Some Mud That Sticks: A Little Insider Criticism of the Face of Dispensationalism

It is well to note that the following charges against dispensationalism are not theological and exegetical in nature, but are more psychological and sociological.  Here is my opinion:

a. Pragmatism

It is our opinion that dispensationalism can be (and ought to be) wedded to a full-orbed systematic world and life view, but only if it begins to take itself more seriously and starts the painful process of self-examination.[1] In order to do this it must divest itself of the pragmatic outlook that it often clings to, and which spoils its thinking and stunts its theological development.  For present purposes we have in mind the following helpful definition of Pragmatism: “Pragmatism as a theory of knowledge says that a person is warranted in believing any proposition or theory that produces good results.”[2]

The lure of pragmatism is its emphasis upon short-term goal setting and tangible “success.”  This vision is what drives American society[3], and Christian institutions and publishing houses have, by and large, fallen for it “hook, line and sinker.”  It is our conviction that most if not all of the observations that follow stem from the influence of a pragmatic mindset.  Comments like “will it sell?” betray this wrong-headed attitude.  The real question is “is this important?,” “is it right?”  It ought to be borne in mind that many of the books cited in important theological works are not big sellers.  But it is superficial thinking to equate large sales numbers with influence.

b. An Undue Focus on End Times[4]

Because dispensationalists are often concerned with matters such as the Rapture, the Tribulation, and the Antichrist, the accusation is that they attract a certain kind of crowd; one that is drawn to speculation and away from more pressing Christian concerns like, for example, the Person of Christ, or the impact of a creational outlook on Christian living.  This is undoubtedly true as a limited proposition.  But it is no more true than the fact that many of a sacramentalist disposition are drawn to episcopacy or that many of high brow inclination are attracted by Presbyterianism.  Still, dispensationalist theologians must be careful not to scratch the speculators where they’re itching for fear of working against the broader work of the Holy Spirit in conforming people to Christ.  There has always been and will always be a subset of futurists who can speak nothing of the Bible unless it is about the End Times.[5] But this party is not the clientele of the movement.  At least it should not be!  If we have fully explicated the eschaton but have failed to explain it in relation to the Doctrine of God and His Plan.  Too often we have not been faithful in presenting “the whole counsel of God.”[6] Dispensationalism as a movement has clearly made important contributions to the study of eschatology, but if these contributions are thought of by dispensationalists themselves as defining the movement, it is inevitable that it cannot survive as a vibrant theology in its own right.

c. Populism

There is no doubt that success brings with it tremendous temptation, some of it is quite subtle, but at other times the bait is taken because of wrong thinking.  Hal Lindsey’s books have sold by the tens of millions.  They teach a garbled mixture of pretribulationism and historicism.  They also espouse rank Arminianism to boot.

The main reason for the trumpeting by dispensationalists of Lindsey and his work is that, from the point of view of sales, and, therefore, the promotion of a brand of futurist eschatology, it was successful.[7] It is often said that many people have been brought to Christ through reading these books (a very hard claim to substantiate).  It is also said that many believers have been brought to a premillennial understanding of Scripture through these works.[8] But that is pragmatism pure and simple!  Truth ought never to be assessed according to the end product it is adjudged to produce.  Demand does not equal value.  If the two are connected then it is the audience – fitful and changeable at best, who will control the Truth.  When that happens, Truth must suffer as a consequence.  This is what has assuredly occurred within much of the dispensational movement.  As proof of this one only needs to look at the Left Behind series of fiction books.  These titles, with no pretence at being good literary productions, being speculative and containing some poor theology, have been touted by many in the Dispensational camp as a great boon to the movement.  It seems never to have crossed the minds of these supporters that there is an obvious connection between the lamentable state of contemporary evangelicalism, with its love of unbiblical Church growth strategies, rampant individualism, and disdain for theological discussion and Bible reading, and the “Left Behind” craze.  The question, “Why, in the midst of this evangelical apostasy, were the books so successful?” appears never to have been broached.  A glib (and woefully inadequate) response would be that God is using the series to awaken sinners.[9] But where is the evidence of such a work of God in the churches?  Are the assemblies swarming with eager new converts, hungry for Bible teaching?  No!  The Bible-teaching churches are struggling, and the outlook is gloomy.[10] Could there be another reason then?  Surely!  Might it not be the very same reason why The Prayer of Jabez or The Purpose-Driven Life, or the ever-increasing volume of “prayer” books by Stormie Omartian are successful?  Or, to cross into the secular realm, might it not be the same reason why Chicken Soup for the Soul and The Da Vinci Code sold by the millions?   They meet the faddishness of consumer demand.[11]

