The “Christless Christianity” series has been brilliant and this week’s installment is no exception. Our dispensational friends tell us that they read the bible “literally” and that amillennialists “spiritualize” Scripture. This might be compelling if we never actually looked at any passages. A close, grammatical, historical reading of the key passages (1 Thess 4 or Matt 24 or Rev 20) shows that none of them say anything like what Tim LaHaye or Charles Ryrie or John MacArthur claim.
It turns out that what our dispensational friends call a “literal” reading has more to do with their rationalist a priori convictions (“this passage has to teach x because we all know that….”). The great a priori is that God’s real plan is to have a national Israelite people, that it is God’s intention to set up an earthly millennium and to reinstitute the temple. A close, careful, literal, historical, grammatical reading of Scripture leads us to the exact opposite conclusion. As Mike, Kim, Ken, and Rod point out, the Old Covenant is obsolete (2 Cor 3; Heb 7-10). The typology (temple) has been fulfilled in Christ. Scripture teaches nothing about a reinstitution of a national people, an earthly millennium, the European Union, Russia, helicopters, or the secret rapture. In fact, if we pay attention to Scripture you want to be be LEFT BEHIND. In Matt 24, to be “taken” is bad indeed. The flood came and took them all away. Noah was left behind. By analogy don’t we want to identify with Noah instead of those who drowned?
Closer to home, the Reformed churches have been afflicted in recent decades with a similar sort of rationalism. As Kim points out in the broadcast, most of our partial and full preterist friends are former dispensationalists. They’ve traded their rationalist chiliasm for rationalist preterism (i.e., the claim that everything in Matt 24 and the Revelation (see Dennis Johnson’s excellent commentary on the Revelation for sound and sane commentary; see Colin Hemer’s excellent work on the Letters to the Seven Churches for the date and setting of the Revelation) was fulfilled in AD 70). Full preterism is, of course, heresy against the catholic faith that confesses a bodily future return of Christ. There are forms of partial preterism, however, which often go hand-in-glove with triumphalist postmillennialism and theonomic ethics and Christian Reconstructionism that has to make the messiness of a semi-realized biblical eschatology go away in order to facilitate their program of cultural transformation and their own version of an earthly glory age.
Both the preterist/postmil/reconstructionist glory age and the dispensational premil glory age are manifestations of what Luther called the “theology of glory.” The confessional Protestants, however, at least in the 16th century, taught a theology of the cross. It’s true that in the early 17th century forms of chiliasm became disturbingly popular in Reformed circles. We can be thankful today that we are neither saddled with some of the old views of science (geocentrism etc), politics (theocracy), or eschatology (chiliasm). Scripture teaches no future earthly golden age.
The thing to which we are looking is heaven and the consummation. As I’ve been reading the accounts of the martyrs I am impressed again by the fact that only in modern America could we mistake for Christianity a gnostic theology of secret rapture that magically delivers us from tribulation.