Southwest Regional Meeting ETS 2005
Numerous historians have suggested a philosophical link between dispensationalism and the modified Baconian philosophy of Thomas Reid.2 Typically the link is defined in terms of epistemology though most all the historians I encountered view the connection to be inferential and offer little direct evidence in favor of their argument. In researching their claim it became apparent that these authors are indeed correct in their assertion of a latent dependence on Common Sense Realism by dispensationalist theologians. Unfortunately, however, most dispensationalists, especially its progenitors, do not seem to be all that well versed in philosophy as a discipline. The following paper attempts to summarize the results of my study whilst simultaneously fleshing out the claim of the supposed epistemic association made by the above mentioned historians. It will be demonstrated that, though the early and middle dispensationalists were either unaware of their philosophical presuppositions or simply took them for granted as self-evident, their lack of discussion upon first-principles by no means weakens the case for the alleged philosophic connection. Indeed, I believe a very strong circumstantial case can be made based on the similarity of their writings to that of admitted common sense realists of the 18th and 19th centuries. Thus, in the following pages it will be shown that dispensationalism has historically relied upon the philosophical assumptions of Scottish Common Sense Realism along with other a priori faith commitments in its formation as a theological system, though largely unbeknownst to its adherents.
The influence and rise of Common Sense Realism3 in America has been well documented in Dwight Bozeman’s book, Protestants in an Age of Science. He traces the advance of this philosophical system from its initial appearance with John Witherspoon’s tenure at Princeton on down to the broader culture of the time, including its various theologies. Time and space limit much discussion of this delineation of ideas from the academy to pop culture. A few quotes from recent historians will have to suffice for the time being. Bozeman, for example, writes, "[…] as another historian has put it, the Princetonian theologians 'became almost the official spokesmen…for a large sector of American Protestant conservatism.'"4 Writes George Marsden,
“Common Sense philosophy was marvelously well suited to the prevailing ideals of American culture. This was not entirely accidental since the American nation and Scottish Realism both took shape in the mid-1700s. This philosophy was above all democratic and anti-elitist. […] Common Sense philosophy continued to appeal to Americans into the nineteenth century also because it provided a firm foundation for a scientific approach to reality. In a nation born during the Enlightenment, the reverence for science as the way to understand all aspects of reality was nearly unbounded.”5
Thus, with Common Sense Realism being unofficially sanctioned as the only scientific and valid philosophy, it was not long before biblical studies were soon approached as was any other science. Within the American academy, the Bible came to be viewed as a storehouse of objective facts needing nothing more than to be mined and systematized into an objective, timeless, universal truth.6 Bozeman demonstrates how Old School theologians from Princeton like Charles Hodge and others took hold of Common Sense thinking “hook, line, and sinker,” thus, mediating this approach to epistemology, theology, and hermeneutics to countless Princeton graduates who would, in turn, deliver this system of thought to the common man.
Of course, in their acceptance of this philosophical system, certain non-inductive assumptions were maintained by Christians of various stripes. Christianity, by default, is an a priori faith commitment. One holds in faith the presuppositions that God exists, that he has revealed himself through Christ, that Christ has come to save human kind, etc. So while the theologians of the 19th century bought heavily into the ideas of inductive objectivity, they did so primarily in the realm of hermeneutical methodology with the expectation that this approach would bolster and confirm their already held faith commitments. Thus, it is important to note that though Common Sense Realism was the unquestioned philosophy of choice for 19th century theologians and indeed, the American mindset in general, those same theologians most often used the reigning philosophy of the day to support already held convictions and beliefs, a pattern to be mimicked and repeated in dispensationalism for years to come.
