Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Defending Christianity?

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director

The header to our blogsite is: Defending Christianity.” One of our blog readers, Rick Warden, a missionary and strongly conservative Christian, responded to my last blog (“Dispensationalism’s Progress Death” Part 2) and complained about our blog’s header. As a committed dispensationalist he is disturbed about several aspects of our blog heading, as well as its mission and content.

We welcome Mr. Warden’s concerns and would like to respond to them, partly to clarify our mission and partly to defend it. Our response may help others who have similar questions. Warden is not the first person on “planet Earth” (see: we can speak dispensationalese) to raise questions about our mission.

Our Purpose

Mr. Warden’s first comment against our website regards its header or title. He complains: “Your blog title states ‘defending Christianity’ as if dispensationalism is non-Christian. Can you prove that or at least make an attempt to back it up?”

In reply I would begin by noting that we do not believe dispensationalism is “non-Christian” at all. All those associated with (the sponsor of the blog) were at one time dispensationalists ourselves. Thus, we know quite well that dispensationalists are strongly evangelical Christians, just as we were while in the movement.

However, though recognizing dispensationalism as a form of evangelical Christianity, we believe that it is a seriously defective, misguided, embarrassing, and naive form. Perhaps our brief header is too brief. Actually our header “Defending Christianity” means: “Defending the integrity of Christianity against one of its most embarrassing advocates, dispensationalism.” But that is too long a title, and as Warden complains our blog is already “long-winded.” Consequently, it would not make an effective title. Besides, our title served its purpose: it pulled Warden in to see what is going on.

Our Rationale

But now what do I mean by stating that we are defending the integrity of Christianity? Simply put: dispensationalism is a humiliating embarrassment to the integrity and majesty of the full-fledged Christian worldview is embodied in Scripture. Dispensationalism leaves the impression that the Christian faith is a naive and incompetent faith commitment. Scores of scholarly works point to dispensationalism as evidence of the naivete of the Christian faith itself. Just consider a few works as samples of scholarly criticisms that highlight dispensationalism: Paul Boyer’s, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture. Daniel Wojcik, The End of the World As We Know It: Faith, Fatalism, and Apocalypse in America. Bernard McGinn’s Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil. Examples could be multiplied ad nauseum. In fact, I am not feeling good right now and will have to finish this posting later....

There. Now I am back. Where was I? Oh, yes:

And why should these secular scholars not write-off the Christian faith (as dominated by multi-million bestselling dispensationalist works) as a serious philosophy of life? Think of Edgar C. Whisenant’s Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988 and Hal Lindsey’s 1980’s: Countdown to Armageddon. Think of the book titles that flooded the market before the year 2000:

• Faird, Gorbachev! Has the Real Antichrist Come? (1988)
• Lindsey, Planet Earth -- 2000: Will Mankind Survive? (1994).
• Sumrall, I Predict 2000 (1987).
• Lewis, Prophecy 2000: Rushing to Armageddon (1990).
• Terrell, The 90’s: Decade of the Apocalypse (1992).
• Hunt, How Close Are We?: Compelling Evidence for the Soon Return of Christ (1993).
• Graham, Storm Warning (1992).
• Ryrie, The Final Countdown (1991).
• Jeffries, Armageddon: Appointment with Destiny (1988).
• McKeever, The Rapture Book: Victory in the End Times (1987).
• McAlvanny, et al., Earth’s Final Days (1994).
• Marrs, et al., Storming Toward Armageddon: Essays in Apocalypse (1992).
• Liardon, Final Approach: The Opportunity and Adventure of End-Times Living (1993).
• Webber and Hutchins, Is This the Last Century? (1979).

Even fellow premillennialists bemoan dispensationalism’s tendencies in this direction. One premillennialist admits: “The premillenarians’ credibility is at a low ebb because they succumbed to the temptation to exploit every conceivably possible prophetic fulfillment. . . . It is not likely that the situation will change greatly.” (Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now!, 218).

Premillennialist Craig L. Blomberg bemoans that “a frightening percentage of the evangelical Christian public seems always to suffer a collective amnesia, forgetting how the same kinds of publications just a decade or two earlier turned out to include a considerable amount of false prophecy. The one statistic that remains unvarying is that to date, 100 percent of all such scenarios have proved wrong,” because of engaging in “the next round of speculation.” (Blomberg and Chung, Historic Premillennialism, 70.)

