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. :)