Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Why I Am a Panmillenialist: An Introduction

Before I was hired as a youth pastor (my first vocational ministry position), I was asked to affirm certain doctrinal beliefs. This list included a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, the exclusivity of Christ, Baptist distinctives, and yes, pre-millenial, pre-tribulation dispensationalism. I signed the document in full confidence that I affirmed everything in it including the church's eschatology. I grew up in a Tim Lahaye world and truly believed in a pre-trib rapture prior to a literal seven year tribulation followed by a thousand year reign of Christ.

And yes, I did read the Left Behind books and watched the movies.

If I were asked to sign that same document, however, in all honesty I would have to write "I don't know" next to my eschatology. I have not abandoned Premillenial Dispensationalism nor do I embrace it. I am aware and have considered other orthodox eschatologies and though each have their good arguments, I find them all filled with too many theological holes. Below I highlight just three eschatological views - pre-millenial dispensationalism, amillenialism, and post-millennialism.

Being that this is only a blog post and not an academic treatise I offer the following criticisms in passing without much discussion. My reasonings are not fully developed in what follows. Furthermore, other points could be raised, but what follows are just a few key reasons why I am hesitant to adopt any of the three major orthodox views. In addition, there are other eschatologies worth exploring, like historic premillarianism, that I simply do not engage.

Problems with Pre-millenial Dispensationalism

1. Are we to really believe that in the millennium there will be both glorified and unglorified saints?

I admit this has always been an oddity to me. After Armageddon, Jesus kills all of the unredeemed leaving just believers entering the millenial Kingdom. Coming down with Him are glorified saints who had either been raptured seven years before or had passed away before or during the Tribulation. Does the Bible really teach there will be both glorified and yet-to-be glorified saints living on the earth at the same time during the literal thousand year reign of Christ on the earth? This is a problem with the rapture in general regardless of where one might put it (pre, mid, or post-trib).

2. Where in the Gospels in general and the Olivet Discourse in particular does Jesus speak of a partial coming?

Jesus speaks of coming back not a, "first I'll meet you half way and then later we'll all come down to earth with a big army." The Bible speaks of one eschatological return of Jesus. Not one and a half. Yet this is precisely what the rapture is.

Problems with Amillenialism

1. Amillenialists, especially of the Reformed type, take the Bible literally except in regards to Israel's election and the promises made to her particularly in the Old Testament.

This is one of the main reasons I cannot leave dispensationalism completely behind (admitting its many flaws). The Old Testament makes promises to Israel and Revelation (the 144,000 for example) emphasizes that. Though Amillenialism has a lot going for it, amillenialists change their hermeneutic when dealing with the many eschatological prophecies regarding Israel. I interpret such prophecies as literal - God will fulfill all of His promises to Israel. I am aware of Romans 11 and the argument used by Amillenialists here, but I am not sure Romans 11 is enough to write such Old Testament prophecies off.

2. Numbers

Perhaps I am ignorant of apocalyptic interpretation, but I see no reason why 7 years clearly identified in Revelation does not mean 7 years especially since John uses synonyms to say 7 years. For example, he notes that 3 1/2 years is half of seven years and 42 months equals 3 1/2 years. If 7 were a generic number and not to be taken literal, then why speak of seven years in other ways? Why take 1,000 years to be symbolic?

Problems with Postmillenialism

1. Total Depravity

It is extremely difficult to rationalize both total depravity and postmillenialism. Being that man is naturally, as a result of the fall, bent toward rebellion against God, it is difficult to believe that the church will usher in the Kingdom. Just like the first coming, we desperate need Jesus to show up.

For more:
"Christ's Prophetic Plans" by John MacArthur & Richard Mayhue: A Review
A New Kind of Christianity . . . Indeed:  Future Question - Part 8  
Harold Camping & the Immanent Return of Christ: Living in the End Even If We're Not
Why Didn't Christ Return on October 21st?: Harold Camping & the Difference Between An Apology & Repentance
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