Sunday, March 18, 2007

Some Thoughts on the Eschatological Controversy

Since the controversy that has ensued due to John MacArthur’s opening message at the Shepherd’s Conference, my interest in eschatology has been piqued once again. I am amazed at all the controversy that has been stirred up as a result of MacArthur’s message. But I am interested in exploring the differing views on eschatology once again. There are good men, sound men of the faith, who hold to differing view on this matter. And we need to be careful concerning the charges of heresy leveled at those embracing the differing views. This included those in the “Reformed” camp who refer to those of us who embrace the pre-millenial view, and refer to it as “cultic” and heretical. I find it interesting that for so long I have heard those charges made from those in the amillenial and postmillennial camp against premillenialists , and now that the tables have been turned, they cry foul.

One thing that has gotten really irritating is the range of definitions that you hear on what it means to be “Reformed”. I have read many comments in this recent controversy that include things like “MacArthur really isn’t reformed” and even the notion expressed in a comment thread on another blog, that John Piper is really not “Reformed” either. If being “Reformed” in their strict definition means that one MUST embrace the amillenial position, then I really do not fit their definition either. The sad thing is that I do embrace most of Reformed theology and I am in substantial agreement with Reformed theology, but apparently for many that will not suffice.

Rather, I am compelled to abide by the teaching of Scripture and to teach accordingly by my convictions as I see revealed in the text of Scripture. One simply cannot blindly embrace a theological view independent of Scripture, but weigh everything in light of the inspired text of the Bible. We must always be ready to change our theology if we find it is out of step with the Bible, not bend the Bible to fit our theology.

But we also need to beware of another error. That is the error of ignoring what others have gleaned from Scripture, especially those who have gone before us. God has ordained that there be teachers in the church, teachers who are dedicated to studying the text of Scripture and have a desire to help others understand what God has given us in the divinely inspired text of Scripture. This, of course, is not some secret knowledge only revealed to the one teaching, but the same truth that is accessible to every believer. It is foolish, in fact potentially downright dangerous, to ignore what others have gleaned from Scripture. I believe that it ultimately leads to spiritual arrogance. While additional insights are often gleaned over time, we need to be careful of some “new” truth that no one else has ever seen. It could be something that has been previously overlooked. But it also could be that we are looking at something the wrong way. That can lead to theological error. We need to be careful about new “truth”. As Charles Haddon Spurgeon wisely said, "I cannot agree with those who say that they have 'new truth' to teach. The two words seem to me to contradict each other; that which is new is not true. It is the old that is true, for truth is as old as God himself".

Rather than clinging to the solid theological foundation that we have as a result of the efforts of the reformers and building upon it, the church has developed the propensity to set aside solid theology in favor of new found fads and methods. This has left the church wide open and vulnerable to error.

I believe that it is extremely beneficial to consider the teaching of those who have gone before us and understand how they drew the conclusions they have. This is not a case that just because many men down through history have held a particular viewpoint that it makes them automatically correct, nor does that make them the final authority. But we still need to understand their conclusions. We must also discern what is a primary or a secondary doctrine. On matters of primary doctrine that strike at the very core of the Christian faith, we had better cling tightly to the truths that have been established; on matters of secondary doctrine, we need to exercise grace, especially when it comes to more obscure subject matter, such as the finer points of eschatology. This is not to say that eschatology is unimportant, but there are valid reasons for men drawing different conclusions on those matters.

We need to take the time to carefully consider what Scripture teaches and be willing to adjust our theology in light of what we discover. We also need to consider the differing views and be careful to avoid misrepresenting those who hold to opposing views. This is one reason that in light of the current controversy, my interest has been piqued concerning the subject of eschatology, particularly amillenialism. One book that I am reading from the amillenial perspective is Kim Riddlebarger’s book, “A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times”. This book has been recommended by many. I doubt that I am going to be persuaded into the amill camp, but I am enjoying reading the book so far and gaining a better understanding of the amillenial position rather than hearsay from secondary sources. I want to gain a more thorough understanding, rather than abide by someone’s overly simplistic definition.

I just hope that in matters of more secondary importance, believers can be more inclined to exercise more grace toward one another. This does not mean that we cannot have strong opinions concerning our convictions. It is certainly acceptable to teach according to our convictions and I believe that we should. But we also should exercise restraint before leveling charges of heresy against each other.

1 comment:

Tim A Blankenship said...

Eric,
Great article.
It is sad that there are disagreements over the eschatology of Scriptures.
Though, I am premillenial, and hold to a pre-trib rapture view, i know my brothers who disagree will be with me when Jesus comes and calls the church to be with Him.