Eschatology

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The Binding of Satan: An Eschatological Question

michael-binds-satan-william-blakeWhen does the binding of Satan occur? Is it something yet to come, or is it something which has already happened? Here, I will analyze the futurist position on these questions: the notion that Satan and his minions are yet to be bound.*

Futurism is, essentially, the position that the prophecies in Daniel and Revelation (and many elsewhere) are largely yet to be fulfilled. This is in contrast to historicism- the view that these prophecies have been fulfilled through the church age (with some yet future); preterism- the view that many of these prophecies have already been fulfilled in the past; and idealism- the view that these prophecies have spiritual meanings which may be fulfilled multiple times through history until the End.

The central passage for the question at hand is Revelation 20:1-3:

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. (NIV)

The futurist interpretation of this passage would be fairly straightforward: at some point in the future, before the millennium, Satan will be bound. Many futurists hold that this also includes Satan’s minions. Representative is Paul Benware: “With the removal of Satan comes the removal of his demonic forces and his world system” (Benware, 334, cited below). It is on this point that the question I have turns. Consider Jude 6:

And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling–these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. (NIV)

Note the interesting parallels with the passage from Revelation 20. Both use the language of “chains” and reference a time when something will happen after this binding. Yet Jude 6 seems to imply the definite binding of these demonic forces from the time it was written or even before. Why? Jude 5 gives the temproal context, which is sandwiched in between discussion of the Exodus and Sodom and Gomorrah. Of course, Sodom and Gomorrah predate the Exodus, but the overall context of the passage is given by Jude as being around that time period (“I want to remind you…” v. 5).

Moreover, 2 Peter 2:4 states:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment…

Again, in context Peter is discussing a number of past events. So it certainly seems that at least some demonic forces have already been bound. Benware writes of these passages: “The Scriptures reveal that Satan and his angelic followers will be judged for their sin and rebellion…” (329, emphasis mine). Now, Benware is clearly saying that there will be a judgment in the future, and that seems correct from both passages. However, he does not note anywhere in his major work the difficulty these verses present to his own view, for he insists elsewhere that amillenialists are incorrect when they view this binding as being a present reality (129ff). But he does grant that at least some demonic forces are bound now.

The question, then, is how is it that futurists can consistently insist upon the impossibility of Revelation 20:1-3 being a present reality while already granting that it is, at least in part, fulfilled? That is, if one grants that at least some demonic forces are bound, it seems that one cannot insist that certain spiritual forces cannot possibly be bound at present. Thus, it seems to me this particular aspect of futurism is not on as strong a ground as many insist.

Indeed, one may read Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2 and get the impression that these things have already occurred. There is no stipulation within the text to say that only some wicked angels have been bound. Indeed, they both seem to imply the total binding of all demonic forces. But this would not be compatible with the standard futurist interpretation of Revelation 20:1-3.

*Readers should note that I am not here intending to critique the overall futurist position. Instead, I am merely wondering about one specific aspect of some futurist interpretations.

Links

Check out my other posts on eschatology (scroll down for more).

Also, read my review of Benware’s massive work on premillenial dispensationalism, Understanding End Times Prophecy.

Sources

Paul Beware Understanding End Times Prophecy (Chicago: Moody, 2006).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Book Review: “Four Views on the Book of Revelation” (Zondervan Counterpoints Series)

4vrI have been researching eschatology quite a bit of late. Please be aware, therefore, that this review comes from one who has only read a limited amount on the subject. I will not be offering insights from an expert, and am fully ready to admit that I am still learning. That said, I chose Four Views on the Book of Revelation because I enjoy reading from different sides of debates like these. I think it is important to have an understanding of each position from proponents of the different views. I will here offer a brief review of the book. [If you decide to get the book, please use the links in this post support my ministry through Amazon.]

Overview of Content

Introduction

The work begins with a rather lengthy introduction to the book of Revelation and the various views regarding its content. The bulk of this section is its introductions to each of the views featured in the work. Interestingly, the historicist view is basically dismissed out of hand in the introduction:

This volume incorporates the current, prevailing interpretations of Revelation. Thus, while the historicist approach once was widspread, today, for all practical purposes, it has passed from the scene. (18)

Preterist View

Kenneth Gentry, Jr. begins his exposition of preterism with a bold claim: “I am firmly convinced that even an introductory survey of several key passages, figures, and events in John’s majestic prophecy can demonstrate the plausibility of the preterist position” (37). Before diving into this survey, however, Gentry outlines the importance of understanding that Revelation “is a highly figurative book that we cannot approach with… literalism” (38). He defends this claim with a number of points, including the precedent of earlier prophets who used symbolism and the difficulty of consistent literal readings (38-40).

