Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Problem with Dispensationalism

Alice C. Linsley

Dispensationalism is a "modern" (19th-20th century) template which when placed over the Bible causes great distortion. It verges on heresy in that God changes in the various dispensations. Unlike Process Theology, Dispensationalism at least focuses on the Bible. Like Process Theology it poses an unbiblical understanding of divine actuality.

In Process Theology God is affected by temporal processes and is "becoming" alongside humanity. This is not the orthodox view of God as immutable. The order of Creation makes it evident that there is a distinction between the Creator and the creation, and the very definition of God implies an eternally existent Being outside of the created order. Logically, God cannot change. Isaiah 57:15 says that God "inhabits eternity." He created time and is therefore outside of time. God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8).

Note how the Dispensational God waffles in His attitude and actions toward humanity.

In the first dispensation God is with humanity. 

In the second, He withdraws from humanity. 

In the third, He orders capital punishment. 

In the fourth, He ignores the faithful among Abraham's Hebrew ancestors and establishes an exclusive covenant with Abraham and his descendants all of whom are wrongly presumed to be Jews. Abraham was Hebrew, not Jewish. He lived at least 1400 years before Judaism emerged as a world religion. Abraham's belief in God Father and God Son is denied by Judaism. Abraham's faith lives in Christianity, not Judaism.

In the fifth dispensation, God gives the Law to Israel, Jacob's clan. Yet various laws had already been given to Abaham's ancestors and law codes like the Ten Commandments existed long before the time of Moses.

In the sixth dispensation, God reverses all the former "exclusions" by giving his Son for all the world.

In the final dispensation, the entire scheme is set on its head because God acknowledges the faithful in every dispensation, and they are part of the Kingdom.

A brief history

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 speaks of the contagion of sin, a problem not limited to the early Afro-Asiatics.

The overarching theme of Scripture is the promise of a savior by whom the curse is reversed, and humans are set free from sin and death. This is redemption through faith in 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 mutability 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 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: The Substance of Abraham's Faith; The Proto-GospelGod Has Made Progress with Us!; Dispensationalism and the Three Witnesses; Answers to High Schoolers' Questions about God


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!