Thursday, February 11, 2010

On Premillennialists and Our Canards . . . Again

I didn't intend for this to be a series (here's the first post), but here's part two: I received a partial transcript of a sermon on Revelation 20 recently preached by a dispensational premillennialist pastor. In reference to those who don't read Revelation 20 as a literal 1000 year reign, he said . . .
You have to tamper with every hermeneutical principle that takes anything seriously related to any kind of timing and just sort of chuck that out. God probably isn’t serious. Do you really want to tamper with God’s references to time periods? The book of Revelation tells us that Heaven lasts forever; do you want to mess with that? God probably isn’t serious—that’s such a long time.

Now, for the record, there are other views. I don’t want to put you to sleep but let me give them to you: Amillennialism is the view that the church simply inherited the promises of the kingdom and Christ is simply ruling in our hearts and there will be no literal 1000 year reign. You take passages like Revelation 20 and say “That’s just a nice idea. It's spiritual, it’s some sort of metaphysical truth and um and these prophecies must be taken figuratively instead of literally.”

Enough of that view. The view that we're talking about is taking prophecies at face value and we believe that those prophecies of Christ’s first coming happened physically and literally. Why not prophecies of his second coming? You have to put your hands over your eyes, close up your ears in order to somehow discount it all.
Now, I agree in principle with the pastor's analogy between prophecies about the first and second coming. But I'm a bit surprised that he would overlook the obvious presence of imagery in prophetic books, particularly apocalyptic texts. So here are my questions for anyone out there who thinks his argument makes sense:

Surely you take all the prophetic imagery in Revelation literally, right? Surely not just the timing! You believe God is really serious, don't you? I mean, Jesus is a lamb with seven heads and seven horns wearing a sash and a long robe with a sword coming out of its mouth, right? Oh and this lamb is somehow a lion too. Maybe somebody can explain to me how that all works . . . literally. But obviously, if you don't want to tamper with time periods, you must not want to tamper with how God describes his own Son! Right? That's kind of a big deal, isn't it? God's serious about Jesus, isn't he?

Brothers and sisters, let's not pretend that one millennial view or one hermeneutic has the corner on "literalism." (And if it did, let's not pretend that would be a virtue.) And let's certainly not pretend that one approach has the corner on taking God seriously. I hope we all realize, by now, that's certainly not true.

Or do we need still more evidence of things not worth saving?

32 comments:

Larry said...

Surely you take all the prophetic imagery in Revelation literally, right?

Isn't the answer yes, that we take it as imagery? That is the literal understanding.

I guess I fail to understand why "literal" means that we take imagery as anything other than imagery. The literal meaning of imagery is imagery, and I think that has been pretty consistently defined that way among premillennialists (though we shouldn't be tagged with all the foolishness of those who have said some dumb things).

Typically, the definition of "literal" involves taking things as they were intended, including imagery as imagery, etc. "Literal" never involved taken imagery as something else, did it? (I mean among people who know what they are talking about.)

Along the lines of Kevan in Revelation and the Bible, pp. 293-94.

ben said...

Larry,

I think we'd have to agree that the usage of "literal" varies depending on context. So I don't necessarily disagree that imagery can and should be interpreted literally (in the sense you mean), but it's also common for "literal" to be set in opposition to "figurative," as the speaker does in the quote I provided. Aren't imagery and symbolism figurative language?

So to rephrase my point in the context of your comment, here's what I'd say: Amillennialists and premillennialists would agree that we should take imagery as imagery, symbolism as symbolism, and (I don't know what the technical word would be) plain language as plain language. So in Leviticus a lamb is a lamb and in Revelation the Lamb is Jesus. Nobody has a problem with that.

The implication is that the argument in texts like Revelation 20 is really over what constitutes imagery. I'll argue that amils are wrong in their conclusion, but it's either ignorant, dishonest, or irresponsible to insinuate that they don't take the text seriously.

Anonymous said...

Amen Ben. Except that Amils are correct in their conclusion.

Keep up the good work.

Keith

James Kime said...

Premills recognize imagery as a form that exists, and take it for what it is.

