Dissing Dispies? #1: Preliminaries
I’m sitting at the moment in a beautifully-placed little mezzanine study in Grindelwald, Switzerland. Six feet to my right is a French window through which the Eiger – North Face, I think – can be clearly seen only a short distance away. Evening is falling; the day is almost over – and it’s been a good day. And because I’m on holiday, there’s really nothing pressing to do – a wonderful feeling. But – well, you’ve got to do something, and I’ve been thinking for a while about Dan Phillips’ blog post ‘Twenty-five stupid reasons for dissing dispensationalism.’ I’ve wanted to respond to this for a while, hoping to use it to sort out my own thinking. But time’s always short; except now. So I thought I’d get started. Before I begin to interact with Dan, here a couple of preliminaries – even pre-preliminaries.
#1. I like Dan Phillips.
Actually, I’ve never met him. People are a lot easier to like before you meet them, aren't they? But we’ve emailed a few times and I follow his Biblical Christianity blog and his contributions to Pyromaniacs. He has a wicked sense of humour, a swashbuckling approach to debate (which is fun when he’s attacking others, but sinful of course when he’s attacking a position I agree with) and a humanity in his writing that’s appealing. I like him.
#2. I respect Dan Phillips.
His posts give real evidence of a heart that loves the Bible, a mind that’s studied the Bible, a sensitive conscience and an intellect that has no need to be ashamed. Of course, he’s wackily wrong about dispensationalism (he even admits he’s not sure about some parts of it that – surely – ought to be settled? ‘...five points, seven dispensations (+/-)’ – come on Dan, you should know that if you’re a dispensationalist! I mean ‘two testaments, four gospels (+/-)’ wouldn’t really impress, would it?). But I respect him; he thinks, he debates, and he does it well.
#3. I agree with Dan Phillips – on most things.
His swashbuckling defences of Calvinism are spot on. His perception of the problems of the charismatic movement, likewise. I agree with Dan Phillips – on most things except dispensationalism. And cats.
So, given those things - if I appear to be dissing Dan, I'm not. I MAY be dissing his argument (or trying to); I MAY be dissing dispensationalism (ditto). Chances are, though, I'm just teasing, or trying to swashbuckle a little myself.
Oh, and one more thing. In the blog I've mentioned, Dan doesn't actually defend or explain dispensationalism much; that's not his point. He does that a bit in What dispensationalism isn't. Consequently, you may note that this series of blogs is not really a critique of dispensationalism, either. That may come later - or it may not. But this series is really no more than a reflection on Dan's twenty-five stupid reasons - and an attempt to show i) there aren't 25 and ii) they're not all as stupid as Dan suggests.
OK - got that? Then I can begin. Note first the way
He softens you up to believe
It's called an ad hominem argument ('against the man') and it's bad form, as well as having no value in logic. His first paragraph suggests - nay, states - that non-dispensationalists were filled with envy in the seventies, that their literature isn't real literature, and their attitude is sourpuss. (Apart from that we're OK, right Dan?)
Where my non-d friends have succeeded in winning people to their views, it is 'more... through image than substance'; that is, they haven't won the argument, merely convinced people that 'it isn't cool to be a dispensationalist'.
Then, he turns his guns on one particular non-dispensationalist, William Hendriksen. Now, WH has been dead for around a quarter of a century, so he's not in a position to defend himself when Dan says 'he slapped me down something fierce'. Maybe he did; maybe he didn't.
Maybe from WH's point of view the encounter looked very different. At any rate, Dan's words '[h]e told me to read this and that book, and not to write him again until I was 100%' COULD mean he said 'My dear Dan, I find it impossible to answer your question on the problem of evil starting from your own dispensational base. But you may find this book helpful, and that book. If you read them and still have problems, get back to me by all means.' Or it COULD mean he said 'You great ignorant upstart - of course you have difficulty with the problem of evil! Idiot! Anybody who holds your view would. Now, I'm really too busy to bother with idiots - but if you read this book, and that book, and grovel a bit - I might be prepared to give you a bit more time. Get back to me then and we'll see.'
Either response from WH would be covered by Dan's actual words. But Dan's tone ('slapped me down something fierce' and 'he even suggested...') suggest it's on a spectrum nearer the latter. So, plainly, non-d's have no real argument, but resort to fierce behaviour - even the greatest of them.
And so, dear reader, we're softened up to believe that what non-d's say against dispensationalism is going to be stupid, and maybe even reflect their sinful, sourpuss, envious, resentful hearts...
Next time, we'll come to 'the hermeneutic God used to save me (Dan)'. Till then, don't go talking to any amillenialists, now.