Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism

Part 2: The Rise of the Christians
by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

In my previous blog I began relating to Reformed Christians a useful theological tool that I call “The Ephesians Road Out Dispensationalism.” I developed this instrument about twenty years ago after long and fruitless interactions with dispensationalists which transpired over a number of years. This is the second installment expositing this evangelistic tract.

Background to Product Development

In my eschatological debates twenty and thirty years ago I had fruitlessly attempted to prove the impossible. I was trying to convince my dispensationalist friends that the rapture was not going to occur on the day we were engaged in discussion. Day after day they laughed me to scorn. Day after day I continued to fail in convincing anyone that the rapture was not going to occur that very day. My success was being hampered by their annoying habit of continually looking upwards to the clouds while I was trying to point out Scripture texts to support my argument. This kept my seed arguments from finding root. My seed could find no purchase.

Those debates inevitably ended at midnight — the very close of the day. At that moment the dispensationalist would confidently assert: “Maybe tomorrow.” As I pulled my hair in frustration, I would hear them walking off lost in song: “Coming again, coming again / Maybe morning may be noon, / Maybe evening and maybe soon.” All I could do was stumble away with my head bowed low in exhaustion while humming: “You load sixteen tons and what do you get, / Another day older and deep in regret” (my apologies to Merle Travis — or George S. Davis; the original authorship of this song is still in dispute). I began to surmise that engaging in debate with a dispensationalist is a lot like saddling a cow: It is a whole lot of work, and there is not much point in it.

But I began to rethink my methods. Through this process of self-examination arose The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism. Previously I had found it extremely difficult to pull dispensationalists away from their network diagrams, Venn diagrams, Bachman diagrams, block definition diagrams, model diagrams, dot-and-cross diagrams, existential graphs, bar charts, message sequence charts, pie charts, tree charts, flow charts, line charts, bubble charts, radar charts, candlestick charts, Kagi charts, Gantt charts, Pareto charts, PERT charts, Pournelle charts, sparklines, histograms, cartograms, nomograms, box plots, scatterplots, probability plots, tube maps, value streaming maps, Karnaugh maps, stereographic projection graphs, Dymaxion graphs, wave-number frequency graphs, and so forth.

For the life of me I could not convince them that these charts and graphs were only in recently-produced study Bibles and not in the original biblical manuscripts. Too many dispensationalists were convinced that archaeologists were on the very brink of discovering the Scofield Reference Bible in the original Greek. After all, Joseph Smith was so successful in finding his Reformed Egyptian hieroglyphic golden plates on September 22, 1823 near his home in Manchester, New York (though the angel Moroni promptly took them off and hid them)! Archaeologists were so fortunate as to discover the Hebrew Copper Scroll in Cave III at Khirbet Qumran on March 14, 1952 (though some Bedouin shepherds attempted to sell them to antiquities dealers in downtown Cairo)! Why, why, why then may we not expect biblical scholars to find near Scofield’s birthplace in Lenawee Country, Michigan, at least some aluminum foil wrappers containing the original Greek version of the Scofield Scrolls? Such was the depth of their trust in their early church fathers, Darby, Scofield, and CHM.

My debates became even more difficult with the work of Robert Gaskins and Dennis Austin of Forethought, Inc. in Sunnyvale, California. They created the original version of a computer software program that was eventually to become Powerpoint. When this presentation tool was sold to Microsoft in 1987 it was only a matter of time before it would be obtained by televangelists. It began to empower dispensationalists even more: Now they could change their charts and graphs at the first seismic readings of another earthquake or of early onset volcanism causing harmonic tremors. No longer were they trapped with expensive canvas wall charts that were outdated and in need of revision. They could now quickly and easily change their presentations each day. Their charts would appear always fresh and engaging; their arguments persuasive and convincing. And in color (not their arguments but their Powerpoint presentations; televangelists never use colorful language).

But enough history. Let us get down to our exegesis of The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism. Hopefully you will find this helpful in ministering among native dispensationalists. In my first installment I noted that in Ephesians Paul clearly declares Christ was enthroned as king in the first century. And this proved that his kingdom was not postponed until there could arise CNN to report the sudden disappearance of millions of Christians. Christ’s kingdom and kingly rule began at his first coming. His kingdom was not postponed, causing God to establish Plan B for history in the establishment of the Church.

