Why a Dispensational Reading of Revelation should be ‘Left Behind’

Why a Dispensational Reading of Revelation should be ‘Left Behind’ March 15, 2023

The following is a wise blog post by one of my former students, and a very fine minister— Randy Saultz, used by permission.

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At certain moments of my lifetime, it seems that I have been surrounded by a group of people in the church that are sometimes labeled as “dispensationalists.” Honestly, I forget about them sometimes. And then, Russia makes its way into the news or someone mentions the Middle East or the Moon turns red and they start to salivate in ways that would make Pavlov happy.

For some reason, much of their attention turns to the New Testament book we call Revelation. This isn’t all bad. I also love the book called Revelation. And I am very glad that the dispensationalists remind the rest of us of the importance of eschatology. If you consider yourself a dispensationalist, thank you for that. Before I go any further, I want it known that I resolve to converse with these sisters and brothers until the end. However, I would be dishonest if I did not mention that I am often frustrated by them and disappointed with them as well.

Anyway, I have received a new book Foretaste of the Future: Reading Revelation in Light of God’s Mission that I am very excited about for several reasons. One, I already mentioned I love the book of Revelation. Another, I love that the subtitle connects Scripture with the mission of God. (Should we ever be tempted to read Scripture any other way)? And another, it is written by Dean Flemming and he is a Holiness scholar (how many times have we been able to say those two words together?).

I think I understand where the fascination with dispensationalism comes from. It is easy to be drawn toward the sensational. I wonder if one of the reasons for its popularity is because apocalyptic literature made little sense for readers saturated with modernity. If so, it would make sense for metaphorical language to become rigidly literal for some.

But the only way to buy into this way of thinking is by using a bizarre hermeneutic that treats Revelation like an encrypted message that was waiting for a few modern-day encoders to interpret for the rest of us. It requires a separation from the mission of the church. Even more, it requires a separation from the God of the rest of the Bible.

I wonder if many of our dispensational friends know that neither “antichrist” nor “rapture” are even mentioned in the Revelation. Yet, both of these are forced into the text in ways that allow the chosen decoders to know things the rest of us don’t know. Flemming says, in the case of rapture, “not just unbelievers but the church’s entire mission in the world is left behind.”

There is a danger to reading a text poorly. It can easily lead to being discipled poorly. People can be led to think that accepting Jesus is important only in order to escape the tribulation and wrath of God. The purpose of evangelism can become about helping others escape. Obsessing with current events can become a desirable practice of discipleship.

Yet, this kind of preaching exists. This saddens me. There is no room for such a short sighted, self-centered, exploitation of Scripture. By and large, this kind of thinking promotes an American eschatology that is vacant of ecclesiology. The result is to label God as vindictive, to mock the Risen Lord, and a refusal to listen what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

 

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