In this article we will not deal with many aspects or even the background and definition of Dispensationalism, but rather attempt to inform the reader of Peter Ruckman's views on the matter and to differentiate it from traditional forms of Dispensationalism. We lean towards a moderate form of Dispensationalism similar to what is advocated in Charles Ryrie's book Dispensationalism, although we believe it should be treated mainly as an aid in understanding the Bible, especially in regards to distinguishing between Israel and the church.
As helpful as Dispensationalism has been for some, it has shown to be dangerous for others. Some, inspired by sound core principles of Dispensationalism have nevertheless taken them to extremes and have come up with sharp distinctions between dispensational periods that are downright heretical teachings. It must be realized that these man-made schemes, no matter how well-intentioned their authors and promoters may be, are prone to human limitations. One should not allow some form of a dispensational view to force an interpretation upon passages of Scripture that would be unnatural, out of context, or could result in inconsistencies and unbiblical teachings.
That Ruckman openly and dogmatically teaches differing and contradicting plans of salvation during different dispensations was abundantly documented in our article Ruckman’s multiple plans of salvation for different ages. We will not overwhelm the reader with excessive quotes, but it needs to be dealt with again, as it is the primary issue that distinguishes Ruckman’s brand of Dispensationalism from traditional Dispensationalism.
As to dispensational salvation, Ruckman makes it clear where he stands. Various anti-Dispensational authors have accused mainstream dispensational teachers of teaching different plans of salvation for different dispensations, but in the cases we have examined, the views were only inferred from the writings of dispensational teachers, but not stated outright. There is an oft-repeated quote from the first edition of Scofield’s Bible which appears to back up the allegations of the anti-dispensationalists regarding C.I. Scofield, however when we examined two of Scofield’s books, we gleaned several quotes which reveal views completely incompatible with salvation by works at any time. For the Scofield quotes, see Ruckman’s multiple plans of salvation for different ages. As promised, Ruckman leaves no wiggle-room as to where he stands:
We have learned that before the law a man was saved by grace through faith, if his works showed he had faith. Under the Mosaic Law, a man was saved by grace through faith and works, if he was short on either item (faith or works) he could die in his sins and go to hell. (Ruckman, Peter. How to Teach Dispensational Truth. Pensacola: Bible Believers Press, 1992, 1996, pp. 60-61)
As we will document, Ruckman's brand of dispensationalism is like no other. Since Ruckman’s views are so drastically different from classical Dispensationalism, we have taken it upon ourselves to assign it a new name: Variable Salvation Dispensationalism. We are choosing to call it this in an attempt to associate it with its most controversial element, which we believe helps distinguish it from other dispensational views.
We are not experts on all the different shades of Dispensationalism and its various teachers, and it is entirely possible that among all the finger-pointing of anti-dispensationalists, they may be correct in some isolated case of a dispensational teacher outside of Ruckman’s camp. However, unless we can be shown that Charles Ryrie’s conclusion in his book Dispensationalism regarding the matter is incorrect, we will stand by it. In the 1995 revision of his book (previously titled Dispensationalism Today), he points out how the dispute over grace or works in the various dispensations are at the front and center of the debate:
Without doubt the most frequently heard objection against dispensationalism is that it supposedly teaches several ways of salvation. In particular, dispensationalists are said to teach salvation by works in some dispensations and salvation by grace in others. … That there are two ways of salvation appears to be a conclusion that nondispensationalists have tried for decades to force on dispensationalists, for even earlier dispensationalists did not teach what they are charged with. Nevertheless, the attack persists despite repeated denials on the part of dispensationalists. (Ryrie, Charles. Dispensationalism. Chicago: Moody Press. 1995, p. 105-106)
Undoubtedly the charge persists because the dispensationalists have made unguarded statements that would have been more carefully worded if they were being made in the light of today’s debate. Antidispensationalists are never quick to allow for refinement in the statement of dispensationalism, particularly if it dulls their attack. … Not so incidentally, nondispensationalists have made a few unguarded statements themselves about salvation under the Mosaic law. (Ryrie, Charles. Dispensationalism. Chicago: Moody Press. 1995, p. 106-107)
By teaching exactly what the anti-dispensational finger-pointers have been alleging, Ruckman gives Dispensationalism a bad name. Ruckman does further damage by pretending that his views are “moderate Dispensationalism,” when it is nothing of the kind. Notice how Ruckman is in denial regarding his views compared to other writers:
You see, when “Ruckman” is accused of teaching “different plans of salvation” he is not the first to even consider it. William Parlane, George Pember, Robert Cameron, George Wilson, and Adolph Knoch all recognize a difference between the way Noah was saved and Moses was saved, or the way David was saved, compared to Saul. (Ruckman, Peter. How to Teach Dispensational Truth. Pensacola: Bible Believers Press, 1992, 1996, p. 8)
Notice how Ruckman provided no quotes or footnotes to back up what he alleged about these writers. He chose his words carefully. After mentioning the writers, he switches from his “different plans of salvation” terminology to differences between how Old Testament people were saved compared to Saul (presumably Saul of Tarsus), which could be construed as them being saved without knowing many details about Christ compared to New Testament converts, which is not works salvation. We are not familiar with the views of the dispensational writings of the authors Ruckman mentions, but he cannot be taken serious about other dispensational authors being in agreement with him when he does not provide even the most elementary form of documentation.
