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ABSURDITY IN DISPENSATIONAL SCHOLARSHIP

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  July 6, 2012 — 14 Comments

I have long made the distinction between scholarly dispensationalists (e.g., Charles Ryrie, John Walvoord, and sometimes Dwight Pentecost) and the populist dispensationalists (e.g., Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, and anyone else with book sales over 15 billion copies). I did this out of respect for the more thoughtful presentations in the scholars writings. But now I don’t know what possessed me to do this. Let me explain and illustrate the blurring of the lines separating populist dispensationalists from the “scholarly” ones.

Generally the “scholarly” dispensationalists present the more theological and exegetical foundations for the system. Whereas the populists run grinning and skipping full-bore into date-setting, rapture-predicting, Antichrist-portending, Armageddon military-operation-plan describing (OPLANs), newspaper-exegeting, system-contradicting inane, vacuous, absurd, silly, vapid, pointless, fatuous, insubstantial slop. They do this for the mere pleasure of fleecing the sheep of untold millions of dollars of their non-invested, discretionary funds.

However, I have begun to question this distinction between populist and scholar in dispensationalism. And I even wonder why I ever allowed such a distinction. Though it is true that the populists never attempt any scholarly-sounding, exegetically-rigorous, theologically-astute presentations of their system, it is most certainly not true that the “scholars” are not lured into crass money-making publications. Consider the following books by the more reputable dispensationalist “scholars” Ryrie and Walvoord. (I believe that Pentecost also wrote one, but fortunately I have lost it.)

Walvoord published his newspaper-exegesis book Armageddon, Oil and the Middle East Crisis: What the Bible Says about the Future of the Middle East and the End of Western Civilization in 1974 and again in 1976. Then when the first Gulf War broke out, he revised and re-released it in 1990 whereupon it became a multi-million bestseller, making him so much money that he had to invest it in long-term real estate ventures.

Walvoord not only provides devotional readings from the newspapers, avoids indexing the book, and resists footnotes (as do populists), but he provides a table of “Prophetic Events in History Beginning with the Babylonian Captivity” (on pp. 107–08). And what are some of these prophecies (none of which should be occurring in the church age while awaiting the signless, imminent rapture)? Here are a few that may surprise you (I know they surprised the aluminum storm door salesman that came by my house yesterday):

• 1945: Rise of Russia and Communism to power.
(Who would have known this would occur in 1945? This is an amazing prophecy. Of course, once you break the number down you will see obvious clues: 1 stands for the first commandment; 9 for number of centuries lived by Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Jared, Methuselah, Noah, Peleg (Gen 5; 9:29; 11:19); 4 for the number of Jacob’s sons whose name starts with the letter “j” [Judah and Joseph] multiplied by 2; 5 is a number often thought of while milking four-uttered cows.)

• 1946: Beginning of world government: United Nations formed.
(Notice prophecy’s strange silence about “cheese.”)

• 1948: Israel established as a nation in the land: third return.
(This date was necessary to get us into the age of television which would give rise to tele-evangelism.)

• 1956: Israel extends territory.
(Carefully notice how this is but eight years after 1948. Need I say more?)

• 1967: Israel regains territory.
(This is not the year of the invention of aluminum foil. Though on January 5 of this year Spain and Romania sign in Paris an agreement establishing full consular and commercial relations, though, sadly, not diplomatic ones.)

• 1975: Egypt reopens the Suez Canal.
(Though apparently there is no clear prophecy discussing the original dredging of the Suez and the actual building of this particular canal)

• 1979: Camp David Accords: peace with Egypt.
(Little did Jimmy Carter know he was the subject of biblical prophecy, though obviously before he occurred in history peanuts had to be invented. This co-ordination of events then becomes a remarkable demonstration of God’s providence. Sadly though, peanut butter was invented before peanuts themselves, then had to await the later arrival of its main ingredient. Consequently, it originally sold very poorly as a jar of brown butter.)

• 1982: Israel attack PLO in Lebanon.
(I wish he had given the Bible verse backing up this one. I know the letters “p,” “l,” and “o” occur in Scripture, but they appear to be randomly placed rather than carefully articulated. Of course, their “gap theory” may account for this for we note that all three of these letters occur in their proper order in Gen 2:9: “And out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is Pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of Life also in the midst Of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”This cannot be sheer chance.)

• 1990: Saddam Hussein, in preparation to attack Israel, seizes Kuwait.|
(Hussein’s name is difficult to find in biblical prophecy [though not impossible if you are double-jointed]. However, “Kuwait” is found all over both the Old Testament and the New Testament. I think.)

