Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Defending Christianity?

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

The header to our blogsite is: AgainstDispensationalism.com: 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 NiceneCouncil.com (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 NiceneCouncil.com. We also post a number of focused articles critiquing dispensationalism at NiceneCouncil.com. 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.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I beg to differ. Dispensationalism IS non-Christian, and I think the content of your writings admit as much. That doesn't mean Christians who hold dispensational beliefs aren't genuine. It means they hold a non-Christian belief that doesn't bear fruit, and, like you say, embarrasses the body of Christ. A dead limb isn't really part of a tree, even though it might look that way for a while. Growing into the fullness is the process of shedding these dead limbs.

Rick Warden said...

Part 1:

Dear Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director NiceneCouncil.com,

Your blog's main purpose, as stated, is “Defending the integrity of Christianity against one of its most embarrassing advocates, dispensationalism….a seriously defective, misguided, embarrassing, and naive form.”

When I connect your main purpose with the two men in the armored suits in your logotype, this seems to imply you are a Crusader for reformed truth ready to hack into dispensationalists.

Perhaps you have lumped all dispensationaists into one category you have defined as heretical, I don't know, but I personally believe the tenets of the Apostles Creed and that salvation is by grace and faith, based upon the work of Jesus Christ, so you may find it difficult to justify your attitude.

Can offer a biblical justification for attitude of hostility? I would be interested to see it.

In John 17.20-21 Jesus prays for love and unity among believers as a witness towards nonbelievers. I wonder what kind of witness your blog gives off to unbelievers and, more importantly, I wonder what impression Jesus has of it.

Your main contention against dispensationalism seems to be that many people have incorrectly predicted the rise of an Antichrist figure and the date of the rapture, which you find embarrassing. However, does this logically prove that a final successful Antichrist, as described in Revelation and Daniel, will not still appear? Do false predictions of a rapture date mean it won't happen?

Your main points rely not on biblical exegesis and truth but rather on unsound logic.

Rick Warden said...

Part 2

You have given me an invitation to buy books at your website but haven't given me a reason or desire to read your books, only a rude and condescending attitude.

If you believe your blog represents truth, love, humility and the essentials of Christian integrity, I find that most fascinating.

I did, however, find a website with a clear and simple outline of dispensationalism, as supported biblically, which anyone interested in reading may consider checking out for free:

http://www.endtimes.org/dispens.html

For truth and love,

Rick

MDB said...

A question concerning the death of dispensationalism, and that of there being no distinction between Israel and the Church. Why did Paul write Romans 11 in its form? Why does he not say: What shall we say then, hath God cast away his people? May it not be, for I also am a Christian after the spiritual seed of Abraham.? What question could there be of God casting away His people which He foreknew? And, again, (vs. 28) who, as touching the election are beloved for the fathers' sakes? and why? Paul says who, none other than they who as concerning the Gospel are enemies for your sakes. And why, for the gifts and calling of God are without repentence.

Thank you for the space.
Sincerely, Michael Brown.

Anonymous said...

Michael Brown,
Paul said that there is no difference between Judean and Greek in Christ (Romans 10:12), yet you insist that God does make such distinctions. Who is the false witness?

Paul took great pains (excessively so) in Romans 9-11 to make the point that only a chosen remnant of natural Israel would be saved. And that is all that he really says in those chapters. Yet you seem to want to extropolate from them the conclusion that God makes a special distinction between Abraham's physical children and otherwise. That's absolutely contrary to what he's saying. He's merely saying that the reason all of them weren't rejected is because of his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God may regard a son of Abraham when he saves him, but makes no such distinction afterwards when he is baptized into the body of Christ because the old life is dead, all becomes Christ. All are children of Abraham. Why is your hearing so dull? Making this distinction is a work of the flesh, not the spirit. Be forewarned: all such works will bear no fruit, and will be rejected at the judgment.

D Crawford said...

