In my previous post, I listed some of my main reasons for holding the Dispensational Premillennial position in regards to eschatology, or more strongly stated, why I believe that position is more biblically grounded and consistent than the other positions. In today’s post, I wish to examine and respond to some of the objections to the Dispensational Premillennial position which are put forth by those holding to one of the other positions.
OBJECTION #1: Dispensational Premillennialism is a theological innovation of recent origin and cannot be traced back earlier than ca. 1830.
The inference being made is that unless it can be proven that a doctrine was systematically developed and taught during the apostolic era, that doctrine should be regarded as a theological novelty and rejected as such.
The nuanced argument advanced by anti-dispensationalists is that the theological system was advanced by John Nelson Darby ca. 1830 and simply did not exist in any form prior to that date. Other opponents suggest that the system did not originate with Darby, but that Darby plagiarized his theological system from either a Jesuit priest named Emmanuel Lacunza or a Scottish Irvingite enthusiast named Margaret MacDonald.
Darby himself claimed to have developed his system independent of any resource except the Bible and then only used normal grammatical rules of interpretation, dispensing with any allegorical or spiritualized interpretations which were then in vogue. Opponents of Darby basically have followed the philosophy that if one promotes a falsehood often enough and loudly enough, it will eventually be accepted as truth. I prefer to follow Occam’s razor and Aristotle’s dictum in this matter which would indicate that until there is irrefutable proof that Darby was being dishonest, we must accept his testimony as being true. His opponents have brought forth no proof that Darby ever interacted with Margaret MacDonald or that he had ever read the work of Emmanuel Lacunza.
Regardless, Darby was not the first person to promote the doctrine of a pretribulational premillennial Rapture of believers.
H. Wayne House has demonstrated that the church held to a predominantly premillennial view of the Second Coming for the first 300-400 years. It was only after Augustine and Jerome imposed and popularized an allegorical frame of reference and interpretation on the Bible that premillennialism was rejected by the church and an amillennial eschatology was adopted. [See “Premillennialism in the Ante-Nicene Church: Why the Divide in the Early Church on Chiliasm?” at http://www.pre-trib.org/articles.]
Furthermore, writings from the early church show at least one post-Apostolic father, who was known as “Pseudo-Ephraim [or Ephraem],” wrote a treatise which expounded an eschatology similar to that promoted by pre-tribulational premillennialists. (See “On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World (English)” and “The Rapture in Pseudo-Ephraem” by Thomas Ice at http://www.pre-trib.org/articles.)
Finally, Morgan Edwards, an American Baptist, developed a dispensational premillennial eschatology almost 100 years prior to Darby. [See “Two Academical Exercises by Morgan Edwards” and “Morgan Edwards: Another Pre-Darby Rapturist” by Thomas Ice, both of which can be found at http://www.pre-trib.org/articles.] It stretches credulity to suppose that Edwards did not promote this eschatology from his pulpit.
The problem with firing the bullet of theological novelty at dispensationalists is that it could and has backfired on opponents of dispensational eschatology. There are no doctrines currently held by believers today which were systematically developed and expounded by the apostolic church. And many who raise this objection are invoking a double standard theologically, whether they will admit to it or not.
Point A: It took seven ecumenical councils meeting sporadically over a six-hundred year span to develop a systematic presentation of the doctrines of the Deity of Christ and the Trinity. There is no systematic development of these doctrines in the New Testament. Now I don’t want to be misunderstood on this point. I believe those doctrines are expressed in the New Testament, but they are not systematically developed and taught.
Point B: The doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone was not systematically developed until the sixteenth century AD by Luther and then Calvin. Even then, it was not fully developed until almost 100 years later at the synod of Dordt, when the Dutch Calvinists responded to the remonstrances put forth by the followers of Jacob Arminius. Even today, there are arguments over infralapsarianism, supralapsarianism, and sublapsarianism among Calvinists. And the distinctions between Calvinists and Arminians exist to this day.