And what of Charles Ryrie, perhaps the most important, articulate, and prominent of dispensationalism’s “scholars”? In 1976 he presented the waiting world with The Living End, which was described on the cover as: “Enlightening and astonishing disclosures about the coming last days of earth.” In 1982 he released The Bible and Tomorrow’s News. Then during the first Gulf War he re-released it as The Final Countdown and enjoyed reprints in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, and beyond (I quit buying it after the fourth reprint so I don’t know how many more followed. And I am too tired to look it up. I am still tired from getting up at 2 am on March 11 to set my clock for Daylight Savings Time.)

I will provide just one more disappointing evidence of absurdity among these “scholars.” In Walvoord’s Prophecy in the New Millennium (2001) we read the following discussion of the massive New Jerusalem:

“Clearly, the New Jerusalem could not rest on the earth because it is described as such a huge city that it would blot out the whole Promised Land, making impossible the fulfillment of other elements of the millennial kingdom. . . . It would have to be a satellite city, situated in space. . . . It may be that those who have been resurrected or translated will live in this satellite city over the earth.”

Consequently, though I will tip my hat to the likes of Ryrie and Walvoord in their attempts to establish secure foundations for the dispensational system, I will not be as quick to point to them as scholars who are immune from the lures of populism and absurdity. Such temptations are endemic to the whole system which reads like a rejected script from television’s Hee-Haw. Junior Samples refused to lower himself to such far-fetched scenarios. He was afraid it would hurt his used car business.

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Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

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Ken is a Presbyterian pastor and the author or co-author of over thirty books, most on eschatology. He has been married since 1971, and has three children and several grandchildren. He is a graduate of Tennessee Temple University (B.A., 1973), Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1977), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th.M., 1986; Th.D., 1988). He currently pastors Living Hope Presbyterian Church (affiliated with the RPCGA) in Greer, SC. Much of his writing is in the field of eschatology, including his 600 page book, He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology and his 400 page, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (his Th.D. dissertation). He contributed chapters to two Zondervan CounterPoints books on eschatological issues: Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (edited by Darrell L. Bock) and Four Views on the Book of Revelation (edited by C. Marvin Pate). He also debated Thomas D. Ice in Kregel's The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? His books have been published by American Vision, Baker, Zondervan, Kregel, P & R, Greenhaven Press, Nordskog, Wipf & Stock, and several other publishers. He has published scores of articles in such publications as Tabletalk, Westminster Theological Journal, Evangelical Theological Society Journal, Banner of Truth, Christianity Today, Antithesis, Contra Mundum, and others. He has spoken at over 80 conferences in America, the Caribbean, and Australia. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and a Church Council Committee member of Coalition on Revival.

14 responses to ABSURDITY IN DISPENSATIONAL SCHOLARSHIP

  1. Jerritte Couture July 6, 2012 at 6:30

    This absolutely cracked me up. Brilliant satire.

  2. Douglass McFarland July 6, 2012 at 6:30

    I agree. Truly brilliant.

  3. And yet, while you engage in logical fallacies (Hasty Generalization for one) you fail to mention many other “scholarly” dispensationalists that are truly scholarly and current. Why don’t you deal with any material less than 20 years old? Why such sweeping conclusions of dispensationalism based on Ryrie and Walvoord?

    I recently read a blog post on here about misconceptions and misrepresentations about postmillennialism. I dare say that maybe a post is needed in the same light regarding dispensationalism.

    I come here to learn about your position as a postmillennial preterist and yet I find sarcastic and even insulting posts that denigrate dispensationalists that are often unfair or misrepresent the system as a whole.

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. July 6, 2012 at 6:30

      My interaction is concerned with the dispensationalist in the pew, the one who buys this material and uses the Ryrie Study Bible (which has over 2 million copies in print). The books I quoted are still in print and still influential. I appreciate the enormous changes being effected by academic dispensationalists such as Bock and Blaising (progresive dispensationalists). But LaHaye sells tens of millions of more books than they do. And LaHaye’s Prophecy Study Bible , Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy, and other materials not only promote Ryrie and Walvoord and their views but also picks up on their arguments and promotes them. I am hoping to cut them off at the root. If you agree that Walvoord and Ryrie are embarrassments, then we are making progress. Once their books are out of print, we are making real progress.

      • Hi Jason & Ken,

        If I may add, Ken had a good documentation on the developments w/ in the camp of Premil Dispy in his newsletter: “Dispensationalism in Transition”.

        In one of the issues, Ken took note on how the old guards of Dispy(John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie & others) are unhappy & disgusted over the progressive changes & refinements the Progressive Dispy (Darrel Bock, Robert Saucy & others) are doing that they are already inching towards the Covenant theology. That means the New Guards of Dispy are listening(covertly?) to the teachings of Covenantallism whose footnotes may not necessarily appear on their books.

        And this explains in part (or large part) the whinings & murmurings of the Old Guards of Dispy.

