Hymnus Deo

Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Greensboro, the Gospel, and the International Civil Rights Center

As those of you who live in the Greensboro area know, the International Civil Rights Center was to finally open this weekend, after a long time of planning, and following no small measure of controversy. My knowledge of what has been going on the past couple of years with regard to the Center has been limited. And I have made no attempts to follow the controversy, though, working with the public as I do, I can hardly avoid hearing a little bit about it. The opening of the Center was to be celebrated by a number of events, which were to be attended by a handful of African-American celebrities. I expect, however, that since Greensboro has been hit with a fairly heavy snow storm this weekend, not all the events have gone on as scheduled. It's rather strange for us to get this much snow, and disappointing for the event organizers, I don't doubt.

Greensboro was a fairly important player in the civil rights movement in the sixties. Those not familiar with the history can read about it here:


Growing up here as I did, I learned about the civil rights movement through history class in grade school. And living here most of my life since, I've also learned that not everyone was happy about it then, and many still aren't. It seems pretty clear that Greensboro is still an area of great racial tension. I follow Greensboro politics little (as I actually don't live in the city, but just outside), but enough to notice how this tension has manifested itself in the past few elections, as well as in the meetings of the city council.

The most familiar event, and most celebrated, of the civil rights movement, was the famous sit-ins at the Woolworth lunch counter in 1960. What is lesser known - entirely unknown to me, until a few years ago - is the street demonstrations of 1963. In some sense, it was actually the events of '63 that made it possible for African-Americans to begin to participate in all the aspects of society that White citizens had access to. Here is a good intro to those events:


I first learned of the demonstrations of 1963 through a class on Southern History after the Civil War that I took at UNCG a few years back. We were required to do an oral presentation on one of a handful of topics relating to the civil rights movement in Greensboro, and I chose the events of '63 at random. This led to my finding my way into a largely neglected (but very nice, I might note) part of the UNCG library where microfilm of Greensboro's newspapers - formerly the Greensboro News (sold in the morning) and the Greensboro Record (sold in the afternoon) - were kept stored.

What was especially interesting for me as I searched through several days of newspaper was coming across something I didn't expect. I ran upon a response to the demonstrations, published around the beginning of June '63 in one of the Greensboro papers (I failed to make a note of which one, sadly), and written by a handful of local Christian men, who were more than likely all ministers. (I say more than likely because I am only familiar with two of the names - H. G. Mackay and Roy Putnam, both of whom were ministers in the area: Forest Avenue Tabernacle - now Shannon Hills Bible Chapel - and Trinity Church, respectively. Though I would assume that the other men were ministers as well, I can't say for sure.)

Their response took the form of a doctrinal statement, and is worth the reading, especially for those who are from or live in Greensboro. You will find it posted below. While I might differ with a minor point here or there, I would agree with it, and that almost wholeheartedly. It articulates something that desperately needs to be considered again in Greensboro today and which, I suspect, rarely is by those who regularly seek to take the reigns of power in Greensboro. You can fight for your rights and for the rights of others all you want. But if the Gospel is left out, your warring will be disastrous, for yourself as well as for others. The civil rights movement has usually been accompanied by a pseudo-Christian belief and church life that affirms a "Social Gospel", which is no Gospel at all. I'm in favor of honoring one's heritage, and the liberation that God has given the African-American community is something to praise Him for. But if the worship of Christ and the preaching of the True Gospel are to be replaced by the worship of one's own racial cause, then that is idolatry, something God doesn't take lightly. And ultimately, the Gospel entails the tearing down of racial divisions, not the establishing of them. Hopefully, the International Civil Rights Center won't just be another Tower of Babel. Considering Greensboro's recent history, I can't say I'm particularly encouraged that that will be the case.


A Statement of Evangelical Concern

We, the undersigned, as individual believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, desire, in view of the racial tensions now distressing our city and nation, to set forth the following statement of evangelical concern:

1. Our only recourse in this or any problem is to the God of the Bible and the Lord of History. Because He is the One with Whom we have to do, we "cease from man" and every human solution. We also bow to the truth that "God is no respecter of persons." He plays no racial favorites, but all men are accountable to Him, their Creator and Judge, on the basis of their common humanity. (Ps. 60:11, Jer. 3:23, Acts 10:34, Rom. 14:14.)

