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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Toward an Optimistic Dispensationalism

Classic Dispensationalism is a very pessimistic theological system. The world is getting worse and worse until Jesus comes back and rescues us out of it (rapture). And ... when the restrainer is gone, the world will - literally - go to hell (tribulation). While I see biblical justification for this system, I have become increasingly disillusioned with the pessimism ingraned in it. (See my thoughts about U2's faith in the future).

So ... I am embarking on a theological journey. I want to develop an optimistic dispensationalism. Want to help? What are your thoughts either in deconstructing the old system or in constructing a new mood for dispensational theology?

16 comments:

Robb said...

The optimism comes from the hope that we have. The hope comes from the kingdom. But how does the kingdom give us a this-worldly hope?

A said...

Could it be that it is ok to have a realistic view of the present sin cursed world just as the earth is groaning with birth pangs for the ultimate renewal that will come in the kingdom when all things are made new, and that the hope is truly hope but will be realized later than sooner. So, by application, we can have a truly exquisite hope for the restoration of God's perfection after the events of the eschaton (whenever that is and in whatever order it takes place, see how inclusive I am?!?!?) but also understand that things will get worse before they get better? As U2 sings in Yahweh, "always pain before the child is born". What the tree huggers are really wanting is the same thing that we want, ultimate restoration and a new earth. We know it is going to take place, but only after things get worse. Especially from God's perspective of time, the "worse" period is only a fleeting vapor when contrasted with eternity, even though it could be many many years. Knowing things will decline until they have to be renewed does not necessitate a laissez faire approach, we can still take care of creation the best ways we know how, but we don't fixate on it either because we know the best is yet to come in a whole new creation?

So in terms of "this-worldly hope", maybe it is "do the best with what you've got, all the while knowing and hoping for that day when all things are new and made right."?

I think the disillusionment and pessimism within dispensationalism has come from an attitude of, "well, it is going to be bad so who cares" instead of vocalizing and focusing on the hope of the kingdom to come. We should say instead, "yes it is going to be bad, but I do care, so let's help each other through it and long for the day when restoration truly comes."

Just thinking out loud with you.

klasieprof said...

Ok, this is so weird as it has been on my "scope" the last few days also. It seems "traditional" Christianity is focused more on the doom and gloom, thus the popularity of say LaHayes "end of times" books (which he started in the 70's).
"We" love to think the World is Ending, so maybe we can run around like CHicken Little and declare it to be so, without having to work to help cure the problems.
Yesterday I received May 2005 "THE VISION"...
from their website in advert for "the Left Behind Hoax pack"...
"If modern day Bible prophecy "experts" are correct that we are living in the "Last Days," then why bother trying to fix a broken world that is about to be thrown on the ash heap of history? Why concern ourselves with the education, healthcare, the economy, or peace in the Mideast? Why polish brass on a sinking ship? Thankfully, the founding fathers of America did not believe they were living in the "last days'. They believed in building a bright future for the next generation. .... 'Last Days Madness" has caused Christians to retreat from the public sphere and has temporarily hindered the Church from making a real impact in America and around the world. "
and from WOrldNetDaily.com a letter written by self proclaiimed "militant queer"
'We are going to win'

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Posted: April 15, 2005
1:00 a.m. Eastern
We are going to win. Your ilk will probably be rounding up gays soon and executing us, I am sure.

Well I can assure you no matter what happens in this country, gay people are going nowhere and killing us will be the only way you will stop us.

I will fight people like you until I die. I will give money, I will march, I will sue, I will never stop – never. Every day I breathe will be to advance gay rights. Every success you people have only makes me more determined.

And you people may get what you want for now, but young people don't feel the way you do and they will be making the rules soon enough and they don't hate gay people. It may take 10, 20 or 30 years, but gay people will get everything they want I can assure you. All setbacks now are temporary, trust me. Hating gets tiring and boring after a while and I think people are going to tire of gay bashing very soon.

So keep on writing your blather and spewing because you see Fred Phelps has done more to advance gay rights than any gays have. Each article like this wins us sympathy, so please keep on spewing.

"The good news is God rules and will right all wrongs at the appointed time. Stand firm."

