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

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Defending Premillennialism [2]

The Reforming of Hermeneutics

The principles of interpretation one brings to the biblical text plays a pivotal role when outlining eschatological themes and systems. Those principles of interpretation, or what is more technically called hermeneutics, will often be heavily influenced by one's theological presuppositions.

As I briefly noted in the first article, when Augustine developed his hermeneutics, there was a smidgen of Greek philosophy popping up in his presuppositions that he pressed upon his interpretative conclusions regarding the biblical text. This was especially true with his interpretations of biblical prophecy and eschatology. A bit of Platonic dualism tilted Augustine to view the eschatological passages of scripture with a perspective that favored a more figurative or symbolic interpretation when exegeting the prophetic portions.

Previous to Augustine, chiliasm, or what we know today as premillennialism, was the majority eschatology among early Christians until it came into disfavor. First to have a negative impact upon chiliasm was Origen's allegorical teachings filled with the Grecian philosophy of Philo. But then, chiliasm was completely dislodged largely in part to Augustine's spiritualized hermeneutic he used to interpret Revelation 20 in a figurative sense. The idea of a real, physical future Kingdom of God lasting a thousand years upon the earth was seen as sensual and earthly, and thus was considered nonspiritual and ungodly. Augustine's Platonic hermeneutic pitted an earthly realm against a heavenly realm and he saw the millennium of Revelation 20 as happening now as the Christian church triumphantly grows throughout the world. His spiritualized eschatology wound its way through scholastic, Medieval Roman Catholicism where it was shaped into the various forms we see today in discussions regarding eschatology.

But when the Reformation happened, the Reformers began the process of rescuing the Scriptures from the allegorical clutches of Roman Catholicism. Luther, Calvin, and their followers, laid the ground work within their preaching and teaching of sola scriptura that began reforming the hermeneutics one used to read the Bible, and that involved moving away from the allegorical application of hermeneutics. The reason being is because a vigorous commitment to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture demands a hermeneutical frame work that takes the Bible more literally. The Reformers were concerned with the meaning of the original languages, hence why there was a push to translate the scriptures into the common languages of the day. They were also concerned with the historical background of the Bible and the authorial intent of the original writers. More technical commentaries on the biblical text began to appear. Basically, in this incubator, a historical, grammatical hermeneutic began maturing.

Ironically, however, the one area of theology the Reformers carried over from Roman Catholicism was eschatology. At the time, the main focus in the teaching and writing of such men as Luther and Calvin was the doctrines of salvation over and against a man centered, works oriented sacramentalism, and the sufficiency of God's Word contrasted to a popish priest class. Consistency between hermeneutical methodology and eschatology was not a major issue for them. Yet those who did venture forth to speak on eschatology kept Augustine's views intact, while modifying them to shape Reformed constructs.

Indeed, as the principles of the Reformation spread throughout the Christian world, Reformed theologians, rather than "reforming" the eschatology they adopted from Roman Catholicism with their newly recovered hermeneutics, instead developed apologetics that justified them keeping their amillennialism intact. Prophetic "genre," for example, like Isaiah, Daniel, and Revelation, was separated from historical narrative "genre" like the Gospels and was made to be interpreted spiritually because prophecy was perceived as being symbolic and thus needed to be interpreted with a spiritual hermeneutic. They maintained the Medieval Catholic exegesis that the OT must be interpreted, or at times, re-interpreted, in light of Christ and the NT. So OT names and places like Zion, the temple, Israel, David, and Solomon received a "Christianized" interpretation to mean Jesus or the Church. And of course, Augustine's views of Revelation 20 were expanded upon and defended as the best way to understand the millennium.

The hermeneutic question is the foundational area in eschatological discussions, and regrettably it is often passed over and dismissed by debating participants. Those Christians who come to embrace the robust theology of the Reformation mistakenly believe amillennialism or postmillennialism reflect orthodox Reformed theology, and adopt either of these eschatological systems without much thought given to the problems that arise between the hermeneutics they now employ to study the Bible and the actual exegesis of the text.

There is a practical example within denominational circles of what I mean. James White, a Reformed Baptist who is the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, tells how his book, The Potter's Freedom, has had a positive influence among so-called non-denominational Calvary Chapel church goers, as well as non-Reformed Baptist denominations. White's book is a presentation and defense of the Reformed doctrines of biblical salvation, or what is commonly called "Calvinism." He interacts with misconceptions non-Calvinist often raise against the theology and lays out a biblical presentation as to why Calvinism is clearly taught in Scripture.

