One, keep your focus on the Lord and His Ways. Two, don’t waste time trying to reason with fools. That’s the very simple description, from a rather stressful few days in which I forgot these two points. The fool in this case is the anti-creation, anti-dispensational local pastor. After sitting through two rounds of his version of Revelation chapters 7 and 14, and all his anti-dispensational rants and outright errors (and I did not hear all of it, but enough even as I tried to ignore it), I succumbed to the point of actually emailing him: not to try to prove the correctness of the other view, but simply to point out the needless arrogance and ridicule of the views he disagrees with.
I admit my weakness. I really knew better to begin with. As I have understood for the last two years, someone who calls himself Christian yet has such an obstinate attitude against Genesis 1 shows himself without excuse. If he won’t listen to God’s revelation concerning the beginning (and all the physical evidence in addition to the Bible itself), he certainly won’t listen to God’s word concerning the future things. Here I recall John MacArthur’s words from this year’s Shepherd’s Conference:
Genesis is not poetry. There are poetical accounts of the creation in the Bible, Psalm 104, certain chapters in Job, and they differ completely from the first chapter of Genesis. Hebrew poetry had certain characteristics, they are NOT found in the first chapter of Genesis, so the claim that Genesis 1 is poetry is no solution to the question.
The man who says “I believe that Genesis purports to be a historical account but I do not believe that account” is a better interpreter of the Bible than the one who says I believe Genesis is true but it’s poetry.
But I also considered MacArthur’s advice, in a recent interview with Phil Johnson, that if you have a problem with your pastor, first go and discuss the matter with him; let him know of the problem and that he isn’t helpful, etc. (The context here was the “Case Against the R-Rated Church,” but the overall advice stands for any issue.) MacArthur’s second point was also very relevant: next, seek out other teachers whom you find trustworthy, and listen to them and their teaching. This one I certainly have done, and it has made a huge difference in my spiritual growth ever since I learned how untrustworthy my own local pastor is.
As to the specifics: in these two Revelation messages, the pastor ridiculed the idea of a pre-trib rapture, claiming that such people think this is a way to escape persecution, and “only in America” would people come up with that idea. He also dismissed the consideration of a future “Great Tribulation” as ridiculous, because every person’s own persecution is their own “Great Tribulation.” He threw the name of Hal Lindsey around a few times, and related his short conversation with a literalist in a way that mocked such literalism with short-answer reasoning; he also generally mocked the literal hermeneutic as wooden literalism and how of course that doesn’t make any sense in a book full of symbols.
I got nowhere in my two emails in which I pointed out that this view he ridicules is not exclusive to extremists like Hal Lindsey but believed by respected, serious Christian preachers such as John MacArthur, S. Lewis Johnson, and Fred Zaspel (who he knows personally), men who he has spoken well of in other contexts. He claimed to be completely befuddled as to why I felt as I did–after I pointed out how I could just as easily make fun of amillennialism with the name of Harold Camping or by claiming that amillennialists believe such-and-such when really they don’t believe that such-and-such thing (as for example his statement that pre-trib rapturists think that means escaping all persecution). Other than criticizing MacArthur with veiled references to the “H” word in reference to Ezekiel’s temple (and I hadn’t brought that one up, as he never discussed Ezekiel’s temple in this Revelation series), he never acknowledged any of my points regarding the respected dispensational premillennialists. Nor did he acknowledge any understanding of my repeated words concerning the distinction I made concerning “Calvinist Dispensational” or “moderate/progressive dispensationalism.” In his mind, clearly all are guilty of the same dangers and evils.
Overall, the experience was discouraging and demoralizing. I understand well Paul Lamey’s blog comment: ” I really despise getting into hand-to-hand combat with folks about so-called dispensational eschatology… I see very few willing to get down to the exegetical level and work it out in the text.” I often (as many times before) wondered if this person really is saved, with such an attitude and hardness of heart concerning the things of God’s word. Another big thought: is he really this stupid, this ignorant? Or is this just an act? Some of it would be amusing if not for the seriousness of God’s word at stake.
A few things especially stick out, that really gave reason for concern. For one, I had pointed out that there is a scriptural basis for believing in an objective, future “Great Tribulation” which is different from general persecution (2 Thessalonians 2 and the plain, normal meaning of Paul’s words there)– and that even if he wants to disagree with it he need not dismiss that view. In response he ridiculed the idea: why would you think that the Day of the Lord is the same thing as a great tribulation; those aren’t the same words and so how is that being literal? (Not the exact words, but pretty close.) Here especially I started thinking about what’s really going on in his heart, the spiritual discernment really kicking into high gear. This person has a Scofield Reference Bible which he still uses as his main Bible; and he was steeped in Arminian Dispensationalism in his youth, though many years ago. Surely he knows very well the scriptural basis for associating the Day of the Lord with the Great Tribulation. I felt like retorting this very point: that he very well knows this; that I am finding it very difficult to believe he is really that ignorant, so I can only conclude that he is acting ignorant and thus deliberately trying to pick a fight; either that or that he really is that ignorant, so which is it? A few hours later I considered that such a thought could be expressed in a less confrontational and more understanding way, as a concern regarding his attitude here, and requesting a simple, honest answer as to whether or not he really knew what that “scriptural basis” was. Of course, long before this point I also recognized the futility of even discussing the matter any further, and in my final response to him I simply said that there would be no point in going on about specific issues of interpretation, that such discussion would go nowhere.
The next matter was really intriguing, and this one shows colossal ignorance. Whether or not he really is that ignorant, in reference to the understanding of the Day of the Lord and similar stuff, the end result is the same. Stupid is as stupid does. Someone who has left the Bible’s wisdom in preference to spiritualizing, allegorizing, human-focused reasoning, ends up just as stupid and ignorant as if he really had been that ignorant all along.
Throughout his emails, he kept saying that Fred Zaspel is historic premillennial, and that he can accept that idea as a biblical possibility, with brief descriptions of how that idea includes a future Christian millennial kingdom — but all this other stuff about the Jews having special purposes separate from Gentile Christians, etc., is just so new (“only since 1830”) and therefore dangerous and unacceptable. As one who has actually read and re-read Zaspel’s articles on his website, to me such statements seemed really puzzling. Zaspel’s beliefs clearly are in the category of progressive dispensationalism, perhaps more on the “Progressive” emphasis, but clearly within dispensationalism, including belief in the restoration of Israel as a nation, the Abrahamic land promises to Israel to be fulfilled in the millennial kingdom, and a future Great Tribulation. I’ve even heard Fred Zaspel mentioned in high regard by the professors at Master’s Seminary, and by Jim McClarty. So finally I took a different approach and simply asked him “what is your understanding of Fred Zaspel’s eschatology? how would you describe it?” I remarked that I had read all of Zaspel’s articles on his website, and knew that Zaspel is highly regarded by other Calvinist Dispensationalists. Thus I wondered if Fred had since changed his views, or how did he (the local pastor) see that Zaspel’s views were different from dispensationalism (with emphasis again on the type of dispensationalism I am referring to). The polite response was most telling: he really didn’t know the details of Fred Zaspel’s theology. He highly respected Fred as his friend even though he disagreed with him, and they had had light banter about it but nothing in detail; and no, he hadn’t read Fred’s website. But he again assured me that Fred was historic premillennial and didn’t believe any of that dispensational stuff.
Talking about what you do not know, as though you really do — characteristic, classic actions of the Proverbial fool. I was reminded of this and its great truth, in my daily reading of list 7 (Proverbs) today:
Proverbs 14:6-7 (ESV): “A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain, but knowledge is easy for a man of understanding.7 Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge.”