Part 1:

Rick Warden,
I appreciate your concerns regarding the tone and attitude of the blog as well as the unity of believers. When I first stumbled upon this site, though I agreed with it theologically, I did find it to be highly sarcastic and even rude at times, and I noted my concerns in the comments. Eventually I had to accept that the purpose of the blog (so it seemed to me) wasn't to inform and persuade dispensationalists, but rather as a place for those who were disillusioned or frustrated by dispensationalism/ists to have a laugh and blow off some steam. Now, you have raised several issues here. First, there is the question of the appropriateness of engaging in this kind of satire toward fellow believers; second, the issue of unity; and third the theological issues regarding dispensationalism. These are all valid questions which deserve serious thought and careful responses. However, there just isn't the space here in the comment section to give any of these the full treatment they deserve. Perhaps I need my own blog. ;)

Regarding the first question, does humor have a place in these discussions? Certainly God approves of laughter...but at the expense of fellow believers? This question is worthy of contemplation, but it is complex and I can offer no simple answer here. I am sympathetic to your concern.

Unity is also a tricky thing. Should we be unified? Absolutely. But what are the limits? I'm sure that there are plenty of leaders and movements out there that operate under the banner of "Christianity" that you, Rick, would desire to distance yourself from. Just because someone self-applies the term "Christian" doesn't automatically make them doctrinally sound, and unity cannot come at the expense of truth. The reason there cannot be a simple unity between dispensationalists and non-dispensationalists is that it is bad theology based upon bad bible interpretation and a seriously flawed hermeneutic. Many have even gone so far as to call it heresy, and I don't disagree. And this is not a new phenomena - even Spurgeon, who was a contemporary of Darby, called their views "unscriptural and pernicious," and "dangerous heresies."

D Crawford said...

Part 2:

This brings us to the third issue, and this is the main issue that ultimately must be addressed. Is dispensationalism a legitimate view or is it unscriptural? Again, one cannot have detailed theological discussions in the comment section here. But one of my personal frustrations with the dispensationalist writers is their repeated and willful misrepresentation of the facts and of their opponents. For instance, they often tar all non-dispensationalists as being liberals who reject the infallibility of the scriptures and who hold to replacement theology. Both of these accusations are largely false. I mention this tendency, because I checked out the link you provided and one of the first thing that I noticed was factual distortion. The website you provided, for instance, lists Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Augustine as being part of the history of Dispensationalism. This is nonsense. The linchpin of dispensationalism is that Israel and the church absolutely separate, yet Martyr referred to Christians as the "true spiritual Israel." Similarly, though Irenaeus was a chiliast, he was not anticipating a Jewish kingdom, but understood the Church as Israel. Finally, Augustine understood the thousand years in Revelation not to refer to a literal, future Jewish kingdom, but to be a figurative representation of the Church age. To claim continuity between these figures and dispensationalism is simply dishonest. Then, under the heading "dispensationalist writers" they list Johnathan Edwards and Isaac Watts. Once again, this is nonsense. These men did acknowledge dispensations (ages or distinct periods of time), but this is far different from embracing the system of theology known as Dispensationalism. Nearly all Christians regardless of their thelogical stripes believe in dispensations. It is easy to see that the world was different before the fall than it was after, or different before Christ came than after. This does not make one a dispensationalist. In fact, if one even gives a cursory glance at the works written by Edwards and Watts it quickly becomes obvious that both of these men were not Dispensationalists, and Edwards was in clearly Covenantalist in his theology. All that is just to say, please seek out some better sources. If you must pursue dispensationalist theology that's fine, read Chafer, Pentecost, Ryrie, Walvrood, etc. But do yourself a favor and also check out "Prophecy and the Church" by Oswald T. Allis, or "The Bible and the Future" by Anthony Hoekema. It becomes quickly clear that Dispensationalism is contrary to scripture and a danger to the church.

Anonymous said...

See Joe Ortiz's "End Times Passover" blog (Dec. 14). WARNING: Bible prophecy fans may experience a 4-alarm earthquake when reading "Pretrib Rapture & Demons" !

[preceding snippet spotted on the amazing web - Declan]

Anonymous said...

Your account and depiction of disensationalism seems to be very misguided and void of anything meaningful as to validating your claims. You mention the failure of various writers on the topic. Yet if you truly knew what dipensationalism was outside of man derived concepts you may be inclined to think otherwise. I don't see the works in your list from such writers as Darby or Macintosh. I challenge you and any of your readers to read Macintosh's "The Second Coming". By the way your arrogance does carry with it an unchristian satanic stench of sorts. The pride of life is not a healthy Christian example.