2. The humanity which men share, however, has been deeply dyed by sin with the result that they are estranged both from God and from each other. No longer do they view their fellows, as God does, without partiality. Rather do their sinful natures express themselves by an inborn pride which glories, among other things, in racial distinctions. (Rom. 3:23, Is. 59:2, Luke 18:11, John 4:9.)

3. We must acknowledge that the current unrest had its origin in the sin of our forefathers, North and South, who for their own selfish ends brought an unwilling people to these shores. Furthermore, we admit that we too bear a measure of blame, for we have been reluctant to face the spiritual implications of the gulf existing between the races.

4. Because we know our own hearts and because we believe God's Word, we can see no permanent solution arising out of man's efforts to right wrongs and conciliate grievances. Human attempts to bring the races together in Northern cities have only compounded the problem. There racial pride has been driven underground - by legislation, executive order and judicial decision - only to reappear in subtler forms and uglier guises. (Job 14:4, Matt. 12:43-45, John 15:5, II Cor. 3:5)

5. We submit that the only Scriptural hope for any lasting reconciliation between men is to be found, not in one race demanding justice from another race, but in individuals of both races humbling themselves as sinners and claiming the grace of God in Christ. In that act they will experience what Christ described as a Second Birth, with the changing of heart attitudes and the redirecting of personal motives. We do not claim that the new Birth will automatically resolve all tensions but that it alone opens up the possibility of a true solution. (John 3:3, II Cor. 5:17, Gal. 3:28, Col. 3:11)

6. In support of this claim we point to the decisive results of the Great Evangelical Awakening which came to England two centuries ago. When that nation was poised on the precipice of a bloody social revolution, hundreds of thousands in all classes experienced the New Birth. As a direct consequence the whole atmosphere of English life was improved and the needed reforms peacefully introduced. Nor was it a coincidence that the Emancipation of the slaves, first in the British Empire and then in the United States, owed its inspiration to William Wilberforce, a product of the Awakening.

7. It is our deep conviction that the living God is speaking to Greensboro through its present troubles. He it is Who, more that any racial group, is shaking the foundations and calling the citizens of this city to repentence and saving faith in His eternal Son. Increasingly the message of a Savior slain and risen has been “despised and rejected” by both Negroes and Whites in favor of manmade programs of social betterment. Now, with these failing, God would summon us back to the redeeming Cross around which men of both races can stand together on level ground. (Acts 20:21: I Cor. 1:23,24; Eph. 2:13, 14.)

A. L. Parker
Roy C. Putnam
Frederick W. Evans, Jr.
H. G. Mackay
James A. Raines
R. Harold Mangham
Russ A. Heyne
Edwin L. Smithwick.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Four Approaches to Interpreting the Book of the Revelation

This is the last of the prepatory notes designed to precede our study of Revelation. My goal was to give short definitions of the four positions, and offer a brief critique of the three views I disagree with. Brevity was a chief goal here, as you will notice. Of all the sets of notes I've prepared recently, these cover the subject of which I'm the least knowledgeable, particularly with regard to Idealism and Historicism. I trust those of you who are more familiar with these positions will offer your thoughts if you feel I have misrepresented them.


Four Views of Revelation

American satirist Ambrose Bierce accurately reflected the sentiments of many who have attempted to make sense of the last book of the Bible when, in his book The Devil's Dictionary, he defined "Revelation" as "a famous book in which St. John the Divine concealed all that he knew. The revealing is done by the commentators, who know nothing." Such cynicism is understandable, in light of Revelation's complexity. And yet, if we are to take Paul's words seriously when he says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16), then to allow such cynicism to keep us away from a deep study of the book is inexcusable.

Acknowledging this, of course, doesn't make the task any easier. There have through the years been endless attempts to come to a conclusive, systematic understanding of the book. From these many attempts, however, have emerged four dominant approaches. A consideration of these before examining the book itself should prove helpful in our own study.

I.) Futurism

Futurism is the view that holds that the major portion of Revelation (from chapter 4 to the end of the book) has yet to be fulfilled in history, and will be fulfilled at the end of the current age. The seven year Tribulation, the coming of the Beast, the last battle, the Millennium, and other common themes of Bible prophecy, have yet to happen. This view is the majority view in the church today, as the majority of the church is Dispensational. Not all Futurists, however, are Dispensationalists.