We Presently Rule with Christ

To add insult to injury, Paul continues his anti-dispensational diatribe in his little missive. His next step transforms Ephesians into dispensationalism’s right strawy epistle. The heck with James! Dispensationalists find Ephesians quite a bit more strawy because immediately after affirming Christ’s first century enthronement he takes the next logical step. He declares that all those who believe in Christ (beginning in the first century) are enthroned with Christ! All the hopes of ruling over cities during a future millennium are destroyed in this maneuver. How dare he! But alas, there it is in black and white (unless you have a red-letter edition of the Bible, in which case it would appear in black and white and red).

Note once again the clarity of Paul’s theology:

“God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4–6).

And where had Paul just stated that Christ was seated? According to Ephesians 1:20–21 God “raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.” He is at God’s right hand ruling over all.

Say it ain’t so! According to the plain-and-simple method of literal interpretation our enthronement must wait until after the second coming of Christ in the rapture, the resurrection of believers, the conversion of the Jews, the building of the temple in Jerusalem, the unveiling of Antichrist, the outbreak of the great tribulation, the destruction of two-thirds of the Jewish race, the arising of the beast, the formulation of the revived Roman Empire, the imposing of the mark of the beast for buying and selling, the third coming of Christ at the second advent, the battle of Armageddon, the sanctification of temple for millennial use, and the establishment of the global Department of Redundancy Department.

Why does Paul speak in the past tense by using the aorist verbal forms of “raised” and “seated?” Ah! Perhaps these are aorist futures which really mean he will in the future raise us and seat us! Why does he teach that Christians in the first century are already enthroned with Christ, that is, that they are already ruling and reigning with him in his kingdom? Paul is surely not rightly dividing the word of truth. He has mixed dispensations. He is not interpreting literally. He has strayed from Scofield’s notes. Perhaps this is proof for a late-date for Revelation! Paul obviously did not have verse 4 of Revelation 20 to guide him in his entire eschatological and theological understanding.

Or has Paul missed the mark? Maybe it is the late-blooming (1830) dispensational construct that is mistaken. Maybe Paul knew exactly what he was talking about. Maybe we as Christians are already enthroned with Christ.

Indeed, may I be so bold as to suggest that maybe he, Peter, and John actually know the truth? After all, Peter calls first-century Christians a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet 2:9), i.e., a kingdom of priests. And even John, long before he speaks of the millennium (which occurs in only one chapter in all of the Bible, which happens also to be its most difficult book) and our reigning with Christ as kings and priest (Rev 20:6), states in the past tense: “He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father” (Rev 1:6).

To make matters worse, Paul even mentions the celebration of Christ’s enthronement in Ephesians 4. He speaks of his enthronement in terms reflecting a formal Roman triumph where the conquering ruler returns to his capital and divides the spoil with his jubilant citizens. In Ephesians 4:8 Paul states regarding the heavenly-enthroned Christ: “When He ascended on high, / He led captive a host of captives, / And He gave gifts to men.”


Thus, once again we see how Ephesians can function as a counter to dispensationalism. It is truly a tract that could be titled “The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism.”


David said...

I appreciate your comments and thoughts on this matter (speaking of the blog overall). You covered the issue of Christ’s kingship well, and of course, as one moves forward into chapter two Paul continues to explain that all men are saved in the same way (by grace through faith) and made into one new humanity in Christ. And so one could continue through the whole Bible and come up with a new example of scripture contrary to dispensationalism practically verse by verse. There are so many texts that seem to stand in outright antithesis to dispensational doctrine that I honestly don't know how it continues to survive. I suppose it may be that it thrives on sensationalism and preys upon ignorance. But, as someone else mentioned in a previous post, I don't think the dripping sarcasm with which most of the posts are saturated is conducive for this blog to be able to be helpful to those caught in the grip of dispensationalism. Though, perhaps that isn’t its point. It is rather a gathering place for those of us who already disagree with it to think about how to address this theological blight while simultaneously laughing at its folly. However, for those of us who are close to others who have been mesmerized by these peddlers of false theology, there is nothing funny about it. My father watches Jack Van Impe’s television program every weekend. Dispensational theology has not produced good fruit in his life, but has distracted him from the true center of Christianity. When he thinks of Christianity it does not appear that his mind jumps instantly to Christ and his atoning work upon the cross, but to contemporary Middle Eastern politics. He thinks of impending wars and fears an imminent one world government. As a United States citizen, when he contemplates voting his decision does not seemed based around what Jesus described as the two greatest commandments, but is based around support for the nation of Israel. This is a sad mutilation and deformation of the true beauty of the Christian gospel. Fulfillment is denied, redemptive history is revised, and Christ has been dethroned so that in his place may sit a city and a nation-state. The words of the prophets are quoted out of context and abused, Jesus’ true purpose and intent is confused, and Paul’s careful argumentation is mocked. It is quite serious indeed. So I must ask: do you know of a different website that a current dispensationalist could be directed to where they might be exposed to the truth in a way that doesn’t make them feel disrespected?

