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HOW I DUG OUT OF DISPENSATIONALISM

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  20 Comments

I am strong committed to Reformed, evangelical postmillennialism. But it was not always so.  Sometimes when we talk with dispensationalists we feel like we are sowing seed on stony ground. Our seed appears to be stuck between a rock and a hard head. Yet we must be encouraged with the prospect of getting dispensationalists to buck their system. I was once in it, but I have long since raptured out of it. Perhaps a brief testimony might be helpful in showing that dispensationalists can hear, and change.

I was once a dispensationalist. I was converted under a dispensational ministry (a youth camp at Florida Bible College: 1966). I immediately joined a dispensational church and eventually taught Sunday school (Calvary Bible Church, Chattanooga, Tenn.: 1966–1973). I worked my way through college while employed at a dispensational bookstore (Lanham’s Bible Bookshop, Chattanooga, Tenn.: 1969–73).

I graduated from a dispensational college with a degree in Biblical Studies (Tennessee Temple College: 1973). While enrolled there I took a course titled “Premillennialism” (taught by my favorite teacher, Dr. Dennis Wisdom: 1972).While there all my courses were informed by dispensational theology (dispensationalism is not simply an eschatology; it is a fully operational, wholesale theology.)  My first books forming the foundation of my personal library were dispensational works (the very first one being J. Dwight Pentecost’s Things to Come). I was enrolled for two years at a dispensational seminary (Grace Theological Seminary 1973–75) — until I raptured to Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, Mississippi: 1975)

I was truly a dispensationalist. An academically-trained, research-oriented, Greek-reading dispensationalist. I didn’t get my dispensationalism totally from televangelists (though several times I heard Jack Van Impe preach in chapel at Tennessee Temple College and Bible conferences hosted by its mother church, Highland Park Baptist Church). I got my dispensationalism from Ph.D.s trained at dispensational schools and from reading the more carefully written books by Walvoord, Ryrie, and Pentecost. I even knew the word “Rapture” didn’t appear in Scripture. I was no fly-by-night dispensationalist; I was armed and dangerous.

But I converted out of dispensationalism. By God’s grace I escaped the confusing and complicated system. I will confess, however, that converting out of dispensationalism cannot be accomplished overnight. Even once the break has been effected the convert will require years of re-learning the Bible. There is no such thing as a quick fix.

In fact, the confusion caused by the dispensational system is such that for several years I still had dispensational reflexes which I had to overcome. For instance, I reflexively began looking heavenward the first few times I heard there was an earthquake somewhere in the world. For a number of months I continued to instinctively begin each spoken sentence with the words: “According to biblical prophecy.” But this all began to fade until here I am today: not the least inclined to predict the date of the rapture or suggest the name of the Antichrist. I have even let my membership in Former Dispensationalists Anonymous lapse. I have now been sober from the wine of dispensationalism for over thirty-five years.

In the next few blogs I will suggest a discussion tool for helping pry dispensationalists from their system. But in the meantime I would welcome your own testimony regarding your struggle with dispensationalism and how it finally became “left behind” in your theological growth.

 

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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 100 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.

20 responses to HOW I DUG OUT OF DISPENSATIONALISM

  1. Your story is my story , with out the PhD though.

  2. Thank you for this so much. I was raised in a very dispensational tradition. December 31st 1979 we were all at the church because Jesus was going to return that night at midnight. (I was 8.) I was also told that I would never get married or have children or graduate high school because Christ was returning in 1988. It was not so much the return of Christ that frighten me but all the horrible things they said were going to happen before. I have lived for as far back as I can remember in terror and fear because we live “in the last days”. Honestly it has ruined my life.
    A few years ago I ran across Gary DeMar’s ministry and that is where I first heard of you, also. Until that time I honestly thought that all Christians believed that way and always had. When I first heard of postmillennialism it sounded to good to be true. Thank you for all your hard work. Thanks for letting me blow off some dispy steam also. May God continue to bless you and your ministry.

  3. “…I was armed and dangerous.”

    The most lethal kind! While dispensationalism didn’t mess me up too bad, it was definitely a sticky point between my very godly grandmother and myself. I would gently “walk through” all the passages that speak of the Church, the revelation of the “one new man out of the two”, how in Christ there is “neither Jew nor Greek”- and she would nod in agreement and say “But honey- God still has a plan for Israel”.

    Blessings, brother!

