Escapism: the Eschatological Unforgiveable Sin

This blog post was drafted a couple years ago and never published because the content was revised and presented at the IFCA Convention in Albuquerque, NM. That seminar was recorded and released on the Do Theology Podcast, which you can listen to here and watch here. I recently came across the draft and figured I would go ahead and publish the article.

Escapism. Escapist. 

I've grown to hate these words. It's a common jab from those of differing viewpoints directed against those who hold to the eschatological position I do: "You guys have embraced an escapist mindset that prevents you from engaging the culture." I'd like this one to be put to bed.

What is escapism or an escapist mindset?

It is said that an escapist mindset seeks to disconnect from society and culture while waiting, praying, and hoping for the imminent rapture of the church: because the whole world is just going to continue to get worse and worse, and since we are so obviously so close to the rapture, then why should we bother with attempting to influence culture and society? It's all going downhill, this was all foretold, so there is no sense in engaging the world.

But is that true of my position?

I will grant at the outset that it certainly is for some. I've known some who would be in my theological "camp" of premillennial dispensationalism who do, in fact, embrace an escapist mindset: "Why polish brass on a sinking ship?" (often attributed to J. Vernon McGee, though I've not been able to find a citable source) is a phrase that gets thrown around. I've heard people bemoan that "the world is going to hell in a handbasket" before making some statement about isolating themselves from it all. Others don't voice this mindset but practice it functionally.

Nevertheless, what I hope to demonstrate in this article is that this mentality is not exclusive to, representative of, nor even a necessary conclusion of dispensational thought, but rather a poor application of biblical truth that can be done by anyone from any eschatological system.

Escapism is Not Exclusive to Dispensationalism

We live in trying times. Governments are abandoning their proper domain, evil is running rampant, promiscuity and immorality are not only approved of and flaunted, but our culture is bringing increased pressure on those who hold biblical values to bend their knees to the zeitgeist.

In light of all this, many Christians who are increasingly dismayed at the decline in society have expressed the desire to be removed from the evil they see around them. And guess what? Not all of them are dispensational. 

  • I've heard/seen many that are either postmil or amill express sentiments of "it might be time for me to move my family out into the country to insulate my family from this mess"
  • Rod Dreher wrote The Benedict Option calling for Christians to intentionally withdraw in order to build their own Christian communities. Granted, he was viewing it as a longer-term strategy where these communities would be strengthened to step into society again at a later time, but the desire to retreat was expressed very clearly (See also Joel Webbon's book Fight by Flight) 
  • Not too long ago I preached from Phil 1:21 where the phrase "to live is Christ and to die is gain" which has led many from all eschatological walks of life to express the desire to bail out because, hey, to die is gain. 
  • It is common for people from all eschatological viewpoints to respond to flaunted sin with "come quickly, Lord Jesus".

To claim that dispensationalists are the only ones who express a desire or who actually begin to practice a retreat from society is simply not true. I don't believe this mindset necessarily flows from dispensational thought (see below) but rather from real grief that stems from seeing sin and a real desire to see holiness, and an acknowledgment that one day we will be free from the pollution of the world "having escaped from the corruption that is in the world" (2 Pet 1:4) when Jesus Christ returns. At times this desire can be carried too far. "Come quickly, Lord Jesus" can be healthy expressions of biblical longing and desire to see our Lord and His justice reign, or an unhealthy desire to be rid of the world ASAP because of our own selfishness. The former is biblical; the latter is escapism. People from all eschatological positions are guilty of both.

Escapism Is Not Representative of the Best of Dispensational Thought

Some of the most well-known dispensationalists are very active in society and engage culture regularly. Here are just a few of the examples that come to mind:

  • John MacArthur, despite his comments on "not winning down here," has nevertheless spent his entire life seeking to build the Church and have an influence on society and culture. GTY is massive, there are TMS graduates literally all over the world, and his frequent appearances on TV and radio demonstrate his ability and desire to challenge the culture with biblical truth.
  • Darrell Bock is the Executive Director of the Hendricks Center for Cultural Engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. His podcast the Table is devoted to helping Christians live as Christians in society and impact the culture.
  • You will not find an escapist mentality in Michael Vlach's He Will Reign Forever, which is his treatise on the overarching theme of the Kingdom of God found throughout the Scriptures and is overwhelmingly positive (and how can you not be when examining the eternal reign of Christ?)

Are there dispensationalists who have embraced and propagated an escapist/retreatist mentality? Absolutely. But this is not true of the best of dispensational thought and thinkers.

