Tuesday, June 28, 2011

End Times Madness

The following are questions asked of me, and my answers, in an online discussion or debate. [Whether it was a "discussion" or a "debate" depended upon who was asking the question!]. Talk of “last days” and “Israel” is all the rage right now. It seems that the everyday Christian, and even the curious unbeliever, are fairly caught up in eschatological speculation and what I affectionately call “end times madness.” May the Lord add His blessing to your reading and further study.

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Q: What is Dispensationalism?
Dispensationalism [the system of eschatology/soteriology depicted in the “Left Behind” series and other such books and movies] arose in the middle of the 19th Century. Basically, Dispensationalists believe that God has two chosen peoples: national Israel and the Church. Because national Israel rejected Jesus, God's "program" for national Israel has been "put on hold." Now, God is dealing with the Church's "program." The promises of God have NOT been fulfilled in Christ, rather the promises are now "on hold." I repeat: Jesus did NOT fulfill the promises. His first Coming resulted in the delay of the promises.

However, according to Dispensationalists, God will keep His promises to national Israel, sometime in the future; AFTER He finishes His "program" with the Church. The church will be "raptured" and then God will go back to His “program” with Israel. Thus, Old Testament saints are NOT part of the Church [i.e. the Body of Christ] and those who will be saved after God's "program" with the Church is concluded [i.e. folks in the "Great Tribulation"], also will NOT be part of the Church, the Body of Christ.

Dispensationalism is a very convoluted scheme. It divides the people of God into two disparate groups. And it puts forward, in essence, 2 ways of salvation [though Dispensationalists are loathe to admit this]. For example, Dispensationalists repeatedly allege that Old Testament saints did NOT have faith in Christ because they didn't know of Him. But this is untenable, for the New Testament everywhere preaches Christ FROM the Old Testament. The Jews who rejected Jesus did not do so because they lacked information. Their problem then, as it is today, was unbelief; not ignorance.

Dispensationalists are fond of labeling non Dispensationalists [such as myself and all Christians before the 19th Century!] as "Anti Semitic." Nothing could be further from the truth! Do I have an Israel-centric view of scripture? No. And neither does the New Testament. The New Testament presents the promises and prophecies contained in the Old Testament as finding fulfillment in Christ. We, like the Apostles and Jesus Himself, have a Christocentric view of the Bible. We preach Christ from every text. In other words, the Old Testament is Christian. To properly understand the Old Testament, one must look through the lens of Christ.

The Old Testament saints, by grace through faith, looked to Christ. He was preached or revealed to them in types, shadows, prophets, law, and sacrifices. There is one people of God composed of Old Testament and New Testament believers. God has one chosen people, His elect. The Jews living in and outside the nation of Israel have the same hope of salvation as Gentiles living there and everywhere else: Repent and believe the Gospel.

Q: Do you think the church has replaced Israel?
That’s not how I would word it. No. The promises of God are fulfilled in Christ. Old Testament saints were NEVER saved because of their ethnicity. They were saved just as we are: By grace through faith in the Messiah. Only those Jews and Gentiles who have the faith of Abraham are the children of Abraham. This is true in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. Abraham had many biological children, but only those who were of faith are "the children of Abraham." The "Israel of God" is not synonymous with national Israel, and it never was.

Q: Doesn’t Romans 11 tell us God has not cast away his people, Israel?
I do not disbelieve Romans 11. Can you present one comment from me which says, "God has cast away His people, Israel"? This is what we call "straw man" argumentation [misrepresenting a position and then attacking the mischaracterization, instead of interacting with what is actually being said].

I believe Romans 11. But here's the problem. Romans 11 says NOTHING even remotely similar to the end times madness laid out by Dispensationalists. Please show one verse from Romans 11 which speaks of raptures, Great Tribulations, or geopolitical kingdoms. I'll take just one.

No. The hope for Jews in Romans 11 is the exact SAME hope for Gentiles: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. I do NOT believe that the nation of Israel is inexorably doomed to another holocaust. [Isn't it ironic that those who wholeheartedly DO believe this, are fond of referring to those of us who disagree with them as "Anti-Semitic"?]

Rather, I pray for God to sovereignly open the nation of Israel to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (This is also my prayer for Iraq, Iran, Libya, the United States, Europe, etc.) My prayer for national Israel is that her citizens will repent and believe the Gospel; and thereby become citizens of "the Israel of God," the Church (Gal 6:16). And thus, "all Israel [the Israel of God] will be saved" (Rom 11:26).

Q: I understand what you're saying about Dispensationalism not having a history prior to the 19th century. Does this automatically render it inaccurate?
 Of course it doesn't. Please show where I've said anything like: "Dispensationalism is new, therefore it's false." I would never make such an illogical assertion. Just because something is new doesn't mean it's wrong, and just because something is old doesn't mean it's right.

I like to point out that Dispensationalism is new because Dispensationalists present their system as being "as plain as the nose on your face" so to speak. Obviously, if this were true, there would have been Dispensationalists before the 19th Century.

Also, I find that the "run of the mill" Dispensationalist has NEVER EVEN HEARD of other eschatological positions. (And the vast majority who have heard of other systems, only know them from the writings of other Dispensationalists --what we call “hostile witnesses.”)

In addition to this, Dispensationalists tend to look upon non Dispensationalists with suspicion--they're either theologically liberal or Anti Semitic, and so on. They will say things like: "Well, I believe the Bible. If you disagree with me you have no respect for God's word!" (Such things have been said to me on numerous occasions.)

All Christians were non Dispensational before the 19th Century. Were they all liberal? Did they lack respect for the Bible? I think not.

These are some reasons why I point out the "Johnny come lately" nature of Dispensationalism. Dispensationalists tend to make their system a litmus test for orthodoxy--and it isn't.

2 comments:

  1. As I mentioned on your Face Book wall, I have found over my years of study that dispensationalism seems to be a bit of a moving target. I continue my comments on my blog in my post: "Understanding Dispensationalists".

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  2. Yes, it is in some quarters "a bit of a moving target." But the folks with whom I was dialoguing in the post are classic dispys and aren't budging!

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