The primary way
in which critics of our prophecy views attack what we believe the Bible teaches
is to distort our view of literal interpretation. They like to paint us as ones who believe in " wooden
literalism," which they now label as simply literalism. This is assumed by them to be a na•ve,
sophomoric understanding of biblical literature. Many have answered these claims and tried to set the record
straight, but they are increasingly falling upon the deaf ears of opponents who
simply refuse to listen.
The Critics Speak
In his book, End
Times Fiction, Gary DeMar
ridicules Tim LaHaye' s claim to interpret the Bible literally in connection
with the Left Behind series. " Having made the claim that his method
is based on literalism, LaHaye spends considerable time redefining what he
means by literalism," complains Gary DeMar. " He does this so he can account for the many symbols in
Revelation and other parts of the Bible that he doesn' t interpret in terms of
his literalism definition."  Carl Olson suggests that, " One of the
most attractive features of dispensationalism is that it is a method of
interpreting Scripture that appears to be logical, tidy, and all-encompassing."  Barbara Rossing says, " Lindsey, LaHaye,
and other dispensationalists claim to be reading the book of Revelation
' literally,' applying geopolitical predictions to today. But a literalist reading of Revelation
is impossible, and they know it."  She adds, " A strictly literal
interpretation of Revelation is neither possible nor desirable."  " This process of translating the Bible
into a prophetic code and then calling on readers to recognize the ' plain
meaning' of the text has a long history in rapture fiction," declares Amy
Frykholm. So the rants and misrepresentations of
literal interpretation flow from the pens of evangelical and liberal alike.
do these opponents of our theology misrepresent and distort literal
interpretation? I believe that
this is done because if the literal interpretation of prophecy is left standing
then they would have no basis for criticizing dispensational theology. It is clear from the above statements
that they represent literal interpretation as " wooden literalism." This is an approach that is not able to
understand figures of speech and symbols for what they are and does not
properly characterize what literal interpreters such as myself, Tim LaHaye and
Hal Lindsey actually believe. So
critics usually contend that dispensationalists come up with improper interpretative
conclusions because we use a bad or inappropriate hermeneutic.
DeWitt has correctly noted that " dispensational theology owns no other method
of interpretation or hermeneutic than that of the Reformation. . . . dispensationalism is not best
considered an interpretative method."  DeWitt continues:
employs no unique or cultic hermeneutic; its hermeneutic is the historic
Protestant hermeneutic. But it
does attempt to apply this method more consistently to Old Testament predictive
prophecy than the Reformers or the denominational traditions coming from them
were willing to do. At the same
time, dispensationalists effort at the fullest possible literalism has been
more a matter of principle than thoroughgoing rigor in practice.
have always said that we are simply applying the agreed upon hermeneutic of
Protestantism- the historical, grammatical method- also known as literal
interpretation to the entire canon of Scripture, without resorting to spiritual
or allegorical methods simply because the text dealt with the subject of
prophecy. This means that included
within the literal hermeneutic is the ability to recognize and understand
figures of speech and symbols without having to abandon literal
interpretation. Dr. Ryrie drives
this point home when he says,
Symbols, figures of speech
and types are all interpreted plainly in this method and they are in no way
contrary to literal interpretation.
After all, the very existence of any meaning for a figure of speech depends
on the reality of the literal meaning of the terms involved. Figures often make the meaning plainer,
but it is the literal, normal, or plain meaning that they convey to the reader.
Bernard Ramm in his widely accepted textbook on biblical interpretation says,
The program of literal interpretation
of Scripture does not overlook the figures of speech, the symbols, the types,
the allegories that as a matter of fact are to be found in Holy Scripture. It is not a blind letterism nor a wooden
literalism as is so often the accusation.
some of their more candid moments, opponents of literal interpretation admit
that if our approach is followed then it does rightly lead to dispensational
theology. Floyd Hamilton said the
Now we must frankly admit that a
literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies gives us just such a
picture of an earthly reign of the Messiah as the premillennialist
pictures. That was the kind of
Messianic kingdom that the Jews of the time of Christ were looking for, on the
basis of a literal interpretation of the Old Testament promises.
In the same vein, Oswald Allis admits, " the Old Testament prophecies
if literally interpreted cannot be regarded as having been yet fulfilled or as
being capable of fulfillment in this present age." 
lies the problem with those, whether evangelical or liberal, who do not like
where the proper approach (the literal hermeneutic) leads them. Either these conclusions do not fit
their a priori worldview or
their church' s creed, but it is clear that they do not like the clear biblical
teachings concerning the future.
when people do not like what a document says or they want to make it fit their
philosophical bent they allegorize that document. This is what Philo did with the Jewish Bible in Alexandria,
Egypt and, early on, some Christians picked up this habit from him and imported
it into the church. Ronald Diprose
tells us about Origen' s allegorical interpretive approach:
However, his exegetical
methodology was profoundly influenced by the intellectual climate in which he
grew up. The Greeks had used
allegorism to make the mythical content of ancient works, such as those written
by Homer and Hesiod, acceptable to readers with a more philosophical turn of
the mind. Origen was also
influenced by the example of Philo, a first century Alexandrian Jew who had
interpreted the Old Testament Scriptures allegorically in order to make them
harmonies with Platonism.