Gentry’s case for preterism focuses squarely on the introduction to the book. This is not to suggest that is the only part of his argument, but rather than he himself recognizes the introduction as a central tenant of preterism. He notes the continued refrain of Jesus “coming soon” and argues that this suggests a reading of the text as real prophecies occurring within the lifetimes of those present.

Much of the rest of Gentry’s survey is built upon tying the prophecies in Revelation to the historical events of the attack upon Jerusalem. A good representation can be found in tying the “Beast” 666 to Nero and the seven mountains to Rome (67-69).

Idealist View

Sam Hamstra, Jr. argues that the core of the idealist view of Revelation is found in a message: “While at this moment the children of God suffer in a world where evil appears to have the upper hand, God is sovereign and Jesus Christ has won the victory” (96).

The idealist case centers around seeing Revelation as apocalyptic literature, and interpreting it through that lens (97). However, Revelation is not exclusively apocalyptic but is rather “a mixture of literary styles” (99). The idealist interpretation sees the use of “like” throughout the descriptions of Christ and elsewhere as supportive of the non-literal nature of the book (101ff).

Hamstra’s survey of the book of Revelation continues to note what he holds are the symbolic use of symbols and other imagery. Representative is the use of the number seven, which suggests “completeness… the author is speaking of the church at all times and in all places” (102).

For the idealist, then, the book of Revelation can have multiple fulfillment throughout time. It is a book which comforts Christians who see the constant wars, plagues, and the like seen in Revelation by reminding them that God is in charge. Ultimately, Pate’s view can be summarized easily: “the best understanding… is that Jesus’ utterances about the Kingdom of God were partially fulfilled at his first coming… but remain forthcoming until his return” (175).

Progressive Dispensationalist View

C. Marvin Pate’s progressive dispensationalism is grounded in the theme of “already/not yet” (135). This notion hints at eschatological tension which can be found throughout the book of Revelation, according to Pate. That is, there are things which may seem fulfilled “already” but have “not yet” reached their fullest completion. As an example, he notes “with the first coming of Jesus Christ the age to come already dawned, but it is not yet complete; it awaits the Paraousia for its consummation” (136).

The notion of already/not yet allows Pate to interpret some texts in a kind of preterist light, while maintaining that they still have yet to find their fullest realization. An example can be found in the letters to the churches in which Pate notes that these are set against the background of Caesar worship while also pointing forward to future events (139ff).

Pate’s view is decidedly focused on the millennium and a more literal reading of the texts than the previous two views. The interpretation of Christ’s return is illustrative (166ff).

Classical Dispensationalist View

Robert Thomas argues that dispensationalism must be viewed in light of its hermeneutical system, which attempts to remain as literal as possible throughout the itnerpretation of a text (180). Thus, Thomas is an ardent futurist, waiting for the events recorded in Genesis to come about.

A major challenge for this view is the interpretation of texts about Christ coming “soon” and “quickly.” Thomas notes that this theme can be grounded in the notion of imminence in which we are to always be ready for Christ’s return as opposed to a notion of immediacy (189).

A typical classical dispensationalist reading of Revelation can be found in Thomas’ interpretation of the horsemen. He notes that the first “portrays a rider on a white horse, who represents a growing movement of anti-Christian and false Christian forces at work early in the period… the third… rider on a black horse [represents] famine-inducing forces….” (193-194). Thomas also argues that Israel is not the church and so must have the promises fulfilled to Israel as a nation (196ff).

Thomas argues that the major issue is dependent upon which hermeneutical system one employs. If one employs a literal hermeneutic, he contends, one will be dispensational. Period (211-214).

Analysis/Conclusion

I will only briefly comment on each view here.

Preterism

Gentry’s case is quite strong, but I have to wonder about the appeal to the language of “coming soon,” particularly in light of the constant refrain in the Hebrew Scriptures of the day of the Lord being “near.” These prophets clearly did not witness the “day of the Lord” (which, on preterist views is either the 70AD destruction of the Temple or still is yet to come), and so such language has a precedent for longer periods of time than the preterist appeals to.

Overall, however, some of the themes Gentry points to does hint at the possibility for interpreting certain prophecies as fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem.

Idealism

The idealist position has some draw for me because it focuses on the applicability of the book to all Christians in every time and place. In particular, the idealist interpretation of the letters to the churches is, I think, spot on. It allows for historicity while also noting the fact that we continue to live in an age in which all those types of churches still exist.

Yet I can’t help but also note that the idealist interpretation at times seems to play too fast and loose with the text, assuming that certain persons or events are types when it seems more clearly to point to a future fulfillment. Of course, the idealist could respond by saying many of these still are in the future after all.

