Published on March 23, 2020 by Benjamin J. Montoya

Southern California Seminary Press, 2017 | 602 pages

A Book Review from Books at a Glance

By Paul A. Himes


Christopher Cone and James I. Fazio, of Calvary University (Kansas City, MO) and Southern California Seminary (El Cajon, CA), respectively, have assembled an impressive array of dispensational writers to explore dispensationalism in light of the Reformation. The goal of the book is to explain “how, five-hundred years later, dispensational thought upholds and advances the legacy of the Reformation unlike any other theological system in Christian tradition” (8). As such, this book represents an important and unique contribution to both dispensational scholarship and the history of modern theology. While not without a few weaknesses (and one significant lacuna), the contributions succeed in their overall goal of locating dispensational theology within the theology of the Reformation, especially the five solas, without downplaying any of the characteristics that make dispensationalism unique.



Since the book consists of eighteen chapters (including an introduction and conclusion) a thorough summary of each chapter is beyond the scope of this review. I will focus here on the general structure and trajectory of the book while highlighting a few key essays.

Forged from Reformation is divided into two parts. The first section is concerned more with history and social context (paying special attention to Martin Luther and John Darby) along with specific theological issues that show various degrees of continuity and discontinuity between dispensationalism and the Reformation. The second section is concerned with how dispensational theology relates to the five solas of the Reformation.

Thomas Ice begins the first section with a general overview of dispensationalism, stressing its emphasis on a literal hermeneutic while making the claim, central to the entire book, that “The reforms of the Protestant Reformation led the way to the eventual development of dispensationalism” (19). Ice is followed by various authors discussing Martin Luther and his formative role in the Reformation, the person and work of John Nelson Darby, and then Darby and Luther in dialogue. The chapters dealing with Darby (chs. 4–5) are especially important here, since they clarify who Darby is and what he believed while setting his theology (especially his ecclesiology) against the backdrop of the origins of Reformation theology. Then, following a discussion of “The Doctrine of Local Church Autonomy” (ch. 6), in which the author provides an overview of the doctrine of ecclesiology throughout history and compared to Reformation theology, this section then closes out with a much-needed critique of “Luther’s View of Israel” from a dispensational perspective (ch. 7).

The second section of the book focuses on each of the five solas of the Reformation and how they relate to dispensational thought. The editors prioritized Sola Scriptura, since out of the ten chapters in this section, five of them are subsumed under this heading. These first five chapters generally focus on the difference between dispensational hermeneutics and Reformed hermeneutics, especially literal vs. allegorical hermeneutics and the interpretation of prophecy. Chapters 13 and 14 then effectively speak to the relationship between dispensationalism and Sola Gratia and Sola Fide, taking pains to demonstrate that by-and-large dispensationalism affirms salvation by grace through faith apart from works. Indeed, chapter 14, Glenn Kreider’s discussion of Sola Fide, is one of the best chapters in the book and is especially helpful in providing an overview of the various dispensations and the role of grace and faith in each one.

The remaining three chapters focus on Solus Christus (ch. 15) and Soli Deo Gloria (chs. 16–17). The last two chapters go to great lengths to emphasize Soli Deo Gloria as the core tenant of dispensationalism, though I feel that the chapters are somewhat in tension with each other. Christopher Cone, in ch. 16, champions Charles Ryrie’s perspective on Soli Deo Gloria, despite its uniqueness even within dispensationalism (see pages 507–8); in contrast, in chapter 17 Luther Smith seems to view Ryrie more in continuity with the rest of dispensationalism, all unified around this theme of the centrality of God’s glory (see pp. 532–534). This is not meant as a criticism of either, merely an observation. Having said that, both Cone and Smith argue strongly for a continuity between modern dispensationalism and the original reformers vis-à-vis the centrality of God’s glory.