I live by this every day and it is good news that He is on my side – the gay side.

Name withheld
"A very militant queer who is here to stay"
OK my Point being..that even "militant queers" have a POSTIVE outlook on how THEY have the ability to Impact and change the future.

Sadly, again according to "THE VISION"...Secularists have an optimistic view of the future while man CHristians have a pessimistic view. The popular myth that we are living in the "last days" and that the Church will diminish in influence before the final return of Christ, causes Christians to retreat from the advancements of Humanism, and Secularism. .....(sic)...The World is NOT going to end tomorrow. While theKingdom is growing then there is much work to do. Christ is STILL in the process of subduing HIs enemies (I cor 15) through the Gospel. Thats why is is vitally important that Christians understant the nature of the spirtual conflict raging in America today. Christianity is now seen as the enemy-a threat to life and liberty. Of course, its actually secularism that is America's greatest threat. But there's an even greater threat to Americas' future. I beleive that passive, apathetic and pessimistic Christiany will stand idly by and humanism and secularisme systematically dismantly the Bilblical foundations of this great nation." "Secularist want Christian in the "back seat of the bus". Quiet and submissive Christianity is the order of the day...There is NO neutrality. ".

Back to a quote from the "militant queer"..."Hating gets tiring and boring after a while"...all my life, I've been taught to "hate" this world system, to abhor it..as it is going to "end soon". Well..I guess I"ve decided to WORK like there IS no end...it definitly changes my perspective. IF the world is NOT going to "end" soon, kids still need loving homes, I can take the time to invest in people's lives, and all of my focus changes.
yes..."It's a wonderful World...WElcome to it"

Robb said...

A, wow. Amazing thoughts right off the top of your head. Here are a couple of random thoughts of my own.

- I like the childbirth anaolgy. Didn't Jesus use it also? Mt. 24:8

- It reminds me of each time V and I have added a child to our family. With Mattie and Calvin both it was while we were driving to the hospital in the middle of the night, with Charleigh it was driving to the social services office. Each time, we broke into a chorus of "It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine."

Let me ask this question - how would you characterize the prevailing mood of classic dispensationalism? Paranoid and pessimistic come to mind for me. What do you got?

Robb said...

Donna, I appreciate your deconstruction of the negatives of the "Left Behind" mentality. But ... I am still interested in preserving dispensational theology. I do not believe that it is the job of the church to create in America a theocratic kingdom that would make God proud. I am deeply, deeply concerned about the influence of undiscerning political activism on the church. I think that "let's fight to take our country back" triumphalism is dangerous too. What I want to do is combine a measured premillenialism with a this-worldly optimism. I am not sure it can be done, but I am going to try.

Robb said...

Here's another question - if God is the one who will make all things new (and there is certainly hope and optimism in that), what is left for us to do today in cultural involvement? Beyond the mere constrains of duty, is there a motivation for us to seek peace, justice, equality?

A said...

In regard to classic dispensationalism, pessimistic and apathetic come to mind. I think that is the fatal mistake. Just because things are going to get worse doesn't mean that we throw up our hands and say we don't care and become no earthly good.

I see a pattern throughout the Bible of mankind trying to work its plan in spite of God's plan and promise and every time God prevails and proves himself, usually in an ironic way. You then see people taking whatever they have an making the best of it. No one ever has a perfect set of ingredients at their disposal, but somehow they find a way to make soup that is a sweet smelling savor to God.

In my own life, I have experienced this. Did I want to be divorced and resign a church? Hell no. But now I have to take the hand I've been dealt and play it the best I can, bluff if I have to, and win the pot.

We need to do the same thing. Yes we can be dispensational and understand that the world will digress to the point that only God can restore and renew it. We know for a fact that he will. In light of that, we need to make the best of the circumstances we live in and be the best stewards we can be of what God has given us, including creation. We are the caretakers, and instead of just ignoring it and hoping it will go away, we need to keep the place as neat and tidy as we can until God fixes it all once and for all.

We do the same thing with sanctification don't we? I can't be perfect or holy now on my own, yet God calls us to be both. Ultimately He will perfect our sanctification and make us perfect and holy. But that doesn't mean we live like the devil now just because He's going to do it all anyway. No, we do our best with God's grace and the Holy Spirit's power to flee from sin and live in a godly way.

