It was a number of years ago, but I still remember the conversation. I asked a fellow pastor how he interpreted the Book of Revelation. I expected a simple response like, “I take it literally and understand it to be a description of future prophetic events.” Instead, he casually admitted that he did not know how to understand the last book in the Bible. In fact, he gave me the impression that he didn’t really think it was that important.
I didn’t respond, but I was shocked. His answer was not what I expected from a graduate of a well-regarded Christian University. Moreover, he was the teaching-pastor of a local church where people routinely looked to him for guidance in the understanding of God’s Word. I understand that a pastor cannot be expected to know everything. However, he should have a basic grasp of theology by the time he finishes Bible college or seminary. Otherwise, he has wasted a lot of time and money. Not to mention that he has little to offer those who depend on him for biblical instruction. What good is education, if it doesn’t lead to understanding? Shouldn’t a Bible teacher have a grasp of end-times events? If not, then what about the beginning. Is the creation of the world and humankind a great mystery as well perhaps couched in ancient folklore? If we don’t know how everything began, and we don’t how everything ends, what do we know? And what is there in between that can be relied upon? We need an understanding of both the beginning and the end.
While I am thankful that I was trained in expository preaching years ago when I attended seminary. I am equally thankful for my education in the discipline of systematic theology. My theology professor, the late Dr. David Winget, made sure that I and my fellow students not only understood what we believed but also why. He was a Dallas Theological Seminary graduate, and we were trained in the classic dispensational theology taught at that school. He routinely contrasted and compared dispensationalism with other systems of theology, especially in the field of eschatology. Not every student accepted what Dr. Winget taught, but there was never a question as to where he stood and the biblical framework behind it.
Today, dispensationalism is held in contempt by many scholars, but unless someone is still offering sacrificial lambs on an altar, they accept the basic premise of dispensationalism. A dispensation is simply a historical time period in which God has certain expectations of men. These expectations are not a means of salvation, but a pathway to blessing. For an outstanding summary of dispensationalism, see The Importance of a Dispensational Perspectiveby Sam A. Smith on his website. For a comprehensive theology text, I would recommend Chafer's Systematic Theology. Used copies are still available on Amazon.
Years after I had graduated, I visited with Dr. Winget and thanked him for what his careful instruction in the field of theology meant to me in the execution of my ministry. Theology is the forest—the big picture. Expository preaching is about the trees that make up the forest—the details. Without perspective on the forest as a whole, it’s easy to become confused among the trees. The primary importance of a dispensational perspective is that it provides the historical and theological context of any selected passage of scripture—the forest in which the trees of scripture reside. Without a proper view of both the forest and the trees, any hope of comprehensive understanding is lost.