Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Lutherans and Dispensationalism

I just finished writing a short piece for the Austin Seminary theological journal Insight on the topic of Left Behind, the Second Coming, and John's Revelation. It occurs to me that Lutherans for whatever reason have had almost no link to that distinctly form of American theology (beginning with Darby and continuing ad nauseum with the Scofield Bible and its theological offspring). There are of course many Lutherans who read such things as Late Great Planet Earth and the novels by LaHaye and Jenkins, but for the most part, dispensationalism is foreign language in our parishes.

I wonder if this is because Lutheran hermeneutics concerns itself first of all with Christ, the Scriptures as the cradle of Christ, etc. Since the Scriptures are first of all the cradle of Christ, and then are read through the law/gospel dialectic, there's little space for talk of dispensations, dividing up of time into periods, nor do we look the the Scriptures as a road map for where history will go. We look to the Scriptures to see where Christ is. Bibles with dispensationalist commentaries (like the Scofield Bible) would distract and detract from that of utmost importance.

Lutheran eschatology also plays a role. Because all is taken care of in Christ (justification by faith alone without the works of the law), we need not be busy reading the "signs of the times", something American Christians are especially busy doing. If Christ is coming today (and for all I know he is), I wish to be caught planting a tree, or blogging, or having a nice supper with my spouse. Fulfilling our daily vocations IS being prepared for Christ's coming, and this by the power of the Holy Spirit.


  1. Thank you for this post! See, I just KNEW I was a Lutheran (I am not on the books yet.) I wholeheartedly agree that knowing Christ and recognizing His voice is the best possible way we can be prepared for His second coming, not trying to figure out WHEN exactly He is going to arrive.

  2. Hi, Pr. Schnekloth! I haven't visited in a while. Your new look is nice.

    I'm glad you don't have many Lutherans in your church that have been deceived by dispensationalism.

    Weren't you echoing Luther's sentiments in that last paragraph?

    Finally, what is your response to the 14 or so ELCA pastors that opposed ELCA homosexual stance? Reference HERE WE STAND 04MAR2005 post or here.

  3. Sarah, I'm glad this post was helpful to you. Since writing this, I have discovered that Luther himself thought of history as broken up into dispensations, but came to very different conclusions. Anyway, thanks for your response.

  4. Dear Mr. Terrible,

    I'm glad you like the new look. As for the statement, it was made by a number of theologians for whom I have deep and abiding respect. But if I read their response correctly, they are not addressing the issue of homosexuality directly, but rather the wrong-headed ecclesiological assumptions that shaped the ELCA Task Force's recommendation.

    As for my response, I think the recommendation is deeply flawed in its ecclesiology. I hope it does not pass as written.

  5. Anonymous12:03 PM

    This is an interesting post about dispensationalism. I left the Lutheran church about 8 years ago when I met my (now) wife - who was from a non-denominational church. Since then we have moved several times and have had the opportunity to attend several churches with different styles.

    It wasn't until I read "Speaking My Mind" by Tony Campolo recently that I learned about dispensationalism and I have to say that it was enlightening. Upon reflection, I realized that the last church that we attended was deeply rooted in dispensationalism. There is a danger in the evangelical church movement that has been catching fire recently and that is that not knowing the agenda of a particular church can be dangerous to your Christian life. You can be influenced in ways that are not particularly healthy to the universal church of Jesus Christ.

    Evangilism or "Winning People for Christ" can become the sole purpose of a church and while it is important, it is not the only function of the church. Service to all of humanity and not just those who are Christians is as important - maybe even more important - than trying to increase the kingdom through preaching. To show Christ's love by becoming a servant can be more effective than telling someone about Christ's love.

    My wife and I have recently started attending a church near where we just moved to that is non-denominational, but focuses on what we as Christians have in common (the "liturgy" if there is one incorporates prayers and elements from several denominational backgrounds) and ways to serve the world. In relation to the world, they preach that there are more than two moral values. They are closely associated with Sojourners - an organization that we learned about during last years elections. I have a restored hope in Christianity as an inclusive body rather than polarizing, exclusive body that does more harm to itself than good.

