Dispensationalism: A Doctrine More Dangerous Than Hell Itself

Dispensationalism: A Doctrine More Dangerous Than Hell Itself October 13, 2016
Courtesy of Pixabay
Courtesy of Pixabay

Theopedia defines dispensationalism as a “theological system that teaches biblical history is best understood in light of a number of successive administrations of God’s dealings with mankind, which it calls ‘dispensations.’” There are seven in all: the dispensation of innocence (Creation → Adam’s fall), of conscience (Adam → Noah), of government (Noah → Abraham), of patriarchal rule (Abraham → Moses), of Mosaic Law (Moses → Christ), of grace (the Church age), and of a millennial kingdom (yet to come). According to dispensational theology, we are currently in the dispensation of grace, also known as the Church age.

Essential to the worldview of dispensationalism is the “rapture” (when Christians are “caught up” into heaven), which will play a crucial role in ushering in the millennial kingdom of the seventh dispensation. Based on my dealings with folks who hold this view, it seems that the rapture will be taking place any day now. Of course, this time they’re certain, just like they were the last time, and the time before that, and the time before that, nearly ad infinitum. Well, as ad infinitum as you can get from the year 1830 onward, which is roughly when John Nelson Darby came up with all this nonsensical dispensational hocus-pocus.

What is so scary about dispensationalism is that it is largely (but not entirely) based on a highly literal reading of the book of Revelation. If you are not familiar with John’s Revelation, it is intense and quite graphic. I won’t go into the details here, but it is chock-full of multi-headed, multi-horned mythological creatures, bowls of wrath, trumpets of apocalypse, bloody war, a winepress of fury, a lake of fire, and then finally a victorious lamb who ushers in the kingdom of heaven. The dispensational understanding of Revelation is reflected in the popular Left Behind series of books and movies. Here’s essentially how the Left Behind folks literalize–I mean, interpret–everything:

Believers will be raptured into heaven. Then, God’s wrath and fury will be unleashed on the earth. Billions will be killed. They will then be thrown into hell, to suffer forevermore. All this will not only be endorsed by Jesus, but he will be the one leading the charge. Believers will rejoice. Hallelujah! Amen.

Scary stuff, am I right?

But notice that first part in particular—believers will be raptured into heaven, whisked off to be with Jesus just in the nick of time.

How convenient! Or, as the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live would say, “well, isn’t that special?”

Sadly, this understanding creates not only complete and utter apathy, but something far worse. Sure, there is apathy for the environment, and apathy for humanity, but, like a double-edged sword, also a promulgation of the very things dispensationalists believe must take place before the end can come, before they can go to their party in the sky. This results in attitudes like this one, from conservative commentator Ann Coulter: “God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, ‘Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.’”

Pardon me while I vomit.

This attitude, which I’ll admit, is not simply contained within dispensationalism, or even Christianity for that matter, has, not surprisingly, indeed led to a raping of the earth, a raping of the people of the earth, and a raping that continues and continues and will seemingly keep continuing until the end—because it’s simply God’s ways(please notice the sarcasm). But herein lies the ironically crazy thing about all this: it seems to all be coming true as a self-fulfilled prophecy, with many in the church loudly and prominently playing right along with this misguided theology, without so much as a clue that they are, quite frankly, an anti-Christ.

There, I said it.

But it’s true.

That is why dispensationalism is so dangerous. Because the earth must be consumed in fire, any peace is a false peace (see Dan. 9:27). So, in real time, peace gets violently sabotaged at nearly every turn. And because violence is cyclical, it keeps escalating and escalating, mimetically, like a faulty pressure-cooker.

And speaking of “mimetic,” not only do Christians of this ilk believe this is how the story ends, but so do many fundamentalist Muslims, and even many Jews:

  • Some Muslims believe that in order for the Madhi (the redeemer of Islam) to return, he must be preceded by violence, war, and intensified fitnas (times of trial, affliction, and distress). Then some of these Muslims do their damndest to bring this all about.
  • Some Jews believe that when the Messiah (the redeemer of Israel) comes, he must bring violence and war to their enemies, because, as the prophet Isaiah clearly states, the Day of Jubilee is also “the day of vengeance of our God” (Isa. 61:2). Then some of these Jews do their damndest to inflict their own vengeance for God’s sake.

It’s all either highly coincidental or, in fact, Girard’s mimetic theory is correct in that enemies often resemble each other. In this case, it seems to be that enemies model each other to a T.

This is why I believe a worldview like dispensationalism is even more dangerous than hell itself. Hell, in the “traditional sense” (as a place of eternal suffering), is contained in the abstract, what can be called “the afterlife.” So while it can cause us to experience a kind of hell on earth (by being a downright monstrous doctrine), it does not bring it about quite like dispensationalism does. Hell on earth is necessitated by dispensationalism. All this fire and wrath must happen—the quicker the better. It is a guaranteed hell, whereas an afterlife hell can, at most, only be speculative.

It is high time we abandon this plainly stupid (for lack of a better word) doctrine, as it has done more than enough damage already. If the gospel is peace (Eph. 6:15), but our eschatology involves a Jesus, or a Mahdi, or a yet-to-be-revealed Messiah, who brings war or is involved in war, then we need to rethink our doctrinal views, and exchange them for some good news.