We also recognize that in Revelation, different, specific time frames are used:

10 days
time times and half a time
42 months
about half an hour
1000 years

What justification is there for thinking that any of those specific time frames are anything other than specific time frames? Does the amill say that they all just represent a short time, a long time, or what? Why does it have to not mean what it says? This is the problem for the amill. Inevitably, their conclusion on when to take something as literal or at face value is based on a predetermined conclusion that those numbers cannot possibly mean what they say. It is circular reasoning at its worst.

brian said...

Specific numbers do not necessarily imply specific time frames. The context controls the figures.

Similarly, a specific number of 144,000 doesn't necessarily imply that specific amount of inidviduals. I think the context would suggest that 144,000 is a figurative way of sayiing: "a multitude that no one can count".

You may not agree with that interpretation of Rev. 7, but would you still firmly believe there will be exactly 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes? Could it be that those are figurative numbers in any way?

James Kime said...

While that may be true, John also uses general time frames in Revelation. To lump it all together as general time frames is baseless and irresponsible.

Ben, the alexandrian school specifically moved away from the literal method of the antioch school. Clemente of Alexandria, Origen, then of course Augustine. It was a specific move away from literalism by the implementation of philosophy as the means of understanding scripture.

If amills are literal as well, it isn't a premill canard. It is an amill failure to be consistent.

brian said...

I'm not sure you give a reason (base) for your comment that their interpretation of these numbers is "baseless". The interpretation of any symbol or number in Revelation is determined by its context within the book of Revelation itself, and of course withing the whole of the Bible. Its interpretation is not based on the specificity of the symbol itself (what kind of head, how many horns, etc.)


My personal experience, limited as it is, in reading Dispensational Premils vs. Historic Premils and Amils is that the latter group tends to wrestle more with the broader context around the symbols, and less with "baseless" conjecture as to what each symbol might represent.

Feel free to disagree with their hermeneutic, but please don't stereotype them as relying upon philosophy over scripture. That's the same argument I heard about Calvinism for years, yet the Calvinists were the ones always pointing to scripture, while the Arminians relied heavily on a rational understanding of free will.

James Kime said...

Brian, in the "broader context" of the book of Revelation, John uses both general time frames and also specific time frames. The amills make them all generalized.

So, the ones who wrestle with the larger context, supposedly, have some rational reason to make all the specific time reference into general ones, is that what you are saying?

On the contrary, John is using specific time references used elsewhere in scripture, indicating that certain events were still future. For example, Daniel said the little horn is given 42 months. John says the same thing about the beast. If 10 days is a short time, and 1000 years is supposedly a long time, what on earth is 42 months? What is 3.5 years?

As for philosophy, it is a wellknown fact of history that that is exactly what happened with the alexandrian school. It isn't some charge lobbed their way hoping to cause damage. It is what it is.

brian said...

I'll try to answer your question two ways, both form Rev 12.

The simple answer is: Amills and H. Premills seem to have evidence in the symbols themselves that 3.5 years may very well be an unspecified period of time. In other words, John can refer to the time period as 1260 days (12:6), or as a time, times, and a half time (12:14). One specific, one more general. That doesn't mean it MUST be an unspecified period; I'm merely saying their argument is not unreasonable.

Second, and a little longer answer: Revelation 12, from the perspective of some Amills and H. Premills is talking about Satan trying to destroy Christ and his church. After failing to devour the one who would rule the world (since that one, Jesus, was caught up to the throne of God), the dragon goes after the woman and her children in the wilderness for 1260 days. They read woman and her children as the "church" (and maybe even as Israel and the church) based on the context of Revelation, and on the context of scripture. Thus, they see 1260 days as the unspecified time of tribulation on the church after Jesus' ascension.

Of course you can label that as circular reasoning. They base their interpretation of Revelation 12 and its symbols on how they interpret other passages. But then we can say the same about a Dispensationalist hermeneutic. But to say either one is baseless and unwarranted is, I think, the problem Ben is addressing.

But what if the lady and her children of Revelation 12 are the same as the elect lady and her children that John addresses in 2 John 1? It may or may not be, but at least that's an argument which fits the context of scripture, and it's neither baseless nor unreasonable.

