Home > Book of Revelation, Dispensationalism, Promised land > Why dispensationalism isn’t cool

Why dispensationalism isn’t cool

One of the greatest promises God has given to the church is the promise that the Spirit will guide the saints to the truth. Jesus said, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.” [John 16:13]

In the Old Testament, the promise of a land was at the heart of the covenant that God made with Abraham, and the theme of possession of the promised land by the descendants of Abraham dominates throughout the Old Testament. The Old Covenant promises, such as the land promise, were types, and figures, and metaphors, of spiritual things promised to the saints. The land of Canaan included hills, and  mountains, and valleys, and rivers, and lakes, and deserts, and cities, coastlines, etc.. Many of these things were the subject of various prophecies, the city of Jerusalem being an outstanding example.

The land of Canaan had a history, and a climate, and was prone to events such as invasion and conquest by other nations, and famine, and locust plagues, and earthquakes. In some places, the rocks contained evidence there had been shifting of the earth in previous ages. Israel’s journey through the wilderness to the promised land, and their taking possession of it, and the history of the judges, and of the monarchy, and the ministry of the prophets, and the captivities of Israel and Judah, all provide the background for many revelations of God.

The location of their land meant the people of Israel had to develop their relationships with the great powers of the ancient world, being situated between Egypt and Mesopotamia, and in a narrow area of land connecting the Asian and African continents. Israel’s loss of their land, and the promise of a restoration, is one of the great metaphors, and shadows, and types of the Old Covenant. The restoration promise is fulfilled by Christ and the church. See Hebrews 11:16.

The people of Israel developed a culture, and a language, and traditions, and stories about heroes and villains, a royal dynasty, and songs, and collective wisdom, over several centuries, which forms the background of the revelations of scripture and of the gospel.

In the language of the prophets, possession of the promised land represents the “rest” of the believer, [Hebrews 4:4-11] and corresponds to the promise of Jesus that the Spirit will guide the saints to the truth. In Revelation 12:6 and 14, the saints are described as fleeing to a wilderness, which implies their expectation and promise of inheriting a land like the garden of Eden; but both the wilderness, and the land are metaphors.

The land which swallows up the flood from the serpent’s mouth is a symbol of the truth, into which Jesus promised to guide the saints!

In the past some have recognized that the promised land had a symbolic meaning. Philo, the Jewish philosopher said it represents wisdom. Gary Burge wrote: [1]

Philo is inspired by his desire to adapt Judaism to Hellenistic thought and he does this by allegorizing his Bible. For him, the truth of the concrete objects of Jewish life now take on a new meaning. The land is reinterpreted as the knowledge and wisdom of God. Thus he neglects the land promises found in Abraham and the patriarchs whenever the covenant is mentioned. No land promise appears even in discussions of Isaac or Jacob. In Genesis 28.10-22 when Jacob dreams at Bethel, the Hebrew text’s explicit reaffirmation of the land promise (28.13) is replaced by Philo with a promise of wisdom and virtue. The promise that Joseph would be buried in the Promised Land in Philo becomes a hope that his soul will inhabit “cities of virtue.” Canaan becomes not a place of religious promise but a metaphor, a stage of development for the soul. Moses’ leadership, therefore, will not take Israel to the Promised Land, but to a higher level of maturity and wisdom. Even in his eschatology, Philo does not see a literal ingathering of exiled Israel to a literal Promised Land. This instead will be an arrival into a state of deeper wisdom.

Isaac Watts said the promised land was a type of heaven and future happiness. He wrote: [2]

The gospel was preached to Abraham, viz. that the Messiah should arise from his posterity to bless all nations of the earth in due season; Gal. iii. 8. This was the third edition of it, and was distinguished by the addition of a new blessing, viz. a promised inheritance in the land of Canaan, as an emblem or type of heaven, and future happiness.

In Eden, God had placed the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The story of Adam and Eve, and their banishment from the garden, contains the core idea of the Old Covenant as it relates to the land, and the Old Testament story in a nutshell. If Israel obeyed God, they would dwell in the land, and receive blessings from God, but if they sinned, they would be banished like Adam and Eve were banished from Eden and would be denied access to the tree of life.

Jesus’ sermon on the Mount corresponds to the law given on Sinai; other mountains are associated with revelations, promises, and prophecies. The mount of Olives gives its name to the Olivet Discourse, the famous prophecy of Jesus. The entire word of God in both Old and New Testaments is represented metaphorically by the promised land.

Some Bible scholars, such as W.D. Davies, [3] have pointed out that the land promise of the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ; however, since Jesus is identified with the Word in John 1:1, and in Revelation 19:13, if they are correct, the land is also symbolic of the Word.

The connection between the land promise and revelations of God was illustrated by the dream of Jacob at Bethel, where he saw the ladder reaching to heaven and angels ascending and descending upon it. [Genesis 28:12-15] Why would angels ascend and descend, if not to convey the revelations of God to men, and prayers of the saints to heaven?

The spiritual significance of the land for the church is missed by dispensationalists, who view themselves as Gentiles, and indeed, spiritually they are. Their claim to understand the Bible corresponds to Gentiles occupying the mountains of Israel in Ezekiel 36.

The mountains of Israel represent the promises of God to the saints. Caleb, when he received his inheritance, said “give me this mountain.” [Joshua 14:12] The mountains are prominent features of the land, and high, and long-lasting; thus they represent high and lofty thoughts; spiritual concepts, having to do with our eternal inheritance. Dispensationalists misunderstand and misinterpret many of the prophecies.

In the light of the above, many of the numerous reasons offered for dissing dispensationalism seem insignificant. Preterist Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. has posted 95 Theses against dispensationalism.

Dan Phillips, who defended dispensationalism, complained, “It’s just not ‘cool’ to be dispensationalist, anymore.” He listed, and tried to answer the following Twenty-five stupid reasons for dissing dispensationalism:

1. All of the coolest guys are amillennial/”historical” premill/covenant/whatever.
2. It’s new.
3. It’s not Reformed/Calvinistic.
4. So many dispensationalists are goofs.
5. Dispensationalist writers have made false predictions.
6. The best scholars hate dispensationalism.
7. But the Reverend Doctor Professor _____ wrote a 600-page book destroying dispensationalism!
8. You can’t prove all those dispensational distinctives and prophetic features from the New Testament alone!
9. It isn’t a spiritual hermeneutic.
10. Dispensationalists are antinomian.
11. We should interpret the Old by the New.
12. You can’t take everything literally.
13. Dispies are over-literal.
14. I think Hal Lindsey is stupid, and I like to make fun of him.
15. I know some big names who used to be dispensationalists, and aren’t.
16. Dispensationalism is divisive.
17. Dispensationalism is defeatist.
18. Dispensationalism is fatalistic.
19. Dispensationalism is escapist.
20. Dispensationalism teaches a false offer by Christ.
21. “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20a).
22. Dispensationalism teaches two ways of salvation.
23. “Hey, I’m a CT/amill/postmill/preterist whatever, and I use grammatico-historical exegesis on everything!”
24. Dispensationalism divides the people of God.
25. Dispensationalism fails to see Christ in every verse of the Bible.

One good reason for dissing dispensationalism is enough!

References

1. Gary M. Burge. Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to “Holy Land” Theology.  Baker Academic. 2010. p. 22.

2. Isaac Watts, The harmony of all the religions which God ever prescribed to men, and all his dispensations towards them. In: The works of the Rev. Isaac Watts D.D. in nine volumes, Volume 3. 1812. p. 345.

3. W.D. Davies. The Gospel and the Land: Early Christianity and Jewish Territorial Doctrine. U. of California Press. 1974.

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