Friday, April 17, 2009

Leaving Behind the "Left Behind" series

Michael Gorman has a must-read post criticizing the Left Behind series (and many of the points could be applied to American dispensationalism as a whole).

15 comments:

Mike Koke said...

You know the first book I ever seriously read was in grade 8 and it was "Left Behind" :). More Christians need to expose the faulty exegesis and sketchy political/theological views behind traditional dispensationalism (though Darell Bock's version of "progressive dispensationalism" is more reasonable). Thanks for your great blog!

Sean LeRoy said...

Boy, I dunno...I like Gorman and all, and don't like the LB stuff - haven't even read it, but his strawmen won't anything to advance the discussion, esp w/ Dispys. I really tire of this sort of diatribe.

Michael J. Gorman said...

Sean,

I don't mean to engage in tirades, but I am currently teaching at Duke Divinity School, and the much of the entire first-year class (in which I lectured today) had never heard of either the weaknesses of the LB series and dispensationalism OR another way of reading Reveelation. I was shocked. This is Duke, not another D-school or anywhere else.

Michael J. Gorman said...

Forgive the typos; exhausted from talking about Revelation...

Michael said...

I'm at DTS right now. Though I don't share it's dispensation heritage, I've noticed that much of the fuss about dispensationalists should be directed at the revised variety. Most of the DTS profs are now progressive (all of them in theology, OT, and NT departments are at least).

The LB series is just as laughable at DTS as it is anywhere else I imagine.

Michael J. Gorman said...

Michael--I'm not surprised and did not mean to insult. I was speaking for rhetorical effect about the unexpected response and ignorance (on this subject) of many Duke students.

Michael said...

Michael (Gorman) - no worries. I didn't think you did (the the LB series and some of its followers do provide plenty of fodder). It IS shocking that - evidently - its influence has spread all the way to Duke.

Luke said...

To add to the discussion about the common caricature of DTS:

I don't fault people like Dr. Gorman for describing this type of hermeneutic/exegesis under the umbrella of "dispensationalism," because traditionally that is what dispensationalism has been.

However, I, like Michael, am a student at DTS as well and it puzzles me whenever I hear and read people talking like everybody at DTS (profs and students) believe this way about eschatology (btw, I don't know if Dr. Gorman even mentioned DTS on his blog/lecture; I think maybe he did but he didn't take it very far). I am almost finished with my second year here and this type of reading about revelation/prophecy has not been taught to me. To the contrary, the only times it has been brought up is when the professor makes fun of it or tells us the dangers to avoid. Granted, there are still some profs (the older ones) who believe along these lines, but it is dying quickly and nobody really listens to it unless they want to start a funny discussion or tell a joke.

So I hope Michael and I can help clear some misconceptions up about DTS, even though it does still have some shortcomings (don't all institutions?). It is no longer the DTS of the 70s and 80s. The vast majority of profs here are progressive dispensationalists, and there is only one department on campus that sticks with the traditional dispensational view of Scripture, which is the department who nobody wants to take a class from b/c they stick their fingers in their ears and scream when the evidence is to the contrary. I have yet to find a student who actually cares about dispensationalism to be quite honest, and all I have spoken with laugh when it comes to the "Left Behind" junk.

I do think it's a caricature that needs clearing up though. It's like most believe we can major in "Left Behind" and have chapel services with our prophecy charts predicting dates, debating whether Barack Obama is the anti-Christ or not. An example of this is Barbara Rossing's book "The Rapture Exposed," where she essentially blames all the world's problems (theological and political) on the system of dispensationalism, and even calls DTS the dispensational training center of America. This is simply a view of ignorance and misinformation and does not advance any type of discussion. It is a straw-man at its finest.

On another note, Dr. Gorman, excellent lectures! I agree with you 100% and look forward to reading more of your material (I have some of your books on my wishlist).

Michael said...

Fred Clark over at Slacktivist is no win his 6th year of deconstructing the Left Behind series, books and movies. He's doing a marvellous job. Also worth checking out is Right Behind: What "Left Behind" should have been http://exharpazo.blogspot.com/

By should, I presume they mean as literature, because I don't think Left Behind and the so-called theology it peddles is anything but noxious rubbish.

Michael said...

Oh and Slacktivist Left Behind Fridays URL is http://slacktivist.typepad.com/slacktivist/left_behind/index.html

Daniel and Brittny Owens said...

I also attend DTS and I second (or third) the comments about Left Behind. The brand of dispensationalim here is not silly or unsophisticated.

Michael J. Gorman said...

Michael, Luke, Daniel, Brittny,

For the record, I never named any theological school in my posts but in a comment expressed surprise at how many Duke students (where I am currently teaching while on sabbatical) knew of no other way to read Revelation than the LB approach, commenting that this was at Duke, "not another D-school." I was referring to students and their church upbringing, not to the teaching at or theology of any school or its faculty.

For those of us completely outside the dispensationalist world, some good sources on "progressive dispensationalism" would be helpful.

Please see my other, more constructive posts at Cross Talk (michaeljgorman.net).

matt woodard said...

I spent three years at Dallas and I'll agree with Michael that dispensationalism is not taught with the fervor and intensity many expect! The only department that still embraces the system is the bible exposition crew - which, unfortunately, still has a bit too much emphasis for the liking of most students down there.

I spent some time grading for a theology professor and was shocked at how much dispensationalism was embedded within the students' eschatological framework. I was equally shocked when a certain professor here at Yale confessed to never having heard of dispensationalism!

The best resource I've seen for progressive dispensationalism is the book by Bock & Blaising.

Jason said...

DTSers,

I just want to chime in and say two things:

(1) It takes a long time to change a reputation. Hang in there. You can do your part by things like affirming the non-heretical nature of amil thought! Lots of uphill work to do here because people in your camp historically trashed amils. (Which is why Evangelical Free will let a diversity of views on baptism and other issues, but still does not allow a diversity of views on 1000 years...in contrast I know of no denomination that requires one to be amil/postmil, I could be wrong but it looks like you guys have been unique!)

(2) I also want to say that I regularly tell people about the new approach at DTS and how healthy it has become; I had such a conversation with a Methodist colleague of mine just this AM.

Luke said...

Jason,

Well said. I understand it takes a while to change a reputation. I'm certainly not the DTS police, but I do consider it insulting when others view me as some type of eschatological wacko b/c DTS has had some guys adopt some stupid views in the past. Nobody wants to be labeled with those guys, especially when you know it's not the truth. If I'm going to have "DTS" after my name, I don't want people thinking I'm a fundamentalist or adopt the views of Hagee. We have legit scholars here who laugh as much as anybody else does about "Left Behind" crap.

Quite frankly, I find it to be all too common around here for the students just not to give a rip about eschatology. We are the only seminary that I know of that requires one 3-credit hour course on eschatology, but most people just don't care about it b/c of the topic's abuse in the past. I feel that way, though I hope to make it change b/c I don't want to overreact.

As far as the "progressive" thing goes, I don't think people, especially profs, really care for labels much anymore (they may have used to). Just try to picture dispensationalism with all of the ridiculous junk stripped away, or maybe a slightly modified view of covenant theology, and that would be progressive. The only thing I care is that it's not classical (I heard all that crap growing up), and if DTS were still like it used to be when all profs were classical guys, then I wouldn't be here. However, as is stands, I am quite pleased and satisfied with the education I am receiving.