Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Monday, February 23, 2009

Studies in Eschatology [1]

Apocalyptic Visions

For the last year or more I have been reading heavily on the subject of eschatological systems. My primary sources for research have been academic oriented journal articles and hard to find books I wouldn't have access to unless it wasn't for the fact I am blessed to attend a church with a state of the art seminary library which houses high end academic journals and hard to find books on this particular subject.

My research has been mostly for my personal edification because it is a subject I have often felt in the past inadequate to discuss at any meaningful length. Granted, I studied eschatology when I was in seminary, but even though I did read a few of the popular level books that had representatives from each position interact with each other in essay form, eschatology wasn't an engrossing topic for me at the time. I was spending the good part of my seminary years shoring up my historical theology in the area of salvation, which in my opinion was more important.

Yet I did have a general overview to the various eschatological systems, so I wasn't entirely ignorant. However, recently when I set myself to studying eschatology, I believed I needed to go below the surface level ideas I heard people heatedly discussing now and then when the subject came up after a Bible study fellowship, so I set myself to plumb the depths of the theology and hermeneutics which shape those ideas.

Additionally, I wanted to engage many of my young and restless Calvinist friends I had met through Bible conferences and the blogging communities. It seemed as though many of them were like me: Raised in a non-Calvinistic, fundamentalist church whose leadership never really taught anything theological at all, let alone Calvinism. Those were doctrines I had to learn on my own from pastors I heard on the radio or read in books I had to obtain personally. At any rate, many of my restless young Calvinist friends came to embrace Calvinism because they, like myself, saw the doctrines clearly taught in scripture.

But, with this embracing of Calvinism came a total overhaul of their entire theological worldview, including the complete abandonment of a dispensational perspective and premillennialism as an eschatological system. I plan to comment more on this paradigm shift in a later post, but suffice it to say now, even though some of these dear folks say they are biblically convinced of a non-dispensational, non-premillennial point of view, from what I read on their blogs and at times discussed with them in person, I saw their change in eschatology as a final "rebellion" as it were against the non-Calvinistic churches where they were first saved and nurtured. In other words, if these churches were wrong about the doctrines pertaining to salvation, they had to be equally mistaken about eschatology. Thus, it was believed a more Reformed view of eschatology had to be embraced in place of the errant dispensational premillennialism.

But more about this at a later time...

At any rate, I believe I was officially introduced to the subject of eschatology sometime when I was in either the 5th or 6th grade. My father was a self-employed electrician and during my summer break from school, I would often accompany him on his job. This one particular summer a heat wave had hit our small town in Missouri and my dad was called out to a mobile home park to re-wire a fellow's air conditioner that kept overloading his breaker box. My job when I was with my father was to stand around and fetch tools from the truck when he needed them. I tended to do more standing around than fetching of tools, so I had plenty of down time to poke around in people's homes.

We were in the living room of this mobile home, and on the coffee table there was a Bible flipped opened to Matthew 24 and 25. I knew Jesus was suppose to be talking because all the words were in red. I read both chapters and I became extremely spooked by the descriptions of judgment, especially the sheep and goats section at the end of chapter 25.

Compounding the biblical images of apocalyptic judgment were the stack of Chick comics also on the table. Several of them were about the second coming of Jesus and all the terrors which were to come with Him. The cover of one comic showed a nurse running out of nursery ward screaming to a doctor, "ALL THE BABIES ARE MISSING!" In my mind, I am thinking, "why would Jesus want all the babies?" I was actively involved with an United Methodist youth group. I had never seen or read anything that scary in any of the literature in my Sunday school class. I sort of had a "Davey and Goliath" view of Jesus. This baby snatching view of Jesus was unnerving.

I would like to say I was driven to the cross of Christ and the saving gospel message, but such did not happen. I did, however, become interested in knowing the future. Yet, rather than being interested in a biblical view of future things, I was attracted to stuff like the documentary I saw on HBO about the predictions of Nostradamus convincingly narrated by Orson Welles.

Sometime later, maybe a year or two, I recall seeing the terribly made Thief in the Night movie. The film was an abominable depiction of the end-times that sensationalized the events of Revelation like a sci-fi short story. I do remember a Pentecostal gal at my grade school who often appealed to the movie as her source of authority as to why I needed to have Jesus in my heart so as not to be enslaved to the anti-christ.

