Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Geisler vs Preterism, Part 1

Over the next few days the Ticker will have a look at some items by Norman Geisler discussing eschatology and criticizing preterism, the latter as presented by certain fictional works authored by Hank Hanegraaff. I have not read those works by Hanegraaff, so I will be limiting my discussion to defending whatever views I can perceive to be in conflict with my own.

The first article by Geisler we will discuss is not a critique of preterism directly, however, but rather a defense of premillennialism. As a reminder, preterism is usually called "amilliennial," but I do not prefer that designation myself; although I hold that Christ rules from the throne in heaven now, and that the "thousand years" of Revelation is happening now and simply means an unspecified long period, I do not deny a future reforming of the fallen creation. Premillenialism combines all three of these things into one package, but I do not.

To that extent, I do not appreciate Geisler's assessment that amillenialism "denies this literal future reign of Christ and claims that Christ is currently reigning over the world spiritually." The current reign is literal; to call it simply spiritual is to adhere to a false dichotomy between the natural and the supernatural. Christ reigning in heaven does not make this reign any less "literal," and nor does the fact that we may not in the process have Christ seated in heaven on a literal wooden throne complete with splinters and jewels. Geisler may be accurately describing some amillennial views, but not mine.

For today, however, we will simply look at Geisler's "arguments for premillennialism."

1. Without a Millennium God Lost the Battle in History

He did? I'd like to know who made that rule up, especially since the criterion Geisler offers here assumes that an amillennial view does not ever think the creation will be restored to its pre-fall state. I certainly do not think this; I simply don't think it will be tied to the premillennial pattern of a fixed 1000 year period, with all the dispensational accoutrements. So this isn't reason to believe premillennialism over (at least) my view.

2. Without A Millennium History Has no Climax

Again, I'd like to know who makes these rules up, but it's also not correct; I'd place the climax at the final resurrection of all men, at which time also everything else Geisler seems to indicate is missing from amillennialism (such as Christ destroying all dominions) will happen as well. If that's not sufficient "climax" for Geisler or anyone else, then maybe someone's been watching too many Hollywood movies.

3. Without a Millennium God Would Break an Unconditional Land Promise to Abraham.

Oh, really? That's news to me. I can live with the idea that Israel still has the land grant, though in my portrait of things, it doesn't make a whole lot of difference. At the same time, Geisler's admonition that Israel has never taken the whole of the prescribed land yet doesn't mean a great deal: Although Geisler rightly notes that the promise doesn't depend on our obedience, the ability to take advantage of all terms of it does. The "reward" for disobedience is specified within the covenant itself, and includes exile and loss of land.

As things now stand, the current nation of Israel isn't doing a whole lot to fulfill its covenant obligations. There's no Temple and no sacrifices. Observance of the law is found among some groups, and I daresay fewer by proportion than in Jesus' time. They are also in disobedience for failing to listen to the prophet like Moses (eg, Jesus), as they were warned in Deuteronomy. So if the terms of the covenant are indeed still good as Geisler argues, I wouldn't be looking for Israel to claim the whole grant any time soon.

Geisler goes on to say that, "according to the Bible it will yet be fulfilled (Matt. 19:28; Acts 1:6-8; Rom. 11) in the future in the thousand year reign of Christ (Rev. 20:1-6)." Well, I'm afraid for each of those, I see more in the way of Geisler reading premillennial doctrine into the text rather than finding it there. Which is to be expected, since none are specific enough by themselves to support any millennial view, save Revelation (on that see below).

The bottom line is, Israel's failure to stay obedient long enough to advantage the whole land grant isn't a failure of promise on God's part, as Geisler implies it would be.

4. Without a Millennium God would Break an Unconditional Throne Promise to David

Again, news to me. Here again, the fault is that Geisler thinks David's throne MUST be on solid dirt here on Earth for this promise to be kept. Since there's no descendant of David "reigning on a literal throne in Jerusalem" in amillennialism, he thinks this fails. But nothing, not even the verse he appeals to in this regard (Matt. 19:28), says a word about a throne in Jerusalem as we know it. The closest he comes to this is Rev. 20:1-6, but here as is often the case, the dispensational eschatology wrenches the genre of apocalyptic into a literalism never intended, and while we have Jesus on a throne there, Jerusalem doesn’t appear until our 21:2. As it is, this is what I offer, based on Daniel 7 and Matthew 25, in the main: Jesus rules on a throne in heaven (not a literal wood and splinters throne, but having all the power and authority that implies, literally); we, the body of Christ, inhabit the New Jerusalem right now . The apocalyptic genre by itself tells us not to expect a bricks and mortar Jerusalem to descend to the dirt. I think it speaks for itself that rather than appeal to a Biblical scholar versed in the genre of apocalyptic, Geisler instead turns to a hymn by Isaac Watts for validation.

5. Only Premillennialism Employs a Consistent Hermeneutic

Hmm. Pardon me while I say, "yeah, right." Actually, as noted above, I'm the one trying to read Revelation as an apocalyptic. Geisler accuses amillenialists of inconsistent hermeneutics, but even he will admit that there are passages in the Bible one does not take literally, so the real question is not consistency, but who is doing the best job of representing the contextual parameters of the text.

In this regard, Geisler impeaches himself when he says amillenialists take "part of the Gospels literally, namely, Christ’s death and resurrection (Matt. 26-28) but not all of Jesus’ predictions made in the Gospels, namely, His statements about His Second Coming (Matt. 19:28; Matt. 24-25); ...." But here again, he's assuming that sitting on a throne in heaven isn't involving some "literal" action. There's nothing "spiritualized" about this: While it might be said, again, that there's no actual chair upon which Christ places his body in heaven -- for Daniel 7, too, is of the apocalyptic genre -- the assumption of power is literal and real, not merely "spiritual".

Geisler's further warnings of a slippery slope in which we'd end up denying doctrines like the atonement (!) are simply showboating. As I noted here in a prior series, Geisler has trapped himself in a hermeneutic which fails to respect those contexts of the text which he happens to disagree with.

6. Premillennialism Adds Urgency to Evangelism.

Basically the argument is, if you think the world will end soon, you'll evangelize more. Really? Then why do so few Christians even now evangelize? It doesn't seem to be working, in spite of Geisler's appeal to premillennial preachers like Moody and Graham; that's less than .00001% of the Christian population. Even so, the amillenial view (or at least mine) holds that the final resurrection and judgment could come at any time, so there's as much urgency there as there is for premillennialism. It's not any "greater" urgency for premillennialism.

7. Premillennial Imminency Adds an Incentive for Holiness

Basically, the same reasoning as above; if you think the world will end soon, you'll behave better. But the same reply applies: a) it doesn't seem to be working for most Christians anyway; b) there's as much "equivalent" urgency as I see it.

We'll pick up tomorrow where Geisler answers some objections to premillennialism.

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