It’s the End of the World As We Know It – Why Eschatology? Part 3

16Jan12

What About All the “ologies?”

As we continue our discussion as to how eschatology impacts other facets of our worldview and belief system, we now turn to a discussion of the doctrinal, theological and ecclesiological issues. Where previously we discussed a more sociological impact, here we look at the more basic underpinnings of the different belief systems and how eschatology fits into and impacts those systems.

 

FRUIT BOWL THEOLOGY

Picture a large fruit ball. In that fruit bowl would be placed different fruits (doctrines) that make up ones theological system: hermeneutics, salvation, church discipline and government, Christology, covenants, creation, evangelism, providence, law, gospel, etc. But the bowl that holds these ideologies together must be the over-arching theme and basic, fundamental theological foundation. This is the primary presupposition that holds the system together.

For some in the Christian community I would argue the bowl that holds these items is the Sovereignty of God. God’s ultimate sovereignty over all things is the thread that runs throughout the entire Bible. It is also the primary focus of the teaching from pulpit and the words from the paper…even the lyrics of its worship.

Here eschatology is a doctrine that flows out of the sovereignty of God. It is one of many doctrines and theologies.

Some in the modern church have made that bowl itself – the thing with which the system is held together – eschatology. When that is the case just what does the system look like and how does eschatology act as the over-arching theme and basic presupposition of the system. And more importantly to our discuss, does it matter?

 

HERMENEUTICS

Hermeneutics is defined by the Bible Answerman, Hank Hannagraaf, as the art and science of Biblical interpretation. This simple definition describes one of the basic and most important standards. How does one know what the Bible is actually saying and how does ones eschatology impact how one reads the Bible?

How do we know what we are reading really means to say? Despite the best intentions NO ONE opens the Scripture with a blank sheet for a mind. Everyone has preconceived notions about the meaning of words, phrases, emphasis, etc. Knowledge of the context, the author, the audience and circumstances at the time are vitally important. With that in mind one must understand that differences in opinion on interpretive methods of Scripture are directly impacted by the presuppositions of the adherents.

One particular eschatological view may demand a more rigid, wooden, literal approach to Biblical interpretation. When Biblical authors speak of Israel it can only be defined as the nation residing in the Middle East and the people that can claim to be direct descendants of the Biblical figure Abraham.

Another eschatological view may allow for more figurative and image related interpretive methods. They may argue that context, language or literature styling should play a role in determining what something may mean, even if it appears to be different than how the same word or phrase is used elsewhere if the author of canon changes the meaning through its usage.

But how does eschatology impact the interpretive method? Sometimes obviously. Sometimes more subtly. A traditional Dispensationalist will see a distinct divide between the Old and New Testaments. And as we will see later in our study, this distinction impacts nearly every other major doctrinal category. In this view Israel can only mean Israel and those promises given to the Old Testament nation can only find their fulfillment with a new, reconstituted national Israel.

So, when one reads certain “buzz” words that seem to relate to their particular view of eschatology, they will always interpret that word in the same way regardless of context. One of the most obvious is the word “coming.” When the word coming is used in relation to Jesus many, if not most, will always interpret the event in question to be the literal, physical Second Coming of Jesus, despite the fact that several instances of the word “coming” that can, by no means, be related to that event. Other common phrase or words include; end of the age, last days, clouds, world and several more concepts that will be discussed over the next several chapters. Suffice it to say for our purposes that, yes, your eschatology will impact your hermeneutic and vice versa.

Another area this shows itself in the world of Biblical Hermeneutics (and I do not have space to go into detail here, but will in greater detail when we discuss the book of Daniel) is the adding of a parenthesis of time in Daniel 9. This unwarranted intrusion into the passage has nothing to do with “blank slate” exegesis leading to this conclusion, but rather starting with the preconceived necessity and making it fit the system. This intrusion or restriction is based solely on ones eschatological framework.

 

SALVATION

Though this is not true for many modern Dispensationalists, the more popular and traditional Dispensationalist do have differing forms of salvation in their theology. Charles Ryrie (who we will discuss in future chapters) and others may shout from the rooftops that it is not true and that Dispensationalism has always believed and taught that mankind was always saved by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, the following popular authors and theologians beg to differ with Ryrie’s declaration.

“…grace begins with the death and resurrection of Christ…The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation”  C I Scofield

“It can be said at once that His (Jesus’) dying was not God’s own plan. It was conceived somewhere else and yielded to by God…the plan is given in the Old Testament code…the tabernacle or temple, under prescribed regulations…” Lewis Sperry Chafer

This is sometimes called the Age of the Church, or the Church period. The characteristic of this age is that salvation is no longer by legal obedience, but by the personal acceptance of the finished work of Jesus Christ, who by his meritorious ministry has procured for us a righteousness of God’.”  William Evans

“A distinction must be observed here between just men of the Old Testament and those justified according to the New Testament. According to the Old Testament men were just because they were true and faithful in keeping the Mosaic Law. … Men were therefore just because of their own works for God whereas New Testament justification is God’s work for man in answer to faith” Lewis Sperry Chafer

I would hope that anyone with even the most elementary understanding of salvation by grace through faith would see the great potential heresy being promoted by the above concept. But it should also be noted that the above views are consistent with a particular hermeneutic supported and promoted by a particular eschatological view.

The distinction described at the beginning of this section shows itself here again by juxtaposing a different form of salvation for the Old Testament Saint and New Testament adherents. As a result there is a different resurrection for the Old and New Testament saints as well, which will be discussed in detail in later chapters.

Again, this is just to show that ones eschatology and the underpinnings and presuppositions of a particular view do have great impact even on the view of salvation.