Of course, we could turn this comment thread into hurling evidence from both sides at the other. There's more to go around from both sides (hence the centuries of debate). But this shouldn't be a debate over eschatology. Rather, I'm simply trying to demonstrate that to label Amill arguments as "baseless" is itself, unfounded.

James Kime said...

Brian, the amills argue that the 1000 years of Rev 20 stands for that same thing then. So for John, 1000 years = 1260 days. Like you said though, taking the church as the woman which gives birth to Christ (setting history aside obviously), then sure, number can truly mean anything.

So if you want to say that their base of doing things is circular reasoning, then fine. I just assumed no one wanted to credit circular reasoning as a legitimate way to understand scripture.

I actually think that the amills start with the premise of supersessionism and work backwards. Therefore the woman can't be Israel. Therefore the time frame must be general. Therefore time references that are specific are crammed into a predetermined view. At least that is consistent.

But as to Ben's original post, it isn't a canard to say the amills aren't literal. It was something they claimed from the beginning in the alexandrian school. Why don't amills today simply say they don't want to be literalists? Why put one foot in the water?

Anonymous said...

"I actually think that the amills start with the premise of supersessionism and work backwards."

Well if you think so, then it must be so. No need to actually listen to what the real live amils actually have to say on the matter is there?

Keith

James Kime said...

Keith, I have studied the writings of amills past and present. Have you?

ben said...

James,

Obviously, I have no interest in carrying on conversations about books you've read and what those amils say. I suppose you similarly have no interest in the amils I know and what they say.

So let me ask you one question: Would you identify yourself with the comments quoted in the post? Do you think that's a helpful way to teach a congregation?

James Kime said...

Ben, I don't think it is helpful to teach that way. I understand where that guy is coming from, but he doesn't explain why the amill does that. He just states that they do. To the person who is new or relatively unlearned at least with the theories, they might wonder why amills are literal about everything but prophecy. I think that is poor teaching and misrepresentation.

I think it is easy enough to show why amills are wrong, lobbing grenades isn't the way to go about it.

I do not say the amill is stupid or ignorant. It isn't an intelligence issue. I think amills truly believe their position too. It isn't an intentional strike at God's faithfulness.

The kind of argumentation the guy used reminds me of what KJVO types do. "Now we believe that God's word is true. The modern (per)version users believe the lie of Satan."

Anonymous said...

"Keith, I have studied the writings of amills past and present. Have you?"

Yes.

I've also learned about amillenialism in person from real live human beings who actually hold the position, have studied it at the graduate level, and can talk about it and explain what they mean and why they mean it.

You, on the other hand, seem to have an axe to grind. You seem to have done your studies as an anti-amillenial polemicist. You approach your interaction with amillenialism from that vantage point -- you are out to discover and prove where it is wrong. You don't demonstrate that you are trying to understand where the amillenialists are really coming from.

You also like to highlight seemingly outrageous statements by Augustine and Luther and Calvin and argue that these statements invalidate any and all covenant theology or amillenialism. This argument is fallacious -- the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Beyond that, though, do you really want those of us who are not dispensational to start quoting Lewis Sperry Chafer and C.I. Scofield back to you and holding you accountable for every crazy thing they ever said?

Keith

ben said...

And yet, Keith, wouldn't you have to say that an anti-amillennialist polemicist's repudiation of the premil pastor's statement is helpful? I mean, it's pretty damning of the sort of mischaracterizations I cite.

James Kime said...

Keith, I too have sat under real live amills with doctorates from seminaries at the top of the list. Does that surprise you? I have also studied the modern writings of Riddlebarger, Storms, and others. I have personally emailed and blogged with them. I have studied the eschatology of the reformation, the dark ages, and the church fathers, including Augustine, Origen, and Clement of Alexandria. I don't know if that satisfies your demands for awareness of amill theology or not.

You see, I was once one of those guys who would have cheered that preacher on for giving it to the amills. It wasn't until I did the research to find out why amills do what they do that it began to make sense.

Now, when I teach on this issue, I do explain where they are coming from. It isn't a desire to be flippant with scripture.

