New Calvinism: A Caution

I had the privilege of preaching on Revelation 3:8-10 this past Sunday AM.  In this passage of Scripture Jesus presents 3 Encouraging Promises to the faithful congregation at Philadelphia and to faithful churches like this one.

 

Most Bible scholars believe that verse 10 looks forward to the tribulation period.  The debate really comes down to interpreting tereo ek correctly.  Revelation 3:10 ‘Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth.’

 

One of the most helpful resources that I came across was a counterpoint book; The Rapture: Pre,-Mid,-Post- Tribulational by Gleason Archer Jr, Paul Feinberg, and Douglas Moo.  I think all expository preachers should carefully consider the quote below.

  

“The time of the Rapture is neither the most important nor the most unimportant point of Christian theology.  For some the Rapture question is a bellwether; its surrender marks the first step on the proverbial slippery slope that leads one to the rocks of liberalism.  But such is neither logically nor actually the case.  When one considers the whole spectrum of Christian theology, eschatology is only a small part of it.  Moreover, the Rapture question constitutes only a small segment of eschatology.  The contributors of this volume are in substantial agreement on matters of individual, or personal, eschatology and are all convinced of the same view with respect to the larger issues of premillennialism.

 

There are those who find the questions of the Rapture insignificant and uninteresting; they pride themselves in being above the battle.  But this is wrong.  Theologically, no aspect of revealed truth is unimportant.  The Rapture touches the extremely important issues of biblical interpretation, the relationship between the church and Israel, and the course of human history.  Practically, the time of the Rapture is significant because we aspire to know the whole counsel of God.  Furthermore, this matter touches the important issue of the nature of the Christian’s hope and expectation.  Am I to expect Christ’s return at any moment? Or, is my hope the protection in and deliverance by God from a time of worldwide tribulation? Thus, the task before us is an important one.”

 

One of the minor things that I have seen come out of the “New Calvinism” movement that concerns me is a general disregard for biblical eschatology (prophesy).  Panmillennialism is now en vogue- It will all pan out because God is sovereign… or “We’re above those battles”- Eschatology is too confusing and divisive to really teach on, etc, etc.

 

Now I realize some Christians are on the other end of the spectrum (prophesy pundits).  They eat, drink, and breath this subject but sadly miss the overall purposes of prophesy and eschatology.  Both extremes should be rejected.

 

I am a big supporter of movements like Together for the Gospel.  I just believe that reformed expository preachers need to be consistent.  They rightfully “cry foul” when preachers jump over Ephesians 1 and Romans 9-10 but then allow certain preachers to jump over Revelation 6-22 and Matthew 24-45.  Whatever happened to preaching the full counsel of God?

 

The way Archer, Feinberg, and Moo graciously interact with each other as brothers in Christ and as faithful bible scholars without compromising their biblical convictions is worth careful study and imitation.

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10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by martyn on March 31, 2009 at 9:08 am

    Thanks for this. I admit I’ve felt “above the battle” for quite some time and this post both convicted and convinced me to sharpen my eschatology. Thanks!

  2. I think a person’s passion about eschatology is colored by background to some extent. My early discipleship came through being served by and later serving in a counseling ministry. Eschatology rarely comes up when dealing with pornography or gluttony, for example. Therefore, I didn’t give it much thought.

    Now that I’m in seminary I realize that it is something I’m going to have to deal with. If I’m going to walk around with MDiv after my name then I need to have an opinion on eschatology. However, I’d much rather discuss soteriology with someone than eschatology.

    What do you see as the practical value of studying eschatology beyond the fact that we should seek to understand the whole counsel of God? If the pre-trib rapture is true then it doesn’t really matter because I’ll either be dead or raptured. If the other cases are true then I had better be ready for the rapture so I know what to look for, but even then I believe that if I am a true saint then I will persevere. How does a proper view of eschatology shape the way I live my life now?

    Again, I agree that it is something that needs to be addressed, but it also seems like there are bigger fish to fry before getting to eschatology.

  3. I enjoy what Matt Waymeyer says in his book “Rev 20 and the Millennial Debate”

    Although many people are fascinated with the study of eschatology for the wrong reasons, there are many profitable reasons for engaging in such a study. The most significant one is that a contemplation of future events in God’s plan fosters an expectancy that prepares one’s heart for a life of worship, joy, and obedience (Read Titus 2:11-14; 2 Pet 3:14; 1 Pet 1:3-6, 13-16; 1 John 3:2-3; Phil 3:17-21; 2 Cor 4:16-18; 5:9-10; Rom 8:18-25; 11:33-36; 12:12a; Heb 10:24-25).

    “Bible prophecy is not given so we make a calendar- it’s given to mold our character.” Let’s not miss the N.T. pattern.

  4. Caleb — thanks for the reminder of that book. I read it, but I forgot that line. However, I still don’t see how that changes the way I live. I fully believe in God’s sovereignty and would probably call myself a soft determinist. I trust that He has a plan that may or may not involve my comfort, but I believe that I will ultimately enjoy heaven forever. I see my life as a mist that will soon pass. Of course, I want to live it to the fullest, but my hope is in my future.