  4. Thank you for your testimony. Taking years to undo dispensational thinking and relearn the Bible after being a dispensationalist is all too true. I personally underwent a similar experience in my Christian walk. I had to forget what I thought I knew and start over, then I realized how much fiction was in my theology. It has taken years for me as well. Now when I hear a dispensational teacher, the ideas they present seem bizarre and full of eisegesis….as well as they should. Keep up the great work , may the Lord bless you richly!

  5. Gary Offenberg May 10, 2012 at 6:30

    It did take time, and i wouldn’t have made it unless i bumped into Kenneth Gentry’s book Before Jerusalem Fell.

  6. I suppose it would take time when you’re entrenched in it. For me, I believed that system because I thought every Christian believed it. Then one day, after getting through most of the Bible, I noticed that it simply wasn’t there. Thankfully, God led me to know other Christians that were not dispys so that I knew I was not alone.

  7. Thanking God for this testimony! My 20 yrs in the “word of faith” movement had taken it’s toll which explains my reflexes! 🙂 Listening and reading Bahnsen, Demar and Gentry has given me hope and encouragement. Thanks Dr. Gentry

  8. Bill and JM’s experiences remind me of the horror stories of those who escape the word-faith movement. Dispensationalism is definitely not a victimless ideology. As some of the others have said here already, I really thought all Christians were either pre, mid, or post trib rapture. Fortunately, the 70th Week teaching, the millennial based on one verse, and the other verses looking more like the 2nd Advent as opposed to a rapture, all flooded my mind with subterfuge, and kept me from having a positive position in eschatology. I had just bits and pieces, taken out of context, then used with the presuppositional rapture theory. My first leg out of Dispy was from International Bible teacher, Malcolm Smith, who is an Episcopal Bishop in Texas. He was Amil. I found satisfaction in his teaching, but I suppose I was too weak to build on my position at that point. I stumbled along for a few years after that until about four years ago when H. Hanegraaff disclosed his eschatological position with “The Apocalypse Code”. I read Hank’s book seven times, and just in time for The Lord to send Kenneth Gentry along with a plethora of books on the subject. I am now in the middle of Dr. Gentry’s books, and the inspiration of scripture, along with the acute historical veracity of the events of the AD 70 era, are bringing The Bible to life in a dynamic new way. The believer can’t go long on blind faith, as I tried to do as a dispensationalist. Using the Analogy of Faith and seeing all the allusions in Revelation, that are embedded in the OT, has super-charged my already super-charged certainty of the inspired text of scripture. Typology is playing a huge part as well. Now, not only can I never go back to types and shadows, but corollary to that, I can never go back to the futility of an eschatology that changes every time a Middle Easterner has decided to become a suicide bomber!

  9. Gordan Runyan May 13, 2012 at 6:30

    For me, God used a little book by Gary North, “75 Bible Questions….” It wasn’t that the questions were so radical or necessarily insightful, but the fact that someone dared to ASK the things that were floating around in my head as I read the Scripture and compared it to my Ryrie Study Bible notes. Before North’s book, I think I knew full well that my Dispensationalism was shot through with holes, like a Genevan cheese, but I reflexively moved all those trouble spots to the back of my mind and locked them in a dark room there. Then I used the bibliography in North’s little book to point me to OT Allis’s “Israel and the Church,” and it completely bulldozed my remaining Dispensationalism.

  10. My goodness, is there any wonder why non-believers can laugh at us? why the cults do not need to fear us. As Christians we can and do spend a lot of time downing each other. When I was walking with God awhile ago, I believed the reformed position and as I became more astute at presenting the position I found myself exhibiting the same arrogant mentality that is found here. I used to fellowship with 5 brothers in the Lord and 3 of us were reformed Christians (whatever that means) the three of us eventually went back to the world. while in the world i used to tell Christians that they were the new Jew’s in town, meaning that if the Lord Jesus walked the earth again, it would be the church that would crucify him this time. since the Lord has called me back to serve him i think i have a new eschatology, a new idea regarding Israel and the Jews, a new perspective regarding the church and finally a new reality about the true and living God, namely this. I find that rather than argue about the end times I want to impress those around me about our own end time, our personal rapture when we are called home before the Lord of Host’s, I want to be preaching Christ crucified and resurrected rather than seeing who can best formulate God’s word into a dogma. I do not think it is at all wrong conceding that I don’t know God’s plan for Israel and I will refuse to acknowledge that anybody does either. I know that there is a church out here somewhere (it’s hard to see) and I know that Christ Jesus is the head of that church, if only those in the front seat would sit down maybe we could see the Lord and not the back of their heads. Regarding Israel and the Church on last time, whatever God’s plan for them is I’m OK with it. I am just happy that he reserved a ticket for me and is allowing me to ride that train. The new reality is that during my wandering about in that great desert of sin, God with great compassion and love called me back to walk with Him, to love Him, to remember Him to SUBMIT to HIM. To preach the gospel of salvation to those I love and to those I may not like very much (but whom he love’s dearly). So I can say with a great deal of certainty that when we pass into the presence of the Lord, none of this will seem all that important and I would also say not very accurate. So my exhortations to my brothers and sisters in the Lord is to do as Jesus told us to do. Love one another.

