Thursday, August 17, 2006

Dispensationalism – The Final Post

Near the beginning of this mini-series I set myself an outline of past, present and future. Having read those posts, I see that I haven’t been very disciplined in my presentation. It ain’t gonna get any better in this post, which is supposedly a combination of reflections on my concerns regarding dispensationalism and the future and a conclusion of sorts.

When people find out that I am not a dispensationalist (or, as is more common, they find out that I don’t subscribe to the “Left Behind” timetable), they ask me, “Well then, what’s next in your view?”

I’m certainly looking forward to the return of Christ, and I believe that could be at any time. I do believe that death is a more likely outcome for me, just on the basis of “odds,” if you will. Here is the statement from our Fellowship Baptist Affirmation of Faith:

Section H - Future ThingsWe believe in the personal, bodily and glorious return of the Lord Jesus Christ; in the bodily resurrection of the just and the unjust; in the eternal blessedness of the redeemed and in the judgment and conscious, eternal punishment of the wicked.

Furthermore, I certainly subscribe to the order of things that I read in 1 Thessalonians 4, though I must say that my favorite eschatological passage is Romans 8:18-25.

I find the dispensational scheme incredibly complicated. I know the desire is to be literal in interpretation of Scripture, but the system gets read into simple “blessed hope” passages, such as 1 Thessalonians 4.

I don’t buy all the speculation of the other eschatological “camps” either, but I have learned from all of them. For instance, most Christians today snort at the ignorance of scholars in the past identifying the antichrist with the pope. Were they really so foolish? What about the significance of Roman persecution to the first century readers of the book of Revelation? The new, popular end-times scheme disregards all of this ancient wisdom (and some not so ancient).

Classic dispensationalism relegates large sections of the Bible (like the book of Matthew) to the future. In a previous church I was corrected by someone for teaching from the Sermon on the Mount because, “that is for the Kingdom, not the church age.” Another future bias is found in the book of Revelation. Is everything from chapter four onward really future? I think there is much in that book that has relevance to Christians past, present and future.

Another concern that I have is that there is so much political machinery behind “what must be” for Israel in the dispensational scheme. Need I elaborate? Who among us does not have a friend or relative who has shelves lined with videos pointing to “signs of the end.”

Instead of listing examples of my concerns with futurist speculation, let me give you an example of what I consider to be essential eschatology. Last Fall I downloaded the “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God” MP3s from Desiring God Ministries. On the way to the city one day I listened to Joni’s message. I’m glad I was alone, because I wept when I heard her express her longing to see Jesus and her genuine thankfulness for her disability because it made her rely on her Saviour. When she was expressing her heart’s longing for Heaven, I said to myself, “Now THAT’S eschatology!”

Perhaps my biggest complaint against the whole dispensational scheme is that it “unweaves the rainbow” (to use Robert Mounce’s phrase) with all its charts and graphs and confident statements regarding things left unfulfilled. Can’t we focus primarily on the longing to see Christ face to face?

I have almost dreaded doing this last post on dispensationalism (it was supposed to be two posts). It’s not that I’m not interested, but it is a big topic to critique adequately. Secondly, I have no desire to beat up on friends who are dispensational in their eschatology. Let me reiterate what I said in my first post: I believe this to be an in-house debate and that I do not consider eschatology to be a test of fellowship. I appreciate the work of Christians from a wide variety of eschatological convictions. When I began this screed, I thought I was entitled, somehow, because of my minority position. That’s not right. I hope my tone hasn’t been too negative. I do plan to post more on eschatology in the future – and I won’t hesitate to make some more knocks against the flaky prophecy culture in evangelicalism – but I want to mostly state what I do believe positively.


BugBlaster said...

I do not consider eschatology to be a test of fellowship.

Quote of the day, Terry, thanks!

Agent Orange said...
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