The failure of so many dispensational leaders to see this is symptomatic, not of problems within the system itself – dispensationalism a la Griffith-Thomas or Chafer or McClain could never be characterized this way – but of the effect of American pragmatism upon its modern proponents.  An example of this was the publication of a multi-volume, mid-level series of theological books by dispensational scholars from Dallas Seminary, Talbot, Philadelphia, and other institutions.  The books included contributions by able men like John Witmer, Henry Hollomen, Robert Lightner, John Walvoord, and Earl Radmacher.  Sadly, the volumes were not good sellers.[12] Perhaps one reason for this was the decision to have Charles Swindoll, the popular but academically lightweight preacher, as general editor.  Swindoll (whose soteriology is again Arminian) is known for his slick, catchy, superficial “feel-good” books.  He is not known for his theological rigor.  Presumably, he was brought in to ‘sell’ the books.  But what person with a real interest in theology would want to buy a theology book edited by a non-theologian?  What message does this send about the depth of these works?  More to our point, what made the publishers agree to the ambiguity?  Was it because they were looking more to the supposed target-audience than the God whose truth they claim to be disseminating?  While the idea behind them was commendable, and the quality of some of the volumes was high, the implicit line was that they were lightweight and, therefore, many pastors and theology students looked elsewhere.

d. Sensationalism

Going along with pragmatic populism is sensationalism.  Although the major dispensationalists such as Darby, Scofield, Chafer, McClain, Pentecost, Walvoord and Ryrie were not guilty of irresponsible fortune-telling or regular excursions into the realms of speculation, men like John Hagee, Hal Lindsey and Grant Jeffrey have been.[13] But this is not where the problem ultimately lies.  The issue becomes an unfortunate one for serious dispensationalists through the phenomenon of a lack of distinction between sensationalists and scholars in this tradition.  We need to weigh such charges as the following:

Dispensationalists at the popular level tend to overlook creation as they emphasize [Arminian] salvation …common grace for special grace, the visible present for the invisible future, and the normal and everyday for the dramatic and the apocalyptic.[14]

Despite some understandable protests, a person would not have to do much searching to find dispensational scholars praising the work of the sensationalist authors and hence reinforcing this kind of stereotype.  Nor would a researcher need to look far to find endorsements from sensationalist authors on books written by the scholars.  What is more, they have often written articles for the same book and appeared on the same platforms.  In our opinion this shows that many of its promoters do not see dispensationalism as a holistic theology, only a brand of eschatology.  One cannot castigate non-dispensationalists for treating the Jeffrey’s and Lindsey’s of this world as representative of dispensationalism proper when the publications and conferences of dispensationalists bring these men together.[15]

We do not like much of what is called “progressive dispensationalism,” but two of its main protagonists are surely right when they state that dispensationalists “must protect themselves and their churches from speculations and sensationalism which do not build up the body of Christ, but lead to delusion, resentment, and faithlessness when would-be prophecies under the guise of interpretation fail.”[16]

e. Obscurantism

Another charge is that dispensationalists are obscurantists.  By obscurantism is meant, “the denial of the validity of modern learning.  It is the stock method used by people who feel that modern learning threatens their beliefs.”[17]

Taken in one sense this is actually a badge of honor, if by it one means that we are not enticed by academic respectability for its own sake.  However, if what is intended includes an aversion to treating Theology as scientia and as “the Queen of the Sciences” in the academy, and for improving and developing it in light of contemporary issues, then we should confess that dispensationalists as a group come away with a bloody nose.  There is, of course, a connection between obscurantism and the pragmatic forms of populism.  If one has decided to set ones agenda on the basis of short-term returns, then not only will there be a shying away from matters involving philosophy and modern theological movements, there will be positive ignorance of it, and this will be apparent to those who have labored for any time in these fields.[18] That contemporary ‘normative’ dispensationalists have avoided coming to terms with the intellectual milieu of the West is painfully obvious.  Even more damning, though, is that they have shown little regard for the development and enhancement of dispensational theology, especially at the academic level.  This staticism and lack of enthusiasm for development, to which may be added an embarrassing dearth of scholarly leadership and high caliber, graduate-level books, does not auger well for dispensational theology’s future.  And I may add to this an unhealthy aversion to criticism!

As a result of this “stand-offishness” dispensationalism is seen as something of a religious curio by many evangelical academics.  And as such it is poorly positioned if it is to influence the next generation of promising conservative seminarians.


[1] My personal opinion is that dispensationalists need to focus their attention on the Biblical Covenants and not on the dispensations.  Once this is done the system can be developed from the ground up and formulated into a full worldview.

