The Dangers of Dispensationalism
This excerpt comes from Letters to a Young Evangelical by Tony Campolo, Chapter 8: “History with a Happy Ending.” After discussing the biblical understanding of the Kingdom of God steadily growing toward a happy ending and after critiquing the lack of biblical support for dispensationalism and its historical background as a late-modernity American invention by one priest, he talks about why it matters so much. They’re strong words but as I thought about them, the idea made a lot of sense.
The impact of dispensationalism is that there is no point to working toward peace, social justice, the end of poverty, and the like, on the basis that such projects are ultimately futile. John Nelson Darby [the inventor of dispensational theology], Tim Lahaye, Jerry Jenkins all emphasize that the church should not engage in such tasks. The church, they say, should concentrate all of its efforts on one thing – getting people “saved.” Converting people so that they are ready for the Rapture is all that matters to them. They argue that preachers who call the church to work for justice on behalf of the poor and oppressed are, at best, wasting their time and, at worst, leading people into erroneous secular humanism. They argue that social-gospel preachers can be accused, whether they realize it or not, of being agents of the anti-Christ.
Dispensationalism thus justifies the repudiation of the United Nations and any other body that tries to unite nations in a quest for world peace. According to the dispensationalist view, such bodies are organizational instruments through which the anti-Christ can exercise his evil control over the earth. This is why many Christians in the Evangelical community are opposed to the United Nations and cheer on politicians who want to pull the United States out of the organization. Some extremists oppose even the collection of money for starving children through the UNICEF program, claiming that this, too, is part of Satan’s plan. This theology has turned many Evangelicals into conspiracy theorists who are convinced that any such efforts are covert parts of a diabolical plot.
Finally, dispensationalist theology, with its rapture doctrine, has become the ideological basis for an Evangelical Zionist movement that seriously endangers relations between the West and the Islamic world. According to those in the Darby school of thought, the Jews must become the sole inhabitants of the Holy Land before Christ can return. The dispensationalist interpretation of biblical prophecy holds that the Second Coming of Christ is contingent on exclusive possession by the children of Israel of the land promised to Abraham’s seed in Genesis 12.
Campolo continues in this vein, discussing how some Evangelicals are completely comfortable calling for ethnic cleansing of the Arab people (including many Christians) from Israel as well as land that is currently owned by other nations entirely. He also talks about how the American government has been tied down to meet the demands of Evangelical Zionists to allow or even encourage such genocidal atrocities. He concludes with this, which I thought was an amazing analysis of why we have such conflict between the US and Islamic nations:
Arabs and other Muslims are well aware that Israel’s military power is mostly paid for with U.S. tax dollars. They note that one-quarter of all foreign aid given away by the United States each year goes to Israel, and that this aid is what enables Israel to build and maintain its powerful army. And so the net result of Evangelical Zionist-supported U.S. policies is that the entire Muslim world views the ill treatment of Palestinians as actions taken by an Israeli-American coalition. As you can well imagine, this view is widely exploited by terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda for propaganda purposes.
Those are the highlights from an extremely good analysis of the very real-world ramifications of how we view the end of the world. As many others have put it, our eschatology is likely to be a self-fulfilling prophecy one way or another. If we choose to think that the world will end with wars and genocide of our enemies, we will probably work to make that happen. If we choose to think that the world will end with a great restoration led by a loving God, we will work to make that happen instead.