With chapter 18, Cone offers a fitting conclusion to the book, focusing both on Martin Luther’s new birth and the biblical Josiah’s willingness to listen to the word as paradigms for the need to be “always reforming.” After favorably quoting Luther on the necessity of freeing oneself from “errors which become fixed by universal standard and changed by time-honored custom into nature,” Cone concludes, “God’s truth never changes, but we must change in conforming our hearts and minds to be more aligned with His own timeless truth” (566–7).



The value of this book stems from three things: first and foremost its ability to accomplish what it set out to accomplish; secondly, its quality of research and argumentation; thirdly, its quality of writing. In the first category, I am happy to say, the book excels, and this fact alone means that the book is well worth the price for both individuals and institutions of higher education. In the third category, it also succeeds, meaning that it can be a pleasant read, granting that some chapters are easier to read than others (though none of them are overly technical). It is in the second category that the book will evidence a bit more inconsistency.

Before proceeding with the positive aspects of this evaluation, the reader should note that this book is not primarily intended to sway those of a Reformed position over to a Dispensational position, and the reader should not expect this. In other words, this book is not an “apologetic” for dispensationalism per se, only for its continuity with the theology of the Reformation. A more open-minded Reformed scholar would, I believe, gain a better understanding of dispensationalism and thus be less likely to perpetuate theological stereotypes, but I would be surprised (albeit pleasantly) if such a Reformed scholar (or educated Reformed pastor) were to suddenly become a dispensationalist. Once again, though, the book is not meant to accomplish that.

With that in mind, the book succeeds admirably at demonstrating that dispensationalism itself is a child of the Reformation, while showing clearly where dispensationalism parted ways with her Reformed cousins. For example, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (“only Scripture” as the supreme authority for the church) plays a prominent role in the theology of dispensationalism, and the recovery of this doctrine owes a lot to the work of Martin Luther (see, for example, Patrick Belville’s discussion on pages 56–58). Yet the various authors make clear how, in their opinion, Luther did not go far enough in the development of a more literal hermeneutic. This is a key emphasis of the book, understandably so, since hermeneutics is a dividing line between dispensational and reformed theology (see especially Thomas S. Baurain’s discussion on pages 316–327).

I repeat, then, that this book is not merely about how dispensationalism sprouted from the Reformation, but also how it diverged from it. Bibliology (in regards to Scripture’s supreme authority), soteriology, and doxology (the centrality of the Glory of God) are highlighted as key doctrines where dispensationalism stands mostly in continuity with its Reformation roots, while ecclesiology, eschatology, and bibliology (in regards to hermeneutics) are highlighted as areas of divergence. For the most part, the authors’ analysis fits the data, though I believe they missed a golden opportunity to discuss some of the inconsistencies in the Reformation vis-à-vis baptism (the interested reader is advised to read the excellent discussion on Luther, baptism, and sola fide by D. Patrick Ramsey in Themelios vol. 34.2).

In addition, the book clearly articulates an organic and historical connection between dispensationalism and the Reformation—James Fazio’s chapter 4 is very helpful here, and I believe he makes a strong case for viewing Darby as a “reformer” in his own right (and, to his credit, Fazio does not glamorize Darby, and is more than willing to discuss his failings). Overall, the authors demonstrate a solid understanding of dispensationalism’s place within the history of theology over the past 500 years, and those who would too-quickly characterize dispensationalism as having been “invented” by Darby would do well to read this book.

Another point of commendation is that the book is well-written, easily accessible, and, as far as the technical aspects of the English language go, a model of good proof-reading. I state this with a caveat, since there are a few places where an author simply does not make sense (see below), but in general the book was enjoyable to read. I could easily visualize parts of this book being required reading in college, and I feel it would be much more accessible to the average student than most books on dispensationalism.

I should also add that the production values are high—the book looks good (kudos to both those who designed the cover and to whoever chose the picture), and it has both a Scripture index and a subject index, an absolute necessity for this sort of book.

