Thursday, March 08, 2007

Is Eschatological Dogmatism Necessary? Is It Even Helpful?

John MacArthur's opening salvo yesterday morning to the 2007 Shepherds' Conference was certainly one of the most intriguing and perhaps even entertaining of all the conference addresses I've ever heard. When he said that his topic would be sovereign election, Israel, and eschatology, I'm pretty sure he already had everyone's attention. When he stated his title as “Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist Is a Premillennialist,” well, that raised the game to a completely different level.

As a convinced premillennialist, I agree with the basic structure of MacArthur's eschatology, although I'm certainly not going to make a fool of myself and display my own ignorance by trying to defend his conclusions here.

MacArthur did argue that those who do not articulate a premillennial understanding of Scripture content themselves to be in a "happy and playful" pattern of thinking about the end times, "as if the end didn't matter much." I simply disagree vehemently that this is necessarily or universally the case.

For a good example of a sermon on an apocalyptic text that spends virtually no time whatsoever on the details of apocalyptic visions, but still manages quite well to articulate the primary theological points (and eschatological message) that are clear in the text, listen to Mark Dever's sermon on Daniel 7-12. In fact, I think that this sermon is more helpful than many that focus on explaining the details of the vision, and in the process minimize the God-centered, theological comments in the seams between the apocalyptic passages. Is it not possible that dogmatic assertions about and unbalanced emphasis on apocalyptic elements of a text can be profoundly confusing and distracting from the main point of the text?

Incidentally, this sermon is the sequel to Dever's sermon on Daniel 1-6, which I understand will be the text for his message tomorrow morning at Shepherd's Conference.

27 comments:

Dave said...

Seems like there is a decent gap between unwarranted dogmatism and treating the details of Scripture as secondary to "theological" themes.

How is it warranted to decide that the visions have only general theological significance? Is there some hermeneutical clue that Daniel just wants us to get the basic gist? I will readily acknowledge that some of gone way overboard seeking to identify the ten toes, but where else do we downplay the details in favor of broad meanings? In fact, how can we arrive at broad meanings without some understanding of the details?

I haven't heard it yet, but what I picked up at T4G and in the buzz about MacArthur's message is this is exactly what he is concerned about. I doubt that I would have been a fan of his message, but it is consistent, in my mind, for someone committed to detailed exposition of the text to treat prophetic literature with attention to the details of the text.

I am sure that we agree on this, but I am struggling to see how one can choose to exposit the theological statements in the seams while gliding over the context which gives those relevance.

Caveat: I recognize that Dever's style in survey sermons like this may necessarily call for the approach that he used, so my point isn't really about this specific sermon. It's about the idea of minimizing prophetic detail given in the text over against other portions of the text (which are apparently more God-centered[?]).

Bruce McKanna said...

Instead of arguing for or against a "literal" or "spiritual" hermeneutical method that one will then apply to every passage, perhaps we need to do more of the work in individual passages to defend why a particular detail is more or less likely to be literal or figurative.

Our methods should allow us to discover what the text is saying, not limit it to what our hermeneutic allows. When our hermeneutic becomes too controlling, it ends up functioning much in the same way that naturalism in biology has no room for supernatural creation. I believe an overly literal or literalistic hermeneutic ends up the same way: it's a closed system that can't allow for speaking in type, motif, theme, etc., when the Bible clearly does so without "spiritualizing."

Hear me-- when I say that our methods should allow us to discover what the text is saying rather than limit it to what our hermeneutic allows, I am affirming the fact that there is truth to be discovered. It's not wide-open "well, this is what this passage means to me" stuff. I'm just saying that taking everything absolutely literally isn't a shortcut to get at what the author meant. Unless, of course, the author was speaking literally. But then, our hermeneutic should help us figure that out, not make the decision for us beforehand.

Travis said...

I was at the T4G Conference last year when Dr. MacArthur brought up eschatological matters in the final Q & A. It seemed as if that topic was important to him, and evidently he has decided to approach the issue at his conference.