NiceneCouncil.com said...

Thanks for your post. For those who don't like tongue-in-cheek humor, I recommend our Media/Articles page at our mother website: NiceneCouncil.com. You can find those articles on eschatology, dispensationalism, and so forth at http://nicenecouncil.com/media/

NiceneCouncil.com said...

David: By the way, at the end of this series of blogs I will provide a summary blog that will actually be useful for printing-off and giving to a dispensationalist. It will be stripped of humor and boiled down to the bare theological and exegetical presentation. We may even publish it separately as a tract that can be given to dispenstational friends and loved ones.

Zach said...

Thanks in part to your effort and others like Poythress, Gerstner, and Mathison, I have come to reject Dispensationalism though I am graduating from a very dispensational school (undergrad). I can tell you first hand how this theology infects almost every other area of doctrine. While they should be commended for their efforts to maintain Scripture’s inerrancy, they are not excused from the damage the system intrinsically produces in the pews.
One of my biggest problems with this theology is that it forces the “scholars” to explain almost any given text. They rely on charts rather than the words of our Lord. Further, any difficult passage, presumably texts requiring faith and “repentance” can be so easily explained away by knowing to whom those words were written (Israelites and not us).
In my Inductive Bible Study class we were given class notes (probably passed down from Chafer) which included 42 different hermeneutical principles. While I don’t have a problem with most of them, there is one glaring omission. Christ is not mentioned a single time. When Jesus says that the Old Testament spoke of Him repeatedly (Lk. 24:26-27, 44-47, John 5:46), it would seem that making the minor point that Scripture speaks of Him would be appropriate. It seems to me that their “literal” hermeneutic is a guise for their “inerrant” hermeneutic. Though I appreciate the point they make that the Spirit is necessary for proper interpretation, I don’t think they really believe that. Their position makes a literal understanding (that is their own) the only correct one. All the rules which go along with it could theoretically be developed into a computer program. Once activated the program should immediately print out a pre-trib time-line, and if integrated with the web might actually pinpoint the rapture to the second while at the same time exposing the Antichrist (sorry you’re cover’s blown). The reality is that their system should work with a non-Christian if their claims of literalness are true. After all it worked for the Pharisees.
I do think David’s point is valid, but perhaps this blog helps provide people like David and myself helpful tools to work with our confused brothers and sisters. This Ephesian series is great. I’m teaching a youth Sunday school class on hard questions of the Bible. For the last month and a half I’ve been teaching on “How were O.T. Saints Saved?” Since this question springs from dispensational confusion on God’s law (it was only for the O.T. Saints), and God’s people (we’re unique), I’m having great success at teaching the unity of Scripture. Check out their video if you haven’t already “The Late Great Planet Church.” Poythress’s Understanding Dispensationalism is a very non-confrontational evaluation which might also prove fruitful.
Thanks Dr. Gentry. Looking forward to your next post.

Vance said...

For what it's worth (not much, perhaps), I love the tongue-in-cheek humor. Those little nuggets can turn an otherwise bland meal into a tasty dish.

NiceneCouncil.com said...

Be aware folks, not all blogs involve humor. In fact, most of them do not. But I received so many personal emails regarding the amusing ones that I have done more of them recently. However, if you look through the "Past Blogs" you will find a great many that are more palatable for dispensational eyes.

David said...

Thanks. And no offense intended. I enjoyed it thoroughly - especially the rather exhaustive list of charts and diagrams. ;)

Dee Dee Warren said...

And satire can be very helpful in opening eyes. I know that satire has very often helped me to finally break past some tradition that was binding me to a foolish theological system. Honestly, too many Christians today are just plain humourless grumps.