Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pesky Progressives

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

Dispensationalism is undergoing a gradual, evolutionary change of mammoth proportions. Since the late 1980s many dispensational scholars have been tinkering with the system trying to make it more palatable to evangelical theologians — as well as more biblical. They are doing a pretty good job on both accounts. Their new system is called "progressive dispensationalism." But their work is not done. And it will not be done until they remove the word "dispensationalism" from their title. In other words, their work will not be complete until they no longer classify themselves as dispensationalists. I think that day is coming. (I will not, however, predict the day nor the hour lest I become like unto them.)

You can hear the alarm being sounded in the more popular, more traditional dispensational camp. That is, you can hear it from those few traditional dispensationalists who are somewhat studious and alert. The average dispensationalist-in-the-pew is too busy trying to identify the Antichrist, predict the date of the Rapture, and create a better system for full-color, fold-out charts. (I was just kidding about the last point; as strong advocates of the tri-partite view of man they are resolutely committed to tri-fold charts.)

In the 1990s a number of books attacking progressive dispensationalism were published by the old guard. And several significant debate books were generated out of their intermural debate. One of these debate books was: Herbert W. Bateman, ed., Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism: A Comparison of Traditional and Progressive Views (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999). In this work we see the enormous changes being effected on the theological sub-structure of dispensationalism. (The more popular brand of dispensationalism that dominates the market does not actually have what we would call a "theological sub-structure." Basically their simple motto is: "I believe therefore it am").

To get a feel for the radical nature of the changes being effected, we may quote a brief section of this book. I will cite a couple of paragraphs by Stanley D. Toussaint, an older school dispensationalist. Toussaint writes on p. 227:

"In his classic work Dispensationalism Today, Ryrie sets forth a threefold sine qua non of dispensationalism — a distinction between Israel and the church, a literal hermeneutic, and the glory of God as His purpose on earth. Of these three, undoubtedly the most important is the distinction between Israel and the church. Ryrie calls this ‘the most basic theological test of whether or not a man is a dispensationalist.’ He calls it the ‘essence of dispensationalism.’ He goes so far as to say, ‘The nature of the church is a crucial point of difference between dispensationalism and other doctrinal viewpoints. Indeed, ecclesiology, or the doctrine of the church, is the touchstone of dispensationalism.’ All dispensationalists would agree that these statements are true. However, the degree of the difference has been and still is a matter of debate. If the church and Israel become so blurred in dispensationalism that there is no separation between them, dispensationalism will become as extinct as the pitied dodo bird."

As you can see: the foundational touchstone of dispensationalism is being reformulated. And "if the foundations be destroyed, what will the populist do?"

Since dispensationalism is a theological system, we can expect that reworking the foundations will impact the rest of their theology. And such is certainly the case. Toussaint goes on to note on p. 228:

"Progressive dispensationalism has taken a new tack. It still makes something of a difference between Israel and the church, but that distinction is not nearly as sharp. Those who hold to this position believe that the promised kingdom has already begun; progressive dispensationalists assert that the Old Testament covenants and promises have had a beginning, a partial fulfillment in the church, but will have their ultimate fulfillment in the Millennium and eternity. Their view of the kingdom is similar to Ladd’s; that is, progressive dispensationalists believe that the kingdom was present when Christ ministered on earth but His reign was not initiated until His ascension. At that time He took His seat on the throne of David. Thus, the kingdom has been inaugurated but will come in fullness only in the millennium and eternity."

These are enormously significant alterations occurring in this popular eschatological system. Dispensationalism is in serious trouble. It is not simply changing, it is becoming its opposite. But again: they are not there yet, though the prospects look good for the final demise of dispensationalism. Of course, if the average dispensationalist ever gets wind of what their theologians are doing, they will simply write it off as another one of the signs of the times. And they will return to the mountain top with their friends to eagerly wait.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Literalism and the Rejection of Messiah

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

The Error of Dispensational Literalism

The two cornerstones of dispensationalism are: (1) Israel and the Church must be kept distinct as two separate peoples of God throughout all eternity. (2) Scripture must be interpreted literalistically unless it would lead to absurdity. Both of these foundational premises are absolutely erroneous. In this blog I will briefly demonstrate the tragedy of literalism for both first century Israel and present-day dispensationalism.

Dispensationalists proudly point out that first century Jewish rabbis interpreted the Old Testament literalistically. In fact, this claim is often made at the beginning of their argument for literalism in an effort to establish the historical nature of their hermeneutic. For instance, Dallas Seminary’s J. Dwight Pentecost asserts: "The prevailing method of interpretation among the Jews at the time of Christ was certainly the literal method of interpretation" (Things to Come, 17). Popular and prolific dispensational author Malcolm Ollie Couch, Jr. agrees: "Jewish orthodoxy generally interpreted the Old Testament literally" (Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy, 148).

Unfortunately, literalism was not only a tragedy for the Jews, but is an embarrassment to their best friends, the dispensationalists. (And through dispensationalism’s behemoth presence in American Christian circles, an embarrassment to evangelical theology.) Let us see how this is so.

The Tragedy of Jewish Literalism

The tragedy of literalism for Israel was perhaps the key human component leading the nation to reject their own prophesied Messiah. Evangelical theologian Stanley J. Grenz observes "it was their expectations of a literal earthly kingdom and political ruler that caused many Jews to fail to recognize Jesus as their Messiah at his first coming" (The Millennial Maze, 79). Interestingly, we see this point made throughout John’s Gospel. Indeed, it seems almost as if his Gospel was designed to demonstrate this affliction.

John’s Gospel opens early-on with a foreboding lament: "He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him" (John 1:11). And this was despite the fact that Jesus was "the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not comprehend it" (John 1:4b–5). Then throughout his Gospel John repeatedly points out why this happened: it was due to the naive literalism of the majority of first-century Jews.

Jesus even has to rebuke a religious leader in Israel for this nonsense. In John 2 Jesus is at the Temple during Passover where he drives the moneychangers out of the Temple court. The temple authorities confront him, asking: "What sign do You show to us, seeing that You do these things" (John 2:18). John records Jesus’ response and the Jewish confusion based on their literalistic interpretation of it: "Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews therefore said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’" (John 2:19–20). John exposes their error by properly interpreting Jesus’ answer: "But He was speaking of the temple of His body" (John 2:21).

Just five verses later John records Jesus’ interaction with "a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews" (John 3:1). Nicodemus informs Jesus that he recognizes the significance of Jesus’ miracles. Then we read: "Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?’ (John 3:3–4). He totally misses Jesus’ teaching on being "born again." Here is a ruler of the Jews thinking as a dispensationalist: apparently for him "truly, truly" meant "literally, literally."

But how does Jesus respond? With a sharp rebuke and a correction to his literalism. "Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, "You must be born again. . . .’" ‘Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?’ . . . If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?" (John 3:5–7, 10, 12). Ouch! Here is an educated Pharisee, a "ruler of the Jews" being questioned as to his intelligence because of his literalistic approach.

Then in the next chapter we find another encounter of Jesus. This time with the Samaritan woman at the well. In his interaction with her we discover her dullness of understanding which is also rooted in simplistic literalism.

"Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, "Give Me a drink," you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.’ She said to Him, ‘Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?’ Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life. The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty, nor come all the way here to draw’" (John 4:10–15).

If Jesus teaches about his providing "living water" had prompted his hearers to go about looking for ladles, they would be sorely disappointed. She missed his spiritual instruction because of her literalistic assumption.

But this is not all, for we read further: "In the meanwhile the disciples were requesting Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’ But He said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ The disciples therefore were saying to one another, ‘No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work. Do you not say, "There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest"? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. Already he who reaps is receiving wages, and is gathering fruit for life eternal; that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true, "One sows, and another reaps." I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor’" (John 4:31–38).

Had Jesus not constrained them they would have probably run off to begin looking for a sickle to help him harvest some wheat while the Samaritan woman went off looking for a longer ladle. No wonder people back then were such hard workers. They took everything so literally. (By saying they "took" everything literally, I do not mean they manually lifted everything up and hauled it off to another geographical destination. You can’t have everything: where would you put it?).
Later Jesus really gets into trouble and offended a crowd of literalistic Jews. He does so after miraculously feeding 5000 of them (John 6:1–14, 24–26). We see literalism raising its dense head once again when the Jews finally find him shortly thereafter:

"‘Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, "He gave them bread out of heaven to eat."’ Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.’ They said therefore to Him, ‘Lord, evermore give us this bread.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.’ (John 6:31– 35). The story continues:

"‘I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh.’ The Jews therefore began to argue with one another, saying, ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?’ Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate, and died, he who eats this bread shall live forever’" (John 6:51– 58).

And you know what happens next (John has already established the pattern for you!): "Many therefore of His disciples, when they heard this said, ‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, ‘Does this cause you to stumble?’ . . . As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore" (John 6:60–61, 66).

All of this interpretive stumbling does not end here! It continues on relentlessly throughout John’s record. In John 8:21–22 we read: "He said therefore again to them, ‘I go away, and you shall seek Me, and shall die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come. Therefore the Jews were saying, ‘Surely He will not kill Himself, will He, since He says, "Where I am going, you cannot come"?’" (John 8:21–22).

Then a few verses later we read of Jesus’ preaching: "‘You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ They answered Him, ‘We are Abraham's offspring, and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, "You shall become free"?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:32–36). They were in danger of remaining in slavery to sin because they could not understand Jesus’ warning about that spiritual slavery, partly due to their literalism.

