Reformed Theology, Science, Social Justice

Against Dispensationalism

There’s a whole lot of eschatological fervor out there, with the civil war in Libya, the earthquake in Japan a couple months ago, Harold Camping’s yet-another-failed-prediction of the date and time of Judgment Day, and Obama’s speech on Middle East diplomacy.

There are a lot of Evangelicals who are quick to admit that Harold Camping is a false teacher. But I submit that dispensationalist premillennialism is just as dangerous a departure from the historic Christian faith.

You can judge a tree by it’s fruit. What’s the fruit of Dispensationalism?

  • Dispensationalism leads to churches setting up all-powerful pastors with no accountability or elders to handle things when he’s dead and gone.
  • Dispensationalism leads to churches meeting in strip malls or movie theaters instead of building stone buildings to last a hundred years so their children don’t have to worry about paying for facilities.
  • Dispensationalism leads to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East that promotes inequality by favoring Israel “at all costs” even when they perform illegal crimes against humanity.
  • Dispensationalism leads to U.S. environmental policy that is only concerned about the short-term, endorsing oil as fuel since it doesn’t matter if it runs out because we won’t be here anymore.
  • Dispensationalism leads to a U.S. environmental policy that doesn’t care about raping the environment and exterminating species, because it’s all going to burn anyway.
  • Dispensationalism leads to American Christians getting deep into debt to support their “prosperity gospel” lifestyle, since they expect they’ll never have to pay the money back anyway.
  • Dispensationalism leads to American Christians failing to provide an education or inheritance for their children since Jesus is coming back tomorrow anyway.

As you can see by the fruit, it is an evil heresy. It’s bad for our economy, and it’s bad for the world. God put Adam in the garden to take care of his creation. He gave us the command to love our neighbors as ourselves. Dispensationalism gives us the option to throw all this out the window.

Yesterday, Obama gave a speech about U.S. policy in the Middle-East, hoping to lay the groundwork for peace. Some of my friends on Facebook started saying he wants to help the Palestinians “eradicate” Israel, though he said nothing of the sort. Though Obama is their Christian “brother”, they were calling him evil, a pawn of Satan. It was truly ridiculous. This is what Dispensationalism breeds, and it’s just as dangerous as Harold Camping setting dates and convincing people to sell their homes and give their money to help fund his agenda. I’m going to try to address some of the sentiments that erupted in that discussion.

“My views are right and you should feel the same way if you are truly a Christian and know God’s word.”

Dispensationalist views are heterodox and have never been in the mainstream. Dispensationalism has its roots in the teachings of John Nelson Darby in Britain in the 1800s, but became a distinctly American movement about 85 years ago, stongly promoted in the South at Dallas Seminary and Bob Jones University. Before this, billions of Christians over two millennia never had such a notion. Dispensationalists think that the Church is the “Great Parenthesis”, that it was completely unexpected by the Old Testament, and became God’s “Plan B” when Jesus supposedly “offered” his Kingdom to the Jews and was rejected by them. Therefore, they take all of the Old Testament prophecies about a world-wide people of God made up of people from all nations and make them about Israel in some future millennial reign, like Jesus is going to offer his kingdom to them all over again and for some reason they won’t reject him this time. And it will be an Old-Testament theocracy complete with abominable blood sacrifices. But Hebrews 10:12 says Christ “sat down at the right hand of God,” after having “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (ESV). This is what Jesus meant on the cross when he uttered his famous last words, “It is finished.”

In fact, the entire dispensationalist system comes from leaving out the New Testament entirely, and interpreting all of the Old Testament prophecies with blinders on, to see what they might have imagined if there never were a church. As a result, it’s built on a sort of alternate-reality/timeline theory. With no regard for the sovereign plan of God, who foretold the Gospel as far back as Genesis 3, Genesis 12, Genesis 15, they interpret everything as if it were pointing to some literal post-exilic restoration of the nation of Israel, as if the silly things Jesus’ naive disciples were saying about a literal earthly reign (arguing about who’s going to sit where, etc.) were actually what Jesus was expecting, too. This interpretation leaves out the Gospel entirely, even though the Gospel is the whole point of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.

The more proper way to interpret the Old Testament is not with blinders on, but to interpret Scripture with Scripture. If there is a passage where Jesus says, “When it said this, this is what it meant,” or “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”, or where Paul says that God was “preaching the Gospel” to Abraham, etc—we need to submit to Scripture’s authority in the matter instead of arguing with it.

“I don’t think God wants us to support a politician if they are not for God or his chosen people.”

When Scripture speaks of God’s chosen people, it’s not talking about Israel. It’s talking about the church, the community of the elect, those who were “chosen by God” from every tongue, tribe, and nation. As for a politician being “for God”, that’s not in the job description—you are confusing the civil kingdom with the heavenly kingdom. But he is a Christian. If you want to use the Bible to justify whether you should support a politician, you would do better to consider Romans 13:1-2 (NIV), “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” In other words, Fox News, in being contrary to all Democrat authority, is a rebellious and illegitimate institution that will face God’s judgment and you will also, if you don’t recognize God’s providence in this matter.

“The Bible says Israel is the ‘Apple of God’s Eye’.”

Zechariah 2 is a prophecy of the church. It also speaks of him judging the nations, and this will happen on the Last Day, but this is not talking about God taking the side of some tiny ethnicity in the Middle East to the exclusion of all others. It says in verse 11 that many nations will join themselves to the LORD in that day. He’s talking about the Gospel being preached to the Gentiles. And so “his people” is no longer Israel, but all of the nations who come to him.

“2 Chronicles 6:6 says God chose Jerusalem. We have to fight for Jerusalem to remain Jewish.”

