The other side finds a way to get its people involved, to raise money. Our side is thinking about something else. — James Dobson
Some years ago, Druid Hills Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, was dealing with the issue of homosexual clergy. The Evangelical Lutheran Church was wrestling with the same issue on whether a practicing homosexual pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church should be relieved of his pastorate because he admits that he is in a sexual relationship with another man.
As one member of the Druid Hills church lamented, “A lot of time and energy is being spent by governing bodies and individual churches over this issue…. The time should be devoted to the real mission of the church: helping the poor, the homeless, [and] the community at large.”
Liberals know that conservatives grow weary fighting spiritual battles that have ecclesiastical and political implications. In time, those fighting these battles throw up their hands and say that there are more important “spiritual things” to do. They don’t want to fight anymore because they believe that divisions divide churches and hurt the ministry of the gospel. Not to deal with these clear moral issues makes the gospel irrelevant. If sin is no longer sin, then there is no need for the cross.
One way to gain relief from these battles is to deny the significance of this world. Rousas J. Rushdoony has written that humanists believe in history but not in God, and Christians believe in God but not in history. The “other side,” as Dobson describes them, has only this world, so they put all their efforts in the things of this world. There is no “next world.” For the humanist, this world is both heaven and hell. What a person does with his life and his environment determines his earthly future and the future of this terrestrial ball he calls “Mother Earth.” Man, the humanist believes, is the master of his destiny, the captain of his soul, the determiner of his fate.
Many Christians err on the other side by asserting that this life and the world in which we live count for very little. Christians have a stake in the world through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, and this redemptive work has made us and this world to count for something. “The earth is the LORD’s, and all that it contains” (Ps. 24:1). As “fellow‑heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17), we possess stewardship of this world. God’s good creation‑gift requires a righteous stewardship (1 Tim 4:1-4).
History is not something to be despised. History is the domain of God’s redemptive work. God entered history in the Person of Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14). Until God decides to do something with us personally (through death) and the world in which we live (creating a new heaven and new earth), this world is the only place where we can work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
James Dobson vented his frustrations about the lack of Christian response to this world. On a Focus on the Family broadcast, Dobson “chastised Concord‑area pastors [in California] not fighting for the repeal” of a law that banned discrimination against people with AIDS. On his October 30, 1989, Focus on the Family broadcast, Dobson said that of 85 pastors contacted by a Focus on the Family guest, only three offered to help. The reason the pastors gave for not getting involved was that such activity is “too political.” Dobson said that “it’s not political. It’s everything we care about and hope for. It’s everything that Christ taught us, and we are losing it.” Dobson went on to say that the church was “asleep,” and that he was “weary” of coming to the microphone and saying that.1
Dobson’s organization published Citizen, a monthly magazine designed to keep Christians informed on policy issues that affect the Christian community. Focus on the Family offered it to the nearly two million people on its mailing list. Fewer than 20,000 (200,000 already subscribe) took advantage of the free subscription offer (previously offered for $15.00). Dobson concluded that “People don’t want to know.” Why?
First, there is still little in the way of a comprehensive alternative agenda being offered by the fundamentalists. Focus on the Family has done well with family concerns. Dobson’s listeners hold him in high regard because of his family values and his espousal of definitive answers to specific personal and family problems. When it comes to the family, James Dobson does more than curse the darkness. But in other matters, the fundamentalist mindset has not worked out societal alternatives to counter the humanistic worldview. Cursing the darkness remains a favorite pastime of much of the church.
Political Tyranny by the Inch
Second, family issues, unlike political issues, are experienced firsthand and at close quarters; they occur daily, and they are ongoing. Political issues, on the other hand, do not seem to affect us personally or immediately, although this is changing rapidly. Politics becomes an issue only every two years during national elections. Even then Christian political activity is minimal. In addition, politicians have made the tyranny of political power seem painless. Consider what your reaction would be if you had to write a check each month to pay for social security and federal and state income taxes. But since you never see the money, you’re not as affected by the tax tyranny of the national government. In fact, we are so pleased when we get money back from the IRS at tax time that we view the return as a gift from the government. Christians of all types want solutions to problems that only come home to roost.
Third, dispensational escapists and pietists cannot live with a disintegrating family for two to five years (the extent of their time frame in view of the “imminent return of Jesus” doctrine),2 so they are willing to reconstruct their families along biblical lines. But they can live with a disintegrating culture because of their belief in the inevitability of societal decline and because the effects are for the moment distant. Although many fundamentalists go out of their way to deny it, eschatology plays a key role when it comes to activism.