A few chapters stand out more than others in terms of quality. James Fazio on “John Nelson Darby” (ch. 4) and Cory M. Marsh on “Luther Meets Darby” (ch. 5) are both well-written and two of the more important chapters for the entire first section, as well as chapter 7, “How Dispensational Thought Corrects Luther’s View of Israel” (Brian Moulton and Cory Marsh). In the second section of the book, Ron J. Bigalke’s discussion of “The Protestant Hermeneutic and the Revival of Futurism” (ch. 9) does an excellent job of positioning dispensationalism’s emphasis on “futurism” in relation to both broader Protestant and Roman Catholic theology. From my own perspective, this chapter was one of the more informative chapters of the book (especially the discussion of Francisco Ribera). Finally, Glenn Kreider’s discussion of sola fide (ch. 14) is probably the most well-written chapter of the book, masterfully explaining the role of God’s grace in each dispensation and consequently mitigating the carnard that dispensationalism teaches a different method of salvation for different dispensations (notwithstanding the admission that “some early dispensationalists spoke of the outworking of the divine plan of redemption in confusing ways….” [page 455]).

As a final positive note, I feel that this book adequately explains dispensationalism. It is informative, in other words. The nature of the book (a collection of essays, some better than others) means it will probably not replace Charles Ryrie’s Dispensationalism as the sin que non of secondary literature for dispensational studies. Still, if a curious student were to only read one book on dispensationalism, I feel that Forged from Reformation would more than adequately introduce him or her to the topic.

Despite the clear value of this book, some areas of critique and concern remain. Chief among these is a weakness when discussing ecclesiology, specifically an almost complete absence of any discussion of the so-called “Radical Reformation,” the Anabaptists (according to the index, they are mentioned on four different pages [though I found a fifth mention], but this is almost always in passing). This is a major lacuna because the book spends a significant amount of time discussing the nature of the church in dispensational thought.

For example, on page 140, one author states that Darby was “more consistent with New Testament ecclesiology and reached further than even Luther was willing to go. The great reformers who heroically freed the church from its bondage to the Pope and the Roman Catholic clergy got no further than replacing it with a State or National Church….” Yet it was precisely the Anabaptists who did go further, and thus one could argue that surely Darby is their offspring as well! Indeed, much of modern Christianity owes the debt of religious freedom to the Anabaptists, since, as one modern church historian notes, they “became the first Christians in modern times to preach a thoroughgoing religious liberty: . . .” (Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 4th ed., rev. by R. L. Hatchett [Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013], 265).

Because dispensational ecclesiology is not situated within the context of the radical reformation, in my opinion, discussions of Reformation ecclesiology can get a bit confusing. For example, in chapter 6, a different author provides an overview of the doctrine of “local church autonomy.” Most of the chapter is quite good (despite barely mentioning the Anabaptists at all); however, at one point, when discussing Calvin’s ecclesiology, he favorably quotes Renaud and Weinberger as stating that “Calvin believed that an independent church [should be] supported and reinforced by a godly civil magistrate” (161). This immediately raises the question as to how a truly “independent church” could be “supported and reinforced by a godly civil magistrate”—this seems to be a contradiction in terms, and nothing in this chapter clarifies the matter (though the author further quotes Renaud and Weinberger as to how Calvin viewed both church and state). In addition, the author does not here deal with Calvin’s execution of Servetus (though a different author in ch. 8 does), certainly a relevant issue for the relationship of church and state in ecclesiology. Thus it becomes a bit unclear just how much continuity we should see between Calvin’s ecclesiology and that of dispensationalism.

In a nutshell, my only major critique of the book as a whole is this: it seems unfair to focus so much on ecclesiology of the Magisterial Reformation while neglecting that of the Radical Reformation, which surely has much more in common with dispensational ecclesiology.

Secondly, while the discussion of dispensational hermeneutics is overall solid (and Moulton and Marsh in chapter 7 are especially excellent in this regard), I believe at times the authors over-simplify matters. For example, in chapter 8, one author states that “Allegorization of eschatological biblical texts is a common practice among Reformed interpreters” (252) and then proceeds to give an example from Zechariah 14:4. This perspective is carried by other authors as well (e.g., pp. 364–5). While in principle I do not disagree, I feel that on some occasions the Reformed pastor has every right to declare, “Physician, heal thyself,” since I have heard way too many allegorical sermons within my own ecclesiastical circles where almost everybody would profess to be a dispensationalist. Indeed, twice in such a context, I have heard “allegorical” interpretations of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, one which was so wild even Augustine would blush! In other words, being a dispensationalist does not guarantee a good hermeneutic.