Ruckman often emphasizes in his dispensational writings that there is a difference in how people were saved in Old Testament times. On a technicality, he is correct, but he seems to take advantage of this to obfuscate the issue in order to introduce his teachings that they were saved by works. The only difference we accept has to do with a more limited knowledge about Christ, as this revelation was progressive. Ryrie refers to this as the content of salvation in the chapter “Salvation in Dispensationalism” in his book. He explains it thusly:
This dispensationalist’s answer to the question of the relation of grace and law is this: the basis of salvation in every age is the death of Christ; the requirement for salvation in every age is faith; the object of faith in every age is God; the content of faith changes in the various dispensations. It is this last point, of course, that distinguishes dispensationalism from covenant theology, but it is not a point to which the charge of teaching two ways of salvation can be attached. It simply recognizes the obvious fact of progressive revelation. When Adam looked upon the coats of skin with which God had clothed him and his wife, he did not see what the believer today sees looking back on the cross of Calvary. And neither did other Old Testament saints see what we can see today. There have to be two sides to this matter—that which God sees from his side and that which man sees from his. (Ryrie, Charles. Dispensationalism. Chicago: Moody Press. 1995, p. 115)
How much about Christ did Old Testament saints understand? Ryrie continues:
In examining salvation under the Mosaic law the principal question is simply, How much of what God was going to do in the future did the Old Testament believer comprehend? According to both Old and New Testament revelation it is impossible to say that he saw the same promise, the same Savior as we do today. Therefore, the dispensationalists’ distinction between the content of his faith and the content of ours is valid. The basis of salvation is always the death of Christ; the means is always faith; the object is always God (though man’s understanding of God before and after the incarnation is obviously different); but the content of faith depends on the particular revelation God was pleased to give at a certain time. (Ryrie, Charles. Dispensationalism. Chicago: Moody Press. 1995, p. 121)
If by “ways” of salvation is meant different content of faith, then dispensationalism does teach various “ways” because the Scriptures reveal different differing contents for faith in the progressive nature of God‘s revelation to mankind. But if by “ways” is meant more than one basis or means of salvation, then dispensationalism most emphatically does not teach more than one way, for salvation has been, is, and always will be based on the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. (Ryrie, Charles. Dispensationalism. Chicago: Moody Press. 1995, p. 121)
A similar view is shared in an article by Larry Oats, who taught at Maranatha Baptist University in Wisconsin for over four decades:
The question is, when the Old Testament saint “looked forward” to the final sacrifice for sin, did he see exactly what we see when we “look back” to the cross of Calvary? If not exactly, then how much did he see? And the question for the covenant theologian, then, is, how much must he have known of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection? Dispensationalists argue for the progress of revelation, and we would include even redemptive revelation. The first revelation of the coming redemption was the declaration that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). This glimmer grew brighter throughout the Old Testament until the prophets were speaking of the name, character, mission, and even birthplace of the Coming One (Isa. 7:14; 9:6; Micah 5:2; etc.). It is extremely doubtful, however, if anyone clearly understood these matters; even His disciples did not fully understand until after His death and resurrection (John 2:22). The content of the faith of the Old Testament saints was whatever portion of God’s redemptive revelation had been given to that point. It is important to remember that since in each economy the content is what God has revealed, belief in the content for that age is belief in the ultimate object of faith, God Himself, whether in the Person of the Father or the Son. (Oats, Larry. "Salvation in Dispensationalism" Frontline. July/August 2010, p. 12)
The New Testament is not completely silent as to the knowledge of Old Testament saints about the coming Messiah. The following passages may suggest they had more light on the matter than some give them credit for:
To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. (Acts 10:43)
Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles. (Acts 26:22-23)
Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into. (1 Peter 1:10-12)
But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. But I say, Did not Israel know? (Romans 10:16-19)
Ruckman does not restrict his different plans of salvation to Old Testament times, which makes his views all the more extreme. This can be observed in the following quotes:
The reason why the Holy Spirit laid out 240-plus verses in the New Testament, to the effect that a saved sinner is kept saved by works, is because that is exactly how it is going to be after the end of the “Church Age” when the body has gone. (Ruckman, Peter. How to Teach Dispensational Truth. Pensacola: Bible Believers Press, 1992, 1996, p. 82)
In the Tribulation, there seems to be two “plans” of salvation operating. One of these is a Gentile “gospel” (Rev. 14:6-7, which is contingent on conscience, and not taking the mark of the beast. The other is a Jewish “gospel” (Rev. 12) which is contingent on observing the Commandments in the Pentateuch (including sacrifices and temple worship – Rev. 11:1-3, and not taking the mark of the beast. Neither of these “gospels” is to be found anywhere in the “Church Age.” (Ruckman, Peter. How to Teach Dispensational Truth. Pensacola: Bible Believers Press, 1992, 1996, p. 87)
Here, again, [during the Millennium] we will encounter salvation by Works, through Works, and “that of YOURSELVES” for there is no “gift” to it. (Ruckman, Peter. How to Teach Dispensational Truth. Pensacola: Bible Believers Press, 1992, 1996, p. 91)
As could be noted in the above quotes, Ruckman also teaches that salvation during the tribulation will be through works. Switching back and forth between plans of salvation that are opposite to one another would be against God’s nature (Mal. 3:6).
