Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Stepping Away From Fundamentalism, Step Seven

Before I went to seminary I took one more step away from fundamentalism. It was the step that caught me most by surprise. It was a time when Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth had stirred up a lot of interest in "end times" theology. It began when a group of young people at my church wanted me to teach them something about eschatology.

I was well aware that most of what Hal Lindsey was saying had been in the footnotes of the Schofield Reference Bible for more than 60 years. I carried a Schofield Reference Bible at that time because it was the only study Bible that the fundamental Baptist preachers I knew would approve. I also had a copy of Dwight Pentecost’s Things to Come, John Walvoord’s commentary on Revelation and number of other books on eschatology by dispensational premillenialists, but I hadn’t read them. So I started reading them and that is when I ran into difficulties.

I soon discovered that, aside from a fairly broad outline of events, there was little consensus on details among the different authors that I was reading. That made me pay close attention to the scripture references they used to support what they were saying. Doing that made it obvious to me that they all were inserting a lot of things from the Old Testament, particularly from the book of Daniel, into the text of the New Testament. Most alarming to me, I couldn't find "the rapture" in the book of Revelation and I couldn't understand how John Walvoord knew it happened in the blank space between the third and fourth chapters of the book of Revelation:
"The rapture as a doctrine is not part of the prophetic foreview of the book of Revelation . . . From a practical standpoint, however, the rapture may be viewed as having already occurred in the scheme of God before the events of chapter 4 and the following chapters of Revelation unfold.” (John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 103.)
Premillenial dispensationalism was the only kind of "end times" theology that I knew. Supposedly, only "liberals" believed anything else. I needed some help trying to make sense of eschatology, so I turned to my Southern Baptist pastor and future father-in-law, Dr. Doyle Winters, for assistance.

Dr. Winters was a conservative New Testament Greek scholar with a Th.D. from Southwestern Seminary. He advised me that he did not hold to the dispensational premillenial view of the end times. That theology was invented in the late nineteenth century and has been promulgated mostly through the Schofield Reference Bible, he said. It is not the way that eschatology has traditionally been understood throughout the history of the church. As he spoke, I finally realized why he was so unimpressed with the white leather Schofield Reference Bible that I gave his daughter years before on the first Christmas we were dating.

Dr. Winters' understanding of the end times was best summarized by Dr. Ray Summers, a Southern Baptist Greek scholar, who wrote a commentary on the book of Revelation entitled Worthy is the Lamb. He loaned me his copy. I read it and biblical eschatology finally began to make sense to me.

Summers put the last nail in the coffin of dispensationalism for me when he explained how that theology believes that the church age -- all the time from when Christ died until his second coming -- is a "Great Parenthesis." In that view, the Jews at the time of Jesus put a kink in the divine plan for an earthly kingdom of God. Supposedly, 69 of the 70 weeks in Daniel's prophecy about the end times (Daniel 9:24-27) were fulfilled by the time of Christ. The 70th week, however, had to be postponed because the Jews rejected Jesus and put him to death. The 70th week is on hold until Christ returns.

In my eyes, Christ's atoning death is the very heart of the divine plan, not a kink in it. No one who understands that Christ was "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," should be inclined to accept dispensational premillenialism. (Revelation 13:8; cf. 1 Peter 1:18-20)

Note: The rest of the steps I made away from fundamentalism came during and after I went to seminary. I'm going to postpone tracing those steps until a later time. This is neither a kink in my plan, nor something that was preordained.


Chris said...

Do you have any comments on "The Apocalypse Code" by Hank Hanegraff? For me, it effectively debunked the pre-melennial dispensationalism thought process. I read the book after my Bible Study teacher drew a lot of parallels between revelation and the Olivette Discourse while studying Matthew. It makes a lot of sense to me that John's gospel is missing the Olivette discourse because he wrote a whole other book to cover the subject. Admittedly, I have not studied these issues in depth for myself, but it appears to me that the pre-melennial dispensationalism point of view is heretical.

Jessica said...

I have really enjoyed reading your steps away series, first on Ethics Daily, then here on your blog. My husband is also a moderate baptist who grew up in a fundamental southern baptist church. It wasn't easy for him during his transition into ministry, and I think he still has a lot of residual mistrust of the church because of the way he was treated there. They believe most of the things that you have stepped away from, as well. This is a good series.

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Very interesting. As a teenager I was exposed to Hal Lindsey's book and it scared the bejeebers out of me. Of course, after his predictions did not come to pass, then I cast doubt on all of Christianity for several years.
Fast forward 25 years to a Disciple Bible Study at a Methodist Church. The study was led by a "Liberal" Baptist Minister who talked about the various end game scenarios and how they fit in with scripture. It was very eye openning.

I look forward to the resumption of your series.

Thanks for the resources you mention. My interest is rekindled in eschatology.

A. Lin said...

I have really enjoyed reading all the articles about your "stepping away from fundamentalism" on EthicsDaily. You certainly have processed a lot of baggage in a constructive way. I think that this series will benefit a lot of people.

Jeff Shaw said...

Thanks for sharing your personal experiences here. I've read all of these now, and I share a number of your "revelations" although I'm just a layman. (If I can use the term layman loosely.)

For instance:
Even though I was a Southern Baptist for many years, and I never could, even as a young child, get my head around a seven day creation.