Friday, February 3, 2012
Why I'm Not A Dispen-Sensationalist
If the Bible is going to be taken at face value an outline quickly emerges, first there is Creation, then the Fall, the Flood, the call of Abraham, the Exodus of Israel and the giving of the Law, Israel's history, then the coming of Christ and His death and resurrection, then the setting up of the Church - and sometime in the future - the End Times and the second coming of Christ. Almost all Christians who believe in the inspiration of God's word see the Bible this way, whether they are Reformed, Dispensational or Progressive/Emergent. I go into a little bit more of the details of these outlines in my post Getting The Big Picture of The Bible.
Dispensationalism is often thought of as a way of understanding prophecy, but really it is much more than that. The old timers (back in the 1800's) would often call Dispensationalism a philosophy of history. It is a way of viewing the Bible which then naturally means that it is a way of viewing the world and all of world history. Quickly defined, Dispensationalism is the view that God has set up different ways of testing mankind, and each period of testing is organized around the Bible outline mentioned above. Each of these periods of testing or dispensations have a command from God for the people to fulfill, the people then fail at keeping that command and receive God's judgment; however, God's grace is always seen as triumphing over mankind's evil so that God gets all the glory. It is also important to note that salvation by grace through faith is the only way of salvation in every Dispensation.
What Does DispenSENSATIONALISM Look Like?
With it's well planned out end times scheme, Dispensationalism is an easy target for fiction writers. The Left Behind Series is one of the most popular set of fiction books for Christians and it is based on a Dispensational view of the end times. It is just too attractive to these writers to start imagining which countries are going to fulfill the prophecies about Gog and Magog from Ezekiel 38 and Revelation 20, or where the Anti-Christ will be born, or which religion will be the Whore of Babylon. These fiction writers' hypothesize about things the scripture simply does not tell us and drive people into a mania thinking that the European Union is the re-formed Roman empire prophesied by Daniel or that the nation of Israel's statehood in 1948 is the fulfillment of the fig tree prophecy from Matthew 24:32-34: "Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place." The simple fact remains that we don't know if Israel's political history is the fig tree that Jesus is referring to and when false prophets start saying things like "since Israel is the fig tree, and one generation is 70 years, then that means the rapture will happen before 2018!" it is purely conjecture.
The original Dispensationalists did not talk this way. John Darby did not claim he knew which modern countries were going to March in on Israel at Armageddon nor did H. A. Ironside claim to know which country the anti-Christ was going to be born in. C. I. Scofield did not talk about the oil crises in the Middle East or any other modern events being the fulfillment of prophecy. Around the time that Israel became a nation, books from second and third generation Dispensationalists started coming out talking about current events and how the Nation of Israel's return to the land was a fulfillment of the fig tree prophecy in Matthew 24 and how the wars and rumors of wars talked about in Matthew 24 were going to happen before the rapture. Before this the traditional Dispensationalists had viewed Matthew 24:4-14 as the first half of the tribulation, but these new DispenSensationalist's saw that portion of Matthew 24 as referring to current events. Some of the books that promoted these outrageous interpretations were Herbert Lockyer's Cameos of Prophecy: Is Christ Coming Soon?, and the Walvoords' Armageddon, Oil and the Middle Crises: what the Bible says about the future of the Middle East and the end of Western civilization. This marked a change in the mainstream Dispensational view, current events suddenly became a popular topic among people who believed in the Rapture, a seven year tribulation and a literal 1000 year millennium to follow. It was difficult for many Bible believing Christians to discern this error because this combination of current events to prophecy was being done by respected Bible teaches. Many other books in this new genre followed, like Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth, which was one of the best selling books of the 20th century. This book took the current events of the 1970's, like the European Economic Community having 6 member which he claimed could lead to 10 (it currently has almost 30) and then be the 10 member group of nations talked about in revelation. He claimed that the wars and rumors of wars of the 1970's were the fulfillment of verses in Matthew 24 and that Christ's coming could be in the 1980's. Needless to say that didn't happen. Some, like Harold Camping, have even gone so far as to set specific dates.
Even with a long track record of failed prophecies the DispenSensationalists haven't abated, from The Left Behind Series to every John Hagee book that comes out, these exaggerationists are unrelenting in their publishing of books on prophecy that offer no light on the word of God, only warping the biblical view of prophecy by twisting it to conform to the latest news headlines.
Why DispenSENSATIONALISM is Ruining Dispensationalism
A couple years ago I was talking to a fellow Dispensationalist and bemoaning the fact that so many Christians are giving up this key interpretive tool that unlocks so much of the Bible. My friend told me that he thought that the mass exodus away from Dispensationalism towards a Reformed/Calvinist perspective was due to DispenSensationalsim. People who know God's word and are serious about it are not prepared to be hyped up about who the Anti-Christ is or how he is going to fool everyone into following him after the rapture. When they hear preachers talk that way, or get books suggested to them like End Times News: EU Final World Empire, they see it for what it is - fiction. Then they start equating the hyped-up view with Dispensationalism, then they hear a sermon by John Piper that sounds a lot more biblical, then they throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Not too long ago Dispensationalism was the predominant view among evangelicals, but it has gone out of favor and I think one of the main reasons is because Dispensationalism has been high-jacked by Sensationalists who want to sell books by promoting hysteria. The opponents of Dispensationalism have been able to successfully use the straw man of the freaked-out Dispensationalist who is stock piling weapons and waiting for the rapture to discredit Dispensationalism and lure away its would-be adherents into different perspectives.