Radical discontinuity

My meeting with the Mormon evangelists didn’t go all that great yesterday. I don’t mean that anything catastrophic happened, or that my objections were swatted out of the air like so many flies. I still think I have good objections, but my delivery was weak. I stumbled. Frankly, I think I was too conciliatory and put the ball too often in their court. I didn’t want to attack, but neither did I want to stand “as a man at a mark”. And of course, they had their own agenda they wanted to push through in the conversation. Doesn’t it bother you that there are so many different churches that claim to be right? Actually, no it doesn’t. But adding Mormonism to the mix doesn’t help your argument.

However, in conversation, I came across another Mormon distinctive that undermines their position where they expect to support it. The Mormon “gospel,” that is, the story that they’re announcing, is one of apostasy and restoration. The church lost the plot and God replaced it with the church of Latter Day Saints. Here Joe Smith is taking a page from John Nelson Darby’s Dispensational theology. The concept comes from the biblical concept of dispensations – different time periods in which God has set up different systems for relating to man. For instance you could talk about about five major dispensations: Before the fall, from the fall until Abraham, from Abraham til Moses, from Moses until Christ, and the Christian era.

I’m not a scholar of Darby’s dispensationalism, but I believe he had a system that allowed for seven dispensations before the new heaven and new earth were created. And my understanding is that a key aspect of Darbian dispensationalism is that, whatever system God set up for us, we voilated the terms of the covenant, and then God created another one. So you have this flow: God establishes a new dispensation, the covenant community thrives, the covenant community falls into apostasy, God establishes a new dispensation. It’s the book of Judges writ large.

Now at some level, the concept of dispensations, especially the King James phrase (from Ephesians 3:1) “dispensation of grace”, is completely biblical. But for the orthodox, you have to keep two key concepts in mind, otherwise dispensationalism can lead you straight to heresy. Continue reading “Radical discontinuity”