[2] David K. Clark, To Know and Love God, 158.

[3] Os Guinness, The American Hour: A Time of Reckoning and the Once and Future Role of Faith, (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 358.

[4] Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 119.

[5] Indeed whole ministries have been built on this.

[6] Lewis Sperry Chafer seemed to have been aware of this and his Systematic Theology evinces a concern, not just for eschatology, but for every one of the theological disciplines.  Perhaps most of all for personal consecration.

[7] In fact, phenomenally so.  Lindsey’s book The Late Great Planet Earth was “the best-selling book of any sort published in the United States in the decade of the 1970’s.” – Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 378.

[8] The present writer would include himself among this number.

[9] See e.g., David L. Larsen, The Company of Hope, (Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2004), 529ff.  Notwithstanding, this is a very fine book.

[10] See See Francis A. Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1984); John H. Armstrong, ed., The Compromised Church, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998).

[11] Consumerism is the essence of the postmodern mindset.  See Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Postmodern Times, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 117-120.

[12] Robert Lightner in a personal communication 10/04

[13] This has been documented, for example, by Richard Abanes in his book, End-Time Visions (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1998).  What is so sad is that those who know better have not distanced themselves from these individuals, but have sometimes encouraged them.  This once more shows how prevalent pragmatic thinking has become among dispensationalists.

[14] Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, 67.

[15] See, for example, Kim Riddlebarger, A Case For Amillennialism, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003).

[16] Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism, (Wheaton: BridgePoint, 1993), 294.

[17] Bernard Ramm, After Fundamentalism, 19.  Ramm is quite taken with the word.

[18] Chafer’s works show that he was not philosophically inclined.  Walvoord had training in philosophy but this is not evinced in his books.  Ryrie wrote a fine little evaluation of NeoOrthodoxy. Geisler has a strong background in philosophy, but it is heavily Thomistic in orientation, and affects his whole approach to theology.  Perhaps the finest philosopher-theologian within dispensationalism is Gordon R. Lewis.  See his Testing Christianity’s Truth Claims, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1997).  See also, Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996). 

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18 comments

  1. PRETRIB RAPTURE DISHONESTY

    by Dave MacPherson

    When I began my research in 1970 into the exact beginnings of the pretribulation rapture belief still held by many evangelicals, I assumed that the rapture debate involved only “godly scholars with honest differences.” The paper you are now reading reveals why I gave up that assumption many years ago. With this introduction-of-sorts in mind, let’s take a long look at the pervasive dishonesty throughout the history of the 179-year-old pretrib rapture theory:

