THE IMPLICATIONS OF ESCHATOLOGY

PMT 2013-009 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Building blocksEschatology tremendously affects the Christian’s worldview and, consequently, his practical, daily living. The one particular eschatological theme that dominates the entire prophetic Scriptures and most influences hope-filled family living, a full-orbed Christian witness, and Bible-based social activism is: the gospel victory theme. We must understand the biblical worldview and its practical influence on the Christian’s approach to culture. Broadly speaking three approaches to culture lie before us: the Identificationist Model, the Separationist Model, and the Transformationist Model.

The Identificationist Model essentially represents Christianity’s left wing. It sees the church’s role as flowing alongside of and sanctifying the evolutionary changes in culture, while adapting to them. It is wholly this-world in orientation, inevitably adopting the contemporary worldview. Liberation theology and main line denominations are contemporary representatives of this view.

The Separationist Model represents Christianity’s right wing (i.e., it is to the right of what God intends for Christianity). It urges Christians to be wholly separated from contemporary culture. The focus of this view is on heavenly citizenship, seeing the church as but a pilgrim community passing through this world to a greater world above. It is essentially retreatist, recognizing sin’s power at work in the world and seeking to avoid staining itself with such tendencies.

When contrasted to the two views above, the Transformationist Model represents the truly centrist wing of historic, orthodox Christianity. It sees an important role for Christianity in leading human culture according to the directives of God’s Word, with a view to transforming every area of life. The Transformationist Model sees the significance of this world in light of the world above and seeks to promote God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. It promotes godly culture in the stead of an ungodly culture. As we will see postmillennialism provides a better foundation for the Transformationist Model.

We should lament the omission of the gospel victory theme in most of modern eschatological speculation. Its replacement with a defeatist scheme for Christian enterprise paralyzes the Christian cultural enterprise, empties the Christian worldview of practical significance, and gives Christians a sinful “comfort in lethargy,” because it tends “to justify social irresponsibility.” 1 It leaves the earth (which is the Lord’s, Ps 24:1) to a conquered foe: the enemy of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This paralysis is all the more lamentable because it forfeits the great gains made by the tireless and costly labors of our Christian forefathers, particularly from the Reformation era through the early 1900s.


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We may characterize as pessimistic three of the four major evangelical eschatological systems, whereas postmillennialism is fundamentally “optimistic.” In categorizing them as pessimistic, I am speaking of the following issues:

  1. As systems of gospel proclamation, each teaches Christ’s gospel will fail to exercise any major influence in the world before Christ’s return;
  2. As systems of historical understanding, each holds that the Bible teaches prophetically determined, irresistible trends downward toward chaos in the outworking and development of history; and therefore
  3. As systems for Christian discipleship, each dissuades the church from anticipating, planning, and laboring for wide-scale success in influencing the world for Christ during this age.

Timothy P. Weber appropriately notes regarding postmillennialism: “Operating with the certainty of prophetic promises, evangelicals built schools, churches, publishing houses, and missionary agencies in order to carry out God’s plan to Christianize America and the world.” 2 But he resists this optimistic eschatology on his pessimistic assumptions, noting postmillennialism’s “unrealistic expectation that Christians can produce this millennium apart from God’s supernatural intervention.” 3 Apparently, God’s supernatural providence is insufficient.

Dispensationalist Paul N. Benware relates the matter clearly: “Both premillennialists and amillennialists believe just the opposite [of postmillennialism]: that spiritual and moral conditions in this world will get worse and worse as this present age draws to a close.” 4 Millard J. Erickson recognizes that “basically, then, postmillennialism is an optimistic view” in that “the major tenet of postmillennialism is the successful spread of the gospel.” 5 He sets this distinctive over against the other millennial positions. When Stanley J. Grenz analyzes “The Deeper Issue of Millennialism,” he opens his postmillennial discussion with these words: “Postmillennialism sets forth a basically optimistic outlook toward history and our role in the attainment of God’s program.” 6 He even notes that: “It is no historical accident that by and large the great thrusts toward worldwide evangelistic outreach and social concern in the modern era were launched by a church imbued with the optimism that characterizes the postmillennial thinking.” 7 Then he comments: “In contrast to the optimism of postmillennialism, premillennialists display a basic pessimism concerning history and the role we play in its culmination.” 8 Of his own amillennialism he states: “victory and defeat, success and failure, good and evil will coexist until the end,” so that “both unchastened optimism and despairing pessimism are illegitimate.” 9

The pessimism/optimism question has very much to do with the practical endeavors of Christians in the world today.