The Calvary Chapel "non-denomination-denomination" is stridently opposed to the doctrines of Calvinism. So much so that the leadership in many of their local churches have rebuked members who have come to embrace the theology. Yet Calvary Chapel churches are known for promoting a high view of Scripture. They exhort members to read and study the Bible and to do so with excellence according to sound exegesis. A disconnect comes into play, however, when those same members who are told to study God's Word carefully begin having their exegesis bring them to affirm the doctrines of Calvinism. Their reading of James White's book only solidifies their already growing convictions, but they are then rebuffed by their leadership for believing such "erroneous" doctrine. If their careful study of God's Word brings them to affirm Reformed soteriology, why then are they rebuked for drawing such conclusions? Obviously there are theological pre-commitments in place that shape how one interprets these crucial passages on salvation.

The same can be said about Reformed eschatology. It has been my observation that many of those young men from such backgrounds as Calvary Chapel will usually hold to premillennialism. When they come to believe Calvinistic theology, they are under the wrongful idea that amillennialism or postmillennialism is the only viable eschatology for their new found beliefs. So they quickly abandon their premillennialism often ridiculing the position they once believed as being sub-biblical and "unreformed." They now have unwittingly adopted some theological pre-commitments that radically shape how one interprets the crucial passages concerning eschatology. Just like the "anti-Calvinist" leaders in the Calvary Chapel, they now have become "anti-premillennial." But they are not "anti-premillennial" because a careful study of the Bible has brought them to this position, but because of the baggage of their theological pre-commitments. Pre-commitments that in my mind need to be reformed.



*******
Sources:

Mal Couch, An Introduction to Classic Evangelical Hermeneutics.

Kim Riddlebarger, The Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End-times.

R. K. Wright, "It must mean something else." Traditional Allegorism: It's Origin, Effects, and Refutation" (Unpublished article courtesy of the author)

Labels:

24 Comments:

Blogger Truth Unites... and Divides said...

A superb follow-up article to your 1st post.

Well done, Fred.

Is it possible to obtain an electronic copy of R.K. Wright's article? I'd like to read it, if permitted.

6:53 PM, January 12, 2010  
Blogger Jon said...

I'm liking the articles Fred. Please keep them coming. I've done quite a bit of reading myself in the past on Eschatology, but a lot of it came from LaHaye and some other "shaky" premillienists. That's not to say that I haven't read MacArthur's books and resources on the subject.

I really liked his series on "Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist Should be a Premillienist." That title still cracks me up.

Have you read Future Israel and Israel and the Church. Both were referenced by MacArthur's above mentioned series. I've only read the introductions of both, but I've heard they're good. Some claim that they're more of an attack on Amillienism though.

7:39 PM, January 12, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I recall that Bob Wright emailed me a copy of that article. It's not on line because it was sort of a draft of a possible book it was writing. I would have to comb through my files to see if I have it.

Jon, Future Israel was a book that God used to keep me from sliding into full Amillennialism. I thought Horner's material was well done and a much needed challenge to the notion that Reformed theology is incompatible with premillennialism as well as the idea that Israel had been "replaced" by the church. The other book I am not as familiar with. If you go to my website, Fred's Bible Talk you will find a collection of articles on the subject of premillennialism. I have a number of other good articles linked there.

Fred

8:41 PM, January 12, 2010  
Blogger DJP said...

"the one area of theology the Reformers carried over from Roman Catholicism was eschatology"

I'd add their doctrine of infant "baptism," which owes far more to RC doctrine than to Scripture.

8:51 AM, January 13, 2010  
Blogger Kent Brandenburg said...

Fred,

A very helpful treatment. Good historical background provided.

A horrible thing that human philosophy influencing one's presuppositions. Plato also affected Augustine's ecclesiology. These two, eschatology and ecclesiology, become related as to the allegorizing that results. The latter, I believe, has created even more havoc.

4:30 PM, January 13, 2010  
Blogger Highland Host said...

My take on the people who abandon premillennialism on becoming Reformed is this: They adopted their previous eschatology by default, they adopt the new one by default as well. In actual fact, nothing has changed - they have adopted a package.

