Monday, July 21, 2008

Breaking the Rules

I'm kind of breaking Reformed Mafia rules with this post. When we went through the secret and bloody initiation ceremony into this family, it was stressed that the RM exists to promote the principles of Reformed soteriology (Calvinism) and the credo-baptist view of Baptism. We don't dive into denominational squabbles, or spiritual gifts, or eschatology.

Well, okay, I'm not diving in but I would like to dip my toe for a moment in the topic of eschatology. However, it's not my intention at this time to argue for a specific view, so all the guns can be put away.

What I want to mention is simply this idea (on which we here at the Reformed Mafia have proceded) that eschatology is a less-important field of study within the broader realm of theology.

While I agree with that notion, and have no intention to elevate the study of prophecy to a level of primary importance, I would like to balance that common Evangelical understanding. This whole notion that eschatology is rather unimportant in the grand scheme of things, is that Biblical?

I agree that genuine Christians ought not fight with venom over eschatological matters; and we certainly ought not divide over them, but I think I note on some high-powered Reformed blogs in particular the growing intimation that eschatology can be safely left aside while our focus is more properly placed elsewhere.

My argument on this point comes largely from experience. That is, I know that moving to a postmillennial view has sent ripples of effect throughout my whole practice of the faith. Similar to the manner in which embracing Calvinistic principles caused a thorough-going paradigm-shift which went far beyond soteriology, shifting millennial outlooks has effected more than merely my four-color chart of the End Times.

I've done no scientific survey on this, but here's what I think just from talking to people:

Premillennialists are less likely to be politically active, beyond voting.

Postmillennialists are more likely to homeschool their children.

Postmillennialists are more likely to dive into the realm of cultural reform, through the arts.

Meaning, I don't think it should shock anyone that if you hold to a view which says there is no option to the fact that the whole world will inevitably descend to the depths of unrestrained wickedness before Christ's return, you're going to be less motivated to try and get out there and build something that might actually last for generations.

Personally, the combination of a Gospel that is heavy on God's sovereignty and an eschatology which sees the nations of the world converted to Christ through preaching that Gospel, has made me a much more motivated evangelist than I was when I was synergistic and Dispensational. For me at least, my eschatology has impacted the preaching of The Good News of Jesus Christ.

The Antichrist is another issue where I think that theoretical views on the Bible have concrete, real-world effects on our practice of Christianity. Specifically, consider this: What if you are convinced that the correct interpretation is the one all the Reformers believed, and that the office of the Pope is the Man of Sin, the son of perdition, the Antichrist?

Compared to those who hold to another view, you're going to have far less inclination to work alongside Catholics in any meaningful way. As a concrete example, did you know that the modern Pro-Life movement has become a windfall for Roman Catholicism, in terms of converting Protestants to the Pope's religion? As Protestants join with Catholics in the cause, they start to think maybe these guys ain't so bad, and we're off to the races. See, if your eschatology either has the Antichrist always just around the corner in the future, or, conversely a couple thousand years in the past, you will be more inclined to try and find ways to work together with his followers in a "good cause."

Not saying right now that one view is right or wrong, but merely illustrating how differing views really do effect things.

Okay, I'm done. Back to regular programming. Just some things to think about.

33 comments:

Exist-Dissolve said...

I think it's obvious that eschatology is important to Christian theology--after all, the apostolic writers consistently point towards the return of Christ (which they assumed would be imminent).

However, the point which I think should be made is that it is not at all apparent that the Western theological preoccupation with "pre-" "post" or whatever is actually appropriate for eschatology as a theological pursuit. I would argue that these kinds of speculations are not relevant to "eschatology" in any meaningful way.

Lucas Defalco said...

Gordan,

Good post. I know it's somewhat out of scope for RM, but I've got just a few brief thoughts.

First, regarding your conclusions about premies and posties:

"Premillennialists are less likely to be politically active, beyond voting."

You'd have a hard time proving that empirically. Most members of the "evangelical right" are members of fundamentalist denominations that are predominately premil. They are by far the largest "faith-based" political category in the American polity. They are very active on issues such as abortion, Israel, war on Islam (aka Terror). And much of that is fueled by their headline-driven eschatology that the world is quickly ending.

Many postmil's that I speak to tend towards third-party views such as Libertarianism that reduces the role of government. And I am not mischaracterizing Libertarians by calling them a third party view. In fact, I'm a card-carrying member of the LP myself.

