The three paragraphs quoted above are frankly quite troubling on a number of levels. One is their source: Dr. Mark Snoeberger, a professor at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, which, although long noted for its adherence to revised Dispensationalism of the Ryrian sort, actually commands some sort of respect in certain Baptist circles as being a basically sound and academically qualified institution of higher learning. Now, not all Dispensationalists would say such extreme things as Dr. Snoeberger has been saying; but it is disconcerting to note that this is not coming from the lips of some wild-eyed radical on the fringe, but from one of the more influential of the fundamental Baptist seminaries that still adhere to Dispensationalism in the basic form it took at Ryrie’s Dallas Theological Seminary, some decades ago. Continue Reading
Christ and the Gospel not Old Testament Themes at All? A Hyper-Troubling Conclusion of a Hyper-Dispensationalist
Dispensationalism is basically the method of interpreting the scriptures that sees two distinct peoples of God, with two distinct destinies – Israel and the Church. In various forms and among various groups, this idea has had a widespread influence – but is it biblical? Following is a select list of tenets that many contemporary mainstream Dispensationalists would hold to, and a list of scripture passages that address these tenets. This list represents a wide segment of popular Dispensational teachings; however, Dispensationalism is by no means a monolithic entity, and many self-professed Dispensationalists, particularly in the Progressive school, would not adhere to many of its points.
- The Church is not the continuation of God’s Old Testament people, but a distinct body born on the Day of Pentecost.
- The Church is never equated with Israel in the New Testament, and Christians are not Jews, true Israel, etc.
- The prophecies made to Israel in the Old Testament are not being fulfilled in the Church, nor will they ever be.
- The Church does not participate in the New Covenant prophesied in the Old Testament; it is for ethnic Israel, and will be established in a future millennial kingdom.
- The Old Testament saints were saved by faith alone, on the basis of the Calvary-work of Christ alone; however, the object of their faith was not Christ, but rather the revelation peculiar to their dispensation.
- The Old Testament saints did not know of the coming “Church Age,” of the resurrection of Christ, or basically, of what we today call the gospel.
- When Jesus came to earth, he offered the Jews a physical kingdom, but they rejected him.
- When Jesus proclaimed “the gospel of the Kingdom,” it was the news about how ethnic Jews might enter and find rewards in this physical kingdom, and is to be distinguished from the gospel as defined in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, which the apostles later proclaimed to the church.
- After the Jews rejected Jesus’ kingdom offer, he inaugurated a parenthetical “Church Age”, which will be concluded immediately before God again takes up his dealings with his national people, ethnic Israel.
- During the “Church Age,” Jesus is not reigning from the throne of David; he is engaged instead in his priestly work, and his kingly work will take place in the future millennial kingdom.
- At some unspecified but imminent time, Jesus will return (but not all the way to earth, just to the air) and rapture his Church, also called his Bride; for the following seven years, they will feast with him at the marriage supper of the Lamb; meanwhile, on earth, he will begin to deal with his national people, ethnic Israel, again, calling them to himself and preserving them in the midst of seven years of great tribulation; at the midpoint of which, the Antichrist will set himself up as god in the rebuilt Jewish temple, and demand worship from the world.
- After these seven years, Christ will return, this time all the way to earth. He will defeat the forces of evil, bind Satan and cast him into a pit, and inaugurate the physical Jewish Kingdom that he had offered during his life on earth. The Jews who survived the tribulation will populate the earth during this blessed golden era, and the Christians will reign spiritually, in glorified bodies.
- After these thousand years, Satan will be released and will gather an army from the offspring of the Jews who survived the tribulation. He will be finally defeated and cast into hell. At this time, the wicked dead will be resurrected and judged, whereas the righteous dead had already been resurrected one-thousand-seven years previously, at the rapture. Christ will then usher in the New Heavens and New Earth, and the destinies of all mankind will be finalized. Dispensationalists are divided as to whether or not there will remain a distinction between Christians and Jews in the New Earth.