"You also like to highlight seemingly outrageous statements by Augustine and Luther and Calvin and argue that these statements invalidate any and all covenant theology or amillenialism."

I was only scratching the surface. Would you prefer premills leave these guys out of the discussion? If amill theology is really the true position handed down through the apostles, the catholic church, the gnostics, and the reformers, these guys' statements should be celebrated. Luther and Calvin were really just parroting Augustine anyway. Luther had a little more antagonism in him than Augustine did though.

"Beyond that, though, do you really want those of us who are not dispensational to start quoting Lewis Sperry Chafer and C.I. Scofield back to you and holding you accountable for every crazy thing they ever said?"

Right, because amills never do that. Scofield and Chafer are never used by amills to attack dispensationalism.

I am very grateful for one of my profs in particular who was amill. He really caused me to examine why I believe what I believe. There is alot of traditional dispensationalism I would scrap and love to drive a wrecking ball through.

Anonymous said...

"wouldn't you have to say that an anti-amillennialist polemicist's repudiation of the premil pastor's statement is helpful?"

Yes, Ben, absolutely. I appreciate what you are tyring to do on this topic, and I believe that you've accomplished the goal of your original post quite admirably.

Thanks.

Keith

Anonymous said...

"There is alot of traditional dispensationalism I would scrap and love to drive a wrecking ball through."

Why? If dispensationalism is really the true position -- lost or neglected by the church for far too long -- shouldn't Chafer's and Scofield's statements be celebrated?

Why should you be allowed to abandon some of the arguments/positions of traditional dispensationalism when you won't allow modern day amillenialists to do that with previous presentations/arguments for amillenialism?

A couple of other thoughts:

(1) "I don't know if that satisfies your demands for awareness of amill theology or not."

I didn't say anything about "awareness" of amil theology. What I said was that there is a difference between gaining an awareness about something and actually learning that something from the inside with a sympathetic, as opposed to a polemic, stance.

(2) "If amill theology is really the true position handed down through the apostles, the catholic church, the gnostics, and the reformers . . ."

Either you mistakenly included the gnostics in this list, or you haven't really gotten to know modern day amills like you claim to. Reformed, covenantal, amills are generally very much anti-gnostic. In fact, even that worst of amil offenders himself, Augustine, was an anti-gnostic. The Manichees, which he repudiated, were one of many gnostic sects.

(3) "Scofield and Chafer are never used by amills to attack dispensationalism."

The question isn't whether anyone has done this. The question is, does undermining these guys undermine dispensationalism? If your answer is no, then why not? Might it be because post hoc arguments are invalid?

Keith

James Kime said...

Well I think you and I are once again going beyond Ben's original post. The point I desire to make is that it is not a canard to accuse amills of being nonliteralists. It was the intention of the earliest amills to do that very thing. Strangely enough, you should look up what Origen did take literal. Odd fella. It must have hurt. Here is one quote about the Alexandrian method:

"In sharp contrast to Latin theologians such as Tertullian, Alexandrian Christians viewed Greek philosophy as a useful means for interpreting and sharing their faith."

Keith,

I don't find any virtue in studying everything from a sympathetic view. Paul at the areopagus used poets of their day but certainly wasn't sympatheic to them. I don't need to be sympathic toward the Jehovah Witnesses about their antitrinitarian views to understand their position. Perhaps awareness didn't fully express myself. I don't see the point in arguing it further though.

"Why? If dispensationalism is really the true position -- lost or neglected by the church for far too long -- shouldn't Chafer's and Scofield's statements be celebrated?"

Because, dispensationalism is a structural system. There is no consensus on every point. This is why even progressive DT can still be in the DT camp. I said I would love to destroy some of the traditional dt points.

I don't have any problem stating that DT wasn't systematized until recently. That doesn't disprove it or prove it. Alot of the earliest writings were not systematized.

Amill on the other hand claims to be the original position going all the way back. Its advocates claim that it is the historic position. Why is it that the recent amill guys get to change the historic system? Is there an amill view and a progressive amill view? So 1950 years of amill theology now all the sudden needs to be updated and modified?

"The question isn't whether anyone has done this. The question is, does undermining these guys undermine dispensationalism? If your answer is no, then why not?"

