COVENANT THEOLOGY AND DISPENSATIONALISM: A COMPARISON Part 3

Part 3 – IMPLICATIONS

Go to Part 1 – A Look At Dispensationalism
Go to Part 2 – A Look At Covenant Theology

 A Weakened Church

I suppose this is a severely controversial statement that I’m about to make, but I cannot deny my conscience in this. 

I’m convinced that dispensationalism has weakened the Church. 

However, I ask the reader not to take that statement to an extreme, for it is a statement of degree, not an absolute.  For example, some of the people whom I believe to be among the greatest Christians of our era are dispensationalists; people like John MacArthur, Jerry Falwell, and Charles Stanley.  I do not advocate the proverbial throwing out of the baby with the bath water.  But do let us get to that bath water.

First of all, dispensationalism has weakened the Church by its inconsistent and disjointed hermeneutic, causing a latent uncertainty towards the Bible and shaking its adherent’s confidence. Now, I can hear the shouts of dispensationalists in my ear as I write this, because the most zealous Bible fundamentalists in the world are dispensationalists, and any accusation that they may have a weak position on the Bible would be totally perplexing to them.  However, I would point out that a strong attitude does not guarantee a strong position or doctrine.   

Inconsistency is really the hallmark of the dispensational approach to the Bible.  Its determined literalism is the root cause of this inconsistency.  A hermeneutic that presupposes that a given passage is to be taken literally unless one can be convinced otherwise, tends to have the opposite of its intended effect.  For example, when taken literally, certain passages can directly contradict other passages.  Well, if we are to take everything literally, by what means are we able to discern the truth when these apparent contradictions appear?  But when we let the scripture be what it is within a given genre and historical context, we can relax the tension between apparent contradictions because in fact those tensions don’t even exist in reality.

An example of dispensational inconsistence is given by Gentry:

“But when it supports their eschatological system, dispensationalists vigorously argue for literalism.  For instance, of Isaiah 9:7 the New Scofield Reference Bible explains:  “’The throne of David’ is an expression as definite, historically, as ‘the throne of the Caesars,’ and does not admit of spiritualizing.”  Yet dispensationalist Gordon H. Johnston writes: “God will fulfill His promises in the Davidic covenant (2 Sam. 7:8-16) to establish the eternal Davidic dynasty over Israel through a single ideal Davidic King who will reign eternally (Ps. 89:20-37).”  But when we read this passage we discover it expressly mentions David himself, not a “Davidic King”: “I have found David My servant;/With My holy oil I have anointed him,/with whom My hand will be established;/My arm also will strengthen him” (Ps 89:20-21).”

 

Also, Gentry repeatedly notes that dispensationalists, in contradiction to their own rules of interpretation,  consistently interpret certain passages non-literally when the text gives no warrant for a metaphorical understanding whatsoever.  Such is the case in almost every mention of the term “this generation” in the Gospels, which dispensationalists immediately spiritualize to mean “a future generation” (see againstdispensationalism.com).

So we see that the dispensationalists must constantly be unsure as to whether the passage he is reading is to be taken literally or not, whether the passage is “applicable” or not, and whether he has indeed taken the right side of the debate or not. 

Most embarrassing for dispensationalists is the glaring fact that their literalism is the same literalism that the first century Pharisees practiced.  It was the Jews’ literalistic approach to the Kingdom of God that was their downfall.  It was the Pharisees that believed that salvation was by their ethnic identity, an idea that Jesus flatly condemned (“not of blood”, John 3:12; “you are of your father the Devil, John 8:44).  Dispensationalism commits the grievous error of endorsing the doctrine of the Pharisees by insisting that God will someday save all of the Jews based on their blood-relation to Abraham.

Secondly, dispensationalism has weakened the Church by its portrayal of the Church as a sort of afterthought, a temporary companion while God awaits the return of His true love, Israel.  As will be discussed more at length in the next section, the idea that modern Israel is God’s People in every since of the Old Covenant has led many Christians to expend great effort and funds on the political objectives of modern Israel.  And many of those churches that do maintain a spiritual attitude toward Israel are guilty of over-emphasizing the conversion of Jews, which has steered energy and funds away from other areas of ministry that should have equal or greater value.  After all, the “Great Commission” was the Lord’s command to “teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

Also, dispensationalism’s propensity to advocate the local church at the expense of the universal or invisible church has led to unnecessary fractures and extreme separatism within the body of Christ.  In the local-church-only system, the biblical commandment to care for one another, being “members one of another” (Romans 12:5), applies only to those members of a particular church, and not necessarily to those of another church.  When that ethos is mixed into the fundamentalist movement, noble and courageous as it was, the result has often been an ugly form of separatism that demonizes any opposition to one’s particular view and discounts the faith and questions the orthodoxy, yea, even the salvation, of other Christians.  In the separatists retreat into the bunker, anti-intellectualism and doctrinal in-breeding can take place.  When one is eventually forced outside the bunker, one’s faith can be easily weakened, being unaccustomed to opposing viewpoints, unable to articulate one’s viewpoint in the face of opposition, and unable to function in an environment of diverse opinions.  Others simply stay in the bunker, never willing to take the risk of discovering that they may be wrong.

