Please comment on an editorial from a denominational magazine that criticizes what we Regular Baptists hold to eschatologically. The writing by this editor in chief criticizes the popular Left Behind series of books and the teaching on the Rapture. He says that the teachings we hold to are quite new, originating in a person known as Darby. The article also charges that we don’t take the Scriptures literally, which I thought was true of us, and says that dispensationalists disagree with one another.
First, Regular Baptists don’t get their theology from the Left Behind series, even if the series takes a premillennial, pretribulational, dispensational line. That series falls under the category of fiction; certain details are added to make it so—thrills that aren’t necessarily Biblical. But it still is unfortunate that the writer of the article used the series as a springboard to attack the positions we hold.
Concerning John Darby, the editor wrote, “This brand of theology . . . is actually a new kid on the block, having been invented by John Darby late in the 19th century and popularized through the Scofield Study Bible, first published in 1909.” Many critics of our premillennial, dispensational position use this criticism involving Darby and Scofield to give people the idea that our position doesn’t have credence. It’s new, they charge. This simply is not so. A number of years ago, Arnold D. Ehlert, longtime librarian at Talbot Theological Seminary (now Talbot School of Theology), authored a book titled A Bibliographic History of Dispensationalism, published by Baker Books. Ehlert noted, “It becomes evident at once that we have here a study, the roots or foundations of which reach far back into antiquity Like all other doctrines, there is to be traced a development of the doctrine . . . [that] those who disparage the doctrine on the grounds that it has not always existed in its present form in theological thought forget.” Others know that plenty of evidence proves our positions existed from the early New Testament church.
Darby and Scofield indeed played a key role in present-day awareness of premillennial dispensationalism, but their calling the church’s attention to these matters might be likened to the role that the reformers played in revisiting a doctrine such as justification by faith alone. Certainly the writer of the editorial wouldn’t want Calvin and Luther challenged just because they came along in the 1500s rather than centuries earlier.
As for dispensationalists’ disagreeing with one another, that is true. On finer points of eschatology and other doctrines, honest disagreement sometimes arises. But it is certainly the pot calling the kettle black when amillennialists charge us with disagreement among ourselves when major disagreements exist in their own camp, in both prophecy and other teachings. In fact, disagreements in their camp tend to be larger simply because amillennialists tend to spiritualize Scripture rather than take it literally, making more room for widely divergent ideas.
The editor of the article recommends the book The Day of Christ’s Return: What the Bible Teaches, What You Need to Know by Andrew Kuyvenhoven (CRC Publications). I have obtained this book and have found the usual arguments against dispensationalism; they are based upon a lack of literal treatment of Scripture. But the editorial writer insists that it is we dispensationalists who don’t take Scripture literally!
Kuyvenhoven says about God’s future program for Israel, “The New Testament does not predict a future nation of Israel.” He points out Israel’s current hostility to the gospel: “If a Jew acknowledges that Jesus is the Messiah, he or she is called a Christian and is denied Israeli citizenship.” We believe the Scriptures mean what they say when they predict that Israel will turn to Christ following the time of Jacob’s trouble, the Tribulation (Jeremiah 30:7–9; Zechariah 12:10; numerous other passages).
Kuyvenhoven lumps dispensationalists in general with certain people in the past who have made predictions concerning the date of Christ’s return, such as William Miller, who is associated with the start of the Seventh-day Adventist movement, and Charles Tam Russell, out of whose system came the Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is no more fair than our trying to link Kuyvenhoven’s people with Harold Camping, who certainly is in the same amillennial camp and has been in the news from time to time for his predictions concerning Christ’s return. We believe that setting dates is wrong.
The Millennium, the one-thousand-year reign of Christ, is clearly taught in Revelation 20:1–10, but Kuyvenhoven says the passage should be seen as “pictorial and symbolic,” an “ecstatic experience. He [John] was outside of himself.”
Writings like these only convince us dispensationalists even more that a lack of understanding of dispensational truth is bringing about confusion not only in prophecy but also in introducing “new” teachings such as “progressive dispensationalism” and open theism, the idea that God doesn’t know the future.
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