In our theological controversy with our dispensationalist brethren, one of the most common arguments is this: “I am a dispensationalist, I believe in the rapture, and that we live in the end times, the great apostasy is upon us, the Antichrist is soon to be revealed, but that doesn’t mean we sell everything and go out and sit on a hill waiting for that day, doing nothing.” We who are posmillenialists, i.e., we have victorious, optimistic eschatology and philosophy of history, keep pointing to the fact that dispensationalism has only one logical conclusion: All work for the Lord is useless this side of the “rapture.” Our dispensationalist brethren resent this conclusion, but they don’t show how it is illogical. They are content to use the disclaimer, “but that doesn’t mean.” And they think that with that disclaimer they have proven their case. They haven’t.
What is the meaning of their “but that doesn’t mean” disclaimer?
If I hear the words, “but that doesn’t mean it is a duck,” I can make an intelligent guess about the first part of that sentence. Most probably it is “It waddles like a duck, it swims like a duck, it quacks like a duck, it looks like a duck.” If my son is telling me, “but that doesn’t mean I didn’t do my schoolwork today,” then I know that the first part of the sentence in fact says that he really didn’t do his schoolwork today.” Every time I hear that phrase, “but that doesn’t mean,” I know that it connects two sentences that are logically unconnectable.
“But that doesn’t mean,” when one needs to repeat it many times, is a confession of logical and intellectual weakness. Translated into the language of honesty it reads: “I refuse to accept the logical conclusions of what I say or believe.” It says that the speaker knows very well what his beliefs and words really mean, but he dislikes the obvious conclusion. He refuses to accept the consequences of his ideas; he prefers to live in a world where there is no discernible predictable connection between his beliefs and his practical actions.
We see this same pattern not only in dispensationalism; all intellectually untenable positions are forced to use the same phrase when it comes to practical applications. Evolutionists and atheists are forced to use it: “but that doesn’t mean we don’t believe in ethical values.” The truth is, there are no ethical values that can be derived from an atheist’s position, but the atheist resents that obvious logical conclusion. Those who are anti-theonomic: “but that doesn’t mean we believe in humanistic law.” Well, if you reject the Law of God, that’s exactly what it means: you believe in humanistic law. Arminians: “but that doesn’t mean salvation is a result of man’s works.” Nonsense. The Arminian position is very logically and obviously based on salvation of works. Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics: “but that doesn’t mean we worship icons and statues.” It means exactly that, but they refuse to admit it means what it means.
To say it simply, if the thing looks, swims, waddles, quacks like a duck, the disclaimer “but it doesn’t mean” doesn’t make it a hawk. It only reveals the unwillingness of those who use it to face reality and become intellectually consistent with their own beliefs.
In the same way, when our dispensationalist brothers tell us that their beliefs about the last days “don’t mean” that they should quit working and changing the culture, they are not making dispensationalism more logical. They are only revealing their unwillingness to face reality. And the reality is that if dispensationalism was right, the only logical conclusion is that any Christian work and activism in this world before the Coming of Jesus is doomed to be fruitless and pointless. Yes, some dispensationalists are active and fruitful in their ministries; but there is no evidence they are fruitful because of their dispensationalist beliefs. To the contrary, those dispensationalists who are faithful in working to restore the Biblical foundations of our culture do so contrary to their eschatological expectations. (How do you explain your success and your expectations for success if you live in the “great apostasy” of the last days?) And indeed, most dispensationalists are consistent with their own beliefs and have chosen to remain limited and passive in their work for Christ. Consistency trumps inconsistency over the long-term, as Cornelius Van Til taught us.
Of all eschatological positions, only the victorious optimistic message of postmillenialism gives the logical and theological basis for changing cultures and conquering the world for Christ. Man cannot work to achieve goals if he doesn’t have the positive expectations that those goals can and will be achieved. Only in the framework of postmillenialism we can look at our failures as temporary setbacks and at our successes as normative; only as postmillenialists we can make righteous assessments as to the future value of our work in our families, our churches, our work places and our societies. To be more exact, only in the framework of postmillenialism future itself makes sense in history.
To put it a different way, only the postmillenialist doesn’t have to use the disclaimer “but it doesn’t mean” every time he makes the logical connection between his beliefs about history and his practice. They are in perfect harmony. Dispensationalists don’t have that luxury. It is time for them to examine the intellectual consistency of their own system.