You refer to dispensationalism as humiliating. Let me correct you. It is humbling. Yes humbling to know that man has failed miserably to meet God's standard for righteousness. He never has and never will on his own. That work was accomplish on the cross when Jesus spoke: "It is finished" and then gave up the ghost. Man failed all along the way. Even when he sent his Holy Spirit to indwell him man has failed. Just study the history of the Church (the Body of Christ). It has failed. Stop giving any glory to man. It all belongs to Christ. And that is what dispensationalism teaches us. In fact dispensationalism really helps give us a true picture of who the Christ is as both man and as Lord in the Glory.
By the way you may want to go and ask for your money back from whatever seminary you went to and ask for your money back. They have only decieved you. And while you are at it stop being such a biblical hack. Its annoying.

Rick Warden said...

Part 1

Dear D. Crawford,

From a brief investigation, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus believed in four phases of spiritual human history.

http://www.biblebelievers.com/BlueDISP.html

Bible scholar Larry V. Crutchfield of Germany has outlined "Some Fathers set forth only four such dispensations, others came very close to making nearly the same divisions modern dispensationalists do.”

The Catholic church also recognizes this “It is true that some of the early Church Fathers before the fourth century believed in an earthly, millennial reign of Christ.”

While Israel is one aspect of dispensationalism, the millennium and the idea of progressive revelation are also important issues.

http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2006/colson_eschatology_jun06.asp

Rick Warden said...

Part 2

In terms of Augustine, he had a reputation for interpreting the scriptures as they are, wherever they may lead. Though not considered a dispensationalist, his tendency towards literal interpretation coincides with the methodology of dispensationalism.

Crawford, you seem to place all of your trust in the opinions of other scholars. For someone who tends to discredit the literal exposition of scripture, I can see why you would have this tendency.

Personally, I aim for an objective interpretation of scripture which is most closely aligned with the specific wording of text and the context of the entire Bible.

You wrote “The linchpin of dispensationalism is that Israel and the church absolutely separate.”

- Here you have oversimplified what the Bible actually teaches. They are not “absolutely separate.”

You should consider meditating on the olive tree metaphor Paul was inspired to write about (Romans 11). It will help you to understand the branches of a tree are not separate entities, they are joined at the trunk and have the same roots.

“Since Israel is referred to as branches, as well as the Church, it stands to reason that neither group is the “whole tree,” so to speak; rather, the whole tree represents God’s workings with mankind as a whole.”

http://www.gotquestions.org/Israel-church.html

You wrote “If you must pursue dispensationalist theology that's fine...”

- I don't pursue theology, I pursue Jesus Christ and the most straightforward interpretation of scripture, unless I have a good reason to doubt what I read.

Speaking of humor, don't you find it the least bit ironic that people call the literal interpretation of scripture “heretical” “unbiblical” and “contrary to scripture?”

David said...

Rick Warden,

Many of the things you are arguing for are not distinct to dispensationalism. I know it is counter-intuitive, but dispensations are are not unique to dispensationalism. As I pointed out in my previous post, whether one believes in dispensations does not make one a dispensationalist, thus the phases of spiritual history noted by the church fathers is rather meaningless to this discussion. Vern Poythress, a covenentalist writer, stated that "people who are nondispensationalists might well accept that these were seven distinct ages, and might even say that the labels were appropriate for singling out a prominent feature of God’s dealings with human beings during each age.” This alone does not a dispensationalist make.

You mention that Augustine "had a reputation for interpreting the scriptures as they are, wherever they may lead." I do this as well. You state that you "aim for an objective interpretation of scripture which is most closely aligned with the specific wording of text and the context of the entire Bible." I do this as well. Most people are not out to actively promote a false view of the scriptures. All God loving, Christ believing, men and women are striving to be faithful to the scriptures. And while dispensationalists claim to use a hermeneutic of literalness, they apply that principle inconsistently, abandoning it whenever it is convenient for them to do so. Furthermore, a proper literal interpretation must make its aim to discover the intended meaning of the author. To give a non-religious example, one can ask who is more literal: someone who sees Animal Farm simply as a book about some animals on a farm, or the one who recognizes the full weight of what the author had intended to communicate, identifying that the animals were a means by which he demonstrated the horrors of totalitarian rule. Now, to be clear, I don't believe that any biblical books are allegorical as Animal Farm was. The point is that just looking at the meaning of individual words is a rather shallow view of what takes place while reading/understanding a text. I'm all for literalism so long as it properly takes into account genre, historical situation, authorial intent, etc. As we read the question shouldn't be "what does this mean according to my understanding of these words," but, "what was Paul [or Matthew, or whoever] intending his readers to understand." These are very different questions.

