by Young Oon Kim
The Fundamentalist Apocalyptic
In our time, two groups of Christians assert that we may be (and probably are) living in the Last Days. On one hand, there is the rather sizeable group of Fundamentalist Protestants who loudly proclaim the imminent return of the physical Jesus. On the other are Unificationist Christians who also teach that the consummation of history can occur in our time. However, because there are significant differences between the Fundamentalist message and the teachings of Divine Principle, it is important not to confuse them.
Protestant Fundamentalists, like Hal Lindsey, espouse a pre-millennial interpretation of the Bible. 1 What are the essential features of this apocalyptic theology? First, when Jesus returns he will set up an earthly kingdom. By reigning as the messianic king, he will establish an ideal social order in which there will be complete peace, righteousness and justice.
Second, Jesus' reappearance in bodily form will occur suddenly and dramatically. Because of a series of stupendous supernatural events which will herald the Parousia, Christ's return will be readily observable by everyone. Unbelievers will immediately recognize that the millennium has arrived as a result of its accompanying miraculous happenings.
Third, Christ's newly established kingdom will not be merely an extension and perfection of existing earthly trends. Quite the opposite, for the Parousia will occur unexpectedly in a time of widespread moral decay and religious indifference.
Fourth, Christ's second advent will be preceded by a "great tribulation." Just before his physical return, mankind and the natural world will undergo astounding catastrophes. Jesus will appear in a time of cosmic tribulation as well as social turmoil and intense suffering. Some millennialists believe that Christians will be miraculously transported from this world prior to the great tribulation, while others feel that the 2 Church will remain on earth during these supernatural upheavals.
Fifth, the second coming will result in the subjugation of all evil and the binding of Satan for a thousand years. Yet near the close of this millennium of peace and righteousness, Satan will get free and launch a desperate final assault. Then he and his demonic allies will be defeated and cast into the lake of fire which God has prepared for their everlasting punishment.
Sixth, millennialists claim that this description of the Last Days is clearly taught in Scripture. They also assert that by carefully studying the prophecies of Daniel and Ezekiel as well as the apocalyptic passages in the New Testament one is able to find the concrete political events which will point to the imminence of Jesus' return.
This picture of the End-time is made Modern by a dispensational exegesis of the Scriptures by many Fundamentalist laymen and ministers who belong to churches outside the mainstream of contemporary Protestantism. We should therefore briefly consider their interpretation of the Biblical faith. Modern dispensationalism originated in the preaching of Reverend John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), an Anglican priest who became a leader of the Plymouth Brethren sect, and a Texas Congregationalist clergyman C. I. Scofield (1843-1921) who published a very popular annotated Reference Bible which became a Fundamentalist authority. 3
What do these Scofield Bible Christians teach? 4 The first and most important assertion they make is that the Scriptures must be interpreted literally. Therefore all prophecies in the Bible will be fulfilled literally. If the Scriptures say that the returning Christ will stand upon the Mount of Olives and that it will split, then Christ will stand upon that mountain which will then literally split (Zach. 14:4).
The second major tenet of Scofield Bible Christians is to distinguish sharply between Israel and the Church. God made an unconditional covenant with the Jews which can never be broken. God will ultimately bestow upon them all the blessings He promised Abraham and his seed. The Church does not take the place of the Jewish chosen people. The Church was not foreseen in Old Testament times, did not begin until Pentecost and only became necessary because the Jews 5 rejected the earthly kingdom which Jesus offered.
In the third place, Scofield Bible Christians differentiate between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God. The former is Jewish, Davidic and messianic. When the Jews in Jesus' day rejected him, this kingdom's coming was postponed until the millennium. By contrast, the kingdom of God is universal, referring to the all-inclusive rule of God over mankind.
Fourthly, the Scofield Bible divides the history of God's saving activity into separate "dispensations." Step by step He fulfills His purpose. God's relationship to men differs in the Abrahamic stage, Mosaic stage, the time of Jesus and, the period of the Christian Church. Nevertheless, there is only one way to unite with God, whatever the dispensation. Salvation is always by faith alone. Furthermore, the basic validity of the moral law remains the same through the series of dispensations. But in many cases what is obligatory in one stage of God's dispensation is no longer valid in subsequent stages. For example, the Jewish ceremonial law was ordained of God for the Old Testament period but is not required of Christians in a later dispensation.