Scofield and Chafer were just two guys. Their systematics are their attempts to put together the basics of DT. Unlike amills, DT has no popes to declare their view to be the only acceptable. DT is a structure big enough for traditional and progressive to exist. Chafer and Scofield understood it a certain way. Even their most famous followers didn't agree on everything, Walvoord, Ryrie, and Pentecost. All I say to this is that they laid a generally good foundation that still required work on the specifics. Again, the church fathers didn't systematize eschatology very well. We have to take their views though and try to get a better understanding.

You tell me where Luther, Calvin and Augustine did not faithfully represent amill theology. You calling Augustine the worst offender of amill is bizarre. He is the guy who did systematize it and popularize it. The catholic church continued it and so did the reformers. Where do amills disagree with Augustine?

James Kime said...

Keith, you also said:

"Either you mistakenly included the gnostics in this list, or you haven't really gotten to know modern day amills like you claim to. Reformed, covenantal, amills are generally very much anti-gnostic. In fact, even that worst of amil offenders himself, Augustine, was an anti-gnostic."

This is a much bigger discussion than intended. No I did not mistake it. Gnostics and gnosticism took different forms. One that they took was the platonic dualism. Material = sinful, immaterial = holy. Augustine and Origen decried the carnalism and materialism of the chiliasts. Their expectation of an earthly kingdom was just so disgusting and base. Since the alexandrian school adopted the philosophy to help interpret scripture model, their own neoplatonic dualism is seen as well. Augustine, an early chiliast, grew to despise such a material kingdom. He thought it unholy. The kingdom was spiritual to him. So spiritual in fact that it did not have the base earthly aspect. So not gnostic in the quest for eternal knowledge and psychobabble, but gnostic all the same in adopting their platonic dualism.

Something else is that Irenaeus argued for premillennialism as proof that the gnostics were wrong. He lived a bit closer to them than we do.

Tell me Keith, have you ever heard or read any amills today who are too spiritual for the carnalism or materialism of premillennialism? Google it and let me know what you find.

Anonymous said...

"have you ever heard or read any amills today who are too spiritual for the carnalism or materialism of premillennialism? Google it and let me know what you find."

Google what?

As to your point, though, I'd say that I've experienced the exact opposite of what you seem to be saying. It is generally the dispensational premils who are most likely to exhibit a functional dualism: Don't drink, don't smoke, go into "full time Christian service" (which means missions or the pastorate). Covenant Amils, on the other hand, generally embrace all of life as a good gift of God: Have a beer, all vocations are full time Christian service to the Christian, etc.

Oh, and my bit about Augustine being the worst offender . . . that was sarcasm.

Keith

Anonymous said...

"Because, dispensationalism is a structural system. There is no consensus on every point."

Same is true of Reformed amil and postmil. That's what you seem to not be willing to accept.

Yes, amil folks will often point out that the dispensational premil system cannot be found back in history. which is, well, true.

They will often point out that amil (and historic premil) can be found farther back in history. Which is, again, true.

Such unarguably true statements are not the same thing as saying, "And, the ancient amils got every detail correct."

Amils don't need a "progressive amil" school the way dispensationalists need a progressive dispensational school, because most amils assume that there will be clarifications and development in theology.

Keith

Anonymous said...

"Scofield and Chafer were just two guys."

Augustine, Luther, and Calvin were just three guys -- really awesome guys, but just guys nonetheless. And, none of them was ever Pope.

"Where do amills disagree with Augustine?

Well, reformed amils disagree with the remnants of neo-platonism in his thinking.

"gnostic all the same in adopting their platonic dualism."

Platonism was not dualism. It was idealism. Yes, the ideal was immaterial, so Plato -- and Augustine through the neo-platonists -- did devalue the material world. Plato was in search of "the one." Dualism, on the other hand claims that there are two equally ultimate powers or gods -- the good/light and the bad/dark ("Come to the dark side Luke"). These two very different foundations often led to similar behaviors -- but for very different reasons. Augustine saw through the dualism of the gnostic Manichees. He also recognized that Platonism was not Christianity. However, he did not fully escape the prevailing intellectual atmosphere of his time (just like we don't fully escape ours). Which means that Augustine wasn't right about everything. And, it also means that he didn't always have the best rationale for even some of the things that he was right about.

