In Is Dispensationalism Heretical?, I posed the question of whether Dispensationalism is heretical (obviously). Now, there are at least two ways at looking at the word “heresy”. The most common is that something is outside of orthodox thought (normally this means normal Christian thought). Since that last post, the question was raised as to whether “heresy” was the right word to use. It was thought to be to strong of a word. Well…. that’s the question, isn’t it? Is Dispensationalism heretical, or just poor hermaneutics?
I, no doubt, just offended some one just as “Is Dispensationalism Heretical?” was offensive to some. Those who follow this blog at all know that I don’t say thing in order to be offensive but I do take the Bible seriously and believe that anything is liable to questioning and anything that cannot stand honest query isn’t worth holding onto. I have also posted my statement of faith and written the Essentials of the Christian Faith including the Apostles Creed so anyone can see where I am coming from and my purpose for writing what I write. Though this is not a forum for debate, other opinions are welcome and will be included in the discussion. Enough said…
As a very brief introduction of what we are discussing here’s a snippet from Wikipedia,
John Nelson Darby is recognized as the father of dispensationalism,:10,293 later made popular in the United States by Cyrus Scofield‘s Scofield Reference Bible. Charles Henry Mackintosh, 1820–1896, with his popular style spread Darby’s teachings to humbler elements in society and may be regarded as the journalist of the Brethren Movement. Mackintosh popularized Darby more than any other Brethren author.
As there was no Christian teaching of a “rapture” before Darby began preaching about it in the 1830s, he is sometimes credited with originating the “secret rapture” theory wherein Christ will suddenly remove his bride, the Church, from this world before the judgments of the tribulation. Dispensationalist beliefs about the fate of the Jews and the re-establishment of the Kingdom of Israel put dispensationalists at the forefront of Christian Zionism, because “God is able to graft them in again”, and they believe that in his grace he will do so according to their understanding of Old Testament prophecy. They believe that, while the methodologies of God may change, his purposes to bless Israel will never be forgotten, just as he has shown unmerited favour to the Church, he will do so to a remnant of Israel to fulfill all the promises made to the genetic seed of Abraham.
The first point that pops out at one in reading this is that Dispensationalism is a relatively new idea. In the scheme of Church history, 1830 is pretty recent. That in itself is not enough to my mind to discount it out of hand, it is a flag that should create a query in a believer’s heart and mind. Others have pointed out that Darby and Schofield were both lawyers and neither clergy nor theologians. Considering their impact on the modern church, I think we can include them in the list of theolgians. What pops out at me is that Darby’s ideas were so radical. I don’t mean that in a negative sense. I enjoy radical thinking. But radical thinking has to be questioned because it is radical. In this case, what it needs to be held up to is Orthodoxy and the Bible.
When we hold Dispensationalism up against orthodoxy, it is clearly wanting. Orthodoxy holds to the belief in a series of Covnenants between God and His people. These covenants were fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ and His life, death, resurrection and ascension. As we remember Jesus during Communion, we often are reminded of His words, “This is my blood of the new covenant,” for example. This is called Covenant Theology and it is the orthodox position. Whereas Dispensationalism teaches that Israel and the Church are two entirely separate entities (with occasional overlap), Covenant Theology understand that God has one people, Israel and the church has been grafted, spiritually, onto it.
Obviously, if we are to hold to the broad definition of heresy, dispensationalism fits that definition. It is at odds with orthodoxy. I am not of the opinion that “being at odds with orthodoxy” is always a bad thing. Dr Bloesch used to tell us that “In every heretic there is a Christian and in every Christian there is a heretic.” I don’t think that he made that up himself, but he used it. That being said, I usually apply that to particulars and not to entire theologies.
But, Dispensationalism could still be correct. How does it hold up against Biblical scrutiny? Dispensationalists almost always tell one that they hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible. Great idea. Except that no one does this. It is impossible. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a phenomenal ideal, in my opinion, and one I adhere to as much as I am able. The best anyone can do, however is attempt to figure out a literal meaning of the Bible. This can be a rather complex undertaking and requires as literal of a rendering of the text as possible. There are a number of relatively literal Bibles on the market so I’m not saying that a person must learn Hebrew or Koine Greek to study the Bible sufficiently. And, I will give many dispensationalists some credit here. Some do some very good leg work in their studies. It’s fascinating to listen to them.
Which brings us to the point of knowing Essential Christian doctrine and possessing a good hermaneutic (or framework for one’s beliefs). Over the years I have listened to a number of dispensationalists speak and even taken part in Bible studies developed by dispensationalists and what often happens is that I am lured in by the interesting facts and nuances and I am saying “Wow.” The next thing I know I’m going , “What?” because the speaker has been working out the idea or passage of Scripture and lying down the points: A, B, C, D, H….. In order for the dispensation framework to work, it has to just be assumed and then ideas are simply packed into it.
An easy example of this is seen in a typical rendering of Matthew 24. Jesus, the Lord of the Church, the Bridegroom of the Bride (the Church), is speaking to his disciples (who were the first members of His Church) about the signs for the end times and He references Chapter 11 of Daniel as part of this when He mentions the “abomination of desolation in the temple.” Simple enough to understand really, when all these terrible things begin to happen, look for Jesus to return. Except that this doesn’t fit the dispensationalist framework so they will tell you that the disciples were all Jews so this doesn’t apply to the Church; the church wasn’t established yet. That’s it. Jesus speaks to the future leaders of His Church for 51 verses concerning events in the future and we are to believe that this chapter doesn’t apply to the Church? Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 do not fit into the dispensationalist insistence on a pre-tribulation rapture, and so His words are, for all intents and purposes (as far as the church is concerned), disregarded. So far, it is failing the test of Scripture.
What can be concluded so far? Firstly, Dispensational Theology is at odds with the more conventional and orthodox ideals of Covenant Theology. It’s insistence on being right, as in the case of its adherence to a pre-tribulation rapture, forces it to come to very unorthodox and nonsensical conclusion as we saw in Matthew Chapter 24.
I am not going to draw any steadfast conclusions at this point but this post is getting long so let’s take a break. In the next post I want to take a look at the prophesies in Daniel Chapters 9-11. A lot is made of these prophesies and dispensationalists have usurped especially the Chapter Nine prophesy to prove themselves correct. I will give an overview of their position and then I will present what I think is a much simpler and more true to the text interpretations of these amazing prophesies.
Chapters 9-11 in Daniel are not too long. Go ahead and read them and we will come back in a day or two to examine them.
- Is Dispensationalism Heretical? (christophercrandolph.wordpress.com)
- Truth Matters, Heretics Beware (christophercrandolph.wordpress.com)