Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Witnessing to Dispensationalists

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

My Background Training

When I was a student at a dispensationalist college in Tennessee, the faculty continually emphasized that proper methods are essential for successfully witnessing to unbelievers. Because of their commitment to methodology, in the view of the administration and faculty the most important early church father was evangelist Charles G. Finney. (They noted that he was not real, real early, but that he was certainly earlier than any of the faculty — most of whom were fathers.) Finney’s important contribution to evangelism lies in the fact that he invented the "anxious bench" that was so vital for helping the sinner to convert himself.

Super church pastor Jack Hills spoke frequently in our chapel services. He emphasized how very important it was for soul-winners to use mouthwash, so as not to turn off the unbeliever who opens the door when you come knocking. He pointed out that it would be a tragedy if on Judgment Day some poor sinner was denied entry into heaven because you ate cabbage-wrapped bockwurst the day he met you. Because there were so many eager students gathered on one campus, many debates broke out regarding the best brand of mouth wash to use. This was never fully resolved in that the school year lasted only nine months.

We also learned from John R. Oats the importance of using a piano rather than an organ in evangelistic services. He pointed out that the slow building crescendo of a note on an organ was not as effective as the staccato, piercing sound of the piano. He emphasized how urgency was better promoted by a piano than an organ.(Dr. Oats even pointed out exegetically that no verse in all of the Bible mentions the electric organ.)

Tragically some students went out immediately and started smashing organs as "instruments of the devil." One was even electrocuted because he used an iron crowbar that conducted electricity when it penetrated the electronic components within the organ. Needless to say, at his funeral we heard only the piano as we were all urged to come forward. Many of the students were born-again once again as they crowded the church aisles. And this was all because of this well-orchestrated funeral service. This student truly laid down his life for his friends.

My Personal Challenge

With these practical matters in mind, I have developed a helpful approach for witnessing to dispensationalists. I have seen too many erstwhile Reformed theologues stumble away from a fruitless encounter with a dispensationalist. They slink away with the profound realization regarding their dispensationalist friend: "the lights are on, but nobody's home."

My method helps soften up the resistance, so as not to turn off the dispensationalist as he scours the newspaper for material for next Sunday’s message. I hope that these ideas might prove helpful to you as you seek to minister to dispensationalists in the highways and byways. And in the Christian bookstores, and trinket shops. And at prophecy conferences and church camps. And on church basketball teams, and baseball teams, and bowling leagues, and badminton leagues. And so forth, and so on.

You can say one thing for dispensationalists: they certainly have been fruitful and multiplied. Perhaps the methods I suggest below might even be helpful for you to start an effective church slimming seminar. I know these have certainly worked for me.

My Recommended Method

When witnessing to dispensationalists, you will find the following recommendations quite effective.

(1) When approaching a dispensationalist, never — never! — walk up from behind. They are always looking up, absorbed in contemplation, eagerly awaiting the Rapture. Thus, any sudden movement from behind might scare them, turning them off as potential converts. Plus it may result in their mercilessly stabbing you with their gold-plated Bible marker.

(2) In fact, if you really want to be successful in your witness to dispensationalists, buy a convertible and let them actually see you drive up in it. They will realize how seriously you take the any-moment Rapture and how prepared you are for it. (Be aware though: They will immediately look to your bumper to make sure you have a bumper sticker that says: "In case of Rapture this car will be unmanned." You must always have the proper bumper sticker prominently displayed. And don’t buy defective bumper stickers, such as the one that says: "In case of rupture this car will be un-manned.")

(3) If you are earnest in your desire to effectively witness to dispensationalists, you should always have a Scofield Reference version of the King James Bible with you. As you approach them, be sure to have the Bible out in front of you with the cover clearly visible. When they see the gold lettering "Scofield Reference Bible," they will at once find perfect peace.

(4) I highly recommend also that you carefully fray the pages of the Book of Revelation. The dispensationalists will see this and believe that you are diligent student of Revelation and one of them. This will cause them to be warmed and filled. They might even spontaneously erupt with their favorite greeting: "Maranatha!"

(5) Though some Reformed evangelists discourage this in our litigious society, I believe that it is always a good idea to accidentally bump dispensationalists when first approaching. This proves to them that you are literal, and not some spiritual interpretation. This will make them believe you are on the same wave-length. (Some may believe in the corpuscular theory of light, but statistics show that the average dispensationalist believes in the wave theory --- after all, it is easier to think about. Always, always, always go with the law of averages.)

