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What is dispensationalism?

This season we’re tracing the history of Christian fundamentalism through the life of William Jennings Bryan. But first, we need to learn some important definitions. Our big word of the week is dispensationalism. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. Dispensationalism is (in part) the notion that God treats humankind differently depending on what era we are in. It is not accepted by all Christians, but it is a building block of fundamentalism. Another component of dispensationalism is the secret rapture–the idea that God will take His elect to heaven just before the tribulation. It also asserts that the Christian Church will become apostate before the end times. This last tidbit is important! Premillennialism made Christians suspicious of the outside world, but it was dispensationalism that made us suspicious of each other.

Who created dispensationalism?

John Nelson Darby is often credited as the father of dispensationalism. He came up with the idea of the rapture and is the man who packaged a bunch of existing ideas into this systematized vision of the Bible. In the 1700s and 1800s, people adapted the scientific notion of categorizing everything into genus and species and applied it to all areas of study, even when reading the Bible. This encouraged people like Darby to break the Bible into “dispensations” or eras.

Our guest this week is George Marsden. He’s the author of “Fundamentalism and American Culture”.

Discussion Questions:

  • Are you suspicious of other Christians? Why is that?
  • Do you believe in the rapture? Why?
  • Does the God of the Bible behave differently in different parts of the Bible? Or is He the same throughout?
  • Do you believe that Jewish people were destined to return to Israel based on Matthew 24:32-33 or Romans 11:25-26?
  • What did you know about the French Revolution before our recent episodes on it? Do you think it was a significant event in world history? If so, why?

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