I was thinking about not writing this post on this blog, but my other one that I barely use (Jesus Confession). But I figured since this blog has an actual readership, that I might as well stick it out and write the post I am about to write right here. I thought about not writing this post here, because the subject matter is a little different from what I usually broach on this blog. But the reality is, when it comes right down to it, where this post should end up is spot on with the usual tenor of what I write about at this blog. So with this ground cleared a bit, let me get into what I want to discuss.
In the last few days I have watched a couple of documentaries (one of them was more of an exposé of sorts), and the subject matter has revolved around a largely American Evangelical theme and tradition of interpretation. I have addressed this interpretive tradition more than once in my blogging over the years, because, frankly, it is the interpretive tradition that I grew up with and formally studied biblical studies and theology from for many many years. By now many of you know exactly what I am referring to; yep, Dispensationalism. Now, I have had some scholarly friends wonder why I care to address this issue in my blogging; for these friends this issue is so far out there, that it seems a waste of time to try and outline, or refute (or even make people aware of). I think the reason I am still fascinated with this is because, well, this tradition had such a large say in my life for so long. Beyond that, I am still processing (in some ways) how it was, and what it was that I was shaped by for so long in my own theological/exegetical and spiritual development.
The first video I watched in the last few days, on this, was an exposé that highlights the origins of dispensationalism (pre-trib rapture theology), its exegetical foundations, and its social implications. Here it is just below (it is 24 minutes long, and a really good introductory piece for those of you who are still pre-trib rapture dispensationalists (or who currently sit under this teaching):
Wow, right?! I’d say for the most part this little video is pretty accurate; even though it is dealing in some generalities. One of the points that I would say is mis-accurate is the reference to Ann Coulter. As far as I know, she is not a pre-trib, dispensationally formed Evangelical Christian; and so referencing her in the way the video does seems somewhat pre-textual and thus out of context and unnecessary.
The next thing I watched (and I just did before I began writing this) was an actual documentary called: Waiting For Armageddon which you can watch for free if you have Netflix). This documentary follows just regular (and intelligent) Christian Evangelical couples and families who sit under this teaching (like I did for so many years), and who fully endorse it. Beyond these folks, this film also interviews and follows some Evangelical Dispensational scholars, and gets their take on this whole interpretive tradition. Interspersed, there are also some antagonists to Dispensationalism provided by a female Christian pastor, a Jewish Rabbi who is part of the Temple Institute in Jerusalem, and a Jewish author.
Basically this documentary (‘Waiting For Armageddon’) emphasizes the fact that Pre-trib Dispensational theology is an American phenomenon that offers an idiosyncratic reading of scripture that favors the American Evangelical church. Furthermore, this film shows how this kind of theology has shaped American foreign policy in regard to Israel, and how America engages with nations that are not friendly towards Israel. The basic sense that I came away with, as I finished this documentary was; “I can’t believe I used to believe this stuff!” This film shows how dispensational theology ultimately causes its adherents to get excited about blood shed, war, and carnage; particularly (and ironically) directed at the nation of Israel (during the Great Tribulation). The reason for the excitement is primarily because all of these things, according to dispensational theology, portend of Jesus’ coming; all of these kinds of things must happen before Jesus comes back.
Please understand, I am not making fun of people who hold to this kind of theology (I am intimately connected still to many folk who do hold to this kind of theology), but I am really just amazed that I held to this same kind of teaching for so long. These people love Jesus, but I think that their interpretive schema is totally misguided. I think this, now, because at a methodological level, dispensationalism places the nation of Israel at the center of prophetic history, and not Jesus Christ (which you will see if you are able to watch ‘Waiting For Armageddon’). I almost get an oppressed feeling when I hear this kind of stuff anymore; and in the film, it comes across in very ruthless tones (which might be a result of the editing too).
There are other implications that I could talk about in regard to American Dispensational theology; like in regard to its implications for a political theory, ethics, biblical exegesis and a whole host of other things (an ethic for voting). But I will hold off on that until a later post. I just wanted to highlight these two films, and underscore the fact, that for American Evangelicals, this system of interpretation still is very predominate.