(6) Before you open your mouth to speak, let them see the colorful charts you have carefully placed in your shirt pocket. (Wearing pocketless tee-shirts is not recommended; when you go hunting, dress for the hunt. You wouldn’t want someone to miss the Rapture because you chose to wear some tee-shirt with a cheesy slogan on it, would you? I didn’t think so.) Once they see the colorful graphics they will surmise that you are either a dispensationalist or a Jehovah’s Witness, giving you a 50/50 chance to engage them in conversation.

(7) When you first begin speaking to the unwary dispensationalist, end each sentence with a confident sounding: "according to biblical prophecy." They will hear this and be intrigued. I would recommend also that you do something that strikes people as Jewish. But be careful, don’t over do it. Many dispensationalists don’t trust people with biblical looking beards. (This is an odd inconsistency in their worldview that I don’t have space here to discuss. Besides, I am tired.)

(8) A good conversation starter would be something on the order of:

"Hey, did you hear the latest date predicting the Rapture? This is not some ‘off-the-wall’ stuff. I actually heard it from a televangelist!"

Or perhaps:

"Did you read in the news there was another earthquake? How many does that make this year? Don’t you enjoy living like a person who doesn’t expect to be around much longer? I know I do."

A dispensationalist finds it impossible to turn away from such salient and intriguing information. In fact, they may pull out their own Scofield Reference Bible and take some notes based on your comments. You have primed the pump. I often drop into conversations that I lived in California for several years, consequently, I have personally felt earthquakes.

(9) You are now ready to engage them properly. But, darn. I forgot what I was going to say. I hate it when that happens. One time my mind wandered all the way to Venus and ordered a meal I couldn’t afford. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Revising Simplicity

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

NiceneCouncil.com will soon be publishing a new biography on Scofield, titled: The Praise of Folly: The Enigmatic Life & Theology of C. I. Scofield. This work is a much needed follow-up to Joseph C. Canfield’s The Incredible Scofield and His Book. It corrects some mistakes in Canfield and introduces some newly discovered materials on Scofield.

Lutzweiler writes with authority as a former long-time dispensationalist. He was a graduate of Moody Bible Institute (1956) and Wheaton College (B.A. in Bible and Theology, 1960). He served on the editorial staff of The Alliance Witness (now Alliance Life), official organ of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, from 1962 to 1964, at the invitation of Dr. A. W. Tozer. From 1964–72 he was Administrative Assistant to Dr. Spiros Zodhiates at AMG International.

In his careful and compelling detective work, Lutzweiler exposes some of the more shady sides of Scofield. Dispensationalist readers will be disappointed in Scofield’s life, just as non-dispensationalist readers are disappointed in his doctrine.

One aspect of Lutzweiler’s study shows some of the doctrinal errors in the Scofield Reference Bible. Before he does so, he reminds his reader that the first biography of Scofield was by Charles G. Trumbull, a personal friend of Scofield. In his work Trumbull wrote the famous, oft-quoted line that the Scofield Reference Bible was "God-planned, God-guided, God-illuminated, and God-energized" (Trumbull, The Life Story of C. I. Scofield, p. 114).

Furthermore, as noted in previous blogs, dispensationalism prides itself in its "plain and simple" method of interpretation. Consequently, when you combine the (alleged) plain and simple approach to interpretation with Trumbull’s declaration that the Scofield Reference Bible was "God-planned, God-guided, God-illuminated, and God-energized," you should have a reference Bible with a clear and abiding presentation of the dispensational system.

Nevertheless, somehow the "God-planned" and "God-guided" work built on the "plain and simple" method of interpretation has had to endure several revisions. How is it this reference Bible presenting something so "plain and simple" should produce a need for revision? And especially if the whole work was "God-planned" and "God-guided"? Perhaps things are not as "plain and simple" as we are led to believe. Even more, it appears that the Scofield Reference Bible — so cherished by millions — was not as "God-planned" and "God-guided" as so many have believed.

To make matters worse, historically we find on-going revisions in the system of theology itself — not just in its major presentation in the Scofield Reference Bible. Initially we have what dispensationalist theologian Craig L. Blaising classifies as "classic dispensationalism." This is the original system created by J. N. Darby, picked up, popularized, and promoted by C. I. Scofield, and given careful theological systematization by L. S. Chafer.