"Postmillennialists are more likely to homeschool their children."

Fundamentalist premillenialism has an undercurrent of distrust of government education and therefore most of the evangelical homeschoolers that I know (hundreds) attend churches that are premil.

"Postmillennialists are more likely to dive into the realm of cultural reform, through the arts."

While it is true that postmil are very culturally engaged, premils are too, but it's a more militant kind of engagement. From this group we hear more calls for eliminating the NEA, increasing censorship, outlawing pornography, rap music, etc.

"Personally, the combination of a Gospel that is heavy on God's sovereignty and an eschatology which sees the nations of the world converted to Christ through preaching that Gospel, has made me a much more motivated evangelist than I was when I was synergistic and Dispensational. For me at least, my eschatology has impacted the preaching of The Good News of Jesus Christ."

While I have no reason to doubt this is true for you personally, we cannot simply ignore the vast amount of missionary work done by denominations and groups that are functionally premil. Groups like the Bretheren Churches, Southern Baptists, Independent Baptists, Pentacostal and Charismatic groups. While we can certainly question the bibliocity of some of the methods and message, there is no reason to doubt that they are most certainly motivated.

The pitfall I see so many premils falling into is the temptation to "speed up" the spreading of the Gospel and conversion numbers but using shortcuts and trickery such as the modern altar call, manipulative music, entertainment, etc. And who could ever forget those lovable Chick tracts??

There is no doubt that dispensational premillenialism and synergistic soteriology go hand-in-hand. But I also see synergistic tendancies creeping into the postmil view as well with it's notions of "ushering in the kingdom". While I fully acknownledge I need to continue doing further study here, I am curious to know how the postmil camp addresses this apparent gap.

Finally, simply being postmil is no guarantee of a strong, Biblical, God-centered theology. Hank Haanegraf is a postmil preterist but he's also a 4-point Arminian.

I think James White says it best: "Let your theology determine your eschatology, and not the other way around."

TheoJunkie said...

Uh... I'd like to second James White, and I think I know what he's saying, but after looking at the quote again it sounds kind of silly.

His comment doesn't explain how some Reformed can be postmils, other Reformed can be amil, and some can be premil (like McArthur, or so I understand). All their "theologies" are the same, so why should their end-times views differ?

White's comment also seems to separate "eschatology" from "theology", as though they were separate issues. Rather, eschatology is a part of theology in the same way that soteriology is. So you can't really have a situation where your "theology" drives your "eschatology." Instead, what you believe about all things God-- including what His end game is-- is your theology. And usually, though we don't realize it, all of the "areas" of theology play off each other to form the whole. So one's soteriology does impact one's eschatology... but also vice versa.

I agree with the general proposition that one's eschatology impacts one's walk... because it impacts one's theology.

I am sure that White simply means that you should not read eschatalogical passages in isolation. I agree.

Nevertheless, whether you formulate your eschatalogical view in isolation, or you formulate it in the context of everything else you know about God... ultimately your life/walk/behavior will be affected by it.

As far as dividing over eschatology... I think it is **potentially** (but not necessarily) something to divide over, because the different views can be either based on or impact one's views of the Gospel and the nature of God.

Gordan Runyan said...

Lucas, thanks for making some really good points, there; proving that I may not have stated myself as clearly as possible.

How about this: Instead of saying Premils tend to be less politically involved, how about this: When you hear Evangelical calls to withdraw from political involvement, you can bet they're not coming from Postmils. They're coming from Premils.

You brought up the numbers involved in today's political activism, but I would be very curious to see the actual numbers as a function of the whole.

I mean, what percentage of Dispensationalists is politically involved (beyond merely voting) as compared to the percentages for the other views? I would speculate that a much higher percentage of Postmils jump in than Premils.

That's the sort of thing I mean by those remarks in the post: I'm talking about percentages, not total numbers.

My own current church situation is this: Mine is the only Postmillennial household in a congregation that is represented by about 15 households. The rest are Dispensational, simply because they've never heard differently (in most cases.) So, we are one out of fifteen, let's say.

We are the only homeschoolers. We are one of two who have members who have run for County political office. We are the only one to have members who have held elected offices within a local political party. And, just as a guess by what I know of my congregation, I'd say there are maybe four other families with someone who has shared the Gospel with a stranger, besides me and mine.

