Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Another Dispensationalist Recognizes the Literalism Error

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

The average dispensationalists that you see on the streets holding signs that the end is near invariably defend their doomsday expectations on the basis of an alleged literalistic interpretation of Scripture. The next volume of’s DVD expose, The Late Great Planet Church (vol. 2), will explode this error (not literally, mind you: we will not use any pyrotechnic devices). But for now this blog will once again show the ground-shifting going on among intellectual dispensationalists (this should not be unexpected since dispensationalist are always excited about earthquakes, tsunamis, and such).

Dispensationalism is effectively suffering a brain-drain. Indeed, the book I will briefly report on in this blog is the theological equivalent of Draino. The book will help unclog the flimsy literalism system — if any best-selling dispensational author will read it (and I mean “it” literally: none of this simply reading the cover of the book, but the book itself).

The author of the book I will be dealing with, is Dr. D. Brent Sandy. He is Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana. (I attended its seminary, Grace Theological Seminary, for two years while I was still a dispensationalist. In fact, it was while I was a student at GTS that I raptured out of the system. Thus, for me Winona Lake ironically became Ground Zero in the collapse of my dispensationalism.) He has written an excellent book on hermeneutics titled: Plowshares & Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic (2002).

Be aware, I will not be reviewing this book. Also, please understand that I do not agree with every point Dr. Sandy makes. I will basically just cite some of his statements that undermine the dispensational hermeneutical system. His work is another of those academic books that demonstrate that dispensationalism is collapsing from within. I highly recommend your reading it, especially if you feel a sense of call to do mission work among the dispensationalists.

If you enjoy watching a theological system such as dispensationalism implode, you may want to pop some popcorn and read this nail-biter book. (I confess that I don’t normally recommend eating popcorn while reading such a page-turning thriller, but I will break that practice. My reason for not encouraging such generally is that I like popcorn so much that I try to discourage others from eating it so the world supply of popcorn will not be too greatly diminished. But since you are reading about pop-theology, popcorn seems quite appropriate.)

As you read the citations below keep in mind dispensationalism’s (alleged) sine qua non. One of the two leading sine qua non is: “Dispensationalists claim that their principle of hermeneutics is that of literal interpretation . . . . The dispensationalist claims to use the normal principle of interpretation consistently in all his study of the Bible” (Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism [Chicago: Moody, 1995], 80). Not so anymore! Consider the following statements by this leading dispensational scholar.

On p. 45 Dr. Sandy asks a question regarding prophecy: “conditional or unconditional?” This of course is a key issue in demanding a future Davidic kingdom complete with a rebuilt temple and renewed sacrificial system. But Sandy states: “Can prophecies be conditional? Can prophecies be given in hyperbole? Unfortunately it is not always clear even in retrospect what parts of the covenant were unconditional, what parts conditional or what parts hyperbolic” (p. 47). So much for the plain, simple method of interpretation! I can hear the populist dispensationalists screaming “blasphemy!” while stopping up their ears and running from the bookstore.

In the conclusion to his chapter titled “What Makes Prophecy Problematic?” Sandy writes: “What makes prophecy problematic? To understand the prophetic word correctly, we must recognize that the language of prophecy may be poetic, emotive, conditional, hyperbolic, figurative, surreal, oral and uncertain about fulfillment” (p. 56). Whoa! This is not your grandmother’s dispensationalism (neither is it my grandmother’s dispensationalism — but I don’t suspect you are interested in what Mama Lanham believed, so I will forgo further discussion).

Notice that Sandy did not say: “What makes prophecy problematic? Nothing!” Nor did he say: “What makes prophecy problematic? To understand the prophetic word correctly, we must recognize that the language of prophecy may be poetic, emotive, conditional, hyperbolic, figurative, surreal, oral and uncertain about fulfillment — except where literal, which is most of the time.” Bravo!

On p. 64 he warns: “The point is, if we force all forms of language to play by one set of rules, we will be hopelessly confused.” Excellent!

Over and over again he expresses doubts about “face value” prophecy, which is a pet phrase found frequently in Ryrie and so many other dispensationalists. For instance, on p. 57 he cites several prophecies then asks:

“Do we take this language at face value? Will God really bring about each of these kinds of judgment and blessing? Will wild animals from all over the earth gorge themselves on sinners? Will rivers of milk flow through the countryside? Those things are certainly possible with an all-powerful God. But it is equally possible that such statements were not intended to be taken at face value.”

No saving face for this dispensationalist!

In several places in his book, Sandy refers to the word “forever” (e.g., 42, 98, 101, 222). This is significant for any “face value” approach to interpretation. And it is absolutely destructive of the dispensationalist linchpin argument that the Abrahamic Covenant promises Israel the Land “forever,” therefore requiring a future fulfillment in the Millennium (which itself is not forever!). Sandy lists the following verses stating this prophetic hope for Israel: Gen 13:15; Exo 32:13; 1 Kings 9:5. But then he has the nerve to list a good number of verses where “forever” obviously does not “designate perpetuity in the present world” with a “notion of its being without end” (p. 99).

Sandy even has the audacity to ask on pp. 98-99 regarding 2 Sam 7:9—11, 16 and Jer 33:17–18:

“But in what sense has David’s throne endured forever? In what sense have sacrifices been offered forever. There have been major interruptions: the destructions of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, by the Seleucids and by the Romans. It is certainly a curious way to think of forever if it only means part of the time.”

He argues and proves that “Forever may designate perpetuity only within earthly existence, it may be hyperbolic, and it may designate surely in the sense of intensification” (p. 101).

Dr. Sandy, though a dispensationalist teaching at a leading dispensational college, is not far from the kingdom!

P.S. If you can read this sentence you have excellent eyesight. If not, never mind.