De Facto Dispensationalism

That’s what I call it, at least. It’s the prevailing view among most laity I’ve met and even quite a few clergy, even among Methodists.

Basically, it’s the idea that we’re New Testament Christians and that the Old Testament isn’t really binding on us anymore as a result. According to this perspective, Adam & Eve and the Garden of Eden were God’s Plan A. It’s what God had initially created, in the hopes that it would all stay that way.

However, clearly that didn’t work out. So, God scrapped it and moved on to Plan B, which seems to have involved Noah and the Flood. Unfortunately, Noah and his kin messed all of that up pretty quickly. So, God scrapped it all again and moved on with Plan C: Abraham and the Promise.

Sadly, Abraham and his kin weren’t much better than Noah and company. So, God scratched that and started Plan D: Moses, the Covenant on Sinai, and the Nation of Israel.

Well, we all know how that one turned out. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and company all pretty clearly declared that a mess. So, now we’re on to Plan E: Jesus & the Church. This is God’s most recent and fullest plan of salvation.

Unfortunately, the Church isn’t looking so hot these days. So, now we’re looking to the Rapture and the Millennium (in whatever order you think they occur) for God to come and make a fuller creation in some variation of Plan F.

At least, that’s the way the story gets told. Mind you, I am vastly oversimplifying parts of it for the purpose of getting a clear overview, but that’s the gist.

It’s advantage is that it gives a very clear and logical explanation for how we got to Jesus and the Church while also dealing with why we no longer keep the OT Law. (So go ahead and eat that shellfish.)

The problem is, not only does it do real injustice to the story Scripture presents, but it makes God look indecisive. God isn’t quite smart enough to figure out the most efficient way to offer salvation to humanity. So, He just keeps trying plan after plan after plan.

Unfortunately, this makes little sense out of the Old Testament for the average Christian. Which is why so few seem to read, let alone understand and appreciate, the front half of most of their Bibles.

In reality, there is a deep continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is not a mistake. It is not an accident. It was not Plan A, B, or C on the way to anything else. It was a part of the overall plan from the very beginning.

How do you save the world? How do you fix a fallen creation? From God’s point of view, I suppose there were any number of options available. But, according to Scripture, this is what God chose to do:

God took one man who was more faithful than not and built a relationship with him. He taught him a bit of who God is and what God wants, a bit of what God thinks is right and what God thinks is wrong. And then He committed him to raise his entire family in that kind of relationship with God.

So, God takes Abraham and turns one man into a family that is dedicated to God. Isaac and Jacob aren’t perfect, but they end up more faithful than not.

Then, God turns that family into a people, the children of Israel. And in time, He turns that people into a nation.

God then takes that nation and spends about a thousand years drilling into their hearts and minds who and what God is, what God wants and what God doesn’t want, what God says is right and what God says is wrong, and that it matters when they mess things up. Sin is a real problem, God isn’t amused, real forgiveness requires sacrifice, and holy living afterward is an absolute must.

Only when they’ve finally grasped all this (albeit a tad legalistically) does God at last send the Savior who is the solution to the problem and instruct them to take this good news to the ends of the earth, to all peoples in all places.

Why wait till then? Why not send Jesus earlier? In short, because if Jesus were to show up preaching the gospel a thousand years earlier, what do I need to be saved from?

Salvation only makes sense when you have a concept of sin. And sin only has meaning when you grasp the utter holiness and purity of God. And sin can only be forgiven through great cost of sacrifice. Atonement and redemption require something more than a mere “I’m sorry.”

This is the lesson of the Old Testament. The whole of Jesus and the Church is built on it. Certainly, parts of the OT Law are set aside as the distinction between Jew and Gentile is torn down for the purposes of evangelism.

But the rest still stands intact. Morality, ethics, atonement, sacrifice. These are concepts that do not change. They are simply perfected in Christ.

The scary part for us as the Church is this: There is no Plan B. We’re it. This is all there is. God has no backup plan in case we fail. God’s plan of salvation involves you and me playing our part and taking the good news of salvation to the ends of the earth.

De facto Dispensationalism acts as if what we do doesn’t matter. If we screw up, God will just scrap it and move on. The Bible gives the opposite impression. What we do matters, because this is it. God is ultimately in control, but we have a vital part to play. And there is no backup plan. There is no plan B.


3 responses to “De Facto Dispensationalism

  • John Meunier

    Great post, Lauren. I agree 100% that de facto dispensationalism is wide spread. I think that fact calls on preachers to use the Old Testament often when preaching from the New. It keeps the connection alive.

  • Craig L. Adams

    Yes. Great post! Thanks for putting this into words so well.

  • Lauren

    John & Craig,

    Thanks for the encouraging feedback. And, John, I think you are very right in your observation about constantly connecting the OT in the NT throughout our preaching.

    Of course, once you do that, it’s fascinating how often you find yourself referencing Isaiah and Leviticus. Leviticus is so central to NT atonement theology, and yet no one has read it. We’ve got to reclaim the ground!

    Thanks again for the comments.

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