    Mid-1820’s – German scholar Max Weremchuk’s work “John Nelson Darby” (1992) included what Benjamin Newton revealed about John Darby in the mid-1820’s during his pre-Brethren days as an Anglican clergyman:
    “J. N. Darby was a very subtle man. He had been a lawyer, or at least educated for the law. Once he wanted his Archbishop to pursue a certain course, when he (J.N.D.) was a curate in his diocese. He wrote a letter, therefore, saying he had been educated for the law, knew what the legal course would properly be; and then having written that clearly, he mystified the remainder of the letter both in word and in handwriting, and ended up by saying: You see, my Lord, such being the legal aspect of the case it would unquestionably be the best course for you to pursue, etc. And the Archbishop couldn’t make out the legal part, but rested on Darby’s word and did as he advised. Darby afterwards laughed over it, and indeed he showed a copy of the letter to Tregelles. This is not mentioned in the Archbishop’s biography, but in it is the fact that he spoke of Darby as ‘the most subtle man in my diocese.’ ”
    This reminds me of an 1834 letter by Darby which spoke of the “Lord’s coming.” Darby added, concerning this coming, that “the thoughts are new” and that during any teaching of it “it would not be well to have it so clear.” Darby’s deviousness here was his usage of a centuries-old term – “Lord’s coming” – to cover up his desire to sneak the new pretrib idea into existing posttrib groups in very low-profile ways!
    1830 – In the spring of 1830 a young Scottish lassie, Margaret Macdonald, came up with the novel notion of a catching up [rapture] of Spirit-filled “church” members before Antichrist’s “trial” [tribulation] of non-Spirit-filled “church” members – the first instance I’ve found of clear “pretrib” teaching (which was part of a partial rapture scheme). In Sep. 1830 “The Morning Watch” (a journal produced by London preacher Edward Irving and his “Irvingite” followers, some of whom had visited Margaret a few weeks earlier) began repeating her original thoughts and even her wording but gave her no credit – the first plagiarism I’ve found in pretrib history. Darby was still defending posttrib in Dec. 1830.
    Pretrib promoters have long known the significance of her main point: a rapture of “church” members BEFORE the revealing of Antichrist. Which is why John Walvoord quoted nothing in her revelation, why Thomas Ice habitually skips over her main point but quotes lines BEFORE and AFTER it, and why Hal Lindsey muddies up her main point so he can (falsely) assert that she was NOT a pretribber! (Google “X-Raying Margaret” for info about her.)
    NOTE: The development of the 1800’s is thoroughly documented in my book “The Rapture Plot.” You’ll learn that Darby wasn’t original on any chief aspect of dispensationalism (but plagiarized the Irvingites); that pretrib was initially based on only OT and NT symbols and not clear Scripture; that the symbols included the Jewish feasts, the two witnesses, and the man child – symbols adopted by Darby during most of his career; that Darby’s later reminiscences exaggerated his earliest pretrib development, and that today’s defenders such as Thomas Ice have further overstated what Darby overstated; that Irvingism didn’t need later reminiscences to “clarify” its own early pretrib development; that ancient hymns and even the writings of the Reformers were subtly revised to make it appear they had taught pretrib; and that after Darby’s death a clever revisionist quietly made many changes in early Irvingite and Brethren documents in order to steal credit for pretrib away from the Irvingites (and their female inspiration!) and give it dishonestly to Darby! (Before continuing, Google the “Powered by Christ Ministries” site and read “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers” – a sample of the current exciting internetism!)
    1920 – Charles Trumbull’s book “The Life Story of C. I. Scofield” told only the dispensationally-correct side of his life. Two recent books, Joseph Canfield’s “The Incredible Scofield and His Book” (1988) and David Lutzweiler’s “The Praise of Folly” (2009), reveal the other side including his being jailed as a forger, dishonestly giving himself a non-conferred “D.D.” etc. etc.!
    1967 – Brethren scholar Harold Rowdon’s “The Origins of the Brethren” quoted Darby associate Lord Congleton who was “disgusted with…the falseness” of Darby’s accounts of things. Rowdon also quoted historian William Neatby who said that others felt that “the time-honoured method of single combat” was as good as anything “to elicit the truth” from Darby. (In other words, knock it out of him!)
    1972 – Tim LaHaye’s “The Beginning of the End” (1972) plagiarized Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth” (1970).
    1976 – Charles Ryrie”s “The Living End” (1976) plagiarized Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth” (1970) and “There’s A New World Coming” (1973).
    1976 – After John Walvoord’s “The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation” (1976) brutally twisted Robert Gundry’s “The Church and the Tribulation” (1973), Gundry composed and circulated a 35-page open letter to Walvoord which repeatedly charged the Dallas Seminary president with “misrepresentation,” “misrepresentations” (and variations)!
    1981 – “The Fundamentalist Phenomenon” (1981) by Jerry Falwell, Ed Dobson, and Ed Hindson heavily plagiarized George Dollar’s 1973 book “A History of Fundamentalism in America.”
    1984 – After a prof at Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God in Florida told me that the No. 2 man at the AG world headquarters in Missouri – Joseph Flower – had the label of posttrib, my wife and I had two hour-long chats with him. He verified what I had been told. But we were dumbstruck when he told us that although AG ministers are required to promote pretrib, privately they can believe any other rapture view! Flower said that his father, an AG co-founder, was also posttrib. We also learned while in Springfield that when the AG’s were organized in 1914, the initial group was divided between posttribs and pretribs – but that the pretribs shouted louder which resulted in that denomination officially adopting pretrib! (For details on this and other pretrib double-mindedness, Google “Pretrib Hypocrisy.”)
    1989 – Since 1989 Thomas Ice has referred to the “Mac-theory” (his reference to my research), giving the impression there’s no solid evidence that Macdonald was the real pretrib originator. But Ice carefully conceals the fact that no eminent church historian of the 1800’s – whether Plymouth Brethren or Irvingite – credited Darby with pretrib. Instead, they uniformly credited leading Irvingite sources, all of which upheld the Scottish lassie’s contribution! Moreover, I’m hardly the only modern scholar seeing significance in Irvingism’s territory. Others in recent years who have noted it, but who haven’t mined it as deeply as I have, include Fuller, Ladd, Bass, Rowdon, Sandeen, and Gundry.
    1989 – Greg Bahnsen and Kenneth Gentry produced evidence in 1989 that Lindsey’s book “The Road to Holocaust” (1989) plagiarized “Dominion Theology” (1988) by H. Wayne House and Thomas Ice.
    1990 – David Jeremiah’s and C. C. Carlson’s “Escape the Coming Night” (1990) massively plagiarized Lindsey’s 1973 book “There’s A New World Coming.” (For more info, type in “Thieves’ Marketing” on MSN or Google.)
