Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Hal Lindsay and the Great Dispensational Mutation

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Hal Lindsay and the Great Dispensational Mutation

Article excerpt

Hal Lindsey is a man of many parts. He has had careers as a student evangelist, a bestselling author, a movie consultant, a political advisor, and a social commentator. Above all, he provides compelling proof of his own contention that " 'the future' is big business." (1) Since the early 1970s, the future has been Lindsey's business. His Biblical interpretations and prophetic predictions have proved to be popular commodities in the American cultural marketplace, and while he is by no means their sole supplier, he has been both more prolific and more enduringly successful than any of the other "prophecy scholars" who offer to interpret current events by reference to prophetic Scripture. Given this profile and the politically charged nature of his cultural interventions, it is scarcely surprising that, in addition to popular success, Lindsey has also evoked more critical responses. These responses, which have often originated in an academic context, vary in their approach to Lindsey, and in the precise aspects of his work that they find most problematic. But these commentators have been univocal in one point: they unanimously assert that Lindsey is a dispensationalist, that his approach both to Scripture and to current events is an accurate representation of dispensational belief. Up to a point they have a point. Lindsey's work is, as we shall see, profoundly influenced by dispensational theology. However, we want to consider evidence that compellingly suggests that Lindsey transforms dispensational teaching, as well as receives it. Rather than being simply a popularizer of dispensationalism, Lindsey has fundamentally transformed it. And while the scale of his modifications may seem modest, they are radically important; radically important enough to make it untenable to regard Lindsey as simply a dispensationalist.

There is legitimate reason for the critical confusion about Lindsey's dispensationalism, just as there are legitimate questions about the accuracy of using simply and dispensationalist in the same sentence. There is, indeed, nothing especially simple about dispensationalism, and the issue of identifying dispensational orthodoxy is both complex and problematic. All of this complicates matters, making the sort of readily encapsulated definition that literary scholars and historians tend to prefer impossible. It is complex because dispensationalism is more than a simple roadmap of future events, or a particular reading of prophetic Scripture. Rather, it is both more basic and more pervasive--a system for understanding and interpreting both Scripture and the world. Nor is a definition of dispensationalism able to assume a static target--throughout its history, dispensationalism has developed and, to some extent at least, fractured. Dispensationalism has its roots in the thought of John Nelson Darby, an Irish clergyman who, in the atmosphere of prophetic speculation and heightened speculation at the turn of the nineteenth century, developed a distinctive brand of scriptural hermeneutic and a concomitant interpretation of Biblical prophecy. (2) Dispensationalism was first popularized in the United States by Darby himself and subsequently by the Bible conference movement. It was this movement that gave birth to The Scofield Reference Bible (1909). This annotated study Bible encapsulated dispensational teaching with the text of Scripture, and was enormously influential in its propagation of dispensational interpretation. (3) In the century since the first edition of Scofield's Bible was published, Dispensationalism has not remained static. In the 1950s and 1960s, a revised Dispensationalism began to emerge. This system was eventually embodied extensively in Lewis Sperry Chafer's Systematic Theology (1948) and J. Dwight's Pentecost's Things to Come (1964), and was summarized in Charles Ryrie's Dispensationalism Today (1965). (4) Revised Dispensationalism was more a massaging of theological detail than any dramatic reorganization of the Dispensational framework. …

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