Le Grande Derangement

Two of my friends, who I respect a great deal, have told me in separate conversations, using similar words, that they consider themselves to be recovering dispensationalists.  That means that at one time they believed in the literal mellenial reign of Christ after 7 years of tribulation and all the other stuff that goes along with it.  They both still take a high view of scripture and study the scripture diligently.  Yet, their studies have led them to reject the futurist view of things.

It is unsettling when friends  you respect take up a differnt view of  things than you.  Could it be that the entire Hal Lindsey , Tim LaHaye, and Jerry Jenkins crew and all of thier followers have become immersed in some incredible delusion that they can’t see their way out of? 

Delusions are tough to figure out.  The objective observer can see that the delusional system  is clearly out of touch with reality but,  in the deluded person’s mind, events are interpreted in ways that support the delusion.  Even evidence that might counter the delusion is somehow incorprated into the delusional system of thinking.  Objective truth is often seen as evil forces trying to decieve.  The delusional system of thinking is often impossibe to crack and sometimes it is so tightly wound that the victim has an answer for everything and even years of therapy can’t crack the system.  Paranolid delusions are the worst.

I’d hate to think that I have been living in a delusion for several years at the mercy of a band of religious sounding crackpots.  Yet my delusion, if it is real, is not so tightly wound that I can’t see that nobody sounds more like a crackpot than Hal Lindsey.  The current popularization of dispensationalism with the Left Behind series, movies, books, etc., contains elements of paranoia and smells like one of those Christian rackets that make a lot money for a time and then retreat from the scene leaving nothing but a dry hole in the heart.  Thats kind of what happened with the prayer of Jabez.  I must not have done it right because I never got rich.

 On the other hand, as Reb Tevia says, the guys that  came up with this line of reasoning  originally were serious scholars and some of those that continue to teach it in our times are people to be reckoned with–Walvoord, Swindoll, Ryrie, and nearly all of my pastors are a few names that come to mind.            

I will leave it to you–either we have gone crazy or we are a lampstand for the world.


What Are You Prepared To Do?

In the Untouchables movie with Sean Connery, Elliot Ness was faced with mobsters who controlled the city and had corrupted even the police.  After each defeat Connery had only one question for Ness:  “What are you prepared to do?”  For Ness it was a challenging question and the answer always seemed to require greater sacrifice and commitment to his cause. 

In our study we have said that it is important for us to share the gospel with the world.  My question is what are you prepared to do?  Is our class ready to attempt the equivalent of putting Al Capone behind bars or do we prefer to make peace with corruption?

Two More Thoughts On Revelation

I was listening to the 08/25/2009  Truth For Life broadcast and the pastor said that Revelation is not about making a bunch of charts and diagrams and trying to fit everything into a certain chain of events and time lines.  He said “That is largely an American invention. I am sorry, but it is true”.  He went on to say that the point of Revelation is that if we truly believe that Jesus is returning and will judge the world, then we should be striving to live a life worthy of  Him so that our lives will be a witness to the world and we should work  to tell others about  Christ.  I agree with Alister Begg. 

I asked Celeste, a coworker, what she thought about Revelation.  She said it is all about Jesus and having a relationship with Him.  We don’t know when he will return but it all about being ready.  We need to be prepared for his return.  I agree with that too. 

I think  that the intent of Revelation is primarily to encourage us to remain faithful and finish strong.

The Distinctive of Dispensational Hermeneutics

In our study of Revelation we have adopted a futurist point of view although we have also tried to explore other points of view including the preterist view.  Dispensationalists say that their interpretation of the Bible is dependent upon the method they employ in interpretation.

Here are what I understand to be the main principles of the method.

