Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How to Survive As an Eschatological Agnostic

I was once at a Christian bookstore with a fellow pastor, because we were about to attend a rousing debate on the openness of God. As we were burning time, we bought some coffee at the bookstore and decided to take a look around. At this point we took part in a favorite pastoral past-time, recommending books. At the time I was preaching through the book of Revelation, and I pointed out a book edited by Steve Gregg. It is a commentary on Revelation that lists each of the four main views on the book (Historicist, Preterist, Futurist, Idealist) in parallel columns, so that you can easily see the differences in how each system interprets various passages. The guy I recommended it to began to look at me as if he had never seen me before. I think I even heard an audible gasp escape his throat. He exclaimed, "Why on earth would I want to read THAT book!" I said, "So you can peruse other views, making your knowledge base more well rounded." He then said, "Why would I want to know what other people think?"

I was blown away by the anti-intellectualism, especially for a guy attending a debate on the openness of God. If you are confident in your own beliefs, what does it hurt to look at things through someone else's eyes. Knowledge is not something to be afraid of.

So, what do you do when you get these gasps from fellow Christians? How can you survive as an eschatogical agnositc? I'm not going to lie. It is difficult, because everyone wants to pigeon hole you into one view or another. It never fails; every time I begin a discussion about the end-times with someone, they immediately want to know what perspective I come from. Which is understandable, but often uncomfortable.

I have been a die-hard dispensationalist. I have toyed with Covenant Theology. I once thought about becoming a partial preterist. I tried on historic Pre-millennialism for a while. After that I went back to dispensationalism (The Progressive variety). I have run the scope of views, however, certain things about my end-times' beliefs have never changed. I have always believed that at some point in the future Christ will come back for his own, that he will resurrect all people and separate us based on what we believe about him, (judgement), and that he will usher in a new heavens and a new earth. Beyond these, is any of the rest of it really that important?

We know that there is a seventieth week of Daniel, seven seal, trumpet, and vial judgments, a coming man of lawlessness, a battle of Armageddon, some sort of rapture, a marriage supper, a millennium, and a battle of Gog and Magog. How exactly they are fulfilled, when they are fulfilled, and in what order, is a matter of great complexity. We have all created systems that include each of these events. Most of us are trying to be as honest as we can with the Bible. The truth, though, might not be possessed exactly by any of us. Let's face it. Prophecy is hard to interpret. Even when we have a prophecy and its fulfillment, many times it raises as many questions as it answers like Psalm 22, Daniel 8, or the various prophecies about Zedekiah for example, which I want to talk about over the next few weeks.

I tell my congregants when I preach on difficult subjects, that my view is not a threat to theirs. If you interpret the passage differently, as long as you are honestly dealing with an inspired text, then feel free to disagree. You don't have to agree with me just because I am the pastor. Other views are not threats to us, especially if we have truth on our side. If we possess the truth, then we should welcome learning about and debating other views.

When we interpret Scripture there are levels of authority. It is like standing on the branch of a tree. When you are next to the tree, you are on some pretty firm footing. However, each step that you take away from the tree, you are in a more precarious spot. Many of our doctrines we can proclaim loudly from right next to the trunk, doctrines like the deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, salvation by grace through faith, the trinity, etc. Other doctrines have less authority because we have to pile up passage upon passage or throw in leaps in human logic. With each leap we take we move farther out on the branch. We could still be right, but we need to be humble enough to admit that we might not have a corner on the entire truth. I think that when we are dealing with end-times' philosophies we are at the very ends of the branch. Don't get me wrong. I have no problem with people who have strong views; I have strong views of my own. But . . . I think there needs to be a measure of humility when we discuss things where we are way out on limbs.

All of this to say: if you want to survive as an eschatological agnostic, keep your fat mouth shut. If you believe as I do, that these systems are very complex and full of human logic at many levels, then you also believe that it is not a big deal if you disagree with someone. So, my advice is to keep quiet, unless asked point blank. I don't think that views on this issue should create big divides, so why would I insist constantly that I am more enlightened than everyone else. I think the dispensationalist could be right! I think there is a small chance that the preterist could be right. So, why would I just seek to antagonize these people over what I view to be a minor issue? I won't and I urge you to do the same.

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