Yet this "plain and simple" system undergoes serious emendation to become C. C. Ryrie’s "revised dispensationalism." (This name derives from the 1967 New Scofield Reference Bible, which greatly revised the previous edition.) This is generally the system held by televangelists, every prophet-of-the-month, and the leading, best-selling newspaper exegetes, as well as Joe Dispensationalists in the pew. Ryrie’s system prevailed for about thirty years (mid-1950s through mid-1980s). Then arose "progressive dispensationalism," spearheaded by Blaising and Darrell L. Bock. They even declare Ryrie’s plain and simple hermeneutic to be "naive" and "simplistic."

Progressive dispensationalism has not taken the market by storm, but it has undermined the theological structure of the prevailing system. In fact, it has moved much closer to historic covenantal thought. And for these two things, we can be thankful.

To make matters worse still, dispensationalism is one of the most complex and ornate systems of theology available to evangelicals. It has two different peoples of God, two different programs, seven different dispensations (each having its own revelation, test, and failure), several literal comings of Christ, assorted judgments, and more. How could a plain and simple hermeneutic lead to such a complex system of thought? The mind boggles.

The popular brand of dispensationalism boasts of its "plain and simple" system, but then has to revise itself frequently. This should be disconcerting to dispensationalists. Unfortunately, the average dispensationalist would rather die than think. In fact, he does.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dispensationalism’s Circular Absurdity

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

Dispensationalism is not only exegetically tenuous, but systemically flawed and philosophically absurd. At the very foundation of dispensationalism lies circularity and confusion. Indeed, the very definition and function of a "dispensation" in the system actually undermines the system. Let me explain.

In this blog I will employ Charles C. Ryrie’s respected and authoritative book, titled Dispensationalism (Moody, 1995). Page numbers below will refer to this work. This is the revised and updated version of his definitive 1966 Dispensationalism Today. This work is approvingly cited and affirmed in The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy.

The problem I will be reflecting on is one of many systemic problems that explains why so many leave dispensationalism. Bruce Waltke, a former dispensationalist, stated in 1991 that dispensationalism has "no future as a system" (cited in Ryrie, p. 15). He is correct. That is why we are witnessing the unraveling of dispensationalism — at the academic level. (Admittedly, it may take four or five hundred more years for the average dispensationalist-in-the-pew to catch on, though.)

Let’s consider three foundational absurdities.

First absurdity: dispensationalists claim that dispensations are fundamental to understanding Scripture. But then they declare that dispensations are not necessary to understanding dispensationalism!

While studying for his Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh, Ryrie became convinced "that dispensational premillennialism was the only way to understand the Bible" (p. 10). Furthermore, he writes that "in relation to understanding the Scriptures [they must be] interpreted plainly and thus dispensationally."

Yet, Ryrie presents a three-fold sine qua non of dispensationalism, which omits any reference to dispensations! He writes: "Theoretically, the sine qua non ought to lie in the recognition of the fact that God has distinguishably different economies in governing the affairs of the world." But they do not! Indeed, he then asks: "Is the essence of dispensationalism in the number of dispensations? No, for this is in no way a major issue in the system" (p. 38). One would think a "dispensation" would be crucial to a system called "dispensationalism," but it is not.

Second absurdity: dispensations are God-ordained, distinguishable economies in the outworking of redemptive and world history. Yet dispensationalists disagree over the number of dispensations, allegedly without affecting the system!

Note that dispensations are supposedly God-ordained and "distinguishable":
"Dispensations are not stages in the revelation of the covenant of grace but are God’s distinctive and different administrations in directing the affairs of the world" (p. 17).

"The particular manifestations of the will of God in each dispensation are given their full, yet distinctive, place in the progress of the Revelation of God throughout the ages" (p. 19).

"A concise definition of a dispensation is this: A dispensation is a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purpose." He adds that a full description of a dispensation should include "the ideas of distinctive revelation, responsibility, testing, failure, and judgment" (p. 28).

Over and over again, on p. 29 he highlights the distinctive, distinguishable character of each of the specific dispensations. Dispensations are: "distinguishably different," "the word distinguishable in the definition points out that some features are distinctive to each dispensation and mark them off from each other as different dispensations"; "distinguishing the dispensations is God’s, not man’s" work; "the distinguishing features are introduced by God"; and "these various stages mark off the distinguishably different economies."

