I have previously written about
this highly embarrassing, and therefore actively covered up, aspect
of modern fundamentalism, namely, the movement’s substitution
of Jews for Christians as the victims of a supposedly future (but
actually past) “Great Tribulation.” Fundamentalists actively support
the State of Israel, despite their belief that by doing so, they
are helping to lure millions of Jews into a horrible death: “Holocaust
II.” They do so for a reason: they expect to escape death personally.
This is a powerful incentive.
Tribulation” is the phrase used by fundamentalists to describe
a future time of persecution and slaughter of the Jews. By “fundamentalists,”
I mean defenders of the theological system, first proclaimed around
1830, known as premillennial dispensationalism. This is
a late variant of Christian eschatology, i.e., the theological
doctrine of the last things or last times. There are three basic
views: premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism.
(On this subject, see my article, “Millennialism and the Progressive
Movement,” published in The Journal of Libertarian
Studies [Spring 1996]).
pre-, a-, and post-refer to the timing of the time period that
Christians believe will precede God’s final judgment. Premillennialists
say that Jesus will return to set up a literal 1,000-year period
of peace and justice, in which He will rule here on earth through
an international bureaucracy of Christians. This view has been
held throughout church history. The post-1830 dispensational variant
is the view of the famous Scofield Reference Bible (Oxford
University Press, 1909, 1917), most Southern Baptists, most Pentecostals,
and members of virtually all independent Bible churches. Amillennialists
think that the millennium is spiritual and allegorical, and it
will have no literal political fulfillment in history. This is
the view of Dutch Calvinists, Lutherans, and most Roman Catholics.
Postmillennialism proclaims a period of peace and justice during
which most of the world’s population will be Christian. This was
the view of most Puritans in the first half of the seventeenth
century, prior to the restoration to the British throne of Charles
II in 1660. It was also a predominant view of Scottish Presbyterian
in the seventeenth century and in its American branches until
after the American Civil War. Jonathan Edwards is the most famous
teach of a coming tribulation (Matthew 24, Luke 21). He called
this period “the days of vengeance” (Luke 21:22). He said specifically
of the timing of this period of terror and slaughter, “Now learn
a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and
putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise
ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near,
even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall
not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:32-34).
has been much debate as to the timing of the fulfillment of this
prophecy, the dominant view in church history has been that this
prophecy was fulfilled in 70 A.D., when the Roman army surrounded
Jerusalem, crucified thousands of Jews who tried to escape, and
took the city. Two Roman soldiers then burned the temple, according
to the post-war court historian for the victorious emperor Vespasian,
the Jew Josephus. A short introduction to this interpretation
is David Chilton’s 1987 book, The Great Tribulation.
amillennialists who believe that the fall of Jerusalem fulfilled
this prophecy. Others think the slaughter is yet to come, and
will be imposed on Christians rather than Jews, since they believe
that the church has replaced Israel as God’s people. Most postmillennialists
place it in the past: A.D. 70.
without exception believe that the event is still in the future.
A small, unorganized group, called post-tribulational dispensationalists,
think that Jesus will take the Christians out of history only
after the Great Tribulation. They believe that Christians will
go through it. But there are very few of these people. They have
no seminaries or publishing houses. The vast majority of dispensationalists
are pre-tribulationists. They say that Christians will be pulled
into Heaven and out of history immediately before a seven-year
period of church-free history. In the second half of this seven-year
period, the slaughter of the Jews will begin.
academic critics of this view, Gary DeMar is the most prominent.
His book, Last
Days Madness, challenges the position, point by point.
His recent book, End-Times
Fiction, now in its eighth printing, is a critique of
the best-selling series of novels, Left Behind, co-authored
by Rev. Tim LaHaye, the husband of conservative activist Beverly
LaHaye. There are even a pair of low-budget movies based on LaHaye’s
a standing offer to debate any dispensational author. LaHaye has
prudently refused the offer for two decades. His official stand-in,
whom LaHaye’s foundation supports financially, Thomas Ice, has
taken by DeMar in full public view in eight public debates over
the last 15 years. To say that Mr. Ice is not up to the challenge
is putting it mildly. But at least he shows up. Only he and best-selling
author Dave Hunt, an accountant, have been willing to take DeMar’s
challenge. (I even got my turn, along with DeMar, in our tag-team
debate with Hunt and Ice in 1988.)
correctly, that the defense of dispensational theology has moved
steadily from theological treatises and seminaries to novels and
low-budget movies. Today, there are virtually no academically
employed or retired seminary theologians under age 80 who still
teach the pre-1970 version of dispensationalism, which was made
famous by Hal Lindsey’s best-seller, The
Late, Great Planet Earth (1970). The seminaries that once
taught the system are all in the process of modifying it, but
no detailed alternative has been presented, no Systematic Theology,
without which there is no public position within Christian circles.
donors in their pews are unaware of the theological shift that
has taken place since the mid-1980’s at the seminaries that are
training the next generation of dispensationalists. Over a decade
ago, Ken Sidey referred to this transformation, but the people
in the pews remain oblivious.
years, dispensational theology, with its differentiation of God’s
program for the church and for Israel, shaped conservative evangelical
views. Its literal interpretation of prophecy, promoted by the
Scofield Bible and scholars from Dallas Theological Seminary,
marked the restoration of Israel as the starting point for many
other end-times prophecies, culminating in Christ’s return.
say the influence of traditional dispensationalism has declined
in the past decade. Others, like Darrell Bock, professor of
New Testament at Dallas, say it’s entering a new phase. He sees
it going through a period of self-assessment. A new, “progressive
dispensationalism” is emerging, one that is less “land-centered”
and “future-centered” than past versions. [Ken Sidey, “For the
Love of Zion,” Christianity Today (March 9, 1992), 50.]
in the pews still watch “The 700 Club” and visit www.hallindseyoracle.com.
They still get excited about the latest developments — always
bad — in the Middle East. “Prophecy is being fulfilled before
our very eyes!” (Note: all of the pre-1991 prophecies went down
the fundamentalist memory hole when the USSR went belly-up.)
the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, dispensationalists
have been sorely tempted to announce, “Prophecy is being fulfilled.
Jesus is coming back soon.” This is inconsistent with the academic
version of the dispensational system of interpretation, because
the official position says that no Old Testament prophecy has
been, or can be, fulfilled in the Church Age, that is, before
Jesus takes Christians to Heaven seven years before He returns
to set up His earthly kingdom. But such subtle theological concepts
are way beyond the comprehension of the donors in the pews, who
still delight in hearing about prophecy being fulfilled today.
to buy paperback books on the topic every time there was a blow-up
in the Middle East. But the 1991 Gulf War was the last hurrah
for the paperback potboilers. There were none visible in the Christian
book stores during Gulf II.
is, ever since 1917, dispensationalists had bet the farm on Russia
as the invader of Israel. Russia was the so-called Beast of Revelation.
(See the book by a non-dispensational premillennialist professor
of history, Dwight Wilson,