Progressive Dispensationalism

There is great appeal in the notion of the already/not yet aspects of Revelation, which seems to give proper deference to the historical background of the book while also grounding it ultimately in the future promised fulfillment.

It is interesting to see that Pate is willing to interpret some aspects of the text figuratively, yet remains convinced that there will be a literal 1000 year reign, among other things. One could charge him with inconsistency here (as Robert Thomas does).

Classical Dispensationalism

I admit Thomas’ view was the most confusing for me. He insists that one must read the text literally, but then says that the white horse is not a white horse with a rider but rather “anti-Christian and false Christian forces.” Frankly, that is not the literal meaning of the text. It is commendable to desire to stay as true to the text’s meaning as possible, but using the word “literal” in this way seems to be abuse of language.

But Thomas’ view also has more to recommend it, such as his focus upon the future fulfillment. It is hard to read Revelation and not see many of the events as yet to occur, particularly if one desires to read the text as literally as possible.

General remarks

One thing I must note is that I did experience some great disappointment with the book in that it did not follow the standard format of the Zondervan Counterpoints series. Specifically, the book does not have each author interacting with the others after each view. Although the authors clearly had access to the other essays and were given the opportunity to interact via footnotes throughout their own essay, the level of interaction was not on par with other books in the series.

Others have expressed displeasure with the fact that the book does not present the historicist view of Revelation. I share some of that, though I would still maintain that–despite other reviewers [mostly on Amazon] are saying–there are definitely four distinct views presented in this book. They do not cover all the views as comprehensively as some might like, but the views which are included are each unique and worth reading. The quick dismissal of historicism in the introduction may be the consensus of scholarship, but historicism remains a major view among the laity as well as many clergy and some scholars. To have it not included is not the greatest crime, but it does hint at a lack of completeness with the survey here.

Overall, I would recommend this book as a way for those interested in Revelation and eschatology more generally to read. It presents four major views of the interpretation of Revelation by giving each author a rather lengthy section to make their case. Readers will be familiarized with the different views, along with arguments for and against each view. Although the book could be improved by the inclusion of the historicist position and greater interaction between the views, Four Views on the Book of Revelation is a worthy read. Let me know what you think. What is your view on Revelation?

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.”

Book Review: “Understanding End Times Prophecy” by Paul Benware- I review a book on eschatology written from the premillenial dispensationalist position.

Source: Four Views on the Book of Revelation edited by C. Marvin Pate (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Understanding End Times Prophecy” by Paul Benware

uep-benwareUnderstanding End Times Prophecy by Paul Benware certainly deserves its subtitle: “A Comprehensive Approach.” Benware presents a lengthy tome defending his position, dispensational premillenialism (more on that soon), while also outlining and critiquing many other views on various eschatological concepts.

Wait, What?

Yes, I just used the words dispensational premillenialism together in a sentence as though it made sense. It does. That is one of the many views Benware surveys in the book. Before reading Understanding End Times Prophecy (hereafter UEP), I admit I could not have distinguished a dispensational premillenialist from an amillenialist. Nor could I have identified a pre-wrath view in contrast with a post-wrath view. Benware’s book touches all of these and more, explaining the various positions out there on the various eschatological themes while also providing a thorough critique of those with which he disagrees.

Outline of Contents

Benware starts by outlining some principles for interpreting Biblical prophecy. Primary among these is the notion that prophetic passages must be interpreted literally. Benware explains: “Literal interpretation assumes that… [God] based His revelatory communication on the normal rules of human communication. Literal interpretation understands that in normal communication and in the Scriptures figures of speech are valuable as communication devices…” and it is therefore “not… a rigid ‘letterism’ or ‘mechanical understanding of the language’ that ignores symbols and figures” (23-24).

UEP then outlines a broad understanding of Biblical covenants, noting that the covenant God made with Abraham was unconditional, and so must be fulfilled.Next, Benware turns to a number of passages which outline the Palestinian, Davidic, and New Covenants. These he discusses in the context of promises God makes to Israel which must be fulfilled.

The next major section outlines the major views on the millennium. Benware favors the dispensational premillenial view and so spends some time outlining it.The dispensational view focuses on the covenants found throughout the Bible. It holds that there are different “economies” of God’s working. These dispensations are not time periods, nor are they different ways of salvation. Instead, they are specific truths about how God chooses to work with His people (86ff). This view also holds that God will fulfill promises through Israel as a literal nation in the place that God promised them (88ff).