  4. Kevin Evans July 6, 2012 at 6:30

    These kinds of books will always sell because people love suspense. I don’t believe that Ryrie, Hagee and others really believe that we are living in the last days. But they write books that will be best sellers that says we might be raptured soon (It’s always soon). They have a massive constituency that is ready to buy up anything that they publish. I have prophecy books on Iran, Russia and even America. It seems like everybody who becomes a prominent politician on the world stage is somehow prophesied in the Bible. I remember one prophecy expert saying that Prince Charles is the Antichrist. I think they are now saying it’s Obama. The list of Antichrists continues to be revised. But their followers can’t see that they being led on a wild goose chase.

  5. You make fun of LaHaye and others and I truly think they are wrong, but I also think you guys try to sell your books and so called interpretations which I find also amusing. I think both concepts are wrong. There is a little bit of truth in each, however, most of it is also deception from both sides. Until people get on their knees and pray they will be deceived just like most of the Jews were because they weren’t sudying for themselves or praying. I certainly don’t take to heart anything Calvin said, and Martin Luther as well as Calvin both needed to be born again. Get my drift. They were religious but that’s it.

    • Kathy,

      I challenged you about your allegations against Calvin & his teachings on ” Calvin & Postmillenianism”, but you just ignore it & run away. And now you have resurfaced w/ another taunting statement & probably ready to run away again.

      This site has been very courteous in welcoming comments from guests & visitors but must be tempered w/ decency & responsibility.The burden of proof rests on your shoulders about your misinformed & irresponsible assertions about Calvin & his teachings. At least Kathy, be responsible enough to explain your “satanic-tainted” statements about Calvin & be bold enough to stand your ground-don’t throw bricks & just run away like a kid ! Hit & run is not a fair game.

      Yes, these people sell books that are well researched, biblically grounded & therefore incisive in its insight. Author Ken Gentry do not misinform his readers about end times prophecy. Misinforming people for a windfall of profit under the guised of a “prophecy expert” is not his business. To the contrary he informs his readers why those prophecy authors are wrong in their approach to hermeneutics and he exemplifies the right methodology to biblical interpretation as employed & practiced by Reformed authors-albeit not infallibly. Those are some of the books he sells & I am a happy & satisfied buyer of Ken’s books.

      BTW Kathy, when was the last time you bought a Bible or a book written by an Arminian author?

  6. I think articles like this one are important to help people to step back and take a hard look at the dispensational camp and really see how absurd the whole thing is; and how sad that millions of people uncritically swallow their dogmatic assertions. It’s no wonder the church is largely irrelevant to the culture – we just don’t think.

    Thanks Ken. And I’m anxious to see that Revelation project completed!

  7. William Groeneveld July 7, 2012 at 6:30

    In your satire, do I detect a hint of jealousy re. the sale of your books?

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. July 7, 2012 at 6:30

      Lindsey has his millions; I have my thousands. No jealous, just saddness for the state of the church. But be aware, this article appears under the heading “Just for Fun.” It is an attempt at humor, while trying to make a point.

  8. The humor was great and not far from reality if you consider how Harold Kamping came up with his conclusions…

  9. Noa Napoleon July 7, 2012 at 6:30

    If ChristIans believe the world is about to end as we know it, this explains why so many of them have no vision for their Nation. The idea that the Bible promises that the Nations are destined to become Christian, or that they are called to demonstrate maturity and obedience as Nationʻs “before the second advent,” smacks of social gospel, and fails, according to them, to recognize the signs of the times. The fruit of this system of thinking produces responses like….”Why should Christians polish brass on a sinking ship?” My response to this is to ask how and where did they get such a narrow view of Salvation and the sovereignty of God? We are taught that it is Biblical (scriptural) to raise our children up in the ways of God, but totally unbiblical to teach that the Nations must obey God as nations. Are the nations unable to become Christian because its too late as they suppose? The only vision evangelicals are comfortable with is to say we are called to convert individuals, to evangelize and disciple individuals of the Nations but never nations as nations!? Evangelicals cannot relate to God as a nation because they say “we are living in the last days.” To such the notion of creating Christian cultures/Nations cannot happen anymore because of some prophetic timetable that precludes this until after the tribulation whereby the law will “automatically govern all of human life on earth.” But we donʻt refuse to instruct (raise up) our children in wayʻs of God for fear of the “end times” do we? Reform theology (specifically, Theonomic reform) gives us both the method and the theology of dominion, providing a blue print for disciplining the nations and thus for righteousness to prevail “in all the earth.”

  10. I have a question. How do we discern which prophetic passages refer to 70 AD and those prophecies that lie in our future? You do an excellent job refuting dispensationalism, but I’d like to see more critique of hyper-preterism.

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