Monthly Archives: September 2013

A Reflection on the ‘Positives’ of Dispensationalism

Let me try not to be so negative about Dispensationalism. I can remember a time where I almost reveled in the themes of dispensationalism, I am sure like many others. Indeed, I will have to admit, that dispensationalism has not fully left me, nor do I think it ever really will. I am too much of the belief that various hermeneutical systems that claim to have a pigeon hole on the truth and reality of Scripture are over confident. And even though, and admittedly so, dispensationalism is quite idiosyncratic (but which system isn’t?), it still works from pretty standard and Evangelical hermeneutical assumptions; it just presses them in a kind of way that gets a little eccentric—to say the least.

But what is it that I can say that is positive about Dispensationalism?

  • It wants to take the Bible very seriously.
  • It wants to believe that God communicates clearly, and in a straightforward way.
  • It believes that God is still acting in history, ordering events toward their ultimate reality in the coming of Jesus Christ as the Son of David.
  • It has a strong emphasis upon the nation of Israel (this is positive because unlike some theologies, dispensationalism sees the nation of Israel as essential to the identity of God’s mediated work to the nations in the world).
  • It has an excitement about the second coming of Christ.
  • It is comprehensible to the common person.
  • It interprets Scripture through the grammatical-historical lens (even if that is through the LGH, or Literal Grammatical Historical lens).

None of the above is in any particular order of priority. But, having been trained, born and bred in this system, I do think there are some of these positive things consisting within the dispensational framework. I know, because I know many of its best scholars (my former professors), that these scholars are quite capable in the craft they ply; they have a strong handle of the biblical languages; and they have a desire to communicate that in a way that is literal (in a very straightforward way) and accessible for the masses of Christianity; and in a way that believes that God not only gave his Word back then, but that when He gave it back then, He gave it for now and the future as well. Indeed, this is a major underwriting theme for dispensationalists (one that I still hold; i.e. the theme); that is, that dispensationalists work from a futurist mode of operation. They believe that many of the biblical prophecies had a historical, typological referent, but that there is an ultimate eschatological anti-typological referent that will be realized in some time future, at the ‘end of time’ (as it were). So, attendant with this, then, the dispensationalist views biblical-prophetic history (as they would say) as very linear and progressive; as something that unfolds in stages, or even ‘dispensations’, if you will.

So there are still elements of dispensationalism that are present, deeply so, in my own approach to interpreting scripture; and in particular, the way I understand biblical prophecy. But I am of the opinion that what is called historic premillennialism is the better way, and that dispensationalism would do better to go that way, instead of the way they have. That said, as I opened this post up, I am not at all opposed to the idea that dispensationalism could be more correct, in the end, than it is not (I doubt that it is). But we will see.

 

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A Reading Ethic: Syria and Dispensationalism

I don’t have time to write this post in the way it should be, but I still wanted to post something.

syriaIsaiah 17 says of the city of Damascus in Syria:

The oracle concerning Damascus.

“Behold, Damascus is about to be removed from being a city
And will become a fallen ruin.
2 “The cities of Aroer are forsaken;
They will be for flocks to lie down in,
And there will be no one to frighten them.
3 “The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim,
And sovereignty from Damascus
And the remnant of Aram;
They will be like the glory of the sons of Israel,”
Declares the Lord of hosts.

Given the sine qua non of Dispensational hermeneutics, that the Bible ought to be interpreted in its most literal sense (meaning a kind of wooden, straightforward literalism), this particular prophecy of Damascus is still waiting to be fulfilled. And so given the precarious situation we find ourselves within; given the reality that the United States of America is most likely going to strike Damascus, militarily; many dispensationalist interpreters believe that this prophecy is about to be fulfilled. Indeed, it would be a fulfillment of this passage that would further attest to the dispensationalist that Jesus’ rapture of the church is just about to happen. In order for God’s prophetic plan to be legitimate, this fulfillment must happen in a kind of end times scenario that sees Damascus fitting into the broader schema of dispensational understanding. The fall of Damascus might signal that things are about to get very real very fast.