The premillenial view holds that Christ returns before the millennial kingdom. It holds that the millennium is a literal thousand-year reign of Jesus on earth. Thus, there are two resurrections: first, before the millennial kingdom; second, after the millennial kingdom. Israel factors prominently into this view; Israel will be part of the thousand year reign and will occupy the land that God promised unconditionally to Abraham (94ff). Benware argues against the notion that Israel has become displaced or fulfilled in the church (103-120).

Then Benware turns to the view of amillenialism. Essentially, this view holds that the “millennium” is non-literal and is being fulfilled now during the church age. There is one resurrection, and the judgment comes immediately upon Christ’s return. Thus, the current period is the millennial kingdom (121-137).

Postmillenialism is the subject next discussed in UEP. This view tends to be tied into the notion that we are now living in the kingdom of God and so will usher in a golden age through social justice or action. After this undefined point, Christ will return to judge (139ff). Benware is highly critical of this view, noting that it relies upon the notion that we will continue improving the world (yet the world seems to be falling farther rather than progressing); as well as its rejection of the notion of a literal reign of Israel (150ff).

Finally, Benware evaluates preterism. Essentially, this view holds that the events prophesied in Revelation and elsewhere have either all or mostly been fulfilled already. There is much diversity within this perspective, but largely it is tied in with the notion that the destruction of the temple ushered in the end times (154ff).

The next major area of evaluation in UEP is that of the rapture. Benware analyzes pre-tribulation; post-tribulation; and other rapture views. Pre-tribulation is the view that the rapture will happen before the tribulation period. Post-tribulation is the view that the rapture happens after the tribulation. These directly tie into how one views the coming of Christ and the millennial kingdom (207ff).

Finally, UEP ends with outlines of the seventieth week of the book of Daniel, the Kingdom of God, death and the intermediate state, and the final eternal state. An enormous amount of exposition and discussion is tucked into these final chapters. For example, Benware includes a critique of annihilationism.

I have here only touched on the surface of UEP. Benware is exceedingly thorough and has managed to write an amazing resource on the issues related to End Times Prophecy.

Analysis

As has been noted, UEP is a simply fantastic resource for those who want to look at the various views which are discussed in contemporary evangelicalism. Benware has also provided an extremely detailed exposition of the dispensational premillenialist position. If someone wants to critique that view, UEP will be a book which they must reference. It is that good and that comprehensive.

Furthermore, Benware provides a number of excellent insights through the use of charts. Throughout UEP, there are charts scattered which summarize the content of what Benware argues, show pictorially what various views teach, and more. These charts will become handy for readers to reference later when they want to discuss the issues Benware raises. They also help interested readers learn what various views and positions teach.

Benware rightly shatters false notions that Biblical prophecy is some kind of indiscernible mystery language which humans weren’t meant to think on. His care for making clear what the Bible teaches on a number of issues is noteworthy.

Unfortunately, there are several areas in the book which are cause for caution. Benware’s use of proof texts is sometimes questionable. There is great merit to utilizing a series of related texts after an assertion in order to support one’s argument, but upon looking up several texts that Benware cites to make his points, it seems that he often stretched texts far out of their context or even cited texts which had nothing to do with the argument he made in the context in which he cited them. For just one example, Benware writes “The second phase of his [the Antichrist’s] careerwill take place during the first half of the tribulation… During his rise to power he will make enemies who will assassinate him near the midpoint of the tribulation (cf. Rev. 13:3, 12, 14). But much to the astonishment of the world, he is restored to life and becomes the object of worship (along with Satan)” (300). Note that Benware specifically says that the Antichrist will be assassinated and resurrected. Now, turn to the passages that Benware cites. Revelation 13:3, 12, and 14 state:

3: One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast… 12: It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed… 14: Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. (NIV)

Now, where in this section does it say the Antichrist will be assassinated? Where in this section does it talk about the Antichrist dying and being raised to life? Strangely, Benware seems to reject the literal hermeneutic he advocates, and begins to interpret texts in ways that bend them  to the breaking point.

The issue of these proof texts opens a broader critique of UEP. Benware constantly insists upon a literal reading of Revelation and other prophetic texts, while also criticizing those who hold other views of using an inconsistent hermeneutic. Yet, as I believe I demonstrated above, Benware often goes well beyond the literal meaning of the texts and comes to conclusions which stretch them past literal readings. In fact, it seems that Benware balances an often literalistic reading of the text with a non-literal reading. Thus, Benware seems to fall victim to the very error he accuses all other positions of falling into.

