Summary of Paper on Chafer’s Theological Emphases

Here is a summary from my latest paper:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Chafer would have agreed completely with this passage. Chafer considered the grace of God to be the greatest of all God’s attributes. Chafer further believed the grace of God was appropriated by belief and belief alone.

Chafer had a problem with those who tried to make repentance and belief two separate acts. Chafer affirms, “Therefore, it is as dogmatically stated as language can declare, that repentance is essential to salvation and that none could be saved apart from repentance, but it is included in believing and could not be separated from it.”[1] If repentance truly means, a changing of one’s mind, how could anyone believe without having a change of mind?

Chafer lived during a time when many of the great teachers and preachers of the nineteenth and twentieth were ministering. Chafer worked with many of these individuals such as D. L. Moody, R. A. Torrey, and Ira D. Sankey. Of all the people Chafer collaborated with none was more influential than C. I. Scofield. At one point, Scofield and Chafer were considered to be father and son in the ministries. It is probable much of Chafer’s theology came as a result of his association with Scofield. To understand Chafer’s theology an understanding of this association was imperative.

Chafer was premillennial and dispensational. His eight-volume set, Systematic Theology, was the first attempt to systematize dispensational viewpoint. Chafer saw a connection between the covenants made between God and man and the way God chose to govern and communicate with mankind. As with Chafer’s theology, in general, much of his dispensationalism came from his association with Scofield. Chafer’s founding of Dallas Theological Seminary in 1924 gave him a platform to teach his dispensationalism to many generations. He served as the president of Dallas Theological Seminary until his death in 1952.

Walvoord believed the greatest contribution by Chafer was his work in soteriology. Soteriology is the area that the most controversy surrounds Chafer’s theology. The Keswick Movement (1875-1920) had a profound effect on Chafer. While working with D. L. Moody in Northfield, Massachusetts, Chafer most likely heard many of the speakers from the Keswick Movement, as Moody invited many of them to speak during his meetings. It is from this influence Chafer developed his dual milestone picture of soteriology.

Chafer saw the need to make Jesus Savior, but then also a specific time a believer needed to make Jesus Lord. He believed many new converts would do both at the same time. There were those, according to Chafer, who needed to make a commitment to living a life satisfying God and bringing glory to God. Warfield was one of the most outspoken opponents of Chafer’s beliefs. Chafer’s most definitive work in this area was, He That Is Spiritual, published in 1918. Warfield issued a rebuttal to Chafer’s position in 1919. Warfield thought it was nothing more than another example of Arminianism. Despite this, Chafer’s work has affected many generations with foundational training for the ministry.

[1] Lewis Sperry Chafer, “The Saving Work of the Triune God,” Bibliotheca Sacra Vol 107 (1950): p. 391.

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