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Puritan Catechism Question of the Week
Q 16. Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A. The fall brought mankind into a state of sin and misery.

Name: Mike
Location: California, United States
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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Eschatology Part 2 (Literal Interpretation)

One of the claims that you often hear from Dispensational Premillennialists is that they read the bible "literally" where all those other people have to read it figuratively. Now, when a person uses the word "literally" they can mean it in several different ways. In a broad sense the word could just mean that you read the bible literally, that is, as literature. You read the Bible in the same way you would read a novel. In this sense, you could read the Bible (or any book) literally and have pleanty of metaphors, similes, symbolism, hyperbole, etc. However, the sense that the word is used more often is that something "actually" happened. That is, if I say, "I am so hungry I could eat a bear" then I actually mean that I could eat an entire bear. Take a biblical example, if the Bible says that there is some millennium, then that period of time is actually 1000 years.

Now, where this issue becomes important (for this discussion) is when it comes to texts that are somewhat eschatological. The Dispensationalists claim to read the text literally, and they claim that everyone else does not.

Point 1: Must we read every verse literally?

Consider some examples from Jesus and is slow followers:

Example 1: Matthew 16
5When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6Jesus said to them, "Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." 7And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, "We brought no bread."
... 11How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." 12Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Example 2: John 11
11After saying these things, he said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him." 12The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover." 13Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus has died

Reading these examples can be humorous. How is it so that these disciples did not understand what Jesus meant? But then again, Jesus did speak about the leaven of the Pharisees and he did say that Lazarus had fallen asleep. Assuming that we have to take every verse literally, the Disciples understood Jesus teh correct way. However, Jesus dispells the idea that everything must be taken in a hyper literal sense.

So then, if we aren't supposed to take every single word "literally," when are we supposed to? The clear answer is that we are supposed to read the Bible as we do any other book. When the context suggests that we take something as metaphor, symbol, hyperbole, we do so. When the context suggests that we take the text as fact, then we do so.

Despite some of the claims of being literal by the Dispensationalists, they understand this concept as well. As
Brian Schwertley says, "Are there any premillennial authors or commentators who believe that the beast from the sea with seven heads and ten horns (Rev. 13) is a literal creature?" Even in extreme fiction like the Left Behind series you do not see people taking this passage literally. Why? Because context does not point towards a literal understanding of the text. Revelation is apocalyptic and often uses images like this for a point.

If this is the case, is it too much to suggest that 1000 years might be figurative? It should not be considering that numbers are used symbolically throughout apocalyptic literature and the fact that the Bible uses the number 1000 figuratively several times. Consider just one example:
Psalm 50 says "I have no need of bull from your stall, or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills."

Now, is God (through Asaph) saying that he only owns the cattle on 1000 hills. That is to say, once we get to the 1001 (and beyond) hills, God no longer possess them? Of course not. 1000 is the same as 1o^3 (10x10x10) and is often used to mean "a lot," "large number," "large period of time," etc.

However, most Dispensational Premillennialists don't have a terrible problem accepting the possibility that the millennium is not exactly 1000 years. There are two places where the issue becomes of extreme importance. First, do we need a literal fulfillment of the OT Promises to Israel (A side question is "What is 'literally' meant by the term Israel)? Second, how should we understand (literally?) the resurrections of Revelation 20. If those two questions could be answered, virtually all eschatology debate would cease.

These questions will be addressed in a future post. All that we are establishing at this point is the claim of being literal. If the Dispensationalists think that all verses/words should be interpreted in a hyper literal fashion, then they have made the same mistake as the Disciples. If the Dispensationalists think that they understand the text literally at all times, they are incorrect (as we asked, what Dispensationalists expects a literal 7-headed, 10-horned beast to emerge from the sea?) And lastly, if the Dispensationalists thinks that you can correct read the bible without allowing for metaphors, similes, symbolism, and hyperbole, then their hermeneutics are off.

At this point we have not yet addressed WHEN or WHAT ought to be taken as symbolism/metaphor/etc. This is a matter of hermeneutics and proper exegesis that will be examined later. All we have said so far is that it is Possible and at times Necessary to understand the text outside of a hyper-literal framework.

Peter Schwertley says, "Many premillennialists are told that fundamentalists are premillennial and theological liberals are postmillennial." Why is this the case? Remember what we discussed in part 1. Dispensational premillennialism emerged and gained popularlity around the time of the Fundamentalist/Liberal debate. One of the core tenets of fundamentalism was a desire to read the text literally.

If we can wrap our heads around this idea from the beginning, namely that it is not necessary to view every text in a hyper-literal fashion, then we will allow for proper exegesis to take place. We should not and really must not fall prey to the notion that anyone who understands some of theses texts symbolically must (of necessity) be a liberal (and therefore wrong). With this in place, we now have a foundation to begin to examine the doctrine of eschatology.

In Christ alone,

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Eschatology Part 1 (Introduction)

**Warning: This post is quite lengthy. Might be a good idea to get a cup of coffee before you read this. This serves as an introduction to a rather large topic. The articles in the future will only capture one key point and therefore should be a good bit shorter.**

Eschatology, by and large, has always been thought of as a minor issue where Christians can and should disagree with one another. If you reject the Trinity, I cannot call you a Christian; If you reject Classical Premillennialism, then we can have some conversations at Starbucks, but little more is necessary.

Now, in the last 100 years , there is a segment of Christianity that has managed to elevate a particular eschatological view to the point of being a major issue, even showing up on many Statements of Faith. Calling an eschatological view a major issue is intuitively wrong to most people and so it requires a bit of a trick. The way that has been the most successful is to claim that IF one holds to the inerrancy of scripture (major doctrine), THEN they will hold to a particular eschatological framework (minor doctrine). In doing so, one can then use the minor doctrinal issue (eschatology) in order to reveal the practical theology that one holds with respect to major issues.