    1991 – Paul Lee Tan’s “A Pictorial Guide to Bible Prophecy” (1991) plagiarized large amounts of Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth” (1970).
    1991 – Militant Darby defender R. A. Huebner claimed in 1991 to have found new evidence that Darby was pretrib as early as 1827 – three years before Macdonald. Halfway through his book Huebner suddenly admitted that his evidence could refer to something completely un-rapturesque. Even though Thomas Ice admitted to me that he knew that Huebner had “blown” his so-called evidence, prevaricator Ice continues to tell the world that Huebner has “positive evidence” that Darby was pretrib in 1827! Ice also conceals the fact that Darby, in his own 1827 paper, was looking for only “the restitution of all things” and “the times of refreshing” (Acts 3:19,21) – which Scofield doesn’t see fulfilled until AFTER a future tribulation!
    1992 – Tim LaHaye’s “No Fear of the Storm” (1992) plagiarized Walvoord’s “The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation” (1976).
    1992 – This was when the Los Angeles Times revealed that “The Magog Factor” (1992) by Hal Lindsey and Chuck Missler was a monstrous plagiarism of Prof. Edwin Yamauchi’s scholarly 1982 work “Foes from the Northern Frontier.” Four months after this exposure, Lindsey and Missler stated they had stopped publishing and promoting their book. But in 1996 Dr. Yamauchi learned that the dishonest duo had issued a 1995 book called “The Magog Invasion” which still had a substantial amount of the same plagiarism! (If Lindsey and Missler ever need hernia operations, I predict that the doctors will tell them not to lift anything for a long time!)
    1994 – In 1996 it was revealed that Lindsey’s “Planet Earth – 2000 A.D.” (1994) had an embarrassing amount of plagiarism of a Texe Marrs book titled “Mystery Mark of the New Age” (1988).
    1995 – My book “The Rapture Plot” reveals the dishonesty in Darby’s reprinted works. It’s often hard to tell who wrote the footnotes and when. It’s easy to believe that the notes, and also unsigned phrases inside brackets within the text, were a devious attempt by someone (Darby? his editor?) to portray a Darby far more developed in pretrib thinking than he actually had been at the time. I found that some of the “additives” had been taken from Darby’s much later works, when he was more developed, and placed next to or inside his earliest works! One footnote by Darby’s editor, attached to Darby’s 1830 paper, actually stated that “it was not worth while either suppressing or changing” anything in this work! If his editor wasn’t open to such dishonesty, how can we explain such a statement?
    Post-1995 – Thomas Ice’s article “Inventor of False Pre-Trib Rapture History” states that my book “The Rapture Plot” is “only one of the latest in a series of revisions of his original discourse….” And David Reagan in his article “The Origin of the Concept of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture” repeats Ice’s falsehood by claiming that I have republished my first book “over the years under several different titles.”
    Although my book repeats a bit of the Macdonald origin of pretrib (for new readers), all of my books are packed with new material not found in my other works. For some clarification, “The Incredible Cover-Up” has photos of pertinent places in Ireland, Scotland, and England not found in my later books plus several chapters dealing with theological arguments; “The Great Rapture Hoax” quotes scholars throughout the Church Age, covers Scofield’s hidden side, a section on Powerscourt, the 1980 election, the Jupiter Effect, Gundry’s change, and more theological arguments; “The Rapture Plot” reveals for the first time the Great Evangelical Revisionism/Robbery and includes appendices on miscopying, plagiarism, etc.; and “The Three R’s” shows hypocritical evangelicals employing occultic beliefs they say they have long opposed!
    So Thomas Ice etc. are twisting truth when they claim I am only a revisionist. Do they really think that my publishers DON’T know what I’ve previously written?
    Re arguments, Google “Pretrib Rapture – Hidden Facts” and also obtain “The End Times Passover” and “Why Christians Will Suffer ‘Great Tribulation’ ” (AuthorHouse, 2006) by media personality Joe Ortiz.
    1997 – For years Harvest House Publishers has owned and been republishing Lindsey’s book “There’s A New World Coming.” During the same time Lindsey has been peddling his reportedly “new” book “Apocalypse Code” (1997), much of which is word-for-word the same as the Harvest House book – and there’s no notice of “simultaneous publishing” in either book! Talk about pretrib greed!
    1997 – This is the year I discovered that more than 50 pages of Dallas Seminary professor Merrill Unger’s book “Beyond the Crystal Ball” (Moody Press, 1973) constituted a colossal plagiarism of Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth” (1970). After Lindsey’s book came out, Unger had complained that Lindsey’s book had plagiarized his classroom lecture notes. It was evident that Unger felt that he too should cash in on his own lectures! (The detailed account of this Dallas Seminary dishonesty is revealed in my 1998 book “The Three R’s.”)
    1998 – Tim LaHaye’s “Understanding the Last Days” (1998) plagiarized Lindsey’s “There’s A New World Coming” (1973).
    1999 – More than 200 pages (out of 396 pages) in Lindsey’s 1999 book “Vanished Into Thin Air” are virtually carbon copies of pages in his 1983 book “The Rapture” – with no “updated” or “revised” notice included! Lindsey has done the same nervy thing with several of his books, something that has allowed him to live in million-dollar-plus homes and drive cars like Ferraris! (See my Google articles “Deceiving and Being Deceived” and “Thieves’ Marketing” for further evidence of this notably pretrib vice.)
    2000 – A Jack Van Impe article “The Moment After” (2000) plagiarized Grant Jeffrey’s book “Final Warning” (1995).
    2001 – Since 2001 my web article “Walvoord’s Posttrib ‘Varieties’ – Plus” has been exposing his devious muddying up of posttrib waters. In some of his books he invented four “distinct” and “contradictory” posttrib divisions, claiming that they are either “classic” or “semiclassic” or “futurist” or “dispensational” – distinctions that disappear when analyzed! His “futurist” group holds to a literal future tribulation and a literal millennium but doesn’t embrace “any day” imminency. But his “dispensational” group has the same non-imminency! Moreover, tribulational futurism is found in every group except the first one, and he somehow admitted that a literal millennium is in all four groups! On the other hand, it’s the pretribs who consistently disagree with each other over their chief points and subpoints – but somehow end up agreeing that there will be a pretrib rapture! (See my chapter “A House Divided” in my book “The Incredible Cover-Up.”)
    2001 – Since my “Deceiving and Being Deceived” web item which exposed the claims for Pseudo-Ephraem” and “Morgan Edwards” as teachers of pretrib, there has been a piranha-like frenzy on the part of pretrib bodyguards and their duped groupies to “discover” almost anything before 1830 walking upright on two legs that seemed to have at least a remote hint of pretrib! (An exemplary poster boy for such pretrib practice is Grant Jeffrey. To get your money’s worth, Google “Wily Jeffrey.”)