In the name of Dispensationalism, Ruckman makes all sorts of controversial statements that are on par with what we have come to expect from him:
“Rightly dividing” Isaiah 53:4 and Isaiah 52:7 is demonstrated, by the Holy Spirit, in Matthew 8:17 and Romans 10:15, as being an operation where, at times, you must OMIT words to fit a verse into a “dispensation” and sometimes must even spiritualize a LITERAL passage to use it as an illustration of a dispensation (See Rom. 9:25 citing Hosea 1:10, and Acts 13:41 citing Habakkuk 1:5). (Ruckman, Peter. How to Teach Dispensational Truth. Pensacola: Bible Believers Press, 1992, 1996, p. 29)
Paul does not hesitate to misapply Habakkuk 1:5-6, in the Church Age (Acts 13:40-42), and he readily avails himself of Hosea 1:10 in Romans 9:26, applying to Gentiles what was obviously aimed at restored Israelites at the end of the Tribulation (see Hosea 2:15-23). All of this is obvious to anyone who really “searches” the Scriptures. (Ruckman, Peter. How to Teach Dispensational Truth. Pensacola: Bible Believers Press, 1992, 1996, p. 37)
Instead of confessing his inability to reconcile the passages consistently, Ruckman instead proceeds to accuse the apostle Paul of misapplying the Scriptures even though Paul wrote under the inspiration of God!
In his book How to Teach Dispensational Truth (p. 30), Ruckman implies his own views are “moderate Dispensationalism.” Read the following quotes from his book, coupled with what has already been documented on his Variable Salvation Dispensationalism, and ask yourself if there is anything “moderate” about his views!
…Everything up to Matthew 27:50 is standing, doctrinally, in the Old Testament. (Ruckman, Peter. How to Teach Dispensational Truth. Pensacola: Bible Believers Press, 1992, 1996, p. 3)
Technically, Matthew, chapters 1 through 27; Mark, chapters 1 through 15; Luke, chapters 1 through 23; and John, chapters 1 through 19 are in the Old Testament. Note! Everyone in those passages is [sic] under the Old Testament Jewish Law and Commandments, as given to Moses. (Ruckman, Peter. How to Teach Dispensational Truth. Pensacola: Bible Believers Press, 1992, 1996, p. 3)
Here are 240-plus verses that teach a saved sinner must do works to stay saved: Matthew, chapters 5-7, Matthew 25 (the entire chapter), Matthew 24:13-51; James 5:11–20; Jude 21; Hebrews 3:6, 13-14, 6:1-6, 10:26-31; Revelation 12:17, 14:9-12, 22:14; 2 Peter 3:17; James 5:1-5; Hebrews 12:14-15; 2 Peter 1:10, 2:21-22; 1 John 2:4, 3:4-15, 5:16; Revelation 3:5, 13:7, and John 15:2, 6. (Ruckman, Peter. How to Teach Dispensational Truth. Pensacola: Bible Believers Press, 1992, 1996, pp. 83-84)
Ruckman wrote a booklet by the title Hyper-Dispensationalism, which was restricted to E.W. Bullinger’s heretical views and teachers he influenced. Ruckman calling Bullinger’s teachings “Hyper-Dispensationalism” is the pot calling the kettle black. Bullinger’s views, which include dispensing of baptism in this dispensation (if Ruckman portrayed him correctly) are indeed overboard and therefore “hyper,” but so are Ruckman’s variable salvation dispensational teachings!
A cultic group that has risen in recent years that opposes Dispensationalism in any form is associated with Steven L. Anderson. They oppose Ruckman, but sadly imitate and at times even seem to try to outdo his carnal style. For example, Anderson has publicly declared that Dispensationalism is satanic. Their "Dispensation of Heresy" video is heavy on sensationalism and light on evidence for concluding that early dispensational teachers were unsaved heretics. Even though they showed many clips of Ruckman and men trained by him, in the video they did not distinguish Ruckman's brand of Variable Salvation Dispensationalism from other much more common varieties that do not make such sharp distinctions between Bible periods.
Ruckman’s Variable Salvation Dispensationalism has spawned other books with similar views by other authors, such as One Book Rightly Divided by Douglas Stauffer, The Bible Believer’s Guide to Dispensationalism (renamed as Rightly Dividing the Bible) by David Walker, and The Difference is in the Dispensations by Timothy S. Morton.