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An Email Question About Eschatology (Endtimes).
I routinely receive email questions which I normally answer privately but on Sept 30, 2010 I received a question that was so sincerely asked that I wanted to answer it publicly. The text of the email is as follows:
First, I want to thank the person for asking these questions and asking with such clarity. To start, just let me say that the term "eschatological minimalism" is a term I have used to describe as holding to the minimal endtimes views as held by ALL of historic Christianity. These minimal beliefs are:
Whether we look at pre-Roman Catholic, Roman Catholic, Eastern/Greek Orthodox, Syrian, Protestant/Reformed, Anabaptist, or Modern Evangelical, all of these expressions of historic Christianity have been UNITED in the minimal eschatological beliefs stated above. Ancillary eschatology, such as if and when their will be a rapture (removal of Christians from the planet), the identity of the antichrist as a single individual, when and for how long the millennium will occur have had variation within historic Christianity to the point of some expressions denying parts altogether. But when I use the term "eschatological minimalism" I do not intend this to be considered an eschatological system. It is just a matter of fact.
To the email specifically, the writer sincerely states:
The key to this entire question is the phrase, "what the bible teaches...". Every person that claims to be Christian should consider what the Bible teaches about any subject. But there is something we must consider before we appeal to the Bible. Something so rudimentary that people often take it for granted. The question must ask, What is the Bible and why? I mean, if we are going to appeal to the Bible as the source of our answers shouldn't we first determine the validity of the Bible? Perhaps we may think the validity of the Bible is a foregone conclusion for a person claiming to be Christian.
We Christians claim that the Bible is the Word of God written. It is His expression and communication to humanity, codified. Obviously we could spend much time looking at each "book" of the Bible and trying to make a case for why it is included and why others were omitted, especially as we consider the Roman Catholic vs the Protestant bible. But that is not really the issue I'm talking about. What I'm trying to get to is for the reader to realize that we Christians ALL MUST start with a certain presupposition. This presupposition is that we believe God is able to and has maintained basic truth and the understanding of it by the majority of His Church, so much so that we presently have the "Bible" in so far as much as God intended to convey and for us to have. If we don't have that basic presupposition, then any appeal to the "Bible" is pointless. So, again when I read a person wanting to know what the "bible teaches" on any subject, I must first determine if they have this presupposition that God is able to and DID accurately convey and maintain basic truth among the Church.
To disconnect what historic Christianity as a whole has believed the Bible teaches from what we individually think the Bible teaches is akin to theological anarchy. For example, if someone was to approach the American founding documents which speak of freedom and then individually conclude this means those documents are advocating anarchy, that would be an erroneous conclusion. Further, if an individual claimed that the historic interpretation of those founding documents wasn't "consistent" enough and that instead the individual was merely being more "consistent" by concluding anarchy, this too would be erroneous.
So, now we are primed to re-pose the writer's question:
We must understand that this involves sorting out how and why historic Christianity has interpreted what the Bible teaches about the return of Jesus. If we claim that doesn't matter, then we are no better than the anarchist in the analogy.
We have stated the concept of "eschatological minimalism" and I think it is safe to say that any review of historic Christianity would show that those 4 eschatological points have been held in common by ALL of historic Christianity. Thus we can conclude, that whether correct or not, those 4 points ARE the Christian interpretation of "what the bible teaches about the return of Jesus". Does it teach more than that? Yes, there are more details but to deviate from those 4 main points is to deviate from the Christian interpretation into something that is Other-Than-Christian.
Something that has happened that often clouds our view is that since about the 1800s to present, the most vocal eschatological view has been Dispensational/Left-Behindism (see here), which causes a Christian upon hearing the historic Christian interpretation of eschatology to find it foreign at first. This also allows aberrant groups, such as Preterists (especially full or hyperpreterists) to play off of this and make it seem like 2000 years of Christians have been in gross error on eschatology. Remember, what we said about the presupposition of God's ability to convey and maintain basic correct truth. For someone to embrace hyperpreterism, they must first throw this presupposition out of the window, which in turn undermines their entire appeal to the Bible.
