End times: Scholars differ on possibilities
    January 11 2010 by David Roach, Baptist Press

    When it comes to uncertainties about the end of time, at least one thing is certain: Southern Baptists have a variety of opinions.

    And according to theologians in Baptist seminaries, nearly all of those opinions fall within the bounds of orthodoxy.

    “On the whole Baptists have been model kingdom citizens when agreeing on the essentials of a doctrine of last things without attempting to press one another unrelentingly on the particular details,” wrote Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, in the book Baptist Faith and Message 2000: Critical Issues in America’s Largest Protestant Denomination.

    Beyond Christ’s return
    Beyond basic, orthodox beliefs, Christians disagree significantly.

    Theologians have divided on such issues as what happens to believers between their deaths and Christ’s second coming, the nature of the resurrection body and the number of resurrections to occur.

    “Frankly, I find some Christian eschatological interpretations embarrassing,” guest lecturer Craig Evans of Acadia Divinity School said during a discussion of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

    “There are some pulpiteers, TV evangelists, and popular writers who think they’ve got this all figured out.”

    When asked his interpretation of Bible prophecy from references to the armies of Belial, armies of Satan, and a mention of Magog, Evans said, “I just say to be cautious about that because we don’t always know what’s going on. Some of this is metaphorical, poetic and so forth, and to bring a scientific precision to it and pigeonhole everything — I think that’s a very questionable approach.”

    The only views that qualify as unorthodox are those that deny a future coming of Christ, Russell D. Moore, senior vice president for academic administration and dean of the theology school at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said.

    “Any view that does not hold to a future day of what the church has called ‘the resurrection of the flesh’ is outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy,” Moore said.

    “Christians have and will continue to disagree about whether some of the events of Matthew 25 or Mark 13 or the book of Revelation were fulfilled at the fall of Jerusalem. That can be a disagreement among brothers.

    “We, of course, will continue to disagree about the meaning of the millennium in Revelation 20, probably until the millennium itself.

    “We cannot disagree, however, about the future bodily coming of our Lord and the future resurrection of both the just and the unjust. This is clearly and indisputably taught in the Scripture and is essential to the Christian faith.”

    The millennium
    Among Southern Baptists, differences arise on the nature of the millennium referenced in Revelation 20.

    That passage describes a 1,000-year period during which Satan is bound. Disagreement occurs regarding the timing of Christ’s return relative to the millennium and whether the number 1,000 is literal or symbolic.

    stock.xchng graphic by xymonau


    Premillennialists believe Christ will return prior to a literal 1,000-year period.

    Among premillennialists, opinions vary on whether Jesus will remove Christians from the earth prior to a tribulation preceding His return. Some, known as dispensational premillennialists or dispensationalists, believe in such a rescue for Christians.

    Others, known as historic premillennialists, believe Christians will not be taken out of the world until Jesus returns. A minority of premillennialists believe Christians will be raptured halfway through a period of tribulation preceding Christ’s return.

    Postmillennialists believe the 1,000-year period will occur before Jesus returns. Adherents of this position generally believe the millennium will be a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity under the lordship of Christ.

    Although postmillennialism has enjoyed proponents such as Jonathan Edwards and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary founder B.H. Carroll, the view faded from Baptist life in the last century.

    Amillennialists believe the number 1,000 is figurative and that we are currently in the millennium (some premillennialists and postmillennialists also believe 1,000 is figurative).

    They argue that Satan was bound by Christ through His finished work at the cross and has limited power until Christ returns.

    Thus, the millennium refers to the current era when Christ reigns in the hearts of believers without Satan’s interference. Christ’s return will mark the close of this era, amillennialists believe.

    James Leo Garrett, distinguished professor of theology emeritus at Southwestern Seminary, said these millennial positions have a long history of interaction in the SBC. For the first half-century following the convention’s founding in 1845, premillennialism and postmillennialism were the two dominant viewpoints, he said.