Then just a few more verses afterwards we see the same problem arising again: "‘Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.’ The Jews said to Him, ‘Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets also; and You say, "If anyone keeps My word, he shall never taste of death." Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?’" (John 8:51–53).

Just a few verse later in the following context (beginning in John 9:1) Jesus heals a blind man. Then he causes confusion by speaking of spiritual blindness to the dispensationalist Pharisees. (We know they were dispensationalists because they not only were literalists but they also held to the distinction between the Church and Israel — as well as believing in a special future for Israel wherein they would rule the world.) "And Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see; and that those who see may become blind.’ Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things, and said to Him, ‘We are not blind too, are we?’" (John 9:39–40). They had confronted him regarding his healing of the blind man. So when Jesus calls them "blind," they literalistically assume he is speaking of physical blindness.

Jesus’ own closest associates were Jewish, and therefore afflicted with literalism. We see this in the episode of the raising of Lazarus: "This He said, and after that He said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, that I may awaken him out of sleep.’ The disciples therefore said to Him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.’" But once again, John helps us out by adding: "Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. Then Jesus therefore said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead’" (John 11:11–14).

Even Peter, the leading disciple and one of the inner circle of three (with James and John, cf. Mark 5:37; 9:2; 13:3; 14:33), was confused by his cultural literalism: Jesus said: "‘Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You shall seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, I now say to you also, "Where I am going, you cannot come."’ . . . Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are You going?’ Jesus answered, ‘Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you shall follow later.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You right now?’" (John 13:33, 36–37).

Literalism is such a bad problem among the Jews that Jesus has to interact with Pilate to discover whether Pilate had directly heard him speak on the kingdom of heaven, or whether he got all of his information from the Jews. As we can tell from the preceding narrative in John’s Gospel, this was a great concern for Jesus since the Jews tended to misconstrue his teaching by subjecting it to a literalistic analysis. Thus we read:

"Pilate therefore entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus, and said to Him, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?’ Pilate answered, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You up to me; what have You done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.’ Pilate therefore said to Him, ‘So You are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice’" (John 18:33-37).

Thus, once Jesus discounts any Jewish, literalistic interpretation of his kingdom sayings. He informs Pilate he is indeed a "king." But he defines his kingdom as a spiritual kingdom not of this world, a kingdom related to the proclamation of truth and uninterested in armies and a police force. His kingdom is spiritual, not literal . And because of his answer we read: "Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’ And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, ‘I find no guilt in Him’" (John 18:38). He well knew, as did the Jews, that "everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar" (John 19:12). Yet as Caesar’s appointed procurator Pilate stated: "I find no guilt in Him."


In all of this we see the dangers of a naive literalism. It caused Jesus’ embarrassing rebuke of a high-ranking Jewish leader (Nicodemus). It caused many would-be disciples to turn away from him. It caused his disciples to be confused. It caused the Jews to reject Jesus as Messiah. It even caused them to demand his crucifixion (cp. Matt 27:29, 37).

Furthermore, the literalistic hermeneutic eventually created a whole, new theological movement in history 1800 years after Christ: dispensationalism was founded in 1830. This movement has created its own rapturistic theological system. It has also caused embarrassment to the broader evangelical faith by its naive theology, with all of its calls for the end, demands for preferential treatment for Jews, and for almost the entire herd of televangelists.

In addition to all of this, dispensational literalism can be personally dangerous. And you need to take this very seriously. Please allow me to just give one piece of advice to you for your own safety in ministry. If you ever have a distraught dispensationalist come to you for counsel and asking: "May I talk to you about my problem with a violent temper?," never ever, under any circumstances whatsoever respond: "Shoot."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The “Secret” Rapture Revisited

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

In response to a previous blog titled "The Loud Verse and the Secret Rapture," I received the following anonymous response:

"Because, you deceiver, no-one ever called it a ‘Secret Rapture’ EXCEPT anti-dispensationalists like yourself. You have created a straw man. knocked it down and proved nothing."

I would use this response to point out the emotional nature of commitment to dispensationalism. This anonymous response was not an intellectual challenge to my blog, but an emotional outburst against it. He does not assert that I am argumentatively mistaken, but rather charges that I am morally a "deceiver."

What is worse, my respondent's objection is fallacious. Indeed, it is mistaken in its foundational, over-riding, singular point! The writer claims: (1) "no-one ever called it a ‘Secret Rapture’ EXCEPT anti-dispensationalists," and because of this alleged fact (2) "you have created a straw man."

Please consider the following in reply:

Dispensationalists employ the term "secret" for the Rapture

The largest selling book of the 1970s, and one of the largest selling Christian books of all times, was Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth. In the 1970s it sold over 9 million copies. And though quite dated now, it is still on the market and has sold over 28 million copies worldwide. As a consequence, it has influenced millions of Christians.

In this book dispensationalist mega-bestseller Hal Lindsey states on pages 142–43:

"Another reason why we support the idea that the Rapture and the second coming are separate events is that the second coming is said to be visible to the whole earth (Revelation 1:7). However, in the Rapture, only the Christians see Him — it’s a mystery, a secret. When the living believers are taken out, the world is going to be mystified."

Thus, one of the most influential dispensational authors uses the term, despite the anonymous writer declaring that "no-one" ever called it a secret rapture.

Another best-selling dispensationalist who uses the term is Dave Hunt. In his book Whatever Happened to Heaven? he writes on page 303:

"The rapture as expressed in 1 Thessalonians 4 seems to be a private event involving the church only, and unseen and unknown to the world. . . . The actual event seems to be a secret experience only by the church."

Major theologian Robert H. Gundry wrote The Church and the Tribulation, in which he classifies himself as a "dispensationalist" (p. 28). He is also called a dispensationalist in Thomas Ice and Tim Demy’s book, When the Trumpet Sounds: "Gundry, who is not only premillennial but also dispensational..." (p. 239). While discussing 1 Thess 4:16–17, Gundry refers to the secret rapture in his book: "The ‘shout,’ ‘voice,’ and ‘trumpet’ have led some posttribulationists to mock at a secret, pretribulational rapture..." (p. 104).

Dispensationalism requires that the Rapture be "secret."

We also find that the very theological construct of the Rapture entails that it be "secret." According to the dictionary, the first meaning of "secret" is: "done, made, or conducted without the knowledge of others" (Dictionary.com). The second listed meaning there is: "kept from the knowledge of any but the initiated or privileged." This is precisely how the Rapture must be characterized. Note the following.

Consider major dispensationalist theologian Charles L. Feinberg. In his book, Millennialism: The Two Major Views, p. 287 he distinguishes the Rapture from the Second Coming by noting: "The coming of the Lord Jesus for His own will not be seen by the world, whereas His visible appearing will be seen by all when He comes in power and great glory with His holy angles" (emph. mine). By definition, this Rapture coming is secret, for it "will not be seen by the world." It is "done, made, or conducted without the knowledge of others" ("secret," Dictionary.com)."

Another important dispensational theologian is Paul D. Feinberg. He is contributor to the debate book by Gleason Archer, et al., The Rapture: Pre–, Mid–, or Post–tribulational?). In that book he, too, distinguishes the Second Advent from the Rapture similarly: "The return of Christ is preceded by great upheaval, distress, and signs that alert one to its occurrence. Neither the trial nor the signs are to be found in the Rapture text..." (p. 157–58; emph. mine). Thus, it is "secret" as far as the world is concerned for it is "done, made, or conducted without the knowledge of others" ("secret," Dictionary.com)."

Perhaps the most popular and influential dispensationalist today is Tim LaHaye. In his Prophecy Study Bible (at 1 Thess. 4:13) he provides a chart of "Comparisons between the Rapture and the Glorious Appearance." In that chart, item five is: At the Rapture "Only His own see Him"; whereas in the "Glorious Appearance" (the Second Advent) "Every eye will see Him." Thus, a major distinction between the Rapture and the Second Advent is that the Rapture is not seen by those who are not believers. Is this, then, not "secret"? Is this not "done, made, or conducted without the knowledge of others" ("secret," Dictionary.com)?"

Norm Geisler in his Systematic Theology: Church, Last Things presents a similar chart to LaHaye, where he contrasts the "Rapture" and the "Second Coming" (p. 623): Under the "Rapture" column we read: "only believers see him." Under the "Second Coming" column we read: "all people see him."

John Walvoord, The Church in Prophecy, speaks of the Rapture as a secret event, though without using the express term:

"It is probable, however, that just as atmospheric clouds received the Lord when He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9) and as He will come in the ‘clouds of heaven’ at His return to the earth, so here also at the rapture the church will be enveloped by the atmospheric heavens and thus be taken out of sight of men on earth. There is no indication, however, that residents of earth will be able to see the church thus rapture."

But now, if the residents of earth do not see it, is it not — by definition — "secret"? Is it not "done, made, or conducted without the knowledge of others" ("secret," Dictionary.com)?

However, on p. 136 Walvoord expressly allows the concept:

"The revelation indicates that the event [the Rapture] will take place in a moment and apparently that the earth and its inhabitants are left undisturbed. The Scripture does not use the term ‘secret rapture,’ and there is no sure evidence what the world will see and hear at the time of rapture. On the other hand, the Scriptures do not give any indication that the rapture will be subject to observation by the world as a whole."