On p. 32 he writes that "dispensational theology" recognizes "distinguishable distinctions." On p. 33 he asks: "what marks off the various economies in the outworking of God’s purpose and distinguished each from the other?" He answers: "(1) the different governing relationship with the world into God enters in each economy; and (2) the resulting responsibility on mankind in each of these different relationships." On p. 34 he speaks of a particular dispensation as "a distinguishable and different way of running the affairs of the world."

This matter is so important that on p. 37 he argues: "The distinguishable yet progressive character of dispensational distinctions prohibits that they should be intermingled or confused as they are chronologically successive."

Yet, despite all of these asseverations he states: "It makes little difference at this point in the discussion whether there are seven dispensations or not; the point is that dispensations answer the need for distinctions" (p. 17). Later on p. 45 he writes: "The number of dispensations in a dispensational scheme . . . are relatively minor matters. Presumably one could have four, five, seven, or eight dispensations and be a consistent dispensationalist." On p. 46: "Occasionally a dispensationalist may hold as few as four, and some hold as many as eight" dispensations.

But if dispensations are God-ordained and distinguishable, how can the system allow for a fluctuating number of dispensations? Would not a four dispensation system be considered intermingling and confusing chronologically successive dispensations from the seven dispensation system (despite Ryrie, see above quote from p. 37)?

Ryrie believes he has explained this complication by stating: "the difference of opinion as to number is not due to a defect in the dispensational scheme but rather is due to lack of detailed revelation concerning the earliest periods of biblical history. . . . (p. 47). What happened to "distinguishable differences" ordained by God in Scripture? On p. 29 he states that "distinguishing the dispensations is God’s, not man’s" work and "the distinguishing features are introduced by God."

Third absurdity: dispensationalism is viciously circular. p. 29: "The understanding of God’s differing economies is essential to a proper interpretation of His revelation within those various economies." This leads to the bizarre conclusion that you cannot understand the revelation without the feature, but you cannot find the feature without the revelation! The PEBP (p. 82) approvingly quotes and affirms this statement.

This "plain and simple" system of theological is downright complicated and confusing.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Premillennialism and the Early Church

by Ken Gentry, Director of NiceneCouncil.com

Dispensationalists are fond of proclaiming premillennialism to be the historic faith of the Church. Though I don’t see how this is helpful to them, since they admit that their dispensational variety is not; and even strongly criticize historic premillennialists (such as G. E. Ladd). Nevertheless, it seems to bring them a great measure of satisfaction, when they take time off from predicting the Rapture.

Wayne House and Thomas Ice state that "the early church was solidly chiliastic until the time of Augustine" (Dominion Theology, 200). Paul Enns boldly asserts that "the church from the beginning was premillennial in belief" (Moody Handbook of Theology, 389). J. Dwight Pentecost states that "a premillennial belief was the universal belief in the church for two hundred and fifty years after the death of Christ" (Things to Come, 374). Such claims commonly appear in eschatological literature today.

Frequently the false historical data arises from the seriously flawed, long-discredited claims of George N. H. Peters in his work The Theocratic Kingdom. Peters writes: "Now let the student reflect: here are two centuries . . . in which positively no direct opposition whatever arises against our doctrine" (Theocratic Kingdom, 1:494 –496). His claims are quite erroneous, though still persisting and highly regarded by some, such as Mal Couch in Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (see pp. 264, 302). (This Dictionary is a real must not read book.) The errors in Peters’ analysis and others like it have been exposed by a number of scholars. One of the best recent studies demonstrating the error is Charles E. Hill’s, Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity.

Premillennialist D. H. Kromminga carefully examines the sub-apostolic writings, including: Clement of Rome’s 1 Clement, the pseudo-Clementine 2 Clement, The Didache, the Ignatian epistles, Polycarp’s Epistle, The Letter of the Church at Smyrna on the Martyrdom of Polycarp, Barnabas, Hermas, Diognetus, Fragments of Papias, and Reliques of the Elders. He convincingly shows that only Papias among the sub-apostolic fathers is premillennial. He concludes that "an inquiry into the extent of ancient chiliasm will serve to show the untenableness of the claim that this doctrine was held with practical unanimity by the Church of the first few centuries" (The Millennium in the Church, 30, 41, 42).

Charles E. Hill presents detailed evidence of "the nonadvocacy, and sometimes outspoken repudiation, of chiliasm" in several Apostolic Fathers including Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Hermas and Second Clement, as well as the Apologists, Epistle to Diognetus, Melito of Sardis, Athenagora, the Christian Pseudepigrapha, early martyrologies, and others (Regnum Caelorum, 76; see all of Part II).