An overall critique of the position Benware holds would take far too much space and time for this reader to dedicate in this review, but I would note that the conclusions Benware comes to are often the result of the combination of literalistic readings and/or taking texts beyond what they say that I noted above. Some of the worrisome issues include the notion that the sacrificial system will be reinstated (334ff); a view in which the notion that the church seems in no way fulfill the Biblical prophecies about Israel (103ff); hyper-anthropomorphism of spiritual beings (i.e. demons, which are spiritual beings, being physically restricted [130]); and the insistence on literalizing all numbers in the Bible (168), among issues. It’s not that Benware doesn’t argue for these points; instead, it was that it seems his method to get his conclusions was sometimes faulty, and the case not infrequently was overstated.

One minor issue is Benware’s use of citations. It’s not that he fails to cite sources; rather, the difficulty is that he inconsistently tells the reader where the source is from. Very often Benware block quotes another text (with proper end note citation) without letting the reader know who or what he is quoting. Although this may be better for readers only interested in the argument, it can be very frustrating for those interested in knowing where Benware is getting his information to have to flip to the back of the book all the time to trace down sources. The problem is compounded by the fact that sometimes he does tell the reader where the quote is from (for example, he’ll write “so-and-so argues [quote]”) while at other times he just dives directly into the quote. The inconsistent application here may be a minor problem, but it did cause major frustration through my reading of the text.

Conclusion

Understanding End Times Prophecy is worthy reading. It provides an extremely in-depth look at the dispensational premillenial position. More importantly, Benware gives readers an overview of every major position on the millenium, the rapture, and the tribulation. The book therefore provides both an excellent starting point for readers interested in exploring eschatological views while also giving readers interested in the specific position of dispensational premillenialism a comprehensive look at that view. It comes recommended, with the caveat of the noted difficulties above. It would be hard to have a better introduction to the issues of Biblical prophecy from a premillennialist perspective than this one. The question remains, however, whether that view is correct. So far as this reader is concerned, that question remains unsettled.

Source

Paul Beware Understanding End Times Prophecy (Chicago: Moody, 2006).

Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of this book by the publisher My thanks to Moody Books for the opportunity to review the book.. 

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1

love-winsI know I am late to this party. It has taken me a while to get around to reading Love Wins by Rob Bell. There are many other looks at Love Wins available online, both critical and positive. What do I hope to offer here? I will analyze Rob Bell’s arguments in three primary ways: in light of historical theology, in light of methodology, and in light of analytic theology. I believe this will offer a thorough look at several of Bell’s claims. I hope to offer as even-handed an analysis as possible.

Rob Bell’s argument will be examined for historical accuracy and philosophical rigor. Furthermore, I will examine how Rob Bell makes his argument, because method is often one of the primary ways that people err in their theology. I begin with an analysis of the Preface and Chapter 1. I am hoping to release one post a week as I analyze this text. I will post each section with an outline of the arguments followed by my analysis.

Before I begin, one more note on this analysis: I have not read the book yet. My reason for  this is I want to have it fresh in my mind as I do the analysis instead of coming to the text with a preconceived notion of what I remember it saying. Thus, these analyses will be based on a reading of the book chapter by chapter. I will end with an overall  review once I wrap up the book. See the end of the post for links to other chapters.

Preface- “Millions of Us”

Outline

Rob Bell begins his book with a fairly simple statement “I believe that Jesus’s story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us” (vii). Bell asserts that “Jesus’s story has been hijacked by a number of other stories… it’s time to reclaim it” (vii-viii). He points out that some teachings about Jesus have caused people to stumble, and that others do not discuss the issue of hell for various reasons.

Analysis

Bell is to be commended for taking on an issue that many are afraid to discuss. It is true that some people and even churches will not delve into the topic of hell. It is important to talk about this doctrine, as it has been part of Christian teaching from the beginning.

Unfortunately, it seems that Bell has already made a methodological mistake. He implored readers to “please understand that nothing in this book hasn’t been taught, suggested, or celebrated by many before me. I haven’t come up with a radical new teaching… That’s the beauty of the historic, orthodox Christian faith. It’s a deep, wide, diverse stream that’s been flowing for thousands of years…” (x-xi).

There are actually two errors here. First, simple diversity on a topic doesn’t somehow automatically validate all positions. Just because there was diversity about the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t mean that the Arian position is somehow a valid theological perspective. Thus, it seems that Bell’s point here is moot. Diversity does not mean validity.

Second, historic, orthodox faith is not a diverse array of beliefs. The historic Christian faith has been define in universally acknowledged creeds which state what the universal church teaches on various essentials for the Christian faith. In fairness to Bell, he may be using “orthodox” to mean a denominational perspective, wherein the wider spectrum of beliefs is what may be considered “orthodox.”

Chapter 1: “What About the Flat Tire?” 

