My wife and I have an ongoing joke.
When we were first dating, we enjoyed talking about the subtle differences between our two cultures. She’s American and I’m Canadian, and though people think that Canada is the politer, colder version of the United States, there are a few more differences than manners and climate. We would always be talking and then one of us would suddenly drop a word that the other didn’t recognize. One time, it took a trip to to an Office supply store to explain to her exactly what a Duo Tang was.
There was a second, related joke. Since we were living in the US at the time we were dating and I was the foreigner, I would sometimes pretend to not know what she was talking about and I’d “plead Canadian.” In other words, I’d feign ignorance and enjoy my girlfriend’s (now wife) shock and awe that I’d never heard of sour cream and onion chips (or whatever it was that we were discussing). What can I say? I’m a bit of a stinker. So why do I bring this up?
I say this because I recently read Tim Challies article on Why I’m Not A Dispensationalist. In case you haven’t heard of Tim Challies, he’s the most famous Christian blogger around (despite the claims of Frank Viola…and JD Hall). Beyond blogging, he’s also a Canadian, a pastor, an accomplished author has even made it onto the Babylon Bee. He’s written several books and even runs his own publishing company!
So, when I read his article on Dispensationalism, I was surprised.
Tim, like me, is Canadian. We both grew up in Canadian churches, and Canadian churches aren’t exactly known for being articulate, or committed, on their views of theological systems (namely Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology). I have rarely met a Canadian pastor who has the necessary hermeneutical, exegetical and theological training to adequately sort through matters of theological systems. I have also rarely had a conversation with a Canadian pastor where talk of theological systems came up and they didn’t mention the Left Behind books. That being said, Tim Challies is no typical Canadian pastor.
So when I read his article, I was somewhat surprised that he “pleaded Canadian.”
But doesn’t that suggest that he’s falsely claiming to be ignorant of something?
Allow me to explain.
In the article he said “In this area I have not carried out the same level of study as, for example, the doctrines of salvation or scripture” and then spent a whole paragraph talking about eschatology. That gave me a hint for what was coming.
Tim then wrote:
Dispensationalism is a kind of framework for history that is organized around seven dispensations—seven orders or administrations. Particular to this framework is the eschatological position known as “premillennial dispensationalism” which holds that Christ will return prior to a literal one-thousand-year reign on earth. When I say I am not dispensational, this is primarily what I mean—I do not hold to premillennial dispensationalism.
Then, he quoted Greg Allison (from the Baker Compact Dictionary of Theological Terms) saying that Dispensatinal Premillennialism believes in a pretribulational rapture (I wrote a short overview of the relevant terminology which may help) and also a thousand year reign of Christ while Satan is bound.
Moving on from there he explained how he was raised in the Dutch Reformed tradition and therefore was raised as an Amillennialist, as taught (or allowed for) in various Catechisms. He commented, again quoting Allison, that Satan is currently bound, allowing the gospel to go everywhere, and this binding will stop when Satan is loosed, defeated, the dead are raised and judged and finally Christ ushers in the eternal state.
Tim then wrote how he first discovered the concept of the rapture in the music of Petra (yes, the Christian Rock band) and then met someone while he was in grade 12 that believed and explained the idea to him.
Following that, he wrote,
So why am I not dispensational? I’d like to say that I have studied the issue very closely, that I have read stacks of books on eschatology, and that I can thoroughly defend my position against every alternative. But that’s not the case. It’s more that my reading of the Bible, my years of listening to sermons, and my study of Christian theology has not been able to shake or displace the amillennialism of my youth. To the contrary, it has only strengthened it.
He closed off with a positive recommendation of his pastors’ recent sermon series through Revelation, chalked up Dispensationalism as an equivalent error to Paedobaptism because they both “wrongly allow the Old Testament to have priority over the New Testament,” and then affirmed his love for John MacArthur.
So, what do I have to say about that all?
What else do I have to say?
Well, Tim rejects Dispensational Premillennialism, which is a subset of eschatology. That doesn’t mean that he rejects Dispensationalism at all; not all dispensationalists are dispensational premillennialists. For example, there are self-labeling dispensationalists who have differing views about certain aspects of the millennium and self-labeling dispensationalists also have differing views about the nature and timing of the rapture (not all are pretribulational). I think he knows this to, since he defined Dispensationalism by writing:
“Dispensationalism is a kind of framework for history that is organized around seven dispensations—seven orders or administrations.”
That definition has nothing to do with eschatology.
So what was going on?
I think Tim was just feigning ignorance, or “pleading Canadian.”
He’s one of the most well-read guys around; he reviews books like a madman. He has no shortage of connections in Evangelicalism, and definitely no shortage of exposure of people and ideas. He said he hadn’t read “stacks” of books on eschatology, but he’s certainly read one. It appeared to me that he was doing pre-emptive damage control since he knows John MacArthur and recognizes that his article will receive multiple responses.
Simply put, he cannot be that ignorant about Dispensationalism. He has read something about it, certainly. He has talked with people who have attempted to explain it to him, most definitely (i.e. MacArthur, or Phil Johnson, or someone).
He also cannot think that dismissing a compatible eschatological subset is equivalent to dismissing a theological system as a whole.
It’s not, and a competent and well-read thinker (like Tim Challies) would know that Dispensationalism is far more than its various compatible eschatological subsets.
I mean, in all of 60 seconds I found John Macarthur directly addressing the definition of Dispensationalism, and MacArthur is one of the most widely known dispensationalists around (Tim mentioned him by name for a reason):
Now Tim has to have spent more than 60 seconds learning about Dispensationalism before rejecting it wholesale, especially when it’s something affirmed by people he knows and loves. As an intelligent adult, he has to know that whatever components of Dispensationalism he encountered in a Petra song and twelfth grade isn’t representative of exegetically-derived, biblically-robust Dispensationalism.
Sure, there are plenty of people who would look at the phrase “biblically robust” and laugh, dismissing that as simple nonsense out of an ignorant prejudice. I’d hope that someone as widely read and experienced in the best that evangelicalism has to offer, someone like Tim Challies, wouldn’t do so. In fact, I find that rather hard to believe.
Hence, my only real option is that Tim “plead Canadian.” I imagine that he was anticipating what sort of fight he’d be drawn into if went into details or attempted to engage in an exegetical critique, so he just set us up to be disappointed and bunted.
I may certainly be wrong, but I hope not.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “trying to assume the best” Unger
P.S. – This blog is still on hiatus, contrary to all appearances (namely two posts in one day).