It is important to note that despite its overwhelming acceptance, many American Christians were unaware of Common Sense Realism as an actual philosophical system. Writes Noll, “For much of the history of the United States, evangelicals denied that they had a philosophy. They were merely pursuing common sense.”7 Diogenes Allen adds that the resulting effect of this catechesis of Common Sense Realism was, “a static view of Christian doctrine and morals with no sense of historic [one might add, philosophic] development.”8 In fact, as dispensationalism was first being articulated, it seems to have simply assumed as unquestioned fact many of the tenets of Common Sense Realism. After all, one wasn’t necessarily doing philosophy by simply using common sense, was he? Thus, when one encounters hermeneutics texts by early dispensationalist authors (and other Enlightenment theologians, as well), very little space, if any, is given in defense of the philosophical foundations of the interpretative methodological approach being offered. It seems that more often than not, dispensationalists were either unaware of or had simply ignored the role of philosophical presuppositions in their hermeneutical methodology. Bernard Ramm points out this characteristic ineptness towards philosophy in Lewis Sperry Chafer’s theology, in particular. “In reading Chafer’s theology, it is apparent that he is not at home at all in philosophy. He makes rare references to philosophers, and in most cases Chafer is citing some other source and not the philosopher directly.”9
In actuality, this unknowing acceptance of Baconian ideals is understandable given the anti-intellectual history of many in American Christianity. Nathan Hatch writes of an attitude typical among many American Christians, “[…] they rejected the traditions of learned theology altogether and called for a new view of history that welcomed inquiry and innovation. [T]hey called for a populist hermeneutic premised on the inalienable right of every person to understand the New Testament for him- or herself.”10 And since apart from John Nelson Darby, very few of the real progenitors of dispensationalism ever seemed to have ever undergone serious theological training, the Common Sense epistemology that was the academy’s ruling philosophy of the day, no doubt had a significant, though indirect influence on their thinking and approach to hermeneutics quite unbeknownst to them. Marsden writes, "To whatever degree dispensationalists consciously considered themselves Baconians (it is rare to find reflections on philosophical first principles), this closely describes the assumptions of virtually all of them."11 He further adds, "[…] the millenarian's view of Scripture was, in effect, modeled after the Newtonian view of the physical universe. Created by God, it was a perfect self-contained unity governed by exact laws which could be discovered by careful analysis and classification."12 Thus, the application of the inductive method to the study of the Bible was a natural and obvious move for dispensationalists and other Enlightenment theologians to make. Consequently, they viewed Scripture to be objective fact, needing only to be read, understood, and classified via common sense, plain, normal, or literal interpretation. William E. Blackstone implicitly reflects this trend throughout his 1904 book, The Millennium. Against proponents of “spiritualized” interpretation he writes, “They tell us that Revelation is a symbolical book and therefore we cannot take its plain statements literally…Such reasoning is most fallacious and destroys all foundation for conveying definite ideas by any language.”13 Darby likewise hints at the influence of Common Sense Realism when he writes, “When therefore facts are addressed to the Jewish church as a subsisting body, as to what concerns themselves, I look for a plain, common-sense, literal statement, as to the people with whom God had direct dealings upon the earth, and to whom He meant His purposes concerning them to be known.”14
Poythress suggests that this adaptation of Baconian science to scripture was, for dispensationalists, in particular (and I would argue for Enlightenment theologians more generally), an apologetic move designed to give the Christian study of scripture the same level of modernist academic respectability as that of the natural sciences.15 He claims dispensationalists were burdened to uphold the claim, “that the Bible can really stand up to the standards of modern science and the certainties obtained by operating with precise, everywhere-clear-cut language.”16 Thus, it would seem that dispensationalists, like many Christians of the time, accepted Common Sense epistemology, perhaps largely unbeknownst to most of them, with an apologetic desire to keep their beliefs and the Bible defensible to a scientifically-minded community.