The last characteristic of Scofield Bible exegesis is its fondness for typological interpretation of the Old Testament. Great ingenuity is employed to point out how often "types of Christ" or definite predictions of the Jesus-to-come are hidden behind the Jewish texts. For example, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, and even Mordecai in the book of Esther point specifically to Christ. Isaac is a type of Christ because he, like Jesus, was offered as a sacrifice; and Moses is like Christ because as infants both barely escaped being killed by wicked rulers. In other words, although scriptural prophecies are to be fulfilled literally, much of the Old Testament contains secret meanings far more profound than the literal text.
Now we must evaluate the Fundamentalist theology of history. Why is it disregarded by almost all of the major theologians and its promulgation limited to "Bible colleges" on the fringes of contemporary Protestantism? 6 First, because dispensationalists are not really dedicated interpreters of the Scriptures, in spite of their claims. For instance, the New Testament does not employ a literal exegesis of Old Testament prophecies. Let me give three examples. The prediction that Elijah would return prior to the Messiah's arrival was not fulfilled literally because John the Baptist served as the prophet's spiritual substitute. Acts 4:21-28 interprets the imprisonment of Peter and John as the fulfillment of Psalm 2, but this is not a literal realization of the prediction that kings would oppose the Messiah whom God had enthroned on Mount Zion. Finally, the apostle James identifies Amos' prophecy of the restoration of the fallen tabernacle of David with the conversion of Gentiles to Christianity and the establishment of God's spiritual kingdom (Acts 15:13-18). 7 From this evidence, one can conclude that even from New Testament times, Christians have explicitly denied the Fundamentalist claim that all the Old Testament prophecies about the Jews as an ethnic group must be literally fulfilled.
Scofield Bible Christians also present a weak case when they try to find confirmation of Biblical predictions in the newspaper headlines. Let me cite here Hal Lindsey's questionable identification of apocalyptic texts with current political events. 8 He claims that the Bible predicts as signs of the Messiah's imminent appearance the creation of the European Common Market, Arab hostility to Israel, Russian Communist interests in the Near East and the military conquests of the Red Chinese. Each of these political events confirms precisely a specific Biblical prophecy.
Is Lindsey right? One has reason to be skeptical because Luther, a far abler scriptural exegete, used exactly the same texts to prove that the 16th century was the Last Days. For him these prophecies referred to the papacy, the alliance of German territorial princes against Protestantism and the advancing armies of the Ottoman Turks. Then during World War II, Fundamentalist preachers using the same texts confidently predicted that Hitler was the anti-Christ, the Nazis would be Satan's allies in the coming battle of Armageddon and the mysterious horde from the east was the Japanese army. When dispensationalists like Lindsey have been so often wrong, no wonder most Christians dismiss such fanciful speculations.
Why is the Fundamentalist scenario for the Last Days absent from modern books of our most eminent 20th century theologians like Barth, Bultmann and Tillich or their successors, Moltmann, Pannenberg, Cobb, Ogden and Rahner? Emil Brunner explains the reason why the physical return of Jesus on the clouds has been ignored in modern times. Biblical apocalyptic is based upon an obsolete cosmology far different from the scientific world-views. It is ridiculous to connect the scriptural world-picture with our modern concepts. We cannot believe that in the Last Days stars will literally fall from heaven or that Christians will be raised to meet the returning Jesus in the clouds. Nevertheless one can value the eschatological imagery of the New Testament as symbols for the value of each individual's life history and also the universal significance of the course of all mankind. 9
A Note on Dispensationalism
As a distinctive and detailed interpretation of the Biblical plan of salvation, dispensationalism is largely the work of three men. John Nelson Darby (1800-82) left the Anglican priesthood to become a leader of the Plymouth Brethren sect in 1827. In his books and sermons as an international evangelist, he systematized and popularized dispensationalist views. C. R. Scofield (1843-1921), a pastor of the First Congregational Church of Dallas, used the dispensationalist scheme in his widely circulated Reference Bible. Lewis S. Chafer (1871-1952) founded Dallas Theological Seminary in 1924 and taught dispensationalist theology there, even though his views were condemned by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (Southern). The same dispensationalism was continued by his successor John E Walvoord (b. 1910).
B. The Basic Ideas
Dispensationalism interprets the Bible as a series of separate historical periods, each of which receives a divine revelation to obey God in a specific way. The word "dispensation" comes from the Latin translation of a New Testament Greek word meaning "serving as a steward of property on behalf of its owner" Theologically, a dispensation is a stage in God's progressive revelation constituting a distinctive stewardship or rule of life (L. S. Chafer). In the Scofield Reference Bible, a dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God (footnote to Gen. 1:28). Or to put it simply, in each age of scriptural history God tests man by special commandments and judges him if he is disobedient.
