This is going to be a little bit longer post than usual. Stick with me and I think it’ll make sense in the end. Well, I certainly hope so.
I’ve been teaching on the subject of eschatology for the past couple of weeks in the church I serve. It’s been really fun because it’s brought up some really good conversations after I’ve finished my teachings. I’ve had questions about the alleged “eschatological” Temple that according to some will be rebuilt before Jesus returns. There’s been questions about different books and teachers. But more than anything, there’s been discussion about the timing of Jesus’ return.
I think this is largely because I’ve been really emphasizing that the “Great Tribulation” was inaugurated when Jerusalem was surrounded and the Temple was destroyed (66-70AD) a number of years after Jesus was crucified. In fact, I’ve been stressing that the church is a “last days” people of God. In other words, we’ve been living in the “end times” since Jesus’ first coming. That’s an important concept when we’re thinking about how the kingdom of God is to be understood and when we realize that we are living in the last days.
Since I’m emphasizing that the church is rightly understood as Ecclesia Militans (Church Militant), I think it’s safe to say that part of the struggle that the church goes through is byway of persecution. The persecution that the church faces will only increase as we move forward towards the Lord’s return.
So yes, I have a definable eschatological position: I hold to Historic Premillennialism with a huge appreciation for Amillennialism. My favorite eschatological writers are George Eldon Ladd, Geerhardus Vos, G. K. Beale, Douglas Moo, and basically anyone who falls into a non-Dispensational reading. It’s not that I haven’t learned from Dispensationalists, but I’m not convinced of their initial sine qua non – that there is to be a hermeneutical distinction between Israel and the church.
It’s not that I haven’t read the best of the other eschatological positions either. I have. I own their books and I have given them all their shot. Yet at the end of the day, I am not convinced by the exegetical and theological moorings that undergird the other perspectives outside of Historic Premillennialism. I believe that the Olivet Discourse and much of Revelation has quite a bit of fulfillment within the 1st century. I believe that the church will go through all of the “tribulation” and that she shall be around when the final consummation of the “antichrist” is on earth. I believe that there is simply one people of God that includes both Jews and Greeks who have faith in God for salvation by way of Christ’s work on the cross. I believe that the Second Coming is one event that happens at the end of the “church age” and that the “rapture” won’t happen until Jesus returns in power and glory and that it won’t be “secret.”
Yes, I have some strong conclusions on these matters… and I can argue with the best of them.
Yes, there’s a huge “but” in my line of thinking. And I think this “but” is kind of a catch twenty-two because there’s two sides to every coin. Let me explain:
On one hand, even though I have some very strong opinions regarding the last days, I also want to make sure that I major on the majors and minor on the minors. I do not believe that the timing of the rapture is an issue that is so important that I need to disfellowship people over. When I hear about congregations having church splits because people disagree about the rapture, I grieve. You can’t hang out with Christians that believe the rapture is going to happen any day now? Really? Are you serious?
Let’s major on the majors. For me, I want to take a “lowest common denominator” approach regarding the rapture and many other issues under the banner of “eschatology.” Will there be a literal antichrist? Will there be a third and final Jewish temple built? Will Jesus return to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem? I certainly have some opinions on those questions, but I’m also read some really good explanations of positions that are different than the ones I take. So when I say I want to take a “lowest common denominator” approach on this subject, I mean that I want to find what is most basic and most agreed upon and sensible and emphasize that.
So I unashamably believe that Jesus is going to return to this earth physically and visibly. I believe that after Jesus returns there will be salvation for his people and judgment for his enemies. I believe that the church is called to proclaim and demonstrate the gospel of the kingdom until the end comes.
But I don’t want people to feel like I think they are evil, idiots, or dangerous if they disagree with me on the timing of the eschatological events. Hey, if you believe the rapture is right around the corner, so be it! We can still participate in the work of the kingdom together and still labor to see God’s exaltation and glory made known! If we get raptured before the “tribulation,” you can tell me “told you so” on our way up and if you go through the “tribulation,” you can stay at my house. Either way, we can both love Jesus and serve in the kingdom together.
That’s one side of the coin.