I agree with his position, and I'm not surprised that he has made such bold statements. He has always done this. I'm not in LA, and I've only read Challies notes; so I'll have to listen to the MP3 download.

I am surprised that he chose this event to make this statement. Especially with so many amillennialists on the docket.

Has this had a negative effect on the mood of the conference?

James Kime said...

Ben, I believe one should be dogmatic about eschatologically. As soon as that theological issue is minimized, there is no way to stop.

Just think of how many great truths in the NT are spoken of as existing now and in the future. So much of the bible is written eschatologically.

MacArthur was taking shots at amillenialism. Premillenialism itself is a pretty broad category. He didn't seem to imply one must agree with every issue possible. He did strongly advocate the overall framework of eschatology. I believe he is dead on. Amills are little more than slight of hand artists with eschatology.

Keith said...

"Slight of hand artists with eschatology." Unbelievable statement.

I have no problem with someone who is convinced that premillenialism is the truth, but to say that the seriously and exegetically convinced of amillenialists are slight of hand artists is just ridiculous.

Ryan DeBarr said...

Eschatology is at the root of many of the disagreements between Fundamentalism and New Evangelicalism. Perhaps that was one of MacArthur's reasons for bringing it up.

Or perhaps he just felt views other than pre-mil trib are false doctrines that need to be addressed. He is well known for writing books attacking other evangelical views- he's more Fundy than the Fundies give him credit for.

I wouldn't make an issue out of a person being a progressive dispensationalist or an amillenialist. I do think, however, that the pre-trib position is an atrocious interpretation of Scripture that does lead some people to ridiculous extremes. However, it's a sacred cow and I'm not sure how much is to be gained by fighting over it.

James Kime said...

Ryan, even amills believe in the doctrine that the Lord will return at any time. Pretrib folk simply understand the millenium issue as well. Nice drive-by though.

If amills could work through eschatology without the smoke and mirrors, they would be premill also.

Keith said...

Yeah, those premillers, you gotta say one thing for 'em, no smoke and mirrors there.

Oh, wait, how did those locust turn into hellicopters without any smoke and mirrors. How did the Soviet Union make its way into the book of Revelation without smoke and mirrors? And, for that matter, without smoke and mirrors how is the Soviet Union going to reemerge from its utter disintegration in order to reappear in the imminent 7-year tribulation?

Again, ridiculous.

Ryan DeBarr said...

Ryan, even amills believe in the doctrine that the Lord will return at any time. Pretrib folk simply understand the millenium issue as well. Nice drive-by though.

What are you talking about? From whence did you pull that? I never said anything to the contrary.

James Kime said...

Keith:

I would encourage you to study eschatology a bit. Locusts and helicopters? Stop reading left behind and hal lindsay. Read reputable people.

The way amills interact with premills is just sick. They have no substance so they poke at the silly little monkeys who are always making noice, like LaHaye and Lindsay. I wonder if premills only quoted catholics in the debate if amills would get testy.

Ryan:

You said, "I do think, however, that the pre-trib position is an atrocious interpretation of Scripture that does lead some people to ridiculous extremes."

If you would prefer me to not respond to what you said, fine. Please do not make it seem as though I just made it up though. Imminence (the Lord could come at any moment) is something pretribbers and amills both believe in. For you to call it atrocious also smacks amill theology. Hey, I am more than willing to do that.

Keith said...

James,

I would encourage you to study eschatology a bit. Smoke and mirrors? Stop reading whatever it is you're reading. Read some reputable people.

I'm fully aware that Lahaye and Lindsay are less than what you call "reputable" (interesting though that they are the most well known and read/watched, but I digress).

I'm also aware that there are some, if not many reputable premils out there. You may recall that in my initial post, I stated that I have no problem with honestly convinced premillenialists. In fact, one of my greatest heros, Francis Schaeffer, was a premillenialist.

I used the locusts/Soviet rhetoric on purpose because they are ridiculous in the same way your smoke and mirrors assertion is ridiculous.

You call the way amils deal with premils sick because they don't interact with substance, while you have given no substantive arguments against amillenialism. "Smoke and Mirrors" is not a silly little monkey, but it is also not substance.

