Why I Am A Dispensationalist
With the recent release of the utterly unnecessary reboot of the Left Behind movie franchise (There is a very fair and informative review here) the jokes have inevitably begun to fly. While the primary target is the poor quality of “Christian” films, running close behind as a favorite target is dispensationalism.
Dispensationalism is defined by The Moody Handbook of Theology as “A system of theology recognizing different stewardships of Man under God. Dispensationalism is distinguished by (1) consistent literal interpretation (2) clear distinction between Israel and the Church (3) the glory of God as God’s ultimate purpose in the world.
To that I would add that dispensationalists typically look forward to a literal future earthly reign of Christ and would see (most of) the OT promises to Israel, especially as they relate to the Land, as still in force and to be fulfilled in the future and that if it was promised to Israel it was a promise for national Israel and can only be fulfilled in/through Israel. [Of course this is a very basic definition, if you want to dig deeper, this is a great place to start.]
While all believers should expect to be mocked by unbelievers, the sharpest mocking of dispensationalist believers comes from certain corners of the Christian community where there is zealousness for covenant theology. The Moody Handbook of Theology defines covenant theology (CT) as: A system of theology teaching that God entered into a covenant of works with Adam who failed whereupon entered into a covenant of grace, promising eternal life to those who believe. CT affirms there is one people of God called true Israel, the Church.
To that definition I would add that most adherents to CT reject the notion of a future earthly reign of Christ and any future role for national Israel in the plan of God. [Again this is a very basic definition; if you want to dig deeper this is a great place to start.]
I want to be exceptionally clear that the jokes and jibes don’t come from the solid mature believers within the CT community, and that I am not in any way leveling a blanket indictment against CT adherents, but they tend to come from those who mistake doctrinal knowledge for spiritual maturity. I have been greatly blessed by many who adhere to CT and have counted many as partners in ministry.
All of that said, dispensationalism is often characterized as the unthinking eschatological position, that bases its entire system on a few verses in Revelation 20. The Left Behind books/movies and the ravings of John Hagee as seen as typical of all dispensationalists rather than the solid teaching of John MacArthur or the theology of Robert Saucy. In short dispensationalism is often characterized as the theology of the dumb and unsophisticated. But it is not, there is plenty of biblical evidence for it outside of Revelation chapter 20. To that end I want to give you five very important reasons I am a premillennial dispensationalist, and you should be too.
- His Steadfast Love Endures Forever
If those sound like familiar words to you it might be because they occur frequently in the Psalms, in fact that phrase occurs a total of 288 times in the ESV translation of the Psalms. Steadfast love translates the Hebrew word hesed which is covenant making and covenant keeping love. The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (NIDOTTE) notes that “Divine hesed counteracts the wrath of God…Divine hesed is enduring, persistent, even eternal, the biblical writers celebrate the everlastingness of God’s hesed. This is seen by way of contrast with things which are long lasting but may not last forever.” The notion that God in his wrath rejected Israel for her disobedience contradicts what He has revealed about Himself, 288 times in the book of Psalms alone, in His inerrant infallible word. Consider the words of Isaiah 54:10 “Though the mountains will be shaken and the hills be removed my hesed for you will not be shaken.” To say that God has removed His hesed from Israel because of her disobedience is an attack on at the very least the clarity of scripture, and more fundamentally on the character of God.
- The Abrahamic Covenant
Speaking of covenant making and covenant keeping love, the conditions of the Abrahamic covenant have never been fulfilled. Most reader will rightly locate the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12:1-3, but it is also repeated in Genesis 15. That is where God ratifies the covenant unilaterally. The LORD instructed Abram to split a heifer, a goat and a lamb in two and to arrange them as would be appropriate for a covenant ceremony. In the ancient near east a covenant would be ratified by a ceremony where the parties to the covenant would pass together between the halves of slaughtered animals before a feast was held with the butchered animals (in Hebrew covenants are literally cut, not made). The ideas was that if either party violated the covenant they would be as dead as the animals that were split in half. But Abram never passes through the alleyway of the covenant, God Causes a deep sleep to fall upon him, and appearing in the form of a smoking firepot, passes between the slaughtered animals alone. In order for God to break His