Notes

  1. Peters, Futures, 29, 28.
  2. Weber in Blomberg and Chung, Historic Premillennialism, 5.
  3. Weber in Blomberg and Chung, Historic Premillennialism, 69.
  4. Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy, 124. He only presents three millennial views because in typical dispensational fashion he collapses dispensationalism into premillennialism — despite the vigorous antagonism between the two systems.
  5. Erickson, Christian Theology, 1213, 1214.
  6. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 803.
  7. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 804 n 43.
  8. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 805.
  9. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 805.

Helpful materials
Lord of the Saved: Getting to the Heart of the Lordship Controversy
Paperback, 116 pp. Reprint of original book from P & R Publishing.

Is it possible to know Jesus as Savior and not as Lord? That is the central issue in this book, and it has immense implications. This book was written out of a concern over deficient gospel preaching, false conversions, and faulty assurance of salvation. This is a succinct reformed defense of “Lordship salvation” against easy-believism.

Contents:
Preface
1. The Debate Unfolds
2. Faith and Salvation
3. Repentance and Salvation
4. The Lordship of Christ and Salvation
5. Discipleship and Salvation
6. Preaching the Lord of Salvation
Appendix: The Higher Life Movement
Index of Scripture

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5 thoughts on “THE IMPLICATIONS OF ESCHATOLOGY

  1. Joshua Whetstine October 4, 2013 at 6:58 am

    There is a structure to history that is largely overlooked in Christian eschatology today primarily due to our focus sight of “individualism” at the expense of “corporatism”. We’ve stopped seeing the forest because we’re analyzing the bark on one tree. There is a major pessimistic verses optimistic narrative in scripture. Adam and his descendants get worse and worse. Israel’s history is a history of them getting worse and worse, culminating in Jesus fulfilling the words of Isaiah 6, when he said they have ears but don’t hear, eyes but don’t see (Matt. 13). After Christ victory and seating at the right hand of the father (Ps. 110:1), and standing in vindicating judgment over his murderously unfaithfully covenantal wife Israel (Acts 7), He turns the pessimistic paradigm upside down (Matt. 28:16-20). The entire structure of Acts makes this case, they started with but a few in an upper room and within a few weeks there were 9,000 strong in Jerusalem, then to Antioch, then to the ends of the known world (Is. 49:6). Luke essentially sets us on a hopeful trajectory…

  2. Jay Culotta October 4, 2013 at 10:19 am

    This is a major problem with many who wrongly believe in the coming doom and gloom. They can’t see the forest, only the trees and therefore miss Jesus and His directive in the Great Commission.

  3. Kenneth Gentry October 4, 2013 at 10:54 am

    And they only see the tree Satan is chopping on.

  4. Ethan October 4, 2013 at 11:26 am

    I’ve noticed that 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13 is often read by pessimists without reference to verse 9.

  5. CJ October 5, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    I think our modern day newspaper eschatology folks lead people to think eschatology does not matter. People get fatigued by the continual stream of failed predictions, failed applications, and continual witch hunt for the anti-Christ, that it clouds their view of eschatology. As a result they fall into an apathetic pan-trib (It’ll all pan out in the end.) view. Why study something that has more to do with the newspaper, and unending witch hunts than it does with the Bible?

    I mean how many times can you apply the same verse in revelation to five historical events within five decades before you wake up and realize you’re wrong?

    Keep up the good work Mr. Gentry.

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