  1. Words are important but they may not mean the same thing today as they did in Biblical times.  It is important to understand the historical meaning of words and illustrations to arrive at a correct interpretation.
  2. The Bible should be interpreted literally.   While the Bible does contain symbols and metaphors the context of the passage or the text itself makes it clear when something is not to be taken literally.  In most cases words should taken at face value and are intended to communicate truth in a plain and normal sense.
  3. Dispensationalists consistently apply the literal principle.  Non-literalists would also agree with the first two points but they may not be consistent in their application.  For example, a non-literalist would say that Revelation is apocalyptic literature and is filled with types and symbols that point to a spiritual truth and it is the reader’s job to discover the spiritual meaning.  The two witness in Revelation may be seen as a representation of the missionary activity of the whole church before Christ’s return.  The dispensationalist would say that there is no justification for adopting this spiritualized interpretation and there is no indication that it is not to be taken literally.  Therefore, the passage means that in the end times there will be two actual witnesses with the power to act according to the descriptions provided in revelation. 
  4. In old testament times prophecy was fulfilled literally so we ought to expect prophecy in the new testament to be fulfilled literally. 
  5. Revelation in the Bible is progressive.  God reveals more about his plans through the scriptures as time passes.  Daniel predicted a time of trouble for Israel but Revelation provides more details about these events.  
  6. Prophecies can have a near or immediate fulfillment as well as a  future fulfillment.
  7. The Bible is God’s revelation to man about himself.  The Bible should be viewed as a unity with a consistent message.  Interpretations must be consistent with what God has already revealed and we should seek to see how a passage relates to the Bible as a whole.
  8. Israel does not equal the church.  These are two separate groups and one should never say that God’s promisses to Israel are fulfilled spiritually through church.  God’s promises to Israel are yet to be fulfilled literally.

Here are a couple of links to more on the subject.  A good book is Ryrie’s Dispensationalism Today.  Ye olde disclaimer: I know nothing about Andy Woods but he seems to be conservative in theology and does a fair job of representing the dispensational position.  You would find an excellent defense of the non-literalist view in Hank Hennegraff’s book,  The Apocalypse Code.

Dispensational Hermeneutics by Andy Woods

Dispensational Hermeneutics a Matter of Genre by Andy Woods

Some have said that Dispensationalist views are guided more by a theological point of view rather than hermeneutics.  What is your view?  Are you a literalist or a non-literalist when it comes to Revelation?

The Mystery Concerning Joe and Ray

In my childhood years, we visited the relatives at the old place in North Denver often.    There was a lot of history there for my dad because he grew up in that house and neighborhood with all of his brothers and sisters. When I was born, and up to about age two or three, we lived there too in a small place on the property that we all knew as “the little house” which was situated next to the main house.  My memories are pretty fragmented for those early years; however, I can remember grandma and grandpa clearly.  They both died before I was in school, sometime in the early to mid ’50s. The main house and the property passed to my dad’s sister, Aunt Marion, and Uncle Jack.  After his stint in the Army, my cousin Bud and his new wife, Susan, moved into the main house too.  It was a big place with lots of room on the inside and a very large lawn with many big tall trees.  It was like a forest there in the summer.

I can clearly remember stopping in nearly every month and sometimes more frequently up until I was around 16 or 17.  Unplanned family get-togethers were almost routine. We would stay for hours sitting around the kitchen table talking about the daily stuff of life with Bud, Susan, Aunt Marion, and Uncle Jack.  Mostly I remember just listening but sometimes when the fights were on I would go in the living room with Uncle Jack and watch with him.  As I remember, everyone always had something to drink.  All the adults had Pabst Blue Ribbon except Aunt Marion who always had iced tea.  I always had Pepsi or iced tea with lots of sugar.  Pepsi was fine with me but I always preferred Coke.  Dad was a Coors man and I often wondered if he felt the same about Pabst as I did about Pepsi.

The Portulaca was a neighborhood bar in the Globeville area of North Denver not far from where the old place was.  My dad was a frequent visitor there and he often took me with him.  Sometimes we stopped there with mom as part of the visit to the old place and sometimes just dad and me went a bit out of our way to stop there and skipped the old place all together.

The outside of the Bar sported a lighted Budweiser sign in front  and a signature stained glass window, fake I believe, that said “PORTULACA” surrounded by green vines and reddish flowers.  To get inside you had to go up a couple of steps and enter through glossy green painted double doors with glass panes.  In the summer, you had to negotiate peeling black painted wood screen doors.