  11. Kevin Evans June 11, 2012 at 6:30

    I was saved on January 22 1995 in a Pentecostal Church. As you should know, many Pentescostals are out-and-out Dispensationalists. In fact, the number one Bible in Pentecostal churches is the Dakes Bible. Dakes’ Bible, his commentary on Revelation and his massive God’s Plan For Man had an enormous influence on my life. These books taught me to believe in the so-called Seven Dispensations and the Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the church. I never knew that other eschatalogical systems existed. I assumed that everybody in the church believed in the Pre-Trib Rapture. In 1996, John Hagee’s The Beginning of The End built up a lot of hope in my brother and I regarding the possibility of the Rapture occurring within a year or so. We were so excited. When the Rapture did not occur as Hagee had postulated, I was very disappointed. That great disappointment rattled my eschatology to its foundation. It seemed as if Bible prophecy experts were always guessing the time of the Second Coming. But they were always wrong. I had even taught this brand of eschatalogy to my Sunday school class. When my associate pastor’s wife asked me to explain the passage in 2 Thessalonians 2, I was befuddled….. and embarrassed. I had even taught there were at least five resurrections. It was when God led me to CRI’s Bible Answer Man radio program that He began to deliver me from this confusing eschatalogy. Hank Hanegraaf hosted Colin Gibert Chapman in 2002 or thereabouts. Both men spoke about Bible prophecy and the nation of Israel. I was amazed at how well Chapman explained many Old Testament prophecies concerning the Kingdom of God and Israel. Hanegraaf published his Apocalypse Code, I think, in 2007. I purchased the book and devoured it. He quoted from David Chilton, Gary Demar, Kenneth Gentry, Stephen Sizer, R.C. Sproul, Keith A. Mathison, Jay Adams, Milton S. Terry and Gary Burge. Needless to say, I bought the books of these men and the rest is history. Gentry’s book Before Jerusalem Fell is perhaps the best book I have ever read on the book of Revelation. I also bought and read The Beast of Revelation, Revelation Made Easy, He Shall Have Dominion and Productive Christians. I owe my conversion from Dispensationalism to Partial Preterism and Postmillennialism to the aforementioned scholars. Thank you and may God bless you, Dr. Gentry.

  12. I was never really involved in dispensationalism. My father is Catholic and my mother is Methodist, but we were not a church-going family. My father was always had faith in God, and he instilled that in me – I have always been a believer. My mother was remarried to an evangelical, although now they attend a Methodist church. My sister also married an evangelical, and they began attending a fundamentalist church.

    When I was in my 20’s, I was terrified of prophecy. The nightly news scared me. Credit card machines on gas pumps scared me. Social security numbers scared me. The Bible scared me. This is what happens to our young people – they hear these horror stories about Hell on Earth, and are told that they don’t have a future – so they become leftist atheists with a grudge against the Church and anything socially conservative.

    I got over my fears, and began attending a Lutheran church near my home. Although their curriculum is more liberal than I am, they taught me the basics. The denomination’s news magazine taught me about dispensationalism – that it is a relatively new (and rather unbiblical) theology. So I started looking things up on the internet, and wound up here.

    My sister is starting to see the light. She likes Hank Hanegraaff and I got her to buy his book The Apocalypse Code. While not exactly a postmillennialist, Hanegraaff is an orthodox preterist who is gifted in explaining biblical hermeneutics.

    Thanks be to Ken Gentry, Gary DeMar, Joel McDurmon, and the rest. Keep up the great work, we just may be on the cusp of a new Reformation!

  13. Craig Fairclough June 12, 2012 at 6:30

    About Four years ago, I read “Last Days Madness” by Gary Demar. The book’s arguments devastated my dispensational intrepretation of the Olivet Discourse. But I had objections that took a while to overcome. Then I started reading Gentry’s works on Revelation. It took a while, but now the change in my thinking is more or less complete. I am a bit of an oddity at my dispensational church, but to their credit they are very patient and loving with me. Our last two Bible studies have been in Matthew and Revelation, so I have had ample opportunities for discussion. Keep up the Good work Ken. The change will come.