Warden continues stating his reasons for disappointment with our blog: “From what I’ve read of your blog, it is long-winded, filled with hyperbole and lacking in clear points regarding dispensationalism. When people freely throw around hyperbole it is a sign that evidence is lacking. ”

This complaint involves two unfortunate statements. First, he is dealing with only “what I’ve read of your blog,” which shows he has not read all of our blogs, and is basing his surmise on partial evidence. Who knows what he has read on our blog? He doesn’t say.

Second, he complains that is “lacking in clear points regarding dispensationalism.” But this flows out of his first problem: a partial reading of our blog. It also shows that he expects too much from a blog. We have several published books and video projects that provide deep and serious treatments of dispensationalism, as you can see by checking our webstore at We also post a number of focused articles critiquing dispensationalism at But then, Mr. Warden expresses a concern about our being “long-winded.” So I am not sure our books would work for him. Anti-dispensationalism is hard to reduce to a bumper sticker.

Finally, Mr. Warden complains: “Dispensationalism is not dying and neither are the prophecies.” We must understand that for any very large entity to die can take time. Massive red giant stars will eventually collapse in on themselves and explode into a supernova. And they are considered short-lived stars to begin with (due to their massive weight which accelerates their eruption). But even still they don’t die overnight. Their enormous size creates strong, internal countervailing internal forces within the star’s nucleus that balance out the gravitational weight problem. For awhile.

This is like dispensationalism: it is such a large behemoth that its death will take a long time. Furthermore, given its inherent naivete — which allows its adherents to tolerate one failed Antichrist prediction after another and which can endure one erroneous rapture prediction after another — we can’t expect the system to die quickly. Dispensationalists are adept at grinning and bearing it.

Nevertheless, it is dying. And as we have pointed out: it dying from a brain-drain. Many of its scholars are opting out; others are radically transforming the system into what it has never been. Read the dominant dispensationalist’s vehement attacks on progressive dispensationalism. Fear is in their words: their beloved system is collapsing within.

We agree that the prophecies of the Bible do not fail of their purposes. But the prophecies of dispensationalists constantly fail. Again, review the titles listed above. As we have said many times: Dispensationalism is embarrassing itself to death.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dispensationalism’s Progressive Death (Part 2)

Dispensationalism’s Progressive Death (Part 2)

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director,

My previous blog post reviewed an article by progressive dispensationalist, Dr. Robert Chisholm of Dallas Theological Seminary. In that review I noted that Chisholm’s observations effectively drive a stake in the heart of dispensationalism. But I did not give a complete review of his article. Consequently, one Anonymous respondent wondered if my blog failed of its purpose.

In this follow-up blog I will present a related observation regarding the interpretation of prophecy that serves as the second of the one-two punch Chisholm lands on his own theology. This still falls under the category of “progressive dispensationalism” in that Chisholm favorably cited this material in his own article, though he did not press home the point.

I am referring to the chapter by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. that appears in J. I. Packer and Sven K. Soderlund, eds., The Way of Wisdom: Essays in Honor of Bruce K. Waltke (2000) on pages 180-203.. That chapter is titled: “Historical Contingencies and Biblical Predictions.” So now I will offer a brief summary and review of Reformed theologian Pratt’s article which was endorsed by progressive dispensationalist theologian Chisholm. This article takes an additional important step for undermining the dispensational method of prophetic interpretation regarding Israel’s future.

Pratt’s Point

In Pratt’s article he opens with a lament regarding the naive and reckless enthusiasm of dispensational populists (whom he obliquely refers to as “North American evangelicals”). He complains that their “enthusiasm” for prophecy has caused them to “become monomaniacal in their interpretation of biblical prophecy” (p. 180).

Basically he argues that historical contingencies affect the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. As does Chisholm in his article, he points out that many biblical prophecies do not find fulfillment in the expected literalistic fashion that we often expect. He argues that this “failure” of prophecy to occur according to our expectations does not undermine “the immutability of God’s character and eternal decrees” (p. 181). That is, this “failure” does not prove God a liar nor does it dismiss the eternal nature of his decrees.