I have one little beef, however. There are some (on both sides) who use "premillennial" as if all premillennialists are dispensational. They are not (and paradoxically Justin Martyr, one of the earliest men to bring Greek philosophy into the church, was pre-mil). CH Spurgeon, for example, was pre-mil, and believed in the restoration of Israel to the land (not a pre-mil distinctive), but not a dispensationalist (at least, not by the standards of his day, though who knows what dispensational means these days...).

But enough of my rambling. Just remember, everyone, that Roman Catholics hold a position does not necessarily mean that it's wrong - I know some Unitarians who use the fact the the Roman Catholics believe in the Trinty as an argument. Furthermore, there are some Reformed Amillennialists who have used the (silly) argument that futurism was invented by Jesuits to argue against premillennialism.

Play the ball, not the man. In other words, that a doctrine is held by those who are decidedly wrong on other points does not IN AND OF ITSELF mean that the doctrine itself is wrong. It must be shown to be wrong from the Bible.

And I do not expect Fred Butler to decide an issue that has divided the church for centuries.

9:09 AM, January 14, 2010  
Blogger Matt Waymeyer said...

"And I do not expect Fred Butler to decide an issue that has divided the church for centuries."

In contrast, that is precisely what I'm expecting Fred to do!

Carry on Mr. Butler!!!

9:55 AM, January 14, 2010  
Blogger Lynda O said...

Great article, Fred, enjoying the research and resources mentioned.

"(Highland Host): There are some (on both sides) who use "premillennial" as if all premillennialists are dispensational. They are not (and paradoxically Justin Martyr, one of the earliest men to bring Greek philosophy into the church, was pre-mil). CH Spurgeon, for example, was pre-mil, and believed in the restoration of Israel to the land (not a pre-mil distinctive), but not a dispensationalist (at least, not by the standards of his day, though who knows what dispensational means these days...)."

Yes, I agree, the labels can mean a lot of different things. Yet the more I read Spurgeon, I see that he was not really all that different from today's moderate/progressive dispensationals -- maybe one could call Spurgeon a "post-trib progressive dispensationalist." He definitely emphasized the importance of the literal hermeneutic of scripture and reached similar conclusions. When people use the label "historical premil" it can mean a lot of different things, and often it's associated with George Ladd, who was quite different from Spurgeon or others also labeled "historic premill."

10:49 AM, January 14, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

that a doctrine is held by those who are decidedly wrong on other points does not IN AND OF ITSELF mean that the doctrine itself is wrong. It must be shown to be wrong from the Bible.

Yep. You're exactly right on that and I would agree with you. My desire is not to play guilt by association as much as it is to trace the historical development of a particular hermeneutic. I hope to explore those principles from the pages of scripture.

And I do not expect Fred Butler to decide an issue that has divided the church for centuries.

Most certainly. But I am going to give the best shot possible. =-)

12:50 PM, January 14, 2010  
Blogger Highland Host said...

Dear Lynda O. Thank you for further making my point. If CH Spurgeon (who explicitly repudicated the teachings of J.N. Darby) could be described by modern standards as a dispensationalist, how useful is the label these days? There are still some Darbyites out there, particularly in the Plymouth Brethren movement (in which my grandmother was brought up), and the difference between their views and those of modern progressive dispensationalists are rather wide on some points (mostly because the modern progressive dispensationalists are more Biblical!).

Fred, I wouldn't imagine that you would ever use a guilt by association argument - you used to be King James Only, and as far as I can see that's one of their favourites! Once bitten, twice shy. But I could see some possibilities of that in some of the comments.

Like I said, anyone can play that game, and they do. One other little point though - as far as I am aware no-one reads the Book of Revelation as though it were the same genre as the Gospels. It is a very symbolic book, and so the old canard "if you read the rest of the Bible the same way you read Revelation you'd be liberals" (I have heard this from dispensationalists) is frankly silly. Like I say, no-one believes that at the time of the great tribulation there will be a huge woman standing on the moon.

The real question is, What do the symbols MEAN? not, Are they symbolic or literal? The same applies to many of the prophecies. Although some have said it, I doubt anyone reading this really believes that Mount Zion will be taller than Mount Everest in the Millennium (see Isaiah 2.2). In fact, I hope no-one believes that any more! That sort of wooden literalism betrays an inability to deal with the realities of poetic language.

2:01 AM, January 15, 2010  
Blogger Highland Host said...

