Another End Time View.

I have been doing some research on this end-time view a bit more…here is the conversation from opensourcetheology.com…check it out!

Paul Seburn referred in another post to the ‘transmillennial’ view on New Testament eschatology. I thought it might be worth examining this separately. There’s a lot of material on the two sites I looked at (www.presence.tv and http://www.transmillennial.com), but I have limited my superficial comments to one introductory essay. I would be interested to hear from anyone who has strong views on the subject. Oh, and while we’re wondering exactly what happened to the future, a happy new year to everyone!

There are certain aspects of the central argument of ‘transmillennialism’, at least as it is presented in ‘The Transmillennial® View’, that I would want to agree with. It seems to me that Tim King is broadly correct in arguing that the eschatological language of the New Testament has in view an imminent state of affairs. I also like the general shift away from a preoccupation with a futurist eschatology, whether personally or cosmically interpreted, towards a covenantal theology that calls upon the church to be a concrete blessing to the world – if the transmillennial worldview can ‘take the church beyond cultural pessimism into a responsible engagement with society’, it is to be applauded.

The introductory article is rather superficial and inadequate material for a thorough critique of transmillennialism, but I would make some general comments.

1. In the first place, I have to say that I dislike the proprietorial stance that they have taken towards the term ‘transmillennialism’ (or do I have to write ‘transmillennialism™’?) and the strong current of self-promotion that runs through the writings on the website. This is not the way to further biblical scholarship: to my mind it lends the whole enterprise a cult-like favour that is likely to alienate people and certainly appears contrary to the fundamentally democratic and open values of the emerging church. To speak of transmillennialism as a ‘sacred trust’ seems to me presumptuous. If the church is moving towards a position such as this, it will certainly not be on the basis of one narrow strand of biblical exposition. It will have to emerge out of a wide-ranging conversation amongst lay and professional ‘theologians’.

2. I think it is a mistake to define this position so strongly as a reaction to the various ‘millennialisms’ that currently mark out the boundaries of much current thinking about eschatology. The movement is meant to ‘stem the tide of present-day millennialism’, but the very term ‘transmillennialism’ keeps us firmly within that arena – just one more combatant in the millennial wrestling match. I hope that we will be able to overhaul the vocabulary of eschatology in a way that will prevent us from falling back into these stale debates. An important part of this overhaul will be a thorough review of the eschatological narrative that underlies the teaching of the New Testament.

3. There is passing reference to the need to establish a Jewish-historical framework for interpretation, but the essay gives no indication as to how this framework has actually shaped the transmillennial position. I suspect that the argument will prove weakest in its understanding of how Jesus and others after him made use of the structures of Jewish eschatology as they reworked the narrative of salvation-history.

4. I think this probably accounts for the fact that transmillennialism has pushed the argument rather too far in its enthusiasm to collapse the whole of New Testament eschatology into the period between Jesus’ death and the fall of Jerusalem. I think that the eschatological narrative is more complex than that, both in the short term and in the long term. On the one hand, it must encompass not just the destruction of Jerusalem but also the expansion of the church out into the pagan world, the confrontation with Rome, and the experience of persecution. On the other, while it may be right to question the notion of ‘resurrection and judgment for individuals at death’ (italics added), I’m not at all sure that a future resurrection and judgment can be dismissed altogether. I do not understand how it can be asserted, as Paul does in his post, that ‘Death and Hades have been utterly taken out of the way’: as I read Revelation 20, the destruction of death (‘death’ and ‘Hades’ are synonymous) remains a future hope – but I am happy to hear arguments to the contrary!

5. It seems to me, therefore, that transmillenialism is susceptible to the same charges of over-optimism that were levelled against post-millennialism. The position may not be ‘utopian’ exactly, but to suggest that we should ‘seek first the kingdom by joining hands in building the civilizations of tomorrow’ seriously misjudges the current status and influence of the church in the world. I think that the church, in approaching the question of mission, will have to acknowledge that it is in a position of considerable weakness – socially, intellectually, spiritually – at least from a western perspective. There is some confusion, inherent in the transmillennial position, between the renewal of the people of God and the renewal of humanity and creation. The New Testament may use the language of cosmic renewal as a metaphor for the renewal of the people of God; I’m not sure that we can expect a literal social renewal within history – isn’t this the classic postmillennialist error?

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