific context that we’ve just explained. So to interpret Matthew 24 the way John MacArthur does as all about the tribulation period, and then all of a sudden you get to verse thirteen and you read into that a whole soteriological concept that I’ve got to make it to the end of my life in good works to prove I’m a Christian so I can get to heaven. That’s a complete misreading.

Brannon Howse: And that’s what we would mean by leaky dispensationalism.  And John MacArthur calls himself that, does he not?

Andy Woods: He does call himself a leaky dispensationalist. I can actually give you the quote if you’re interested.

Brannon Howse: Yeah, yeah.

Andy Woods: This comes from a transcription of his. He says, I was raised in a dispensational environment, there’s no question, but when I got to seminary I began to test some of those things. I have been perhaps aptly designated a leaky dispensationalist.

Brannon Howse: So he’s admitting I’ve been aptly labeled a leaky dispensationalist.

Andy Woods: So he’s not respecting the changes of rules consistently, and that’s leading to a lot of his theological confusion in some examples we’ve cited. He says, here’s my dispensationalism. I’ll give it to you in one sentence. There’s a difference between Israel and the church period.

Brannon Howse: We agree with that.

Andy Woods: We agree with that, but we think there’s more. At the same time in seminary I began to be exposed to reading among more reformed theologians. And over the years of exegeting the scripture it has yielded to me a reformed theology. I was convinced of it, reformed theology, when I started and I’m more convinced of it now as I’ve gone through the text. I was convinced of it when I started because I read so many noble men who have held that view, i.e., reformed theology, it was more at that point hero worship and now it’s become my own.

Brannon Howse: That’s a direct quote.

Andy Woods: That’s a direct quote, and we can give the exact transcript where people can get this if they’re interested. I think it’s on their website. What is the foundation of dispensationalism going back to how we started? It’s a consistent literal approach to the Bible. If you stay in that lane you’re going to start to see these obvious things. If your eyes drift away from that and you start to become enamored with these stages of the past, whether it be Calvin Luther, Martin Lloyd Jones, or whoever, your eyes are going to get taken off the text and you’re going to start reading reformed theology into the text.

Brannon Howse: And then you start confusing salvation justification with sanctification.

Andy Woods: Discipleship. Right.

Brannon Howse: Which is what he said? Or with discipleship as he said earlier.

Andy Woods: That’s exactly right.

Brannon Howse: And he was saying some of them, the dispensationalists want to draw a clear line between salvation and discipleship. Another way we say is between justification and sanctification. But we do draw a strong line between justification and sanctification, because some verses that are about sanctification are about just that – sanctification. Some verses are about justification, are about justification. Salvation, when you’re saved versus discipleship or sanctification. So you have to make the distinction.

Andy Woods: And that’s an example of not paying attention to the rules. House rules.

The house rules for justification are different than sanctification. Just real quick. What is justification? Justification is freedom from sin’s penalty at the point of faith. It takes place in ––

Brannon Howse: It’s a legal transaction. Debt paid in full. It is finished. Which we also describe as imputation. The righteous love of Christ imputed or credited to our account.

Andy Woods: And it’s not a process. It happens right then and there. But once that person receives that, God ushers them into the middle phase of their salvation which is what you call sanctification. We could call it discipleship. We might just call it growth or growing up as a Christian. And there there’s not one command. See, there’s only one command to be justified. Belief. Now multiple commands take over. Think of all of the commands. Put on the armor of God. Pray without ceasing. Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together as is the habit of some. Study and show thyself approved as a workman, not be ashamed but accurately handles the word of truth. I mean, think of all of the commands that we have to be actively following.

Now we don’t do it through white knuckling. We do it through the in-dwelling resources of the Holy Spirit. But until I start to live, I’ve got to become aware of those commands and start to follow them, then I start to grow. And that’s not a nanosecond thing. That’s a process, and you can make strides and go backwards, and climb the mountain again. But that’s the process that I’m in now and you’re in now.

And then the last phase of our salvation is glorification, and all you have to do for that is either be raptured, or die. And there you’re saved from sin’s very presence. So in sanctification you’re being delivered from sin’s power. In glorification you’re being delivered from sin’s very presence. In justification you’re delivered from sin’s penalty at the point of faith.

