I write often of what we might call two prevailing world views. The first, what we might call traditional was, in the West, based upon certain premises of truth, axioms. From those our laws, systems of government, and civic infrastructure developed. Christian metaphysical realism was central to the formation of what became Western Civilization. That alongside concepts from Roman law shaped us. The essential ideas behind those concepts formed our concepts of law, justice, civic duty, and dialogue. That was and is the traditional worldview. It is not Christian per se, but it could not exist without the influence of Christianity in forming and sustaining it. The second worldview is what those of the first might call absurdity, deriving in part from philosophical efforts during the enlightenment, philosophies that followed their natural and logical conclusions have resulted in a pronounced worldview that denies that truth can even exist.
Anyone interested in squabbling over matters of eschatology already knows and understands the paragraph above, or should at least. It is also true that one’s position on eschatology further shapes one’s worldview.
Full disclosure, I grew up in a premillennialist dispensationalist church. I have written previously about how watching the news one evening with my father and seeing a story of the Israeli army fighting a Christian militia in Lebanon confused me. In time, over the course of a lifetime, I settled on an amillennial view. I acknowledge that the subject is complex. There are theologians that I believe properly handle the word that disagree with that view. Amillennialism got something of a bad reputation in the last 100 years or so. It being the predominant view of most Christians for most of Christian history, some labeled it as a Catholic view. It does in fact align with the Catholic view, but then again so does trinitarianism and many things that orthodox Christians hold as tenets of Christianity. Some have labeled it liberalism because amillennial theologians interpret the parts of Scripture that are written literally to be literal and the remainder as they were written. This is a false claim, nobody reads every word of the Bible as literal, some is poetry, other allegories, some parables, some commands, and other parts tellings of literal history. I know of many very un-liberal theologians that interpret Scripture in such a way that they come to the position that amillennialism is a correct view. Many strawmen have been built, particularly since the popularity of theologically dubious movies and books became vogue in the 1980s. In any event, I hold this as the most likely truth, not dogmatically, only a fool I think could be hyper-dogmatic about eschatology but it does shape my worldview.
I often say, if most Christians lived like a Postmillennialist and believed like an amillennialist that the work of Christians on the earth would be more fruitful. Live as if you believe we can actually bring about Godly government and culture (if that is the Divine’s will) but accept that things will get progressively worse the further we move from the Fall. This seems a dichotomy, I know, but I mean, do the work required because we do not know the plan, but know how the story ultimately progresses.
Both postmil and amil share a covenantal view of redemptive history. Most notable is the view of who is Biblical Israel compared to a dispensationalist view. Since WWII the older views have become controversial (to some for political reasons), as dispensationalism was a natural ally with certain political ideologies. It shaped geopolitics and global affairs. It is often said that Satan knows the Bible better than any mortal Christian, it is not surprising to me that we see in history events and occurrences that seem to fit a particular outlook. This would necessarily be true if we acknowledge the ancient plan of evil to deceive.
After my first question about what I was told dispensationalism meant, the news story from my childhood, I wondered where the idea came from. How can two views see redemptive history so differently? Did John Darby and Cyrus Scofield and others in the 19th century discover theological truths that most of Christianity for most of Christian history had missed? Were they right and Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin wrong?
I am reminded of some of the bad fruit that came out of the fervor of the awakening in the 19th century. Two major cults emerged in that era, resulting in no small part because of the edges of awakening going wrong. Abolitionism became a bloody banner calling for war. Methodist ladies led the way in social justice by yelling at railroad workers wanting an alcoholic beverage, not to save their souls but to impose the protester's view of pietism upon them. The Third Great Awakening period produced many things that were either heresy, error, or good intentions gone awry. Dispensationalism was born in this period, essentially the product of just a few men. I find this troubling.
None of this affects an individual’s salvation. In theory, it is not enough to part friendship over, in theory. In practical terms, however, the difference has real meaning. One view has been part and parcel of supporting America’s wars for the last decades. When a difference of opinion costs blood and treasure it gains significance.
I am not qualified to call dispensationalism an error or a heresy, but I do believe that the effects of the doctrine have produced bad fruit, a flawed worldview, and false expectations. It sets an adherent up to see events in the world through a lens that seem to fit complex illusionary language, and sometimes this is precisely the sort of thing that the deceiver uses to lie. I also know that many Christian denominations that embrace dispensationalism now embrace open heresy, just look to the charismatics and the NAR. I am not saying there is a correlation, but I am not saying there is not.
I do not know but I do know that the more I read the Word, the more my discernment tells me that Hal Lindsey and all those others got it all wrong.
Thoughts of others
- Leaving Dispensationalism
- My Journey Out of Dispensationalism
- Amillennialism 101
- Comparative Eschatology Charts
I am a Presbytist, I will perhaps explain that someday. Voddie Baucham is fairly close to a Presbytist, or better stated he is one of the few Reformed Baptist pastors. He speaks well on this issue, here are two examples.