The long-awaited critical review of dispensational theology has finally arrived: a bit Later than expected, yet even Greater as well. In this information-packed, two-hour DVD, Late Great Planet Church, host and producer Jerry Johnson of NiceneCouncil.com and ApologeticsGroup.com interviews several scholars and leads you through an eye-opening review of dispensationalism’s little-known (and sometimes dark) history and beliefs.
At first, after noticing the two-hour duration listed on the back, I anticipated the documentary would endure too long, especially since a Volume Two remains in production yet. How in the world did he fill up two hours and not get half of the info in there? So I wondered. The presentation greatly surprised me. Not only did it hold my attention the whole time, but it ended leaving me wishing I already had the second volume. Jerry does what any good presentation should do: he leaves you wanting more.
Perhaps Jerry most grabbed my attention early on in the film when he emphasizes that the argument over dispensationalism does not merely pertain to one doctrine in the way that, say, arguments over baptism, or church government, etc., have limited effects. Instead, the dispy system has universal implications for the Christian faith. It, in fact, has impacted the fate of Western Civilization. This claim jerked me to reality, mainly because—it’s absolutely correct and so absolutely important. From this point on, he had me hooked.
I watched and listened as Jerry and his several guest theologians and pastors unfolded and criticized the wide impact that dispys have had. This impact includes a knee-jerk reaction against scholarship (much of which, but not all, had gone liberal) which placed the movement’s entire following under the shadow of anti-intellectualism. Worse yet, the focus on an any-moment secret rapture of the church has stifled dispys from even engaging in, let alone fulfilling, a crucial portion of the Great Commission: that of discipling (not just “soul-winning”) the nations with all of what Jesus commanded us (Matt. 28:20). That the greatest historical waning of Christian influence throughout the world has occurred parallel to the rise of dispensationalism, I believe, is no mere coincidence. Cultural retreatism has its consequences. Late Great Planet Church further elaborates on some of the reasons for this.
Along with its subversive doctrines, the dispy parade has included some ironic hypocrisies. For example, while engaged in their anti-intellectual and anti-seminary mentality, many of their prominent leaders adopted the title “Dr.” for themselves despite having no formal education. Some never even attended college, and yet wielded the badge of the pinnacle of academia to lend credibility and authority to their own writings. Likewise, even though some of the more radical doctrines—such as the two-salvations view that argues Old Testament saints were saved by law-keeping while New Testament Christians find salvation in grace through accepting Christ—find clear documentation in the early leaders (even early editions of the Scofield Bible), many modern dispensationalists ignore or even outrightly deny that dispensationalism has ever held such views. The evidence speaks loudly that they did, and the DVD exposes these problematic issues.
Not only did the full show hold my attention, I actually learned a great deal that I did know (and I thought I knew most of the story behind dispensationalism). The history behind Darby, Scofield, Chafer and others puts the emergence of the dispy system in a new light, helping the viewer see how and why the system grew so popular in American culture, while at the same time showing some of its numerous deficiencies. I appreciated one insight that puts dispensationalism in its peculiar historical context: it belongs historically to the era in which individualistic prophecy experts appeared all over, pronouncing themselves as “raising up the true church” once again. Most of these groups we today mark clearly as “Cults,” including Joseph Smith’s Mormonism, William Miller’s millenarianism, and Charles Taze Russell’s Jehovah’s Witnesses. The lumping of these types with Darby’s novel dispensationalism by no means equates them, but to see their similarities in emergence and methodology provides a helpful insight into their appeal and success.
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Today, as Late Great Planet Church correctly points out, few academics—even from the very schools dispensationalists themselves founded specifically for their view—still promote classic dispensational views. In those schools, “progressive dispensationalism” has emasculated the key tenets of the old doctrine, and has brought the system ever closer to a covenantal view. Yet the old dispy system remains strong at the popular and local church level purely due to lack of teaching and the sensationalized hype of works of fiction such as the Left Behind series. The hype built by the works of Lindsey and LeHaye, the DVD mentions, command most of the remaining cultural force behind old-school dispensationalism. I do not think this bodes well for its future.
A greater force, however, looming over dispensationalism’s final demise would be the wide dissemination of this DVD. Even only this first volume provides enough eye-opening information to provoke average pew-dwellers to ask important questions like, “Did the church really not truly understand the Bible until 1830?” And, “Why does this new true understanding of the Bible essentially require Christians to dismiss, as irrelevant to Christians, most of what the Bible teaches?” I hope this video gets out, and I hope these questions start to roll from dispy lips across the world.
I also cannot wait for Jerry’s second installment. I appreciate this first dispensation; I eagerly await the coming of the second half.
Watch a trailer for The Late Great Planet Church on YouTube.