    FINALLY: Don’t take my word for any of the above. Read my 300-page book “The Rapture Plot” which has a jillion more documented details on the long-hidden but now-revealed history of the dishonest, 179-year-old, fringe-British-invented, American-merchandised-until-the-real-bad-stuff-happens pretribulation rapture fad. If this book of mine doesn’t “move” you, I will personally refund what you paid for it!

    (Just spotted the above paper on the net. Any reactions?)

    1. Dear Franz (Dave),

      I know your work and something of your motivations. As my only concern is whether Dispensationalism is biblical I am not overly concerned about Maggie MacDonald, Edward Irving and the rest of them.

      I also know Tommy Ice pretty well and we have discussed your work. Your post persuades me that you are on a crusade. This is sad because I cannot believe this is your calling.

      If Dispensationalism is false it must be determined on scriptural grounds. May the Lord guide both of us into His truth!

      Please accept my best wishes for a blessed Christmas.

      Your brother,

      Paul

  2. In response to footnote #1, is there any writer/thinker who has attempted to develop dispensational thought along the lines of covenants?

    I exhort you to personally write a book on the subject.

    1. Dear Fred, i know of noone who has done the necessary work 😦 This really irks me. I once told a gathering of dispensationalists (incl. Lightner, Couch, Ice) that dispensationalism is its own worse enemy because it doesn’t see that it must be constructed on its own terms. I also stated (since I was on a roll!) that dispensationalists must start writing high-level academic work if they are to train students beyond the Masters level. I was told by one of these men: “If I didn’t know you I would say you were trying to be an intellectualist.”

      Whatever….

      As far as me writing a book i have two answers: 1. I haven’t explored this theme as far as I need to – though I am convinced it holds huge promise. 2. The comment above yours demonstrates the need to show a little humility in putting forth ones views. As that great theologian Clint Eastwood put it, “A man needs to know his limitations.”

  3. It seems appropriate to ground dispensational theology on the Biblical covenants. It also seems that based on Hebrews 8 and other passages that scripture attests to to primary covenants: the old and the new.

    Perhaps that would be a good starting point. Nailing down exactly how these two covenants fit into a dispensational system would go a long way toward establishing DT as full-orbed systematic world and life view. This seems particularly important in light of the seeming confusion in our camp regarding the New Covenant. Didn’t Ryrie and Chafer each hold to two (or more?) new covenants? If the covenants are to the foundation of DT, perhaps we should nail down the relationship of the New and Old covenants and what this means to DT and then move on to the Abrahamic and Davidic.

