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.