 

APOLOGETICS

Bertrand Russell, the famed atheist, made some very strong arguments in the 20th century regarding the validity of Christ’s claims to deity when he pointed out that clearly Jesus believed (and taught) that he would return within a generation. Russell argued that Jesus either didn’t return and was a liar/false prophet or that He didn’t really know if He would return which means He wasn’t God as well. This put those who debated Russell on the horns of a dilemma. The apologist must make cogent and clear arguments as to where Russell is wrong.

If one takes the position that Matthew 24 and the Olivet Discourse is about the literal, physical Second Coming of Jesus he has the most difficult time dealing with the plain meaning of the text and struggles making his case. Either way, his apologetic is compromised.

One of the most powerful weapons in the Christian apologist’s arsenal is that of fulfilled prophecies. If the word of God proclaims that something was to happen in advance and it did just as it proclaimed, the apologist has strong ammunition against the Word’s opponents. If, on the other hand, the writer’s of the Old and New Testaments and Jesus Himself can be shown to be in error regarding a promised prophetic pronouncement, than all of Scripture is in doubt.

 

THE LAW

If the distinction between the Old and New Testaments remains consistent then how one views the law of the Old Testament can be greatly affected. If the Law is only for Old Testament Israel (as the claim is made) than the New Testament Church member has no obligation to follow it. Only if one sees salvation wrapped up in following of the Old Testament ordinances (as shown earlier) is there any trouble reconciling these issues. The Reformed reader can see the Old Testament Law differently and realize its value for both the Old Testament and New Testament Saints.

This problem has lead many to claim that only those laws repeated in the New Testament are valid for today and the New Testament saint is required to obey only them. Here in lies another dilemma. As Gary North has pointed out in his book, 75 Bible Questions Your Instructor Prays You Won’t Ask, the prohibition on sex with animals (bestiality) IS NOT repeated in the NT.

 

ETHICS

Since our morality and ethics are to be derived from Scripture, if we are to – like above – abrogate the Old Testament law to a different economy, then we are hard pressed to find an over-arching, full-orbed ethical standard. We may be told to love one another, but without the law we may not know how or why that loves works out in actual practice.

Thomas Ice in his famous debate at BIOLA University with Gary DeMar argued that is was his eschatology that gave him his ethical standard (remember the fruit bowl mentioned above?). So, the ethical standard is derived by the notion of a soon coming eschatological event (the Rapture, etc) rather than the Law of God. This is at least consistent argumentation.

But one may ask how that actually plays out in “real life.”

What did that mean? Well, perhaps you were once told that you should not see an “R” rated movie. When you asked why, you may have been told something akin to, “You don’t want to be sitting in that movie theatre watching that R Rated movie when the rapture takes place and that was the last thing you were doing on Earth!”

I actually have heard that argument as a child and it seemed plausible given my eschatological framework, but notice that the ethic is derived from the eschatology, not from the Biblical standard. This again is as a result of the fierce dichotomy between the Old and New testaments. And when questioned further as to what standard would this person use to make the claim that the R rated movies were “wrong” to begin with and that you would or should be ashamed to have been doing it when Christ returned, they are still caught having to appeal to that which they deny has authority, the Old Testament law.

One could possibly point to Paul and his prohibitions on certain actions and activities which are clearly found in the New Testament, but Paul had to point to the Old Testament Law to make his case originally. Even given that, one could demand a thorough explanation as to which things were right and wrong and the New Testament by itself simply does not have the exhaustive list nor is there enough for “General Equity” of the New Testament Law to suffice exclusively. Appeal to the Old Testament for an ethic is inevitable.

Ultimately in this section I want to show that ones eschatology will impact their ethics and standards, even though I would also argue many are very inconsistent in this manner and still embrace the law to some extent all the while they deny that the law has any consistent authority over the New Testament believer.

 

THE CHURCH

Like most of the above the impact ones eschatology has on your view of the Church can be traced to the distinction many have created within the pages of Holy Writ. Some claim the Church was a mistake, a Plan B of sorts, a complete unknown and not in the original complete and perfect plan of God Almighty. This shows itself most often in the Church/Israel distinction which will be a matter of great importance later in our discussions.

So, rather than tackle that weighty issue I will simply discuss one view of the Church in two ways. First is to see the Church as important and as a covenant body and two, what is the future for the Church.

Because of the aforementioned distinction, many have argued that the Church is not vital or important, that worship is individualized and God’s relationship with mankind is individualized, not corporate, and, most notable, the Kingdom of God is postponed and the Church’s future is bleak.

On the other side of the coin are those who say that God deals covenantally with the Church (both the elect and non-elect members). This leads to a view where worship is corporate and regulated (by His word), God’s dealings with men are covenantal through families and that the Church is the Kingdom of God as expressed in the present age.

These differing views also can lead to differing views on the sacraments, church discipline, worship methods, emphasis on preaching or teaching and quite a bit more. Again, what is important here is that these differences come about as a result of the underlying system found in particular eschatology’s.

Finally, and for those who stick around long enough (and most importantly to me) is how eschatology impacts how one views the future of the Church. Is that future paved with misery, deceit, failure and pessimism? Is the world going to hell in a hand basket with Church falling right in line? Will the Bride that Jesus returns for be bloodied, bruised, dirty and ashamed?

Will the gates of Hell prevail?

So, why eschatology? Hopefully the reader has discovered in these few pages that ones eschatology does have an overall impact of much of our Christian and secular lives, by that I mean eschatology impacts our lives, both in and out of the Church.

Eschatology is important and it is worth the pain and strain in studying and understanding this seemingly difficult subject. But it is not a subject to be treaded upon lightly. There must be grace and patience and a willingness to learn and, if needed, make paradigm shifts in our understanding and embrace what is true.

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