W. G. T. Shedd observes that "early millennialism was held mostly among Jewish converts. A few Apostolic Fathers held it as individuals, but those who do not mention the millennium had greater weight of authority and influence: Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp" (History of Christian Doctrine, 2:390–391). In fact, according to church historian Jaroslav Pelikan: "It would seem that very early in the post-apostolic era millenarianism was regarded as a mark neither of orthodoxy nor of heresy, but as one permissible opinion among others within the range of permissible opinions" (The Christian Traditions, 1:125).

This is borne out by premillennialism’s failure to receive creedal status. Dallas Seminary theologian Robert P. Lightner recognizes that "None of the major creeds of the church include premillennialism in their statements" (Last Days Handbook, 158). Historic premillennialist Craig L. Blomberg admits that "the classic orthodox creeds of the patristic period, like the major confessions of faith from the Protestant Reformation, never required more than this," i.e., the basic elements of biblical eschatology: a future second advent, a bodily resurrection, and a final judgment (Historic Premillennialism, 69).

Alan Patrick Boyd (a dispensationalist at the time) powerfully analyzes and conclusively rebuts Peters’ claims in his 1977 Dallas Theological Seminary master’s thesis. According to Boyd, he "originally undertook the thesis to bolster the [dispensational] system by patristic research, but the evidence of the original sources simply disallowed this." He ends up lamenting that "this writer believes that the Church rapidly fell from New Testament truth, and this is very evident in the realm of eschatology. Only in modern times has New Testament eschatological truth been recovered" ("A Dispensational Premillennial Analysis," 91n.). As a consequence of his research, Boyd urges his fellow dispensationalists to "avoid reliance on men like Geo. N. H. Peters . . . whose historical conclusions regarding premillennialism . . . in the early church have been proven to be largely in error" (p. 92).

Boyd goes on to admit that "it would seem wise for the modern [i.e., dispensational] system to abandon the claim that it is the historical faith of the Church" (p. 92). Of Ryrie’s bold statement that "Premillennialism is the historic faith of the Church," he states: "It is the conclusion of this thesis that Dr. Ryrie’s statement is historically invalid within the chronological framework of this thesis" (p. 89). Boyd even states: "This validates the claim of L. Berkhof. . . . ‘It is not correct to say, as Premillenarians do, that it (millennialism) was generally accepted in the first three centuries. The truth of the matter is that the adherents of this doctrine were a rather limited number’" (p. 92).

Clearly, the ancient advocates of premillennialism faced opposition from orthodox non-millennialists. For instance, consider Justin Martyr’s response to Trypho regarding the hope of "a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built." Justin (d. AD 165) replies: "I admitted to you formerly, that I and many others are of this opinion, and [believe] that such will take place, as you assuredly are aware; but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise" (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 80). Note the reference to "many" who "think otherwise." No unanimity regarding the millennium exists in the early church.

Another premillennialist, Irenaeus (ca. AD 180), observes that "some who are reckoned among the orthodox" do not hold to his premillennial views (Against Heresies 5:31:1). Eusebius (ca. AD 325) points to premillennialist Papias (AD 60–130) in explaining the spread of premillennialism: "But it was due to him that so many [not "all"!] of the Church Fathers after him adopted a like opinion, urging in their own support the antiquity of the man" (Ecclesiastical History 3:39). The fact that premillennialism was in no way approaching "universal" in extent is evident also in that Dionysius (AD 190–264) successfully dealt with "this doctrine" in a certain area where it prevailed and split "entire churches." He won the day in that Egyptian district and turns the majority away from premillennialism (Ecclesiastical History 7:24). Later, Epiphanius (AD 315–403) writes: "There is indeed a millennium mentioned by St. John; but the most, and those pious men, look upon those words as true indeed, but to be taken in a spiritual sense" (Epiphanius, Heresies, 77:26).

Unfortunately, when you are trying to decode the most recent name of the Antichrist and trying to predict the Rapture, you don’t really have time to fool with historical studies. That’s why the ghost of George N. H. Peters still haunts dispensational literature.

For more information on this and other errors in dispensationalism, see my recently released, third edition of He Shall Have Dominion (available at NiceneCouncil.com).