But again, in this synopsis we see the blending of a priori faith commitments with an approach to methodology that is thoroughly based in modernity. Henzel has suggested that the unique a priori theological conclusions of dispensationalism are the result of a dualism present within Darby that he then used as a template through which to interpret the scriptures.17 His theological offspring, James Hall Brookes, C.I. Scofield, and Lewis Sperry Chafer inherited Darby's a priori theological conclusions, but perhaps without the strong personal experiences that fortified the dualistic mindset for Darby. Thus, when it came time to give a defense for the dispensational premillennialism they had received, it would have been quite natural for them to adopt the increasingly en vogue Baconian approach in defining their hermeneutics. However, since these later dispensationalists operated to large degree under the safety of later fundamentalism’s protection of separatism and anti-intellectualism, they did not have to do much defending of their philosophical and hermeneutical assumptions. It would be the following generation of dispensationalists, craving respectability from the larger intellectual community, who would do the majority of the work in defending the conclusions they inherited from Darby.18
In Dispensationalism’s beginning with Darby, Brookes, Scofield, and Chafer, dispensational ideas were popularized and promoted without a great deal of deep intellectual reflection and evaluation of its foundations either from within or without the dispensational community. However, in the early to mid 20th century, as fundamentalist academic institutions became more prominent and their writings became more widely circulated, the earlier dispensational ideas needed a greater apologetic than inherited a priori faith commitments to withstand possible critiques. The areas of fuzziness and difficulty, either unknown or ignored by dispensationalism’s progenitors, now needed shoring up. It was thus with Walvoord, Ryrie, and others of the time that the dispensational ideas of Darby and Scofield really became the “ism” it is today.19 It was the systematization done by Walvoord and Ryrie in particular, that set the boundaries of the system, and more specifically, rooted its hermeneutical method in modernist epistemological concrete officially. It would seem that the classical dispensationalists were largely preoccupied with the creation and promotion of the ideas, whereas the concern of their theological offspring was far more academically defensive in nature. Thus one can read a general acceptance of allegorical scriptural readings to some degree in the earliest dispensationalists but not in the ones of the early and middle 20th century. It has previously been suggested by the current author that most of the untrained fathers of the dispensational system operated within underdeveloped modernist philosophical ideas unbeknownst to themselves. Their more trained and educated children were somewhat more aware of their father’s theological and philosophical assumptions and problems and thus, established a more internally consistent defense for the “ism” they were shaping. However, the original philosophical assumptions, though somewhat better realized and articulated by these newer theologians, continued to be sustained.
That later dispensationalists would seek apologetic solace in Common Sense Philosophy and Baconianism is not unusual. Bozeman writes, "The Princeton Theology, then, with its historical pillars resting squarely upon the Baconian Philosophy of facts, is an important bridge across which influences continue to stream from antebellum to present-day American religion."20 This “bridge” is further emphasized by historian Mark Noll who writes,
“[…] most evangelicals who took an interest in science, philosophy, history, and politics, and the arts adopted procedures of the Enlightenment by which to express their thought in these areas. They also used the same Enlightenment categories to express their theology. This evangelical embrace of the Enlightenment at the turn of the eighteenth century still remains extraordinarily important nearly two centuries later because of habits of mind that the evangelical Enlightenment encouraged have continued to influence contemporary evangelical life. Of those habits, the most important were a particular kind of commitment to objective truth and a particular ‘scientific’ approach to the Bible.”21
The effects of this “habit of mind” and the latent commitment to Common Sense Realism by the dispensationalists of the middle 20th century can be seen in the following brief sampling of more contemporary dispensationalists’ writings on hermeneutics.
In Baconian style W. H. Griffith Thomas writes, “Christianity is primarily a religion of facts with doctrines arising out of those facts.”22 Rollin Chafer likewise states in his 1939 book, The Science of Biblical Hermeneutics, “…the inductive method of the thematic study of the Scriptures is of first importance, for Scripturally defendable thematic generalizations result only from perfect, or near perfect, induction.”23 Chafer goes on to say that without induction, individuals are “poorly equipped to support their position with Scripture proofs,” and, “statements which were not formulated through the inductive process [have] been the cause of divisions amongst Christians with continued controversy and disagreement.”24
Later dispensationalist Roy Zuck reflects the influence of Enlightenment attitudes towards the Bible when he positively quotes from Milton S. Terry’s 1883 work, Biblical Hermeneutics. “Hermeneutics, therefore is both science and an art. As a science, it enunciates principles, investigates the laws of thought and language, and classifies its facts and results.”25 Though Terry was no dispensationalist, the fact that Zuck (and Pentecost26) quotes Terry’s primary work on hermeneutics in his own hermeneutics text is telling of their shared epistemological assumptions. Note the following quote from Terry’s book,
“In distinction from all the above-mentioned methods of interpretation, we may name the Grammatico-Historical [sic] as the method which most fully commends itself to the judgment and conscience of Christian scholars. Its fundamental principle is to gather from the Scriptures, themselves the precise meaning which the writers intended to convey. It applies to the sacred books the same principles, the same grammatical process and exercise of common sense and reason, which we apply to other books. The grammatico-historical exegete, furnished with suitable qualifications, intellectual, educational, and moral, will accept the claims of the Bible without prejudice or adverse prepossession, and, with no ambition to prove them true or false, will investigate the language and import of each book with fearless independence.27
In epistemic philosophical harmony with Terry, Zuck writes,
“Just as one uses common sense in seeking to bridge communication gaps within his own culture, so he should use common sense in interpreting the Bible. A reader normally gives an author the benefit of doubt if the author makes a statement that seemingly conflicts with a previous statement. The same should be granted the Bible. Also a reader normally uses principles of logic in seeking to understand an author’s writing. He does not read into the writing a meaning that is foreign to the material. The same should be granted with regard to the Bible.”28 The authors’ twin themes of a common sense reading coupled with an objective vantage point are striking.
