Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Problem with Dispensationalism

Alice C. Linsley

The Scofield Bible, which has greatly influenced conservative American Protestants, defines a dispensation in the subhead to Genesis 1:28: “A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect to obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.” Scofield is not speaking here of the testing of individuals such as Cain, Noah, Abraham, Jacob and Joseph. He is speaking of the general failure of mankind to love and serve God. Each of his seven dispensations ends with God punishing evildoers. As one reader of Just Genesis remarked here: "their theology creates a kind of finger-wagging Creator who can't wait to consign his creation to periodic perdition."

Further, Dispensationalism gives the false impression that God has made no progress with humanity. It  misses the obvious contrast between the beginning of Genesis and the end of Genesis. The book of Genesis ends with the theme of forgiveness and reconciliation in the story of Joseph and his brothers. It is the antithesis to the story of Cain killing his brother at the beginning of Genesis. Cain was jealous of God's blessings of Abel. It appeared to him that God favored his brother. Likewise, Joseph's brothers resented that their father favored Joseph. If we read Genesis as a story of conflict between brothers, we see spiritual progress from resentment and murder to forgiveness and reconciliation. Christians are to embody this higher ethic of forgiveness and reconciliation shown in Joseph. In this sense, Christianity represents progress.  This is the message God would have us hear, but it is distorted by dispensationalists who stress the continued spiritual degeneration of humanity.

Here is an example of the distortion of Dispensationalists: "The primary responsibility of man in the Noahic Covenant was to "be fruitful and multiply and REPLENISH THE EARTH," but in this also he miserably failed. The earth's population did rapidly increase after the flood, but all the people stayed near an area later known as Babel. God wanted man to scatter and repopulate the whole earth, not remain in one area. The failure of man to do this brought upon him another judgment." (From here.) 

The Tower of Babel story explains the linguistic division that occurred among the Afro-Asiatics before Abraham's time. It does not concern all the peoples of the earth. It also presents a criticism of Asiatic dualism, and it speaks of the contagion of sin, a problem not limited to the Afro-Asiatics.

The overarching theme of Scripture is the promise of a savior by whom the curse is reversed and Adam and Eve are set free. This is redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ. There can be no remission without the shedding of His blood.  The blood can be traced through the Bible as the unbroken scarlet cord that ties all things together. In other words, all is restored to wholeness (oneness) in Jesus Christ and this is testimony of the Three Witnesses of I John 5.

Dispensationalism asks us to focus on various covenants and their signs: the rainbow, circumcision, the tower of Babel, etc. It teaches that God changes the way He rules at different stages of history. Focusing on the signs and mutibility of God rather than on the eternal immutable One to whom the signs point is a terrible distraction.

Instead of dispensations, let us speak of an historical continuum: those who lived and died in expectation of the appearing of the Son of God (BC saints) and those who live and die having trusted Jesus as the Son of God (AD saints). Together these saints are unified in Christ. That is the meaning of the "communion of saints."

On this continuum, the fulfillment of the promise of Genesis 3:15 is attested by three persons: Simeon the Priest (blood), Anna the Prophetess (Spirit) and John the Baptist (water).  In the ancient way of thinking, heavenly realities are observed as a reflection on earth, so that what is attested in heaven is also attested on earth. Simeon, Anna and John the Forerunner are the earthly witnesses of whom John speaks: "Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the one who came by water and blood - Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement." (I John 5:5-8)

The three witnesses stand at the nexus of the two covenants and testify to Jesus, the promised Son of God, who came into the world to save repentant sinners and to restore Paradise. The central problem with Dispensationalism is that it tears this one seamless work of God into many pieces. Even the soldiers at the Cross had the sense to cast lots for Jesus' seamless robe rather than divide it between them.

Related reading:  God Has Made Progress with Us!; Dispensationalism and the Three Witnesses; Answers to High Schoolers' Questions about God


Anonymous said...


If Adam and Eve were the only people around pre-fall, then where did the people and cities talked about in Genesis 3 come from?

"Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch."


Anonymous said...

Ms. Linsley, the "communion of saints and the life everlasting." Is there anything else that matters? You do G-d's work. Best, Brent

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thanks, Brent. Best wishes to you!

Alice C. Linsley said...

Savvy, The passage you cite provides a great deal of information that makes it possible to place Cain in history. He is associated with metal workers in the region of Nod/Nok. Metal workers moved from place to place (like the Travelers/Tinkers), thus the reference to being a "wanderer." Cain's wife was his cousin and she named their firstborn son after her father Nok/Enoch.

Cain was a ruler. Only rulers built cities/settlements. The Hebrew name Enoch is linguistically reduced to the Chadic Nok, so Cain went to the region of Nok/Enoch, where he married a daughter of the ruler of Nok/Enoch. Cain lived about 2890-2818 BC and the region of Nok is in modern Nigeria.

Adam and Eve represent the first humans created by God. They are meta-historical. As such we must think of them as having lived well before 3.6 million years ago since the oldest human fossils are that old.