So, for us, the Postmillennialists score 100% in homeschooling, political involvement, and personal evangelism.

Meanwhile the Dispensationalists manage a zero %, seven %, and 28% respectively.

Now, I'm not saying that correlation is causation here. I'm not saying their Dispensationalism has anything to do with their unanimous support for public schools, or causes them to be poor witnesses for the Gospel. But I am noting the correlation, and think it's worth exploring.

I have yet to hear a Dispensationalist offer a cogent reason why a Christian should consider getting into politics. They do get into it, I know. I just haven't heard the rationale explained.

I would like a shot at explaining the "gap" you see in the Postmil camp, but I'm not sure I understand the question.

Gordan Runyan said...

Theojunkie, I am in hearty agreement with you, especially the last sentiment. I would divide from a really hard-core Dispensationalist who took it so far as to propose two paths to salvation (or, the dual covenant theory) for instance.

Machine Gun Kelley said...

Gordan,

Seeing as though 4(?) of the active RM bloggers are Post-Mill, I don't think there's going to be much of a fight about a little eschatology here and there...

As you know, I'm not convinced of the whole "Pope is the antichrist" thing, but I'm not very cozy with Rome anyway. (That's not a bad point though.)

I will confess, having a Post-Mill view does have quite an effect on how you see things around you.

Strong Tower said...

Amill, here...

J.C. Thibodaux said...

I dunno Gordan, my church was exclusively Premil, and pretty much everybody was big into homeschooling / private schooling, and evangelism. My wife and I, both from premil households (hers still very politically active), both homeschooled, both premil ourselves...any guesses as to how close we're going to let our daughter get to a public school?

I'm not surprised by the spread in your congregation. Different mindsets and such can affect groups across the country that technically have the same belief system. In other words, the Dispys you have in NM may have a lot of the same core beliefs, but still differ drastically in style and practice from those in Florida or New Jersey (or overseas for that matter). I don't doubt that what you're saying is true from your experience, I just wonder if it's an accurate sampling.

Trevor Almy said...

I agree with this article wholeheartedly and I had a similar experience six months ago when I realized that eschatology does matter for Christian practice. Good writing Gordan!

Gordan Runyan said...

Joshua,

Well, I'm not going to argue with your experience, but my question is: Those things the Premils at your church do, do they do them as an outgrowth of their eschatology? How would the active premils in your church respond to the common premil mantra that "You don't polish brass on a sinking ship?"

I'm glad they're all active in those ways, but I almost see that activity as being in spite of their eschatology. Would I be wrong about that?

Gordan Runyan said...

Thanks, Trevor. Good to see you in these parts. Be blessed.

J.C. Thibodaux said...

Hmmm...I'd honestly never heard the "brass on a sinking ship" adage before you mentioned it to me once. I'd say such reasoning is fallacious. Perhaps if at this moment a large portion of the world were to begin dire religious persecution and mass-executions of Christians for not worshiping a mortal man, that philosophy might hold water where social issues are concerned; but before that time comes, such a stance is jumping the gun. Almost like a whiny kid saying, "I'm going to die one day anyway, so what's the point of going to school?"

The simple fact is that none of us knows when Christ will return. I'm reminded of God's word to Jeremiah when the children of Israel were taken captive:

4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." (Jeremiah 29:4-7)

If God commands that for a 70 year captivity, then why should we who don't know the time of His return think differently? So I guess the present social action and such of Premils doesn't stem primarily from Premil eschatology (since it's futurist), but if we are wise, nor should it really be stunted by it either, since till the Lord comes we and our children will be here for a while yet.

Gordan Runyan said...

Joshua, I just googled the phrase about polishing the brass, and it looks like it probably came from J. Vernon McGee, the popular radio Dispy. It seems to get more play now as it is repeated by non-Dispies. But I've also heard variations like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

John MacArthur seems to be currently embroiled in a little bruhaha over his own recent statement re: Christian political activism; and I think that's a broad summary of his position, that Christians waste time by trying to reform anything in the world.

One feature of popular Dispensationalism is also (quite aside from its premillennial stance) the view that this is the terminal generation. We are in the last days, the rapture is imminent, etc. You can be a premil without thinking the time is near, but I'm not sure you can be a Dispensationalist and think that.

My main point is simply that these variances in our beliefs will necessarily effect our lives right now.