  14. Michael Dearinger June 12, 2012 at 6:30

    I had no choice. I was surrounded by dispensationalism growing up. The church our family attended heard 2 messages every Sunday. On Sunday morning the message was “Ye must be born again” and on Sunday nights we heard “Jesus is coming soon”. As a teenager, I proudly carried my hardback Scofield Bible to school everyday reading it instead of my assigned textbooks. My dad’s big Clarence Larkin book “Dispensational Truths” was waiting for me when I got home each day. I was 17 the year Hal Lindsey’s book “The Late Great Planet Earth” came out. I devoured it. My dad and I often discussed these things and were closet date-setters. I was convinced that Jesus would return before I was married or could finish school. In spite of all of this, something nagged at me especially where it concerned the apostasy of the church. But I knew of no alternative.
    I started pastoring a Southern Baptist church when I was 20 and later pastored a nondenominational church. I was frequently asked by church members why I never preached on “end times”. I gave them my stock answer which was “the future doesn’t matter as much as how we live our lives today”. The real reason however was that I remained unconvinced and I would never teach something against my conscience.
    Then it happened. It was 1984. I was reading the Scriptures early one morning as I normally did. My text for the day was Psalms 110:1ff. I read verse 1 as though I were reading it for the 1st time. The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. (Psa 110:1 KJV). (yes, I read KJV only in those days). I had one of those aha! moments. The scales fell off my eyes. The veil was gone. The shroud was lifted. I thought to myself, “this changes everything I have ever been taught about eschatology.” I remember the date because I still have a copy of the message I preached the following Sunday entitled “Rule In The Midst Of Your Enemies”.
    This began my journey. It was slow. Remember these were the days before the Internet and I was pastoring in Rock Springs Wyoming – a long, long, long way from any source of books. So I muddled my way through, studied, meditated and did a lot of thinking. Dr. gentry says he “dug out of dispensationalism”. I think I crawled out.
    Years later in the 90s my wife and I were with my parents. We were in a car together. My dad was driving and my wife and I were sitting in the backseat. My parents had no idea of what was now lurking in my brain. My mom made some kind of comment about premillennialism and I made the mistake of objecting. She whipped around and asked, “what do you mean by that?” I thought, “I guess it’s time to come out of the closet”. I watched the hairs on the back of my dad’s neck bristle as I shared with her my journey in the Scriptures these past 10 years. That’s when I had my one and only debate with my dad. It was 2 lines. He said (without turning around and through gritted teeth), “You can’t have a kingdom without a king”. To which I quickly replied (respectfully and nervously), “We do have a king, Dad”. We never spoke of it again to his dying day.
    I continued avoiding the subject in the new church I was pastoring in Fredericksburg, Texas until 1998. I had been serving here for 10 years and suddenly Y2K became a prominent issue. Everyone in our church was beginning to show signs of fear and for a few, near panic. That’s when I made my decision to share my understanding of eschatology. It was just the push I needed to get my thoughts organized about it and put something down on paper. So in December of 1998 for 16 weeks, spending as much as 30 to 50 hours each week and developing 100s of slides to prepare for the lessons, I finally went public against dispensationalism and all that comes with that. To my amazement, people greedily consumed each installment and we only lost one family during the course of the series.
    To this day I spend 1 week twice a year teaching students at G42 leadership academy in Mijas Spain in “Kingdom Eschatology”. Many have gone on to share these truths all over the world. Today, as I was writing this, I got a gmail chat from a former student who said, “I just taught your ‘end times’ series in Uganda”. Praise the Lord!

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. June 12, 2012 at 6:30

      Michael:
      Thanks for the testimonial. Very encouraging.

      • Thanks, Dr. Gentry. Once I discovered your books in the early 90s, they became an important part of my journey. I also met you briefly at the Ligonier Ministries’ 1999 Orlando Conference. Thanks for your pursuit of the truth.

  15. I too learned dispensationalism from dispensational pastors trained at Tennessee Temple University. I sat at the feet of dispensational teachers at TTU, attended Highland Park Baptist Church and the several MouthWide Conferences held there by pre-millenial dispensationalists. Thanks for the testimony Kenneth.

  16. Warren Rushton June 24, 2012 at 6:30

    How do you expound the passages that use the word “Dispensation”?

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. June 25, 2012 at 6:30

      Dispensationalism picked up on a biblical word and built a theology on it. Many covenant theologians use the term “dispensation.” Dispensationalism’s problem is not with the term, but with the way they have used the term: packing it with a whole theology.

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