Keith

Marv said...

To a large extent "taking it literally" is missing the point in the Millennarian vs. Amillennarian discussion of Rev. 20. This is the account of a vision. IN THE VISION Christ returns, sets up rule and is said to contiue for 1000 years. Whether this vision prophesies a literal 1000 years is not the most important question. What is the vision getting at by picturing a long reign over the nations after the second coming. The standard Amil treatment suggesting the vision starts over at 20:1 with the FIRST coming is swimming so hard against the current of the textual indicies that you really HAVE to have an a priori commitment to it in order to take it that way. Or such is my opinion anyway.

ben said...

James,

1. Isn't there a big difference hermeneutically between Augustine and Luther and especially Calvin? Or is my memory just imploding?

2. "DT is a structure big enough for traditional and progressive to exist."

That one cracked me up. Not as far as the traditionals I know are concerned! I was always taught (by the real traditionals) that it's the first step on the slippery slope to full-blown CT (and its inevitable progression, liberalism).

Keith wrote: "Amils don't need a "progressive amil" school the way dispensationalists need a progressive dispensational school."

Isn't NCT functionally similar to PD? I mean, we can argue who gets what right and wrong, but it seems as though NCT is doing similar things to CT that PD is doing to TD.

Anonymous said...

"Isn't NCT functionally similar to PD? I mean, we can argue who gets what right and wrong, but it seems as though NCT is doing similar things to CT that PD is doing to TD."

You are probably right Ben. I really haven't spent much time at all with the NCT.

My point though wasn't that there will never be named revisions within covenantalism. My point was that the regular ole vanilla covenantalists I know don't see any need to totally defend or totally abandon Augustine, etc. just because we don't agree on every point or rationale. We don't think along the "slippery slope" lines you've so acurately described as characteristic of the traditional dispensationalists.

Keep up the good work.

Keith

ben said...

Keith, maybe . . . maybe not. I can't document anything, but I've seen hard-line CT people ripping NCT people to shreds over their slippery-slope compromise.

James Kime said...

Keith, google premillennialism and carnal/materialism and see if you can find any amills who still think along those dualistic lines. That is what I meant.

Ben,

1. As far as supersessionism is concerned, the differences would be so minimal as to probably not even register that way. Like I said though, Luther might have been the most antagonistic about it.

2. I know who it is you are talking about, the traditionalists who fear change, I mean the slippery slope. It is true that PD makes some horrible concessions. However, none of them ruin or destroy DT. Even if it did though, why is anyone's allegiance to preserve a system? Isn't the allegiance supposed to be to truth? If the system needs to be alterned or leveled, so be it.

As for NCT, many CTers are on record against this movement. It isn't correct though to say that NCT is an update or revision of CT. The only thing I find in NCT that comes from CT is, yep, you guessed it, the predominantly supersessionist mentality.

CTers dislike NCT because most of the people in NCT used to be in CT.

Anonymous said...

"Keith, maybe . . . maybe not. I can't document anything, but I've seen hard-line CT people ripping NCT people to shreds over their slippery-slope compromise."

Ben, in all sincerity, I'll take your word for it.

In my circles this NCT is a non-issue. Never discussed. Not agreed with or disagreed with. I guess I'll have to look into it.

If NCT makes changes to the essence of historic covenant theology, then I truly have no doubt that some covenantalists will rip into it.

I know that you know this, but we should mention it anyway, that even though they were amil Augustine and Luther were not necessarily covenantalists.

Back to my point though . . . I was merely trying to say that reformed amils don't claim to believe everything that Augustine, Luther, and Calvin believed. And, simultaneously, they don't feel a need to repudiate them or abandon everything they believed.

I don't think we have a fundamental disagreement here. Sorry if I'm being unclear.

Keith

d4v34x said...

hahaha all you guys and your pd and n/ct and td. i got one thing to say: p to the e to the van gel cal!

peace out

d4v34x said...

Boy. That was really bad. Sorry.