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Last week my Bible “Gaps” article spoke of evangelist J.N. Darby’s sincere good intentions when he inserted an unspecified gap of time between the 69th and 70th weeks of Daniel 9. Thus was Premillenial Dispensationalism born. Yet without Darby’s convincing “gap,” this fictional though well-intended theology would never have seen the light of day. Instead, a theologically misled Church began disregarding the many Bible commands that require Christ’s Interadvent (between the two advents) vice-regents (us), to work in terms of guiding the culture and advancing the kingdom.
Not too long after 1830, what had once been an energetic, victory-oriented spiritual momentum in the U.S., came to a crashing halt, thus squashing the Reformed fathers’ 1620 commitment of erecting a shining city on a hill for the world to see. Hindsight tells us that if better scholarship to counter Darby had been forthcoming, the Church’s day-by-day cultural engagement responsibility would not have been set aside as has been the case for most of the past century and a half. Had the Church not failed, secular humanism, in all of its cunning modes, would not be slicing and dicing us today in this, currently, one-way (their way) battle for influence in culture.
However, in spite of the Church’s 19th and 20th-century rejection of full-orbed obedience, the current cultural disarray is not reason for permanent despair because more and more 21st century Christians are finally coming to understand the errors of Darby, Scofield, and their novel theory. The combination of this good news and the cooperative link being forged in the process with Christian homeschoolers is a great reason for the long-range optimism that this column will always be proclaiming.
To say that early 19th-century dispensational theorizing was sincerely “well-intentioned,” however, is exactly right. In fact most of us would have been encouraging Darby had we lived back in those difficult days. With the powerful psychological shock wave of Unitarianism and Enlightenment thought reverberating more strongly than ever, and with Darwinism making foundation-destroying inroads, early presenters of dispensationalism were desperate to “save Christianity” from the scorn of skeptics. Darby and others were especially worried about public scoffing over Christ’s “obviously unfulfilled” promise in regard to His “soon returning.” (Matt. 24:29–31 and Rev. 1:1, 3.) Since many Christians have been erroneously trained to believe that any coming following His ascension is, by definition, the final “Second Advent,” this not-all-that-unreasonable skepticism was shaking the very foundations of the Church itself, and this triggered Darby’s desire to come up with an explanation. That is, if Christ did come back in A.D. 70 then the “awesome” Second Advent was pretty much a fizzle; alternately, if He didn’t come back then He lied.
What worried dispensationalists should have known but somehow was overlooked is the fact that Jesus in fact did come back in judgment as promised in a way that God in the Old Testament had done routinely in chastisement of disobedient Israel (Isa. 19:1; Micah 1:3–5). Rest assured that Torah-trained, first-century Jews, who were Christ’s A.D. 30 target for still more rebuke, understood this “coming” language perfectly well. This was one of the main reasons they hated Him. The Lord’s frequent figurative coming “on the clouds” in the OT in judgment is highlighted in Psalm 18:7–15, 104:3, Isaiah 19:1, Joel 2:1, 2 and Zephaniah 1:14, 15. But, full-fledged, second and final advent is still ahead for us living in 2007.
With all this fanciful theory permanently set aside, we are now free to re-accept the biblical which, for eighteen hundred years following Christ’s resurrection, was loaded with culture transforming activism and optimism, plus rightly seeing the tribulation of Revelation and Matthew 24 as pertaining to the A.D. 70 fall of Jerusalem and the Temple. The tribulation language, then, though future to Matthew and John, is not something still future for us.
Cut now to the bottom line: With 2008 around the corner, let’s capitalize on this “good news” theological breakthrough. We have and have always had abundant reasons in the New Year and beyond to stand tall and obediently re-engage the culture with legitimate vigor. With our theology straight and victory in culture more than just a hope, we can stop dealing with a slack hand and, instead, act with self-government, character, and integrity in a way that will inspire others to say: “Since a better future for my grandchildren is my great desire, why can’t a Christian like “Bill or Jane” (I mean you, dear reader) be taking more of a civic leadership role in his vocation, his club, his church and in his town considering that “you” have become a role model for all-around Christian behavior worthy of city-wide respect.” With this same attitude, we must use our homes and churches as theological boot camps to train and inspire God-fearing, idealistic homeschoolers with the kind of biblical worldview that will lead them to become skilled Christian Soldiers ready to fight the good fight on cultural battlefields that are (temporarily) suffering from Satan-instigated disintegration. We need to push hard for this, taking advantage of the youthful idealism that works powerfully in God’s favor.
For further reading on the gap misconception, please see Darby, Dualism and the Decline of Dispensationalism and Last Days Madness.