Robb said...

The sanctification example is a great one. The eschatology that we are thinking of is nothing more than global sanctification.

oooohhh ... oooohhh ... we may be on to something here. Global Sanctification

synapses are firing.

A said...

I like that.

Doesn't Global Sanctification = Kingdom?

Woohoo!

Robb said...

Maybe in a trinitarian systematic theology, eschatology ought to be very closely associated with christology and soteriology, since it is the goal and purpose of salvation. It could look something like this:

Father
Theology Proper
Creation: Anthropology, Angelology

Son
Christology
Soteriology
Eschatology

Spirit
Pneumatology
Bibliology
Ecclesiology


What do you think?

Bryan said...

Ever-evolving progressive dispensationalism seems to be in a better position to address some of the very concerns raised here. It's not limited to an either/or view of Scripture and the world, but a both/and view. We don't have to "fiddle while Rome burns."

Yes, the world is subjected to futility at the moment, BUT it is has the hope of redemption as well. So creation waits in hope, kingdom hope. And waiting isn't a synonym for indifference. We should take care of the world. Clearly, Jesus taught that stewardship is a key aspect of kingdom citizenship. Plus, despite sin, the creation mandate has never been rescinded. Therefore, Christians ought to be animal-loving, earth-caring environmentalists of the best kind.

Classic dispensationalism fails at this point. (BTW, I just finished reading the parody, "Kiss My Left Behind.") It's so "heavenly minded" (?), it's no earthly good. Michael Wittmer's book fits nicely here. If the new earth is a recreation of this one, then how can we justify global carelessness? We can't.

There is a present dimension to kingdom behavior that cannot neglect social justice and compassion and environmentalism. Again, it's both/and.

rocket said...

Ok I've thought about this for a few days. I don't do much quickly. This subject has brought a couple of things to mind. One is a song by Sixpence None the Richer called "Paralyzed". The other is a book by Tony Campolo, "Carpe Diem, Seize the Day". His theology is way wrong. He wants us to create the kingdom of God. But doggone it the book makes me want to do something. It inspires me to help the oppressed. It gives me the desire to help preserve creation. The truly frustrating thing is that I find myself like Matt Slocum, paralyzed. Truly to me signing the "one" deal and becoming a member of DATA really seem so inconsequential.

The hard thing is understanding that I cannot bring the kingdom of God but that he still wants me to make the world a better place. And then the harder thing is figuring out a way to do that. Right now I tell others about Christ. I clean up the environment in my little area. I'm a member of Michigan Lake and Stream. But am I impacting the world? I'm not helping the AIDS orphan in Africa. I'm not stopping trees from being cut in Brazil. I'm not helping the oppressed in China. But I am answering the call of God in my little Michigan community. Maybe we just need to help people, including ourselves, to understand what it is God has called us to do. That isn't to wait for the kingdom but impact our world where we are. Maybe we aren't called to make the world a better place. Maybe we are called to make our community a better place. Sorry for the long thinking ramble but maybe the reason we are paralyzed is that we look at the big problem and know we can't fix it instead of focusing on the things we can do where we are. So I guess I'm not giving any answers but hoping that the peace and justice we look for starts where we are. Proverbs 3:27 and 28 could be our motivation.

Robb said...

rocket - who are you?

rocket said...

I enjoy the anonymity. However, I'll tell you if you really want to know. After all, it is your blog.

Anonymous said...

Bryan... I think the key aspect of kingdom living is that of being a witness. Think about it... salt / light / "you will be my witnesses..." That is so we may reflect God's glory and passion (and our hope found in Christ), both here and now but also the ultimate reserved for eternity. Sure things are "tubing out" here but we, as followers of Jesus, we don't have to live like it.

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

I am a Post-Tribulationalist who has moved ever closer to a Classic Dispensational perspective.

I think Classic Dispensationalism is optimistic in propoasing a future for God's earthly peoples, that is the nations and Israel. The most optimistic Classic Dispensationalists held that marriage and the family would continue amongst the earthly peoples for ever. I advocate this view in my Bible prophecy blog.