Lewis Sperry Chafer

The Chafer Problem

Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871-1952), a student of Scofield, established Dallas Theological Seminary in 1924, and led dispensationalism’s flagship school for it’s first thirty years. Chafer also produced the first definitive systematic theology of dispensationalism. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols., (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948) is a standard articulation of Scofieldian dispensational thought. Chafer, always faithful to his mentor, stated – “It goes on record that the Dallas Theological Seminary uses, recommends, and defends the Scofield Bible.” That the founder of the school known as the “Jerusalem of Dispensationalism”, and the author of her Systematic Theology might make statements such as the following comes as no surprise to those who understand the grievous error of the dispensational system. “With the call of Abraham and the giving of the Law… there are two widely different standardized, divine provisions whereby man, who is utterly fallen, might come into the favor of God.”Chafer’s Systematic Theology makes the point that in the Old Testament men were justified by the Law, while in the New Testament faith was without works.

Again, in his Dispensationalism, p. 430, Chafer makes plain his misunderstanding of grace – As before stated, whatever God does for sinful men on any terms whatsoever [being made possible through the death of Christ] is to that extent, an act of divine grace; for whatever God does on the ground of Christ’s death is gracious in character, and all will agree that a divine covenant which is void of all human elements is more gracious in character than one which is otherwise.

These distinctions apply only to the divine side of the covenant. On the human side… there is no exercise of grace in any case; but the human requirements which the divine covenant imposes may be either absolutely lacking, or some so drastically imposed as to determine the destiny of the individual.Chafer, in keeping with the standard definition of a dispensation, sees the Atonement as making grace possible throughout the various ages, which allows salvation to be viewed as gracious regardless of the added requirements of that specific dispensation. So, under Grace (…the human requirements which the divine covenant imposes may be either absolutely lacking…) if one can generate the necessary faith one might receive grace.

Under the dispensation of Law (…or some so drastically imposed as to determine the destiny of the individual.), one might be required to keep the Law. In either case, the salvation obtained is gracious (according to Chafer), while in fact it is salvation by grace in neither. Modern dispensationalists may argue that what Scofield and Chafer had meant has not been properly discerned from what they have said. To that we say, look to the Consistent (or Bullingerite) Dispensationalist who has done nothing other than carry dispensationalism consistently to it’s logical conclusions.

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