So then, though "the Scripture does not use the term ‘secret,’" he argues for its secrecy, nevertheless. After all, he declares "there is no sure evidence what the world will see and hear." And he notes "on the other hand, the Scriptures do not give any indication that the rapture will be subject to observation by the world as a whole." He has worked his way around the "problem" that the adjective "secret" is not applied to the rapture in Scripture by declaring that it is, nonetheless, secret!

Then two paragraphs later Walvoord writes: "A survey of the major Scriptures dealing with the second coming reveal an entirely different picture than the rapture. In Matthew 24, it is indicated that the second coming of Christ will fill the heavens with glory and will be ‘as lightning cometh out of the east and shineth even unto the west....' In contrast to the rapture, the second coming will be a visible event which both saved and unsaved will see" (pp. 136–37; emph. mine).


Like it or not, dispensationalism requires a "secret" rapture. And dispensationalists can and do use the term. I created no straw man; nor did I deceive anyone. I do admit, however, to not having much emotion about the whole matter.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Response to Dave

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com


Thank you for reading and interacting with my blog, "I Was a Teenage Dispensationalist." I would like to respond to you, since you took the time to reply.

You are correct that the reading of the Acts 2 passage was a catalyst in my thinking; it was, not an end all. It led to my further research, which led me out of dispensationalism.

Upon your second reading of my original blog, you realized that I do distinguish the more scholarly men, such as Ryrie and Walvoord, from the popular writers, such as Lindsey and LaHaye. Generally speaking, Ryrie and Walvoord are less inclined to populist extravagance and date-setting. However, they are not entirely untouched by the charge of "naivete" and even to date-setting.

You state: "I think a survey of responsible dispensational scholars would reveal that very few of them would engage in anything approximating date-setting." I find interesting your statement that "very few" of them would do so. As I will show, though they tend not to be as overt as the populists, they still have that temptation.

You go on to state: "However, it is extremely unfortunate that some, even quite a few, have made far too many extreme statements correlating current events with fulfillment of prophecy." But correlating "current events with fullfilment of prophecy" even occurs in Ryrie and Walvoord, for instance.

For example, consider Walvoord’s best-seller: Armageddon, Oil, and Terror: What the Bible Says about the Future. He was viewing the (then) current oil crisis as an indicator of "Armageddon." You will never find even a progressive dispensationalist writing such a book.

In his Prophecy Knowledge Handbook (p. 258–59) Walvoord states: "The fact that Israel is already back in the land, that a world movement toward world government is also current, and that there is already a world religious movement combine to indicate that the time of fulfillment of end-time events may not be distant." This is certainly doing what you lament: "correlating current events with fulfillment of prophecy."

On p. 400 Walvoord even provides a table of "Predicted Events Relating to the Nations." #1 is "United Nations organized as first step toward world government in 1946." #6 is "Red China becomes a military power." #8 is "The Arab oil embargo in 1973 results in world recognition of the power of wealth and energy in the Middle East." He mixes these "predicted events" right in with #20 "Second coming of Christ occurs accompanied by the armies from heaven." So the establishment of the UN, the military prowess of Red China, and the 1973 Arab oil embargo are "predicted events" in biblical prophecy? How is that for "correlating current events with fulfillment of prophecy"?

On p. 422 he lists a table of "Predicted Events Relating to the Church." This includes "2. The rise of Communism and atheism as major opponents of Christianity. 3. The ecumenical movement promoting a world church organization in 1948." He mixes this in with "6. The Rapture of the church" and "12. Second coming of Christ occurs...." So, the establishment of the ecumenical movement in 1948 is a "predicted event"? Is this not "correlating current events with fulfillment of prophecy"?

And consider Ryrie’s book The Living End. On p. 45 he writes of Revelation 9: "John’s description sounds very much like some kind of war machine or UFO.... Until someone comes up with a satisfactory answer to the UFO question, this possibility should not be ruled out." This is absolutely bizarre.

In that same book on page 56 he writes of Ezekiel 38: "Suddenly Zionism blossomed, and with the blessing of the United Nations the Jewish State of Israel was born in 1948, and since then the Jewish people have been returning in unprecedented numbers.... Ezekiel’s prophecy could not have been fulfilled fifty years ago. But today it can, and soon it will." He clearly declares that Ezekiel's prophecy will "soon" be fulfilled. This is date-setting. He does not even qualify it with "it seems that" or "it may."

Chapter 10 of The Living End is titled: "No Tricentennial for the U.S.A." On pages 128 and 129 we read: "But even if the messages of the prophets do not alert you, before finally dismissing them, take a good look again at current events.... How do you account for these unusual events converging in our present day? Jesus said: ‘Even so when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.’ (Matthew 24:33 NIV)." (Emphasis KLG) How is that for "correlating current events with fulfillment of prophecy"? And date-setting? These "current events" (events actually happening now) indciate "it is near, right at the door."

You state that "the Scriptures indicate that there is only one regathering of Israel into the land." However, the verses you would use to support such a view speak of their return in faith. Whereas, modern Israel is close to being an atheistic nation, and is at the very least non-Christian.

Dispensationalists too easily succumb to naivete in interpretation and date-setting in prophetic pronouncements. This even occurs with noted, scholarly dispensationalists such as Ryrie and Walvoord, though with a little more moderation.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I Was a Teenage Dispensationalist (Revisited 2009)

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

I am the Director of NiceneCouncil.com, which produces and distributes much evangelical and Reformed theological material. One of our main ministries is our witness against the errors in dispensationalism and the naivete of dispensationalists. Dispensationalism has absolutely saturated the American evangelical mind and has, conversely, diluted the integrity of the Christian witness to our culture and the world. Hence we have developed an important video documentary The Late Great Planet Church (see our on-line store at: NiceneCouncil.com). And also this very blogspot: AgainstDispenationalism.com. We are serious in our anti-dispensationalism.

In that you are a visitor to this blogspot, perhaps a personal testimony from me would be of interest. (If you are not a visitor, how in the world are you reading this blog? Nobody actually lives here. I rest my case.) Sometimes it is helpful to read the testimony of others, especially regarding their current theological standing and its historic development. This might be especially interesting in light of my and NiceneCouncil.com’s strong position against dispensationalism.

Though dispensationalists are our brothers in Christ.... And though they affirm the same Scriptures that we do, and with equal conviction.... We must recognize this “in house” squabble as being significant. In fact, we feel that dispensationalism is embarrassing the evangelical Christian faith (with its naivete and its frequent calls for the End). We believe our brothers need to be challenged to look more carefully at Scripture in order to learn where they have fumbled.

In my next blog I will write a letter to dispensationalists, challenging them to reconsider their foundations. In this one I will provide my testimony regarding my dispensational background, showing them my previous involvement in the system and my dispensationalist credentials.

My Early Dispensational Experience

I once was a dispensationalist. I have the spiritual experience and the academic credentials of a certified dispensationalist. But you might say that I raptured out of the system. Though I was a teenage dispensationalist I am now a mature covenantalist. In other words, I was once a dispensationalist but I got over it. Leaving dispensationalism — where virtually all of my family resided — was emotionally difficult. But in the final analysis it was a matter of “thus saith the Lord.” Leaving dispensationalism was like being born-again again. The impact on my spiritual life and development was just that great.

As a sixteen year-old teenager I was converted to Christ under a dispensational youth ministry at a Bible camp at Florida Bible College in Boca Raton, Florida (1966). I was sent there by my uncle, Rev. John S. Lanham, a dispensational pastor. My uncle was generously stepping in to help my sister and me through our parents divorce (my uncle was my mother’s brother). While at that youth camp, and on the very first night, I heard the gospel preached from Ephesians 2:8–9. Right then and there God wonderfully opened my heart to his gospel. I knew that I now had eternal life. Though I am now Reformed, I must confess that God used an altar call to save me!

Naturally I returned home with great enthusiasm for the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I knew the truth and the truth had set me free. I immediately began attending my uncle’s dispensational church in Chattanooga, Tennessee (Calvary Bible Church). There I was schooled in the Scofield Reference Bible. In his preaching my uncle would often say: “If you have a good Bible, turn to page so-and-so for our next text.” My hope was built on nothing less / than Scofield’s notes and Moody Press. I was so eager to learn that within two years I soon was teaching a youth Sunday school class.

While there I developed a great facility with the church’s dispensational charts and graphs, and put them to good use. Furthermore, I had a dispensational bad of honor: a well-marked Scofield Reference Bible. None of that newfangled New Scofield Reference Bible stuff for me: I had the old Bible. If it was good enough for Scofield, it was good enough for me.

As I was studying Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga (1969–70), I began attending a campus ministry conducted by Kay Arthur, who is now well-known for her Precepts Ministries International. Kay happened also to be our Youth Director at Calvary Bible Church. She was a dynamic and effective teacher; I was an excited and committed Christian eager to learn.

(As an interesting aside, I also daily played table tennis with a UTC classmate, Timothy George. He has since demonstrated himself to be a remarkable Reformed scholar: He has Th.D. from Harvard University and has been the dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University since 1988. He is the author of Theology of the Reformers and other scholarly works. I can’t remember if I could beat him at table tennis. I do remember he was quite good at it, though. And I used to be also, as a member of the Junior United States Table Tennis Association. But I digress.)