The hypocrisy of those holding other millennial views is clearly seen when one examines the history of post-millennialism. The earliest documentation of this view is traced back to one Daniel Whitby (1638 – 1726), a Unitarian minister [who did not believe in the deity of Christ]. It was further developed by Isaac Watts, who was noted for holding Arian views with regard to the Person and work of Christ. Their views were further developed by Walter Rauschenbusch [who believed in neither the deity of Christ or the Divine inspiration of Scripture] to advance the social gospel in the late 1800s. The double standard here is that amillennialists and covenantal premillennialists never criticize post-millennialists for theological innovation or their egregious doctrinal heresy. I for one would have a very difficult time believing logically and Biblically in an eschatology based in an anti-Biblical Christology and anthropology. A defective [if not heretical] Christology will not yield a Biblically sound eschatology.
OBJECTION #2: Terms such as “rapture” used by dispensational premillennialists are not found in the Bible.
Again, this is a bullet which backfires. In the first place, even if we concede, for the sake of argument, that the term is not found in the Bible, to render the use of the term as invalid, it must first be proven that the concept the term is used to describe is not found in the Bible either.
The problem with using this argument is that there are other theological concepts we hold to which rely on non-biblical terms. If we are going to reject the belief in the pre-tribulational rapture because it does not appear in the Bible as a propositional statement, we are also going to have to reject such doctrines as the “Trinity,” “Biblical inerrancy,” “total depravity,” “unconditional election,” or “limited [or particular] atonement,” because none of those specific terms are found in the Bible in a propositional statement. During the first council of Nicea, the Arians objected to Athanasius’ use of the term homoousios to describe the nature of the relationship of Christ to God the Father. Why did they object? Because the term homoousios is not found in the Bible. If those who hold to amillennial and postmillennial views are going to object to using the term “pre-tribulational rapture” because they claim it’s not found in the Bible, in order to be logically and theologically consistent, they are going to have to reject the other terms I listed for the same reason.
Secondly, although the term “rapture” does not appear in the Greek New Testament, the word does appear in the Latin version called the Vulgate. The Greek verb harpagasometha [“(we) will be caught up”] is from the stem harpazo. The Latin form is rapiemur [from the stem rapturus]. That Latin stem is that from which we derive the English word “rapture.”
Again, there is a double standard here. The term “millennial” does not appear in the Greek NT. The Greek phrase is chilia eta in Revelation 20:2, which in Latin is mille anni [“1,000 years”]. The prefixes “pre-” and “post-” do not appear in the Greek. The terms are Latin and if opponents of a theological view are going to be obsessively nitpicky about a term because it does not appear in the Greek NT, they should be consistent across the board.
OBJECTION #3: Those who hold to a dispensational premillennial eschatology are theologically naïve and uneducated.
The nuanced form of this argument is something like, “I once had a Scofield Reference Bible, when I was a new believer, but then I went to Bible college and/or seminary and I learned that there were other ways of looking at eschatology so I rejected dispensationalism.” The inference is that no one who has been theologically educated could possibly hold to dispensational eschatology.
Robert Lowery, late NT professor in the graduate school of Lincoln Christian University [in Lincoln, Illinois], in an interview with the Peoria Journal-Star in 1999 regarding the “Left Behind” series of novels castigated dispensationalists as “idiots” and “purveyors of nonsense.” Now, while I respected Dr. Lowery’s knowledge and expertise in NT Greek, I question to this day his sense of decorum, manners, and fair play. I disagree with opponents of dispensationalism, and believe their arguments are specious at best, but I would hesitate to speak of them in such derogatory terms. Basically, Dr. Lowery’s response was ad hominem attack, the response of one who has no sound basis in exegesis or fact with which to respond.
Unfortunately, such hubris seems to be the mark of those who oppose dispensationalism, as writers such as David MacPherson, Gerald Bray, Oswald Allis, John Gerstner, and R.C. Sproul seem to delight in ad hominem invective over factual and substantial persuasion.