According to the dispensationalists there are seven ages of man:
(1)the Adamic dispensation,
(2) that of Noah,
(3) the Abrahamic,
(5) the Palestinian covenant,
(6) the Davidic and
(7) the new dispensation of grace.
This is Scofield's division. Chafer's is somewhat different:
(1) the Edenic dispensation of innocence,
(2) the Adamic dispensation of conscience,
(3) the Noahic dispensation of human government,
(4) the Abrahamic dispensation of promise,
(5) the Mosaic dispensation of the Law,
(6) the New Testament dispensation of grace and
(7) the final dispensation of God's kingdom.
Using the Scofield interpretation, let's see what each dispensation contains. First, man, created innocent, was subjected to a simple test. When Adam and Eve disobeyed the divine commandment, they were expelled from Eden. Second, fallen man was commanded to obey his conscience, do good, abstain from evil, and approach God through sacrificial rites. When men failed to carry out these divine commandments, God punished them with a flood. Thirdly, during the Noahic covenant, man for the first time was subject to human government. This dispensation contains seven elements:
1) God reconfirms man's positive relationship to the earth (Gen. 8:21).
2) God confirms the orderly rhythm of nature (vs. 22).
3) Human government is established (9:1-6).
4) Earth will never again be destroyed by water.
5) It is prophesied that Ham's sons will be an inferior race (9:24-25).
6) Shem's descendants will be specially related to God (9:26-27).
7) Finally, it is predicted that Japheth's descendants will be famous for their skills in government, art and science (9:27).
The fourth or Abrahamic covenant also has seven elements: Abraham's descendants will become a great nation. God will bless them temporally and spiritually. Abraham's name will become famous world-wide. God will bless all who bless Abraham and curse those who curse him. In Abraham all the families of the earth shall be blessed because Jesus Christ will come from the seed of Abraham.
The dispensation of the Law begins with Moses and ends with the crucifixion of Jesus or the experience of Pentecost. God gives his commandments (Ex. 19:3-4). Men's responsibility is pointed out (19:5-6). They fail and are judged. The Mosaic law contains three parts: the ten commandments, the rules governing Israel's social life, and religious requirements.
The next dispensation Scofield calls the Palestinian covenant which gives the conditions under which the Hebrews enter the promised land. It too has seven parts: Israel will be dispersed if she disobeys God (Deut. 28:63-68). Once they are scattered, the Hebrews will repent. Christ will come to aid them against their enemies. The Jews will be able to return to their homeland. All of them will be converted (Rom. 11:26-27) by the Messiah and he will execute judgment on their oppressors. Finally, Israel will become marvelously prosperous (Deut. 30:9).
The seventh or Davidic dispensation (11 Sam. 7:8-17) provides the foundation for the glorious kingdom of Christ who was born of the seed of David. God blesses King David's family. He promises them a throne, royal authority and a realm forever. If the royal sons of David disobey God they will be punished but their kingdom is guaranteed by God forever. At this point the dispensationalists disagree with most Christians. Most Christians believe that God's promise to the Jews was cancelled when they rejected Jesus and so there is no scriptural basis for the belief that a Jewish Davidic dynasty will be re-established in Jerusalem as part of the Messianic age, they would say.
The final dispensation of the kingdom begins with Jesus' atoning death on the cross or the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This New Covenant of grace and the kingdom rests on the sacrifice of Christ and secures eternal blessedness on all who believe (Scofield Bible, footnote to Heb. 8:8).
According to Chafer, grace failed to produce world-wide acceptance of Christ or a triumphant church. Hence it is necessary for Christ to come again, beginning the final dispensation of the kingdom. After a period of great tribulation and the "rapture" of the church, Christ will bind Satan for a thousand years and then set up a theocratic kingdom-an earthly kingdom of God with a renewed sacrificial system and a priesthood (Is. 60:21-23, Eze. 40-48). After the millennium, Satan will be loosened to make one final assault on man (Rev. 20:7-9). God will punish the rebels by fire (Rev. 20:9) and the old earth and heaven will be destroyed by fire (11 Peter 3:7, 10-12).
