Tommy Nelson: A Real Live Dispensationalist!

People are often surprised when I tell them that I became convinced of the doctrines of grace through the preaching of a dispensationalist. Nevertheless, it is true. It happened when I was in college. Pastor Tommy Nelson’s exposition of Romans 9 changed my worldview forever.

It just so happens that not only is Tommy Nelson a Calvinist, but he is also a committed dispensationalist. He’s not a Bock and Blaising dispensationalist. He is a Ryrie and Walvoord dispensationalist. Nelson is old school.

Recently Tommy Nelson did a single sermon exposition of dispensationalism that explains why he thinks it is the key to understanding the entire Bible. The sermon and the notes are available for free download. To all of you theological archeologists, you’ll really love this one!

MP3: “Dispensationalism: Key to the Whole Story of God” by Tommy Nelson

Notes: “Dispensationalism”


  • Mike Templin

    Dr. Burk,

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe that Dispensationalism and Calvinism can go hand in hand… the teachings do not stand together in the tradition of the “Reformed Faith”. It would seem that Dispensationalism would not embrace the theology of Calvinism in its entirety. I have been reading Dr. R.C. Sproul, Dr. John H. Gerstner, Hank Hanagraff, Gary Demar, among others and it seems that Dispensationalism is based on a flawed hermeneutic. It seems that covenant theology, and a partial-preterist view embrace the Calvinistic, reformed tradition, and to the teachings of Christ, Paul, John, Calvin, and the entire theological flow of the bible. I, one that would consider myself a Reformed Baptist would love for you to explain your theology so that I might have better understanding of this theology in the light of scripture. I mean no attack on you, or your community of theologians, for I was even once a student of you and loved your teaching, but I’m sick of Tim LaHaye, Tommy Ice, and others calling my theology (Calvinistic and reformed, from a partial-preterist point of view) heretical when there ideology of the scriptures has on been around for over 100 years! Please respond…I am eager to learn, and have high respect for you, but I am afraid that the evangelical church is being led astray by Tim LaHaye!

    Sola scriptura,

    Michael K. Templin

    P.S. Maybe a Lions Den could address this in the future! : )

    P.S.S. I really like Tommy Nelson


    Tommy’s sermons on Romans 9 (and Romans in general) are money.

    While not a dispensationalist myself, I’ve taught his book The Big Picture in Sunday school and would recommend it as well. He really has a great handle on (and respect for) the Word of God and is just inspiring to hear preach.

  • dennyrburk


    When I used the word Calvinist, I didn’t mean it as a synonym for Covenant Theology. Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism are incompatible. A Calvinistic soteriology is not incompatible with Dispensationalism. Tommy Nelson is one example of a Calvinistic Dispensationalist, but not the most well-known. I think the most well-known person in this category is John MacArthur. These two men represent a large constituency of Calvinistic Dispensationalists.

    What do I think about Dispensationalism? I accept Craig Blaising’s three-fold description of the historical development of Dispensationalism: Classic (Scofield), Revised (Ryrie, Walvoord), and Progressive (Bock, Blaising).

    I think the last of the Scofieldian Dispensationalists died out about 60 years ago. I don’t know of any living Scofieldian Dispensationalists. They were the ones who believed that Israel and the church will be separated in the eternal state. I regard that whole system as a serious theological error.

    I am not a Revised Dispensationalist either (a la Ryrie, Walvoord). I don’t think that the church is a “parenthesis” in the plan of God. That idea is not taught in the Bible anywhere. Moreover, the Revised Dispensationalists press the distinction between the church and Israel beyond what is biblically sustainable. I think they have a hard time dealing with New Testament texts like 2 Corinthians 1:20, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.”

    I would have some things in common with the Progressive Dispensationalists (a la Bock, Blaising), though there might still be enough differences to keep me from being labeled a Progressive Dispensationalist. Nevertheless, their emphasis on the unity of Israel and the Church as the one people of God is a necessary corrective to older forms of Dispensationalism. So I heartily endorse that emphasis. Their belief that the Kingdom of God is both “already” and “not yet” is a sound biblical teaching. So I have some things in common with them.

    Yet when people ask me to describe my theological orientation, I always say that I am a Reformed Baptist. For more on that, click on the “About” tab above. Read the “Abstract of Principles,” and you’ll get a good idea of where I’m coming from.


  • Rick Garner


    You commented “I thought that the majority of Baptists were dispensational.” To be clear it is easier to find an ivory-billed woodpecker in Arkansas than a dispensationalist in the SBC. Albeit, I hear some modified ones live such as Burk, Bock and a few others.

  • Barry

    Good post on Tommy. Brian Payne and I find ourselves quoting him to one another. He is still on the DBC sermon list. That Romans 9 set is something else. I give it to students from time to time.

    I don’t see the church as parenthesis either, and while the writings of LaHaye and Jenkins are decent fiction (the audio books do help roll away the miles while traveling), I, um, don’t think it will work out that way.


    And PS – If I lived anywhere near Denton, I would be at DBC.

  • G.L.W. Johnson

    I was once a teenage dispensationalist too and the two people most responsible for delivering from its grasp were two of the most respected men to have ever taught at DTS- the late S.Lewis Johnson, Jr. who I served as his teaching and research assistant at T.E.D.S. ,and Bruce Waltke, who was one of my professors at WTS in Phila.Dr. Johnson remained a historical premil., while Dr. Waltke embraced the amil. position.

  • Alan Streett

    One of the most famous Dispensationalist — Calvinist of the mid-20th century was Donald Grey Barnhouse (1895-1960), pastor of Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia. His teachings on Romans are still available at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals website. Barnhouse was a giant of the faith, who spoke with biblical authority and held his audiences spellbound. For a great read, get THAT MAN BARNHOUSE.