Our thoughts about the end need to be viewed in light of the Cross, not the other way around. Remember, God would rather become a human and die on a cross than inflict violence against us—and if you say otherwise, then you don’t truly have the Gospel.


Image via Pixabay.

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  • Ellen Hammond

    Matthew, you have a wonderful gift for sharing wisdom in writing. I love how you inject a bit of humor into an otherwise heavy topic, before delving deeper. Just as I was beginning to think I would save this to finish reading later, I read, “Or, as the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live would say, “well, isn’t that special?”” That much needed chuckle gave me just enough of a break to finish reading. Thank you for speaking out about the dangers of such doctrines and beliefs. Hopefully it will cause those who hold fast to such ideas to start thinking for themselves or at least start to ask questions.

  • Jem

    Very thought provoking. Thank you for a refreshing and hard look at some much bandied about doctrines that are so misleading.

  • Zenon Lotufo Jr.

    You’re right, Matthew. It is simply astounding the psychological and spiritual pathology involved in dispensationalism, a pathology whose effects affect all of us, including (if any) future generations and the whole life of the planet.

  • Actually, I think that dispensationalism is a rather ingenuic (if that’s a word = showing ingenuity) way of dealing with the fact that the Bible presents a God with many varying internal conflicting motivations and emotions. Dispensationalism smooths this fractured view into one character by fracturing history into segments, in a sense, each with its own separate God ruling over it. One can appreciate the ingenuity without subscribing to it. This theological periodization of history goes at least back to Joachim de Fiore in the 12th century, who wrote of an age of the Father (Israel, OT), of the Son (church, NT) and of the emerging age of the Holy Spirit (a dawning age of antinomian apocalypse). Likewise, if I am not mistaken (maybe I am, my memory is not what it once was) the original dispensationalists in modern times were wrestling significantly if not primarily with the problem of how you reconcile a picture of a God who calls Israel into battle commanding them (at times) to kill all men, women, children and even animals of the enemy, and a God who will ultimately judge and toss most of humanity into the fire, with the fact that in current circumstance we are called to pacifism, enemy-love and nonresistance to evil doers. One might well argue that the problem with the modern-day adherents to this teaching is that they have lost/forsaken/rejected what the real implications of the doctrine are for the morals and ethics of those living in the age of grace.

  • CroneEver

    The idea that God needs our help to fulfill prophecy is hilarious, to put it mildly. How powerless is He? And how much power that puts into the hands of those who would bring Him back on their timetable…

  • winmeer

    A friend of mine told me a view of history. I am not clear about its foundation. Is it dispensation of the kind described here? The gist of it is this. Daniel prophesied that from the edict of Cyrus to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem would be 483 years (360 days per year). Then Jesus would die. Then there is a gap called the church age and after the rapture of the church the last seven years prophesied would occur. It is called the tribulation/the wrath of the lamb/the day of Jehovah/the time of Jacobs trouble. It is a time in which the anti-Christ will rule the world and demand to be worshipped as god. A the end of seven years of 360days/year Jesus comes and defeats the anti-Christ and sets up his kingdom on earth.

  • Angela Jones

    I love your last paragraph. The essence of Christ is LOVE…”God is love.” So many miss this message and embrace a cult of evil and exclusion. The very notion that the “good and chosen” will be whisked to paradise while the excluded will perish in flames is so different from Jesus’s message of inclusion, forgiveness and redemption for all.

  • Mike

    Matthew 10:33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

    34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

    35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

  • Mike

    2 Thes. 1:7 And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,

    8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:

    9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;

    Jesus Christ is not a purple dinosaur.

  • Curtis Pullin

    I’ve just realized something from reading your comments. Oftentimes, what one attributes to God is more of a projection of one’s own personality than a statement that reflects the reality of God’s being. Of course, this would explain why liberals see God in one particular way and why conservatives see God in another. Quite interesting.

  • Often the Bible says God does things when it is merely something he allows. The seven last plagues in Revelation for instance. It says angels pour out these plagues from bowls of wrath. But when you read them, they sound like the result of global warming, war and perhaps chemical warfare. I believe we will bring these on ourselves and when Jesus returns in the clouds of heaven, as he said, he will be coming to save those who love him, not cause destruction.

    We are destroying, or “raping” the world God gave us. There is no mention of a rapture in the Bible and then a tribulation. There is a “time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation,” then Jesus comes, as he said. He warned us not to listen if people say Jesus is here on earth. No. He said that as the lightening shines in the sky from the east to the west, so his coming will be. He also said, “See, I have warned you ahead of time.”

    When I first read there were actually Christians who wanted war in the middle east so Jesus could return, I was horrified. To not care one bit about the suffering war brings is to have a heart of stone.

  • The Mouse Avenger

    Precisely. Only God knows the exact day or hour of Apocalypse & all that stuff, & no mere mortal will be able to pinpoint it.

  • Jesse H

    You are very one-sided. The other idea in Disp’l is that Christ will reign on the earth peacefully for 1000 years. This isn’t Jesus being a God of War but a Prince of Peace.

  • Jesse H