Is dispensationalism to blame for patriotic idolatry?

"...modern politics needs to be cloaked in religious language in order to carry the necessary gravitas. The end result is that theology becomes the handmaiden of political agendas. In turn, patriotism becomes one and the same with Christianity for so many. Among the multitude of factors that have given rise to this fact in the United States is the combination of American exceptionalism and Dispensationalist theology." - Ref21

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Aaron Blumer's picture

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American evangelicals began to see the United States as THE beacon of God's divine light and the highpoint of humanity. For example, the fiction series, Left Behind, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins presents a Dispensational view of the end times which makes clear that the US and the modern nation-state of Israel are the principal players in God's great redemptive plan of history.

There's not much of an argument in this piece. He's certainly correct that belief in American Exceptionalism is widespread in evangelicalism and that we have a political idolatry problem and that Left Behind contributed to that.

But how does that relate to what dispensationalism actually is? I recall reading in a great many anit-dispensationalist writings that dispensationalism's belief in the Rapture actually kills interest in believer's involvement in society in a transformative way. "We're leaving anyway, so what does it matter?" 

Both of these criticisms can't really be true.

Dispensationalism either intensifies identity with political agendas or it discourages socio-political involvement, or it does neither. It can't really do both...  or can it? Humans can be pretty self-contradictory. But that would mean the incompatible results are cases of "humans failing to live their theology" not the theology itself. The theology can't both encourage and discourage work to change the world.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

TylerR's picture

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Saw this last night. My thoughts are that the author, a Presbyterian, reads as though he's parroting bad quips he highlighted from Reymond or Gerstner from his seminary days.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

I wonder how dispensationalism is supposed to affect a post-trib-dispensationalist-leaning-historic-premil's involvement in politics and society... hmm.

Look, I grew up under pre-trib dispensationalism. I remember watching "Thief in the Night," "Distant Thunder," and "Mark of the Beast" in the church I grew up in. As I got older, I remember pre-trib dispensationalist preachers quoting OT promises given to Israel and applying them to America. I've since rejected most of this foolishness. America has not inherited the promises to Israel. It may be exceptional, but it's not special. It has risen and it will fall according to God's will, just like the Greek empire and just like Rome.

Quite honestly, I don't think my eschatological perspective impacts my involvement in American society or politics. I'm not trying to either usher in or hold back the tribulation or the parousia (like I could anyway). I do think we should set our minds on things above and look forward to the Lord's return in hope and expectation. I do want to live in such a way as to be found faithful and alert when Christ returns.

So, if the democrats control the government (egad!) and America continues "slouching towards Gomorrah," so be it. God has called me to be salt and light in whatever political or social situation he places me. As much as I am able, I will promote / defend biblical morality and proclaim the gospel. The rest is above my paygrade.

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me that if dispensational theology leads to idolatry to the state, we ought to be able to show something to the effect that a dispensational hermeneutic leads to that conclusion.  Perhaps we might say that the author needs to learn that correlation is not causation.  The overall impression is reminiscent of when Pat Robertson, a pentacostal, said something stupid, and the comments were "this shows how dumb Baptists are."  

Well alrighty then, let's give you an earned doctorate for that bit of analysis!

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Andrew K's picture

OK, but let's be fair: "Dispensationalism is to blame for some bad fiction" is a little harder to dodge. ;) 

Bert Perry's picture

Covenant theology of Martha Finley can be correlated with bad fiction, too.  :^)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Crystal's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Covenant theology of Martha Finley can be correlated with bad fiction, too.  :^)

Don't get me started with Elsie Dinsmore.  :S There is a *list* of issues with it....but I suppose this isn't the time/place for that conversation.  

Bert Perry's picture

We'd better honor that verse, no?  

Seriously, as a dispensationalist myself, I am well aware of certain rather embarrassing things that "my camp" has done, but if we wish to correct that, sloppy thinking by those who oppose dispensational theology is hardly the way to go about it.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

JD Miller's picture

I have been in dispensational churches for most of my life.  One of the things I remember consistently is that whenever the USA and prophecy came up it was noted that the United States is not mentioned in the end times.  Perhaps I was around a different kind of dispensationalism than the author was.

pvawter's picture

Well, rather than quoting an eminent dispensational theologian he cited known biblical scholar Mitt Romney. I think that tells you how seriously we should take this article.