If the phenomenal success of the bestselling Left Behind series indicates anything about the prevailing eschatological mindset across a wide swath of the evangelical landscape in modern America, then we would do well to pause and consider. Where is this fascination with the sensational, and frequently outright bizarre, interpretation of the significance of current events coming from? What is driving the obsession to see end-time prophetic events transpiring in every headline? What connection does this mindset have with the implacable opposition to any measure taken for peace in the Middle East which would leave the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, or any part of Jerusalem outside of the complete control of the modern state of Israel? More importantly, what ideologies, theological convictions, or ways of understanding the bible lie beneath these phenomena, and how much of an impact are they having on the theological moorings of the Church today? I suspect that the impact is significant enough to warrant a strong warning statement about the movement known as Christian Zionism, and the hyper-Dispensationalism which drives it, from the leaders of the evangelical Church. Unfortunately, however, it has not received the united front of resistance with which other threats to the health of the Church have been met with, such as Openness theology and gender-role confusion. Is this because many Evangelical leaders share enough theological convictions in common with the more extreme examples of the movement that they are loathe to give a clear denunciation? Or do they simply not perceive the errors as being a significant or widespread enough a danger to warrant the time and effort of a thoroughgoing rebuttal? Whatever the reason, there seems to be a general lack of attentiveness to a very rampant problem in Evangelicalism. Perhaps it is time to make clear just what Christian Zionism is (as well as all its theological bedfellows), what convictions are driving it, and what results it is tending towards in the thoughts and practice of the contemporary believer. Continue Reading
I just finished reading an article which had obviously been influenced by the idea that there are two distinct gospels in the New Testament. This insistence that there is a “gospel of the Kingdom,” which Jesus proclaimed to ethnic Jews, who rejected it insistently enough that they received a temporary retraction of the offer; and that this gospel is to be sharply distinguished from the gospel for the Church, as defined in I Corinthians 15:1-4; is a common Dispensational understanding (see Renald Showers’ book, There Really is a Difference, for an example of such argumentation). Frankly, this disturbs me greatly, first of all, because it makes nonsense of the whole tenor of New Testament teaching. If the “gospel of the Kingdom,” is a different gospel than that which is preached today, then why is this “gospel of the Kingdom,” which Jesus had been proclaiming throughout his ministry (e.g. Matthew 4:23, 9:25), the very same gospel that he said must be proclaimed in all the world before his return (Matthew 24:14)? Why is it that the apostles throughout the New Testament writings continued to proclaim this Kingdom-gospel (see Acts 20:24-25; 28:23, 30-31)? How can one justify adhering to a belief that is so eloquently argued against throughout the New Testament scriptures? Continue Reading
As many of you are no doubt aware, I was raised a Dispensationalist. When I first became convinced that the teachings of Dispensationalism are not supported by an honest assessment of scriptures, I determined to change my thinking on the topic, and so be done with the issue summarily. Such were my intentions, but I found, much to my surprise, that the roots of Dispensationalism are so deep, and they affect so profoundly one’s way of thinking about virtually every theological issue, that the task of rejecting one’s own Dispensationally-flavored way of viewing the Bible is no simple task. It is a monumental struggle that requires years of deep, intense, Spirit-reliant searching of the scriptures. As I embarked on this long process, I slowly became aware of a vast array of manners in which a thorough grounding in the Dispensational ideal tends to influence one’s beliefs and emphases. This in itself was shocking to me; but what came as the severest shock of all was the reflection that virtually every one of these Dispensationally-derived misunderstandings tended in some way towards the eclipse of Christ as the sum and substance of every redemptive promise and reality, the One for whom, to whom, and by whom are all things, the One who sums up all of reality, brings all things under his feet, and is in himself all the fullness of the Godhead. Let me be clear here: I have no doubt that many, if not all Dispensationalists would affirm in theory the Christo-centrism of all reality; nevertheless, the fact remains that in practice they deny the explicit Christ-centeredness of many times, persons, and realities in history – and not just minor, inconsequential persons and things, but those that stand out as epoch-defining and historically-pivotal. Continue Reading
Any view of scriptures as inspired and inerrant demands of the interpreter a final product which is free of all absolute contradiction. If the bible is the word of God, and if God is trustworthy, then in the bible, A can never equal non-A fundamentally. That is, A can never equal non-A in the same sense and at the same time. Every instance we have in the bible, therefore, of A being equated with non-A is only a superficial, or accidental equation, and never an essential contradiction. That is not to say that we can find no examples of express A equals non-A formulas in the bible, but rather that every one of those formulas must be understood as indicating the negation of A respective of a different sense, or respective to a different time. Continue Reading
The character of the promises first made to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, and later reiterated and expanded in 12:7; 13:15-17; 15:1,4-21; 17:1-9,19; 21:12; and 22:16-18 has long been recognized, in some sense, as foundational to all of redemptive history subsequent to this epochal event. How we understand the precise nature of these promises, therefore, will largely shape our understanding of all of redemptive history from the call of Abraham to the eternal state. An understanding of these promises that concentrates predominantly on their physical aspect, and therefore sees an ongoing necessity for Middle Eastern geography to be reserved for the ethnic offspring of Abraham has several problems: first, it little accords with the understanding that the patriarch himself had of the covenant promises; second, it is in violation of clear fulfillment formulas found later in the Old Testament; and finally, it fails in its intent to understand literally the promise of eternal possession of the physical land by the physical offspring of Abraham. Continue Reading
For the sake of the name of our precious Savior whom we both serve, and in the bonds of his love, I trust that you will not count amiss my intrusion into your correspondence with Dave on the matter of this hermeneutic which, you say, leads to dispensationalism; and which is, in fact, “what every Christian must assume when he approaches the scriptures.” The specific content of this necessary hermeneutic which you propose is,
1) That God has communicated authoritatively in the form of human language.
2) Because of that presupposition [of authoritative communication], every document in the canon demands a reading on its own terms;
3) Because of that presupposition, the referent (the object of knowledge to which the symbols of language reach) and the sense (the proposition which the symbols form) of every text in the canon must remain stable. Continue Reading
The interpretive grid which sees a literal fulfillment of certain Old Testament prophecies mandating a futuristic, national restoration of ethnic Israel as an earthly people of God enjoys much currency today. Is this hermeneutical framework biblical? The question is not primarily eschatological, although it does have necessary eschatological implications. Neither is the question exclusively one of literal or figurative interpretation. On the contrary, the question at hand affects the entirety of the essential nature of God’s eternal redemptive plan in Christ. It affects the liberty of an author to foreshadow the truths which it is his purpose to reveal, and later to explain the nature of his foreshadowing, and its intended application. It affects not the reality of promise-fulfillment, nor even the literalness of that fulfillment, but rather the one to whom the promises were made, and therefore, to whom they ought reasonably to be fulfilled. Does a natural, literal reading of the scripture message, from beginning to end, lead to an expectation of an ethnicity exercising world dominance in end times, or to a progression from shadows to spiritual realities, from unclear to manifest, from physical and ethnic to spiritual and multi-national? Could such a spiritualization even possibly be consistent with a literal understanding of scriptures? Continue Reading