Furthermore, regarding Catholics and amillenialism: Catholics being wrong about soteriology and ecclesiology doesn't make them wrong about everything -- For example, the Trinity and the deity/humanity of Christ, and maybe amillenialism.

James Kime said...

Keith, calm down.

This is amill interpretive skills summed up for you.

Behind this door, we have an ethnic jew. He is a descendant of Jacob, who was renamed Israel. This makes this person, a part of Israel.

Now, before your very eyes

*POOF*

*VOILA*

Now that gentile in the front row walks out of the magic box now a jew.

There it is. A little smoke, a few mirrors, and a bit of trickery and you have a summary of amill thinking.

Keith said...

I'm extremely calm. And, if that's your idea of substance, the amils have nothing to worry about.

James Kime said...

That is my point. Amills have no substance. All they can do is say that the church is now Israel. Since the church is spiritual, the land and other promises must be spiritual as well.

What is so bizarre about amills is that they are apparently unaware that covenant premills, posttrib premills, and others who see the church and Israel as the same but don't prostitute the millenium.

Try finding an amill who will explain who "the rest of the dead" are in Rev. 20:5.

Keith said...

James,

I'm not sure I understand your last post at all, but I'm fairly sure I disagree with it. Plenty of amils are quite familiar with all the other eschatological positions.

Regarding your "Poof" and "Voila", here are a few passages of Scripture that lead some to conclude that a “real” Jew is anyone who has real faith and that God’s promises were made to “real” Israel not biological Israel.

If someone wishes to interpret these passages differently, fine (within reason). However, don’t call the plain reading of these passages smoke and mirrors.

“A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.” (Romans 2: 28-29)

“So then, he [Abraham] is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” (Romans 4: 11-12)

“Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.” (Galatians 3:7)

“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:29)

“In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:11-12)

James Kime said...

Keith

I figured I would see those texts at some point.

Romans 2: 28-29:

Gentiles were brought in for comparison, not definition. Don't just regurgitate bad theology. Think through the text.

Romans 4: 11-12, Galatians 3:7, Galatians 3:29, Colossians 2:11-12:

None of those texts even hint that being a son of Abraham by faith made one a jew. EVEN HIS NATURAL SONS WERE NOT ALL CONSIDERED GOD'S PEOPLE. Are you not aware of the story of Ishmael or the many other sons after Isaac? They were not counted as jews.

Cheap parlor tricks don't go good with theology.

Ryan DeBarr said...

If you would prefer me to not respond to what you said, fine.

The problem is that you're "responding" to something I never said.


Please do not make it seem as though I just made it up though. Imminence (the Lord could come at any moment) is something pretribbers and amills both believe in.

What are you talking about?


For you to call it atrocious also smacks amill theology.

Huh? Most dispensationalist scholars don't believe in a secret Rapture. Dallas doesn't even teach it any more.

Bruce said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Benjamin said...

I seems that the comments are making my point better than I ever could have hoped the original post would.

Keith said...

Ben,

I agree with your original point and your most recent comment. Sorry for even trying to engage Mr. Kime.

My last comment in his regard is that, while I continue to respect a good many premils, and am more than open to the possibility that some form of premillenialism is what may actually occur, his type of premillenialism is one of the best advertisements for amillenialism.

I thought I made it clear that I was aware of other reasonable interpretations of the texts I quoted. Yet, my quotation of those Scriptures gets called a "cheap parlor trick." Once again, just ridiculous.

Keith said...

Oh, and I do still maintain that “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:29) AT LEAST hints that being a son of Abraham by faith makes one heir to the promise God made to Abraham.

James Kime said...

Keith, Keith, Keith. Follow the discussion better please.

Amills contend that the church is a continuation of Israel. Therefore promises to Israel are now the churches.

You quoted texts that supposedly prove this. I pointed out the correct view of those texts, and you whine about it.

Don't be mad if you are amill and I called your interpretation out. Sack up and demonstrate it is correct. So far you have offered nothing. Convince with the word.

