Thursday, April 5, 2012

Misrepresenting Dispensationalism

A few days ago I read where one individual lumped dispensationalists in the same bucket as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and rabbinical Pharisees who didn’t understand the prophets. He was convinced that the push for the restoration of Israel was a “diabolical” and “political Zionist agenda” which will give rise to the Antichrist and the falling away of many Christians etc.

This low view of dispensationalism isn’t isolated. In another forum I made the mistake of disagreeing with an Amillennialist’s conclusions that God was finished with Israel as a nation; that the resurrection in Rev 20:4 was spiritual and that Satan was currently bound. I was promptly informed that I was “clueless” and needed prayer for my salvation.

What drives these attitudes?

There was a discussion over at Dr Reluctant’s that touched upon how dispensationalism is sometimes misrepresented. The names Ferguson, Sproul and Gerstner came up. I’ve noticed that Gerstner’s “Wrongly Dividing” (which I haven’t read) is cited freely by a smattering of authors and assumed to be thorough scholarship. One of the contributors to Paul’s discussion noted several flaws to Gerstner’s work, and he’s right.

There have been several responses to Gerstner (and others) by dispies. In particular, I’d encourage people to read John Witmer’s review of his book HERE and HERE. Note that you need a subscription with Galaxie but it is a worthwhile investment.

In some cases I suspect that passion to defend a particular understanding of the “truth” has over-ridden objectivity. This is where an author will deliberately refer to non-representative fringe and sensationalist cases against another system. One stark example of this is where Reverend Barbara Rossing (The Rapture Exposed) thanked her friends for sending her newspaper stories that presumably helped her research against the “Left Behind” genre. The almost obligatory mine-quoting of John Hagee, as if he was the dispensational model, is another one. And, of course, there’s the indiscriminate repetition of the Darby-MacDonald myth.

Rossing’s biblical scholarship is appalling – especially her interpretation of the book of Revelation. Yet she’s considered by some to be an authority against dispensationalism. At one point she refers to Christ as “Lambkin” and claims that the fundamentalists have misrepresented Him and misinterpreted the book of Revelation. Yet she simply ignores verses that portray God as being wrathful against the earth dwellers. You can read an expos√© of Rossing’s book by Dr Kevin Zuber HERE.

In her book, Rossing included Dr Robert Gundry’s input on Thessalonians and John 14 to counter pretribulationism. It lent her academic credibility and her book is still considered “authoritative” by contra-dispies. Yet many of her readers wouldn’t be aware that Gundry’s anti-pretribulational contentions have been challenged. Ironically, Gundry – a premil, posttrib “dispensationalist” - would have disagreed with Rossing’s ultra-liberal approach to Revelation. One wonders whether he was aware of the full thrust of that book when permission was granted for his contributions to be published there. The scope of Rev. Rossing’s work went far beyond disputing the pretribulational rapture.

Often polemicists will feed off each other. Someone quotes Gerstner because it confirms their position, influencing someone else to adopt that same quote of Gerstner's, who got it wrong to begin with. They’ll frequently use whatever secondary sources suit their view without fact-checking. A critic will claim to have been formerly involved in the dispensational system, yet misrepresents it. Examples of this are some of David B Currie’s comments in his “Rapture” book and some of the ex-dispie critics who formulated the 95 Theses Contra Dispensationalism. All this leads someone with an existing inclination against dispensationalism to feel justified in trusting whatever is offered up by the polemicist.

Even within the premil camp it’s common to read that “dispensationalism has too many contradictions” or “there’s too sharp a distinction between Israel and the church” although the reasons are seldom clearly articulated. Perhaps this blurring between the church and Israel is rapure-timing driven. I note that at the moment this event occurs, that distinction suddenly sharpens for all views.

Earlier, I asked what drives these attitudes. I don’t think it is always just a biblical disagreement with dispensationalism. I think there are some extra-biblical reasons that I can only guess at. But even in some cases where legitimate biblical differences are present, I think that that disagreement is driven by personal presupposition.


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Anonymous said...

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mac said...

Hi there. Thanks for dropping by.

Truth is that I haven’t figured it all out and probably never will. For me it’s more of a learning process since I began this blog. The thoughts of Paul Henebury (Dr Reluctant, Robert Thomas and Richard Mayhue of The Masters Seminary, Mike Vlach, Tony Garland at Spirit and Truth etc have helped me (see my links). I make it a point to read the “opposition” and measure it all against Scripture. It takes a lot of time.

I mentioned Ferguson, Sproul and Gerstner. Sproul wrote a glowing forward to Gerstner’s book “Wrongly Dividing” – a book that has been shown to be faulty. During a discussion between Ferguson and Sproul, the latter went on the attack against disp by calling it “goofy”. In fact, he relished recounting the story where he first said that at Dallas Seminary. I listened to part of that conversation and came away with the feeling that these guys were simply condescending but worse than that, they were dead wrong about dispensationalism. You can hear a portion of that talk and responses by Andy Woods and Chris Cone a little past the half way mark in the following link: