THE DECEMBER 7, 1941, ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR, just a dozen miles as the crow flies from where I sit writing this, has often been decried as the “end of the Dreadnought era.” Most naval historians have agreed over the years, saying that, at that point in time, the aircraft carrier had rendered the battleship obsolete.
Yet it was the USS Missouri [BB63] that fired the first shot in the initial assault on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq not quite 50 years later. The last operational battlewagon, the Missouri, combined 16-inch guns and cruise missiles in a historic rebuke to half a century of naval theory.
Why “Dreadnought Dispensationalism”? Why bring together these concepts? Let’s review each in turn, and then bring them back together in a wonderful application to the tumultuous days in which we now live.
- W. Dickie noted in a December 1918 Pacific Marine Review article that “it is… a curious fact that our modern dreadnoughts are practically the same dimensions as Noah’s Ark, only with sharper ends” [Pacific Marine Review, December 1918, p. 109]. This observation has been made as well by R.A. Burt in British Battleships 1919-1945; Burt tells the story of the British Admiralty’s rather unexpected but wonderfully reassuring finding that, when using the Genesis Ark’s dimensions in designing the Dreadnought class battleships, they found the vessels to possess excellent seakeeping qualities—particularly important as these heavy ships bore dense loads under myriad challenges.
The new warship design’s stability, armor, and formidable weaponry gave rise to the very concept of “dreadnought” as synonymous with early-20th-century battleships—afraid of nothing, needing to fear nothing, free to forge ahead boldly even in the roughest of seas and against the most determined foes.
But a new generation of military strategists, especially in the run-up to the second World War, argued that battleships were outdated; air power was the new capital asset in naval warfighting.
That doctrine has survived to this day, albeit with additions, most notably theater information acquisition and management and multiple asset interoperability. The very few battleships that escaped the scrapyards (or served as targets for modern ordnance and their delivery platforms) now survive as museums.
But their successors—including and especially Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers and their international peers—have carried the legacy of battleships into the 21st century as task-force-backbone and flag-level surface combatants without equal. Their modern capabilities dwarf what was only imagined a century ago. They need fear very little indeed.
Dispensationalism, as a doctrine, has a similar history. As do many others, I use the term “dispensationalism” as a conceptual folder for the fundamentalist, literalist, Christian eschatology including a pretribulational rapture and the message that we are now in the last days.
Not much investigation is needed to establish that dispensationalism dates from the Gospels. In addition, careful study of the Old Testament reveals a few passages that prefigure the manner and purpose of the Church’s exit from the world stage prior to Daniel’s 70th Week. Many well-known OT elements (such as Psalm 23 and 91) yield entirely surprising applications when viewed through a dispensationalist lens. I will detail these applications in a later article.
But a systematic worldview, spanning millennia, intentionally discourages people—especially Christians—from expecting that our Savior can come for us at any moment…perhaps before you finish reading this essay.
At the very least, Dispensationalism is disdained by most ministers, theologians, and lay critics as dusty museum basement material, worthy of classification as an outdated interpretive approach. At worst, Dispensationalism’s very mention stimulates reactions of revulsion, disgust, rage, and—yes—scoffing… by Christians! Weren’t we told this would happen somewhere…?
Yes, in fact: 2 Peter 3 foretells this very development. We are, right now, in those prophesied days. The many warnings of “be sure that no one deceives you” in the Gospels and Epistles seem to have been written with just this in mind.
Air power proponents such as General William “Billy” Mitchell saw battleships as huge, vulnerable, slow and relatively defenseless, and ripe for removal from the battle planning board. Relics from a centuries-old military doctrine that was fundamentally flawed at its core, battleships were seen as too expensive to deploy and maintain, and presented easy targets for a quick takedown from above.
However, the sky was literally the limit for aircraft—except for when they hit the ocean after being shot out of the sky by antiaircraft artillery fire from those very same battleships.
In the same way, literalist Christians interested in eschatology are seen as outdated, zero-altitude (low-level) thinkers, burdened with the heavy machinery of this-age and that-age and this-coming and that-coming and the unclean-as-leprosy belief in an imminent rapture. A social gospel focused on present-life maximization renders Dispensationalism into a too-easily-discounted “pie in the sky” doctrine.