For the record, there was, within the Evangelical Theological Society, the Pre-Trib Study Group, which has since grown into the Pre-Trib Research Center operating under the auspices of Liberty University in Lynchberg, Virginia. Since full membership in the ETS is reserved for those holding at least a Th.M. degree [ thirty semester hours of study beyond the M.Div., which is ninety hours of graduate study beyond the B.A. or B.Sc.], and those who initially participated in the founding of the PTSG were members of the ETS, we can hardly dismiss them as uneducated, intellectual lightweights.
Again, this points to a double standard. If those holding dispensational views displayed the sort of hubris displayed by amillennialists or postmillennialists, the opposition would be in full hue and cry with claims that dispensationalists display unChristian behavior. I myself have been accused of being “uncharitable” by an amillennialist simply for suggesting that the allegorical approach to prophecy favored by non-dispensationalists results in distorting and twisting scripture. I wish the opposition would get the 4x8s out of their own eyes before they start complaining about how unsightly my bushy eyebrows may appear.
OBJECTION #4: Dispensationalists promote antinomian moral views. This is the key argument in Gerstner’s critique of dispensationalism: Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth.
This confuses dispensational eschatology with Keswickian and Wesleyan soteriology as regards the issue of sanctification. We’re talking apples and oranges here, folks. While I would concede that dispensationalists such as Zane Hodges and Charles Ryrie advocate a view of justification and sanctification which is questionably presented at best, and not very well nuanced in light of all Scriptural teaching on the subject, it is a separate theological issue. One can hold to a dispensational view of eschatology and soteriology without promoting the poorly nuanced soteriology of Hodges and Ryrie. Moreover, there are other dispensationalists such as John MacArthur, Michael Vlach, Arnold Fruchtenbaum, and H. Wayne House who would not support the soteriology advocated by Ryrie and Hodges.
It is interesting that the same soteriological views advocated by Ryrie and Hodges are also advocated by such denominations as the Evangelical Covenant Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Free Methodist Church, and the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), which all lean towards amillennial eschatology – the same eschatological view advocated by Gerstner. In other words, Gerstner appears to have made amillennial eschatology the sine qua non by which one is to be evaluated concerning the genuineness of faith: in the amillennial or postmillennial view, one can hold to a questionable Christology or soteriology without being defamed as a heretic as long as that person holds to amillennial or postmillennial eschatology.
OBJECTION #5: Dispensationalists promote multiple ways of salvation.
This is yet another straw man argument and shows that opponents of dispensationalism either have not read first hand what dispensationalists have written on the subject or have dismissed what has been written in favor of what they suppose the dispensationalists “really” mean.
Dispensationalists from Scofield to Chafer to Walvoord to Ryrie to MacArthur have all stated that every one in every dispensation is accepted as righteous before God on one basis only: by grace through faith. Where dispensationalists disagree with Covenantalists is in the idea that there was complete revelation as to the content of faith and the manner by which believers present public testimony of faith. The statements of Covenantalists suggest that the content of faith and manner of public testimony has been fully revealed since the fall of man–a position which is not only unsustainable from Scripture–but which is also patently false according to Scripture. Scripture itself teaches that the content of faith and manner of public testimony was shrouded in mystery until the consummation of the cross–that under the Old Covenant, believers operated in types and shadows prefiguring a fuller revelation yet to come. A careful reading of the book of Hebrews and 1 Peter 1:10-12 proves this to be so. A careful reading of the Old Testament shows the content and public testimony of faith under the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants are not as complete as the content and public testimony of faith under the New Covenant.
There you have it. My reasons for embracing dispensationalism and rejecting other eschatological schemes.
My challenge to everyone who reads these posts is to go back to reading Scripture without the filters of a pre-imposed system and instead follow normal rules of interpreting language. Ask yourself when reading OT prophecies such as Isaiah 65, Jeremiah 31 and Amos 9: “How would an ordinary Jewish person have understood these prophecies?” Ask yourself when reading Revelation 20: “Why should I interpret the first use of the word ‘resurrection’ in a spiritual or allegorical sense while the second use is to be interpreted in the normal sense according to amillennialists and postmillennialists?” Finally, ask yourself: “How can any subjectivized allegorical approach to any passage of the Bible provide any meaningful interpretation within the community of believers?”