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.


Matthew Ervin said...

You wrote: "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."

This really comes off as disengenuous. If you are pointing to evil during the tribulation as proof that dispensationalists belive evil has won, then I have to ask; how do you account for evil and sin now? It seems that your argument for Christ's death on the cross being seen as weaker than Adam's sin would have to be applied to the here and now in the same way.
I guess my major problem with so many of your blogs is that they are based on arguments that hardly utlize segments from Scripture. This is so troubling. The strength of dispensationalists is that they use a consistent and literal hermeneutic. I am open to you proving their position wrong with Scripture. I will certainly not be convinced by straw-man arguments.
Use Scripture. Don't keep grinding that ax.

NiceneCouncil.com said...


Thanks for your response. Just briefly, please note:

(1) I am not referring to the tribulation per se. Rather I would point to the many statements from dispensational theologians that the world will not get better in history, but will continually decline until Jesus Raptures the Church. A pessimistic assessment of the outworking of history is built into the dispensational system. It is inescapable, and even necessary to the system, for it explains the necessity of the Rapture. In my writings (articles and books) I have many quotes from reputable theologians (Ryrie, Pentecost, Walvoord, etc.) who give just such an assessment.

(2) The way we "account for evil and sin now" is through the biblical principle of gradualism. Just as God unfolded his revelation over a 1500 period (from Moses to the Apostles), just as he only gradually brought forth the Redeemer in history, though he promised him at the very beginning (Gen. 3:15), likewise the postmillennial hope sees the gradual unfolding of his victory in history, for he is reigning and must reign until all of his enemies become a footstool for his feet (1 Cor 15:20-27). Likewise, just because Jesus hasn't returned yet, doesn't mean he will not return (see 2 Pet. 3:3-9).

But in the meantime I would point out that what began with a band of twelve Disciples has become a history-impacting Church of hundreds of millions. We have moved from Nero's tortures to the comforts of this "one nation under God," where we can freely blog and openly discuss the issues from the comforts of our air conditioned homes while using our leather Bibles (the world's most printed book). Comparing Christianity's beginnings in the first century with our progress in many areas of the world now, we have won many victories along the way. And history is not over; we will win many more in the unfolding of Christ's victory in history. After all, Jesus commanded us to actually disciple (not just "witness" to) the nations (Matt 28:19) and told us he would be with us until the end to see that it was done (Matt. 28:20). History is not over yet, but evidence of Christ's victory is present. Things are not fully as they should be, but we are moving in that direction.

(3) Regarding your complaint that our blogs "hardly utilize segments from Scripture": apparently you have not read many of our blogs. Note the earlier blogs (and articles on the NiceneCouncil.com website). We have much by way of exegetical argumentation.

(4) Contrary to your belief, dispensationalism does not employ a "consistent" literalism; rather it promotes a convenient literalism. That is, literalism arises only when necessary to save the system. Unfortunately, your statement that dispensationalism is built on "a consistent and literal hermeneutic" is little more than a slogan. It is an assertion, not a reality.

(5) Be aware, in a blog you can't do everything. That is why we publish whole books on eschatology and critiques of dispensationalism. See my 600 page He Shall Have Dominion. That is also why in your blog response you did not prove or defend "consistent" literalism; you simply asserted it. It is not the nature of a blog to be able to do everthing. Thus, I urge you to be careful of the fallacy of a hasty generalization. Read the anti-dispensational literature. There you will find the exegetical argument against dispensationalism. Simply because you didn't find it in one or two blogs you have read, doesn't mean that the argument doesn't exist.

Finally, please understand that the tongue-in-cheek humor used in two or three recent blogs is aimed at the populist, market-dominating wing of dispensationalism. We believe that this wing of dispensationalism to be reckless and even dangerous to the integrity of the Church. I use humor to try to get a point across, not to deride or belittle.

Again, thank you for visiting, reading, and responding to our blog.

Anonymous said...

After seeing the clever list of what Hal (serial polygamist) Lindsey hasn't written, let me suggest that Hal would never write anything like "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty" (which is on the "Powered by Christ Ministries" site in living color) simply because it exposes the persistent plagiarism in many well-known dispensationalist writings including Hal's! Thanks for your valuable blog! Henry

Brother Jim said...

So true, Brother! I remember in Bible School wandering at God's Plan (the Dispensational Version) that He essentially loses in every dispensation, except the Eternal Age. What kind of glory is that? Is He so small that the only way that He can win is to wipe out all of the opposition? Now, that sounds like one of Satan's arguments. I confess that I don't have all of this figured out, yet, but Dispensationalism doesn't read like 'good Bible' to me. Even the JW's use (read 'misuse') the Bible but we don't grant their views the sobriquet of 'Biblical'! Now, do we?

Len said...

One thing that I have never heard addequately explained is that, if modern day Isreal is the return of God's chosen people, why are they being constantly attacked by the surrounding nations? As I read Old Testament history, one thing becomes absolutly and quickly aapparent - if Isreal has peace, it is because they have turned their hearts to God. If they don't have peace, it is because they have turned thir backs on God. Also, how can there be two different plans of salvation (one for the Jews and another for the Gentiles) if we are told by Christ Himself that no one can come to the FAther except through Him? How can modern day Isreal turn to God if they don't turn to Christ? If there is to be a restoration of a remanent of the Jews, it certainly can't be what is happening today in the Holy Land!