    Amillennialism’s origins often are traced to the fifth-century North African bishop Augustine of Hippo, but the view rose to prominence in the SBC between the 1930s and 1980s as postmillennialism died out.

    Many scholars date the decline of postmillennialism to World War I, when it seemed evident that the universe would not gradually improve leading up to a glorious millennial kingdom.

    The late Oklahoma pastor and former SBC president Herschel Hobbs helped popularize amillennialism along with seminary professors H.E. Dana, Ray Summers, and Edward McDowell. At Southwestern Seminary, amillennialism was the dominant position among the faculty from the 1930s until the 1990s, Garrett said.

    Dispensational premillennialism arose as the major competitor to amillennialism in the 20th century. Initially developed by the Brethren Movement in early 19th century Britain, C.I. Scofield popularized dispensationalism by teaching it in the notes of his Scofield Reference Bible first published in 1909.

    Dispensationalism teaches that history is divided into different periods or dispensations, in which God deals with humans differently.

    While all evangelicals agree that God acted differently in different periods of history, dispensationalists hold some distinctive views of the dispensations which earned them their title.

    Although dispensationalism likely is the most popular eschatological position among Southern Baptists today, Garrett noted that it was a new development in the 19th century with no antecedent in the Baptist past.

    “You had Graves, you had (Fort Worth pastor) J. Frank Norris, and then you had W.A. Criswell espousing dispensationalism,” he said.

    “But nobody back behind that period was at all inclined. And I would argue the reason is because it didn’t come before ... the 19th century in Britain.”

    ‘Already’ and ‘Not Yet’
    By the mid-20th century, dispensationalism and amillennialism appeared to be hopelessly at odds in the SBC and the larger evangelical world.

    But a movement led by Baptist theologians Carl F.H. Henry and George Eldon Ladd brought the two poles together.

    Henry and Ladd argued that both groups got something wrong. Dispensationalists, they said, viewed the Kingdom of God as entirely a future reality to be established during the millennium.

    On the other hand, amillennialists, who often fell in the Reformed tradition of “covenant theology,” argued that the Kingdom was entirely a present spiritual reality.

    So Henry “combined the ‘already’ kingdom emphasis of the covenant theologians with the ‘not yet’ kingdom expectancy of the dispensationalists,” explains Moore in his book The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective.

    The resulting view, known as inaugurated eschatology, argued that the Kingdom is already present as Christ reigns spiritually in the hearts of believers but is also a future reality in which He will reign over the physical universe perfectly and eternally.

    Because of Henry and Ladd, evangelicals who disagree on minor details of eschatology now agree on the overall “already-not yet” framework of God’s Kingdom, Moore writes.

    One position to emerge from the new consensus developed by Henry and Ladd is progressive dispensationalism.

    Developed in the late 20th century, this position agrees with older varieties of dispensationalism that God divided history into different eras and that there will be a secret rapture of the church prior to a period of tribulation on earth. However, progressive dispensationalists disagree with classic dispensationalists’ assertion that God has different plans of redemption for Israel on the one hand and the church on the other.

    Patterson, himself a dispensationalist, told the TEXAN that progressive dispensationalism brought valuable correction to older forms of dispensationalism.

    “The problem with ‘revised dispensationalism’ (an older variety of the position) is that its advocates may actually hold that Israel and the church are forever separated,” Patterson said.

    “I see them instead as one people before God in the eternal state. The key to this, to me, is the 24 elders who appear before the throne in the Book of Revelation who seem to be representative of the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of the Lamb — hence, Israel and the church.

    “There is no doubt in my mind that the distinction should be made in God’s work through Israel in the Old Testament and then again in the tribulation and the millennium, but there is also no question in my mind that once the eternal state is inaugurated, the church and Israel will all be together as the people of God.”

    Profs’ views vary
    SBC seminaries employ professors who hold a wide variety of eschatological positions but agree on inaugurated eschatology and the 12 basic beliefs cited earlier as a standard of orthodoxy.

    The TEXAN polled the six seminaries regarding the positions of their faculty and discovered that historic premillennialism may have slightly more adherents than any other position.