Escapism Is Not a Necessary Conclusion of Dispensationalism

While many have certainly embraced the "why polish brass on a sinking ship" mentality, this is not a necessary conclusion from dispensational thought (and, interestingly enough, Postmillennialists accuse Amillennialists of the same mindset!) The accusation is that if the whole world is only going to get worse, or if we cannot expect to see the postmillennial vision of Christian influence and authority spreading across the world, then this necessarily leads to a pessimistic, escapist mindset.

This accusations loses its sting, however, when we look into the Word of God and see examples of people who were told their efforts would not produce their desired result, and yet they did not embrace an pessimistic/escapist mindset but tenaciously persevered. 

Isaiah was explicitly told that he would not see fruit from his ministry.

As far as we're aware, Jeremiah never saw anyone repent, but rather was told to expect resistance. 

And yet these two men were faithful mouthpieces for God who continued in their task Why?

1. Obedience. It was God's command

2. Hope. They saw a future beyond their own time to the times of restoration and the reign of their Messiah. 

Ultimately we are likewise called to make disciples. It's a matter of obedience whether we see converts or not. We also have the hope of the earthly reign of Christ when He returns and reigns in truth, righteousness, and justice.

As dispensationalists, we do not have to look at what the Scripture teaches and conclude that my efforts are fruitless. On the contrary, it is the belief in the immanency of the rapture that has driven many to zealous evangelism that perhaps God might save more before our departure. This response is much more consistent with dispensational eschatology, and it is this mindset that has led many schools prioritize missions and evangelism.

Schools such as the aforementioned DTS and TMS, Calvary Bible College/Theological Seminary (my alma mater), Grace Theological Seminary, Shepherds Theological Seminary (where I attend now), Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary, Moody Bible Institute and Theological Seminary, and more. These historically dispensational institutions have been champions of training pastors and missionaries for the spread of the Gospel, which necessarily has an impact on the culture. 

Many mission agencies are dispensational, including Biblical Ministries Worldwide, Ethnos360, Fellowship International Mission, and many others are explicitly dispensational, and yet they are sending and supporting missionaries all over the world.

From this is should be clear: escapism is not a necessary conclusion of dispensational theology, but rather the consistent and necessary conclusion is zealousness for the lost.

Ad Hominem Attacks Are a Bad Way to Do Theology.

When bad, anti-biblical applications exist, we would do well to examine the roots of the practice and see if there is anything unbiblical in our system. When bad, anti-biblical applications are practiced, these things should be exposed, addressed, and corrected. I'll be the first to admit that many of our dispensational churches need to examine themselves and make some course corrections in this area.

The problem I have with our A- and Post-millennial brothers who take pejorative jabs at dispensationalism on this point is that they aren't actually addressing the system of dispensationalism itself and they aren't making a biblical or exegetical case against the system, but are rather lobbing stones that could be picked up and thrown right back.

Many of these brothers are Reformed or at least Calvinistic. There were periods in the history of the Church when a High Calvinism led the Church to refrain from evangelistic/missional activity. Does this mean Calvinism is necessarily false? I would argue no, but if we use the same standard used against dispensationalists it does. Bad applications don't automatically disprove any system. To prove or disprove Calvinism we would have to make a case exegetically. 

The same could be said of Postmillennialism. Have there been bad applications of postmillennial theology that have led some to do dumb things or apply Old Testament Laws in anti-biblical ways? Yes. Does this mean the system in necessarily wrong? No. We would have to make that case exegetically.

Ad Hominem attacks are a bad way to do theology. The case ought to be made exegetically.

It's Not Escapism to Believe What God Has Said

We're not all going to come to the same conclusion on the passages I'm about to allude to, but...

It's not escapist to affirm that those who trust in Christ will escape the Lake of Fire.
It's not escapist to affirm that when God says he's going to snatch us up, he's going to do that. 
It's not escapist to affirm that God said we would be kept from the hour of trial.
It's not escapist to affirm that the Church will not endure the wrath of God as he promised to deliver us from the wrath that is to come.
It's not escapist to affirm the grammatical-historical-contextual meaning of all biblical texts, including the prophetic texts.

It's only escapism if we falsely conclude that our best course of action is to isolate ourselves and bide our time until the Lord calls us home.


I hope that I've demonstrated that the escapist pejorative that gets thrown around ought to be retired. If someone is exhibiting an escapist mindset, by all means, call them out on it! But don't use it as a basis for seeking to discredit an entire theological system. It's a bad way to do theology and history tells another story.