Now if those are the house rules, think how confusing it is to be a leaky dispensationalist and not draw a hard line between salvation and discipleship the way I just did.

Brannon Howse: And now verses that deal with sanctification get applied to justification and now you’re making people question their salvation justification because you’re applying verses that deal with sanctification to justification. 

Andy Woods: Right.

Brannon Howse: Now things get kind of mixed up. Right?

Andy Woods: Yeah. Think how confusing it would be if I went to an unbeliever who doesn’t have the Holy Spirit inside of him. And I said to them, clean yourself up and come to Jesus. Clean yourself up of course, I’m kind of just summarizing.

Paraphrasing. That is something for the believer to do. After the Holy Spirit is inside of him.

If I were tell that to an unbeliever by not paying attention to these house rules, first of all, I’d be asking that unbeliever to do something that he can’t do. That he has no ability to do. Number two, I’d be teaching a warped gospel, which is a garbled gospel, which is no gospel at all. I’ve got to keep it very simple on the unbeliever because that’s what God does. God says believe in the provision of Christ. Now once they get saved, that’s a different story. Now we can start talking about the holy life.

Brannon Howse: Sanctification.

Andy Woods: Sanctification.

Brannon Howse: Discipleship.

Andy Woods: But the great error of some of the false teaching of the gospel that we have today is what’s call front loading where people take these commands related to sanctification and suddenly they’re holding them out to the believer for justification. That’s leaky dispensationalism.

Brannon Howse: Okay. And again, this helps us understand why perhaps you can have guys that are sharing the platform with people that reject dispensationalism, reject the Biblical purpose the church and the role of Pastors, and you see guys sharing the platform with each other, but the one thing they have in common is their reformed theology.

Andy Woods: Right.

Brannon Howse: And if you tend to be kind of not drawing distinct lines then you can see where you start sharing more and more common area, and so you overlook the real problems and all of a sudden now you’ve got guys sharing the platform with people they shouldn’t be sharing the platform with because they agree on reformed theology or Calvinism. Correct?

Andy Woods: Right. You reduce these distinctions and you can get along with more people.

Brannon Howse: Yeah. And this isn’t – we’re not throwing out the entire ministry of John MacArthur at all, are we?

Andy Woods: No.

Brannon Howse: I mean, you’ve appreciated his ministry for many years, too.

Andy Woods: I have. I’ll tell you this much. The first gift my wife gave me, you know, when we were dating, she gave me the MacArthur commentary.

Brannon Howse: Study Bible. Yeah.

Andy Woods: I have his Revelation commentary. I very much appreciate what he’s done in Genesis 1-11. I have a great admiration for the critiques he’s given to the so-called church growth movement. I have a great respect for his stand against mixing humanistic psychology with the Bible in terms of counseling I mean, there are many, many things that I’m a great fan of his. But this ––

Brannon Howse: This statement you don’t agree with.

Andy Woods: This statement here about leaky dispensationalism is very disturbing because that leads to confusion in so many other areas.

Brannon Howse: And that’s why we are dispensationalists, not leaky dispensationalists.

Andy Woods: Exactly. We try to be consistent.

Brannon Howse: And just as he has called out people that he’s disagreed with and said I don’t agree with them, like R.C. Sproul. He and R.C. Sproul don’t agree on things publicly. They debate each other.

Andy Woods: Right.

Brannon Howse: We’ve done the same thing. It’s not discounting anyone’s ministry in entirety. We’re just saying we don’t agree. Right?

Andy Woods: Right. It’s not questioning someone’s salvation.

Brannon Howse: No. Unh-uh.

Andy Woods: But the whole focus of this show is the importance of dispensation.

Brannon Howse: Yeah. Exactly. In defense of dispensationalism has been our theme.



This article and transcription is brought to you as a ministry of Worldview Weekend and Worldview Weekend Foundation. If you appreciate that fact that we have spent the financial resources to produce this transcription and have made it available free of charge to you, then please consider supporting our ministry with a tax deductible contribution so we can continue to distribute such Biblical resource materials.

We are a listener supported broadcast ministry. Thank you for your tax deductible contribution at or by  calling 901-853-8792 or by sending your check to:

Worldview Weekend Foundation
P.O. Box 1690
Collierville, TN 38027

The complete transcript can be found at 

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