In this video, Dr. Michael Brown was asked what his problems with dispensationalism were. I thought his answers provided an opportunity for learning how to answer his somewhat common objections so that you are ready should someone bring these up to you. But first, in this post, I want to address his way of arguing for his view. I want to do this because I have often run into people objecting to dispensationalism and making their case just as he does. So here goes.
First, assertions are not the same as reasons. Dr. Brown began by simply asserting that he rejects a pretribulation rapture of the church, the imminent return of Jesus, the separation between Israel and the church. He offered no Biblical support disputing these doctrines. Later he did offer his own view of the rapture and second coming. However, he again came short of reasons and simply made assertions.
Second, he never addressed the key issue of hermeneutics. Believers come to different conclusions about Biblical revelation because they read the Bible differently. While dispensationalists and covenant theologians will both affirm the need to read the Bible literally, it is the dispensationalist who actually practices this consistently. The result of the consistent practice of a literal, grammatical, historical hermeneutic, particularly to prophetic passages, are the identification of the doctrines that Dr. Brown rejects. Even covenant theologians have admitted that if one reads the Bible with a consistent, literal hermeneutic they they will end up as a dispensationalist. For example, Floyd Hamilton who is not a dispensationalist, wrote “Now we must frankly admit that a literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies give us just such a picture of an earthly reign of the Messiah as the premillennialist pictures.”1 So the key issue is how one reads the Bible. An issue that Dr. Brown didn’t address.
Third, he assumes that the word “tribulation” in the Bible must mean the same thing every time it appears. This kind of error in exegesis is so common that it has a name. It is called “false assumptions about technical meaning”. Here is how this error is described, “In this fallacy, an interpreter falsely assumes that a word always or nearly always has a certain technical meaning—a meaning usually derived either from a subset of the evidence or from the interpreter’s personal systematic theology.2)
So, Dr. Brown assumes that since a local tribulation is in view in John 16:22, Rom. 5, Rev. 1, and Acts 14 then whenever the word tribulation shows up it must mean a local tribulation. Yet Jesus speaks of a unique, final, and great tribulation that is yet coming in Mt. 24:21, Mk. 13:19. This is clearly distinct from the “many tribulations” in Acts 14:22. It is, says Jesus, a tribulation that ends with eschatological and cosmic signs Mt. 24:29, Mk. 13:24 which of course does not mark the end of any local tribulations. Within the book of Revelation we find a distinction between the local tribulation that is being experienced by the church in Rev. 2:9, 10 and the great tribulation yet coming in 2:22.
As a result of his exegetical error Dr. Brown is confused as to whether the seven year tribulation is literal or symbolic. The root of his confusion is in the fact that what the Bible asserts, there is coming a literal seven-year, world-wide great tribulation does not fit with this theological assumptions.
So to summarize, I find Dr. Brown to be typical in that he makes assertions without reasons, makes common exegetical errors, and leaves the key issue of the consistency of the application of a literal hermenutic unaddressed.
1 Floyd E. Hamilton, The Basis of Millennial Faith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1942), 38.
2 D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. (Carlisle, U.K.; Grand Rapids, MI: Paternoster; Baker Books, 1996), 45.