On the other hand, I absolutely hate “lowest common denominator” type of theology! Hate it! I absolutely despise when I perceive that people are unwilling to take a stand on a theological position because they are simply afraid to be controversial and are more concerned with making people happy.
This happens a lot, sadly. Rather than take a stand on Scripture or Justification or the Holy Spirit, people just “agree to disagree” and seek to sing songs together and just pretend that none of these subjects are radically important for the church. Or worse, people assume that incorrect beliefs have absolutely zero negative consequences for the church. I simply know that beliefs do have impact and that finding the “lowest common denominator” can be a tricky thing. If we take it too far, we simply come to the point where we say things like, “Well, we don’t agree on the importance of Christ’s work on the cross, so let’s just agree on the fact that we’re… well, breathing.” What?!?!
So it’s tricky. I completely believe that a church could include members that take different perspectives on eschatology. You might have someone who is Premillennial and another who is Postmillennial and another who is Amillennial and they all have different takes on who (or what) the “antichrist” is and while they disagree strongly on these issues, they are committed to the gospel and the kingdom and the King and love each other and work together for God’s greater glory. Yet each of those people will most likely state that they believe there are serious consequences and issues connected to these issues.
Taking a “lowest common denominator” approach to theological discussion is, most certainly, tricky. Some might even say it is a “slippery slope.” You know what I mean? If you “compromise” on eschatology, you’ll eventually “compromise” on the Deity of Christ. We’ve all heard arguments like that.
Here’s the thing: I hate when people paint me into a corner and try and use the “slippery slope” argument on me. I’m okay with it being tricky. And I’m okay with having a two sided coin where I need to do my best at focusing on the main and the plain and majoring on the majors while also taking time to discuss theological viewpoints in a loving, gracious, and truthful way. Even though it’s easier to avoid controversial subjects, there’s most certainly a way to discuss them in a God honoring way, right?
Thus, on one hand, I’m going to find that “lowest common denominator” in theological discussions on subjects that I’m convinced are pretty diverse. And when it comes to issues that I believe are historic and orthodox and Christian and important enough to take a stand on, I’m going to do my best to do that in love and grace and truth.
It’s tricky, I tell ya. Tricky indeed!
What do you think?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
Excellent points Luke. Eschatology is one area where, excepting broad generalities, a fair range of diversity should be tolerated. If only my old Calvary Chapel pastors shared your perspective on that.
Eschatology is important, but, Christ moreso and what He expects of us.
I was a dispensationalist for 40 years. Then, one day our pastor started teaching how wrong we were. 66 hours of sermons later, I was a convert.
It takes a lot of unlearning to convert.
At any rate, love and forgiveness trump specific doctrines.
Ugh, I just typed out this comment and lost it. I’ll try to repeat. It amazes me how Christians treat others with different eschatalogical views with condescending attitudes as if they are deficient Christians for holding to that view. I hold my hybrid brand of Dispensationalism loosely, especially since I have some questions I have not yet been able to resolve. But I can’t quite make the leap to upholding that all covenant promises have been absorbed in the church. But I’m not going to bash the CT position. What we can be assured of is that Jesus is coming back and setting all things right. THAT’s what we can celebrate together.
I do have issues though with the way many Dispensationalists have interpreted Israel to mean the political state so that we end up supporting the country. Oh and then there’s the preterist. Nope, Jesus has not yet returned.
Thanks for your thoughts. I like to emphasize that the church is comprised of Jews and Gentiles together in Jesus. I’m not so happy with language that says “these things are absorbed into the church” because I think the blessings and promises are found in Christ and that the church is comprised of many ethnic groups.
And while I’m not a Dispensationalist, I do see a eschatological plan that includes lots of Jewish people coming to faith in Messiah Yeshua 🙂
I appreciate your heart though! So much! It reads very irenic!
Thanks Luke. Well, yes I think we are saying the same thing. The church is comprised of Jew and Gentile, i.e. many ethnic group. And maybe instead of absorbed, I should have expressed it as the covenant promises to Israel are fulfilled in the church. Doh, must have had an ST lapse.