    I think I read somewhere on this site where you reject the multiple new covenant views and affirm that we are partakers of the (one and only) New Covenant because Jesus added (?) the Church to the New Covenant..? Can you please elaborate on this?

  4. I can only reply briefly to your points Dan.

    1. Surely that which distinguishes the two “Testaments” is the advent of Jesus. I would argue that this event gives continuity to the Bible in that it assumes prophetic fulfillment which can be checked and validated upon plain-sense lines (there is no other objective way to appeal to evidence).

    2. Thus the old and new covenants must be viewed as a continuum in original intent (so I would respectfully disagree that the Old and New covenants are “primary”). This would mean that the division of the Testaments is, from God’s viewpoint, incidental.

    3. Ryrie did hold to two New Covenants (NC) in his “Basis of the Premillennial Faith” but now he believes it is inaugurated in the future kingdom. My view is that since the Church is “the Body of Christ” and Christ has already inaugurated the NC we participate it through Him – even though the NC is not made with the Church but with Israel. This lends continuity to the Testaments (as long as one is okay with variation within God’s purpose) as well as honoring the discontinuities which I think are there in Gen. 12:1-3 (esp. v.3).
    Further, I am wary of the future inauguration view because it ‘explains-away’ some passages (e.g. 2 Cor. 3:6)and tries to prove its position from over-exact exegesis (I believe in exegesis but it cannot determine truth, only provide possibilities for consideration).

    Is that somewhat clear or have I succeeded in stirring up more mud?

  5. Hello Dr. Henebury.

    Thank you for you response. In my suggestions about the two covenants, I was referring to the Mosaic Covenant (= “Old”) and the New Covenant. In my post I (perhaps incorrectly) presumed that Old Covenant = Mosaic Covenant (not the OT).
    My idea was to nail down the Mosaic Covenant in contrast to the New Covenant as a starting point. I have no problem accepting your point that this approach is misguided. However, I am wondering if my clarification of what I was trying to say changes your response at all…?

  6. I re-read my last post and forgot to make clear that I am (mistakenly?) equating the Mosaic Covenant = Law = “Old Covenant” referred to in Hebrews 8. Essentially, my initial point would be contrasting the New Covenant with the (old) Law as a starting point.

  7. Dan, I feel I am in danger of misunderstanding you, but with your indulgence I shall try to scratch where you are itching.

    The place the Mosaic covenant has in the unfolding of biblical history has to be seen as tied to the theocratic rule of God over Israel in the OT. The prophets spoke from within this context and their moral exhortations were geared to reminding Israel of this special governmental relationship. This ended at Calvary and the rending of the veil. The role of the New covenant is to do internally what the Law could only command and condemn but not create. The New covenant ushers in the constitutional holiness in the people of Israel who will make up the Remnant or “ransomed of the LORD” (Isa. 35:10) and will be the means through which God will be able to fulfill His unconditional promises in the Abrahamic, Davidic,etc., covenants upon a people who have been made ready for them. Thus, I see a discontinutity in the covenants between the unconditional and eternal ones and the single conditional and temporal one (the Mosaic). The Mosaic covenant cannot be eternal because it does not convey righteousness while the NC does. This is why the NC replaces the Mosaic covenant. How’s that?

  8. Hello brother Paul,

    I think this article makes some excellent points. One aspect, which I think you do try to point out in the article, but should not be missed: dispensationalism has too often been operating in a reactionary mode. In other words, we find ourselves as dispensationalists often first become aware of this fact when we exposit the Bible in some church only to run into opposition about some clearly taught aspect of Scripture which has been rejected or reinterpreted by our covenantal brothers (e.g., recognizing a continuing role for Israel, eschatological truths such as the rapture). Because of this, we have HAD to do our homework and clarify these reactional areas. Alas, to our detriment this has also meant in many cases that we haven’t put focus into other aspects of theology which are also important (arguably more important).

    All that to say that one reason we are seen as ‘harping’ on eschatology and Israel (to name but two areas) is that we find ourselves repeatedly stuck in the role of having to try and offset so much imprecise teaching on subjects. When I get questions from those I’m in fellowship with about a radio broadcast by the late D. James Kennedy where he labors for 45 minutes ‘proving’ there is only one resurrection–where Scripture quite clearly indicates otherwise–and he completely omits key passages which deny what he is teaching, then I have to spend the time ‘fixing’ this error and showing that Scripture says otherwise. But talking about multiple resurrections is “eschatology” and there I am again. 🙂

    So we are a bit like the early church which was continually focusing on the nature of Christ–trying to resolve and clarify teaching which didn’t do justice to Scripture. I’d be more than happy to focus more on other topics (and try to), but we also have to recognize that part of the calling of the movement is trying to make right and uphold doctrinal truths which have been too long neglected or misrepresented by imprecise systematization.