He argues from Scripture that “divine providence provides a perspective that complements divine immutability” (p. 183). That is, God is behind both the eternal decree and historical providence, and that one does not contradict, but rather complements the other. He continues:

“Old Testament prophets revealed the word of the unchanging Yahweh, but they spoke for God in space and time, not before the foundations of the world. By definition, therefore, they did not utter immutable decrees but providential declarations. For this reason, we should not be surprised to find that intervening historical contingencies, especially human reactions, had significant effects on the way predictions were realized. In fact, we will see that Yahweh often spoke through his prophets, watched the reactions of people, and then determined how to carry through with his declarations.”

Three Kinds of Predictions

Pratt then outlines and discusses “three kinds of predictions: (1) predictions qualified by conditions, (2) predictions qualified by assurances, and (3) predictions with out qualifications” (p. 183).

1. Predictions qualified by conditions. Of course, everyone recognizes that when a prophecy expressly mentions conditions, those conditions will affect the outcome of the prophecy. Pratt surveys several conditional prophecies, such as Isa 1:19–20; 7:9; Jer 7:5–7; 22:4–5). For instance, Isaiah 7:9 declares: “If you are not faithful, then you will not stand at all.” This is clearly conditional and affects the historical outcome of the prophecy. Of course, the problem for many populist prophecy-enthusiasts (who usually designate themselves “prophecy experts”) is: they almost never admit this truth about prophecy.

2. Predictions qualified by assurances. These prophecies include announcements of inescapable doom or of God’s refusal to reverse himself or of oath-bound prophecies. Samples include: Jeremiah 7:15–16; 11:11, 14; 14:10; Ezekiel 5:11; 14:16, 18, 20; 20:3; 33:27; Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 13; 2:1, 4, 6. Pratt observes that “we must remember that these kinds of predictions are few in number and usually not very specific in their descriptions of the future” (p. 187). The very existence of these few prophecies clearly indicate “that not all predictions shared this heightened certainty,” otherwise these assurances would have been wholly unnecessary to state.

3. Predictions without qualifications. Pratt notes that “the OT abounds with examples of unqualified predictions of events that did not take place” (p. 187). He lists a few samples, such as Jonah 3:10; 2 Chr 12:5–8; 3 Kings 22:16–20. For instance, “what caused these turns of events? Each text explicitly sights [sic] human responses as the grounds for the deviations. The people of Nineveh (Jonah 3:6), the leaders of Judah (2 Chr 12:6), Josiah (2 Kgs 22:18–19), and Hezekiah (Jer 26:19) repented or prayed upon hearing the prophetic word” (pp. 187–88). This shows that prophecies contained implied conditions. This also is not admitted by traditional dispensationalists.

Pratt then cites Calvin’s Institutes (1:17:14): “Even though [the prophets] make a simple affirmation, it is to be understood from the outcome that these nonetheless contain a tacit condition” (p. 188). Pratt then points to the lesson we learned from the image of God as the potter. He argues that “the universal perspective of Jer 18:1–12 strongly suggests that all unqualified predictions were subject to implicit conditions” (p. 189).

Historical Contingencies and Expectations

In his next section (pp. 191–95) Pratt asks the question: “If human responses could affect the way Yahweh directed history afer a prediction, how did prophets or their listeners have any secure expectations for the future?” (p. 191).

To answer this question he points out that “the covenantal parameters surrounding Yahweh and his people provided a basis for many expectations, but they did not settle every question. They set limits, but much latitude existed within these boundaries” (p. 192). Regarding any given prophecy: “Latitude remained. . . . When? How? By whom? How long? These more specific questions remained unanswered for the prophets and their audiences” (p. 193).

I would point out in this regard that when we come to the New Testament and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, we discover that “how” God blesses Israel is different from the way that the Jews (and dispensationalists) expected. He blesses her through the salvation of a remnant and by re-constituting Israel by making even Gentiles “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:29). The Church of Jesus Christ is “the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16).

Therefore we must understand what the last great old covenant prophet John the Baptist (Matt 3:9) stated when he warned Israel: “Do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” And ultimately Israel’s salvation comes on the same terms and in the same manner as the salvation of Gentiles, rather than through their exaltation (as per dispensational theology).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dispensationalism’s Progressive Death

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director,

Dispensationalism is changing. And as it does so, it is dying; death is the most radical form of change for a living entity. Just think of the death of the prehistoric creature known as the Freborg. They no longer exist anywhere in the world. (The Freborg had the wings of an eagle, the body of a lion, and the head of an accountant. A terrifying image.)

In this blog article I will show that dispensationalism’s death is being effected by suicide. Apparently no amount of embarrassment and humiliation has been able to discomfit dispensational pew-sitters. Like the Eloi in “The Time Machine” they mindlessly wander about to their doom. They drift into Christian bookstores and pick up the latest mind-numbing, apocalyptic drivel. Neither wrong rapture dates nor wrong Antichrist spottings phase erstwhile dispensationalists. Their motto is: “Grin and Bear It.” But now we see that suicide might just do the trick. But first let me give a brief history lesson.

A Brief History Lesson
In the early 1990s Darrell L. Bock and Craig A. Blaising led the establishment of what is known as “progressive dispensationalism.” In presenting the changes they effected in the dispensational system, they described three major phases of dispensationalism:

(1) Classic dispensationalism, which was promoted by J. N. Darby through C. I. Scofield to L. S. Chafer. Key components of its success can be traced to Larkin’s charts and Scofield’s Bible.

(2) Revised dispensationalism, which was promoted by Charles C. Ryrie, John F. Walvoord, J. Dwight Pentecost, and the New York Times Bestseller List. It is called “revised” because of the major revision of the Scofield Reference Bible, which was revised in 1967 to become the “New Scofield Reference Bible.”

(3) Progressive dispensationalism, which is being promoted by Craig Blaising, Darrell Bock, Robert Saucey, and others. It is called “progressive” because it no longer sees the seven dispensations as discrete, impermeable units of time. Rather dispensations are gradually unfolding, progressing stages of historical development. That is, older forms of dispensationalism kept each dispensation separate as self-contained, never-merged units, whereas “progressive” dispensationalism sees the seeds of the next dispensation already forming in the preceding one and anticipating the changes to come. Progressives are under vigorous attack by the Revised dispensationalists who have published numerous articles, chapters, and books raising the alarm about the radical changes the progressives are effecting.

But now: Why do I believe dispensationalism is committing suicide? In the first place I should note that dispensationalism has suffered a “brain drain.” And as is so often the case, living without a brain is difficult — if not downright tedious. The leaders of the older form of dispensationalism are now populist, sensationalist, televangelist types such as Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, and the other guys whose books crowd the shelves of Christian bookstores with excited alarms of the approaching end. But the progressive dispensationalists are producing many academic studies — even outside the field of eschatology. They are showing themselves to be noteworthy and impressive scholars.

This leads me to my second point, which is really my main point: Progressive dispensationalists are not only moving dispensationalism in a more covenantal direction, but are establishing principles that wreck the dispensational system. By way of illustration I will give a brief review of a remarkable article in the latest Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (September 2010, pp. 561-578): “When Prophecy Appears to Fail, Check Your Hermeneutic.” Dr. Chisholm is chair and professor of Old Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. I even went to seminary with him at Grace Theological Seminary — when I was a dispensationalist. You really need to order this article through your local public library’s inter-library loan department. You will thank me for this tidbit.

Jerry Johnson and I are currently working on the script for Late Great Planet Church, volume 2. This article came at just the right time since we will be exposing some of the key errors in dispensationalism (particularly their naive hermeneutic and their love affair with Israel).
In this blog I will not provide a full review of “When Prophecy Fails.” I will simply highlight a few of its key observations which will provide forensic evidence proving suicide. This evidence will show how this dispensationalist is driving a stake through dispensationalism’s heart.

Before I even do that, though, you must bear in mind the following theological truth: Israel is the center of the dispensationalist eschatological system. In fact, an exalted future for Israel in the millennium is the main reason progressive dispensationalists are still dispensationalists. They see a future for Israel restored to the land and offering sacrifices, which makes them differ from historic premillennialists (though they differ from the more popular dispensationalists by not publishing full-color wall charts or playing “Name the Antichrist” or “Guess the Latest Date for the Rapture” games).

Now for the overview (I simply must get back to working on the Late Great Planet Church script; so I will have to be brief.) Note that parenthetical page references are to the JETS article by Chisholm.

Article Overview

Dr. Chisolm begins his article by pointing out something that most Christians do not realize: “A close analysis of OT prophecy reveals that many prophecies were not fulfilled either in part or in whole” (p. 561). He quickly dismisses “two extremes” in responding to this problem: (1) The liberal view which denies supernatural revelatory prophecy. (2) The popular evangelical view which assigns all such unfulfilled prophecy to the final days of history, the eschaton.