You can’t just take one verse out of context to support your view. You have to consider the overarching theme of Scripture, which is all about Christ and the Gospel. This particular verse is from a specific context. It’s about David being king, and about moving the capital and the center of worship to Jerusalem. God’s name is no longer in Jerusalem. The nation broke God’s covenant over and over again. Though God was very patient with them, he finally kicked them out of the land. Though many were eventually able to come home, their efforts to restore legalism were never going to work. God was getting things ready for the New Covenant. Even the kingship of David is figurative of Christ, the “son of David.” So anything that talks about his line being kept or restored is really about Christ’s coming, and what he did to fulfill everything by dying on the cross for our sins, and this Gospel is to go to all the nations.

“The Bible says, ‘I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.’”

This has nothing to do with Israel. God said this to Abraham in Genesis 12, and Abraham was the father not only of the Jews, but also of the Arabs. So there is no greater blessing by choosing Jews over Arabs vs. promoting equality for all of Abraham’s descendants. Furthermore, in the same chapter, when Yahweh said to Abraham, “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed,” he wasn’t talking about how blessed the United States would be if they choose to support a new homogenous, rascist government made up entirely of ethnic Jews several thousand years in the future. He was talking about the fact that through Abraham’s seed, the Messiah would come into the world, bringing salvation to all. In Galatians 3:8, Paul says God’s speech to Abraham in Genesis 12 had nothing to do with a land or nation, but was all about the Gospel. When Christ was born, Israel’s mission as as the bloodline through which Christ would come was 100% fulfilled. The true heirs of Abraham, the real chosen people of God, are the Church, no matter what their ancestry. This is what the Church has believed for 2,000 years. It’s only in the last century that dispensationalism has taken hold, and it needs to be recognized for what it is: a heterodox teaching.

“But the Bible says we were only ‘grafted in’.”

We are only “grafted in” in the sense that there is a spiritual lineage and a very long history of God redeeming his chosen people. But it’s like a family tree, temporal. There are no longer any non-Christian Jewish branches. Paul’s illustration says that branches were “cut off” that we might be grafted in. This means any Jews who still don’t believe in Jesus are thrown into the fire. Also, Galatians 4 says it’s not the Jews who are the chosen ones (“children of promise”), but the church. Paul says, “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” He is speaking allegorically of Hagar, not as representative of the ancestry of Arabs, but spiritually speaking, of unbelieving Jews, who are the real illegitimate children. Israelis who reject the Gospel are completely out of the equation.

“I know some of them are going to hell but they are still chosen. THEY JUST ARE!”

Not anymore. Jesus said to the Jews in Matthew 21:43, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.”

And in what sense is someone chosen if they’re going to hell? Romans 8:33-34 (ESV) says, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?…” If you are chosen by God, you are justified and will never be condemned. So you must be consistent in your views. Either no Jew will ever go to hell, or not all Jews are chosen. As Romans 9:6-7 (ESV) says, “It is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring…” John 1:11-13: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” To base everything on race is to be distinctly un-Biblical and anti-Christian. As Paul said in Galatians 3:28-29, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

Just to be clear, I’m not bigoted against Jews. I am simply also not bigoted against Muslims, either. They both have a right to seek to worship the God of Abraham according to their ancestral religions. As a Christian, I believe they are wrong, and that God has provided the only way to him in Christ, but I also believe they are my neighbors and I will fight for their freedom of worship. In Galatians 3, Paul says the law was a schoolmaster to the Jews, to lead them to Christ. In the same way, Islam’s law-keeping religion is just as much of a schoolmaster that can lead people to Christ. The two religions have equal legitimacy in that sense, and we should not treat Jews as somehow better.

Though one’s salvation may not necessarily hinge on one’s eschatalogical views, having a right Biblical view is still very important for Christians. You can’t go through life promoting anti-Palestinian racist policies in the Middle East and calling Democrats the spawn of Satan as if you’re justified by Scripture to do so when you really aren’t.


3 thoughts on “Against Dispensationalism

  1. Kurt says:

    Well done!!
    I live in the Virginia “Bible Belt” and this theology is very popular in these parts. Dispensationalists around here are, almost without exception, the Fox News variety.
    I agree that this is a very dangerous/destructive theology-not to mention unbiblical.
    These guys are always screaming about the homosexuals, abortionists, etc. destroying the country (or the earth for that matter)but they NEVER address our primary problem at this time -greed and the accumulation of wealth to the detriment of others or just the accumulation of wealth. These matters are CLEARLY addressed over and over throughout the New Testament but you would think that they didn't even exist listening to this crowd. There are some conservative churches around here that for all practical purposes promote greed and the accumulation of wealth (Greed is good for the economy!!). They have clearly turned the New Testament upside down!!
    I wish that the mainline churches would take more of a stand on rapture theology as you have and also speak out about greed. It probably wouldn't make you very popular in our culture nowdays but once upon a time that wasn't the case. Biblical teachings on greed and the accumulation of wealth are rock solid – unlike the wild imagination rapture theology. Their main scriptures in I Thess. 4DO NOT say that anyone is going to heaven!! Read it carefully as if you had no knowledge of any religion (afterlife in heaven or otherwise) and had never seen a Bible if you don't believe me.
    Again, your post was excellent!! I wish there were more like it.

  2. Thanks, Kurt! It's good to get some feedback. The incidents leading up to this blog post actually resulted in a considerable amount of unfriending on Facebook.

    It really seems everyone could use a good healthy dose of the Epistle of James!

  3. Pingback: Historic Confessions vs. the Contemporary Statement of Faith | I must follow, if I can

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