During my time at UTC Jack and Kay Arthur established a dispensational youth ranch in Chattanooga. It was known initially as Outreach Youth Ranch, but soon became Reachout Youth Ranch (due to a conflict of names with another local ministry). My future wife (Melissa) and I greatly enjoyed Kay’s challenging instruction. This youth ministry quickly evolved into Precepts Ministry (1970), which has become an international Bible study ministry of dispensational convictions taught by Kay Arthur. The next year Melissa and I married (July 31, 1971). We were glad the Rapture was delayed a little while.

My Academic Dispensational Training

As I developed spiritually and grew in my understanding biblically, I experienced an increasingly strong desire to learn the Bible better so that I might teach it more accurately. You might say that I wanted to “rightly divide the word of truth” — into the proper dispensations, of course. So I transferred from UTC’s Engineering program to Tennessee Temple College, a few blocks away from UTC in downtown Chattanooga. There I majored in “Biblical Studies.” I like to tell people that when I took a calculus class at UTC, the Lord called me to ministry. (Don’t tell my daughter-in-law, Sara, who teaches calculus in advanced math classes in high school! She graduated from Covenant College where they teach that sort of thing.)

While at Temple my dispensational understanding was fleshed out and given a more thorough theological foundation and super-structure. I studied under some very effective Bible teachers, such as Dr. Wymal Porter and Dr. Dennis Wisdom. In fact, I became friends with Dr. Wisdom. I even took him to visit another dispensational teacher friend of mine outside of the Temple community. He wanted to discuss with this gentlemen the question of whether the “bride of Christ” is to be distinguished from the larger body of Christians, like Eve was drawn out of a part of the body of Adam.

This gentlemen that Dr. Wisdom and I visited taught that the “bride of Christ” was a special designation for a smaller realm of “strongly committed” Christians in the Church. He taught that God distinguished these faithful Christians from those merely born-again and largely uncommitted, carnal Christians. This friend worked with me at my uncle’s dispensationalist bookstore, Lanham’s Bible Bookshop on Brainerd Road in Chattanooga. Dr. Wisdom soundly refuted him, arguing that the whole born-again community of believers makes up the bride of Christ. I was relieved; I was on the inside.

Returning now to my college experience: Despite my great appreciation for the teaching skills of Dr. Wisdom, I remember that in the course on “Premillennialism” he made the (oft heard) claim: “You will not find a liberal premillennialist, though you will find many liberal amillennialists.” (I believe this derived from our course textbook by Ryrie: The Basis of the Premillennial Faith.) I don’t know what possessed me, but I asked him in class: “But don’t we find a lot of premillennial cults, like Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses?” Perhaps the Greek courses and the hermeneutics study I was receiving at Temple was already beginning to expose flaws in the system. However, at that time I wrote this off as a mere problem I was having with indigestion.

In May of 1973 I received my B.A. degree in “Biblical Studies” at Tennessee Temple College (cum laude, nonetheless; I think this was “with praise” that I was leaving). Now I was schooled in the Bible and theology and held a degree in the field. I was increasingly eager to enter into some full-time Christian teaching — perhaps teaching at a college or seminary. So I enrolled at a dispensationalist, Grace Brethren school: Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana (August 1973). While there I received further and deeper instruction in dispensationalism at the graduate level (I was there from 1973–75).

But in a course on soteriology, I began to research the question regarding “Lordship salvation.” In my research I stumbled on a powerful passage relating Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2: “Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne” (Acts 2:29–30).

It suddenly and powerfully struck me: Peter was declaring that Christ was raised up to sit on David’s throne at his resurrection! If that were true, then we were currently in the kingdom of Christ. And if that were true, then dispensationalism was mistaken. What was I to do? My system was falling down around me, even as I studied it at a deeper, graduate level.

My Ultimate Dispensational “Rapture”

In that I had Calvinistic convictions (I was a member of the “Calvinist Underground” at Tennessee Temple College), I thought I should read something by a Reformed scholar. I looked through the Grace Seminary library (where my wife was a librarian) and found O. T. Allis’s masterful work Prophecy and the Church. That was it. He destroyed my dispensationalism. I was now a Christian without a theological home.

As a result of this, three Grace Seminary friends of mine and I drove all night to get to Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. We attended a few classes, talked with the Administrator, and liked what we saw. Soon thereafter all three of us raptured out of Grace Seminary and enrolled at Reformed. While studying at RTS we were swept away by our new theological hero, Greg L. Bahnsen.

I graduated from RTS with a Master of Divinity degree in 1977 and entered the pastorate just three months later. And the rest, you might say, is history. I was now totally disenchanted with dispensationalism and was busy extricating my mind from all of its constructs (which took some time). I was well on the way to a consistently Reformed theology. Dispensationalism was now anathema.

My Seeking Dispensational Testimonies

So that is my story, and I’m sticking to it. What is your testimony regarding dispensationalism? I would love to hear a paragraph or two testimonial. What brought you out of the system?

And if you have some friends who have converted out of the system, please have them come to our blog site and give their testimonies. We won’t tell anyone. :)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Man of Lawlessness

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

Len, a reader of my last blog ("The Problem of Antichrist") noted: "One area that wasn't mentioned in your article (unless I missed it) was 2 Thessalonians 2 where Paul talks about the "falling away" and the "lawless one." This seems to be one of the first places that dispensationalists go to support their argument for the anti-Christ and all that goes with his rise to power."

Introductory Comments

He is correct. Dispensationalists have a handful of favorite passages to color in their gloom-and-doom with appropriately dark hues. And this is one of them. Unfortunately for them, scholars note this passage's exceptional difficulty. Augustine writes regarding a certain portion of the passage: "I confess that I am entirely ignorant of what he means to say." Renowned Greek linguist and Baptist scholar A. T. Robertson despairs of the task of interpreting this passage because it is "in such vague form that we can hardly clear it up." Not only so, but once again the term "antichrist" does not occur in this important (for dispensationalism) antichrist passage.

As is too often the case, an exceedingly difficult prophecy becomes a key text for dispensationalism. Note the following comments by dispensationalists.

• Constable observes that "this section of verses contain truths found nowhere else in the Bible. It is key to understanding future events and it is central to this epistle."
• According to Walvoord, the man of lawlessness revealed here is "the key to the whole program of the Day of the Lord."
• Of 2 Thessalonians 2 Chafer notes: "though but one passage is found bearing upon the restraining work of the Holy Spirit, the scope of the issues involved is such as to command the utmost consideration."
• Ryrie and Feinberg employ 2 Thessalonians 2:4 as one of the few passages used "to clinch the argument" for the rebuilding of the temple.

And once we read the passage carefully, we see that it is not referring to the distantly future second coming, but the soon-coming AD 70 event. Consider the following.

Expository Observations

Verses 1–2. Paul's reference "concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him" (2Th 2:1) refers to the AD 70 judgment on the Jews — the very judgment Christ emphasizes in the first portion of his Olivet Discourse (which strongly influences this passage), John focuses on in the Book of Revelation, and other writers consider in several other Scriptural passages.

Though Paul speaks of the second advent just a few verses before (1:10), he is not dealing with that issue here. In 2 Thess. 1:10 he even employs a different word for the coming of Christ (elthe) from what he uses in 2:1 (parousia). In chapter 1 the second advent brings "everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord" (1:9); here this coming results in temporal "destruction" (2:8). There the second advent includes "his mighty angels" (1:7); here the temporal judgment mentions nothing about these angels (2:1–12). Thus, the second advent provides an eternal resolution to their suffering; the AD 70 Day of the Lord affords temporal resolution (cf. Rev 6:10).

Furthermore, the "gathering together to Him" Paul mentions in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 seems to reflect Matthew 24:31. The word translated "gather together" here is episunagoge . Its cognate verb form is found in Matthew 24:31, where Christ ties the gathering to "this generation" (Mt 24:34). It signifies the elect's calling into Christ by means of the trumpeting in of the archetypical Great Jubilee (cf. 2Th 1:11; 2:14). Here it functions the same way. With the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, Christians will henceforth be "gathered together" in a separate and distinct "assembly" (episunagoge ; the church is called a sunagoge in Jas 2:2). After the temple's destruction God will no longer tolerate going up to the temple to worship (it will be impossible!), as Christians frequently do prior to AD 70.

Verses 3–7. Paul informs them that "that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition" (2Th 2:3). The word "falling away" is apostasia, which occurs in the New Testament only here and in Acts 21:21.

Historically, the word can apply to a revolt: either political or religious. But to which does it refer here? I believe that it speaks of the Jewish apostasy/rebellion against Rome. Josephus certainly calls the Jewish War against Rome an apostasia (Josephus, Life 4, 9, 10; J.W. 2:2:7; 2:16:4; 7:4:2; 7:6:1). Probably Paul merges the religious and political concepts here, though emphasizing the outbreak of the Jewish War, which results from their apostasy against God (Mt 22:1–7; Lk 19:41–44; 1Th 2:14–16). The emphasis must be on the revolt against Rome because it is future and datable, whereas the revolt against God is ongoing and cumulative. Such would be necessary to dispel the deception on which Paul is focusing. In conjunction with this final apostasy and Jerusalem's consequent destruction, Christianity and Judaism are forever separated and both are exposed to Rome's wrath.

The man of lawlessness is Nero Caesar. Paul clearly implies that something is presently (ca. AD 52) "restraining" (present participle) the man of sin "that he may be revealed in his own time" (2Th 2:6). The man of lawlessness is alive and waiting to be "revealed." This implies that for the time being, Christians could expect at least some protection from the Roman government: the Roman laws regarding religio licita are currently in Christianity's favor, while it remains a sect of Judaism. This begins to end after the malevolent Nero ascends the throne, for he begins persecuting Christianity in AD 64. Paul certainly enjoys the protection of Roman law (Ac 18:12ff) and makes important use of it in AD 59 (Ac 25:11–12; 28:19), when he seeks protection from the malignancy of the Jews. He expresses no ill-feelings against Rome when writing Romans 13 in AD 57–59, during the early reign of Nero.

When Paul writes 2 Thess. 2, he is under the reign of Claudius Caesar. He seems to employ a word play on Claudius' name. The Latin word for "restraint" is claudere, which is similar to "Claudius." While Claudius lives, Nero, the man of lawlessness, is powerless to commit political lawlessness. Christianity is free from the imperial sword until the Neronic persecution begins.

The evil "mystery of lawlessness" is "already working," though restrained in Claudius' day (2Th 2:7). This perhaps refers to the evil conniving and plotting of Nero's mother, Agrippina, who poisons Claudius so that Nero can ascend to the purple (Tacitus, Annals 12:62ff; Suetonius, Claudius 44).
The Roman emperor, according to Paul, "exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped" (2Th 2:4a). The phrase "so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" is interesting. When an infinitive (kathisai, "to sit") follows
hoste ("so that"), it indicates a purpose intended, not necessarily a purpose accomplished. Nero intends or desires to present himself as God. We see the evil potential of emperor worship just a few years before, when the emperor Caligula (a.k.a. Gaius) attempts to put his image in the temple in Jerusalem (Josephus, Ant. 18:8:2–3; Philo, Embassy to Gaius).

Not only so but in Nero the imperial line eventually openly "opposed" (2Th 2:4) Christ by persecuting his followers. Nero even begins persecuting Christians, when he presents himself in a chariot as the sun god Apollo, while burning Christians in order to illuminate his self-glorifying party.

Verses 8–9. Verses 8 and 9 read: "And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders." The lawless one is eventually openly revealed. The mystery form of his character gives way to a revelation of his lawlessness in Nero's wicked acts. This occurs after the restrainer [Claudius] is "taken out of the way," allowing Nero the public stage upon which he can act out his horrendous lawlessness.

In Christ's judgment-coming against Jerusalem, we also discover judgment for the man of lawlessness, Nero. Thus, Christians may take comfort in the promised relief from both Jewish and Neronic opposition (2Th 2:15–17). Not only does Titus destroy Jerusalem within twenty years, but Nero himself dies a violent death in the midst of the Jewish War (June 9, AD 68). His death, then, will occur in the Day of the Lord in conjunction with Christ's judgment-coming against Israel. Christ destroys Nero with "the breath of his mouth," much like Assyria is destroyed with the coming and breath of the Lord in the Old Testament (Isa 30:27–31) and like Israel is crushed by Babylon (Mic 1:3–5).

Thus, 2 Thess. 2 provides no assistance to the dispensational view of Antichrist. For more information, see fuller exposition of this text in my He Shall Have Dominion, published by NiceneCouncil.com's susidiary, ApologeticsGroup Media.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Problem of the Antichrist

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

The Dispensational Tendency

Perhaps more than any other evil figure in Scripture, Christians most fear the Antichrist. After all, "in premillennial eschatology the final world ruler who opposes God and his Christ (particularly in relation to his deity), oppresses God’s elect (especially the Jewish people), and seeks to usurp the place of divine worship through desecration of the holy (especially Jerusalem and its temple) is known as the Antichrist" (Dictionary of Premillennial Theology, 43)

Many dispensationalists believe he is alive today — in fact, this seems to be an important proof that one is truly a dispensationalist. This is largely due to dispensationalists being strongly committed to the imminency of Christ’s Return, which precedes the rise of Antichrist by only a few minutes — perhaps as few as three-and-one-half minutes. (Woody Allen believes that there is a race of men on another planet that are advanced over our civilization by fifteen minutes. This gives them an advantage in that they are never late for meetings. I would point out that they also would be less likely to have to endure stale doughnuts.) They believe his Return has been imminent for 2000 years now.

In an interview in Eternity magazine in 1977 Hal Lindsey responded to a question regarding the Antichrist: "In my personal opinion, he’s alive somewhere now" (Lindsey, "The Great Cosmic Countdown," 80.) Tertullian fumbled on this matter also, when he wrote 1700 years ago that Antichrist "is now close at hand" (Tertullian, De Fuga, 12). Perhaps Antichrist is an extremely old fellow (he may have even starred in the Indiana Jones movie, The Last Crusade). Lindsey was so convinced of his view that Mr. Antichrist roamed the planet, that he wrote 1980’s: Countdown to Armageddon.

As a 1990s best-selling author striving to stay atop the best-seller lists, Dave Hunt wrote that there "is strong evidence indeed that the Antichrist could appear very soon — which means that the rapture may be imminent" (Hunt, Peace Prosperity and the Coming Holocaust, 256). (Of course, his dispensationalism says that the rapture has been imminent for 2000 years, so technically Hunt cannot be proven wrong until the sun explodes into a red giant after consuming all of its hydrogen in about five billion years.) He is convinced that "somewhere, at this very moment, on planet Earth, the Antichrist is almost certainly alive" (Hunt, Global Peace, 5). The title of Mark Hitchcock’s 2003 book asks: Is the Antichrist Alive Today? He titles chapter 8: "Antichrist is Alive and Well."

The dispensationalist Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy even includes a heading: "Is the Antichrist Alive Today?" In so doing it struggles to correct fellow dispensationalists who "tragically" are "guessing dates and selecting possibilities for the Antichrist" (PEBP, 26). Of course, this sort of belief has for generations been the tendency among dispensationalists, who constantly point out numerous possible Antichrist candidates.

The Dispensational Problem

Ironically, the least helpful verses for developing the dispensational view of the Antichrist are the only ones that expressly mention him. "Antichrist" appears only four times in all of Scripture: in 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; and 2 John 7. (Strangely, Walvoord in his comprehensive Prophecy Knowledge Handbook does not even mention these verses in his treatment of "Prophecy in 1, 2, and 3 Jn and the Epistle of Jude" — or anywhere else in his 800-page work.)

Most dispensationalists apply the name of "Antichrist" to other evil figures in prophecy: under "Titles of the Antichrist," the Popular Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy lists "the beast," "the man of lawlessness, and Daniel’s "little horn" (p. 24). But these associations are surely mistaken. Not only do none of the contexts of these titles mention the word "Antichrist," but they actually contradict the explicit references to Antichrist. This is all the more remarkable in that the word "Antichrist" does not even appear in the context of the beast of Revelation, despite the fact that Revelation’s author, John, is the only New Testament writer who does employ the word "Antichrist" elsewhere.

It seems that many Christians in the first century thought of the Antichrist as a particular individual. John mentions this widespread belief: "You have heard that the Antichrist is coming" (1Jn 2:18b). John’s point in mentioning him, however, is to rebut the false views that are confusing his audience. Early Christians were picking up many false eschatological concepts. John even corrects a false notion regarding his own living until Christ’s Second Advent (Jn 21:22–23). Elsewhere, Paul uses a false teaching regarding baptism for the dead to drive a point home regarding the resurrection (1Co 15:29). Paul often urges his followers to hear him and preserve those things he teaches (Php 4:9; 1Th 2:13; 2Ti 1:13; 2:2).
We should expect this sort of confusion, for the Lord himself taught his disciples that within his own generation (Mt 24:34) "many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many" (Mt 24:5); "many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many" (Mt 24:11); and "false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect" (Mt 24:24).

The dispensational view of the Antichrist is destroyed by three observations from Scripture itself.

Antichrist’s Time

John’s readers are hearing that though Antichrist is not yet on the scene, he nevertheless "is coming." but John informs them that this "antichrist" "is now already in the world" (1Jn 4:3). John writes: "this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world" (1Jn 4:3b). John clearly warns them that that which they "heard was coming" is "now already in the world." In addition, he remarks: "As you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come" (1Jn 2:18). The "even now" emphasizes the presence of that which they fear ("as you heard").

Antichrist’s Impersonality

In redirecting his readers’ focus from the Antichrist’s future to his contemporary existence, John also explains that the Antichrist is a movement, rather than an individual. In dealing with the idea of "the Antichrist," he writes: "even
now many antichrists have come" (1Jn 2:18). In fact, Antichrist is a "spirit" (1Jn 4:3) that pervades these many "antichrists" (1Jn 2:18), which involve "many deceivers" (2 Jn 7).

Antichrist’s Tendency

Antichrist really is not a multitude of people, but rather the "spirit" (1Jn 4:3) among them — a spirit that promotes deception (2 Jn 7) regarding Christ. "Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son" (1Jn 2:22). John clearly applies the conception of the one Antichrist (ho antichristos) to the generic tendency to promote lies about the identity of Christ. He repeats this point in his second letter: "For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and the antichrist [ho antichristos]" (2Jn 1:7). Thus, the first century Antichrist movement was a doctrinal heresy, rather than a political danger.

