Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871-1952) came from a poor family that witnessed his father die at a rather young age. Chafer’s mother worked numerous jobs to send him to schools capable of preparing him for a Christian career. By adulthood, Chafer was an accomplished musician, singer, and choir director. He had the opportunity to work with many of the great men of Christianity such as Moody, Torrey, and Scofield. Aspects of his theology traced to Moody, Torrey, Scofield, and many from the Kennewick Movement.
Chafer’s eight-volume magnus opus is entitled, Systematic Theology, was the first to define and organize dispensational theology. Chafer’s theology comprised of dispensationalism, premillennialism, and certain parts of Calvinism. Chafer saw the single most important element of his theology the grace of God. This deep respect for God’s grace never wavered in Chafer’s life.
Chafer saw the most important category of his theology was Christology. Chafer believed this to be the central point of all his theology. The idea God would leave his throne in Heaven, take on human form, and die for man’s salvation moved Chafer beyond description. Chafer felt the interpretation of the three major discourses of Christ, the Sermon on the Mount, the Olivet Discourse, and the Upper Room Discourse provided much insight toward a theologian’s Christology.
Chafer first details his interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount. The target group, according to Chafer, is not the church. Chafer believes the Sermon on the Mount is a precross discourse describing the behavior that will be expected of the Jews during the establishment of Christ’s kingdom following Christ’s return. Because of the target group the dictates of the Sermon on the Mount are not in effect for the church. He does believe lessons can be learned from this discourse. Scholars such as Reuther and Van Drunan acknowledge this as Chafer’s position; but does not support such a position.
Chafer continued his discussion by next reviewing the Olivet Discourse. Chafer also sees this as being directed at the Kingdom Age Jews. Also, Chafer believes the generation mentioned in this discourse does not refer to the Jews of the First Century. Chafer’s dispensational premillennial viewpoints come to bear on his interpretation. The most prominent scholar that does not support this viewpoint is R. C. Sproul. Chafer considers himself to be a futurist and does not support the preterist position in any way.
The final discourse reviewed by Chafer is the Upper Room Discourse. Even though this discourse followed the Olivet Discourse by only two days, Chafer sees many differences. Chafer believed there were seven differences between this discourse and the other two. These differences include inspiration of the Scriptures, the revelation of the Trinity, angels, man and his sin, salvation, the doctrine of one body, and the first announcement of the Rapture, all found in these chapters (John 13-17). Christ went from talking to precross Jews to talking to eleven men redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
Chafer was a man deeply committed to Christ and his plan for mankind. Whether leading a choir, preaching, or teaching he sought to give his all to God’s plan. His many experiences eventually led to the creation of Dallas Theological Seminary. Through this institution, many have gone on to point thousands to the saving gift made possible by Christ’s vicarious sacrifice on the cross. Chafer never veered from his commitment to and respect for the role of the grace of God.