Tuesday, July 30, 2013

CONFESSIONS OF A (FORMER) DISPENSATIONALIST

I wrote the following post around December of last year, but was hesitant to publish it.  Uni and I had left the church we had attended since moving to Oklahoma.  We were at the time searching for a church home, although I felt I'd be more comfortable staying home on Sundays.  We have since joined a more "traditional" non-dispensational, though still evangelical, church where we feel more at home than we had for a long time.

I was moved to publish this after reading an article by Rachel Held Evans, "Why millennials are leaving the church."  Near the end of the article she stated "these trends are true not only for millennials, but also for many folks from other generations."  This pair of 75+ers can't help but agree.

The following is what I wrote:

Sometimes people grow apart in a relationship, and there are times when this leads to a separation.  For a number of years I have found myself growing more and more distant from a tradition that I have been involved in most of my life.  I have finally separated myself from it, though it has not been easy.

Don't worry; I'm not speaking about my relationship with my wife Uni.  We are if anything, closer to one another than ever.  Rather we have been totally together in this move.  I'm speaking about church tradition.

And don't worry; we're not apostatizing.  We haven't left the faith.  As a matter of fact, I believe our faith has never been stronger.

However, it seems that as we have grown in our faith, we have found ourselves more and more alienated from the church tradition we have been involved in.  We have felt ourselves the objects of discrimination even among long-time friends in that tradition -- and most of our closest friends have been within that tradition.

We have not been the only ones who have moved; we've found that this tradition has been moving as well -- only in the opposite direction.

This tradition is that branch of evangelical Christianity that is known as Dispensationalism - especially as is taught in Bible churches and other closely related churches.

My problem isn't with Dispensationalism as such; I still hold some of its principles as a method of understanding the Scriptures.  My one big disagreement is with its extremes -- especially in the area of eschatology, the doctrine of the last things.  Another disagreement is with where these doctrines often lead to politically.

Dispensationalists believe, as do most Christians, that Jesus is going to return some day to rule on earth in His Kingdom.  However, Dispensationalists have a whole scenario affixed to this belief, some of the details of which can be demonstrated from the Scriptures, some of which are only conjecture and many of which seem pure fiction.  (See the Left Behind series of novels.)

Some of the details which we're told must occur preceding the 2nd coming:

·       The nation of Israel will be back in the land, although in unbelief.
·       A great world ruler -- the Antichrist -- will arise and bring about what is known as "The Great Tribulation" -- a 7 year period during which the nation of Israel will suffer greatly and ultimately be converted.
·       However, before The Great Tribulation, all true believers in Jesus will be "raptured" bodily to heaven and those who have already died will be resurrected.
·       At the end of this period Jesus will return in triumph to reign on earth for a thousand years, followed by His final judgment and eternal Kingdom. 

I am not here trying to dispute these various teachings.  I even agree with some of them, although not with the certainty that I once held.  My problem is the other inferences that are drawn from these, as well as those added to them.

·       A "Christian Zionism" that supports the present nation of Israel and demands that the U. S. government support Israel financially and militarily.  A great part of the pro-Israel lobby is in fact not Jewish but "Christian."  There are even "Christian" organizations that promote sending Jews back to the land.
·       A fear of "globalism," which often demonstrates itself in a sort of pro-American isolationism.  After all, President Obama may not be the Antichrist, but he's setting things up for his coming and acceptance.
·       A hand-wringing fear that our "Christian" nation is sliding downward into a "last days" immorality, which also is setting matters up for The Great Tribulation.

Though many Dispensationalists are rational, educated people, there seems to be an underlying fear among many, promoted by TV preachers and the social media.  Many seem to live in some sort of alternate reality.

All of these beliefs are somehow tied to the politics of the right.  The irony is that if we hold to a core belief that Jesus is coming back we should have nothing to fear.

So I must say goodbye to this tradition.  I still have many friends who are Dispensationalists, with whom I hope to remain friends.  We are brothers in Christ.  However, I also have lost a few friends and feel estranged from some.  What  seems sad to me is that most of this estrangement is not due to my theological views, but to my political views (or lack of the same).

3 comments:

Bob McCollum said...

142Hi Bill,

I've read this post five times, trying to understand what you're saying regarding your disenchantment with dispensationalism.

Still don't get it.

Two possibilities--either I'm one of your dimmer readers (a real possibility) or you need to do a better job of explaining what you mean.

Respectfully,

Bob

Bill Ball said...

Bob, I suppose I need to write a longer post explaining my disagreements more clearly, point by point. I don't plan on doing this in the near future, however.

You may think it strange but there are many aspects of theology that I hold with less conviction than I may have appeared to. For years I have questioned the teachings of dispensationalism in 2 areas: the relation of the church to Israel and in the area of eschatology.

When I began to understand how these 2 areas affect current political thinking I felt uncomfortable until I left it behind. I feel a tremendous freedom now.

I'd like to continue our conversation on this topic, if you desire. Please e-mail me at any time with particular questions or disagreements.

Sherry Ball Schoenfeldt said...

I think it's interesting that the same group promoting Israel are fearing the slide into sin when both must happen according to their own eschatology.
When did God tell us it was our job to bring on the end times?
Why would we want those we love rushed into judgment & hell?

Also, I think it would be very very difficult to explain what we went thru last December in a blog. I have a hard time even explaining it to people who were there.
Of course, I never thought of it as having anything to do with dispensationalism tho I can see your connection. To me it seems the problem is that so many think their religion & political party are the same thing, quoting pundits as if they were quoting Jesus. And not even realizing they are actually contradicting Christ.