Historically, Christians have interpreted the Olivet Discourse (Mt 24/Mk 13/Lk 21) passages as directly related to events in the year AD70, yet without going to the anarchist extreme of hyperpreterism with its blatant call for "consistency". For example Eusebius writing on Papias (Papias supposedly cir 70AD-155AD) says:
Notice that the apparent premillennialism that Papias was supposedly advocating was considered "strange" and "more fabulous", thus not the normal interpretation.
Further, Polycarp (cir 65AD-100AD) states in his writings things such as these:
The point is, Polycarp was still advocating the collective resurrection of believers and the judgment of wicked and righteous, even AFTER the year AD70.
Next we see Ignatius (cir 30AD-107AD) agreeing with Polycarp's and the post AD70 Church's notion that judgment and culmination is yet future, but further Ignatius speaks on the end of Judaism.
So, here is yet another early church "father" (ECF) that is affirming the historic Christian interpretation and even sees there has been an "end" to Judaism. There is no indication that Ignatius believes there will be a revived Judaism in the future (a Dispensationist/Left-Behindism concept).
As to more specifically addressing the Olivet Discourse, we have to remember the ECF didn't typically write full commentaries on each book of the Bible but instead, their statements were spread out over their lifetimes. Here is a site for example that shows us how CHRYSOSTOM, ORIGEN, AUGUSTINE, JEROME, BEDE, and others interpreted the Olivet Discourse.
And for a little closer to present day, the reader can view these commentaries on the Olivet Discourse.
The point is, the historic Christian interpretation has always rightly seen the portent in the Olivet Discourse. Unlike how Preterists try to portray, historic Christian interpretation has NOT been in gross error. God, and the presupposition that He accurately conveyed and maintained truth is upheld along with the validity of the Bible.
The writer mentions how former full/hyperpreterists warn that the movement is a cult and to avoid it. There is good reason for this. While hyperpreterism isn't the conventional type of cult where it has a charismatic leader that tries to get adherents to abandon their family and friends, hyperpreterism is cultish in that it tries to get people to abandon historic Christianitiy, even disdaining "traditional" Christianity. Hyperpreterism tries to build an entirely illusionary new community for the adherent (see for example all the hyperpreterist websites and the hyperpreterist web-based radio station -- see here).
Former Hyperpreterist, Todd Dennis wrote on this notion that once a person becomes a "full preterist" that they never leave the view:
I think what happens is that people who have been exposed to Dispensation/Left-Behindism or even those exposed only to "partial-preterism", when confronted with the SEEMINGLY "consistent" views of full/hyperpreterism, they are sucked into the movement just as sure as if they had been manipulated by a cultist. As they become more and more invested in the movement, the more difficult it is to leave...and save face.
WHY HYPERPRETERISM IS MORE PREVALENT AMONG CHURCH OF CHRIST
Hyperpreterism came into the coc via Max King in the 1970s (see here). Whether current hyperpreterists know or want to acknowledge, King is considered the "founder" of the movement as seen from these statements made from King's own son and organization:
Another reason why former and even present full/hyperpreterists may warn people to avoid the coc full/hyperpreterists is because the coc full/hyperpreterists have a history of falling into universalismi (everyone saved/no one condemned) as documented here.
I hope I have answered the email. I have purposely not gone very far into expounding specific texts of the Bible since I am trying to establish in this response that no one can appeal with their private interpretation to the Bible alone. We MUST consider the presupposition that God is able to and has conveyed and maintained most basic truth among His Church. If we can't agree on this presupposition then any new heretic can come and twist the Scriptures and gain a following. Keep in mind that Mormonism and Islam has millions of adherents.
I want the writer and readers to understand the importance of being connected to the collective historic Christian Faith. When a movement or position has as its overarching premise, a complete destruction of the historic Christian Faith so as to set up its own views, this should be a very red flag.
In the end, let God be true and every man (in comparison) a liar -- Romans 3:4 Amen!
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