Those criticizing or diminishing these beliefs offer alternative doctrines that soar high, ideas heralding a glorious Church that dominates the world before the Lord can come back (how are we doing with that project, by the way?), or “promising” Christians that they, just like unbelievers, must endure at least part of the Tribulation (and what a promise that is).
“Modern” doctrines… “lighter-than-air” theories, packaged with free rose-colored glasses, and heavier-than-air lies, flying by virtue of windswept canards and foils, tell us that we’re fools for believing that we’ll just “fly away” before the world enters a period during which it heaves and convulses under the judgment of God. “No,” we’re told: The saints will suffer through it, erroneously lumped together with the “those who dwelled on the earth” in Revelation. Categorical thinking, Evangelical-style, with a side of eisegesis. Enjoy your last supper!
But Paul warns us to not be caught up in these “winds” of doctrine (Eph. 4:14-15), tossed about on the sea like corks. The rakish canards employed in “higher criticism,” the lies pushed forward through the burning of black, ugly oil from within the earth (instead of pure olive oil—an intriguing comparison, I think), would have you expect no rescue, no great and miraculous “exfiltration”… “in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye,” before the hammer falls and the antichrist spirit is finally given free rein. And—in these darkening days—that’s an insufferable detraction from the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Jan Markell’s “An Open Door Closes” feature article here on RaptureReady warning of a recent, sudden, and mass turning away from the “blessed hope” is one of the most significant eschatological essays I’ve ever read.
A sobering example of this “turning away” is the tale of Brian Broderson of the Calvary Chapel movement, who—immediately following the death of his mentor, Chuck Smith, one of dispensationism’s most well-known modern advocates—urged Calvary Chapel pastors to abandon the “gloom and doom of eschatology” in order to offer a more positive outreach to Millennials. To the movement’s credit, most Calvary Chapel pastors have chosen instead to stay with Chuck Smith’s wonderful faithfulness to dispensationalism.
Churches need to get back to end-times literacy, strengthen their last-days emphases, and be sure of what they teach. I’ve been teaching and writing on this since 2006. If you are a pastor or minister—as I am—are you promising salvation in Christ across the entire Scriptural arc? Does your “Good News” include an imminent exfiltration for believers as the end of days casts its fell shadow across the entire world?
“Full-spectrum salvation,” for me, includes an imminent rescue from a world that has crashed through the guardrails and is heading over the cliff of globalism and the Great Reset. But the bulk of evangelicalism is evidently in the back seat, if not at the wheel, of that car and its woebegone occupants that is about to crash and burn.
Chasing after abundance in this present life; scampering here and there for the latest spiritual experience and emotionalist sensation; studying and implementing the coolest worship formula that sets the right atmosphere for mass audiences; full-service church centers that cater to every interest and demographic to attract more people; conspiracy theorizing that monetizes outrage and fear, and—yes, even “prepping” for the Tribulation that is soon to break upon the world—are not what the entire corpus of 2 Peter 3 tells us to focus on as of first importance. Read the entire chapter, literally, several times. Resist the conditioned urge to pull out single proof-text verses… and you just may see that you are, in fact, in the Bible.
“Dreadnought Dispensationalism”… Defined
There are still “Dreadnoughts” in the world… stable in the heaving seas of rapidly-mounting prophecy fulfillments that rock our planet at an ever-accelerating pace.
Will you dare to be one of those… who ‘dread nothing’?” This is a question I must ask myself with each new day. By God’s grace I can answer it with a “Yes!”—through the power of His Spirit, on the authority of His Word, yes! And—if I can—you can too.
I pray that you, dear friend, will be awakened to a new and fresh hope that our Father loves you, and that He will very soon send His Son for you, so that we will all be brought together by the Son in our Father’s House, led through the gates of that Great City in triumphant praise. Though we have sought Him with tears—for quite some time—I write now to offer His comfort. His promises are for you, and are about to be fulfilled!
John 14:1-4 (Amplified Bible):
“Do not let your heart be troubled [afraid, cowardly]. Believe [confidently] in God and trust in Him [have faith, hold on to it, rely on it, keep going and], believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you, because I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and I will take you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also. And [to the place] where I am going, you know the way.”
Jeffrey Ady, Ph.D.
January 13, 2021