    We need to move away from being reactionary to where we are more proactive–which is part of what you are saying. Not all of us choose to focus so heavily on Israel and eschatology, but find ourselves reluctantly drawn into the topics more often than we’d like. (Hm… I’m starting to sound “reluctant” — maybe I’ve been reading too much on this site!) 🙂

    Thanks for your cogent observations.
    – Tony

  9. Excellent points Tony,

    In my opinion dispensationalists make themselves easy to hit by not focussing on the positive development of their system. It is this trait which brings about the reactionary reflex.

    But I do know what you mean. I am presently teaching a course on “The Last Things” at Veritas School of Theology, and I am going in to some detail representing and then refuting our opponents.

    Always good to hear from you.

    P.

  10. It’s nice to see Tony Garland comment here. I really enjoy reading his material – especially his “A Testimony of Jesus Christ”. Thanks for making that available, Tony.

    And thank you, Paul, for this blog.

  11. Hello Mac,

    Thanks for your kind words.

    I’ve been working (very, very slowly) toward a companion commentary on the Book of Daniel. I’ve got the entire introduction finished for the background material, but my work schedule has been such since then that the project has really lagged, I’m afraid. I’m committed to finishing it though, Lord willing–at a similar level as the Revelation Commentary. (Which means it may take quite a while longer.)

    I have to keep reminding myself that if *anybody* had a good justification for being able to do ministry without the challenge of full-time work, it was the apostle Paul. So what have I to complain about! 🙂

  12. Hi Paul, I have been reflecting on the issue of Bible prophecy and dispensationalism and have a few issues that are related to this old article. If you and anyone else could share your points that will be great.

    1. I don’t disagree with your points that “…dispensationalist theologians must be careful not to scratch the speculators where they’re itching for fear of working against the broader work of the Holy Spirit in conforming people to Christ”. However, all populist and not so populist Christian works related to eschatology will inform immediately that 27% of the Bible is prophecy. Many prophecy teachers this statistic to put forth his argument that therefore God intended us to study it and it is far more important than many other seemingly important topics. How would you comment on this response?

    2. How does everyone interpret Matthew 24:32-35. A majority of dispensational believers I know would use this passage to claim that yes it is true that we don’t know that day or hour [of Jesus’ return], but this passage shows us Jesus commanded us to watch for the signs of His second coming bewcause we can and do know the season of His return.

    3. How does the imminency of the more cautious school of dispensationalism (Charles Ryrie and Thomas Ice) with the immnency within a very idealist school in amillennialism?

    4. Related to question 2, is “prophecy watching” something a Christian should do? I know some Christians who are news junkies because they don’t want to be found neglecting the season of Christ’s second coming. They would have the homes glued to news channels trying to link most plausible events to stage setting of Jesus’ Second Coming, but on work like the role of pragmatism in evangelism, or the issue of trusting God’s sovereignty they are lagging far behind in maturity. What is eveyone’s comment on such “prophecy watchers”?

    5. Lastly, I’m aware some Christians claim that the current events indicate the rapture would have happened before Christmas this year, or in a true example I’ve read online, a Christian is feeling frustrated of seeing all signs and even told his wife that they won’t be likely to be around for his niece’s wedding in mid 2014, now his frustration is all these prophecy watching in the past came to nought and everyone will still be around for the wedding in 2014. Any comments on this line of thinking?

    1. Regarding point #5 above, such a view is abundant proof that the holder is not truly acquainted with BIBLICAL prophecy (as opposed to the cheap, easy, speculative variant encountered in so much popular material). In fact, those who attempt to correct such expectations from Scripture (which I hope to be among) often raise the ire of other believers for refusing to get on board the sensational train. Whilst pointing to prophetic evidence that we are not as far along as some think, I have incurred some harsh words from fellow believers who hold that I am completely out of touch with ‘the obvious’. Worse yet, I’ve been accused of insensitivity to evangelistic goals because I resist employing current events to strike fear into those unfamiliar with the deep prophetic teaching of the Scriptures. (In other words, it is acceptable to abuse certain contexts so long as the result brings people toward Christ. Of course my response is that our job is to honor the context of Scripture, not use it to manipulate others, and to rely on the Spirit to honor our handling of the text and use it however He will.)

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