On the basis of these four references we learn that Antichrist is not an individual, malevolent ruler looming in our future. Rather, he was a contemporary heretical tendency regarding the person of Christ, which is current among many in John’s day.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Bad News Bearers

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

An oddity of dispensationalism’s premillennialism is that it spends more time discussing the terrifying seven year Great Tribulation than it does the glorious Thousand Year reign of Christ. By doing this it dwells on a brief aside in history (the seven year Tribulation) rather than history’s (as it is supposed) long-term goal (the Millennium). It lingers longer over the time of the Antichrist than the time of Christ. It dwells on the dispensationally unclassifiable era of the Tribulation, which occurs after the Dispensation of Grace (the Church Age) and before the Dispensation of the Kingdom (the Millennial Age).

This focus on the negative is largely due to the intensely exciting nature of the judgments in the Tribulation period. Bad news sells. And it sells well. Read the newspapers. You will find more stories on criminals purse-snatching from little old ladies than on Boy Scouts helping them across the street (the little old ladies, not the criminals). Woody Allen once commented that he saw three men beating up an old lady. He mused to himself that it was not that long ago when that job would have taken only one thug. But I digress.

In dispensationalism the good news takes a back seat to the bad news; the Tribulation trumps the Millennium in the minds and hearts of dispensationalists (and the pocketbooks of their leaders). When was the last time a dispensationalist wrote a series on the millennium, such as Called Ahead? Or a paperback titled The Future Great Planet Church? In fact, Dispensationalism’s brand of premillennialism even emphasizes the Tribulation in its distinctive theological self-classification: it holds to pre-tribulational premillennialism. Ryrie even notes that premillennialism is not a sine qua non of dispensationalism (Dispensationalism [Chicago: Moody, 1995], 38).

Consider Hal Lindsey’s literary output by way of example. He has written several best-selling works with such titles as:

  • Satan is Alive and Well On Planet Earth (he has not written: Satan Will Be Bound 1000 Years)
  • The Late Great Planet Earth (he has not written: The Future Great Planet Church)
  • The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon (he has not written: 1987: The Beginning of the Millennium). (I will confess that he may have been wise in avoiding this title; perhaps he learned his lesson from calling for the Great Tribulation in the 1980s. No wait, I take it back. In the 1990s he wrote Planet Earth 2000: Will Mankind Survive? See below.)
  • The Final Battle (he has not written: The Beginning of Peace)
  • The Terminal Generation (he has not written: The Glory Generation)
  • Planet Earth: The Final Chapter (he has not written: Planet Earth: The Glory Chapter)
  • Planet Earth 2000: Will Mankind Survive? (He has not written: Planet Earth 2007: The Millennium and Mankind’s Survival)
  • Apocalypse Code (he has not written: Millennium Code)
  • Blood Moon (he has not written: There Will Be No Need of the Sun)

Besides their incredible marketing strategy (bad news sells — it does not matter how many times you miss calls for the Rapture), dispensationalism has an inherent theological principle that moves them to produce such works. That theological principle is: Satan wins in history before Christ comes to settle the score. Their theology holds that the fall of Adam is more powerful than the resurrection of Christ for altering history. Only the Return of Christ — not his resurrection — holds out hope for a future, discontinuous history.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Marketing Dispensationalism

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

In this blog I will review Mark Hitchcock’s What Jesus Says About Earth’s Final Days (2003). I do this in order to illustrate the confusion that reigns in dispensationalism, a confusion that appears simultaneously with their enormous sales among their disoriented adherents. That such a system could control the evangelical market never ceases to amaze me.

The Marketing Juggernaut

Dispensationalism is not only an eschatological orientation (pre-tribulational premillennialism), it is a whole theological system complete with its own redemptive-historical structure (the seven, discrete dispensations). Not only so, but despite its enormous complexity (with multiple programs, peoples of God, several comings of Christ, various resurrection programs [though lacking one for those unresurrected saints in the millennium who die], back-and-forth movements in and out of heaven, manifold program judgments, unexpected chronological gaps [necessary for making the system work], and so forth), dispensationalism is also a commercial product capable of creating a marketing juggernaut in a single bound (paperback bound, might I add). And surprisingly, it creates enormous sales of its products despite the confusing and contradictory nature of the system which is simply glossed over in its popular writings.

More than any other eschatological system, dispensationalism is run by a well-oiled, heavy duty commercial behemoth that is controlled by its enormously successful marketing plan. Dispensationalism is offered up for sale in the evangelical world, and its enormous audience gladly digs deeply into their pockets to buy its many soon-to-be-outdated products (such as, Lindsey's 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon and Planet Earth 2000: Will Mankind Survive?). In this regard, it differs remarkably from non-dispensational eschatological systems. Let us see how this is so.

For instance, in postmillennial circles you simply do not see 4 foot by 12 foot full color, water-resistant, wrinkle-free, non-fade, hemmed-edge, reinforced grommet, braid-on-braid nylon rope-hung canvas wall charts. Nor do we publish entire books containing collections of ornate graphs, pie charts, line charts, bar charts, flow charts, cartograms, scatterplots, diagrams, outlines, timelines, road maps, blueprints, tables, box plots, nomograms, and histograms. (Edward Rolf Tufte becomes green with envy when he picks up the latest dispensational book.)

Nor do postmillennialists and amillennialists market “study” Bibles bulging with full-color illustrations that rival anything the Jehovah’s Witnesses have ever produced (see: LaHaye, Prophecy Study Bible). Nor among amillennialists do you have televangelists dominating the airwaves and declaring themselves “prophecy experts.” (One such amillennialist who did try to mimic dispensationalism’s sensationalistic marketing plan failed miserably — just as dispensationalists themselves always do: Harold Camping, author of the doomed book, 1994?)

Nor do non-dispensational systems manufacture and distribute genuine imitation gold, Made in China, lapel pins with the American flag crossed with the Israeli flag. Nor do they offer “America and Israel Together Forever” low-profile, durable, washed-twill, matching-visor, adjustable ball caps that fit any sized head. (The only ideal fashion-wear accessory for the postmillennialist or amillennialist is a leather Bible. Though sometimes their Bibles may contain multi-ribbon place markers, but these are usually only in several basic colors with no imprinted cliches on the ribbons. On one occasion I must confess, however, to sporting a multi-ribbon Bible marker that did display the statement: "Genuine Nylon.")

Nor do non-dispensational adherents send money to support non-Christian religions in building a place of worship, as many dispensationalists do with the proposed rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. Hitchcock himself is delighted that “there are some amazing preparations going on in Jerusalem today for the rebuilding of the third Jewish temple” (p. 71).

Nor can you pick out a postmillennialist from a crowd while blindfolded simply by listening for code words that are culled from prophetic novels. For instance, Hitchcock speaks fluent Dispensationalese. He uses numerous dispensational cliches, code words, and trivializations, such as “snatched” (the Rapture), “maranatha” (p. 12), “prophetic clock," and prophetic “blueprint” (ch. 2). To distance himself from standard, serious prophetic studies he refers to events that “burst on the scene” (p. 47), the false prophet as the Antichrist’s “right-hand man” (p. 68), the Antichrist being “hot on their heels” (p. 70), and so forth, and so on, ad infinitum.

Dispensationalists can often be heard calling each other the “foremost evangelical authority” on this or that topic, such as does Hitchcock regarding Randy Price (p. 71). Such back-patting is socially acceptable behavior in their circles (removing fleas is not). Nor do postmills or amills have action figures in the expansive toy section of Christian bookstores (who would buy a twelve inch tall plastic Charles Hodge doll with an 1860 Henry Lever Action Repeating Rifle and coon skin cap? Unless they were on sale, of course.) And where are the amillennial bumper stickers (when have you ever seen a bumper sticker urging: “In case of Bible study, pull out Berkhof”)?

The vast majority of dispensational books are marketing tools for promoting the movement’s enormous, growing product line among its large installed base. In this regard, let’s consider a sample of their promotional literature by dipping into Hitchcock’s What Jesus Says About Earth’s Final Days. In this book we see a continual sales pitch for the system, even while providing naive, trite, and confusing information. Let’s get started. He expects the Rapture soon, and I would not want to miss the opportunity to post this blog.

A Sample Sales Pitch

You know you have bought dispensational sales literature when you open a book and in the first couple of paragraphs you already begin hearing the phrase “planet earth.” Dispensationalists seldom mention simply “the world” or “the earth.” They generally remind their readership that this is a planet --- a planet that has a particular name: “planet earth.” (Keep in mind: they did this long before Pluto was kicked out of the “planet” category. They are not simply holding a grudge because they are miffed at the International Astronomical Union’s deposing Pluto from planet status to a mere Trans-Neptunian Object, one of a host of debris orbiting in the Kuiper Belt. But if Pluto is ever declared an object from the Oort Cloud, they will raise a ruckus.) Hitchcock does not disappoint. Paragraph two in his book closes with this very phrase —and it is sprinkled liberally throughout the book, providing a welcoming, homey feel to any dispensationalist reader — even though they have read hundreds of books just like this one before.

If you are going to sell anything in the dispensational market, you must learn to speak the language. Hitchcock is articulate in the native tongue, Dispensationalese (a non-standard dialect spoken only by a few hundred million dispensationalists at Rapture Parties). But he is also innovative: he creates new terms for their lexicon (that will surely be picked up on by erstwhile dispensationalists clamoring to prove themselves articulate). For instance, Hitchcock writes: “as the end of the age draws near, creation will begin to groan and clear its throat in anticipation of the King’s coming.” The earth will “clear its throat”? This has got to stop before someone speaks of the earth’s burping as a sign of the end. (Uh oh! I am afraid I just suggested a new prophetic term. Drat!)