Because of its wholly future nature, Futurism is subject to "newspaper exegesis". Each generation of Futurists, when encountering the evil of the world around them, has a tendency to come to the conclusion that they must be living in the "last days". The fruit of this is a proclivity to attempt to fit current events into prophetic passages, often resulting in bizarre and even humorous interpretations. Any political leader, for instance, who finds himself with an unusual amount of influence on world events is subject to the suspicion of being the Beast of Revelation 17. Yet while Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, and Ronald Reagan have all returned to dust, Futurism continues to try to put the pieces of the puzzle together, ignoring all its prior failures to predict the happenings of the end of days.

II.) Historicism

Historicism teaches that the central portion of Revelation is an unfolding of the course of history from the establishing of the Church until the Second Coming of Christ. Certain elements in Revelation are regarded as corresponding to specific historical events, such as the destruction of Rome, the rise of Islam, and the Protestant Reformation. A key aspect of the Historicist view is the belief that the Roman Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon, and that the Papacy is the Beast. Historicism was the view held by the vast majority of Protestant theologians up until the 19th century. It is in our time probably the least commonly held of the four positions.

When it comes to the obstacles this position faces, Historicism suffers from much the same problem as Futurism. While one might comfortably align passages with historical events from earlier centuries, the struggle comes when one seeks to find one's own era in Revelation. The Reformers thought that the end of the Church age would be soon and, seeing themselves freed from "the Beast", thought that they would certainly be entering the Millennium very shortly. And yet, as its predictions have failed, Historicism has undergone repeated revision. This state of flux has no doubt been a contributing factor to the majority of interpreters abandoning this approach.

III.) Idealism

The Idealist approach (also known as the Spiritualist approach) sees Revelation as a series of allegories of the life of the Christian and the Church. Rather than attaching the events in the book to specific historical occurrences, Idealism views Revelation as containing images of the struggles every Christian goes through in life, or that individual churches will experience in history. These are to be taken as a source of encouragement. Idealism is a common view in our time, particularly among Amillennialists.

While it is proper to look to Revelation for examples of how to conduct oneself in the world, to reduce it in all its complexity to mere moral lessons seems to dishonor the text. Would God really give us such details, only to have them correspond to nothing in particular? For God to everywhere in Scripture be concerned about place, matter, and history, to then give us a book that has no link to these things, seems to me to be incongruent with His character as Scripture reveals it to us.

IV.) Preterism

Preterism teaches that the majority of the Revelation was fulfilled in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A. D. Building off of and fulfilling Old Testament prophecy, Revelation shows God bringing destruction upon Israel and specifically Jerusalem for her repeated failure to trust and obey Him, which culminated in her rejection of her Messiah. While it is still a minority view, Preterism has become more common in recent years.

There have been attempts at combining the above views in various ways. Most common is the attempt to combine elements of Preterism with Idealism, such as is done by Hank Hanegraaff. Nonetheless, these four are the major views taught in the church today.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dispensationalism Notes

The following is my brief examination of Dispensationalism that we went over in our Bible study group a couple of months ago. I got mixed reviews on it, and that's why I didn't initially put it on here. But after some thought, I decided to post it anyway. Let me note a couple of things as a preface to it.

First, it isn't the best writing I've ever done. So if you're thinking that as you read it, be comforted that I think that as well. Secondly, one can hardly leave their house nowadays without stepping on a Dispensationalist. Though the system is becoming more and more discredited by actual scholars, the average layman still believes Dispensationalism to some extent, though he may not be able to identify it as such. Consequently, any number of Dispensationalists may read this and say, "that isn't my position." But the goal here is mainly to represent Classic Dispensationalism, as taught by people such as Lewis Sperry Chafer and C. I. Scofield, not the hybrid systems that most individuals hold to today. The reader may think what I have written is overly harsh, or a misrepresentation of the system. But what I have presented here is accurate, I would contend, and I have been much gentler than one finds in critics such as John Gerstner, Cornelis van der Waal, Lorraine Boettner, Hank Hanegraaff, Reginald Kimbro, or Michael Williams. It is true that I have brought up some radical issues at times. But whereas I did not provide references to substantiate my claims, anyone wishing to track them down may consult the aforementioned authors.


In the life of the Church there have been various approaches to understanding God's way of working in the world through time. An exhaustive study of this would be impossible, even after a lifetime of research. Nonetheless, certain approaches have been more generally accepted, and therefore an examination of them is not only profitable but necessary.

