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.
About Matthew Distefano
Matthew Distefano is the author of All Set Free: How God is Revealed in Jesus and Why That is Really Good News and the forthcoming From the Blood of Abel. He is also a Regular Contributor for The Raven ReView and ProgressiveChristianity.org. You can find him on his website, Facebook, and Twitter.