Outline

Bell starts with a story about a quote from Gandhi, which prompted someone to write “Reality check: He’s in hell.” Bell reacts to this with a series of questions: “Really? Gandhi’s in hell? He is? We have confirmation of this? Somebody knows this? Without a doubt?” (1-2). Elsewhere, he  focuses in on the individual again, asking whether it is true that the Christian message for someone who claimed to be an atheist during life has “no hope” (3).

He goes on to ask: “Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God? Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?” (2).

After focusing on the case of an individual’s salvation and whether there is an age of accountability, Bell focuses on the nature of salvation. “[W]hat exactly would have to happen… to change [an individual’s] future? Would he have had to perform a specific rite or ritual? Or take a class? Or be baptized? Or join a church? Or have something happen somewhere in his heart?” (5). Bell notes that some hold that one has to say a sinner’s prayer or pray in a specific way in order to get saved.

Bell continues to contemplate what it is to be saved, and points out that some believe that it is about a “personal relationship” but that that phrase is never used in the Bible. He asks why, if it is so central to salvation, would such a phrase not be in the Bible? (10-11). Bell asks whether “going to heaven is dependent on something I do” and then asks “How is any of that grace?” (11).

Then, Bell looks at various Biblical narratives, including the faith of the centurion, the discourse with Nicodemus, Paul’s conversion, and more, providing a constant stream of questions and noting apparently different things said about faith and salvation (12-18).

Analysis

Bell is right to focus on the notion of one’s personal fate. It is indeed impossible to declare with certainty that a specific person is in hell. It is always possible that God called them to faith in Christ before they died, even at the last moment. We should never say with 100% certainty that someone is in hell.

Bell is also correct to raise doubts about various things that people allegedly need to do in order to “get saved.” His critique of such theologies is again based around questions instead of head-on arguments, but even that is enough to poke holes into works-based theologies.

There seems to be a rather major methodological error in Bell’s analysis of a “personal relationship” with God.” His argument against using this notion to discuss salvation is to say that the phrase is not used in the Bible anywhere. As noted in the outline, he asks a number of very pointed questions regarding this and notes that the phrase isn’t in the Bible. But there are other phrases not used in the Bible which are central issues for Christianity, like “Trinity.” A phrase not appearing in the Bible does not automatically mean it isn’t taught by the Bible. Things can be derived from Biblical teaching without having the exact phrase we use to describe that teaching appear in the Bible. Just to hammer this home, let me point out that the phrase “Love Wins” nowhere appears in the Bible. One using Bell’s methodology here might come to the conclusion that his book is unbiblical.

Just as an aside, I found it a bit of a methodological problem that Bell begins the book with a chapter that is almost entirely questions. He promises answers later, but for now it seems like all the reader is left with is a bunch of–make no mistake about it–leading questions. I think that leading questions are appropriate for teaching, but not so much for defense of a position.

Conclusion

So far, we have seen that Bell makes a few methodological errors, each at a central part of his chapter. First, he made the assumption that diversity of views means validity of all. We have seen that such is not the case, diversity of views does not put them all on a level playing field. Second, he argued that because a phrase isn’t in the Bible, it doesn’t seem to be Biblical. We pointed out that this would collapse Bell’s own work  because “love wins” is not found in the Bible. Even if it were, however, we noted that the mere absence of a phrase does not entail its falsehood or unbiblical nature.

However, we have also had several good things to say about Love Wins. In particular, his analysis of works-based systems of salvation was helpful. The fact that Bell is willing to discuss a controversial topic and ask the hard questions is also commendable.

Next week, we’ll analyze Chapter 2, which is about heaven. I look forward to your comments!

Links

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2- I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3- I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4- I look at Chapter 4: Does God Get what God Wants?

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5- I analyze chapter 5.

Love Wins Critique- I found this to be a very informative series critiquing the book. For all the posts in the series, check out this post.

Should we condemn Rob Bell?- a pretty excellent response to Bell’s book and whether we should condemn different doctrines. Also check out his video on “Is Love Wins Biblical?

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

All will be made New: Mayans, end times, and eschatology, oh my!

mayans-1-nat-geoIs it the end? People are rushing to stores stocking up on bottled water and the necessities, preparing for the latest “end” which our world will endure. We’ve endured a few just this year. Some are now saying that the Mayan Calendar counts down to December 21, 2012 and that this was their prediction of the end of the world. The Mayans were extremely accurate in their calendar, so some people are thinking maybe they knew something we do not.

It just so happens that one of my random interests for quite some time has been ancient Mesoamerican history. I love reading about the Maya, Aztec, Inca, and Olmec cultures. Here, I’ll be drawing on those years of study (I am no expert–please don’t get me wrong here) along with my thoughts on Christian eschatology to provide a discussion of the latest “end of the world.”

