Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Slandering Dispensationalism

I am getting ready to discuss dispensationalism in my Sunday School on the end-times. What will actually be in my notes is an objective-as-possible view of classic Dallas dispensationalism insomuch as that, not progressive variations, is what is relevant for the topic at hand.

By the way, I didn’t complete Lesson 3 last Sunday, and next Sunday I will be away, so I probably will not teach on dispensationalism until October 11.

To me, the fascinating questions regarding dispensationalism, about which I will be posting in the next few weeks, are:

  • Does its literalist hermeneutic drive its theology as its adherents claim, or is the logical order the reverse? Was literalism adopted to help explain a structure that has been unnaturally imposed on scripture?

  • Are dispensationalists who also claim to be Calvinistic, such as John MacArthur, really Calvinistic, or are they Arminians (who perhaps are loath to admit it)?

Other related questions include:
  • Is a literalist hermeneutic is a good idea in the first place?

  • Can dispensationalists be consistently literalistic, even in terms of prophecy?

  • Is Revelation entirely futurist, or has some (or even all) of its prophecy already been fulfilled?

  • Can you be a four point Calvinist?

  • Is a foreknowledge view of predestination compatible with historic Calvinism?

But those questions are for later. What I want to talk about today is my hope to avoid slandering dispensationalism. It is not because I have a fondness for the doctrine, I don’t. It is because it serves no purpose. It is like dismissing Catholicism because it teaches "Mary worship". It doesn’t. It teaches Marian fiction, some of it not just absent from but actually inconsistent with scripture. But nowhere in the Catholic Catechism is there a proclamation of Mary’s deity and a command to worship her. Essentially, it teaches that Mary was more like Adam and Eve before the fall. They (prefall Adam and Eve, and, according to Catholicism, Mary) aren’t the same as us, but they were human, not gods.

Simple inaccurate straw-man criticisms just make the speaker or writer appear foolish.

It grieves me that I read such a slander in Philip Mauro’s otherwise splendid book The Gospel of the Kingdom. When addressing the question if the Jews accepted the offer of the Davidic Kingdom, (an offer which dispensationalism asserts was genuinely made by Christ but summarily rejected by the Jews), what would have become of the crucifixion? Mauro writes:
And particularly, when we press the vital question, what, in case the offer had been accepted, would have become of the Cross of Calvary, and the atonement for the sin of the World, the best answer we get is that in that event, "atonement would have been made some other way." Think of it! "Some other way" than by the Cross!
Mauro offers no citation for this damning quote. If anyone has an attribution for this quote, please do let me know. I would like to be wrong about this.

Dispensationalism does not teach that the cross would have been unnecessary. The onset of the Davidic Kingdom, had the offer been accepted, would have been after the resurrection. (Mauro is correct, however, that neither the offer nor its rejection is recorded in scripture.) What would have been rendered unnecessary is the present church age. The Apostle Paul, in particular, would presumably have remained an unknown tentmaker. Since the church age might not have happened, then the church age had better not be prophesied in the Old Testament, for had the Jews accepted they would have instantly rendered any such prophet as a false prophet, not to mention the scriptures as unreliable.

In due course, we shall see that the Old Testament is not silent about the church.

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