I have been reading heavily on the subject of eschatological systems. My primary sources for research have been academic oriented journal articles and hard to find books I wouldn’t have access to unless it wasn’t for the fact I am blessed to attend a church with a state of the art seminary library which houses high end academic journals and hard to find books on this particular subject.
My research has been mostly for my personal edification because it is a subject I have often felt in the past inadequate to discuss at any meaningful length. Granted, I studied eschatology when I was in seminary, but even though I did read a few of the popular level books that had representatives from each position interact with each other in essay form, eschatology wasn’t an engrossing topic for me at the time. I was spending the good part of my seminary years shoring up my historical theology in the area of salvation, which in my opinion was more important.
Yet I did have a general overview to the various eschatological systems, so I wasn’t entirely ignorant. However, recently when I set myself to studying eschatology, I believed I needed to go below the surface level ideas I heard people heatedly discussing now and then when the subject came up on social media, so I set myself to plumb the depths of the theology and hermeneutics which shape those ideas.
Additionally, I wanted to engage many of my young and restless Calvinist friends I had met through Bible conferences and the blogging communities. It seemed as though many of them were like me: Raised in a non-Calvinistic, fundamentalist church whose leadership never really taught anything theological at all, let alone Calvinism. Those were doctrines I had to learn on my own from pastors I heard on the radio or read in books I had to obtain personally. At any rate, many of my restless young Calvinist friends came to embrace Calvinism because they, like myself, saw the doctrines clearly taught in Scripture.
But, with this embracing of Calvinism came a total overhaul of their entire theological worldview, including the complete abandonment of a dispensational perspective and premillennialism as an eschatological system.
I plan to comment more on that paradigm shift in a later post, but suffice it to say now, even though some of those dear folks say they are biblically convinced of a non-dispensational, non-premillennial point of view, from what I read on their blogs and at times discussed with them in person, I saw their change in eschatology as a final “rebellion” as it were against the non-Calvinistic churches where they were first saved and nurtured.
In other words, if those churches were wrong about the doctrines pertaining to salvation, they had to be equally mistaken about eschatology. Thus, it was believed a more Reformed view of eschatology had to be embraced in place of the errant dispensational premillennialism.
But more about this at a later time…
At any rate, I believe I was officially introduced to the subject of eschatology sometime when I was in either the 5th or 6th grade. My father was a self-employed electrician and during my summer break from school, I would often accompany him on his job.
This one particular summer a heat wave had hit our small town in Missouri and my dad was called out to a mobile home park to re-wire a fellow’s air conditioner that kept overloading his breaker box. My job when I was with my father was to stand around and fetch tools from the truck when he needed them. I tended to do more standing around than fetching of tools, so I had plenty of down time to poke around in people’s homes.
We were in the living room of this mobile home, and on the coffee table there was a Bible flipped opened to Matthew 24 and 25. I knew Jesus was supposed to be talking because all the words were in red. I read both chapters and I became extremely spooked by the descriptions of judgment, especially the sheep and goats section at the end of chapter 25.
Compounding the biblical images of apocalyptic judgment were the stack of Chick comics also on the table. Several of them were about the second coming of Jesus and all the terrors which were to come with Him.
The cover of one comic showed a nurse running out of a nursery ward screaming to a doctor, “ALL THE BABIES ARE MISSING!” In my mind, I am thinking, “why would Jesus want all the babies?” I was actively involved with an United Methodist youth group. I had never seen or read anything that scary in any of the literature in my Sunday school class. I sort of had a “Davey and Goliath” view of Jesus. This baby snatching view of Jesus was unnerving.
I would like to say I was driven to the cross of Christ and the saving Gospel message, but such did not happen. I did, however, become fixated with knowing the future. Yet, rather than being interested in a biblical view of future things, I was attracted to stuff like the documentary I saw on HBO about the predictions of Nostradamus convincingly narrated by Orson Welles.
Sometime later, maybe a year or two, I recall seeing the terribly made Thief in the Night movie. The film was an abominable depiction of the end-times that sensationalized the events of Revelation like a sci-fi short story. I do remember a Pentecostal gal at my grade school who often appealed to the movie as her source of authority as to why I needed to have Jesus in my heart so as not to be enslaved to the “annie christ” whoever that was.
By the time I was in high school, we had moved to Arkansas and I was now attending a Free-will Baptist Church. Being a bit older I was now a tad more sober-minded about my quasi-theological thinking and by that time I genuinely had an interest in what the Bible said about the end-times.
My pastor lent me his great big copy of Clarence Larkin’s The Greatest Book on Dispensational Truth in the World containing his elaborate, awe-inspiring schematics illustrating the events of the end times from a classic dispensational perspective. Also during that time I was exposed to Hal Lindsey’s books, who in a similar fashion as the Thief in the Night film, overly sensationalized the prophetic books of the Bible, especially Revelation.
It wasn’t until after I was truly saved and I reached seminary, however, that I became aware of various and sundry opinions which differed from what I learned as to how the events of the end-times were to play out. Up until then, I went blissfully through my Christian existence naively thinking every believer agreed upon the same things I believed about Jesus Christ’s second coming. That being, the dispensational views outlined by Clarence Larkin and Hal Lindsey.
I was a bit disappointed to learn that R.C. Sproul, one of my favorite Bible teachers, denied the millennium. Of course, over time I came to learn that he didn’t actually deny the millennium, he simply understood its dynamics differently than how I did as a premillennialist. In fact, the true heart of the differences between eschatological systems centered around hermeneutics – the principles used to study the Bible. It may sound simple, but how one reads the Old Testament prophetic books in light of the New Testament has a profound impact on how one understands eschatology.
Now, with that brief introduction in mind, I would like to proceed with some studies in the systems of eschatology. Just to provide something of a brief outline, I will begin my next post with a quick review of the hermeneutical issues involved, and then move onto examining the individual principles that shape those hermeneutics. As I explore the hermeneutics, I hope to weave my study interactively with the main eschatological systems, eventually culminating to a defense of premillennialism. My general goal is to lay down a basic, comprehensible laymen’s overview of eschatology, and perhaps along the way provide the readers with a few insights I have gleaned from my own personal research.