The Theme of Hope in Dispensationalism -- By: Gary L. Nebeker
BSac 158:629 (Jan 01) p. 3
The Theme of Hope in Dispensationalism
Throughout history religious sages have observed that hope is indispensable for survival. Especially is this true when people are confronted by the misfortunes, uncertainties, and bitter disparities of life. More than mere wishfulness for a favorable outcome in the future, hope comprehends humankind’s deepest spiritual yearnings for God. As Marcel trenchantly remarked, “Hope is for the soul what breathing is for the living organism.”1 For a sizable segment within American evangelical Christianity, hope is exercised and categorized through the theological system of dispensational premillennialism.
In days past and more recently dispensational theologians and authors have directed Christian hope eschatologically toward the pretribulational rapture of the church, toward the prophecies directed to the national and political future of Israel, and ultimately toward the consummation of God’s kingdom in the new heavens and the new earth. This focus on unfolding events in the eschaton has served as the interpretive matrix by which hope has been understood as a Christian virtue. “The blessed hope” of which the apostle Paul wrote in Titus 2:13 has become a dispensational catch phrase used to describe the imminent expectation of the pretribulational rapture of the church. For some within the dispensational tradition, hope and pretribulationalism are inseparable.
Recent dispensational authors have argued that dispensationalism as a theological system has undergone development throughout history.2 If this is true, then it behooves dispensationalists to
BSac 158:629 (Jan 01) p. 4
acquire a greater awareness of the history of interpretation within that tradition, including attention to the theological theme of hope. Several factors suggest the importance of examining this subject of hope in dispensationalism.
First, comparatively little has been written on the Christian virtue of hope.3 As a response to the scarcity of material on this topic my own attempt at defining Christian hope was given in 1994 in a popular-level article.4
Second, as Christian hope has been expounded by dispensational authors over several generations, a question arises: Have dispensationalists articulated the subject of hope differently? Are there any observable shifts in their discussion of this subject?
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