  6. Craig, thank you for your thoughtful post. I grew up with a Craig Peterson who joined an evangelical church when he left Iowa. Funny coincidence...

  7. Anonymous1:52 PM

    While I agree that we should busy ourselves with our efforts to seek Christ in our lives, Revelation and Daniel are books of the Bible and they are there for a reason. If God did not want us to be watchful, He would not have allowed those books to be included in the Bible. There would have been no reason for them to exist. Clearly, God wants His children to be watchful of the signs of the Second Coming. Many Evangelicals use this information to frighten others and that is wrong. It is important to study Revelation though and be aware of its contents and to be prepared. Perhaps Christ will return before the Great Tribulation, perhaps it will be in the middle or perhaps it will be at the end. No one knows for sure. However, if it is in the middle or at the end and Christians must endure some of the Tribulation, wouldn't it be wise to be prepared? God does give instructions in Daniel and Revelation. Don't be afraid to read it and pray to God for understanding.

    1. To say "study" you must also understand that Daniel and Revalation are apocalyptic Jewish writings which were NOT meant to be a list of signs like Nostradamous. Revalation is a book written for a church under horrible percecution from Rome, and who had belived Christ would return within a generation and it was not happening. It is meant to remind them and us that no matter how powerful the things of this world may seem, the kindom of the Lord will prevail. Also it is important to remember that Christ even said that no one, not even Him knew when the end would occur. Like a thief in the night we won't somehow see it coming because the "signs" have been occurring since the day of Pentecost. Your correct, be prepared by remaining in Christ. Trying to divine the signs is dangerously similar to what the Gnostics did. Trying to find secrets which gave them more knowledge of God.

  8. Anonymous3:02 PM

    In looking at Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist Eschatological writings I find something rather disturbing. All the previous mentioned denominations are quick to lump all dispensationalist beliefs with those of the pretribulation dispensationalists like Tim LaHaye of the Left Behind series and quickly dismiss them as invalid or incorrect. This is simply a vague generalisation. The Apostolic Creed clearly states a belief that Christ will come again. Why do people shy away from this? Seems to me the difference is truly only one of semantics and interpretation of the scriptures. I should think Christians would seek the truth about it in scriptures. It is truly disheartening to see so many worldly Christians who want to go with the flow and accept anything and everything in this world. Christ expects us to stand for Him, to stand apart from the world, but the vast majority who call themselves Christians simply couldn't be bothered to do so because it is either too inconvenient or puts them in a rather unpopular position. It is sad that Christians would rather dismiss a subject that is uncomfortable or that doesn't fit with the world eccumenical view.

    1. Lutherans DO consider all dispensational beliefs to be un-scriptural. Your mention of the Creed should verify this truth. Christ ascended into heaven and will come again (once) on judgement day. No tribulation period, no rapture.

  9. It's important to put Scripture first. What is wrong with reading God's Word in a consistent and literal way? Does God not keep His promises?
    All of the Bible is profitable for study (2 Tim. 3:16).
    The fact is that Christ Himself appealed to Moses and the Prophets as to where He got His authority.
    You also hastily generalize dispensationalism. Dispensationalism is simply that the Church and Israel are not the same thing. I don't see how you could possibly read the Bible in a regular way and come to any other conclusion. You would have to allegorize to the extreme and plant your own theology.

    Pastor Ervin

  10. Anonymous12:31 PM

    I agree that it is important to study the scriptures first.I take the bible literally,and I am a dispensationalist.The truth is the bible says in 2 Timothy 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God,a workman that needeth not be ashamed,rightly dividing the word of truth.
    So to me you have to study. you also have to rightly divide the word of truth,which means you have to understand that there were different dispensations throughout history.
    A true dispensationlist would say that we are currently living in the dispensation of grace,we are not Israel, we are not under the same gospel as Israel,we are under grace. By rightly dividing the word of truth you know what is written to you directly and what is written for you.