Ryrie’s monumental book, Dispensationalism, likewise clarifies the dispensationalist’s implicit dependence on Common Sense Realism. “Dispensationalists claim that their principle of hermeneutics is that of literal interpretation.”29 “Many reasons are given by dispensationalists to support this hermeneutical principle of literal, normal, or plain interpretation.”30 “If one does not use the plain, normal, or literal method of interpretation, all objectivity is lost…Literalism is a logical rationale.”31 Such language is reminiscent of Bozeman’s analysis of the Baconian Ideal in 19th century America, "Based on a concept of biblical content as fact verified by sensory experience, this would produce as pure a strain of literal truth as any of the Baconian natural sciences and equally uncorrupted by arrogant abstractions."32
In addition, dispensationalist Elliot Johnson33 reveals his epistemological presuppositions when he writes in support of Ryrie’s claim that proper hermeneutical principles of interpretation should (implicitly implying that they, in fact, can) always precede one’s theology by claiming, “While in practice, simple reading of texts comes first, from which doctrines are formed, it is also evident that this reading is based on a common-sense belief, that is, when we read, we seek to grasp what the author has said.”34 Again, the language and tenets of Common Sense realism are revealed in the dispensationalist’s hermeneutical methodology.
Other dispensationalist theologians reflect Common Sense ideas in such a way that one wonders how much more self-aware than their theological fathers they really are. Remember that it was suggested earlier that the progenitors of dispensationalism most likely adopted the common philosophical assumptions of the day unknowingly. Thomas Ice writes in response to the charge that dispensationalists unwittingly adopted Common Sense epistemological assumptions, “Many dispensationalists believe that a philosophical rationale could be removed from the defense of literalism and the approach could still be developed and defended inductively from Scripture.”35 One wonders if Ice is aware of the philosophical presuppositions his induction inherently assumes. However his comments reflect what appears to be an assumed stance of philosophic neutrality hinted at in many dispensationalists.
Thus, from this brief survey alone, it becomes readily apparent that the theological offspring of Darby, Scofield, and Chafer defend their shared a priori faith commitments with a hermeneutic reflective of the Common Sense philosophical presuppositions they also share. It should now be clear that the Common Sense Realism that was the often unstated philosophical undergirding of the earlier dispensationalists is, in fact, almost identical (or, remarkably similar, at the very least) as that of the later dispensationalists (Progressive Dispensationalists excluded), though now somewhat better realized and more clearly articulated. Dispensationalism, it would seem, continues to reflect virtually the same a priori faith commitments of Darby, while more consciously defending it hermeneutically via the same assumed modernist philosophical means.
From the exploration of the above dispensationalists and their writings it should be quite clear that the circumstantial evidence concerning the epistemic parallels between Common Sense Realism and traditional dispensationalism is quite strong. The echoes of Reid’s modified Baconianism appear and reappear, sometimes in strikingly similar terminology, throughout the works of 19th and 20th century dispensationalists. It is thus safe to conclude that the unspoken assumptions of early and middle dispensationalists with regard to their hermeneutical method are unquestionably Baconian and firmly indicative of the alleged philosophic “osmosis” rightly attributed to the movement by historians of American religion.
Allen, Diogenes. Philosophy for Understanding Theology. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985.
Bateman IV, Herbert W., ed. Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1999.
Blackstone, William E. The Millennium. Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1904.
Bozeman, Theodore Dwight. Protestants in an Age of Science: The Baconian Ideal and Antebellum American Religious Thought. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1977.
Carpenter, Joel A. Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Chafer, Rollin T. The Science of Biblical Hermeneutics. Dallas: Bibliotheca Sacra, 1939.
Hatch, Nathan O. The Democratization of American Christianity. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1989.