What are the advantages of the dispensational interpretation of the Scriptures and what are its weaknesses? There are several positive features of dispensationalism. For one thing, it attempts to give a rational plan for God's purposes in history. Secondly, it teaches progressive revelation. God deals with men in each dispensation in a distinctive way. Each historical age has its special responsibilities and a unique revelation of God's will for its own time. Thirdly, dispensationalists offer a millennarian interpretation of the Bible. History will culminate in the creation of a new heaven and new earth.
What are the usual criticisms of dispensationalism? One, it is not what the Bible teaches, but is an artificial system imposed upon the Scriptures. Two, dispensationalism was not taught by the early church or the Protestant Reformers. Jesus' teachings are not dispensational. Neither is this the way Paul, Augustine, Luther or Calvin explained Scripture. Dispensationalism is a very recent innovation, a system invented in the late 19th century by sectarians like John Nelson Darby of the Plymouth Brethren. Three, dispensationalism is not defended in the mainline denominations-Eastem Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran or Calvinist-but is only promulgated by independent revivalists and storefront Fundamentalist churches. Four, dispensationalists do not agree about the number and nature of the various periods of divine revelation. Finally, the dispensationalists are narrow-minded and divisive preachers and laymen whose main work is to sow seeds of dissension among Christians. For this reason, even the Protestant evangelicals like Billy Graham or the editors of Christianity Today are very careful not to identify their work with dispensationalism.
How does the dispensationalist theology compare with Divine Principle? Both divide the course of providential history into separate periods. Both stress the fact that we are tested for our responsibility and God punishes an age which fails its duty to God. Both emphasize the messianic purpose and goal of history. Finally, both teach that God's essential purpose cannot be limited to the preaching and worship of a church but must include the establishment of an earthly kingdom of heaven.
However, the differences between Protestant dispensationalism and Divine Principle are as great as the similarities. Because of the Fundamentalist belief in an exclusively literal interpretation of Scripture, dispensationalists insist upon the virgin birth, physical resurrection, bodily ascension and return of Jesus upon the clouds. For the same reason, they disagree with Divine Principle over the nature of the fall, the total sufficiency of Jesus' atoning death on the cross, the "rapture" of the saints, the total destruction of the earth in the Last Days, and the everlasting punishment of the damned. Dispensationalists do not understand restoration through indemnity. They fail to see how the New Testament age parallels the Old Testament age. They believe that the Jews remain the chosen people in spite of their rejection of Jesus. They think that Israel will be the place where the second advent will occur. And they define the Last Days and the arrival of the messianic age with numerous supernatural wonders and natural catastrophes. Furthermore, they are not at all interested in reconciling science and religion or uniting all faiths. To conclude, in these fundamental matters, the Divine Principle and dispensationalist viewpoints are as far apart as oil and water.
1 Cf. H. Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (1970). A noted Evangelical, Samuel Escobar, condemned this best-seller for its intensely conservative American nationalism as well as its hostility to Europe and the Arab countries, C. R. Padilla, ed., The New Face of Evangelicalism (1976), p.259.
2 Cf. C. L. Feinberg, "The Rapture of the Church: How and When?" in Jesus the King Is Coming (1975), pp. 27-35.
3 Scofield Reference Bible (1909), major revision (1967).
4 For excellent scholarly studies, cf. M. J. Erickson, Contemporary Options in Eschatology (1977) and C. B. Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism (1960).
5 Cf. C. L. Feinberg, "Israel and the Prophetic Scriptures," Prophecy and the Seventies (1971), pp. 163-198.
6 For example, Moody Bible Institute, Bob Jones University, Dallas Theological Seminary. Fundamentalists are not to be confused with the Evangelicals represented by the journal Christianity Today
7 M. J. Erickson, op. cit., pp. 105-106. Cf. L. Berkhof, The Kingdom of God: The Development of the Idea of the Kingdom, Especially Since the Eighteenth Century (1951), p.165.
8 Lindsey finds the European Common Market predicted in Daniel chap. 7; the Russian communists in Ezekiel chap. 38 and the Chinese Reds in Revelation 16:12, 9:16-18. Inadvertently, he undermines his case by agreeing with an authority who identified Ezekiel's reference to the king of the north (chaps. 38-39) as the Czar of Russia, a very different person from the Communist dictator (The Late Great Planet Earth, p. 63).
9 E. Brunner, Eternal Hope (1954), a book prepared on the theme of the World Council of Churches' assembly at Evanston: "Christ the hope of the world."
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