By most standards, it was a scroungy place. The men’s room was small and always smelled bad. The porcelain was permanently stained and you had to pull a chain to flush because the tank was up near the ceiling. It had a well-worn wood floor that creaked when you walked on it. The wood was nearly black from years of dirt and wear but in some places, you could tell that the original color was a dark oak.  I don’t remember any tables but the high backed booths were all around the interior walls,  made of hard wood, and painted glossy forest green enamel.  They also creaked when you sat down.  The tabletops were covered with brown pattern linoleum with metal trim to hold it in place.  In the middle of the floor was a small pool table about half the size of one of the professional models.  It cost a quarter to play and I that is where I learned how to play eight ball.  At one end of the place, there was a massive looking bar with a big mirror behind it.  The bar appeared very old and well worn.  It seemed to be made of real oak and the mirror, starting to lose its silver backing, had a clouded look about it and there were a few chips in the beveled glass edge.  I think the walls might have been white or light green at one time but they had a definite yellow-brown tinge from years of accumulated cigarette smoke.

The bar itself seemed to have a mystic power about it.  Although words were never spoken and no specific incident happened that I can recall, I understood in my bones that the bar itself was where evil, or, darkness at least, presided.  On some level, it caused some fear and I never felt comfortable going near it.  It was where the loud drunks congregated.

The walls were adorned with advertisements for peanuts and Wolf’s Chili.  Each booth had one of those famous Budweiser lithographs centered over the table and hung on the wall just above a person’s head.  Dad and I always sat the booth with the picture of Custer’s Last Fight.  I was fascinated with that picture and spent a good deal of time studying it.  When we went to the Portulaca dad and me always ordered the same thing and never deviated.  Dad always had one or two beers, Coors of course, and he always had a shot of Ancient Age with each beer for a chaser.  In spite of being a Coke man, I always ordered a Grapette.

The Portulaca had two bartenders, Joe and Ray, that ran the place and, of all the times I was there, I never saw anyone else behind the bar.  It was always either Joe or Ray but never at the same time. Joe was a tall, long legged, thin kind of guy and he always had a long white apron around his waist.  Ray was shorter and stocky and had a brown mole on the side of his cheek.  Ray wore a white apron too but it didn’t go around his body as nicely as Joe’s and it looked a little tight to me.  When they would deliver the drinks, they would always bring short, barrel shaped Budweiser glasses for our drinks. I was always amazed at these glasses because they were so deceiving.  They looked like they could not hold much but I was surprised to see that I could actually pour my entire bottle of Grapette into one of those glasses.  Every time we went there, I would pour my whole bottle into the glass just to see if it would still hold it. I wondered if Joe and Ray were business partners or if they were just the hired help.  I never did find out.

There were other things about Joe and Ray that caused me to wonder.  It was obvious that Joe and Ray knew my dad and that it went beyond what a good bartender does to learn his customer’s names and keep them coming back.  When Joe or Ray came to our table to take our order, and they knew what it was going to be already, dad would ask how they were doing and they would exchange to usual greetings that one would expect.  Nevertheless, these greetings with both Joe and Ray were serious business and the looks that they exchanged told me volumes were being spoken without words.  Overall, they spoke very few words to each other and, except for Joe and Ray, there was no reason to keep returning to this place.

I asked dad one time if he knew them from when he was a kid or something and he said that they went back a ways but I also understood that this was not an area that I had permission to explore, so I dropped it.  Family legend has it that dad was a bit of a juvenile delinquent.  In those days, the City of Denver operated electric cable cars instead of RTD buses.  I understand that, as the car went by, he was somehow able to put a stick between the connector on the cable car and the electric power wire that ran above the car.  That disconnected the car’s power and dad thought it was great fun when the car operator got out and chased him down the block.  Dad recounted this story once and it was one of the few times that I saw him start laughing so hard that he could not stop.  I wondered if Joe and Ray might have been part of the cable car gang.