Just some thoughts that come to my mind Luke. Great article BTW! Thank you I am blessed by your pastoral heart.
If Love is not the lowest common denominator all else fails. If we are teaching any or all marks of the church and we do not have Love than we have nothing. I have been apart of enough churches that seem to teach that knowledge saves and that “compromise” is a thought crime. We can have all of the marks below in theory without love.
Take for example The Nine Marks ministry (of which I have benefitted from)… they have written a book called What is a Healthy Church? It has nothing to say about the absolute necessity of Love.
Their 9 Marks…
2. Biblical Theology.
3. A Biblical Understanding of the good news.
4.A biblical understanding of Conversion
5.A biblical understanding of Evangelism
6.A biblical understanding of Membership
7. Biblical church Discipleship
8. Biblical discipleship and growth
9. Biblical church leadership.
Martin Luther’s 7 marks…
1. the “possession of the holy word of God”
2. “the holy sacrament of baptism, wherever it is taught, believed, and
administered correctly according to Christ’s ordinance”
3. “the holy sacrament of the altar, wherever it is rightly
administered, believed, and received according to Christ’s institution”
4. “the office of the keys exercised publicly… where you see sins forgiven or reproved in some persons”
5. men consecrated, called or having offices to “administer, and use
the aforementioned four things or holy possessions in behalf of and in
the name of the church, or rather by reason of their institution by
6. “prayer, public praise, and thanksgiving to God”
7. “the holy possession of the sacred cross [of enduring] misfortune
and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil from the devil, the world,
and the flesh […] in order to become like their head, Christ”
In my opinion we are missing a rich robust developed biblical theology of Love in our thinking. I find myself tired of a Christianity that seems to promote that people (the world) will know we are Christians by our knowledge.
Have you read or seen Gerald Bray’s God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology? I wrote a review for it here.
I think you are right. As I’ve been preaching through the Olivet Discourse, it’s become more and more interesting to note that Jesus said that love would grow cold as we progressed through these last days… and that lawlessness would increase. Wow.
About two weeks ago I had a gentleman tell me that I was not a true believer. He further stated that I was apostate, had denied the true faith that was delivered to the saints, and had no hope of salvation as long as I held to my damnable heresies. In his final assault he wanted with me to agree with him in prayer that God would send severe judgement upon the one of us who was not adhering to the truth of God’s Word. He was wanting a judgement like being struck with cancer or debilitating diseases as a “proof” of this one particular point.
The thing I had discussed with him was that I did not fully agree with his “hyper” Calvinistic view of the “once saved always saved” (his terminology) doctrine. WHAT?!?! I was reprobate in his eyes simply because we did not have 100% agreement on this point. He and I agree on the vast majority of scriptural issues but disagreement on this one was enough to not only break fellowship with me but also declare me “unsaved” and “reprobate”.
It is quiet common to hear the old adage –
in essentials unity
In non essentials diversity
In all things charity (love).
I can roll with that myself. However, the question then becomes what rises to the level of , “essentials”, and thereby requires unity.
This answer will probably be different for different people. However, for me I can say that the older I get the smaller that list becomes. There are a few things that are absolutes and must be adhered to in dogmatic fashion. However, the list of things that make it to that level in my mind and heart are pretty slim. I find there are few things worth falling out over if a person is truly a follower of Christ.
What pains me even more deeply is that these “holy wars,” over less than essential issues, are perhaps the single greatest stumbling block to people coming to Christ as Savior. The unsaved see the church world fighting, knit picking, and destroying each other. They then understandably want no part of a group of people running each other down and putting knives in each others backs over minor theological issues and perspectives. God forbid we have to face eternity with the judgement of the stumbling blocks in our future!
If I can influence and lead the people God has given into my care to consistently read the scripture, spend time in prayer, serve in the ministry they are called to, express love to the heart broken or marginalized, and witness to their family and friends of Christ’s work in their lives then our fellowship will be in the very top percentages of the North American Church.
Hmm…read, pray, serve, love, and witness. If I can get them to do those essentials in unity we will take our community by storm.
Wait, so you don’t believe in “Once saved, always saved”?