And then came peace. Aaggh!

So writes Neil E. Das in his poem “A Dispensationalist Reflects on the Fall of Communism (circa 1992)” which, I think gets at the heart of this destructive and abusive theology.



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2 responses to “And then came peace. Aaggh!

  1. Kevin Traube

    Now, at first I thought you were talking about Communism as “distructive and abusive,” but the word “theology” tipped me off that it was dispensationalism, most probably. Though my church most probably comes in under dispensational thought, I can’t remember a message or class [or even a discussion] about it. Got a site or resource I could check out to get an idea of the big picture?

  2. Joe

    Hey Kevin,

    I don’t know of any place off the top if my head where you could find a fair and thorough representation of Dispensationalism. One of the interesting things about contemporary Dispensationalism is that, while many evangelical Christians take for granted the implications of the teaching and perhaps even embrace the title, very few could give so much as a basic definition of it. My suspicion is that this is somewhat intentional on the part of dispensational theologians, because much of the power of the Dispensationalism is rooted in seeing dispensational readings of scripture as the only obvious readings, but they’re not obvious, far from it. In fact no one read the Bible the way dispensationalists read it until J. N. Darby invented Dispensationalism in the early 19th century. And even then it was only a select group of theologians until Dispensationalism was made famous by C. I. Scofield in his popular Study Bible. Once you see Dispensationalism as one way of reading scripture among many, it quickly becomes unfeasible. Here, I will try to list just a few of the basic tenants.

    Dispensationalism is rooted in Darby’s doctrine of election which was a response to Augustinian supersessionism. To put it all too simply, Augustine thought that carnal Israel once was the elect of God, but that, because Israel failed in her calling and missed the coming of Messiah, the Church became the new object of election—they superseded Israel. Augustinian supersessionism became part of the standard doctrine of election in the West ever since. (And it no doubt became a major player in some of the inexcusable treatment Jews have suffered at the hands of Christians. God has rejected them, so can we!) In the modern era—especially since the holocaust—Augustine’s doctrine has rightly been called into question by many theologians. Most notably, Karl Barth suggests that the structure of election in the Bible always means good news for the non-elect. One other such critique is Darby’s dispensational view.

    To Darby, it looks awfully suspicious that God would make covenant promises to Israel simply to abandon them later, and no doubt he is right to be suspicious. So God must have made two covenants: a physical covenant with Israel and a spiritual covenant with the Church. (Perhaps the greatest critique of Dispensationalism is that it sees no continuity between the election of Israel and the election of the Church—the two are utterly distinct. Nothing promised to the one, is promised to the other. So dispensationalists are obsessed with “rightly dividing the word of God”—understanding what is said to Israel and what is said to the Church. According to Dispensationalism, most of the Bible isn’t for you.) God fully intends to keep his physical promises to Israel and his spiritual promises to the Church. Figuring out just how God is going to do all this leads Darby into some strange exegetical gymnastics and particularly dispensationalist inventions.

    Dispensationalism is most famous for its connection with the doctrine of “the rapture.” Though the rapture cannot be found anywhere in the Bible and literally no one saw it before Darby, it has now become the “obvious” reading of a few passages in scripture. (N. T. Wright has done a decent job of re-explaining the key passages without dispensationalist lenses in his short essay “Farwell to the Rapture” But you can see how this would be important to a dispensationalist: the Church is taken to heaven to receive spiritual blessings, while Israel is left on earth to receive physical ones.

    I know this is a bit scattered, but I hope it has been at least somewhat helpful. There is, of course, much more to be said, and writing this has made me realize that I need to do a much fuller treatment of this subject at some point.

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