Machine Gun Kelley said...

(Good to you see around Trevor!!)

I think the book that's had the largest impact on me recently is a book entitled The Day and The Hour by Francis Gumerlock.

With hardly any commentary, he records page after page of predictions and eschatological speculations from the early days of the church till the present.

One warning though:

After you read it, you'll be very apt to roll your eyes in disgust (or bust out laughing) when someone comes up to you saying "you know man, I think Barack Obama is the antichrist."

MGK

J.C. Thibodaux said...

Gordan, thanks for the quote reference. Never listened to McGee myself. I've read up a bit on MacArthur's view and largely agree with it (assuming it hasn't changed from what I read here)

God is not calling us to wage a culture war that would seek to transform our countries into "Christian nations." To devote all, or even most, of our time, energy, money, and strategy to putting a facade of morality on the world or over our governmental and political institutions is to badly misunderstand our roles as Christians in a spiritually lost world.

God has above all else called the church to bring sinful people to salvation through Jesus Christ. Even as the apostle Paul described his mission to unbelievers, so it is the primary task of all Christians to reach out to the lost "to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me [Christ]" (Acts 26:18; cf. Ex. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9).


I do honestly believe that God calls godly people to serve as leaders, but firmly believe that our primary goal and focus as the church should be the salvation of the lost, with politics and other social issues in a distant second. As far as this being the terminal generation...well, I'm post-trib, let's just say if it is, I believe things will get hairy. My take on that is serve God and be prepared as if the end is at the doors, but live the rest of your life (job, family, finances, etc.) as if your life will be normal. Nonetheless, you are doubtless correct in that eschatology impacts people's lives, since one's beliefs about the end times, if taken seriously, will affect one's outlook.

Pastor Bob Farmer said...

Supurgeon was pre-mil...'nough said boys.

Gordan Runyan said...

Well, I guess the trump-card has been played. Spurgeon has been called as a witness, and every mouth must be stopped. :)

Before I shut up, though, two things about Spurgeon's eschatology: 1) It was not as neat and tidy as some might suppose, as he did make some statements that sound quite Postmillennial, in terms of a hope that the Gospel would indeed convert the world. So, it's really anachronistic to make him fit into our categories, and 2) Spurgeon was an Historicist.

Machine Gun Kelley said...

From what I've seen (which is by no means exhaustive), I wonder if Spurgeon didn't go back and forth on the subject.

I have a Spurgeon book on my shelf where he does make some Postmill statements.

Machine Gun Kelley said...

Here's a relevant article on the subject at hand:

http://www.americanvision.org/Today/07-22-08.html

J.C. Thibodaux said...

Maybe CHS had some sort of all-encompassing hybrid position,

Premill because he thought the millenium hadn't come yet, but was pretty sure Christ would reign after that, making him Postmill as well; of course he's also Amill since he doesn't believe it to be a literal thousand years -- it's a thousand years, 2 hours, 9 minutes, and 17 seconds....

He was of course a Futurist and a Historicist, since all Futurists are just future Historicists anyway, which also ties nicely to Preterism since he applied a Futurist 'prophetic time-freeze' to the fall of Jerusalem of 70 A.D., suspending it as a 'present' event until such time as the rest of the events in prophecy catch up with it (also making him the world's only Orthodox Full Preterist). Though even if Spurgeon did hold to such a juggling-act view of eschatology, if he were alive today I seriously doubt that he'd even be tempted to endorse the writings of Tim LaHaye, because those are just plain silly.

Pastor Bob Farmer said...

True! Spurgeon believed in a very triuphant Gospel- so do I. He said that there would be more saved than lost. This sounds very post-mil. That's the beautiful thing about escatology at some point every view sounds biblical; which is why I believe that one's view of when Christ is coming is a second or third tier issue that we should not divide over- debate yes, but not divide. Gordon you are a funny guy. Love you all...
(true Spurgeon is an Ace in the Hole).

Machine Gun Kelley said...

He said that there would be more saved than lost.

I have a book somewhere where he wrote that very thing. I just can't put my finger on where it is (or in which book). I think I read in a footnote somewhere that B.B. Warfield taught that too.

Btw, I just posted a video about Eschatology and worldview on my blog: http://tinyurl.com/5rvoxj

RK

J.C. Thibodaux said...

Was this the quote you were thinking of Rhett?