In addition, when the book discusses hermeneutics, the difficulties of apocalyptic literature are not adequately grappled with. For example, one author states on page 253 that “The ordinary import of Revelation’s words and phrases makes it impossible to argue …   [for a Preterist position].” Once again, I agree with the author, but one could just as well respond that “The ordinary import of Revelations words and phrases makes it impossible to be certain what John is talking about!” Indeed, the point of Apocalyptic literature is that one cannot interpret it normally; this is why Daniel needed help (e.g., Dan 7:15-16, 8:15).

Thirdly, there were times when I felt some of the authors may have needed to do a bit more research. This is evident on two levels: the discussion of a topic and the tendency to cite authors being cited by other authors. At the first level, occasionally I felt that I was not given enough reason to take an author’s statement at face value without some further exploration of the topic. For example, one author states that “During this era [the “Dark Ages”], the study of end times prophecy was rendered all but obsolete” (238). I am not convinced this is entirely fair, in light of, e.g., the very influential Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas (see Supplement, questions 73 and 74). Similarly, I am a bit unsure of the statement in chapter 6 that “The doctrine of the church or ecclesiology … was not often a matter of speculative or theoretical theological reflection until the time of the Reformation” in light of, e.g., 2 Clement 14, though I believe the author is correct in demonstrating how even those like Cyprian of Carthage, in The Unity of the Church, did not truly develop “a formal ecclesiology” (146).

The other side of this critique is that, though the authors generally cite primary and secondary sources effectively, there are too many instances of “source x cited in source y” in the footnotes (including primary sources mediated through a secondary source). This reaches a somewhat astonishing level on page 166, footnote 87, where we have three levels of citation: “source X quoted in source Y quoted in source Z.” Such citation practices should be avoided at all costs, because the more such intervening layers exist between the original author and the current author, the more opportunity there is for distortion of what the original author said.

Fourthly, while the book has very few typos at the grammatical-technical level (once again, kudos to the proofreaders!), there are a few places where a particular author’s statement is a bit unclear. A quick example: on page 67, it is not clear what the author means by “Luther based his view on the historic accounts of Saint Ambrose and Saint Polinus of Nola….” View of what, specifically? The context would indicate something to do with Luther’s respect for the office of the pope, but it is not clear what the “historic accounts” of these two men have to do with it (I had my research assistant read this, and he agreed as to its lack of clarity, though he noted that the author’s overall point was still discernible). This is not meant as a criticism of this or other authors in the book (we all have moments in our writing where we lack clarity!), but there were enough such occurrences that I feel the book could have used an outside reader dedicated to spotting unclear statements.



The above critique should not diminish this writer’s respect for the book and his belief that the book has accomplished its purpose. It has successfully demonstrated that dispensationalism stands in continuity with the Reformation, while also emphasizing areas where dispensationalism has differed and (in the opinion of some of us) improved on the Reformation.

Naturally in a book like this, some chapters are of more value than others. A few of the chapters, I believe, excel to the point where they could easily be required reading in a course on dispensationalism (I am thinking here of chs. 7, 9, and 14). In addition, a few of the chapters (I think especially of those on Darby, chs. 4–5) are very informative and would be very helpful for any non-dispensationalist pastor or theologian who wishes to speak intelligently about dispensationalism.

A high quality of writing and production, some excellent theological dialogue, and, once again, the fulfillment of its purpose make this book a must buy for any institution with dispensational sympathies and for any individual who wishes to speak intelligently on dispensationalism and its place in the history of theology.


Paul A. Himes is Professor of Bible and Ancient Languages at Baptist College of Ministry in Menomonee Falls, WI.

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Southern California Seminary Press, 2017 | 602 pages

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