Henzel, Ronald M. Darby, Dualism, and the Decline of Dispensationalism. Tucson: Fenestra Books, 2003.
Ice, Thomas. “Dispensationalist Hermeneutics” http://www.pre-trib.org/article-view.php?id=21. The Pre-Trib Research Center.
Kelley, William, ed. The Collected Writings of J.N. Darby, Prophetic No.1, v2. Germany, 1971.
Marsden, George M. Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism 1870-1925. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.
Marty, Martin E. Modern American Religion, v1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.
Noll, Mark A. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1994.
Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964.
Pothyress, Vern S. Understanding Dispensationalists. 2 ed. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishers, 1994.
Ramm, Bernard. After Fundamentalism: The Future of Evangelical Theology. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1983.
Ryrie, Charles C. Dispensationalism. Chicago: Moody Press, 1995.
Terry, Milton S. Biblical Hermeneutics. New York: Phillips and Hunt, 1883.
Thomas, W.H. Griffith. The Principles of Theology. London: Longmans, Greens, and Co., 1930.
Zuck, Roy B. “The Role of the Holy Spirit in Hermeneutics.” Bibliotheca Sacra 141, (1984).
________. Basic Bible Interpretation. Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1991.
1 Lack of time and space require I omit Progressive Dispensationalism from the current discussion. Unfortunately, due to the restraints of a public reading, this particular paper had to become a condensed version of a prior work I put together which did deal with the Progressives while also discussing the future of dispensationalism as a theological system in light of broader current philosophical shifts. That more involved paper from which this current one is derived is available to those who request a copy via email.
2 Cf. George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture : The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980); Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1994); Martin E. Marty, Modern American Religion, v1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986).
3 Common Sense Realism is the name given the philosophical system proposed by Thomas Reid and Dugland Stewart in the 18th century. In response to the skepticism of David Hume, these two Scottish philosophers built the bulk of their philosophy on the backs of Bacon and Newton, specifically in regards to epistemology. Cf. Diogenes Allen, Philosophy for Understanding Theology. (Atlanta, John Knox Press, 1985), 192-93. Loosely stated, their main epistemological assumption was that the human mind accurately and objectively perceives the outside world through sensory experience. Human beings experience the world outside of themselves as it actually is, without subjective coloration or bias. Reality, accurately understood, is that universal sense of the external world that is common to all, hence the name, Common Sense Realism. Though Reid and Stewart go into a great deal of depth in explaining and defending this basic propositional approach to reality and epistemology, the above explanation of their thinking will suffice for the time being. Needless to say, however, in such a system Bacon’s prized inductive method became the means by which the world was to be organized and understood most clearly.
4 No doubt this was true for the growing number of dispensational premillennarians as well, especially when it came to hermeneutical methods. Theodore Dwight Bozeman, Protestants in an Age of Science: The Baconian Ideal and Antebellum American Religious Thought. (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1977), 172.
5 George M Marsden. Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism 1870-1925. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), 14,15.
6 Problems arose not long after this approach to hermeneutics was catechized however, primarily because it limited the idea of truth to objective facts alone. Thus, when Darwin published his Origin of Species, many theologians struggled with how both evolution and the "facts" of Genesis 1 could be true. Since truth was reduced to the concept of fact, Genesis 1 could not be compatible with evolution because the "facts" of the Genesis account presented a different truth than did evolution as to the methodology of how the universe came into being. More postmodern theologians have subsequently separated the older notion that truth and fact were synonymous concepts and thus have been able to see the truth in both evolution and Genesis 1. Postmodern thinkers conceive of truth much more broadly than their more modern fathers perhaps did.
7 Mark A Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 88.
8 Diogenes Allen, Philosophy for Understanding Theology. (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1985), 193.
9 Bernard Ramm, After Fundamentalism. (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983), 207.
10 Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity. (New Haven, CT & London: Yale University Press, 1989), 72,73.
11 Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, 56.
12 Ibid., 57.
13 William E. Blackstone, The Millennium. (Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1904), 39. (emphasis his)
14 William Kelley, ed. The Collected Writings of J.N. Darby, Prophetic No.1, v2. (Germany, 1971), 35. It should be noted however, that Darby’s hermeneutic also allowed for spiritual interpretations in reference to the church (as did C.I. Scofield and J.H. Brookes) and is, as far as I can gauge, not entirely consistent. If Henzel’s thesis is correct, however, it would seem that secondary to his forced interpretive dualism, Darby did have an apparent affinity for Common Sense ideals when it came to interpreting prophecies referring to Israel.
