The terminology that we are most comfortable with sometimes gets in the way of our communication with others. The words that we use have defined meanings for us. However, our vocabulary may not adequately transfer to others the ideas and thoughts we want them to understand. While some of our terms may be helpful communicating with one group of people, frequently we must tailor our messages as we address different audiences. If you are over fifty years of age, chances are very good that the people you know under thirty years old speak a completely different language than you do. This indisputable fact represents a hurdle that must be recognized if we are going to pass our faith to the generations that will follow us.
Recently, I received an email from a young woman who has been watching what we are doing at Disciple Daily. In essence, she was complimenting the way we are attempting to break down important biblical truth into bite size pieces and make them easier for her peer group to understand. She was also supportive of how we are expanding our outreach methods to include media that is appropriate to our times. Finally, there was a request to do a short series on “dispensationalism”, why it is important, and why her friends should care about it.
So, here we go…
First of all, I think that the word “dispensationalism” at times gets in the way of properly communicating what the Bible teaches. Don’t misunderstand. I am a firm proponent of a view of Scripture that recognizes the way God has managed His creation through the clearly defined stages of human history. But the word “dispensationalism” itself has become a lightning rod for its critics. The truth of the matter is that most believers don’t have any biblical philosophy of history to call their own. The reason for this is that for most of the last fifty years, verse by verse Bible teaching has been in decline. The result is that most believers are not familiar with ideas that are critical to understanding the world that God has created for them to live in, a world He is managing for His own glory!
Maybe it is time for a different approach, one that is tried and true. Instead of applying labels to groups of believers and the content of their faith, what if once again we taught new believers to simply read the Bible and let the text speak for itself. Under the instruction of the Holy Spirit, new students of the Bible can learn about God’s plan for history by listening directly to God Himself. I am quite confident that the Creator of all things is more than capable of speaking for Himself… if we will just get out of the way.
Let’s let God speak to us directly on this matter by reading Genesis 1-3 two times. Be sure to pray first! Ask God to speak to both your heart and your mind as you read. During your first reading of these opening chapters of the first book of the Bible, simply identify what happened chronologically. You might want to consider using a notebook to record any thoughts or questions that you have while reading. Try not to get too microscopic in your first reading. Simply identify what happened in the order of events.
Approach this time alone with God as you would with any another person. In any other conversation with someone else, if you don’t understand what they are saying, what do you do? You ask questions. Discovery questions help guide our understanding during all conversations. God is a real person too! When you read the Bible, you are listening to God’s side of His conversation with YOU! Do Him the courtesy of making sure that you understand what He is saying. Ask Him to clarify His meaning by asking questions of the text that begin with who, what, where, when, why, and how. If there is something you don’t understand, ask the Lord to clarify what He wants you to know. Rest assured that if you have given your heart to Him in faith, He is listening to you and He will reply. You are His creation. You are one of His children. It may take some time, but start now to fine-tune your hearing. From the very beginning learn to listen to Him, first and foremost!
Now, read Genesis 1-3.
The first three chapters of Genesis set the stage for everything else that happens throughout the rest of the Bible. In the simplest of terms, here is what happened. God created a perfect world and filled it with perfect things, including man and woman. In a desire to have fellowship with them, God walked in the Garden of Eden and spoke with Adam and Eve directly. To retain that perfect world and their place in it, God placed just one restriction on Adam and Eve. By obeying that one simple rule, they would live forever and their fellowship with God would remain intact. Adam and Eve took their eyes off of God. They listened to the serpent, and reached out to touch and eat what Satan told them they deserved to have. Adam and Eve both disregarded God’s single rule of life. Their willful decision changed everything for them, the whole Creation, and even for God Himself.
Throughout all of HIStory, God is managing his household. His household includes the heavens, the earth, and everything on the earth. In the same way that parents manage their household differently as their children grow from infants to adulthood, so it is with God. As children grow up, parents give them freedom to exercise their own will. At the same time, good parents provide structure that protects their children from what they are not yet able to understand. Parents establish rules of life for their household that enable its inhabitants to to live protected and productive lives.
In this same way, God nurtured and cared for Adam and Eve. He gave them one restrictive rule that was for their own benefit. They disregarded it. Before Adam and Eve ignored this rule, God managed His Creation one way. Afterwards, He began managing it in a different way.
This is the idea behind dispensationalism. In a nutshell, throughout history God has managed His creation household by applying different rules of life at different times while always maintaining His love for and His care for it. Like any good parent, God’s love for us as part of His creation is unshakeable. However, His methodology for dealing with His creation, of which humanity is just one component, has changed as events in his household progressed from one stage to another.
P.S., I want to credit Renald Showers and Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry for two books that have been instrumental in helping me to develop the talking points of this blog and video. They are There Really Is A Difference and What On Earth Is God Doing?. These books could be very useful as part of your own library. For your convenience, they are available in the Disciple Daily Bookstore.