Two views on God's overarching plan for the universe stand out in particular: Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology.

I. Dispensationalism

Dispensationalism originated around 1830 in the British Isles. While elements of the system emerged from various teachers of the Plymouth Brethren movement, its main systematizer was John Nelson Darby. In the United States, Dispensationalism was disseminated largely through the notes of the Scofield Reference Bible. Eventually the system became the predominant approach to interpreting the Scriptures among Christians in the United States.

Dispensationalism teaches that God's working in the world is carried out in a series of dispensations or stewardships. At the initiation of each dispensation, God comes to man and gives man a fresh revelation of Himself. Man is then faced with new obligations before God, through which God tests the faithfulness of man. So long as man is obedient, the dispensation continues and man is blessed. But in each dispensation, it is said, man inevitably fails, bringing God's judgment upon himself.

There is disagreement among Dispensationalists on how many dispensations there will be. But the majority, drawing off of the writings of C. I. Scofield, hold that there will be a total of seven dispensations:

1.) Innocence - from Creation to the Fall
2.) Conscience - from the Fall to the Flood
3.) Human Government - from the Flood to Babel
4.) Promise - from Abraham to Egypt
5.) Law - from Moses to Christ's 1st Advent
6.) Grace - from Christ's 1st Advent to His 2nd Advent
7.) Millennium - from Christ's 2nd Advent to the Final Judgment

But while an ordering of history by a scheme of dispensations is a key feature of Dispensationalism, it is not the most important feature. The most important feature of Dispensationalism is the distinction it makes between Israel and the Church. Israel and the Church are considered to be as unmixable as oil and water. The distinctions that Dispensationalists make between the two groups are numerous. Chiefly, Israel is regarded as a physical and earthly people, whereas the Church is regarded as a spiritual and heavenly people. All other distinctions between the two arise from these.

Dispensationalists claim that God's primary concern in the history of the world is Israel. And so when Christ first came to earth, His purpose was to set up His kingdom in the earthly Jerusalem, as promised by God through the prophets. And yet Israel crucified him, having rejected His offer to rule over them.

Having risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, Jesus Christ now sits as a rejected Messiah. The kingdom is postponed until His second coming, at which time He will set up His reign in Jerusalem as He sought to do in His first coming.

So what, according to Dispensationalists, is the time we are living in now? This is the Dispensation of Grace, also known as the Church Age. Since Israel has rejected His legitimate offer, Christ has set Israel aside and has inaugurated the Church. The Church is not God's primary concern; Israel is. And so some Dispensationalists have gone so far as to refer to the Church as "God's Plan B". The Church Age is regularly considered and referred to by Dispensationalists as a "parenthesis" in God's prophetic scheme.

The Church, we are told, is nowhere to be found in the Old Testament. They say that the Church was entirely hidden and unknown prior to its being revealed by Christ during His earthly ministry. And so all the prophecies in the Old Testament apply only to the nation of Israel and her interaction with the Gentile nations considered apart from the Church.

Since there are, in the Dispensational scheme, O.T. prophecies yet to be fulfilled, and the Church is not in them, and since God can only deal with one "people" at a time, then the Church must be taken out of the world before God can begin His work with Israel again. Hence, Dispensationalists propose that the Rapture occurs prior to the Tribulation.

In the Tribulation, Israel, God's first love, will return fully to the land of Israel and be restored as a nation. During that time, the Antichrist will arise and rule the world, until Christ returns and destroys the Antichrist and all those who aligned themselves with him.

One of the features of this idea of the reconstituted Israel that has come under critique by non-Dispensationalists has been the belief that Solomon's Temple will be rebuilt, in which the O.T. sacrificial system will be reinstated. The sacrifices will not only exist during the Tribulation, but will continue throughout the Millennium. This is believed, in spite of the fact that the Messiah, whom the sacrifices were originally instituted to point forward to, will Himself be seated on David's throne in Jerusalem. This is also criticized by non-Dispensationalists because of the Book of Hebrews' teaching that in His death Christ fulfilled all the types of the O.T. sacrifices through his once-for-all sacrifice, and actually propitiated sins, which Hebrews tells us the O.T. sacrifices could never do.

