Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Thoughts On Dispensationalism

Some people think that the Old Testament God and the New Testament Christ are so different in word and deed that they believe God may change the way he deals with mankind during different eras. It seems to them as though God reveals certain aspects of himself, and blesses mankind with particular gifts "when we're ready for it." That is, when we've more or less evolved to a certain state.

Now there are some people who believe just the opposite. They think that mankind has devolved over the years. That he once had certain gifts and abilities (usually psychic phenomenon are mentioned) which he has now lost. They often point out that the human race now uses only a small portion of our brains, and this is especially true of the frontal lobe of which little is known, and very little brainwave activity emits from that region.

I for one would also point out that anyone who has truly studied Greek, Chinese, and Jewish philosophy will recognize right away that those ancient super-thinkers were way ahead of anyone who has come down the pike since. Reading Kant, Berkeley, Descartes, and Kierkegaard may be a pleasure. But reading Plato, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Aristotle, and the words spoken by Jesus Christ is a revelation.

I probably fall into this latter camp of unbelievers for the most part. Still I hold onto the possibility of what may be called limited dispensationalism. But I see no big changes in mankind or God's relationship with man that appear to be in an ever evolving manner. I'm going to include the following letter to a gentleman named Adam who recently wrote to me, asking what both George MacDonald and myself had to say on the subject.

Hi Adam,

Nice to hear from you again. I don't remember GMD ever actually using the term Dispensationalism or anything like it. I may be wrong, but I really don't think he ever thought anything along those lines. But then again, I don't think it was a very widespread teaching until the 20th century (you probably know better than me though).

There are times I've wondered if perhaps God had carried out such stages in a sort of evolution of man, but it seems that every time I begin to think along those lines, something will happen to swing me back to where I started. For instance, I recall skimming through a book at the store one day by what I believe was an anthropologist who said that it seemed clear to him that mankind didn't become a self-conscious being until around 13,000 years ago. And this is about when the first civilizations that we know of came into being. People started farming and breeding livestock. Villages were built. Building projects as a group began for things like ziggurats and mounds. It sort of made sense that it took some kind of self-consciousness to allow people to think like this, and I wondered if it was a stage of development that God put into the mind of man.

But then I remembered GK Chesterton's comments in The Everlasting Man about the 35,000 year old cave paintings found in Lascaux and what wonderful works of art some of them truly were. Some were indeed quite good and showed that "feeling intellect" which Wordsworth so aptly named. These paintings weren't the work of a person or persons without self-consciousness. They showed a great ability to reflect on one's emotions, particularly one painting that showed a bison looking back over its shoulder.

I found The Everlasting Man online and copied what I thought was pertinent:

"They were drawings or paintings of animals; and they were drawn or painted not only by a man but by an artist. Under whatever archaic limitations, they showed that love of the long sweeping or the long wavering line which any man who has ever drawn or tried to draw will recognize; and about which no artist will allow himself to be contradicted by any scientist. They showed the experimental and adventurous spirit of the artist, the spirit that does not avoid but attempt difficult things; as where the draughtsman had represented the action of the stag when he swings his head clean round and noses towards his tail, an action familiar enough in the horse. But there are many modern animal-painters who would set themselves something of a task in rendering it truly. In this and twenty other details it is clear that the artist had watched animals with a certain interest and presumably a certain pleasure. In that sense it would seem that he was not only an artist but a naturalist; the sort of naturalist who is really natural.... So far as any human character can be hinted at by such traces of the past, that human character is quite human and even humane.... When the psycho-analyst writes to a patient, 'The submerged instincts of the cave-man are doubtless prompting you to gratify a violent impulse,' he does not refer to the impulse to paint in water-colours; or to make conscientious studies of how cattle swing their heads when they graze. Yet we do know for a fact that the cave man did these mild and innocent things; and we have not the most minute speck of evidence that he did any of the violent and ferocious things."

So, to bring an end to a long winded letter Adam, it seems to me that mankind has not really changed all that much no matter how far back we look. We might be a little less violent now, but that's about it. I see changes in science and its influence upon culture in every age, but I don't really think this has touched the heart of man. We certainly see a NT Jesus doing things very differently from the OT God, but I'm not convinced this has to do with the development of mankind and any sort of special dispensation. I have a lot of thoughts on that, but it's too much to go into presently.

I don't think I'm a believer in dispensationalism just yet. But who knows what the future may bring?



AJA said...

This is very good. I agree with almost all except mankind is a less violent. I think it is humankind who may like to think that somehow God changes, dispenses, if you will. While it is we who may grow in God's unchanging revelation. I have stood in wonder in the grottes de Lascaux, seen displays of even older Cro Magnon graves with amulets and other precious objects placed in what I felt was a reverential manner around the remains of a very young female. And the hands, the hands! Dipped in pigment and pressed everywhere in the far reaches of the sanctum sanctorum of one of the grottes. God has been present and known by us from our beginnings- made in God's image as we were.

C W Seper said...

That's right. "Made in his image" is what kept going through my mind too.