Chisholm then makes the following observation which is a two-pronged stake in the heart of dispensationalism: “Prophecy can appear to ‘fail’ if we approach it with a faulty hermeneutic that treats it as inherently unconditional and demands precise fulfillment of any and all details” (p. 561). The two deadly prongs here are: (1) This undermines revised dispensationalism’s second sine qua non: interpretive literalism. (2) This also destroys dispensationalism’s first sine qua non regarding Israel. That is, it removes one of dispensationalism’s strongest arguments for a future for Israel in returning to the land to rule the world and kill sheep: If prophecy is conditional (not “unconditional”) and if it does not demand “precise fulfillment of any and all details” then Israel’s future may not be what dispensationalists depend on it being.

Wow! In one statement Chisholm has driven the stake in the heart of dispensationalism. And he has done so by using a ten ton vibratory pile hammer operating by an intricate system of counter-rotating eccentric weights, powered by hydraulic motors which reduce horizontal vibrations so that its full power may be transmitted vertically into the pile. Well done!

The article shows that prophecy is dynamic, intending either to change or encourage the hearers rather than simply to record the future in advance. Chisholm notes that prophecy “announces God’s intentions conditionally and is intended to motivate a positive response” so that “the prophecy’s predictive element is designed to prevent (in the case of judgment announcement) or facilitate (in the case of a salvation announcement) its fulfillment” (p. 563). That is, prophecy has a hortatory dimension, which means that it seeks to encourage good behavior by promising (conditionally!) blessings in the future or to warn against bad behavior by threatening judgment.
In a section titled “The Contingent Nature of Prophetic Language” Chisholm proves his point by several lines of evidence from the Old Testament.

His first point presents Jeremiah 18 as the key illustration of the matter. He demonstrates that the potter (God) improvises his plan for the clay (Israel) which shows that he can change his (apparent) plan for her. Citing Richard L. Pratt (author of another excellent article in this regard): “The universal perspective of Jer 18:1-12 strongly suggests that all unqualified predictions were subject to implicit conditions” (p. 564). The classic illustration of the implied condition in prophecy is Jonah’s prophecy threatening that Nineveh will be destroyed in forty days (Jon 3:4). Though no conditions were mentioned, the prophecy did not come to pass. Because the implied condition allowed for repentance to remove the judgment threat.

Secondly, Chisholm argues that Micah 3:12 is “the clearest example of God’s relenting from a conditional announcement of judgment” (p. 566). There Micah announces that Zion will be destroyed (Mic 3:1-11). Hezekiah understood this prophecy as threatening imminent doom (Jer 26:18-19). But in Jeremiah 26:17-19 Hezekiah repents, which leads the Lord to withdraw the threat. Micah’s prophecy does not come to pass.

Third, in 2 Kings 22:15-20 Huldah prophesies that Josiah would die in peace and not witness Jerusalem’s destruction. But in 2 Kings 23:29-30 Josiah is killed in battle — hardly an example of dying in peace!

Chisholm provides several other clear evidences of prophecy functioning as a goad to either repentance from sin or continuance in righteousness. This is prophecy’s main point: to either dynamically alter or effectively reinforce a people’s moral/spiritual condition, not to foretell the future for political pundits.

Dispensationalism’s Ultimate Death

I believe Chisholm is correct in his view of the conditional nature and dynamic purpose of prophecy. And if he is correct, dispensationalism is no longer theologically viable.
On Chisholm’s principles we can argue that the future of Israel is not necessarily to involve a return to the land to rule the world and re-establish the temple sacrificial system. The dynamic purpose of Old Testament prophecies of Israel’s future glory were intended to encourage faithfulness. But Israel rejected all of her prophets and then when God finally sent his Son, they said: “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and seize his inheritance” (Matt 21:38). As a result, God gave them a final forty years after Christ to repent and turn to him.

Tragically, Israel did not repent and her temple was destroyed in AD 70. As a result, Israel’s prophetic hope of future world-dominion will not be fulfilled in the literal terms of the Old Testament hope. We should not be surprised at this for Jesus himself taught:

“I say to you, that many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 811-12).

“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it.” (Matt 21:43).