DeMar and other non-literal interpreters of prophecy cannot develop an agreed
upon system of interpretative principles from which to carry out the
allegorical approach. They cannot
deal with dispensational theology through a positive approach; they must always
be on the attack. Therefore, they
have attempted to argue that if you interpret prophecy literally then it leads
to absurdity. This is clearly the
tact that DeMar uses throughout End Times Fiction.
Such an approach also explains why the tone throughout DeMar' s book, and
others like him, is one of condescension and ridicule.
allegorical interpreters have commonly looked down on literal interpreters as
stupid or slow since they are unable to ascend to the deeper, spiritual
insights of the allegorical approach.
A classic example of this attitude is on display in the writings of the
first historian of the early church, Eusebius (c. a.d. 260-340) when writing about one who interpreted
prophecy literally named Papias (c. a.d.
Papias . . . says that
there will be a millennium after the resurrections of the dead, when the
kingdom of Christ will be set up in material form on this earth. I suppose that he got these notions by
a perverse reading of the apostolic accounts, not realizing that they had
spoken mystically and symbolically.
For he was a man of very little intelligence, as is clear form his
books. But he is responsible for
the fact that so many Christian writers after him held the same opinion,
relying on his antiquity, for instance Irenaeus and whoever else appears to
have held the same views.
an attitude of allegorical condensation toward literalists appears to account
for why a parody of Left Behind
has been produced entitled Right Behind. Nathan Wilson, a twenty-something
author, has clearly mastered the art of sarcastic ridicule, which too often
typifies the postmodern mindset of our day. Instead of thoughtful interaction with the Left Behind series, Wilson' s approach is that of attack,
insult and ridicule. Allegorical
interpreters think that they are deep thinkers and see more than is actually in
the text. That' s the problem, they
see more than is in the text. On
the other hand, literal interpreters they say, don' t understand, the
sophistication of language and literature.
I believe that
the trend among evangelical scholars is to create an alternate authority base
outside the Bible. They then use
what amounts to an alternate authority base as a basis for attacking the
literal meaning of Scripture, especially as it relates to beginnings and the
future. Having cultivated an
alternate authority base, such as the improper use of archeology, history,
mythology, science, and others sources of influence, they use these
extra-biblical " authorities" to question and challenge the Scriptures
themselves. This is done under the
guise that we must understand the background and culture of the text of
Scripture in order to properly understand it. I too believe in the use of background material, but the
question is how should it be used.
These evangelicals are not using this material to merely add depth to an
interpretation that is gleaned primarily from the text itself, but instead they
are using this extra-biblical information to introduce whole new
interpretations of the text that one could not get without this alternate
information. Thus, the basis of
their interpretation becomes the extra-textual information that they often use
to discredit the traditional and plain understanding of a given Scriptural
passage. This amounts to a form of
One such example
in the area of eschatology is Brent Sandy' s Plowshares & Pruning Hooks. Typical of those under the spell of
today' s postmodern influence, Sandy exalts the interpretative process at the
expense of arriving at a definite theology. Sandy' s doublespeak is evident in the following:
The limitations of prophecy
as a source of information for the future were demonstrated with examples from
various prophetic parts of Scripture.
It became evident that the predicative element of prophecy is more
translucent than transparent.
Prophecy is always accurate in what it intends to reveal, but rarely
does it reveal information so that we may know the future in advance. Figures of speech function to describe
not the details of what is going to happen but the seriousness of what is going
So typical of
those evangelicals who want to assign to biblical prophecy some special
category or literary genre they call " apocalyptic," Sandy says, " interpreters
must withhold judgment on many particulars of prophecy, unambiguous prophetic
themes abound throughout Scripture, centering on the second coming of Jesus the
Messiah."  Well, many preterists, who agree with
his vague and shadowy handling of biblical prophecy don' t believe in a future
second coming. Sandy concludes,
" if my conclusions about the language of prophecy and apocalyptic are correct,
all systems of eschatology are subject to reconsideration."  It should not be surprising, since
Sandy is beholden to a postmodern mindset that he believes that the correct
understanding of the Bible' s eschatological message will be composed of a blend
of all the different prophetic views.
One thing is
clear about Sandy and the evangelical scholarly view is that prophecy should
not be taken literally, as has been done by dispensationalists. And they say we know this, primarily,
because the prophetic portions of the Bible are apocalyptic, which were not
intended to be taken literally.