The Mayans 

Cultural Understanding

People often talk about the Mayan Calendar without placing it in its cultural context. The Ancient Maya were a  very advanced people. It is easy to think that the people who inhabited ancient South America were a bunch of paganistic simpletons who knew little of the goings on in the world until a boat of enlightened Europeans showed up and taught them better. Such a view is, of course, extremely Eurocentric, and I would suggest it is also betrays a certain lack of knowledge over what it means to be an advanced civilization. The Maya certainly fill that role well, albeit with different types of advancement.

One could argue that the differences in advancements was due, in part, to the radically different worldviews operating in independent spheres of influence. The values of European cultures were shaped by the Christian worldview, and so their concepts of what was important were very divergent from that of the polytheistic Maya. Indeed, this could account for a number of the extreme differences in practical areas, such as the differences in military technology, and of course in the development of religious doctrine. The Maya were not, as some have argued in the past, necessarily a bunch of noble people. Their artwork portraying their religious ceremonies and conquests makes this explicit, with all kinds of atrocities being glorified through their art. An extended comparison of the development of Western and pre-Columbian societies would be fascinating  but it is beyond the realm of my discussion here. My point is that the ancient Maya were a very different people and culture from our own.

Why emphasize this point? Well, for one, because the interpretations which have been given to the Mayan Calendar have largely been using a western view of meaning for calendars, dates, and events to interpret a distinctly non-western culture’s apparatus for interacting with reality. The Mayan Calendar is not some construct in a void to be interpreted by various persons from whatever presuppositional strata in which they operate. No, it must be placed within its cultural context in order to even begin to understand what it means that the calendar should have an end.

The Mayan Calendar

Robert Sharer and Loa Traxler discuss the Mayan Calendar extensively in their monumental work, The Ancient Maya. Their work has just a phenomenal outline of how the calendar worked, but to outline it all would take a lot of room. Here, we’ll focus on two things: The Long Count in the Mayan Calendar and its interpretative framework.

Sharer and Traxler note that:

We take for granted the need to have a fixed point from which to count chronological records, but the ancient Maya seem to have been the only pre-Columbian society to use this basic concept. Different societies select different events as a starting point for their calendars. Our Western chronology, the Gregorian calendar, begins with the traditional year for the birth of Christ. (110, cited below)

The Mayan calendar, on the other hand, uses the end of the last “great cycle” as their starting point for the calendar. They measure something called “The Long Count” which is an extended way to determine a great cycle of 13 “bak’tuns” which are each periods of about 5,128 solar years (110). The previous long count had ended in 3114 BC, and that was the date the Mayans held “established the time of the creation of the current world” (110). And yes, the current “Long Count” will be ending December 21, 2012.  What does this mean?

The calendar was not just used for chronology, but rather served more uses, such as divination. Sharer and Traxler note that the calendar was “a source of great power” in the Maya society (102). The Long Count “functioned as an absolute chronology by tracking the number of days elapsed from a zero date to reach a given day recorded by these lesser cycles” (104). Thus, the Long Count served to place the entire calendar cycle into a context: it established a measurable starting point and ending point for their calendar, which was itself extremely accurate due to its use of various astronomical measurements.

The Mayan Calendar shares one distinctive with that of the other Mesoamerican societies, namely, the use of a 52 year cycle. This cycle was celebrated as the end of the world by the Aztecs. The close of one of these 52 year periods literally meant that “the world would come to an end” (107). Yet this end of the world, which happened every 52 years, was not something feared, but rather celebrated due to the dawn of a new Sacred Fire, “the gods had given the world another 52-year lease on life” (107).

We thus have two possible ways to interpret the end of the Mayan Calendar. First, we can see it as simply the terminus of 13 bak’tuns and the end of the unit of measurement of absolute time, which would simply inaugurate the beginning of another cycle of 13 bak’tuns. Second, we can extrapolate from the cultural context that perhaps each terminus of this cycle would be anticipated as the beginning of another “lease on life.” But this is of the utmost importance: neither interpretation suggests some kind of cataclysmic ending of the space-time universe. To call the Mayan Calendar a “prophecy” of endtimes is nothing more than sensationalism. What cause is there to fear this?

The End of the World

Christians know that the end will come. However, this should not be surprising to anyone with knowledge of astronomy and physics. Indeed, our universe is ticking down to a cosmic heat death. Our universe itself will end. The energy will disperse, the stars will burn out, and all that will be left will be hulks of matter strewn about an ever-expanding galaxy. Or, perhaps there will be a “great crunch”–something I admit I am highly skeptical about–which will lead to an explosion of a new universe. But Christians have a unique perspective on the end of the world.

…[C]oncerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. Matthew 24:36a.