So an ethic that gets pressed here, a reading ethic, is that geo-political concerns become the lens by which the scriptures become interpreted. It isn’t the suffering Servant who become the primary lens, it isn’t the widows and orphans who become the primary lens; it is the fulfillment of geo-political realities upon the ground. So even though many dispensational interpreters will recognize the terrible plight of the people in Damascus and elsewhere, their primary mode of consideration isn’t really the broken people; but instead, it is the fulfillment of abstract geo-political realities that fit into a tightly wound understanding of the end times.

I really would like to say more, with more substance (I mean quotes and more depth), but this will have to suffice for now.

Pretribulational Theology in Dispensationalism–Two People of God

You have probably been wondering for quite some time on what basis people hold to the Pre-Tribulational rapture theory, within Dispensational/Pre-millennial Theology; in fact I bet you lost sleep over this very question last night ;-). westernwallIn reality, I would suggest, that even though most doctrine is waning in North American Evangelical churches, that if pressed, what informs people’s views, hermeneutically, politically, and even ethically, is still informed by the method of biblical interpretation that funds Pre-Tribulational theology (by the way, if you are ‘Pre-Trib’ you will also be Dispensational and Pre-Mil). And so, I still find it highly relevant to engage with this issue, at least at the and for the popular level; which is where most Christians live on a day to day basis (I realize that Christian academics, by and large, completely repudiate all of this stuff, and so for them, and in their world, this stuff is boring and even beyond passé—and so just realize, scholar guy or gal, I am not writing this for you, but I hope you read along and contribute too 🙂 ). So without further lead in, let me quote one of the most well known classically oriented Pre-Tribulational thinkers from its formative Dallas Theological Seminary past, J. Dwight Pentecost; here, in a nutshell, he is giving a sketch of how a Pre-Tribulational adherent becomes an adherent, hermeneutically (or through the way they do biblical interpretation). He writes:

[P]retribulation rapturism rests essentially on one major premise—the literal method of interpretation of the Scriptures. As a necessary adjunct to this, the pretribulationist believes in a dispensational interpretation of the Word of God. The church and Israel are two distinct groups with whom God has a divine plan. The church is a mystery, unrevealed in the Old Testament. This present mystery age intervenes within the program of God for Israel because of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah at His first advent. This mystery program must be completed before God can resume His program with Israel and bring it to completion. These considerations all arise from the literal method of interpretation. [J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come, 193.]

Obviously, when Pentecost says all of this ‘arise[s] from the literal method of interpretation,’ he obviously has something in mind; a certain way to be “literal,” in fact a wooden-literalness, that is literal right up until the point that being literal makes absolute non-sense (i.e. when Jesus says he is the ‘door’, he obviously does not mean a literal wooden door). One oversight with this, though, is that being “literal” in biblical interpretation (and in the way the NT authors are), does not cash out in the way that Pentecost and Pretribulationist presume that it does. But we will deal with this later.

So for the Pretribulation position, it becomes quickly apparent, that the ‘church age’ we currently inhabit, was more like an after-thought, or plan B for God; and the nation of Israel and her salvation as His covenant people have always been God’s plan A (and still are). Ironically, dispensationalism, in its classic and revised versions, sounds a lot like the ‘Open’ theology and theory of God (that God does not have determinative knowledge or causation of the future, that God’s knowledge and act is contingent upon the contingencies of creation and the world); but I digress. So in order for God to get back to His original plan A, He needs to finish up with His plan B (the church), get us out of here, and get back to His real business, with dealing with His earthly Covenant people, the Jews.

This is problematic, biblically, on many fronts. We will have to engage with this further at a later date.

Re-Opening Dispensatio

I am going to re-open this blog that I started quite awhile ago. I will be focusing on exactly what I said I would in the introduction to this blog. This stuff still intrigues me as a North American Evangelical, and I actually think it has interesting political and ethical implications for Christians. I won’t just be writing on dispensationalism, but also the alternative views, like the amil or historic premil position[s] I move back and forth between—it depends on what I have eaten that day ;-). So stay tuned. Will see if this blog lives or flops (like my other intended blogs of late) in the days to come.