By the time I was in high school, we had moved to Arkansas and I was now attending a Free-will Baptist Church. Being a bit older I was now a tad more sober-minded about my semi-theological thinking and by this time I genuinely had an interest in what the Bible said about the end-times. My pastor lent me his great big copy of Clarence Larkin's The Greatest Book on Dispensational Truth in the World containing his elaborate, awe inspiring schematics illustrating the events of the end times from a classic dispensational perspective. Also during this time I was exposed to Hal Lindsey's books, who in a similar fashion as the Thief in the Night film, overly sensationalized the prophetic books of the Bible, especially Revelation.

It wasn't until I reached seminary, however, that I became aware of various and sundry opinions which differed from what I learned as to how the events of the end-times were to play out. Up until then, I went blissfully through my Christian existence naively thinking every believer agreed upon the same things I believed about Jesus Christ's second coming. That being, the dispensational views outlined by Clarence Larkin and Hal Lindsey. I was a bit disappointed to learn that R.C. Sproul, one of my favorite Bible teachers, denied the millennium. Of course, over time I came to learn that he didn't actually deny the millennium, he simply understood its dynamics differently than how I did as a premillennialist. In fact, the true heart of the differences between eschatological systems centered around hermeneutics - the principles used to study the Bible. It may sound simple, but how one reads the Old Testament prophetic books in light of the New Testament has a profound impact on how one understands eschatology.

Now, with that brief introduction in mind, I would like to proceed with some studies in the systems of eschatology. Just to provide something of a brief outline, I will begin my next post with a quick review of the hermeneutical issues involved, and then move onto examining the individual principles that shape those hermeneutics. As I explore the hermeneutics, I hope to weave my study interactively with the main eschatological systems, eventually culminating to a defense of premillennialism. My general goal is to lay down a basic, comprehensible laymen's overview of eschatology, and perhaps along the way provide the readers with a few insights I have gleaned from my own personal research.



Blogger donsands said...

Sounds like something I'd really like to tune in to. I just finished reading 1 Thes, and am reading 2nd Thes, and Paul's words of the the second coming [parusia] has got me to thinking.

I have tried discussing the three different eschatologies and some dispensational brothers get upset. And also I know a full-preterist who gets upset when I suggested to him he was outside of orthodoxy. Eschatology can be a touchy subject.

7:38 AM, February 23, 2009  
Blogger bugblaster said...

I'll be reading.

7:46 AM, February 23, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

"Eschatology can be a touchy subject"

Believe me, I expect it to be. I just hope everyone will be nice to me when they leave comments.

8:04 AM, February 23, 2009  
Blogger Steve Lamm said...


This will be an interesting series for me. Right now, I'm preaching through Luke 21 and at the same time doing a series on Eschatology for our adult Sunday School hour.

I've also been reading two introductory works to covenant theology: Horton's book GOD OF PROMIES, and O. Palmer Robertson's THE CHRIST OF THE COVENANTS.

I have to say that understanding covenant theology as a system which guides how one interprets Scripture has been a challenge for me since I was trained under dispensational theology. But the study has been worth the effort because I have a few people in my congregation who come from different perspectives on this.

Since Hanegraff published his preterists views in a popular book, it is even more important for pastors and teachers to get a handle on this and take an informed position that they can irenically defend.

By the way, have you any good books or articles to recommend regarding the interpretation of the Olivet Discourse?

I'll be at Shepherd's. Any possibility of getting together?

Steve Lamm

9:41 AM, February 23, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Hey Steve,

I may come down on Friday morning to hear Phil's message. He is suppose to do something about Driscoll's preaching. So email me your contact info again and we can try to hook up.

As for resources on Matthew 24, there are a few critiques of preterism at my Fred's Bible Talk site. You can access them HERE. Don Green's and Barry Horner's articles are a good place to start.

Phil was cleaning out his library recently (mostly fluffy things), but he was giving away Lahaye and Ice's book "The End Times Controversy" which is a really good critique of preterism as a system. There is a major chapter giving an outline of Matthew 24. I don't care for Lahaye's sensationalizing Revelation, but he is just the editor and there are many good writers addressing that subject.

I also have heard that David Turner's new commentary on Matthew is suppose to have some good stuff in chapter 24.

I read a bunch on preterism, but I won't address it specifically for a while.

I hope that helps.

10:14 AM, February 23, 2009  
Blogger PFK57 said...