Many dispensationalists deny this because they are active. But for every dispensational premillennialist who gets involved there are eight who do not. The non‑activists attempt to justify their position using biblical arguments. Prominent dispensational writers have created a theology that discounts a future earthly perspective that could lead to any success prior to an earthly millennium. Consider these examples:
· This world is not going to get any easier to live in. Almost unbelievably hard times lie ahead. Indeed, Jesus said that these coming days will be uniquely terrible. Nothing in all the previous history of the world can compare with what lies in store for mankind.3
· What a way to live! With optimism, with anticipation, with excitement. We should be living like persons who don’t expect to be around much longer.4
· I don’t like clichés but I’ve heard it said, “God didn’t send me to clean the fishbowl, he sent me to fish.” In a way, there’s a truth in that.5
· The [dispensational] premillennial position sees no obligation to make distinctly Christian laws.6
· “Since I don’t subscribe to the ‘secret conspiracy’ theories, I can only speculate that this movement to eliminate religion in general, and authentic Christianity in particular, is initiated, driven, and directed by the ‘enemy of our souls.’ Certainly, Jesus predicted that in the ‘last days’ these things would happen, but somehow, we always thought it wouldn’t happen ‘on our watch.’ But, my friends, it is happening on our watch! And, it is scary.”7
Ted Peters writes of dispensationalism that “it functions to justify social irresponsibility,” and many “find this doctrine a comfort in their lethargy.”8 This may be hard to take if you’re a dispensational premillennialist. After a great deal of reading and biblical study of the subject of eschatology, it is my belief that dispensational premillennialism is an aberrant theological system that has done much damage to the church and the world. Of course, I’m not alone in this assessment, nor is the assessment recent. A reeducation process must take place to wean Christians from dispensationalism. Such a program will help them to take this world seriously.
R.B. Kuiper (1886-1966), a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, wrote in 1936 that two grievous errors were “prevalent among American fundamentalists, Arminianism and the Dispensationalism of the Scofield Bible.” The General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church described Arminianism and Dispensationalism as “anti‑reformed heresies.” The Presbyterian Guardian (September 12, 1936), 225–227. Professor John Murray (1878-1975), also of Westminster Seminary, wrote that the “‘Dispensationalism’ of which we speak as heterodox from the standpoint of the Reformed Faith is that form of interpretation, widely popular at the present time, which discovers in the several dispensations of God’s redemptive revelation distinct and even contrary principles of divine procedure and thus destroys the unity of God’s dealings with fallen mankind.” (143).
Premillennialism of the covenantal variety was not under attack by these men. Kuiper again writes: “It is a matter of common knowledge that there is ever so much more to the dispensationalism of the Scofield Bible than the mere teaching of Premillennialism. Nor do the two stand and fall together. There are premillennarians who have never heard of Scofield’s dispensations. More important than that, there are serious students of God’s Word who hold to the Premillennial return of Christ and emphatically reject Scofield’s system of dispensations as fraught with grave error.”9
There are among the Reformed who are equally non-committal to social change via direct Christian action.
1. This material was taken from National and International Religion Report, 3:24 (November 20, 1989), 4. [↩]
2. A belief in the “imminent return of Jesus” implies that people know when Jesus is coming back since imminence means nearness. Certain signs are now developing (so we are told) that are clear indicators that Jesus’ return is near. This doctrine is quite different from the “any‑moment return of Jesus” which teaches that Jesus could come at any moment since there are no signs that precede His return. John F. Walvoord writes: “There is no authoritative revelation of intervening events.” The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 70. To assert that the Bible teaches that Jesus’ coming is near, and that it’s been nearly 2000 years since this prediction was made, is to make the Bible liable for error. Some dispensationalists have decried “doomsday‑dating,” but they still insist on the “imminent return of Jesus.” In 1978, in Future Survival, Chuck Smith, pastor of Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa, California, taught that “the Lord is coming for His Church before the end of 1981.” Smith has since repudiated date setting, but he still asserts that it’s possible to believe in the “imminency of the return of Christ without setting dates.” See William M. Alnor, Soothsayers of the Second Advent(Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1989), 41. A belief in the “imminency of the return of the Lord” is date setting. Alnor’s book is helpful, but it falls into the same pit as Smith and Lindsey. While both Smith and Lindsey have repudiated date setting, they have not given up imminency, and neither has Alnor. Lindsey has, contrary to Walvoord’s warning that “there is no authoritative revelation of intervening events,” stated that “again we are seeing specifically prophesied events taking place—which precede the RETURN of Jesus Christ to planet earth.” Hal Lindsey, “Wonderful Counselor,” Praise the Lord, a publication of Trinity Broadcasting Network, Vol XVI, No. XII (December 1989), 3. Of course, the Bible does teach that Jesus’ return was near. He did in fact come within a generation of his prophecy in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. See Herbert Bowsher, “Will Christ Return ‘At Any Moment,’?” The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Symposium on Evangelism, ed. Gary North, Vol. VII, No. 2 (Winter 1981), pp. 51‑55 and Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness (Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 1991). [↩]
3. Charles C. Ryrie, The Living End (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1976), 21. [↩]
4. Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), 145. [↩]
5. Hal Lindsey, “The Great Cosmic Countdown,” Eternity (January 1977), 21. [↩]
6. Norman L. Geisler, “A Premillennial View of Law and Government, Moody Monthly(October 1985), 129. [↩]
7. James A. Edgren, director of the National Association of Evangelicals Chaplains Commission. Quoted in World (October 3, 1992), 5. [↩]
8. Ted Peters, Futures: Human and Divine (Atlanta, GA: John Knox, 1978), 28, 29. [↩]
9. The Presbyterian Guardian (November 14, 1936), 54. The above material was taken from Edward H. Rian, The Presbyterian Conflict (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1940), 235–238. [↩]