15 Without question the larger academic world adopted this epistemology as well. This paper is suggesting in part that the difference between Baconianism’s adoption by dispensationalists and that of the academic community is that the academic community knowingly chose this system, whereas dispensationalists, it would seem, bought into it unknowingly. In essence, this paper does nothing more than accuse dispensationalism of falling into the inevitable trap of Dilthey’s “hermeneutical circle.” I am simply adding the notion that this was done largely in virtual ignorance and/or denial.
16 Vern S. Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists, 2 ed. (Phillipsburg, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishers, 1994), 58.
17 Ronald M. Henzel, Darby, Dualism, and the Decline of Dispensationalism. (Tucson, AZ: Fenestra Books, 2003), 69-79.
18 Joel A. Carpenter, Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 187-210.
19 It should be noted that this idea was first brought to my attention in an Eschatology class taught by Kent Berghuis of Dallas Theological Seminary in the Fall of 2001.
20 Bozeman, Protestants in the Age of Science, 173. (emphasis mine)
21 Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 83. (emphasis mine)
22 W.H. Griffith Thomas, The Principles of Theology (London: Longmans, Greens, and Co., 1930), xviii.
23 Rollin T. Chafer, The Science of Biblical Hermeneutics. (Dallas: Bibliotheca Sacra, 1939), 48. (emphasis his)
24 Ibid., 48,49.
25 Roy Zuck Basic Bible Interpretation, (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1991),19.
26 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964), 38-39.
27 Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, (New York: Phillips and Hunt, 1883), 107. (emphasis mine )
28 Roy B. Zuck, “The Role of the Holy Spirit in Hermeneutics,” Bibliotheca Sacra 141, (1984). (emphasis mine)
29 Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 80.
30 Ibid., 81.
31 Ibid., 82.
32 Bozeman, Protestants in the Age of Science, 162.
33 It should be noted that Elliot Johnson reflects a much more philosophically savvy variety of dispensationalism. For example, he and Darrell Bock team teach an advanced hermeneutics class at Dallas Seminary which addresses Gadamer, Hirsch, and more recent discussions in hermeneutics and the philosophy of language. Ryriean dispensationalists with the philosophic awareness of Elliot Johnson seem quite rare, however. In addition, lest I be accused of creating straw men by simply finding examples of certain phrases within the writings of dispensationalist theologians and construing these as evidence for a Common Sense association, allow the following brief defense. For theologians such as Ryrie and Johnson to even use the terms “plain,” “normal,” or “common sense,” in reference to hermeneutics is to reveal an implicit belief of commonality or normality shared among readers of texts. For the terms “plain,” “normal,” or “common sense” to be intelligible, a certain belief in a shared epistemological commonality universal to human beings must be assumed. “Normal” and “common” are terms which, by definition, imply a transcendent uniform standard of normality or commonality. Such a notion is a key feature of the Baconian philosophy of Thomas Reid and thus, for such phraseology to even appear in the writings of an author is to reveal at the very least a shared epistemological assumption, if not necessarily an explicit dependence on Reid or his thought. Johnson’s quote specifically, though dealing with authorial intent and the formation of theologies, shows an implicit shared assumption with Common Sense Realism in two ways. First, as was stated above, to even use the term “common sense” is to expose both a held category of commonality and the requisite epistemic evaluative ability among readers of texts to determine the common from the uncommon as such. Such a category is key to foundationalist thinking in general but more importantly, central to Baconian thinking in particular. Second, though this point is not explored within the bulk of the current paper, to hold that meaning is a function of authorial intent and that such intent is available to others through the reading of texts is also to assume both a transcultural, transcendent, or ultimately common epistemological ability and a shared belief as to the true locus of meaning among all human beings. This second point requires more development than can be offered here but even if it were rejected, indeed, even if Johnson’s quote were to be omitted entirely, the overall thesis of the current paper remains quite well-supported given the evidence. In summation, Johnson’s quote has been included for its exposure of the implicitly held category or commonness among human beings which stands in harmony with the Scottish philosophy.
34 Herbert W.Bateman IV, ed. Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1999), 65. (emphasis mine)