At this point, I am more or less fine with the idea. I do not think that a person can be a hyper-preterist and hold to the inerrancy of scripture. However, this is usually not where things stop. The hyper-preterist ultimately rejects the idea that Jesus will actually return at a future date. We can and should reject this position as heresy. However, what should be done with all of the other positions that many faithful saints have held throughout the ages? I think we must avoid the trend of elevating one traditional eschatological view over another in our creedal statements. As the saying goes, "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."

Now, having said that, I've found myself in a particularly strange situation. I attend Biola University and I attend Grace Evangelical Free Church of La Mirada. Note the following:


In fulfillment of God's historical purpose for humanity to rule and establish God's kingdom on earth (Gen. 1:28; Ps. 8:4-8; Matt. 6:10; Heb. 2:6-9), the Scriptures teach a millennial reign of Christ with his saints on earth following his literal return. The nation of Israel, having been redeemed, will play a central role in bringing blessings of salvation to all nations during the millennium in fulfillment of biblical prophecies (e.g., Is. 2:1-4; 11:1-12; Jer. 23:5-6; Ezek. 37; Amos 9:9-15; Zech. 14; Matt. 19:28; Acts 1:6; 3:19-21; Rev. 2:4-7). Following the mllennium, this kingdom will be merged into the eternal kingdom (1 Cor. 15:22-28).

Before these millennial events, the believers will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-17). The time of this "rapture" is unknown, and thus believers are to live constantly watchful and ready.

Evangelical Free

In the personal and premillennial and imminent coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and that this "Blessed Hope" has a vital bearing on the personal life and service of the believer.

Now, the Biola Doctrinal Statement has a very strong Dispensational Premillennial bent. In fact, there is no other way it can be read. The Evangelical Free statement comes out of the same tradition but has worded things to be a bit more inclusive. Technically it is possible for a person to hold to a Classical Pre-mill view and claim to hold to an imminent coming. In both cases, the statements affirm a Dispensational Premillennial eschatology, although the EV Free article has left minor wiggle room (in fact, as of 1977, post-tribulational premillennialists were allowed to become elders).

Now, why is this peculiar for me? Despite growing up in an environment which would have supported these views, I currently do not hold said viewpoints. Quoting from Monergism.com, "Any serious student of the Scriptures must emphatically reject the unbiblical position of premillennial dispensationalism." The statement sounds harsh at first, but things are remedied with the next sentence: "However, the progressive dispenstionalists have recently come a long way in bringing this highly popular school into a more biblical framework." I agree with the concluding statement and it just so happens that most of the Dispensationalists around me would probably be more properly characterized as Progressive Dispensationalists. Consequently, I am delighted to a see the current trend.

However, contra the statement at Monergism.com, my primary concern is not that all of the different schools of thought get on the same (and correct) page of eschatology. I am perfectly content to allow my roommate to hold a Dispensational Premillennial view, but I would have a hard time if we had a "Room Doctrinal Position" that allowed for only Dispensational Premillennialists. In a similar way, I would love to see places like Biola and the EV Free Church begin to move away from their strong adherence to a minor view. In fact, I have been praying for this change for some time.

At the current time there is hope. For quite some time now there has been discussion by people involved with the EV Free Church about the doctrinal statement. Currently, some revisions have been proposed. In the current revision, the words imminent and premillennial are replaced by glorious. In explaining this change, the following statement is made:
Our Committee agreed that if we are to be a fellowship of historic, Bible-believing Evangelical Christians, seeking to preserve evangelical unity in the gospel, we ought not to refuse to recognize those who are not premillennialists in their eschatology, when we do not take a position on such significant issues as Arminian vs. Calvinist soteriology or the proper recipients of baptism and the specific time and mode of baptism which have divided Christians through the centuries. Similarly, we propose that a position on the millennial kingdom is one about which our Statement of Faith should be silent.

It is my sincere prayer that this resolution eventually passes.

However, there is likely to be some strong resistance to such a change. Why? For the reason that I began this post: A particular eschatological view has been used as a practical test to determine one's view of Scripture. In this regard, I certainly understand where people are coming from. In studying church history one notices an important debate around the beginning of the 20th century. On the one hand, several schools of thought had grown progressively more liberal. The conservatives, the orthodox, of the time were the fundamentalists. They fought vigorously to preserve the truth. They fought for inerrancy, a virgin birth, a literal resurrection, etc. Accordingly, premillennialism (especially the Dispensational variety following after Darby, Scofield, Chaffer, etc.) became linked with orthodox Christianity. It was the liberals, seemingly, who held to post/a - millennial views. As a result, a "literal reading of scripture" became synonymous with several things: literal resurrection, virgin birth, inerrancy of scripture, and premillennial eschatology.

In this regard, it should be stated that Reformed theologians had some failure. Many (note: not all) reformed theologians did not engage with the competing views. As a result, American Christianity seemed to drop the category of an exegetically sound, biblical inerranist, orthodox Christian, who held to a non-Premillennial view.

The Classical Premillennialists have done a good job of reestablishing their view. While at Biola I have read multiple theologies of authors who are Classical Premillennialists. Two of note are Wayne Grudem and G.E. Ladd.

However, I believe that by and large the Post-mill and A-mill views have not appropriately resurfaced. Accordingly, it is my hope to begin a series of posts explaining why I do not believe that "literal reading of the Bible" is synonymous with Dispensational Premillannialism nor do I hold that one must give up exegetical soundness in order to hold to an amillennial view.

What is the final hope?
"In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."

In Christ alone,