Why I Am Not a Dispensationalist: Part 1
I’ve thought about writing this for a number of years, always putting it off because there were more pressing matters.
Maybe that isn’t true anymore.
One of many interesting conversations I had while attending the Montana GOP convention in Bozeman last weekend revolved around messaging. I observed, as I have on a number of other occasions, that conservatives by nature are not activists. Activism runs counter to our very essence. That isn’t a bad thing. It can be a very good thing. But it isn’t necessarily good, and it can produce bad outcomes…and not just in elections.
Perhaps the most common negative outcome is over-reaction. Right now there is a lot to react to, and it would be hard to quantify anything as an over-reaction to the horrors of the IRS, the DOJ and the NSA. But in general, our approach to most issues is to tolerate as much as is humanly possible, and when we have finally had enough to actually be motivated to engage, we aren’t just motivated. We’re moved to anger, and precious few people are skilled at addressing problems or conflicts successfully when they’re angry.
We shouldn’t let anger be our ongoing motivation. It is not enough to be angry, even if you are absolutely in the right. In order to retain and to rebuild our culture in the wake of this presidency, we must determine to be better, to make our case in the political realm by first demonstrating that the ideas we hold dear actually define who we are.
What does that have to so with eschatology? Everything.
I won’t presume so much as to think that every Republican, or even every conservative, is religious, much less that they are an evangelical Christian. Nor will I at this point argue in defense of the Protestant Reformation as the locus classicus of the liberties planted and cultivated in American soil. I will say this: believing there is some knowable telos, some goal toward which history moves, is at the heart of eschatology, eschatology being the study of ‘last things’.
Just as our striving to be morally better political animals necessarily entails a knowable ethic, so our political goals must conform to that knowable telos, the goal and purpose of our very existence; and if my notions of eschatology do not comport with what I know to be my raison d’etre, my reason for being, I must choose to act upon the more certain of the two.
Dispensational eschatology (think Left Behind, if you don’t know the term) is the dominant view among evangelicals nowadays, but it was not always so. In fact, it is a fairly recent development, but that is a topic for another post. What is relevant to this post is the fact that as the dominant view, many tend to assume it is simply the truth, and they never bother to consider how that assumption impacts their approach to daily life, including political matters. Here is the problem: if one assumes the world is irrevocably bound to get worse and worse right up until the very end of time, one can have no rational justification for hope. One allows someone else to own the very idea of hope, and that is where we are now.
But hope itself is a word, an idea, the very strength of which hinges upon the question of a knowable telos. Progressives have laid their hands upon that which they can neither control nor contain. Hope always carries with it a moral judgment upon the conditions that exist, and that is not all; it brings also an intuited notion of how things ought to be.
Hope is, in its very essence, an ethical matter.
Since hope is ethical, one can only present a rationale for hope from a point of view that assumes the validity and authority of knowable ethical standards. Since Progressivism is at its core opposed to the concept of knowable, normative ethics, it is ultimately destructive of hope itself.
When I am tempted to lose hope I remember Psalm 2:
Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.
That sounds pretty bleak, pretty hopeless, pretty relevant to today’s world. But I am not a Dispensationalist, so I keep reading.
The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.
He laughs, He scoffs …because the chains they break are their anchor chains.