Fred, I am looking forward to this series. I grew up in a Plymouth Brethren fellowship and so was taught only premillenial dispensationalism. On leaving this group some years back, I have attempted to read and study the different systems proposed, so that I could get a better understanding of eschatology. So far I am still in the premillenial dispensational camp, but am willing to be convinced by scripture and reason of the truth if it is not what I believe. Will you be making these writings of your's available as a .pdf file once you are finished as you have on other subjects? That would be a great help.


11:01 AM, February 23, 2009  
Blogger The Seeking Disciple said...

Thanks Fred for the link above on preterism. I was going to ask you about Gary Demar. I find his show engaging even if I don't agree fully with his preterist views.

1:46 PM, February 23, 2009  
Blogger Darrin said...


Sounds like a good series. I enjoyed your critique of Waldron's critique of MacArthur's critique of A-Mil. I'm currently blogging on Prophetic Apocalypse in the psalms. Thus far I've covered rough sketches of Psalm 45, 46, 50, 72, 102, with plans to blog on 92-99 shortly.

Have fun and stay busy - Luke 19:13

-The Orange Mailman

3:44 PM, February 23, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...


I hope to have them in a PDF file someday, or at least posted on my other website. At this point, I have to write them up. I have the notes sketched out, now it is the organizing them in a readable format that actually translates into something profitable for you all.

5:07 AM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger Truth Unites... and Divides said...

(1) Does this mean that your critique of Waldron critiquing MacArthur is finished?

(2) I totally love this post. In many ways, it speaks to my journey.

(3) Speaking of the Calvinist and Reform thing, it seems to me that there are two main things that occur as "reactionary":

(a) Paedo-baptism vs. Credo-baptism. There are some Reform people who don't want Credo-baptists to use the term Reform to describe themselves if they don't believe in infant baptism.

(b) Similarly, there are some Reform people who think that a genuine Reform person has to be amillenial in their eschatology. And they think that dispensationalism ("leaky" or otherwise) is not good eschatology.

Personally, I'm credo-baptist and as far as eschatology goes, I steer clear of the doctrinal fights by saying that I believe that Christ will return. And I consider myself a Reform Christian who's complementarian and creationist. I hope people won't protest that because I'm credo-baptist and I also don't promote amillenialism.

11:28 AM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

(1) Does this mean that your critique of Waldron critiquing MacArthur is finished?

In a manner of speaking. I think I said all I wanted to say about Waldron as a subject. Other things I had planned to write I hope to address with my eschatological series.

When I have the opportunity to write.

2:00 PM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger Taj said...

Can't wait.

5:40 PM, February 24, 2009  
Blogger The Puritan said...

>I've also been reading two introductory works to covenant theology: Horton's book GOD OF PROMIES, and O. Palmer Robertson's THE CHRIST OF THE COVENANTS.

The latter book is horrible for a beginner (and arguably even for a non-beginner). Robertson uses unique terminology, petulantly, as is the case for many 20th century Reformed theologians who reject bits and pieces (sometimes very big bits and pieces) of classical Covenant Theology.

One thing that may help to simplify a study: Covenant Theology is for the most part a biblical theology (as opposed to systematic theology) endeavor. Old fashioned *Federal Theology* is covenant theology systematized. So if you learn Federal Theology you will have some solid foundation to be able to move into the more mushy territory of covenant theology.

Having said that too, historically Reformed Theologians have been confusing people due to some speaking of a separate Covenant of Redemption, and others assuming a Covenant of Redemption but subsuming it, if you will, into the Covenant of Grace.

So, some Reformed theologians in history speak of three covenants (Redemption, Works, Grace) and some speak only of two (Works, Grace) while assuming their audience knows they hold to the Covenant of Redemption but include it in the Covenant of Grace.

Consistent terminology has been a problem in the history of covenant theology, but many of the 20th century guys seem to enjoy making it even more problematical.

For the record, Geerhardus Vos, Louis Berkhof, and Meredith Kline, though all three being very different in what they bring, would be considered representative of historic, orthodox Covenant Theology in the 20th century. (Kline gets smeared by theonomists and Federal Visionists, so if you've heard negative things, you really have to know who is talking and so on; also Kline's Framework Hypothesis gets him automatic heretic status by critics who don't like his criticism of theonomy and so on, but that part of Kline's work doesn't effect his covenant theology.

10:18 AM, February 25, 2009  

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