Bruce said...

James,

Are you aware that the question of Israel and the Church is not a millennial issue? I would hold to a Historic Premillennial position, but my understanding of the texts cited above agree more with Keith than you.

You also seem to think that by stating your view, you have automatically refuted Keith’s position, and yet I don’t think you have really shown how your interpretation is superior. It seems that your interpretation is driven by your position on the continuing distinction between Israel and the Church, while Keith is trying to show that several verses could be seen to support a different understanding of this issue.

I’ll offer a couple more. In Romans 11, Paul describes Gentile believers as being grafted into the same tree as that of which unbelieving Jews were broken off (and of which future believing Jews are grafted back in). It seems that the new covenant people of God (the Church, made up of believing Jews and Gentiles) is not something fundamentally separate or different from the old covenant people of God (Israel: believing Jews, primarily).

Ephesians 2:11-22 describes how Christ radically alters the constitution of the people of God by making a way for the inclusion of believing Gentiles. Notice that Paul says the Gentiles once were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (v. 12). He goes on to say that now, through Christ, they have been “brought near” (13) and that Christ has “made us both one” (14), creating “one new man in place of the two” (15), that he might “reconcile us both to God in one body” (16). Here is 19-21 in full: “So then you [believing Gentiles] are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” This is not about racial or ethnic cooperation in the church. It is a description of the transforming effect of Christ’s sacrifice on the composition of the one covenant people.

If this is an incorrect interpretation, and please help me understand how. Remember that offering a different interpretation is not the same as offering a better one.

Keith said...

Amen Bruce, well written.

I've been accused of not following the discussion and of whining in defense of amillenialism. That doesn't bother me any. I clearly have not strongly advocated for or against a (seriously held) position, but merely stated that it is ridiculous to dismiss other serious eschatological views with terms like "smoke and mirrors", and "Poof and Voila."

Even so, you made the point better than I did when you wrote, "Offering a different interpretation is not the same as offering a better one." Or one might say, "Asserting that you have pointed out the correct interpretation of a text doesn't prove that you have."

Were I trying to prove that amillenialism is a better understanding than premillenialism, I would have to do a lot more than I have done. However, I haven't been trying to prove any such thing. I have merely been trying to establish that serious amils haven't pulled their view out of a hat any more than serious premils have.

James Kime said...

Call it whatever you want Keith, I do not share your uncertainty about eschatology.

Someone is right and someone is wrong. Premill and amill are exclusive of each other as systems. Would Paul or John have just overlooked the other view? I doubt it. Paul was ready to separate over issues of lessor importance (I use that loosely) than eschatology.

You may not like my dogmaticism about being premill, but then that is your issue to deal with.

Someone is right and someone is using magic tricks with the word. They are not both valid views.

Keith said...

James,

I already told Ben that I'd made my last comment to you. So, I don't want to continue on and on. It is his blog after all. Hopefully, though, he will allow me at least one postscript to you.

You continue to miss the point. Nowhere have I taken issue with anyone who possesses "certainty" about their eschatological position. I have no problem with anyone who is convinced that the Word teaches premillenialism, and I have repeatedly said so.

You also continue to demonstrate poor logic. The only two choices on the table are not "someone is right and someone is using magic tricks with the word." Yet, you have repeatedly engaged in this fallacy known as bifurcation or "the false dichotomy".

Just a few other possibilities would be: (1) neither of these positions are right and both are playing magic tricks, (2) neither of these positions are right, one is playing magic tricks and one is honestly mistaken, (3) one of these positions is right and one is honestly mistaken.

The apostles and the church in the New Testament were willing to take stands and even part ways over certain issues. However, they were also willing to treat one another seriously and compromise when such was right (see the Jerusalem Council).

Humble conviction in one's understanding of the Word is a thing to be desired. Illogical, dismissiveness is a thing to be avoided.

Ben said...

James,

I would like to see you interact seriously with Bruce's recent post, which by the way, I do not believe is in any way incompatible with pretribulational premillennialism (though Bruce has said he holds the historic premil position).