Review: The Late Great Planet Church, Volume One, presented by NiceneCouncil.com
The Late Great Planet Church (volume one) is a well-structured and easy-to-watch dvd presentation that gathers together the insights of several notable scholars and pastors, most of whom were formerly committed dispensationalists, specifically on the rise of dispensationalism and the often dubious nature of its history during its formative years. It continues with more recent trends, including both the â€œrevised dispensationalismâ€ championed by Charles Ryrie, and the â€œprogressive dispensationalismâ€ of such scholars as Darrell Bock and Craig Blaising. By the end of the dvd, the viewer will be well-acquainted with the basic history of the entire movement.
What the dvd is not, however, is a detailed explanation of all that dispensationalism actually teaches, or a scriptural critique or rebuttal. In the course of the historical narrative, the viewer will pick up a basic idea of the central themes and problems in the dispensational worldview (e.g. a rigorous distinction between Israel and the Church, an elaborately-developed eschatology upon which an entire theology is built, rather than an eschatology grounded in a prior, comprehensive theological understanding, etc.); and furthermore, he will come away with some of the major differences between early dispensationalism (Darby and the Plymouth Brethren), classical dispensationalism (Scofield and Lewis Sperry Chafer), revised dispensationalism (Ryrie and Walvoord), and progressive dispensationalism (Bock and Blaising). However, the minutia of the system are never laid out in clear detail; rather, the big ideas are given in broad, overarching terms, and the scriptural truths either to confirm or refute these motifs are generally not provided.
Of course, this is no doubt because the dvd in question is volume one, and is intended to lay the groundwork for a thoroughgoing biblical critique in volume two. I eagerly anticipate the arrival of the second volume: those who have watched the excellent defense of the doctrines of grace produced by the same team (Amazing Grace: the History and Theology of Calvinism) will doubtless share the same optimism that the forthcoming scriptural critique will be clear and compelling.
But what will the viewer gain specifically from this first volume? First of all, it will likely be an eye-opening account of the doctrinal and moral foibles of the founders of dispensational thought. Particularly enlightening was the early dispensationalists' self-attested disregard for the first eighteen hundred years of church history, which basically contained nothing of doctrinal profit for the modern church, as God had not been pleased to enlighten them with the necessary truths to understand the entire content of the bible. Spurgeon's reaction to Darby and the Plymouth Brethren was also instructive, as was the simultaneity of the rise of many eschatologically-based cults such as Adventism and Mormonism, in the days of dispensationalism's birth. The discussion could easily have become bogged down in guilt-by-association and ad-hominem attacks, but a couple qualifying statements of intention in the midst of some of the rather sordid history help to ameliorate that impression.
Overall, the tone strives to be gracious to and understanding of those still adhering to dispensational beliefs; but the anti-dispensational position of all the speakers is patently clear from the beginning. This is not necessarily a bad thing â€“ in fact, it gives a commendable air of straightforward candidness â€“ but the fact that most of the scriptural argumentation is left for the next volume leaves a bit of a disjunct: one may certainly see that the producers are against dispensationalism, but they may not always see why, at least not in all the particulars.
In sum, this dvd may be very eye-opening, and it should certainly cause many sincere Christians who have been steeped in dispensationalism to begin questioning the validity of their position; but it will not provide all the answers to the questions it raises. I would certainly recommend it to give away to dispensational friends, but it would be much more effective coming from someone who is knowledgeable enough to discuss the teachings of dispensationalism in light of the scripture passages pertaining to those teachings, and who has the kind of relationship conducive to such a discussion. Otherwise, it may be very helpful to wait for the second volume, and make use of the two together.
The Late Great Planet Church: available at Monergism Books.