HOW IMPORTANT IS ESCHATOLOGY IN THE SCHEME OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINES?
Some people are very passionate about their particular view of End Times (“Eschatology”) while on the other hand, some people are very indifferent about it. Some Evangelical Denominations have very narrow views about what constitutes acceptable views about Eschatology. In some of these denominations they actually make agreement with their End Times position an essential requirement for ordination. Many people find the topic so difficult that they’s rather not even attempt it. One prominent Seattle preacher recently said that discussing aspects of Eschatology was as important as discussing “wookies” (from the Star Wars movie series)! In one respect he is right, in that, there are several Biblical doctrines which are far more important than Eschatology. But…
It’s critical to know what the “most important” Christian doctrines are, before you can assert that or agree with the statement that Eschatology is not among the most important Christian Doctrines. Here are the top 4 most important-
Theology Proper – The Person, identity, nature, attributes, prerogatives and acts of God.
Christology – The Person, identity, attributes, incarnation, ministry, resurrection and glorification of Christ.
Anthropology – Creation, fall, nature, affects of sin, and destiny of mankind.
Soteriology – salvation of mankind from sin, redemption, adoption, reconciliation, regeneration, sanctification, resurrection, judgment, eternal destiny.
These are the most important doctrines of Christianity. They are also referred to as “Primary Doctrines.” This is why many believers do not consider eschatology to be a doctrine that Christians should divide over. Eschatology, they argue, is a doctrine of “Secondary Importance.” After all, speculating about what the Bible says regarding the future is just that: speculation. How then can anyone make a system of speculation the basis for Christian orthodoxy? There is however some hesitation for pressing this point too far. Let me explain why…
THE BEST STARTING POINT FOR DEVELOPING AN ESCHATOLOGICAL SYSTEM…
If you wanting to form your own view of Biblical teaching on “End Times” then your starting point should be Partial-Preterism.
If you do not have a system of eschatology, then I would recommend adopting a Partial Preterist Position for the following reasons-
This is by far the least speculative
It is the most demonstrably accurate
It is the most hermeneutically consistent
It is the most conservative Biblical position you can adopt. (And when it comes to eschatology we should not only be Biblically faithful, we should be conservative.)
This is because the more speculative we become with eschatology the greater the potential for damage to the Scriptures’ claim to be the inspired, inerrant Word of God in the minds of those who like ‘sheep without a shepherd’.
THE LEAST SPECULATIVE – (Partial) Preterism approaches all of Scripture in the same way, including eschatological passages. It does not assume that a Bible prophecy has not been fulfilled. Instead, it seeks to investigate from history whether it can be shown that a Bible prophecy has already been fulfilled. In fact, “Preterism” means examine the past. It does not endorse the concept of “Double” or “Dual” fulfilment of prophecies. Because it is grounded in historically verifiable data, it does not speculate about the future. Dispensational-Futurism (Pre-Millennialism) on the other hand as made and remade sildly speculative guesses as to how (already fulfilled) Bible prophecies will come to pass in our own day.
THE MOST DEMONSTRABLY ACCURATE – (Partial) Preterism links Bible prophecies with verifiable events from history. Where it cannot clearly do so, it does not speculate. In this way it can demonstrate that all of Revelation chapters 1 to 19 has been fulfilled (which coincides with all of Matthew 24).
THE MOST HERMENEUTICALLY CONSISTENT – Classical (Partial) Preterism approaches Bible Prophecies passages of Scripture in the same way as any other Scripture passage. This is different to other Eschatological systems which require their own “principles” or “laws” to make their system work.
THE MOST BIBLICALLY CONSERVATIVE – Classical Preterism does not try to force contemporary events into the contents of Bible Prophecy. This is one of the reasons why Historicism is not a conservative approach to Scripture because when it was developed during the period of the Reformation, it forced its contemporary events (the Reformation of the Church from the Papal abberations of Scripture and its abuses of power) into the text of Scripture as if these events were the intended fulfilment of these prophecies.
WHEN ESCHATOLOGY ACTUALLY DOES MATTER…
Dispensational Premillennialism may sound to many like a viable eschatological alternative that well and truly is similarly dismmissed as a doctrine of ‘Secondary’ importance. But there are two reasons why we should be a little less passive in considering this eschatological system. Firstly, it impinges into the doctrine of Christology by promoting the idea that Christ will return to earth, in particular Jerusalem, to re-establish the Throne of David from a rebuilt Temple. To arrive at this interpretation, this system demands that certain Bible prophecy fulfilments be overlooked, others have to be taken in an unintended wooden literal sense, and still others be granted a “second” fulfilment. But if Christ must reinstitute the Levitical Priesthood and re-establish the Temple in Jerusalem, apart from their being no justifiable Biblical grounds for this, the question has to be asked: Why would Christ need to re-establish animal sacrifices?
The passage most commonly mentioned in discussions of the difficulty presented by dispensational literalism is Ezekiel’s temple vision (Ezekiel 40-48). The dispensationalists are looking for a reinstitution of bloody animal sacrifices in a millennial temple built in accordance with the description found in this passage.9 Dispensationalists are careful to specify that these sacrifices are merely memorials of Christ’s death and will be the millennial equivalent of the Lord’s Supper. The problem with this is that Ezekiel’s vision refers to these sacrifices as literally making atonement (Ezekiel 45:15,17,20; Hebrew: kaphar, atone). Of course, a dispensationalist can go to the book of Hebrews to prove that animal sacrifices in the Old Testament never literally atoned for sin (Hebrews 10:4). When the Reformed theologian, however, goes to Hebrews to prove that animal sacrifices were done away forever by Christ’s once for all offering (Hebrews 10:10-18), then that is “theological interpretation” and “reading the New Testament back into the Old Testament,” two practices which dispensationalists routinely criticize.
Grover Gunn, citing- J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), page 519.
Secondly, this eschatological scheme has given rise to “Christian Zionism” which has unswervingly given unguarded support to the State of Israel. Even when the Israeli Government has violated United Nations sanctions, illegally invaded surrounding territories, illegitimately confiscated property, wrongly forced families off their land, and destroyed the homes of Palestinians and the Lebanese, these Christian Zionists have still given their complete endorsement. Here is an unwitting result of an eschatological system: innocent people have been needlessly killed as its collateral damage! Christian Zionists (Dispensational Futurists – Pre-Millennialists) regard the Bible as prophesying that Israel should be re-established as the world-power in these “last days”.
This is why we must be careful about dismissing Eschatological systems as being “inconsequential” or “as important as a discussion about Wookies.”
I have written an explanation of how Partial-Preterism leads to the best interpretation of Bible Prophecy in my eBook, The Most Embarrassing Book In The BIble, and in my paperback book- The Most Embarrassing Verse In The Bible.
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Dr. Andrew Corbett, Legana, Tasmania, Australia July 31st 2010