A man can reckon up to very high figures; set to work your Newtons, your mightiest calculators, and they can count great numbers, but God and God alone can tell the multitude of His redeemed. I believe there will be more in Heaven than in hell. If anyone asks me why I think so, I answer, because Christ, in everything, is to “have the pre-eminence,” and I cannot conceive how He could have the pre-eminence if there are to be more in the dominions of Satan than in Paradise.

That quote was from A Defense of Calvinism.

Lucas Defalco said...

TheoJunkie said:

"I am sure that White simply means that you should not read eschatalogical passages in isolation. I agree."

I think you've nailed the essense of what he meant. If I were to phrase that thought I might put it "Let your hermeneutic determine your eschatology and not the other war around."

Lucas Defalco

Lucas Defalco said...

Gordan,

I've belonged to baptist churches where the pastor is premil disp and 95%+ of the members are too merely because they don't know any different either.

In all of these churches most of the members are card-carrying supporters of the RNC. In fact I had a conversation with a sunday school teacher of mind during the 2006 election cycle where I was asked which candidates I was thinking of voting for. I explained that I generally vote Libertarian whenever the LP has a candidate. My next phrase would have been "who is pro-life" but I was interrupted by the teacher who brisky asked "they don't kill babies do they?" The next 30 minutes was spent trying to explain that the Republicans have done NOTHING about abortion and the Libertarians for Life have the only viable strategy for de-federalizing the issue. The point was completely lost, however, because all this person could think about was that "anyone who is not is a Republican is a baby-killer."

I know that's getting a bit off-topic, but it was very telling about the fundamentalist baptist premil dispensational mindset when it comes to politics -- single-issue focus with an "our side versus their side" mentality. But make no mistake, while they may not be running for office in the same percentages as postmils, they are VERY politically active. Running for office is only ONE way of being politically active.

Lucas Defalco said...

Gordan -

I think what it boils down to with the Premils I know and serve with is a focus on and activism around certain issues. For example, they don't want the government to have any power over their freedom of speech especially when it comes to evangelizing. This is a big part of the reason for the American Center for Law and Justice, founded by Pat Robertson who is stridently premil.

Another example is around family values. Premil dispys are very vocal about protecting their children from pornography, homosexuality, contraception, etc. Why? Well from person to person the reason might vary slightly, but generally it's due to the fact that dispensationalism goes almost hand-in-hand with a synergistic soteriology. Therefore they feel obligated to protect their kids form anything that might cause them to stray from the faith, lose their salvation or never accept Jesus into their little hearts in the first place. While there may not be a clear causal link in this situation between premil and political activism in the area of family values, you can't separate premil disp from it's bedfellow synergism.

Ask for premils who are politically active....Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Rob Parsley, John Hagee, Rick Warren, Richard Land....no to mention all those premils in the "evangelical left" camp!

Lucas Defalco

Machine Gun Kelley said...

JC,
Was this the quote you were thinking of Rhett?

Probably is... No wonder I couldn't find it in the books I have.

Thanks! :)

RK

J.C. Thibodaux said...

Lucas,

...you can't separate premil disp from it's bedfellow synergism.

Boy, about 5.7 million Campbellites are going to be real disappointed to hear that (not to mention John MacArthur).


Therefore they feel obligated to protect their kids form anything that might cause them to stray from the faith, lose their salvation or never accept Jesus into their little hearts in the first place.

I seriously hope that was some kind of joke. I don't think that keeping children out of the way of danger denotes synergistic soteriology necessarily -- unless of course you believe that living your monergist soteriology implies letting the wolves roam free around your kids.

Scribe said...

Boy, about 5.7 million Campbellites are going to be real disappointed to hear that (not to mention John MacArthur).

Um, that would include me as well.=) I was completely unaware that holding a premil. eschatology necessitated a synergistic soteriology... [blinks in bewilderment]]

Scribe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pastor Bob Farmer said...

When did Pat Robertson become pre-mil, I thought he was a post-mil guy: don't you remember all that Kingdom Now stuff?

rhettsrants said...

I have no clue about that Pastor Bob...

Gordan Runyan said...

Pastor Bob, I don't believe he was ever Post-Mil, though he did seem to flirt with some version of it back in the nineties. Being Post-Mil would mess up his prophetic conviction that he (Robertson) had a special mission on earth as a forerunner of the Second Coming.