  • Steven


    I am not a dispensationalist, but the first churches I went to after becoming a believer were. My questions came almost immediately about certain aspects of the system that failed to jibe with the text.

    However, that aside, I used to listen to Tommy Nelson through the internet and he taught me alot. His church history series was quite helpful and entertaining. He was one of the first guys to introduce calvinism to me. I respect his ministry tremendously, even though I disagree with him on some particulars.

  • B. Averitt

    I guess I will dedicate this posting to Dr. John Hannah of DTS whose assignment to research the ‘Raputre during the Reformation’, helped give me perspective. I apologize in advance for its excessive length; some things from my seminary days haven’t changed.
    This exert is from a letter responding to a Christian brother who believed ‘dispensational’ doctrine to be a ‘Johnny come lately’ idea and thus gravely wrong.

    To speak of Dispensational Theology as “a doctrine never really discussed until 1830’s” is not technically correct. True the word dispensational is a fairly new word and system of interpretation. However, the doctrine that is derived through that method of interpretation is NOT something new. For example, Dispensational theology teaches a literal Millennial Kingdom. Where as Covenantal theology doesn’t. Early church Fathers like Papias (ca. 60-120), Irenaeus (ca. 140-202), Justin Martyer (ca. 110-165), and Tertullian (ca. 160-220) all believed in and taught about a literal Millennial Kingdom to be established on earth. Although it wasn’t called dispensational then, the position is the same. Most believers in the 1st century thought that Christ was going to return soon and establish an earthly kingdom. But as time went on, these early Christians had to confront the delay in Christ’s second coming. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries there arose within the church the need to institutionalize the church due to the heretical nature of many teachers. This was for the purpose of deflecting heretical doctrine from gaining ground on that which had been passed down from the apostles. As a result the apocalyptic hope and millennial expectations of the 1st century began to fade in terms of its immediacy, due to other doctrinal battles. Eschatology as a doctrine just didn’t receive a lot of attention because the theological battle field was over Christology and Trinitarian concern. Then by the 4th century, Christianity moved from being a persecuted sect to the official religion of the empire. With its new position of privilege, Christians no longer yearned for a glorious earthly millennium the way they did previously. And it was during this time that the allegorical approach to interpreting Scripture became dominant. And it was Augustine (ca. 354-430), bishop of Hippo who delivered the greatest set back to the idea of a literal millennium. Augustine saw the book of Revelation as a description of the history of the church, not as a prophecy of the end of time.
    The Millennium in his view was the present church age which began at Christ’s first coming and was sense viewed as being in progress. In later years, Augustine’s view became known as amillennialism. Augustine’s amillennarian theology prevailed well into the Middle Ages. So according to Augustine’s position the Millennial Kingdom would have culminated some time shortly around or after 1000 A.D. It didn’t happen. So while it is OK to say Augustine was a Brilliant theologian, we also must admit that he was wrong about his position regarding the millennium. However, it did take some 570+ years to bear this truth out.
    Through the Middle ages (400 to 1500), some 1100 years, Augustine’s amillennarian theology remained the official position of the Catholic Church. But during the late Middle ages (1100 to 1500) critical events such as persecution, crop failures, the Black Death, social upheavals, reform movements, et. al., combined to heighten a sense of Christ’s imminent return and the eternal state. So by the time of the reformation, the feeling of Christ’s imminent return was so strong, Luther said “We have reached the time of the white horse of the Apocalypse. This world will not last any more, if God wills it, than another hundred years.” (quote from Martin Luther’s Sammtliche Schriften, 22:1334.) Luther saw himself as living in the interval between the millennium and the end of the age. And as important as Luther is to the Protestant church for prying the Bible out of the hands of the Catholic Church and their tyrannical control of its interpretation, which is probably another reason dispensational ‘like’ theology wasn’t produced during this period. We still must acknowledge that Luther (and the other reformers, who viewed their day as Luther did) was wrong concerning his end-time theology.
    So from 400 A.D. to 1500 A.D., for 1100 years the amill. position had a detrimental affect on the progress of eschatology. They equated modern day events with the events of the great tribulation – AND WERE WRONG! Now, God still loves them and those who were truly His children are still in heaven. But concerning eschatology, they were wrong, though being Brilliant theologians.
    From the Reformation onward, one event probably did more to revitalize the notion of a future golden age, of a millennial kingdom than did anything else. The English Civil war. For the English puritans the 1620’s was the period in which they embraced the ancient doctrine of a future millennial kingdom. By 1700 there was a sharp line dividing those who believed in a future millennial or a past millennial kingdom. Such events as these in the passing of time opened the door for John Nelson Darby (ca. 1800-1882) to systematize a method of interpretation which developed into what we call dispensationalism. This system of interpretation has been refined over the past 100+ years. Yet the doctrinal positions it has shed light on as a system of interpretation, has been taught from the days of the apostolic church. And as my grandmother always said, “The proof is in the pudding”.

  • Nancy

    I consider myself a reformed dispensationalist. I left the Ind. Fundamental Baptist church
    I was in, because the Pastor taught Ephesians 2:8-9 that
    FAITH comes from us the sinner, and not from God as a gift. He said only
    salvation and grace are from God.
    He needs to study John 6:37-65 No
    man can come to God, unless God draws
    him. I see many verses as to God marrying Israel! I Also see Deut.26:19 This is to Israel written in Hebrew! No I will never
    replace Israel with the church.
    God has made promises to Israel that are only to Israel, the Apple
    of His Eye!
    I do accept the TULIP though. It
    does not make you a covenant believer even though the reformed
    seem to have a package deal.

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