Saturday, July 17, 2010

Strange bedfellows: Glenn Beck and dispensationalists

When First Things launched its Evangel blog some time back, it was a hopeful sign that the evangelical wing of the church would finally be able to showcase some of its leading thinkers. What has transpired since, however, is more of an embarrassing expose of just how vapid the evangelical intellectual tradition is in comparison with the fuller orbed Christian traditions represented on other FT blogs. A case in point is Collin Brendemuehl's recent rant against "Apalling Leftist Racism" in which he uses a left-wing blogger's withering attack against a conservative commentator as an occasion to defend and attempt to resuscitate that aging dinosaur of evangelical infamy, dispensational theology.
Misrepresentation is an apologists greatest ally.

At the core of Christian Zionism is not the destruction of Jews and Israel. What is at the heart is the literal redemption of a great number of Jews though a conversion to Christ in the last times. It is an eschatological expectation. It is not a mere apocalyptic event.

Blossoming out of dispensational theology, the movement gained momentum in the late 40s and early 50s. This new momentum came about not simply because of the 1948 founding of Israel and the growth of dispensationalism. It was just before this time that the first Dispensational systematic theology was published. This 10-year effort of Lewis Sperry Chafer was completed in 1947. The events melded together into a watershed moment for the dispensationalist theological movement.

The injustice that is done theologically to the pro-Jew, pro-Israel movement in dispensational theology does nothing but enhance the power of the enemies of Israel and all Jews. It provides them with momentum and support in their efforts, both in their justification and in their propaganda. (It is material like that of Bruce Wilson which serves as this propaganda.)

Bruce Wilson could not have gone much further in promoting the death of Israel and Jews. His is a vulgar racism disguised as secularism. It is what the murderous Left does oh, so well.

In his criticism of Glenn Beck he does what so many do — he does not provide enough information for the reader/watcher to make an informed decision. What does Beck mean by “the Jews”? Does he mean those particular leaders who plotted to have Christ put to death? (Paul uses the term in a similar fashion in Romans.) Does he mean all Jews are Jesus killers as some covenant theologians (one of the non-dispensational segments of Christian theology) might proclaim. The fact is, given the short clip that he provides, we just have no way to know.
Here are some strange bedfellows, indeed. Glenn Beck is a Mormon, not exactly a shining example of Christian orthodoxy. I understand that dispensationalists and leftists don’t like each other very much. But why should a leftist’s attack against a Mormon become the occasion for yet another defense of dispensational theology? I’ve noticed quite a bit of cyber ink being spilled on such endeavors lately (see the lively discussion prompted by Southern Baptist gadfly Wade Burleson's take on the word "shortly" in Revelation 1.1). Leftists are much easier targets, to be sure, but the critique of dispensationalism is not a uniquely leftist enterprise. Conservative, orthodox, and evangelical Christians from various traditions have (correctly) pointed out that this system is a novelty, having arrived on the scene only in the last 180 years or so.

It was Lewis Sperry Chafer himself who famously said, “The very fact that I did not study a prescribed course in theology made it possible for me to approach the subject with an unprejudiced mind and to be concerned only with what the Bible actually teaches.” Such smugness calls to mind the “prayer” of the Pharisee, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men.” It is representative, as Simon Chan points out in his book Liturgical Theology, of “an ahistorical view of the church supported by an ahistorical view of Scripture, cut off from tradition.”

All this to say that dispensational theology cannot be vindicated simply by passing off its most virulent critics as racists, leftists, and anti-Semites. I’m not sure that’s what Collin is intending to say, but I can’t make much sense of it otherwise. There are far deeper theological issues at stake here than just a few quirky eschatological speculations.