This is going to be a little bit longer post than usual. Stick with me and I think it’ll make sense in the end. Well, I certainly hope so.
I’ve been teaching on the subject of eschatology for the past couple of weeks in the church I serve. It’s been really fun because it’s brought up some really good conversations after I’ve finished my teachings. I’ve had questions about the alleged “eschatological” Temple that according to some will be rebuilt before Jesus returns. There’s been questions about different books and teachers. But more than anything, there’s been discussion about the timing of Jesus’ return.
I think this is largely because I’ve been really emphasizing that the “Great Tribulation” was inaugurated when Jerusalem was surrounded and the Temple was destroyed (66-70AD) a number of years after Jesus was crucified. In fact, I’ve been stressing that the church is a “last days” people of God. In other words, we’ve been living in the “end times” since Jesus’ first coming. That’s an important concept when we’re thinking about how the kingdom of God is to be understood and when we realize that we are living in the last days.
Since I’m emphasizing that the church is rightly understood as Ecclesia Militans (Church Militant), I think it’s safe to say that part of the struggle that the church goes through is byway of persecution. The persecution that the church faces will only increase as we move forward towards the Lord’s return.
So yes, I have a definable eschatological position: I hold to Historic Premillennialism with a huge appreciation for Amillennialism. My favorite eschatological writers are George Eldon Ladd, Geerhardus Vos, G. K. Beale, Douglas Moo, and basically anyone who falls into a non-Dispensational reading. It’s not that I haven’t learned from Dispensationalists, but I’m not convinced of their initial sine qua non – that there is to be a hermeneutical distinction between Israel and the church.
It’s not that I haven’t read the best of the other eschatological positions either. I have. I own their books and I have given them all their shot. Yet at the end of the day, I am not convinced by the exegetical and theological moorings that undergird the other perspectives outside of Historic Premillennialism. I believe that the Olivet Discourse and much of Revelation has quite a bit of fulfillment within the 1st century. I believe that the church will go through all of the “tribulation” and that she shall be around when the final consummation of the “antichrist” is on earth. I believe that there is simply one people of God that includes both Jews and Greeks who have faith in God for salvation by way of Christ’s work on the cross. I believe that the Second Coming is one event that happens at the end of the “church age” and that the “rapture” won’t happen until Jesus returns in power and glory and that it won’t be “secret.”
Yes, I have some strong conclusions on these matters… and I can argue with the best of them.
Yes, there’s a huge “but” in my line of thinking. And I think this “but” is kind of a catch twenty-two because there’s two sides to every coin. Let me explain:
On one hand, even though I have some very strong opinions regarding the last days, I also want to make sure that I major on the majors and minor on the minors. I do not believe that the timing of the rapture is an issue that is so important that I need to disfellowship people over. When I hear about congregations having church splits because people disagree about the rapture, I grieve. You can’t hang out with Christians that believe the rapture is going to happen any day now? Really? Are you serious?
Let’s major on the majors. For me, I want to take a “lowest common denominator” approach regarding the rapture and many other issues under the banner of “eschatology.” Will there be a literal antichrist? Will there be a third and final Jewish temple built? Will Jesus return to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem? I certainly have some opinions on those questions, but I’m also read some really good explanations of positions that are different than the ones I take. So when I say I want to take a “lowest common denominator” approach on this subject, I mean that I want to find what is most basic and most agreed upon and sensible and emphasize that.
So I unashamably believe that Jesus is going to return to this earth physically and visibly. I believe that after Jesus returns there will be salvation for his people and judgment for his enemies. I believe that the church is called to proclaim and demonstrate the gospel of the kingdom until the end comes.
But I don’t want people to feel like I think they are evil, idiots, or dangerous if they disagree with me on the timing of the eschatological events. Hey, if you believe the rapture is right around the corner, so be it! We can still participate in the work of the kingdom together and still labor to see God’s exaltation and glory made known! If we get raptured before the “tribulation,” you can tell me “told you so” on our way up and if you go through the “tribulation,” you can stay at my house. Either way, we can both love Jesus and serve in the kingdom together.
That’s one side of the coin.
On the other hand, I absolutely hate “lowest common denominator” type of theology! Hate it! I absolutely despise when I perceive that people are unwilling to take a stand on a theological position because they are simply afraid to be controversial and are more concerned with making people happy.
This happens a lot, sadly. Rather than take a stand on Scripture or Justification or the Holy Spirit, people just “agree to disagree” and seek to sing songs together and just pretend that none of these subjects are radically important for the church. Or worse, people assume that incorrect beliefs have absolutely zero negative consequences for the church. I simply know that beliefs do have impact and that finding the “lowest common denominator” can be a tricky thing. If we take it too far, we simply come to the point where we say things like, “Well, we don’t agree on the importance of Christ’s work on the cross, so let’s just agree on the fact that we’re… well, breathing.” What?!?!
So it’s tricky. I completely believe that a church could include members that take different perspectives on eschatology. You might have someone who is Premillennial and another who is Postmillennial and another who is Amillennial and they all have different takes on who (or what) the “antichrist” is and while they disagree strongly on these issues, they are committed to the gospel and the kingdom and the King and love each other and work together for God’s greater glory. Yet each of those people will most likely state that they believe there are serious consequences and issues connected to these issues.
Taking a “lowest common denominator” approach to theological discussion is, most certainly, tricky. Some might even say it is a “slippery slope.” You know what I mean? If you “compromise” on eschatology, you’ll eventually “compromise” on the Deity of Christ. We’ve all heard arguments like that.
Here’s the thing: I hate when people paint me into a corner and try and use the “slippery slope” argument on me. I’m okay with it being tricky. And I’m okay with having a two sided coin where I need to do my best at focusing on the main and the plain and majoring on the majors while also taking time to discuss theological viewpoints in a loving, gracious, and truthful way. Even though it’s easier to avoid controversial subjects, there’s most certainly a way to discuss them in a God honoring way, right?
Thus, on one hand, I’m going to find that “lowest common denominator” in theological discussions on subjects that I’m convinced are pretty diverse. And when it comes to issues that I believe are historic and orthodox and Christian and important enough to take a stand on, I’m going to do my best to do that in love and grace and truth.
It’s tricky, I tell ya. Tricky indeed!
What do you think?