You state that, "while Israel is one aspect of dispensationalism, the millennium and the idea of progressive revelation are also important issues." Again, one may believe in a literal millenium without being a dispensationalist. In fact, the millenial views of all those prior to Darby were radically different than the current dispensational view of the millenium. Also, there are many non-dispensationalists (covenentalist, Reformed, etc.) who are deeply interested in the progressive revelation of scripture. Vos and Kline are two prime examples.

In short none of those things are unique to dispensationalism nor do they make one a dispensationalist. However, Ryrie, a prominent dispensational scholar, states that the seperation of Israel and the Church is the sine qua non of Dispensationalist. If this idea is shown to be false the whole system falls apart. He states, “the dispensationalist believes that throughout the ages God is pursuing two distinct purposes: one related to the earth with earthly people and earthly objectives involved which is Judaism; while the other is related to heaven with heavenly objectives involved, which is Christianity." Also, he states that this distinction is "probably the most basic theological test of whether or not a person is a dispensationalist, and it is undoubtedly the most practical and conclusive." Thus, for him anyway, this is the litmus test as to whether or not one is truly dispensationalist.

Len said...

To Anonymous:

You stated: "Just study the history of the Church (the Body of Christ). It has failed."

In making that statement, you are saying that Christ has failed. He clearly declared that He would build His Church and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. If the Church is unsuccessful, then Christ is unsuccessful and impotent to overcome the world's and satan's opposition - He has lied.

Anonymous said...

Dispensationalism's fundamental hermeneutic principle is based on the false dichotomy of literal vs. spiritual. False dichotomies can only produce logical fallacies. The reason for being a false dichotomy is because the term "literal" doesn't intrinsically mean physical, or natural; it means true, or real. It can mean natural, but it can also mean spiritual. The distinction, as with all scripture, is spiritually discerned.

The whole dispensational argument is built on the equivocation of this word. The appeal is made to interpret scriptural literally, or truly, an urging that resonates with any truth-seeking heart; then the reasoning is subtley shifted to imply that literal means natural. Those not savvy enough to recognize the shift, become hooked into thinking that the literal interpretation is the natural one. Dispensationalists call for the consistent application of a hermeneutic principle of literal interpretation. Consistently applying this principle then, do they really think that Jesus wants them to drink his blood?

I would love for dispensationalists to stop the equivocation and declare honestly that they (at least partially) promote a natural interpretation of scripture. But that won't happen because it would expose the logical fallacy for what it is.

Anonymous said...

Rick Warden,
You mentioned the literal interpretation of scripture several times in your comments above.

Would you be so kind to define exactly what you mean when you use the term "literal"?

Toyin O. said...

Very interesting, thanks for sharing.

Leanna said...

I have just recently had my eyes opened to how dispensationalism destroys the integrity of Christ and the scriptures.

An in depth study of the Book of Hebrews brought me to the realization that what I believed (dispensationalism)is anathema to the sacrifice of Christ, the writings of the Apostles, and the inspiration of scriptures.

The idea that there will be another sacrificial system set up in the Millennium is now repugnant to me as I understand and heed the warning of ( KJV) Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?

Since then I have read Russell's "Parousia" and everything I can get my hands on about the 2nd coming being fulfilled at the 70AD judgment of Israel. There is no need for me anymore to try to manipulate scripture to fit my perceived hermeneutics for it all now fits smoothly like a hand in a glove.

My prayer is that others will see how dispensationalism dishonors Christ, the Apostles, and the inspiration of truth in the scriptures.

Vance said...

Ken: You haven't posted anything in quite a while. Can we expect something soon?

slee8@cableone.net said...

Dispensationalists may be Christians, but dispensationalism is not Biblical, which makes it heresy and a delusion of Satan.

I'm not prejudiced. Some of my best friends are dispensationalists. Ha-ha.

But I won't let this delusion control me any longer.