Republished with permission from Dr. Reluctant. In this series, Dr. Henebury responds to a collection of criticisms of dispensationalism entitled “95 Theses against Dispensationalism” written by a group called “The Nicene Council.” Read the series so far.
Despite the dispensationalists’ commitment to the Jews as important for the fulfillment of prophecy and their charge of “anti-Semitism” against evangelicals who do not see an exalted future for Israel (Hal Lindsey), they are presently urging Jews to return to Israel even though their understanding of the prophecy of Zech 13:8 teaches that “two-thirds of the children of Israel will perish” (Walvoord) once their return is completed.
Two things: first, while some people like Lindsey (if we can trust the Nicene Council) do accuse other evangelicals of anti-Semitism, it is by no means all dispensationalists who do. Barry Horner’s Future Israel or David Larsen’s Jews, Gentiles and the Church ought to be consulted on this. Some of my former teachers are eminent dispensationalists (Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Robert Lightner, Thomas Ice) and they are all hesitant to use the term “anti-Semitism,” especially against most evangelicals who happen to hold to a different eschatology. However, a minority of dispensationalists do freely accuse other Christians of anti-Semitism. I have been accused of it myself, because I think our focus today needs to be where God’s focus is—on the Church! Still, I have also encountered mild anti-Semitism many times among some, not all, amillennialists and postmillennialists, who believe the Church is the “New Israel” and are thus eager to assign ethnic Israelites in present-day Israel to the status of a geopolitical anachronism. These people often believe what they hear on CBN about “Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.”
But as just another ad hominem complaint, this thesis has nothing to do with the truth or falsity of dispensationalism.
On the second point, it should again be noted that these men can understand an OT prophet literally when they want to. It is a shame they can find no better use for Zechariah 13:8 (which refers to the Tribulation) than to use it as a launch-pad for another ad hominem attack on a few people. (I have never urged a Jew to return to Israel, and I don’t know a single person who has). Pathetic is the word which comes to mind. There are better arguments than these surely!
Contrary to dispensationalism’s populist argument for “unconditional support” for Israel, the Bible views it as a form of Judeaolotry in that only God can demand our unconditional obligation; for “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29); and God even expressly warns Israel of her destruction “if you do not obey the Lord your God” (Deut 28:15, 63).
Response: Handbags at twenty paces? This one doesn’t even deserve to be sent to John Hagee. It is ridiculous. Did these men actually read these objections before they signed them?
Contrary to dispensationalism’s structuring of history based on a negative principle wherein each dispensation involves “the ideas of distinctive revelation, testing, failure, and judgment” (Charles Ryrie), so that each dispensation ends in failure and judgment, the Bible establishes a positive purpose in redemptive history, wherein “God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him” (John 3:17) and “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” (2 Cor 5:19a).
I do not see what this has to do with viewing biblical history in terms of “revelation, testing, failure, and judgment.” The Bible may be legitimately viewed any number of ways. This dispensational point of view is one of them. It does not yield very much, but it seems quite sound as far as it goes. Trotting out a couple of positive verses on Christ’s redemptive work does not address the issue at any point. Every Christian knows that Jesus Christ is the only hope for humanity, but this does not automatically mean things aren’t going to get worse. If one is a postmillennialist, dispensationalism may seem to contradict the earthy optimism inherent in that perspective, but for all that I have not encountered many telling arguments against it. It sounds incongruous but dispensations are not the acme of dispensational theology. I don’t think they are close to being right, but if the Nicene Council want this point they can have it as far as I’m concerned.
Despite dispensationalism’s pessimism regarding the future, which expects that “the present age will end in apostasy and divine judgment” (Walvoord) and that “almost unbelievably hard times lie ahead” (Charles Ryrie), Christ declares that He has “all authority in heaven and on earth” and on that basis calls us actually to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matt 28:18-20).
Dispensationalism is very far from pessimistic about the future if one envisages it in Paul’s terms (Titus 2:12-13, Phil. 3:20-21) or John’s (1 Jn. 3:2). These texts show that Christ’s return will trigger our glorification (cf. 1 Cor. 15:23, 51-57) and with it the renovation of the planet (Rom. 8:18-25). We believe Jesus could come for us at any moment (1 Cor. 1:7, 1 Thess. 1:9-10, James 5:8-9; cf. Jn. 14:1-3). But our hope is on this external event.
Our confidence in the Church is less ebullient. There is a big difference between what the Church is called to be (Matt. 5:14-16, Phil. 2:15; cf. 2 Cor. 3:2-3) and what it often is (1 Cor. 1:10-11; Gal. 5:15, 26). The Church has spent most of its history underachieving. We see no good reason why this sorry trend should not continue. While fully recognizing the truth of the Great Commission, we do not see in it any guarantee that the Church will “Christianize” the earth. On the contrary, we think 1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and Matthew 13:33 lead us to expect an end time apostasy of the Church (however far off that may be). We believe the sanguine expectation expressed by some regarding the institution of the coming kingdom in the continued absence of the King is due to poor exposition of biblical texts (see Part 20) and the effects of supersessionist theology on their interpretations.