[This post is part of the Eschatology series]
If you remember where we left off, it was an exploration of the millennial options. It is unfortunate to say the least, that one’s eschatology is basically categorized by how you interpret Revelation 20. My study of the topic over the course of this semester has helped broaden my understanding of eschatology and to realize that it does not necessarily restrict itself to a discussion of an end-time timeline. This is another unfortunate stereotype of eschatology, due in large part I’m sure to such nonsense as the Left Behind series, which while entertaining to read, is more or less a work of fiction.
Hopefully over the course of these few posts and of my continuation of the Adventures in Eschatology series, we can rehabilitate eschatology into the practical relevant topic that it is (that’s right, practical and relevant). The course at DTS is at least good for that, although in the end, the presentation of the current progressive dispensational view was more or less what undid my confidence in dispensationalism being an accurate system of Bible interpretation.
I had read Ryrie’s magnum opus in undergrad and was left thinking old school dispensationalism was not really viable, but not really sure where to go from there. I put off studying it any further until I got here to DTS, and even then put it off until the spring of my third year. But now having taken the course and heard the most up to date presentation of dispensationalism and wrestled with the ideas most of the semester, here in several parts is where I came out, and outlines why, after studying at DTS for 3 years, I am not a dispensationalist.
If at this point, you are for some reason foggy on dispensationlism, it is in short, the view God rules history in different economies or dispensations. We are currently in the dispensation of grace (or the church are), and this dispensation will end when the church is raptured (taken away to heaven) and a 7 year tribulation of judgment ensues. At the end of the tribulation, Christ will return and the millennial kingdom will begin on earth and last 1000 years. At the end of the millennium, there will be a final judgment on believers and non-believers alike and then the eternal state will begin. That is probably an oversimplificataion, if you need more precise clarification, don’t Wikipedia it, but go here and see specifically Articles V, XIX, XX, XI.
Whatever else one may make of the idea of dispensations themselves, the key things one must hold to in order to be a dispensationlist are: (1) a premillennial view of the millennium (Christ returns before it); (2) a belief in a rapture separate from and preceding the 2nd coming; (3) a 7 year tribulation of unprecedented woe based on the prophecy of 70 weeks in Daniel 9 (this sometimes called Daniel’s 70th week); and (4) a largely nationalistic future to be realized in the 1000 year millennial kingdom ruled by Christ on earth. In the end, I do not think any of those beliefs are taught in Scripture, so I can’t be a dispensationalist. Other people who I greatly respect will strongly disagree with me. But part of seminary is teaching young minds to think for themselves and to implement sound tools of interpretation. Upon doing so, here’s where I came out:
In the most general terms possible, to me, the study of eschatology is like a jigsaw puzzle. The biggest problem it has is not a lack of pieces, nor lack of competent jigsaw puzzle aficionados, but rather that the box top is missing. This is the more or less the same problem that the Jews ran into prior to Christ’s First Coming. Looking back at the Old Testament, we can clearly see all the pieces and how they fit together and which passages are indiscriminate blue sky, and which are shall we say, crucial to the picture looking just right. I mean in no way to demean Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, but in this analogy, Christ’s person and work in His First Coming is the box top to Old Testament prophecy. Now, we could extend this and add the New Testament, and then say, “Christ’s person and work in His First AND Second Coming is the box top to ALL Biblical prophecy.” Since we are missing that second box top, there is no reason to expect or to believe that any one system of eschatology has put the puzzle together completely right. Some can be more “right” than others, some can be plain wrong (i.e. hyper-preterism), but none of them can be completely right in their interpretation of all the details prior to their fulfillment.
In this sense then, the different eschatological approaches, unfortunately tied to how one interprets the millennium, are all in the category of theory, and not dogma, and in some ways can be conceived of as different perspectives on the Biblical story. Each has their own emphasis to add, but unfortunately that cannot each be completely correct in what they assert. To be sure, there are some eschatological details that transcend the differing systems. The main one of course is Christ’s Second Coming. If I could pick a name for my position, I would prefer meta-millennial. Part of this is a preference to not affirm any of the major options, and the other part is the a penchant for the meta- prefix. In the end, though I’d rather not identify myself with anyone one of them, what I present below more or less falls under one of those umbrellas. It just gets the conversation started out differently if I say I hold to “metamillennialism.”
To give credit where credit is due and render unto Dr. Johnston what is Dr. Johnston’s, the box top analogy is his creation (unless he came to it from another source). I asked him if it could be applied similarly to eschatology and he agreed. I unfortunately have no record of this conversation since it was after class one day.
 Since no one else I know of uses the term, it might be free from stereotyping, thus forcing the other person to patiently listen to its explanation.