At the end of the Tribulation, Christ will return with the Church, will destroy His enemies, and will set up His Kingdom in Jerusalem, from where He will rule the earth for a thousand years. This is the Millennium, the seventh dispensation. In the Dispensational scheme, this means that believers who were raptured and therefore already have their resurrected, perfected bodies will dwell on earth and live forever, while those saved during the Tribulation will die and be buried. Non-dispensationalist theologians, of course, have noted the strange nature of this arrangement fairly regularly in their critiques. It would also seem contrary to the Israel-Church distinction to have the Church return with Christ and dwell on the earth with Israel, when the Church is considered a non-earthly people. Some have proposed, however, that after the Millennium, when God creates a New Heavens and a New Earth, Israel will inhabit the new Earth for eternity, whereas the Church will inhabit the new Heavens for eternity. And so the two groups will remain forever separate.

Classical Dispensationalism differs from historic orthodox Christianity on so many points that Dispensationalists have found themselves having to defend their doctrines fairly regularly since their system emerged in the 19th century. Here are a few more controversial ideas found in Dispensationalism.

1.) Classical Dispensationalism sees the world as ruled by Satan. They define the world as the works of man apart from God, which to them includes practically all aspects of culture. Sometimes, however, Dispensational theologians have slipped into condemning the material universe altogether, thus falling into the ancient heresy of Dualism, which states that all matter is evil. In condemning all culture, the result among consistent Dispensationalists has been to withdraw from society to a large extent, which in turn has led to the creation of the Christian subculture.

2.) Classical Dispensationalism sees man as made up of three parts: soul, spirit, and body. Historic Christianity regards man as composed of two parts: spirit and body. The latter view is called Dichotomy. The former view is called Trichotomy, and was condemned in the theology of Apollinaris by the First Council of Constantinople in 381 AD.

3.) Classical Dispensationalism has often been confusing in many ways when it comes to the doctrine of salvation. Historic orthodox Christianity teaches that man does not achieve favor before God (that is, salvation) by good works. And yet, good works accompany salvation in such a way that no person who is without good works will be saved. In other words, good works are the natural and necessary result of salvation, not the cause of it. Dispensationalism takes these distinctions and reverses them.

On the one hand, Dispensationalism makes a strong distinction between a Christian's position in Christ and his practice before Christ. A person may be saved, they say, and his position in Christ is therefore secure. And yet that person in practice may be living in total rebellion against God. This also shows up in the distinction between the "spiritual" Christian and the "carnal" Christian. A "spiritual" Christian is one who is saved and living according to God's word; a "carnal" Christian is one who is saved but is living contrary to God's word.

On the other hand, some Dispensationalists have fallen into teaching that the people of God have been saved in different ways in different dispensations. In particular, certain statements made by C. I. Scofield and Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, suggested the belief that, whereas people in the Church Age are saved by grace, those who lived in the Age of Law were saved by good works. Later Dispensationalists have denied that their system teaches different ways of salvation, and have sought to prove that this is not what Scofield and Chafer believed. Nonetheless, no small measure of confusion on this exists in their writings.

Dispensationalism has gradually changed since its inception, as its adherents, through dialogue with non-dispensationalists, have sought to correct its more egregious errors to bring it more in line with historic Christianity. This is most notable in the school of thought known as Progressive Dispensationalism. Progressives view the dispensations as progressively building one on another (hence the name) through time, in contrast with the Classical Dispensational view, which sees each new dispensation as an entirely new era of God's dealing with man. Progressives believe, along with Covenantal theologians, that Christ is now seated on David's throne in heaven, though they believe in a future Millennium. They also see the Church and Israel in a more united fashion, though they maintain that certain promises made to Israel remain Israel's alone.

While Progressive Dispensationalism has gradually grown through the past twenty years of its existence, it has yet to make many inroads into local churches, its impact being felt moreso at this point at the seminary level. The vast majority of Evangelical churches still hold to Classical Dispensationalism as I have outlined it here, though they may not hold to every detail. And while the differences between Classical and Progressive Dispensationalism are so great that many consider Progressives to not even be Dispensationalists, they still maintain enough of traditional Dispensationalism that they cannot be considered Covenantal.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Millennium

The following is a continuation of our study of eschatology. I wrote it about a month ago, and we finally read and discussed it tonight. Having re-read it now, I think it was moderately well done. The goal in presenting this to the group was not an extensive discussion of millennial views, so much as it was a cursory overview, sufficient to prepare everyone for a detailed Bible study on Revelation. It gets a little sarcastic at times. And rather than making fun of Dispensationalism, as is my custom, I decided this time to pick on Amillennialists a little bit. Feel free to post your comments.