The trouble with the term "historic premil" is that it really just means "non-historic dispensationalist premil". In other words it means "I'm pre-mil, but not dispensationalist." This is further complicated by the fact that "dispensationalist" means so many different things these days.

So, here's a challenge. Define for me what unites all the different types of despensationalist today. Remember, all the dispensationalists I know use the old Scofield Bible and read books which have the initials of the authors on the title page, not the names. Prominent are CHM and JND.

2:06 AM, January 15, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

The real question is, What do the symbols MEAN? not, Are they symbolic or literal? The same applies to many of the prophecies. Although some have said it, I doubt anyone reading this really believes that Mount Zion will be taller than Mount Everest in the Millennium (see Isaiah 2.2). In fact, I hope no-one believes that any more! That sort of wooden literalism betrays an inability to deal with the realities of poetic language.

Yes. that is important and is providentially the subject of my next post. I'll talk about that wooden literalism.

5:58 AM, January 15, 2010  
Blogger Highland Host said...

I just want to make sure these things get brought up. For the record, on the other side you have silly things like Patrick Fairbairn maintaining that all prophetic actions took place in dreams and visions, not in the real world. Where this comes from in the text I have no idea. Apparently it comes from a Victorian prudery about Isaiah wandering around with his buttocks showing. When I read something like that I laugh, quite aware how ridiculous it sounds (and is).

Me, I'm the minister of a church where we have Presbyterians and Baptists in the eldership, so you can see that we don't like to have huge arguments over secondary issues, and boy is this a secondary issue! Frankly, I'd let John MacArthur preach in my pulpit. He won't, though, he's far too busy to come over and take a couple of services at a tiny little Church in England.

8:52 AM, January 15, 2010  
Blogger Lynda O said...

"Highland Host -- So, here's a challenge. Define for me what unites all the different types of dispensationalist today."

Well, this link (a message board that is predominantly reformed, covenant beliefs) http://www.puritanboard.com/f121/dispies-classic-neo-progressive-35697/
has a message (#3) that shows a comparison of disp - PD - CT and NCT, according to 33 different points and what each group holds to. I'm not sure I agree with all of the stated positions for PD, but anyway, here are several items listed that classic disp. and PD agree on:
Literal Interpretation of Scripture / Do not accept Analogy of Faith / No such thing as covenant of Redemption within the Trinity / God works through separate dispensations / The Indwelling of the Holy Spriit is only during this age, the Dispensation of Grace / OT Laws are only in effect if repeated in the NT / The Millennial Reign is the Kingdom of God / Literal thousand years on earth - pre-millennial / Physical Israel has a future / The Millennium is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant

Any agreement or disagreement here, or other comments?

12:07 PM, January 15, 2010  
Blogger Highland Host said...

Dear Lynda O. On the points listed, Spurgeon would mostly disagree. It looks to me to be much closer to classic dispensationalism than many modern dispensational authors. My thinking thus far is this: Dispensationalists all seem to make a hard-and-fast distinction between Israel and the Church, at least until the eternal state, some sort of distinction of dispensations (though I have yet to see a definition of dispensation that all modern dispenationalists hold to that is actually distinctively theirs).

This is complicated because "classic" and "Porgressive" are not the only variants of dispensationalism. McArthur has his own brand, and there are other brands as well!

All Protestants hold to literal interpretation - the only question is, what does literal mean?

1:37 AM, January 16, 2010  
Blogger Lynda O said...

Yes... I used to think there was only classic and progressive, but as you've mentioned, there are other variations. I've heard MacArthur described as "progressive dispensational" (by non-disp. people who don't know that much about it). One example of variation from that list I referenced -- Eternal Covenant of Redemption. S. Lewis Johnson affirmed the existence of this covenant. That chart put his view under the category of "NCT," though of course SLJ was years before NCT even existed.

8:14 AM, January 16, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Mac tends to shun labels, which I understand his reasons for that, but it is inevitable that people will equate certain convictions with a certain system of theology. I do appreciate his desire to want to pursue an exegetical, biblical theology. He wants to respect the scriptures, as does everyone in these discussions. But always certain presuppositions come into play with these discussions, and hence the reason why I want to discuss those things.

Also keep in mind that there are variations among non-dispensationalist as well. I know they like to carry on with this idea that because you have classic dispensationalists, hypers, and progressives, that such automatically discounts dispensationalism as unbiblical, but they tend to forget the variations within their own beliefs from Klinians, to theonomists, to the Auburn Avenue folks.

