Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Dispensationalism: It’s newer than Darwinism!

When I first became a Christian, as an adult, after I was already a scientist, I received my first remedial education via Christian radio, namely the Bible Broadcasting Network (BBN.)† The BBN is a fine organization, but its programming is biased toward dispensationalists—people like David Jeremiah and John MacArthur. Not knowing what dispensationalism was, or that I was being instructed therein, I simply accepted the teachings at face value. There is a certain Adrian-Monk-like neatness about dispensationaism that is very appealing. Happenstance would reinforce my early leanings toward "properly dividing" the Word, I bought a Bible—and it turned out that it was a Scofield bible, the footnotes of which are the veritable textbook of classic dispensationalism. I bought it because it was a NASB translation, which someone told me was the best (I think they were right) and just assumed the footnotes represented "standard" noncontroversial biblical commentary.

So I bought it all—the dispensations, the view that God would turn his attention back to his chosen people (the Jews), the fact that this necessitated the rapture of the church, and whole "Left-Behind" eschatology. It made sense to me that the church was not the new Israel. It all made sense.

And then I read a really old book: The Gospel of the Kingdom, (1927) by Philip Mauro. You can find it dead-tree with some effort, and you can find it online here. It was probably the second serious theology book I read, after R.C. Sproul's Chosen by God, and to this day, having read at least a hundred books on theology, none has influenced me as much as either of these.

The Gospel of the Kingdom is a very concise and very intelligently written unmerciful attack on Dispensationalism from a former practitioner and teacher (Mauro.)

Now, an anti-dispensational book written in 1927 has a serious hurdle to overcome for a modern reader—for it predates dispensationalism's greatest success: the formation of the state of Israel in 1947. Unlike ID, dispensationalism actually predicted something, something substantive, and it happened! The creation of Israel, seen a prophetic fulfillment, made dispensationaism and its "Left Behind" end-times view the powerful force it is today: the majority view of American Protestant evangelicals. When reading Mauro discussing how the recreation of Israel is not prophesied—with the knowledge that it had in fact happened—well needless to say Mauro has to be extremely convincing. He is.

By the way, the title to this post comes straight from The Gospel of the Kingdom:

Finally it is appropriate in these introductory remarks to call attention (as I shall have occasion to do once and again in the pages that follow) to the striking and immensely significant fact that the entire system of "dispensational teaching" is modernistic in the strictest sense; for it first came into existence within the memory of persons now living; and was altogether unknown even in their younger days. It is more recent than Darwinism. (Kingdom, Introduction, p. 9.)

(Emphasis in original.) I love it so! If you buy the Left Behind theology, but not evolution, you are accepting the more modern of the two ideas! On a serious side, this is not a trivial point: anything as new and as radical as Dispensationalism needs to address the question of how it escaped the notice of twenty centuries of Christian scholarship. Being new doesn't make it wrong, but it should make us suspicious.

Anyway, I have been struggling with finding something to write about, theologically speaking. In organizing my books in our new house, I came across my dog-eared copy of The Gospel of the Kingdom and decided to read it again. I will be posting summaries of what I read.

†I was attending a Presbyterian PCA church at the time. The problem is, and I think this is being fair to the PCA, a denomination I really love, is that PCA sermons, reflecting the level of the typical PCA member, are at an advanced level. For a while I was completely lost and relied on the BBN for instruction.

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