It’s the same old shut down. “Is this discussion really practical? Does dispensationalism or eschatology really matter enough to argue about? Isn’t this a non essential doctrinal issue?” I hear this sort of thing pretty much every time the subject comes up. It’s a screen, I think. People respond this way because they feel like they don’t need another complicated issue to think about. The world is full of complications and nonsense that we all have to sort through. The first level of elimination is, “does this immediately affect me?” the second is “how important is this?” These are legitimate questions that I want to take a minute to address.
First I would suggest that it is unwise to build ones theology on a foundation of pragmatism. The value of an idea is not determined by its immediately perceivable viability. The value of any idea is determined by its proximity to truth. In the case of dispensationalism, eschatology or any other theological issue, an investment of time and attention in developing an accurate and true understanding is never going to be a waste. Whatever else you may think is important, theology is the one thing that will ultimately out last all other issues as it is the primary concern of eternity. Further, God has gone to the trouble of communicating certain things to us and it is vitally important that we make sure we have our theology correct. People seem to think that, because God is gracious, he won’t care if we don’t have everything right. The truth is that, because God is merciful, He may forgive the sin of our stupidity; our will full disregard for information he deems important. So yes, it is an imminently practical issue.
Secondly, as I have said before, “non-essential doctrine” does not mean “non-important doctrine.” The term “non-essential” refers only to a doctrines relationship to what is orthodox. Just because a view of theology is not a “deal breaker” doesn’t mean that one can disregard it. I don’t know if you have ever had the experience of trying to talk to some one who is only interested in the most important and immediately applicable information. It is very hard to develop a relationship with such a person because they are only interested in what is most important to them. Usually your feelings rank very low on their list of concerns until you get mad at them and start making a big deal about something; suddenly you get some consideration. I think some Christians do this to God.
I have often said that the first time Jesus came, people were totally caught off guard by how things turned out. They expected the story to play out very differently; even though they knew passages like Isaiah 53 and psalm 22 were referring to the Messiah. I think his second coming may be similar. I think, certainly we will all be surprised by how things happen, though some may be more surprised than others. Perhaps one reason for this is that some of us haven’t taken God’s word seriously enough to study for ourselves. We have relied more heavily on our denominations distinctive tradition and the perspective of our pastor and fellowship. I have been just as guilty of this as anyone else. But we must not forget that traditions and distinctive are fallible. I have come to desire the best, most true and accurate theology, whether in the “essentials” or “non-essentials.” The only way to acquire this is to study the scriptures and pray; like the Barean’s who challenged the Apostle Paul, studying the scriptures daily to see if what he was teaching was true.
The study of final things is profoundly important because it constitutes the culmination of Gods redemptive plan. it is the summing up of all things, the judgment, the resurrection, the dawn of a new and unending golden age for those who belong to God and the dusk of grace and mercy for those who do not. It is the fulfillment of what few promises yet remain to be fulfilled. Though those promises may be small in number their worth amounts to the realization and actualization of the purpose of all things. As C. S. Lewis once observed, this life, this world is at best a preparation for the true production. It is the putting on of the makeup and appropriate attire, the quick self reminders and hushed rehearsed lines before we step out on the stage for the real show.
It is no wonder to me that eschatology has been so muttled and confused through the ages. From our adversaries perspective, the less certainty we have, the better. Our enemy loves to confuse and obfuscate issues. If there are two opposing doctrines to choose from it’s not usualy hard to pick which one is more biblical. But if there are, say four or five and with in those four or five views there are another two or three variations on the view, it’s much harder to figure out what is true. This gives the enemy power to direct people away into more practical earthly issues like pay checks and power bills. But there is a way to beat him at this game. Careful, objective exegesis of the scripture in light of scripture can cut through the sea of irrelevance and bring us to a place of real clarity, confidence and hope.
Dispensationalism is also important because it is a mainstream system of theology that affects the way many people read and understand scripture. It effects the way they think about history, redemption, evangelism, politics; it effects the way they vote, the way they read their newspaper, the way they treat particular ethnic groups; it even effects the way they spend their time and money. Above all else it affects the way people think about God. So it is hardly unimportant. The reason for this has to do with Dispensationalism’s three founding pillars and its relationship to Christian Zionism. There are wide spread implications for this system whether it is right or wrong and it is something worth considering.
Some people feel it is not an issue that needs to be debated because, in their minds, it is settled. The issue is closed. I must confess this is a tempting camp to settle into. But I would suggest that as long as there is a valid reasonable question on the table, we as brothers ought to consider the possibility, however remote we may think it, that we may not have everything accurately calculated. This is the burden I take on my self as I question my own beliefs and my reasons for believing. We must be willing to set our prejudice aside and consider the facts objectively. We would do well to check our pre-suppositions lest we be caught up in traditions and fables of men rather than biblical truth.
In my next article I will be reviewing some of dispensationalism’s history and outlining its foundational ideas.