The Millennium

One of the unique aspects of this moment in Church history is the amount of detailed attention given to eschatology, also known as the study of last things. While there have always been plenty of theories on the end of the world, both in Christian and pagan cultures, never before have there been positions so neatly defined and distinguished such as we have now, particularly in Christian theology. Whether or not the theologians have successfully gotten at Scripture's teaching on the end times is, as is the case with most everything, still a matter of debate. For now, we have a handful of choices to make in navigating the eschatological waters, and only history will tell which theologians are the closest to the truth.

It is a testimony to the strangeness of the Christian Church that in categorizing various views on the end times, we would begin by going to the most complicated and highly symbolic book in Scripture, choose one number out of the many in the text, translate the word for it into a dead language, and make it the hinge on which everything else turns. And yet this is, in fact, the current state of affairs in the study of Biblical prophecy. Inquire of anyone who is moderately theologically cognizant as to what their view of the end times is, and they will more than likely respond that they are either Premillennial, Amillennial, or Postmillennial. Derived from Revelation 20:1-7, the word "millennium" is the Latin Vulgate translation of the Greek word "chilia", both of which mean "one thousand". No other passage anywhere in Scripture, outside of these few verses in Rev. 20, speaks of Christ reigning for a thousand years. And so some theologians have reasonably asked whether it is wise to make so much of such a unique passage. Whatever the answer to this may be, the state of affairs in eschatology is such that naming one's millennial view is the starting place for interpreting the rest of Biblical prophecy.

We have already named the three basic millennial positions above. For each, however, there are two common variations, bringing the total to six. We will survey each in turn, taking note of some similarities and contrasts along the way.

I. Premillennialism

Premillennialism in its simplest form is the view that Christ's Second Coming is to occur prior to the establishing of His Kingdom upon the earth. And yet more is included in the idea of Premillennialism than this, as we will see. There are essentially two forms of Premillennialism: Historic Premillennialism and Dispensational Premillennialism.

A. Historic Premillennialism

Historic Premillennialism is called such because it is a view attributed to certain of the early church fathers, such as Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Tertullian. Because of this, Historic Premillennialists have often stated that their view is the single view of the early church. And yet much evidence has surfaced over the past few years to suggest that there was a greater measure of diversity among the early theologians on eschatology, and that the more prominent view among them might have been more along the lines of Postmillennialism or Amillennialism. Nonetheless, the name remains.

The basic outline of Historic Premillennialism is as follows:

- Christ is now reigning in Heaven, and yet the full establishment of His reign as David’s heir will not occur until His Second Coming.

- The current age in which we live will be one predominantly characterized by defeat, as the Church’s attempts to spread the Gospel and influence the world for good will be overwhelmingly thwarted by Satan’s work.

- As the Second Coming approaches, the world will grow more and more wicked. The Great Tribulation will begin at the end of the age, and the Antichrist will arise to dominate the world.

- Christ will return at the end of the Tribulation, defeat all His enemies, bind Satan and throw him into the Lake of Fire, and set up His throne in Jerusalem. His reign, most say, will be for a literal one thousand years. This will be a period of worldwide peace and prosperity.

- At the end of the thousand years, Satan will be released, and he will lead a revolt against Christ. God will send fire from heaven, which will consume all the enemies of Christ.

- God will then make a new heavens and a new earth, and the eternal state will begin.

B. Dispensational Premillennialism

Dispensational Premillennialism agrees largely with Historic Premillennialism, only allowing for Dispensationalism’s unique views on the Church and Israel. Whereas Historic Premillennialism holds that there is one people of God through the history of the world, Dispensationalism teaches that there are two peoples of God. And so Dispensationalism generally teaches that the Church will be raptured prior to the Tribulation, while Historic Premillennialism teaches that all those living at the end of the age will go through the Tribulation, including the Church.

II. Amillennialism

The term “amillennial” literally means “no thousand”, and whether or not Amillennialists believe that there is no thousand year reign of Christ depends on which one of them you ask. Some Amillennialists claim that the reign of Christ in Revelation 20 refers strictly to the reign of Christ in the hearts of the elect through Church history. Some say that it is the reign of Christ with the departed believers in Heaven. And some say that it is His reign in His Church on earth. Generally speaking, Amillennialists agree that the thousand years is a symbolic number, referring to the period of time between the first and second comings of Christ. And yet it is not uncommon to hear Amillennialists, seeking to distance themselves from both Premillennialism and Postmillennialism, say, “there is no one thousand year reign of Christ”.