They may not be able to tell you what these sections of Scripture
actually mean, but this one thing they know: prophecy should not be interpreted literally (that is
according to the historical, grammatical approach).
suggested about twenty years ago that the church is " now going through a
hermeneutical crisis, perhaps as significant in its importance and outcome as
that of the Reformation."  The present-day crisis finds its
historical roots in the writings of such radical liberals as Friedrich
Schleirmacher (1768-1834), Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911), Martin Heidegger
(1889-1976), Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976), and Hans Georg Gadamer (b. 1900). With Gadamer, as Kaiser notes,
"the meaning of the text lies in its subject matter, rather than in what
an author meant by that text." Kaiser explains further:
The process of exegesis of
a text is no longer linear but circular- one in which the interpreter affects
his text as much as the text (in its subject matter) somehow affects the
interpreter as well. Clearly,
there is a confusion of ontology with epistemology, the subject with the
object, the "thereness" of the propositions of the text with the
total cultural and interpretive "baggage" of the interpreter.
The last decade
or so has seen the merger of evangelical and liberal hermeneutics, which has
by-and-large been adopted by scholars at formerly conservative schools. It is not the liberals who have
changed. In this approach the
words of the author are clothed with some deeper spiritual sense. With this return to the allegorical
method of interpretation, the words of the Old Testament prophets are often
explained away. A more recent and
" fashionable" term is sensus plenior. Use of this concept
involves finding a "fuller meaning" that the author did not clearly
intend. The " layered look" is also finding its
way into the evangelical community as some are returning to the multiple
meanings of the text once held by the Schoolmen. Bruce Waltke suggests a fourfold
approach: historical, typical, anagogical, and moral. Now there is developing an evangelical
consensus, in league with liberalism that says prophecy cannot be taken
literally. The press is on to
demonize and marginalize the literal interpreter of Bible prophecy. Maranatha!
 Gary DeMar, End Times Fiction: A Biblical Consideration of The Left
Behind Theology (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001), p.
 Carl E. Olson, Will Catholics Be " Left
Behind" ? A Catholic Critique of
The Rapture and Today' s Prophecy Preachers (San Francisco: Ignatius
Press, 2003), p 242.
 Barbara R. Rossing, The Rapture Exposed: The
Message of Hope in The Book of Revelation (Bolder, CO: Westview Press, 2004), p. 94.
 Rossing, Rapture Exposed, p. 96.
 Amy Johnson Frykholm, Rapture Culture: Left Behind
in Evangelical American (Oxford
Press: New York, 2004), p. 116.
 Dale S. DeWitt, Dispensational Theology in America
During The 20th Century
(Grand Rapids: Grace Bible College Publications, 2002), p. 6.
 DeWitt, Dispensational Theology, p. 8.
 Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago:
Moody Press, , 1995), pp. 80-81.
 Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical
Interpretation: A Textbook of
Hermeneutics, 3rd. edition
(Grand Rapids: Baker Book House),
1970), p. 126.
 Floyd E. Hamilton, The Basis of Millennial Faith (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1942), p. 38.
 Oswald T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing,  1947), p. 238.
 Ronald E. Diprose, Israel in the development of
Christian thought (Rome: Istitutio
Biblico Evangelico Italiano, 2000), p. 86.
 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, vol. I, translated by Kirsopp Lake, Loeb
Classical Library, vol. 153
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1926), pp. 295, 297.
 Nathan D. Wilson, Right Behind: A Parody of Last Days Goofiness (Moscow, ID:
Canon Press, 2001).
 D. Brent Sandy, Plowshares & Pruning
Hooks: Rethinking the Language of
Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic
(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity
 Sandy, Plowshares, p. 197.
 Sandy, Plowshares, p. 203.
 Sandy, Plowshares, p. 206.
 Sandy, Plowshares, p. 250, f.n. 14.
 Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., " Evangelical Hermeneutics:
Restatement, Advance or Retreat from the Reformation?" Concordia Theological
Quarterly 46 (1982), p. 167.
 Kaiser, " Evangelical Hermeneutics," p. 167.
 Kaiser, " Evangelical Hermeneutics," p. 167.
 Kaiser, " Evangelical Hermeneutics," p. 167.
 Raymond E. Brown, " The History and Development of the
Theory of a Sensus Plenior," Catholic
Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 15 (1953),
pp. 141-62. See also William
Sanford LaSor, " Prophecy, Inspiration, and Sensus Plenior," Tyndale Bulletin, Vol. 29 (1978), pp. 49-60.
 Bruce K. Waltke, "The Schoolmen's Hermeneutics
Reconsidered," an unpublished paper given at the Northwest Evangelical
Theological meeting, April 1993.
 Waltke, " Schoolmen' s Hermeneutics."