As is typical of slick sales literature, this book presents the dispensational system without any realization at all of its mind-boggling complexity and head-spinning contradictions. Consider a few examples of this unconcern for coherence.

On p. 10 Hitchcock writes that Christians “will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air and will go with Him back up to heaven. Then they will return again with Him, back to earth, at least seven years later at His second coming.” We will be in and out of this world as programs change and people groups are shifted here and there. It is all so dizzying. I fear we may all get decompression sickness through all of this up-and-down activity. Nitrogen is already building up in my bloodstream as I think about it!

Hitchcock illustrates the internal confusion in the system, when he states that “the Tribulation is the final seven years of this age” (p. 10). How can the Tribulation be the final years of “this age” if the Church has been raptured and this age is called the Church Age? Actually, in his system the Rapture ends “this age,” the Church Age.

He also believes in a literal, earthly, Jewish millennial kingdom (pp. 93, 98, 99). Yet in one of his many tables he lists Matt. 8:11–12 as a verse mentioning “Christ’s kingdom.” Yet when we look at that verse we see Gentiles coming into his kingdom “from east and west” (i.e., from outside of Israel) while “the sons of the kingdom [the Jews] shall be cast out.” Hitchcock's system states that "at the end of the Tribulation, Jesus will gather them [the Jews] to enter into the Messianic kingdom" (p. 99). Who do we believe: Jesus or Hitchcock? And why did not Hitchcock know these verses state the opposite of what he claims?

Despite Jesus teaching that he himself did not know when he would return, Hitchcock speaks of “Signs of His Coming” (p. 15), a favorite marketing phrase in Dispensationalese. What is more, consider the following conundrum this creates in the dispensational system — even in his own book: (1) Dispensationalists believe that the Rapture is the next event on the prophetic “calendar.” No other prophetic event is to occur until the “prophetic clock” begins ticking (p. 47). (2) The Rapture is absolutely “signless” (pp. 9, 105, 107), thus no one will expect it when it occurs. Hitchcock explains Jesus’ analogy of the coming “birth pangs” that start the events immediately upon the Rapture: “They come without any warning. All of a sudden, out of nowhere they begin” (p. 45; cp. 46). (3) Jesus informs us that even he did not know when he would return (Matt 24:36).

Nevertheless, (4) according to Hitchcock (and every best-selling dispensationalist) “many today are oblivious of the signs of His second coming”! Well, no wonder they are “oblivious,” Jesus said they would be! And the next event is the signless Rapture which comes “without any warning,” “all of the sudden, out of nowhere.” How could there be signs of the Second Advent, when another prophetic event must precede it and no prophetic signs can occur until that previous event happens, so as to get the prophetic time-clock (I can’t believe I am using this language) ticking again?

In chapter 2 Hitchcock follows the typical populist-dispensationalist game plan: He has Jesus providing us with a “blueprint of the end” (p. 28). Yet apparently one of their famous gaps occurs in this blueprint. (Thank goodness actual architects do not allow gaps in their blueprints. Would you go up in the Empire State Building if an architect left off the four-inch concrete slab to support it? I rather doubt it.) Let’s note the gap in this “blueprint of the end.”

Hitchcock is dealing with the “end-time prophecy” in Matt. 24–25. He writes: “Jesus distilled the end times down to their most basic elements.” Yet you look in vain for the Rapture in Matthew 24–25. Remarkably, the Rapture is a suppressed premise among these “most basic elements.” It is all about the Great Tribulation which immediately follows the Rapture. Is not the Rapture the key that opens up the next prophetic stage of events? If this is a “blueprint of the end” and the Church is not present during the Great Tribulation, where does this blueprint passage mention the Church’s all-important exit strategy?

Furthermore, Hitchcock states of Matt. 24–25: “there is no place in the Bible that gives a clearer, more concise overview of what’s going to happen during earth’s final days” (pp. 28–29, cp. 41, 108, 121). He argues that “Jesus follows an orderly chronological sequence in unfolding the major events of earth’s final days” (p. 39). But Hitchcock’s view has Jesus overlooking the unique event that starts the prophetic time clock ticking so as to open up the Great Tribulation: the Rapture. That is a rather glaring omission for an "overview" and "chronology" of such events! That is like describing the Daytona 500 without mentioning it actually starting.

To make matters worse, Hitchcock also teaches that this prophecy speaks of “earth’s final days” (see also p. 39). (I commend him for avoiding the phrase “planet earth” at this juncture; temptation can be avoided.) But on his own system the earth continues for another 1000 years! Ten whole centuries! The Great Tribulation is hardly the earth’s “final days.”

Another contradiction in Hitchcock’s presentation is found on p. 31: He speaks of the preterist view of Matt. 24, then he claims that preterists “ignore the other parts of the question” where the disciples ask: “What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (p. 31). This is remarkable for two reasons:

(1) Hitchcock has already noted on that very page that preterists “contend that all the events in Matthew 24:4–31 were fulfilled in A.D. 70” (p. 31). Thus, he is aware that we believe that the events after Matt. 24:31 begin speaking of the Second Advent (particularly Matt. 24:36ff). So then, we do see the end of the age occurring in the Olivet Discourse. He is not only confused about our view but about his own presentation which recognizes our view! (2) He then makes the absurd claim that Jesus himself ignores the disciples’ question: “So, Jesus basically ignores the first part of their question and tells them about the sign of His coming and the end of the age, knowing that that’s what they really wanted to know about” (p. 32). How can he complain that preterists “ignore the other parts of the question” when he claims Jesus himself “ignores” part of their question? This does not make sense as a complaint against preterism.

On p. 37 he proudly declares that “at the end of the future Tribulation, the Jewish people will repent and their Messiah will return to rescue them from Antichrist (Zechariah 12:10).” But tucked away much later in the book (p. 77) is the admission that Zech. 13:8 teaches “that as many as two-thirds of the world’s Jewish population will be slain during Antichrist’s reign.” The Jews are hardly rescued in this scenario — for two-thirds of them are horribly destroyed.

On p. 47 Hitchcock informs us that the Antichrist’s covenant of peace with Israel “is the very first birth pang.” But then just four pages later he writes: “the first birth pang is the rise of false Christs” (p. 51). Well, which is it? For a system boldly waving graphs, charts, diagrams, outlines, blueprints, timelines, road maps, and tables, this still remains too confusing.

Oddly enough, Hitchcock parrots the dispensationalist line that the Great Tribulation is “worse than any other time of trouble in world history” (Jesus' statement in Matt. 24:21 is a sample of common prophetic hyperbole). He even provides two arguments supporting this claim: “First, the terror and destruction of the Great Tribulation will not be limited to a few locations. The entire world will be engulfed. Second, most of the trouble in the world up to this point is the result of the wrath of man and the wrath of Satan. However, in the Great Tribulation, God Himself will be pouring out His unmitigated wrath on a sinful, rebellious world.” These two arguments do not prove his point. Note the following:

Dispensationalists somehow overlook Noah’s Flood which was absolutely worldwide (only one family lived through it) and it was directly from God. Peter even emphasizes the enormity of the catastrophe: “in which a few, that is, eight person’s, were brought safely through the water” (1 Pet. 3:20; cp. 2 Pet. 2:5). And they overlook this in their arguments despite two facts: (1) Jesus himself mentions Noah’s Flood (Matt. 24:37–38) while talking about the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:21). (2) Hitchcock even mentions Noah’s Flood elsewhere in his book (pp. 102–03). To make matters worse, Jesus’ own teaching only urges men to flee from Judea (Matt. 24:16). This is not a worldwide event.

What is really odd is that Hitchcock boldly presents a statement from the Dallas Morning News: “Twenty percent of Americans said they believe the Second Coming will occur sometimes around the year 2000” (p. 79). Hitchcock’s book was written three years after 2000, and now it is nine years after. It won’t be long before it is 100 years after. They have no shame. They simply do not shy away from constantly being wrong about the date of the Second Coming.

Hitchcock apparently does not understand his own system (who could?). In dispensationalism the Second Coming of Christ is at the end of the Great Tribulation and results in the establishing of the Millennium (p. 93). Dispensationalism has long taught (as one of its many absurdities) that many people will move from the Great Tribulation era into the Millennium with unresurrected bodies. They will bear children, many of whom later will revolt against Christ at the end of the Millennium. But what does Hitchcock say about Christ’s Second Coming and its consequences?

Hitchcock cites Rev. 19:19–21 as one of the texts showing that “Jesus will return as King of kings and Lord of lords. He is coming back to take over!” (p. 88). By this (rather trite) representation he is speaking of Christ coming to establish the Millennium after the Tribulation (pp. 92–93; and see chart on p. 98). But two pages later (and under the very next heading) he states: “When Christ returns there will be an immediate, eternal separation and division of the redeemed from the lost. . . . The fate of all men on earth at that time will be sealed at that moment” (p. 90). But every dispensationalist theologian states that those who survive Armageddon will enter the Millennium in unresurrected bodies — and many of these will later be converted. It would be strikingly odd if many Gentiles would be saved during the Great Tribulation (p. 100), but those who were not saved in those horrible days could not be saved after they enter the glorious Millennium. The system is so complicated that one of its leading (populist) lights cannot get it straight.

