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Towards the death of dispensationalism

I was reared in the Brethren on the Scofield Bible and the dispensational framework it taught. For years I didn’t know there was any other way of understanding the purpose of God as revealed in the Bible. Only when I went off to university and met Christians from other denominations did I gradually realise how negative dispensationalism is. I soon came to see it for what it is: a totally artificial structure imposed on Scripture. I ditched it quickly and began to explore the joys of a different viewpoint.

Sadly, there are still many believers with dispensational spectacles glued to their faces, and their understanding of God’s purpose continues to make them dispirited and lacking in any real hope for the church today. It was frustration with this grim reality that prompted the writing of this book: Win The World Or Escape The Earth: The End Times Controversy by Ian Rossol & Tony Wastall (River Publishing, 2011, ISBN 978-1-908393-14-2).

I must declare an interest here: I was invited to advise and help in the editing of the book. That was no burden, because even before a word was written I was in full support of the line its authors intended to take: a debunking of dispensationalism and a proposal that Christians should understand God’s purpose on the basis of the framework that Scripture itself presents: covenant and kingdom.

A great deal of prayerful effort has gone into this book. Ian Rossol and Tony Wastall are not the kind to delight in demolishing a viewpoint for the thrill of the demolition. They genuinely believe that dispensationalism is a serious mistake—serious in its conception, and serious in the harmful effects it has proved to exert on those who hold to it. So, while they take it apart with conviction and intellectual rigour, their heart is to see their readers’ eyes opened to an altogether better prospect. Whether or not they succeed is for you to judge.

Instead of appending a few quotations, in this case I will list the contents. These, as you will see, cover every aspect of the end-times question, first exposing the dispensational line and then proposing their alternative. And that alternative is no way-out, ‘new revelation’ novelty. It basically propounds an amillennial approach—the mainstream approach of the church throughout most of its 2000-year history—but with some post-millennial leanings.

After a personal introduction from both authors, they explain how dispensationalism came into being and reveal its basic flaws, before moving on to lay out their alternative ‘covenant and kingdom’ approach. Then they outline those aspects of the Bible’s teaching that most Christians will agree on, as the background for tackling in some detail those aspects where they tend to differ. These are: Daniel’s seventy weeks; the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24); the book of Revelation; the millennium; the rapture; the difference between ‘wrath’ and ‘tribulation’; the antichrist, beast and man of lawlessness; and the Israel question. They wind up with a look at faith, hope and love as the traits that should mark us out as God’s people.

Since our viewpoints on controversial issues emerge from our understanding of Scripture, the authors have included an appendix on the basics of Bible interpretation. Yes, it’s at the back of the book, but as the authors say, it could in fact be the most important section. I advise you not to skip it. In fact it might be a good idea to read it first!

If you are a dispensationalist, then as one reviewer puts it, ‘Be prepared to have your worldview seriously challenged.’ If you don’t know what you are in terms of your eschatological views, reading this book can only be helpful as you navigate those stormy seas: it will warn you off the dispensational rocks and guide you towards a happy haven.

And no, I don’t get a cut of the proceeds, so there’s no ulterior motive in writing this positive review. I’m committed to the view the authors espouse. We should not be a reclusive and fearful people with our backs to the wall, waiting for a secret rapture to whisk us away out of trouble (‘escape the earth’) but a bold and faith-filled people believing that God has given us everything we need to see sinners turning to Christ on a vast scale and the world becoming a better place because we’re in it (‘win the world’).

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