Dispensationalism and the "Christian Soldier" Mentality
by Grayson Robertson
A favorite author of mine once mused, “I pictured semi-trailers on American interstates bearing slogans like ‘There is No God But Allah and Mohammed is His Prophet’ or a big blue Star of David with ‘That Jewish Carpenter Wasn’t Our Messiah.’” This author was pointing out the double standard that seems to exist among Christians about the right to publicly proclaim one’s faith tradition, rooted in the perception that Christianity is in danger of extinction in American society. So many evangelical Christians fight for the right to free speech when it comes to their own religious beliefs but bemoan any other faith proclamations as somehow a threat to our American values and morals.
Jesus Christ chose to demonstrate His mandate through His abiding love for humankind. The Gospels recount no examples of Jesus extending judgment in the place of His Father as a tool to compel belief. We have no accounts of Abraham, the father of the three great mono-theistic religions, or Moses, the recognized author of the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch) advocating conversion to Judaism against one’s will. The Qu’ran states that there can be no compulsion in religion. So why do some evangelical Christians see evangelizing as partly a process in which other religions are subjugated in favor of Christianity? Isn’t this a form of compulsion?
Unfortunately, some conservative evangelicals that emphasize dispensationalism as a central belief view the events surrounding the Judgment Dispensation (namely the Rapture and Tribulation) through the lens of interreligious conflict. For example, the Antichrist, among some dispensationalists, has been theorized to be the Twelfth Imam who is believed by Twelver Shi’a Muslims to make his return during the end times (the Apocalypse) to bring a period of peace and justice (interestingly, most Twelver Shi’as believe that the Twelfth Imam will return with Jesus to usher in this period).
This preoccupation with looking for clues about who the Antichrist might be quite often leads to the demonization of other faith traditions. The period immediately following 9/11 saw a sharp uptick in the number of books and articles published about the Apocalypse in dispensationalist terms. Naturally, these books and articles tend to portray Islam as an antagonist against Christianity in the last days. Jesus Christ Himself made it abundantly clear that it is futile to speculate on when the end times might occur: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). I would think that speculation about the identity of the Antichrist, or any other aspect of the Apocalypse, would fall under the same umbrella.
So what role does Dispensationalism play in the aforementioned evangelical tendency to resist religious plurality in American society, if any?
First of all, we must look at the dispensationalist movement and the societal conditions present when it emerged. In late 19th century America, the religious plurality that today we take for granted had begun to take shape and presented a new and scary reality to the mostly conservative and Protestant public (Protestantism is an important element to understanding the impact of dispensationalism, as it emphasizes a personal interpretation of Biblical scripture). Additionally, the early 20th century notion that secularization was taking over, triggered in part by the emergence of Darwinism, encouraged the rooting of dispensationalism. Dispensationalism was essentially borne of an environment rife with fear, anxiety, and a resistance to societal change.
Second, due to the focus of dispensationalism on the Apocalypse, an undercurrent of conflict exists in the mindset of many dispensationalists. Mental preparation for spiritual warfare is perpetually present. This tends to influence the worldview of some dispensationalists toward a minor confrontational stance against other faith traditions. However, for others, this becomes an outright hostile attitude.
While Jesus Christ made it clear that belief in Him paves the path to salvation and eternal life, His example teaches that conflict and exclusion is not the way to demonstrate the saving grace that He bestows. Jesus was inclusive in His ministry – He sought out people of different economic and social strata, more than once causing a few eyebrows to be raised at His choice of whom to interact with. His life example demonstrated the nature of God’s love for all people. Shouldn’t we, as evangelical Christians, strive to remove confrontation and conflict from the “sharing” of our faith? By doing so, we would truly show ourselves as followers of Christ.
Grayson Robertson is a 2011 graduate of Georgetown University’s Islam and Muslim/Christian Relations graduate program, works in the information technology industry, and lives with his wife and twin daughters in the Washington, DC area.
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