Nov 15, 2008

Consensus?

My friend asked an insightful question several days ago:

Hi Dan.
I happen to know :)that you grew up in a church where pre-trib was canonized in the church's statement of faith and that you went to a seminary that is solidly in that camp. And yet I also perceive that many younger evangelical scholars are moving away from a strong pre-trib position, or are at least sympathetic to other views/system. I'd be interested in any thoughts/evaluation you have on where you see the evangelical church headed on this doctrine. Will we always be so splintered or is there some consensus emerging in the near future?

First some background. I grew up in an Independent church that was strongly influenced by the Dispensational tradition. One of the many theological distinctives of this tradition is that it holds to a belief that the Bible teaches that Christ will return to earth before he rules on earth for a thousand years (Premillennialism).

More particularly, this tradition has emphasized that the Bible teaches that the church will be removed from the earth before a seven-year period of intense suffering known as the “Tribulation.” This view is the Pre-tribulational view referenced above by my friend. The timing of these “end-times” events has been a point of contention to the point of bickering and division within certain streams of evangelicalism. As an earlier generation of conservative evangelicals watched mainline denominational institutions succumb to liberalism, these finer points of eschatology became the outer wall of defense against liberal inroads. The second president of the seminary from which I graduated (Dallas Theological Seminary) even pointed this out in print, commenting that he had never met a liberal who believed in the pre-tribulational rapture (my paraphrase). One of several litmus tests for conservative dispensational theology, the timing of these eschatological events was and is included in the doctrinal statement of the Seminary as well as in the doctrinal statements of many of the churches of similar tradition.

My friend perceives that the tradition may be softening on some of the finer points, at least to the point of sympathetic dialogue with others who hold different views. I think he’s right. In fact, Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has documented this emerging consensus in evangelical theology (at least at the scholarly level) in his The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective.

This is not doctrinal erosion down a slippery slope toward liberalism. It is a shift in emphasis in the discussion of eschatology. Instead of working so arduously with high levels of certainty on figuring out the timing of end-times events, evangelical camps who historically have been at odds are spending more time discussing the points at which we agree. I think it’s good. In the past we spent so much effort charting the end of the world, that we eclipsed the main focus of eschatology (the return of the resurrected Lord, the resurrection of the dead, judgment, the renewal of the earth, and the eternal reign of Christ).

The overemphasis of fine points has also led (I think) to an apathetic attitude from people who are rightly “tired of the fight,” to the point that they too are ignoring the main focus of eschatology (perhaps best illustrated by the self proclaimed “Pan-millennialist” who believes, “It will all pan out in the end.”). The knee-jerk that removes all statements of eschatology from church doctrinal statements is not wise. The hope of our faith is grounded in revealed truth that the faithful will be raised from the dead and vindicated by the risen Lord.

My professors are working hard to keep “the main thing the main thing,” while properly and humbly prioritizing the finer points of eschatological timetables. As Christians we have a robust hope. The last enemy, Death, has been conquered by the risen Christ. Since He is alive, then He is coming back. Since His body came back to life, so will our bodies. He will judge and He will reign. The faithful are strengthened by this hope to persevere through their sufferings while participating in His redemptive action by spreading the Gospel, caring for physical needs, tending the earth, etc.

Great question, Philip. I hope and pray that we will not always be so splintered. The doctrinal statements will not likely be revised any time soon. But I think the eschatological emphases of many evangelicals are better mirroring the emphases of the Scriptures. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

3 comments:

Short and Stout said...

I appreciate your statements with one correction located toward the end..."if He is alive, He will return" should read "since He is alive, He will return." To the lay person reading the article, "if" casts some doubt as to His current state of existence.
d.kauffman

The Blossers said...

Thanks!

Irv said...

Interesting. You all might enjoy visiting Google and typing in "Pretrib Rapture Diehards," "Pretrib Rapture Desperados," "Thomas Ice (Bloopers)," "Thomas Ice (Hired Gun)," "America's Pretrib Rapture Traffickers," "Walvoord's Posttrib Varieties - Plus," "Appendix F: Thou Shalt Not Steal," "Revisers of Pretrib Rapture History," "Pretrib Hypocrisy," "X-Raying Margaret," "Roots of (Warlike) Christian Zionism," "Letter from Mrs. Billy Graham," "Scholars Weigh My Research," and "Deceiving and Being Deceived." And don't overlook the bestselling book THE RAPTURE PLOT (see Armageddon Books) by the same writer. Irv