First, no one will know when the end is come. The end is coming, but it will be like a thief in the night. Jesus tells us that it will be like in the days of Noah, where people continued to live their lives despite the impending doom.

Second, the Christian expects God to be the one to usher in this end. The end will be a new creation. Tears will be wiped away (Revelation 21:4) and creation will be restored. Unfortunately, some Christians have taken this to mean the utter annihilation of all things in the spatio-temporal universe. These Christians will sometimes have a dismissive attitude over the stewardship of the earth. After all, they argue, this universe will be utterly destroyed and we will have a perfect one made for us. Why bother conserving resources? This attitude is simply wrong, and as I have noted elsewhere, we are called to care for creation, something which evangelicals who disagree on certain topics unanimously affirm.

As Christians we are called to always be ready for Christ’s triumphant return. But that preparation does not mean being fearful of every end-time “prophecy.” Indeed, Jesus tells us that many will say the end has come but they are false prophets (Matthew 7:15; 24:4-5; 24:10-11; Luke 21:8; Mark 13:21-23). No, the preparation is the call to make disciples of all nations and to care for those in need.

We will endure another “end of the world” on the 21st of this year. Let’s take the time to reflect on what our Lord tells us in His Word. We do not know how or when, but God knows. We do not know the day or the hour, but God knows. God will take care of us. Let us thank Him.

Links

December 22nd, 2012- A poignant comic which speaks to the reality of what will happen on December 22, 2012.

Caring for Creation: A discussion among evangelicals- Creation care is an issue highly intertwined with eschatology. Here, I review an extremely thought-provoking panel discussion I attended at the Evangelical Theological Society conference in 2012. Climate change, endtimes, and Christianity and science are just a few related issues.

Cormac McCarthy’s Secular Apocalypse- An insightful post which reflects on Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and contrasts its vision of the apocalypse with the Christian worldview.

The End of it All…- I reflect on another failed end-time prophecy, this time from one who tried to use the Bible to make the prediction.

Source

Robert Sharer with Loa Traxler, The Ancient Maya (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006).

Image Credit

2012 Doomsday Myths Debunked- National Geographic.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The end of it all…

There’s a lot of confusion about endtimes in our world. It isn’t helped by the fact that there are false prophets springing up all around us, trying to tell us that which is to come. The recent controversy over Harold Camping’s prediction that the world would end on May 21st has me thinking about the study of end times (eschatology).

It’s an area I admit I haven’t studied much. The subject is confusing. There is a staggering array of views about what will happen in the end. The book of Revelation, from which we draw much of our knowledge over what will happen in the end times, can be greatly confusing to both the uninitiated and the scholar.

There are two major themes upon which I’d like to focus: knowledge of the end and our behavior at the end.

1) Knowledge of the end

Thinking about the apocalypse–the end of the world–is a tough issue. Like I said, there is a lot of diversity on the subject. As such, it is important for Christians to look to the Bible to see what we can know about the end. The key is to remember that must always go back to the Bible to see what it says about a subject before we believe what someone tells us it may say.

We are warned by Jesus in Matthew that there will arise false prophets (Matthew 24:24). Harold Camping is one such false prophet. He has distorted the truth of Scripture to gain followers.

Perhaps the most telling verse in the Bible which speaks against us being able to know when the end will come is Matthew 24:36, in which Jesus Himself says “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” If that’s true, then how would any other human know? Not even Christ, in his state of humiliation, could tell us when the last day would come!

The bottom line is that we can’t know and we won’t know when the last days have arrived–not until Jesus Himself is here.

2) Behavior at the end

Suppose for a moment we are at the last days; what should our attitude be? The resounding chorus in Scripture is that we should be diligent and ready, but we should continue to spread God’s Kingdom. Looking back at the Matthew 24 passage, Jesus tells us, ““Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come… Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns” (24:42, 45-46).

So our attitude should be one of the watchful servant: ready for Christ to come, but not letting that distract us from the work He has given us. Rather than put up billboards and go around telling everyone the end is nigh, our task is to continue what should be our “business as usual”–spreading the Word, taking care of the needy, and living our lives as Christians.

Conclusion

It is easy to get caught up in the “end times” controversies. I admit that often when I hear of such predictions, I am more diligent than usual in remembering to repent of my sins. But what does that tell me? It tells me that I need to be more diligent about that at all times. For we need to be ready when Christ does come. A life of readiness for Christ means a life of spreading the Good News about Him to all people. It means living a life of repentance and reconciliation to God. We may not know when the end will come, but it is coming–and we will experience it either in this life or the next.

SDG.

Links

Check out this blog post by Austin which discusses the Camping controversy: here.

News article discussing Camping’s befuddlement about his failure: here.

Image: “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1887.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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