What is worse: They effectively write off all evangelicals who do not hold to one of their several Rapture theories: “All people who believe the Bible believe in a Rapture” (p. 96). Then he gives a “chart and timeline [that] should help in giving a broad overview of where people are on this issue” (p. 96). The chart on page 97 lists only dispensational options. Dispensationalists live in a world to themselves.

After speaking of the "imminence" of Christ’s coming as found in the dispensational view of the New Testament (p. 103), Hitchcock notes that the Parable of the Ten Virgins teaches that Christ “may delay His coming longer than we think” (p. 114). He even comments that “the long period of time He is gone away pictures the interadvent age, or the time between Christ’s ascension to heaven and His return” (p. 117). Then: “Christ predicted He would be gone for a ‘long time’ (v. 19). It’s now been almost two thousand years” (p. 118). Which is it: Did Christ teach he could return at “any moment”? Or did he teach that “He would be gone for a ‘long time’”?

Well there you go. Dispensationalism is as complicated and contradictory as it is popular. The dispensationalist marketing plan could sell bikinis to Eskimos. In fact, I would not be surprised if they do have a bikini store in Fairbanks, Alaska. After all, a bikini has just enough room to display a lapel pin sporting an Israeli flag over against the American flag.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Identifying Dispensationalists

by Ken Gentry, Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

In that my post on "Witnessing to Dispensationalists" was so popular, I thought we might re-visit the humor department. Not that dispensationalism is laughable -- it actually causes me to cry a lot. Normally, my crying doesn't occur until I look at the New York Times best-seller list and see it crowded with dispensational fiction books. Indeed, that is why I stopped subscribing to the NY Times -- in addition to the fact that I live 800 miles away from New York (the "movie showings" section was not helpful to me at all).

Several blog readers sent me emails suggesting that I give some insights into how to recognize a dispensationalist. This, they thought, might help them in their quest to seek them out for an "intellectual" (I use the term loosely) encounter. Attempting an intellectual discussion with a dispensationalist is a lot like saddling a giraffe: It is a whole lot of trouble and there's not much point in it. (This is why you never see me riding a giraffe through the neighborhood.)

So then how can you recognize a dispensationalist? Jeff Foxworthy has developed one of the most useful psychological profiling systems for determining a person's identity. So I will follow his well-argued principles and apply them to the task at hand. I will even apply them personally to you, my reader, just in case you fear you may be succumbing yourself (out of saddness that you are never invited to Rapture parties).

You Might Be a Dispensationalist IF:

If you like to chew gum constantly so that your ears won’t pop in case of the Rapture.

If you subscribe to the newspaper simply to keep up with biblical prophecy.

If you always leave the top down on your convertible — just in case.

If bar code scanners make you nervous.

If you have been a Christian for less than one year and you have already studied through the Book of Revelation twelve times.

If you attend a church that sings as a Christian hymn the 1960s pop song "Up, Up and Away."

If you think general revelation is the Commander-in-Chief of the armies of Armageddon.

If you can name more dispensations than commandments.

If you forget your wife’s birthday, but you know the latest predicted date for the Rapture.

If you have already forgotten the last date predicted for the Rapture but you are excited about the most recent prediction, confident that "this is it!"

If you are a book collector and you long to locate a copy of The Late Great Planet Earth in the original Greek.

If you believe that the term "Early Church Fathers" refers to J. N. Darby, C. I. Scofield and Lewis Sperry Chafer.

If you would like a copy of Hal Lindsey's personal study Bible with penciled in corrections.

If you have on your den wall a framed, aerial photograph of Jerry Falwell.

If in casual conversation with friends and fellow employees at work you begin every sentence with: "According to biblical prophecy...."

If more than one of your children is named Ryrie, Chafer or Darby. (However, you may deduct this from your overall score if you have a child name Calvin.)

If you get excited when you see a sentence with a parenthesis.

If your license plate reads: "IM PR TRB." (You get extra credit if you have a friend who actually knows what it means -- and wishes he had one.)

If you believe the musical "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" contains an apocalyptic message. (You get extra credit if on the basis of the coded message you have sold your house and cashed out your retirement investments and moved to the top of some mountain -- on the side facing towards Jerusalem.)

If you ever thought you sealed a victory in a theological argument by introducing your rebutal by stating: "Nevertheless, as Tim LaHaye has saliently argued...."

If there are more underlined sentences in your copy of Late Great Planet Earth than in your Bible. (You get extra credit if you have a thumb-indexed edition of Late Great Planet Earth.)

If your Pastor gives a sermon exclusively from the Scofield Reference Bible study notes. (You get extra credit if he doesn't realize he has done so.)

If you own a leather-bound, red-letter edition of the Left Behind series.

If you have to have a full-color foldout chart before you can understand salvation by grace through faith.

If you’ve ever had more than three candidates for the AntiChrist at one time. (You get extra credit if you justified it by arguing from the doctrine of the Trinity.)

If you can read Stephen King novels and chuckle, but you see 666 on a cash register receipt and you run screaming out of the store, crying out: "I told you so!"

If you took Hal Lindsey’s advice forty years ago not to make any long term plans and are now broke, uneducated and in a dead-end job. (You get extra credit if your sanctification is such that you are not miffed at his raking in millions and investing them in long-term real estate ventures.)

If you always make sure there’s at least one non-Christian pilot on every flight you take. (You get extra credit if you discount the argument that: "If God had meant for us to fly he would have given us tickets." You must deduct points, however, if you are convinced Matt. 28:20 is a compelling argument against Christians' flying, because you understand that in this passage Jesus warns that: "Low, I am with you always.")

If you believe the concern about "population explosion" refers to Muslims blowing themselves up on a daily basis to make a salient theological point, and you are convinced there must be a verse in Revelation that mentions it (because explosions produce fire, fire occurs often in Revelation, and Revelation contains the letters "M," "U," "S," "L," "I," "M" scattered throughout the text).

If you still hold a lingering suspicion about Gorbachev’s birthmark on his forehead. (You get extra credit if you never confuse the shape of his birthmark with a map of Texas.)

If you believe that Grant Jeffrey, Dave Hunt, Hal Lindsey, or John Hagee is a theologian.

If you know the location of the European Central Bank because you believe you have properly exegeted Revelation 13:17 from the original Belgium version.

If you count trampoline aerobics as "Rapture Practice" in your 4:00 am devotions each morning. (You get extra credit if you believe the neighbors who live in the apartment below you are non-Christians and are persecuting you because they complain.)

If you think Texe Marrs’ books belong in the "Reference Works" section of your local Christian bookstore. (You get extra credit if you think they belong in your Christian bookstore at all.)

If you look for Chick Tracts in the "Theology" section of your local Christian bookstore. (You get extra credit if you shop at a Christian bookstore that actually has a "Theology" section. Note: The WWJD supply section is not considered a "Theology" section.)

If you ever stand on your head out of the fear that the Rapture will occur when Jesus returns over China, because you are confident of your exegesis of Rev. 9:16 regarding the battle involving 250,000,000 million Chinese soldiers. (You get three extra points if you can name each one of the 250,000,000 million soldiers without making the sound of a spoon hitting the floor.)

If your baby’s stroller has a break-away sun bonnet. (You get extra credit if it also has a bumper sticker on it stating: "In case of Rapture this vehicle will be unbabied.")

If you have five children, but refuse to buy life insurance on yourself because "I won't be needing it."

If your personal hymn favorite is: "My hope is built on nothing less, than Scofield's notes and Moody Press."

If Clarence Larkin is your favorite artist and you scoff at Norman Rockwell's meager artistic attempts.

If you think there are only two millennial positions: Pre-Trib and Liberal.

If your favorite party game is "Pin the horns on the Beast."

If your favorite Christian TV game show is: "Name that Antichrist."

If after reading the Left Behind series you file formal legal papers leaving your body to science fiction. (You must deduct points, though, if you realize the error of reading too many dispensationalist books and you donate your eyes as an organ donor before you die.)

A final note on this profiling technique.

I believe that if you master this YMBI ("You might be, if") Analysis you will be able effectively to ward off early-onset dispensationalism (some medical researchers call it by its more technical designation, Senile Dementia of the Alzheimer Type [SDAT].) Be aware, that after thirty-two years of intensive research by scores of left-handed scientists working in tandem, it was proven that that there was once someone who had heard of Reformed theology, but who became a dispensationalist nonetheless. No one is safe as long as there are newspapers to exegete.

Furthermore, you will be better equipped to identify chart-carrying dispensationalists even when they accidentally leave their charts at home. Admittedly, this doesn't happen often, but it can happen and you must prepared.

I hope you will use this YMBI Analysis tool often. You don't want to fail in your Christian life because you failed to take into account the biblical warning that states: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge."

Once you are secure in your non-dispensationalism (having passed the YMBI Analysis), you may enjoy playing the game of Spin-the-Dispensationalist. To play the game, simply ask a dispensationalist the question: "Why do your Rapture predictions always fail, but you continue to adopt new ones with even greater enthusiasm?" Then step back and watch him spin the facts to account for his gullability. (Be careful though: Stand back when playing the game, because if he spins too quickly, inertial forces may cause his WWJD necklace to slap you in the face thereby causing a bruise that looks like "666.")

This game is more fun than watching Aardvarks fight. Or at least, that's what an ant friend of mine has told me. (Although I am not sure I should trust this ant. This ant and some of his friends were recently accused of dressing up as rice and robbing a Chinese restaurant. His character is now under suspicion. But I did appreciate his giving me a free Chinese Fortune Cookie.)