In order to get a grasp on why evangelicals often have negative views of those in other religions requires recognizing a complex puzzle with a lot of pieces. In various blog posts I've discussed the psychological issues, and more recently I discussed some of the theology in terms of Christian Nationalism. But there's another aspect that needs to be recognized, and it overlaps with Christian Nationalism. It's Dispensational Premillennialism. In this post I'm not offering a general critique of this way of understanding the Bible. It's not my theological framework, but don't get upset because of this post if it happens to be your framework. What I am criticizing is that this way of understanding eschatology often has some unfortunate tendencies, one of which is creating enemies. Over the years this system of theology has been used to identify any number of potential anti-Christs, and those seen as in league with this figure. Not long ago Communism and the former Soviet Union were seen as major prophetic figures. With a change in the political landscape, that enemy is largely gone, and now alleged biblical prophecy experts are telling us that Islam figures in the eschatological mix. (See the clip above for example.) It is a short journey from identifying those said to be in league with spiritual forces of evil in the end-times to dehumanizing them. I'm afraid this has happened with evangelicals as Dispensational Premillennialism has a negative influence in shaping our views on things like Muslim immigration, the war in Iraq and Syria, responses to Iran's nuclear ambitions, the "War on Terror," concerns for justice for Palestinians as well as Jews, and the Middle East conflict.
This article addresses the question of the level of influence dispensational pre-millennialism as a theology has had over evangelical attitudes toward Islam since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington. The theological concepts that comprise dispensational pre-millennialism experienced a significant increase in interest in the aftermath of 9/11 as the realities of terrorism sank into the collective American consciousness. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, a new wave of evangelical literature appeared that sought to frame Islam in an increasingly marginalized setting justified by the claim that radical Islam is representative of the whole of Islam. Dispensational pre-millennialism offers the evangelical Christian an escape from a post-modern, inclusive society that is increasingly at odds with the evangelical exclusivist view of religious truth. As a result religious pluralism, a traditional, core tenet of the American democracy, has come under fire from dispensational pre-millennialists who view religious pluralism as a threat to America's identity as a “Christian nation”. The rapidly changing, post-modern, pluralistic world, in which the influence of other religious traditions must be considered, drives the pre-millennialists to seek theological positions that provide shelter and encourage religious isolation, such as that offered by dispensational pre-millennialism.
My hope in sharing these kinds of items is that those of us working as evangelicals working in peacemaking, multifaith engagement, and interfaith can understand the various aspects that go into the mix so that we can maximize our efforts at making strategic changes in the world. Dispensational Premillennialism is a piece of the puzzle that we have to account for as we provide an alternative narrative for evangelicals, or at least help to minimize the unfortunate tendency to create eschatological enemies among those in other religions.