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Literalism's Absurdities

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

Especially since the rise to prominence of dispensationalism in the late nineteenth century, interpretive principles have become a major focus of eschatological discussion. One of the classic dispensationalist’s leading arguments is the claim to consistent interpretive literalism. Charles C. Ryrie sets forth interpretive literalism as a sine qua non of this leading branch of dispensationalism: "Dispensationalists claim that their principle of hermeneutics is that of literal interpretation. . . . The dispensationalist claims to use the normal principle of interpretation consistently in all his study of the Bible." Thomas D. Ice declares: "Futurism . . . is the only approach that can consistently apply literal interpretation." Earl Radmacher states: "It is so utterly fundamental to under-stand that the foundational premise of dispensationalism is not theological but herme-neutical." Paul N. Benware calls it a "face value" form of interpretation.

Since Ryrie is perhaps the most prominent and respected classical dispensationalist, a few examples of literalism from his writings serve as illustrations of the classic dispensational approach to hermeneutics. For instance, he chides Mickelsen for suggesting that the ancient weapons and chariots of Ezekiel 39 (which both Ryrie and Mickelsen deem to be in the future) are symbolic equivalents of modern weaponry: "If specific details are not interpreted literally when given as specific details, then there can be no end to the variety of the meanings of a text."6 Here the principle of consistent literalism is so vigorously held that we are left with what non-dispensational evangelicals consider an absurdity, despite attempts at formal explanations.

But Ryrie is not alone in this bizarre line of reasoning; after all, it is endemic to the whole system. Thomas even goes so far as to place Jesus and the armies of heaven on literal horses at his second advent from out of heaven — and suggests a special creative act for explaining horses in heaven (which would apparently also cover their ability to survive the high altitude temperatures and rarified air involved in the second advent). Of Revelation 19:14 he argues: "These are real armies and horses, not imaginary ones. . . . The origin of the horses need not create a problem as they conceivably are a special creation of ‘The Word of God’ for the purposes of this occasion."

Elsewhere, Ryrie writes: "Jerusalem will be exalted (Zec 14:10), and there is no reason to doubt but that this will be literal and that the city by means of certain physical changes shall be exalted above the sur-rounding hills"! Walvoord concurs: "topological changes will take place which apparently will elevate Jerusalem so that waters flowing from Jerusalem will go half to the eastern sea, or the Sea of Galilee, and half to the western sea, or the Mediterranean." Their literalism on this issue even appears in the most symbolic book in Scripture. Of Revelation 16:20 Thomas writes: "These words speak of literal topographical changes, not figuratively of political turmoil. A literal understanding is no obstacle."

But consider the physical problems associated with such an elevation of Jerusalem: Were Jerusalem raised up to be the highest mountain, it would involve such tectonic upheaval that it would absolutely destroy the city. Earthquakes are destructive natural phenomena, but this up-thrusting is even worse. It involves full-scale mountain building, which would absolutely destroy an already built city. Furthermore, if it were raised above the highest mountains, it would be uninhabitable for it would be higher than Mt. Everest. This would give it an intolerably freezing climate. Surely this prophecy is speaking symbolically of the exaltation and dominance of God’s kingdom, not its physical elevation.

What is more, Paul Lee Tan inadvertently exposes literalism’s absurdity when he argues that the New Jerusalem is a city that "will be 1,323 miles in all directions" that could hold a staggering 72 billion inhabitants." The Space Shuttle flies around 200 miles high; this city extends over 1000 miles higher! The earth’s diameter is about 8000 miles at the equator; the city will extend out a full sixteen percent further in one small 1300 mile square spot on the earth’s 196,935,000 square mile surface. Robert L. Thomas explains that its size "is no more unimaginable than a pearl large enough to serve as a city-gate." His explanation only complicates the problem: I cannot imagine an oyster large enough to produce such a pearl. If I could, I would never swim in the ocean again!

In the final analysis, though, the New Testament applies this imagery non-literally. For instance, Luke applies Isaiah 40:4 to John Baptist’s ministry: "Every ravine shall be filled up, / And every mountain and hill shall be brought low" (Lk 3:5a). Unless the dispensationalist argues that in the third decade of the first century John flattened all mountains on the earth, their literalistic approach to mountain building and mountain destroying passages fails.

Can anyone accept such views as reasonable, especially since we may easily understand these elements as figures of exaltation and influence? Dispensationalism has painted itself into a corner with its bold claims (I don't mean that "literally"; Sherwin-Williams cannot be blamed for dispensationalism's problems.)