    Included in the survey’s findings:
    • Among Southwestern School of Theology faculty, 20 are historic premillennialists, 15 hold to premillennial and pretribulational views, three are amillennialists and two abstained.
    • Southern Seminary faculty members hold to historic premillennialism most often, although a small number hold to amillennialism or progressive dispensationalism.
    • New Orleans Seminary faculty members tend to be historic premillennialists.
    • Of the eight Midwestern Seminary faculty members who responded, all but one are premillennialists, two of them specifying historic premillennialism and another amillennialism.


    • At Southeastern Seminary, premillennial, pretribulational faculty edged out historic premillennialists 12-6, while one professor is still undecided on his millennium commitment.
    • A survey of Golden Gate faculty was incomplete.
    But President Jeff Iorg indicated that he holds to a premillennial, pretribulational view while two faculty members identified themselves as historic premillennialists.

    The Middle East
    Another area of disagreement is the extent to which believers should look to current events in the Middle East as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

    Some dispensationalists see the state of Israel as playing a central role in the end times while historic premillennialists and amillennialists do not see God’s Kingdom as linked to a single political state.

    Jim Sibley, director of the Pasche Institute of Jewish Studies and associate professor of Jewish ministry at Criswell, represents the dispensationalist side of the argument.

    Current events in the Middle East “are prompting Christians to take a greater interest in eschatology,” Sibley said.

    “I think the novels of Joel Rosenberg have helped that. I think it’s fading now, but the influence of the ‘Left Behind’ series was certainly huge. But the fact that Iran and its surrogates are encircling Israel through Hamas and Hezbollah with the development of nuclear capability at the same time is causing a lot of Christians to sit up and pay attention.”

    Moore, a historic premillennialist, disagrees. In his book The Kingdom of Christ, he argues, along with Reformed theologians and progressive dispensationalists, that the modern state of Israel does not now play a central role in God’s Kingdom.

    “Developments toward a kingdom-oriented eschatology ... do not give such a blanket endorsement of the present Israeli state, at least not on the basis of biblical prophecy,” Moore writes.

    “This is because of the Christocentric nature of the messianic kingdom, a theological contention covenant theologians have always maintained in relation to any future for the state of Israel.”

    Despite minor disagreements, Patterson urged Southern Baptists to remain united on the beliefs articulated in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.

    He wrote in Baptist Faith and Message 2000: Critical Issues in America’s Largest Protestant Denomination: “What may be seen as most remarkable about the 2000 statement is that within a postmodern ethos, which generally desires to skirt issues of judgment, the Southern Baptist Convention has maintained the emphasis from former years on the certainty of the judgment of God, associating that judgment with the return of the Lord, insisting that there are two classes of people — the righteous and the unrighteous — and that people will spend eternity in either heaven or hell.”

    (EDITOR’S NOTE — Roach is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, where an expanded version of this story first appeared.)

    Related story
    A generational gap in  end times interest?
    1/11/2010 8:58:00 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 2 comments