 

Christian Zionism

I am compelled by the possibility of being labeled as anti-Semitic to provide a strong disclaimer.  My interest in this treatise is strictly spiritual, not political, and the status of modern Israel concerns me only insofar as it affects the Christian world.  I have no qualms with the right of Israel to exist; I support it as a rational solution to certain political and societal problems caused by the lack of a Jewish homeland during the Diaspora of nearly two millennia. 

But many dispensationalists have adopted an irrational political view of modern Israel in which all of Israel’s political objectives are unquestionably supported, even to the point of supporting Jewish expansion to ancient borders.  This is Christian Zionism.  Dispensationalism is the theological rationale for Christian Zionism, and all dispensationalists are at least latent Christian Zionists, with many being overtly Zionist.  Some take it so far as to propose that if the United States were to ever go to war against Israel, Christians should defect to Israel’s side.  I offer no proof text of this, as it is not the official public position of any dispensational group, but I know this to be true by my own experience as a dispensationalist. 

Taking the dispensational view of Israel to its radical logical conclusion, Pastor John Hagee, a popular television evangelist, declares:

“Everyone else, whether Buddhist or Baha’i, needs to believe in Jesus.  But not Jews. Jews already have a covenant with God that has never been replaced by Christianity”. (The Other Gospel of John Hagee, pfo.org, 2009)

 

So Hagee’s ministry unquestionably supports Israel politically, but does not support evangelism to the Jews based on his theory that Jews do not need Christ to be saved. 

Believing that modern Israel is the center of all prophecy, dispensationalists place great emphasis on the establishment of the modern state in 1948 as a prophetic fulfillment.  For example, Gary Demar notes that in Tim LaHaye’s first edition of The Beginning of the End, which was published in 1972, LaHaye says, “Carefully putting all this together, we now recognize this strategic generation. It is the generation that ‘sees’ the four-part sign of verse 7 [in Matt. 24], or the people who saw the First World War.”  But in LaHaye’s 1991 edition of the same book, he says, “Carefully putting all this together, we now recognize this strategic generation. It is the generation that ‘sees’ the events of 1948 (Response to Critic,  AmericanVision.com, 2010) .  The events of 1948 are so important to his theology that LaHaye was willing to edit his comments, subjecting himself to valid criticism for his change.  People that make prophetic declarations based on the news of the day are frequently given a pass on their failed prophecies.  Although most dispensationalists do not participate in this kind of pop-prophecy, they do theologically support it whether they intend to or not by their insistence that the events surrounding modern Israel are “signs of times”, and that the end must be near.

Conclusion

What does dispensational theology and its offspring Christian Zionism say about our attitude toward our Christian brethren, the Palestinian Christians?  Has the evangelical church become blind to their plight?  Have we, in our zeal to support Israel, made the mistake of demonizing all Palestinians, even the Christians?  Does their displacement have any place in our conversations?  Why are our churches sending money and people to relocate Jews to a disputed land and not sending help to Palestinian churches to aid them not only in their own economic plight but in their efforts to preach the Gospel in the land?  When is the last time we heard about a missionary going to Israel to witness to the Arabs?

Again, my concern is not political, but spiritual.  After all, what does it say to the world of nations, whom we are commanded to win to Christ, when we allow ourselves to be drawn into political conflicts and with a confused theology declare that God is not on their side?  How can we claim to be sending missionaries just to preach the Gospel?  How can we overcome the suspicions of hostile governments that frequently accuse Christian missionaries of having a political agenda?

All of these questions provide a sober critique and represent significant obstacles that the Church must face, and it is my estimation that dispensational theology does much to build the obstacles, rather than providing means to overcome them.

In contrast, Covenant Theology provides the greatest motive to the Church in its efforts to win the Jews to Christ.  We see the urgency in that Christ is the only way to God in any dispensation, and that the Church is the only earthly hope for Israel and the Jews, being “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), and according to Romans 11:30, “through your mercy [The Gentile Believers] they [The Jews] also may obtain mercy” (Romans 11:31).  Through Covenant Theology we also see that the Jews are not to turn back to Moses as their hope; they must turn to Christ and forsake the Old Covenant Temple in which God no longer dwells.  They must put their trust in Christ, not in land.  They must follow the faith of Abraham and our fathers, who “desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16).  Christ is the Jews’ Land, their Temple, their Sacrifice, their Hope.  Let us return to preaching of the Gospel to every creature, in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the world.

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