Fred

9:58 AM, January 16, 2010  
Blogger DJP said...

HH — All Protestants hold to literal interpretation - the only question is, what does literal mean?

Untrue. Has to modified either to "All Protestants say that they hold to literal interpretation," or "All Protestants hold to literal interpretation — if you don't mean that literally."

No way interpreting "Jerusalem" or "Mount Zion" or "Israel" or "Judah" in a BC prophecy by a Jew to Jews as meaning the Christian church is "literal," in any sane-world lexicon.

10:53 AM, January 16, 2010  
Blogger Highland Host said...

DJP. Sorry, I meant to say that everyone says they hold to a literal hermeneutic. Whether this can be substantiated or not is a different matter. After all, Patrick Fairbairn says he holds to a literal hermeneutic, but ends up with all prophetic actions happening in visions and dreams, not the real world. On the other hand C.I. Scofield insisted that there was a sort of four-fold sense to the letters to the 7 Churches in Revelation. And for the record let me agree with Fred here that there are major variations within each position. Thus neither side should a). make sweeping statements about the other, or b). assume the other bloke critique is directed at what you actually believe (it could well be against the equivalent of Fairbairn)

Non-dispensationalists often refer to MacArthur as "Progressive" because they think this is the only option other than "classical", and they know he's not that. MacArthur is in fact MacArthur dispensational. I just wish he'd ditch the pre-trib rapture, which has to be supported by special pleading (the Church at Philadelphia no longer exists, and so cannot be kept from the great tribulation by being raptured at some future date) and arguments from silence (1 Thessalonians doesn't mention judgement, and therefore that means that there is an interval between the rapture and the judgement). I do not find the arguments FOR a pre-trib rapture to be either convincing or actually derived from Scripture. Rather, someone has gone hunting for texts to back up a rather eccentric understanding of "him who restrains" in 2 Thess. The reasoning goes like this: "Him who restrains" is the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit dwells in Christians, and therefore for the Holy Spirit to be taken out of the way, Christians need to be taken out of the world." The only problem with this is that the Holy Spirit was active in the Old Testament (and therefore in the world), and unless you believe no-one will be saved in the Tribulation, and there will be no "tribulation saints", it's impossible for anyone but a rank Pelagian to hold that He won't be active in the world then!

And of course I am aware that MacArthur (probably for that reason) doesn't hold that view of "him who restrains"!

1:03 AM, January 17, 2010  
Blogger Marylee said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:36 PM, February 09, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Sorry, I am personally not allowing anonymous comments from bitter, Dave MacPherson spammers.

12:44 PM, February 09, 2010  
Blogger Tim Brown said...

Fred:

Maybe I'm overstating this, but it seems to me that covenantal hermeneutics are steeped in a form of dualism -- Material is bad, spiritual is good. Sounds alot like Gnosticism to me. The gnostics took it so far (as I understand from John MacArthur) that they denied that God could have come in human flesh.

Looks to me that this is a real danger for their hermeneutic.

6:06 PM, August 23, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Tim,
There certainly is some truth in what you say. My Covenant Reformed brethren may quibble with you about that charge of "gnosticism," seeing that gnosticism deals with knowledge given only to the initiated and the Reformed hermeneutic, they would argue, is derived from applied principle of interpretation that gives priority to the NT over the OT.

5:26 AM, August 24, 2012  
Blogger Tim Brown said...

Fred:

Thanks, and thanks for this series. I had read parts of it some time back but it's really sinking in now.

Because of the lack of other good churches in our area, we are currently attending a Reformed Baptist church 45 miles from our home. Yes, the people are fine, in spite of the CT/Amil theology but what really gets me is what I sometimes perceive as plain old snobbery.

The pastor is currently starting in Matt 24 and has said he's going to ("has to") discuss disp, preterism and his view which he says is "Iterism".... From a google I did which led me to puritanboard, it has to do with believing that most prophecies repeat themselves in each generation with increased intensity.

That's ok, but in all of it he's really distorting dispensationalism (no surprise). It's nice to know taht the debate isn't even so much over what he's preaching but his hermeneutic. Nicer still is knowing why it is so problematic.

Thanks again. You are equipping me.

9:42 AM, August 24, 2012  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home