Dispensationalism has a number of troubles. For starters, it’s an infant on the world stage – the first dispensationalist was John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), and prior to him, there’s no notion of a “secret rapture” that would take the elect and leave the world without a Church. It also has been the source of a long string of false prophesies. Look to almost any major end times prophesy (from Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World, the Left Behind series, Late Great Planet Earth, The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon, A Woman Rides the Beast, etc.), and you’ll discover that the author is dispensationalist. Then look at how accurate these books have turned out every time. Quick question: Did Armageddon happen in the 1980s? Nope. So why do people still take Hal Lindsey seriously? Don’t get me wrong. He means well. But he’s no prophet, and his Biblical exegesis is terrible. He commits the same fallacy that almost all of the other dispensationalists commit: they try and make every prophesy in the Bible about them, the present, or (usually) the very near future. Of course, this isn’t unique to dispensationalists: almost everyone who ignores Matthew 24:36 makes a fool of themselves eventually, whether they’re dispensationalists, Adventists, or any other self-made prophet.
But there’s an even bigger problem, with real world consequences. Dispensationalism posits that ethnic Jews remain God’s chosen people distinct and apart from Christians. The results of this are chaos, as Fish Eaters explains here (usual Fish Eaters caveat: the FE folks are great on some issues, and the opposite on some others, so keep a grain of salt ready). Fish Eaters also does a good job explaining the obvious: Israel and the Church are one and the same. Specifically Galatians 3:28-29 hammers that home in a big way:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise.
So what matters is not whether someone is ethnicly Jewish, but whether they are part of the Church, the New Israel: in other words, it doesn’t matter if you’re a biological descendant of Abraham; it matters if you’re a spiritual descendant. As Peter says in Acts 10:34-35, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” Attempts to divide the Church into ethnically Jewish and ethnically Gentile are clearly contrary to the will of God.
Nevertheless, all too many Christians think that the modern state of Israel, because it’s (a) called Israel, and (b) comprised of ethnic Jews, is the fulfillment of Biblical prophesy. This, more or less, is the rationale behind the Christian Zionist movement, made famous by anti-Catholic John Hagee. It’s foolish. Assuming that “Israel,” when used in the Bible, means the same thing as “Israel” when used in the news: that is, that the Church of God is identical to the pro-choice, non-Christian state of Israel is as misguided as understanding 1 Peter 5:13 to mean that Peter was literally in Babylon.
But what’s more, this obsession with ethnic Jews leads dispensationalists to identify the Chosen People as only those Jews who reject Christ. Here’s what I mean. Fr. Richard John Neuhaus addressed this issue in the middle of a book review from 2005:
The very title of the book, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus, is highly problematic. Scholars generally agree that in the first century there were approximately six million Jews in the Roman Empire (for some reason, Klinghoffer says five million). That was about one tenth of the entire population. About one million were in Palestine, including today’s State of Israel, while those in the diaspora were very much part of the establishment in cities such as Alexandria and Constantinople. At one point Klinghoffer acknowledges that, during the life of Jesus, only a minuscule minority of Jews either accepted or rejected Jesus, for the simple reason that most Jews had not heard of him. Some scholars have noted that, by the fourth or fifth century, there were only a few hundred thousand, at most a million, people who identified themselves as Jews. What happened to the millions of others? The most likely answer, it is suggested, is that they became Christians.
So it seems that some 80% or more of Jews, when presented with the evidence for Christianity, converted. And note, the 80% figure assumes (a) Klinghoffer’s low estimate of 5 million Jews in the first century; (b) the high estimate of a million Jews by the 4th to 5th century; and (c) no increase in population. Obviously, the destruction of the Temple and the sporadic Roman persecution of the Jews decreased the Jewish population. Specifically, the Great Jewish Revolt (which lead to the destruction of the Temple and the start of the diaspora), the Kitos War, and the Bar Kokhba revolt were bad for the Jewish population. But these three persecutions were over by 135. We should expect a low late-1st and 2nd century Jewish population, and a much higher 4th and 5th century population, as improving conditions, decreasing persecution, and natural reproduction lead to a boost in population. Instead, we see the opposite, and we see it coinciding with the skyrocketing population of Christians. So in fact, the 80% conversion rate might be low.
This means a few important things. First, the majority of the ethnic Jews made their way into what was unambiguously the Roman Catholic Church by the 4th to 5th century. So even if Dispensationalists were right, contra the Bible, that the ethnic Jews, rather than spiritual Jews, were God’s chosen people, this would be a reason to be pro-Catholic Church, not pro-State of Israel (or at least, pro-both).
Second, it means that the only ethnic Jews venerated by the Christian Zionists are the extreme minority who refused to accept Christ. This puts some sort of perverse disincentive upon accepting Christ: it demotes one from the privileged position of chosen race into the general rank of member of the Church. Of course, Dispensationalists will deny that this is true: they love Messianic Jews. But the whole category of Messianic Jews, as a distinct people, didn’t exist historically (at least, once the Apostles got done surpressing it). But modern Messianic Judaism is born of the late 19th century: unsurprisingly, as that’s when Darby and Scofield’s “unique” takes on the New Testament were accepted by more and more Christians with no sense of history. So even if it’s true now that Messianic Jews can be double-chosen people by being in both Israel and the Church, as separate things, it certainly wasn’t the case for the first 18 centuries or so of Christianity.
Third, this is yet more evidence against the Dispensationalist claim. The millions of Jews who converted to Christianity: (a) didn’t feel they were exempt from becoming Christians, because they could be saved by another dispensation; and (b) didn’t feel that their ethnic Jewishness made them superior in God’s eyes to their non-Jewish neighbor. We know this, in the case of (a), because they converted; and (b), because they didn’t separate themselves. That is, they assimilated, and simply became Christians, because they saw that the Messianic prophesies were fulfilled in Christ, and that the New Israel prophesies were fulfilled in the Catholic Church. The very fact that these millions of Jews didn’t leave a distinct mark as Jewish Catholics, but simply as Catholics, says everything that I think needs to be said to prove Dispensationalism an ahistorical, anti-Biblical step in the wrong direction.