The place had a shinny green door that had one of those cheap black and gold stick-on signs that said “kitchen”.  It was always dark behind that door and, judging from the rest of the place, I wondered what culinary and sanitation disasters had been birthed there. One time I was enticed by the Wolf’s Chili sign and asked dad if I could get some.  He was set back by that because that was a definite deviation from the usual Coors, Ancient Age, and Grapette routine.  He looked at me and said, “Na, you don’t want do that”.  I knew exactly what he meant but I wanted him to say it. Therefore, I asked him “How come?” He can be slippery at times and just said, “This isn’t the kind of place for that.”  I was relieved, actually, that the answer was no but dad’s unwillingness to be direct was also telling.  Perhaps it would have been a violation of the unspoken code among the three of them or a direct violation of Joe and Ray themselves somehow.  I supposed being indirect was as a device to avoid offending the fairies or spirits that occupied the place and therefore prudent.

One day I was thinking about Custer’s Last Fight and I asked my dad if he could get me one of those pictures. As if he didn’t know, dad asked, “How am I supposed to do that?” I told him to ask Joe and Ray if they could another one from the Budweiser guy.  It seemed simple enough to me and I figured that most of that stuff was free to bars as a promotional item anyway.  As it turned out, those pictures were a big deal to the Budweiser people and what I had asked was no small thing.  Weeks went by and when I would ask dad would just say they are working on it.  Then one day, after what I assume was some considerable sacrifice and negotiation, dad came home with the picture.  It wasn’t as nice as the one in the bar but it wasn’t tinged with cigarette smoke either and was still very nice.  In a small way, it seemed to me that, with this, I had become a part of the mystery between my dad and those two bartenders.  I thought that the secret was about to be uncovered but, as time passed, I became resigned to the idea that the mystery was to continue.

When I was 14, Uncle Jack died and, within a couple of years, Bud and Susan, moved to the suburbs with Aunt Marion. This was because of my Aunt’s declining health, the need to make a life, find a good school district for their kids, and other normal family stuff.   When they moved, there was not much reason to stop in at Portulaca and that part of life began to recede into the mist of history.

Dad and I would still go places together, he would stop at a bar occasionally for a drink, and I would have a Coke.  One day, years later, when I was finished with high school, he became quite distracted as we were driving down Colfax in Denver.  There was a bar on one of the corners called the New Yorker.  The sign out front was black with elegant gold lettering with a top hat, cane, and a martini glass.  It was a nice sign, but out of place in that declining and somewhat seedy area.  I had seen the place a hundred times but had never been in there.

As we were passing by, dad, as if he was under the influence of unseen forces, said, “I am going to go in there”.  My stomach dropped becaue I felt drawn to the place too. We made a quick U-turn in front of traffic and grabbed the first parking place we could find.  This was completely out of character for him and I am sure he had never been there before.  The bar was clean, dark and cool, and had very nice tables.  It was a relief to come in from the blinding daylight and blast furnace heat radiating from the sidewalk out side.   Then the bartender came out to get our order and I was astonished to see that it was Ray.  Dad seemed genuinely surprised too and they began to catch up on a few things.  It was one of the most open conversations I had ever seen them have.  Ray took our order and dad had the usual Coors and Ancient Age.  I felt compelled to order a Grapette.  Grape is not one of the usual soft drink flavors in bars so I wound up with Coke.  When Ray came back, they talked a little more and Ray mentioned something about how things changed after Joe died.  Dad was visibly stunned by the news and Ray said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you knew”.  Dad was always hard to read emotionally but I think he was affected.  Ray brought us a free round to ease the pain.  We didn’t stay long but I took the opportunity to ask dad how it was that he knew these guys.  He gave a vague answer about knowing them a long time and it was clear that I still did not have permission to enter this part of his life.  I wondered about the incident.  I wondered how it was that Ray expected dad to know about Joe.  In my mind, this encounter was no random accidental event.  Either my dad was under the influence of strange spirits or he knew Ray was working there all along and he was compelled to check in with him.

I never saw Ray again and dad never spoke of it again.  Dad died about 15 years later. If I had been thinking about Joe and Ray, I would have looked more closely at dad’s stuff when he died to see if there were any clues.  I suppose there are many mysteries in life, like this one, that will remain sealed until the end of the age.

The Portulaca as it appears today.  Renamed the White Owl but the outside remains unchanged.
The Portulaca as it appears today. Renamed the White Owl but the outside remains unchanged.