Eschatology Part 1 (Introduction)
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
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.
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,