I had a great conversation recently before one of our Wednesday services. A couple things were discussed but eventually we came to the well rounded question,
If all Believers are filled with the Holy Spirit why are there so many differing views on eschatology?
This is an excellent question. And while I was able to provide the building blocks of an answer, I'd like to continue my answer here with a little more thought and organization.
I'm going to supply a list of reasons why I think the scope of eschatology is so broad within the church. And these reasons will not be in any particular order nor will they all address the question in the same way. So stick with me on this.
1) The catholic Church never had a council on it.
Every single "important doctrine" had a whole council of bishops assemble to refute heresy and provide a definite view. We can thanks the councils for the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the person and deity of the Holy Spirit, the dual natures of Christ, etc. Let me say this another for emphasis. Before these councils Christians were not in agreement on these subjects. I'm sure the Apostles agreed. But throughout history people in the church, reading the same Bible, were able to disagree on these incredibly important teachings.
Eschatology never got a fair shake. It never got a council and never got "resolved" to define what the "Christian view" would be. At this point, the church is so splintered that any attempt to do this would only result in an "official view" being decided with everyone else being called heretics. I doubt any of these "heretics" would care and the world would just keep on spinning.
2) Many churches are in agreement.
This might come as a shock to some but the majority of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church and Lutheran Church are not only consistent within themselves but with each other. They may differ in exegetical matters and minor opinions but all principally hold to an Amillennial perspective with a Idealist/Historic-Symbolic interpretation of the book of Revelation.
Within the Reformed and Presbyterian church the majority consensus would be the Amillennial perspective as well. Here you might find a few more of the Postmillennial and Premillennial flavoring. Once you exit this world and enter the Baptist/Non-Denominational realm it is almost entirely Premillennial and typically Dispensational Premil to boot.
So the churches confined are in more general agreement than would often be assumed. I will acknowledge that the Premillennial perspective often drives a hard futurist opinion and this will set them apart from the other churches significantly.
My preterist leanings would be the minority or the minority opinion. Even though it derives its popularity from the Catholic Counter-Reformation, it is now quietly growing with the Reformed and Presbyterian community.
3) Genres are not studied to the full.
This topic needs to be discussed on two levels.
One of the things that came out of the Protestant Reformation was the idea that the common man could come to the Scriptures and understand it. And I don't deny that principal. But the Reformers never taught that the natural man could come to the Bible and expect to understand the Scriptures. There was need for enlightenment from the Holy Spirit (check out point 5) and need for instructional work.
This causes many people to balk since it seems I am reverting back to Catholicism. But I'm not. What I'm saying is the church needs to be about teaching how to interpret the Scriptures. I'll be teaching a class this summer at our church for just this thing. We'll be going through the two books I used in my seminary course. This will be a 101 class. But for many of the Pastors who come out of this seminary it could be the only two books they have read on the subject. Sure they will get insight from New Testament and Old Testament classes. Sure they will have to do a deep dive in the book of Romans or Galatians. But how many people do you know attend seminary to spend 2-4 years studying the apocalyptic genre before they even attempt to understand the book of Revelation? I know of precious few.
So if we have Pastors who have maybe spent two semesters evaluating the apocalyptic genre and they proceed to teach laymen who have never studied apocalyptic literature, what would you expect the result to be?
If the church desires to come back together on this doctrine, we would need a cross-denomination effort to increase the study of apocalyptic literature in our seminaries. These students would be able to return to the texts and begin to hash out the Scriptures with a proper understanding.
I can hear the echo of "let Scripture interpret Scripture". I'll admit gladly that this should be done. But even a child knows the difference between the book of Ruth, a Psalm and the twentieth chapter in the book of Revelation. Shouldn't the mature Christian know why, how and to what profit these books are different from each other? This is genre study.
4) Goal focused Eschatology.
How often have you heard that eschatology isn't practical? That it doesn't make a difference in how the Christian lives their life so it doesn't matter what opinion you hold? Newsflash. You are only likely to hear this from someone who doesn't have an opinion.
Go to a die hard Dispensational Premil person. If you can make it twenty minutes without hearing about 1) Israel, 2) the temple and 3) support for them, I will be shocked. They have an opinion. They will let you know of their opinion. Their eschatology has a goal. You will hear about the goal.
Go to a die hard Postmillennial person. If you can make it twenty minutes without hearing about 1) the success of the gospel in other nations, 2) the eventual victory of the church and 3) politics/education/childrearing in America, I'll be shocked. We have an opinion. I'll let you know my opinion. My eschatology has a goal. You will hear about the goal.
Eschatology is practical. It is practical in explaining the Scriptures and providing a clear understanding of what God has planned for His creation. Many Christians will fight to the death over the historical validity of the Old Testament but when they hear fellow Christians debate what God has promised for our future, they duck out of the conversation and declare that it is not important.
5) Not everyone in the church is Spirit filled.
Surely you knew this one was coming. There have been many heresies in the history of the church. Many of them, I believe, were caused by genuine Christian brothers. But some of them were not. And some might argue that none of them were. The truth is we are still sinful and lean heavily on the instruction of others. Like no other topic, the teaching of eschatology s very "school based". We might have personal opinions on this or that doctrine but concerning eschatology we are "all in" for the school of thought we've been taught from the beginning.
But where does a view start? Who become the large proponents of it? Who passed it down to the next generation? Who passed it down the next generation? Who passed it down the next generation? ... Hopefully you get my point. A person who is not Holy Spirit filled could teach this to another generation will little thought. How much will the next generation think about it? How many of them will spend the time to re-think their eschatology and affect the next generation? How many people would need to be void of the Holy Spirit on this subject to convince a large community of a certain view?
6) Not every who is Spirit filled teaches on it.
We do not teach eschatology at our church. In fact it is likely the least discussed topic of doctrine in our church. How many other faithful pastors and teachers have treated the topic the same way? I now know that one of the pastors I grew up under was Amillennial to the core. Dynamically opposed to the Premillennial view. And I never heard him teach about it once!
If the church isn't teaching eschatology, the church won't talk about eschatology. If the church doesn't talk about it, the people won't come closer together in agreement. The next generation will just assume their parent's eschatology and the cycle continues. Or worse, their parents will develop their own spin on the eschatology and pass down that version to their children.
I hope these points are able to bring the subject to a solid conclusion. I would state it this way: there are multiple views because the church has never valued the subject enough. Eschatology has become the playground of the church. We don't want any fights, no feelings hurt and everyone can play on the portion they want. I would argue this isn't good for the church's theology, exegesis, hermeneutics and practical living.
Am I advocating that we all need to agree? Of course not. But should we all be able to talk about it sufficiently and Biblically? Yes. All that said, teaching the church to be able to talk about eschatology won't happen any time soon. We're too busy in America teaching the church how to talk and think about the Trinity, justification, sanctification faith and covenants.
Joshua Torrey is the sole proprietor of Torrey Gazette (don't tell Alaina) and the fullness of its editorial process. That means everything wrong with TG can legitimately be blamed on him.