    I think that my heart has the expectancy that Matt mentions without necessarily having a completely thought-out eschatology. I’m not trying to be difficult, but I still don’t fully understand what studying eschatology will do for my faith.

    Perhaps one factor in this is that I am not fully committed to a theological system either. I go to a Dispensational seminary, but am not necessarily a committed Dispensationalist. I have read Vlach’s book and look forward to studying the matter further.

    I realize that eschatology is not at the core of Dispensationalism, but I also know that it tends to be an area that will easily spark vigorous debate. Is it possible that a commitment to Dispensational theology will make the study of eschatology more important?

    Again, I’m not trying to be difficult or debate, but I am trying to understand. As I stand right now, I don’t see the value in spending a lot of time with eschatology before I deal with it in my Systematic class.

  5. Posted by Chris Pixley on March 31, 2009 at 10:39 am

    Caleb–Matt’s right. As Doc Zemek would say, eschatology primarily serves an ethical function in the NT. Our knowledge of future events is intended to shape our character today. Witness Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonian Christians in light of their confusion about the Lord’s return–here’s how it’s going to go down so this is how you ought to live right now.

  6. The best way to study eschatology (in my humble opinion) is by preaching through the Bible, verse by verse. Hopefully biblical exegesis will drive our biblical theology.

    The better we know our English Bibles the more the minor details of prophesy will come together in a beautiful way. That is one of the reasons why I need to study the O.T. more. The minor and major prophets are so important to this subject as are the biblical covenants.

    I tried very hard not to let my systematic theology drive my exegesis when i preached through Rev 3:8-11 for the first time this past Sunday. I was open to the reality that my current understanding of the Tribulation may need to be modified…

    I would agree with you Jason on a few points. Get your theology proper/anthropology/soteriology down first. Seminary is hard because there are times you want to stop and read like 5 books on any given subject but you have to keep moving on (per the teacher/class). God’s Word is such an amazing book. We can give our live to studying and applying it and never grow discontent.

  7. Caleb — thanks for the thoughts. You are quite right that there are times when I’d like to pull the emergency brake and really chew on some topic. I find that is what papers are good for, but even they can’t exhaust everything I want to investigate further. I know that my time is coming to look more deeply into eschatology and I think I can wait until then.

    I appreciate your humility in being willing to reexamine your ideas regarding the tribulation. Given the men who have disagreed about this over the centuries, I think that it is foolish to be too dogmatic about this issue. In fact, given the men who disagree now it is probably not a good idea to be too dogmatic.

  8. Caleb, thanks for the post and comments.

    Jason, I think it is helpful, as you mentioned, to focus on essential matters that pertain to orthodoxy. However, I would offer one soft caution. At the end of the day it is impossible to drive a wedge between the various categories of systematic theology. In fact I think part of the reason for the eschatological agnosticism that Caleb mentions is because various systems often tend to (both dispensational and covenantal) unduly flatten or build circles around passages in order to accommodate various pieces of their own theological puzzles.

    For example, my understanding of eschatology does not begin in Revelation or Daniel for that matter. It begins in Genesis with a heavy emphasis on the Abrahamic covenant. This covenant is the marching orders for what the Lord will do among His people in the world. Then it progresses from there onto the other explicit covenants mentioned in Scripture (e.g., Davidic, New). My exegesis of each of these passages should hold my theology in check and I should follow the conclusions of the text wherever they may lead. I also do not buy the idea that this is an idealistic dream for interpreters.

    I watched some young men recently discuss eschatology as if they had it all sewn together. As they went on to discuss these matters it becomes painfully obvious that they completely overlooked the foundational role of antecedent theology (e.g., OT covenants). Therefore when folks press me about my eschatology and they begin with views of the rapture or even the millennium, I know they have not done their homework and started with more fundamental questions like “Why would the Lord promise to do anything in the future?” This is why we beat the drum on this blog that in order to understand the revelation given in the NT you MUST go and understand its foundation in the OT.

    Great discussion fellas, keep it coming.

  9. Paul — thanks for the caution. I completely agree.

    I look forward to developing more of an opinion on this as I study it further. It’s not that I think it has no value, it’s just that I think it is overstated in some circles. Put another way, if I ever get to pastor a church I’m not sure that agreement on this issue would be a condition of membership.

  10. Posted by Scott Christensen on April 1, 2009 at 1:02 am

    To add what Paul has said, as if that is wise, I would say there is often a tendency to over-compartmentalize eschatology as if it has nothing to do with other aspects of our theology. I think the best way to approach eschatology is to understand the story line of the Bible as part of the unfolding plan of redemption. Covenant Theologians like to think they have a corner on this approach, but in reality Dispensationalism is incoherent in my mind if it is not understood as part of the essential fabric of the unfolding of Biblical revelation.

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