Comments
Dr. James Willingham
Bro. Scarborough is right in many respects: a lot of this eschatological "tempest in a teapot" is just obsessing and wishful thinking, wanting out of the mess. However, I wish to take issue with both him and Dr. Moore. To Rev. Scarborough, I say this concern with end-time issues has a relationship to present problems. To Dr. Moore,Post-millenialism is not dead. On the contrary, I think it is coming back. As ministers set in their studies and look at the word of God, they come upon passages which neither historic premillenialism, dispensational premillenialism, nor a-millenialism can explain. Take, for example, a passage like Jonah 3 where the prophet proclaims an unconditional message of judgment upon the city of Nineveh. "Forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown," but it wasn't and the prophet did not expect it. On the contrary,he expected as he says in Jonah 4 that God was going to spare that bunchof heathen that he, Jonah, wanted to see destroyed. An unconditional prophecy that was not fulfilled which says it is not necessarily the statement but the purpose involved in the prophecy. Jonah blew my pre-trib, pre-mil eschatology all to pieces. Some seven or 8 years earlier an old layman in Ky. had asked me, "Have you ever thought about the fact that at any one time every last soul on the face of the earth could be the elect of God?" I answered no due to my eschatology. Then Jonah and that question blew me right out of the water. I had also been reading Jonathan Edwards' Humble Attempt, the tract which he had written to appeal to Christians of all denominations to unite in prayer for the propagation of the gospel among the heathen. In the work he listed about 100 scriptures which surely imply the possibility of an Awakening of the whole earth to Christ. I think they are promises which were pleaded by William Carey and others in the prayer meetings which led to the launching of the Great Century of Missions. Perhaps they were also pleaded by those who would witness the Second Great Awakening. I had also copied by hand Carey's Thoughts on Missions which bares a close relationship to Edwards' Humble Attempt. Dr. Moore ought to have more closely examined Edwards' and Carey's works before taking much stock in historic premillenialism. There is also another issue which has not been addressed by hardly any one of whom I am aware, namely, the spiritual coming of Christ to His people. This is stated several times by our Lord in Jn 14 in the present tense in the Greek which literal rendering must be "I am coming to you," a constant, ongoing process, a spiritual, invisible reality, occurring right now, this very moment and the next and the next and the next, or better yet, "now and now and now and now and now." One morning in our seminary apt at SEBTS I awoke and the Lord was there, invisible and present and real, so real that he could not have been any more real had he been there physically. It was like the night I was converted. I cried tears of joy for a solid half-hour, all the time preparing to go to class. About a month later, I would experience that presence again and again during the week of the loss of my mother, two half sisters, and a step-father in a murder-suicide tragedy. The next Spring I would preach on the subject of A Great Awakening to the pastors' prayer meeting of the Sandy Creek Baptist Association. I would preach on the subject of an awakening to that pastors' prayer meeting again on the 5th and 10th anniversaries. What is interesting is that the Awakenings and the Great Cntury of Missions and our educational institutions grew out of a Postmillenial eschatology which begs the question: What kind of eschatology leads to Great Awakenings? Could the Abstract of Principles of SBTS and SEBTS be more congenial to this kind of view of last things and therefore conducive to Awakenings than the other two? For nearly 38 years I have been praying for The Third Great Awakening, the one that wins the whole earth to Christ for a generation and then for a 1000 more generations after that in order to have a literal fulfillment of the promises to Abraham of a seed numerous like the stars of heaven and the sand by the seashore as well as the prospect of the redeemed in heaven being a number that no man no number. Such being the case, which must give way? And why are there no post-millenials teaching on our campuses? Why no teaching of Sovereign Grace evangelism? Why no serious conferences on the First and Second Great Awakenings and the leaders of them and the ministers of the Baptists who could win religious liberty, unite the Separate and Regular Baptists, win General Baptists over to a Particular view of the atonement and to a more evangelistic and missionary outreach, evangelize in quality and quantity, call other protestants our pedobaptist brethren, work with truly worthwhile political statesmen, help to civilize a half wild population, and more? If every thing is to be cut so short, why would God waste words like, I Chron.16:15, "the word which he commanded to a thousand generations?" And which way does He establish His kingdom? By physical force in His return or, what is an even greater glory to His blessed name, by the suffering, bleeding winsomeness of His people patiently, humbly following their Lord and Savior who won them by His horrible sufferings on Calvary's tree?
1/19/2010 9:56:27 PM

Gene Scarborough
Views of the end of time a just another "tempest in a teapot" where people spend endless amounts of time speculating when Jesus, himself, said, "NO man know the time, not even the Son." If it were not important enough to concern Jesus, why should we obsess over it.

Usually, when times are tough and we wish we were out of the mess, we mess with eschatology. I take all this end of time talk as just that---wishing we were out!

Personally, we all have an end of time irregardless of what God does with this earth. If we keep messing with nukes and messing with terrorists, we might cause it with human stupidity--now would that be-----stupid!!!
1/11/2010 7:29:39 PM

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