Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rearranging the Mental Furniture

It's funny how much we just accept as we're growing up. We don't question, we just absorb and accept. It can be a long time before we start to ask questions.

One of the things I soaked up a lot of when I was wee was "dispensationalist theology". What that means in simpler language is a particular type of "Bible prophecy". The Bible certainly has major prophetic elements to it, there's no doubting that. Events were predicted in Scripture which were clearly fulfilled in future years. (For example, some claim that over 1000 Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus himself.)

However, in the mid 1800s when the "Plymouth Brethren" were setting themselves up, they fully embraced a more sensationalist approach, which put a whole new interpretation on things. They made specific claims about future events, invented the term "rapture", predicted future world empires, re-wrote the whole the identity of Antichrist etc etc.

These powerful and almost magnetic ideas then filtered into most evangelical churches on both side of the Atlantic, which then in turn spawned a whole raft of fictional books like "In The Twinkling of an Eye" , and more recently the mulit-million dollar"Left Behind" series. Dispensationalism is today a very big money spinner. My e-Friend (we've never met in person) Crawford Gribben has a great book on the subject called "Rapture Fiction" which I can thoroughly recommend.

So this Brethren world was the environment that I, and many tens of thousands of Ulster believers, was brought up in. I was enthralled. Preachers like Hedley Murphy held me spellbound for years between the ages of probably 8 and 14. Dispensational prophecy was preached solidly in Gospel Halls up and down the country. Preachers would arrive with massive home made hand painted wallcharts which were often too long for the small buildings they were preaching in, outlining the history of the world from Genesis to Revelation. Theologically these tens of thousands of Ulster believers are rock solid on pretty much everything - except prophecy. We were waiting with baited breath for the breaking news report that Henry Kissinger, then Gorbachev, then Saddam, and maybe now even Tony Blair, has revealed himself as Antichrist.

Remember, that until the mid 1800s these ideas didn't exist, and biblical Christianity had survived for 1800+ years without them. Make no mistake, Jesus is coming back. But He might not be coming in the way many have been (mis)led to expect. Perhaps the whole thing is a distraction - making some Christians obsess about current affairs and trying to spot the prophetic fulfilments. Perhaps it also gives some Christians the glib opt-out of "why should I worry about the state the world is in? I'm going to be raptured out of it anyway"

So, over recent years I've begun to question these things that I soaked up. As another friend put it, I'm "rearranging my mental furniture". Any advice on good reading material from you sound Reformed believers out there would be much appreciated and will be added to my Christmas list.

(Robin Fairbairn has already suggested "Windows on the World" by Liam Goligher, and "The Momentous Event" by WJ Greer.


Anonymous said...
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Matthew Celestine said...

I like Dispensationalism.

I did not grow up with it, I adopted it as I studied other views.