There are two forms of Amillennialism. One we will call Pessimistic Amillennialism, and the other Optimistic Amillennialism.

A. Pessimistic Amillennialism

Pessimistic Amillennialism in its basic form looks like this:

- When Christ ascended to Heaven forty days after His resurrection, He took the throne of David in Heaven, where He reigns until His second coming.

- During the period in between the two comings, the righteous and the unrighteous will both dwell together in the world, neither having particularly greater sway over society than the other. The Church’s efforts in spreading the Gospel will have mediocre success, despite the fact that Satan is bound during this period.

- Toward the end of the Millennium, evil will grow worse and worse, culminating in a great tribulation

- Christ will return, destroy His enemies, and a new heaven and a new earth will be created.

B. Optimistic Amillennialism

Optimistic Amillennialism is a very new term in eschatology. As of yet, there have been no lengthy systematic works written to defend it, and so laying out the position in any detail is currently impossible. It largely follows the pattern of Pessimistic Amillennialism, except it expects greater success for the Church in the spreading of the Gospel between the two Advents. The degree to which it expects the world to get better depends on which theologian is addressing the question. And yet one thing is for certain for all Amillennialists - there will be no “Christianization” of the world as is taught by Postmillennialism.

III. Postmillennialism

Postmillennialism is the view that leading up to the Second Coming there will be a gradual overall betterment of the world. The Gospel will be met with success as it is preached throughout the world, so much so, in fact, that when history has come to an end, the majority of people who have lived will be saved. Consequently, blessings will abound to every part of life. Peace will increase; there will be great strides in technology, the arts, politics, and every other sphere of society. These things will come slowly, however, as yeast works its way through a lump of dough. During the Millennium, Christ is reigning on the earth through His saints, who exercise His reign in their respective callings. When Christ returns, He will return after the Millennium to a world that is mostly Christianized, though not every person will be saved.

There are two basic Postmillennial views. We will call them Puritan Postmillennialism and Modern Postmillennialism.

A. Puritan Postmillennialism

I have named this view “Puritan Postmillennialism” because it is the view that was held by the vast majority of Puritans, not to mention the majority of the Protestant Church, until the 19th century. For the Puritans, the Millennium was not the entire period between Christ’s two comings. Instead, the Millennium referred to a golden age that would come toward the end of the New Covenant period. Some believed that this would be a literal one thousand years, while others did not.

B. Modern Postmillennialism

This is a variation of Postmillennialism which emerged in the 20th century, and that, like Amillennialism, saw the entire period between the first and second comings of Christ as the Millennium. Yet, unlike Amillennialism, Modern Postmillennialism holds to a more positive outcome to the influence of the Gospel in the world.

One of the problems in Eschatology that is often discussed is the question of terminology. The term “amillennial”, for instance, is a very new term, having been coined in the late 19th century. Prior to that, what we call “Amillennialism” was just a variety of Postmillennialism. Both, after all, hold the view that Christ will return after the period delineated by the “one thousand years” in Revelation 20. For this reason, some Amillennialists are quick to note their dissatisfaction with the term used to identify their view.

While these are the most common views of the end times, there are endless variations on these, due to the complexity of the subject matter. For instance, some Amillenialists believe in a future personal Antichrist, while others do not. Also, most Premillennialists believe the Millennium is exactly one thousand years long; but it’s perfectly possible to be a Premillennialist and take that number to be symbolic of an undisclosed period of time. As we continue our study, we will find the possibility of even more variations, many of which concern the Book of the Revelation itself.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

A poem by John Donne, for the leaving of the old year and the coming of the new

by John Donne

WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore ;
And having done that, Thou hast done ;
I fear no more.

Plague Victims Catapulted Over Walls Into Besieged City - by Thomas Lux

Early germ
warfare. The dead
hurled this way look like wheels
in the sky. Look: there goes
Larry the Shoemaker, barefoot, over the wall,
and Mary Sausage Stuffer, see how she flies,
and the Hatter twins, both at once, soar
over the parapet, little Tommy's elbow bent
as if in a salute,
and his sister, Mathilde, she follows him,
arms outstretched, through the air,
just as she did
on earth.