Back in 2013, our church studied 1 Thessalonians together. It was a pretty terrific sermon series. Very thoughtful, careful stuff. But a funny thing happened when we came up to chapter five in our study: after listening carefully as our pastor unpacked the text, which deals heavily with the return of Christ, I turned to Emily and said in mock terror, “Oh no! We’re a dispensationalist church!”[1. This is the default position for many evangelicals in North America, so it’s not really a surprise.]
It should come as no surprise to anyone whatsoever that I would not align with the dispensationalist viewpoint on the end times. I just don’t see it in the Scriptures and I’ve not heard nor read a compelling case for it. And, in the interests of full disclosure, in its most extreme (or Hageeian) forms, I find it to distracts from the gospel.[2. Which is never a good sign.] This isn’t the case at our church, by the way…
Later, as we studied Daniel chapter seven together, the subject came up again. And as I listened to Norm, our pastor, preach, I found myself incredibly thankful for three things as he walked through a very difficult passage very, very quickly:
1. I am thankful that, regardless of the details of our viewpoints, we agree on the purpose of eschatology. Regardless of the viewpoint, all faithful Christian eschatology joyfully affirms that Jesus will return to inaugurate the new creation, that sin will be defeated, that every tear will be wiped from every eye, that there will be no more sickness, sadness, death, malice, gossip, adultery, Reality TV or blasphemy. All of it will be gone. A new heaven and a new earth will be made out of the old, and the Lord and His people will live together in perfect harmony for all eternity.
But faithful Christian eschatology also understands the application for believers today: We are told about what is to come, so we can live in light of it today. The purpose of eschatology is to say, “God wins, take heart, weary Christian!” This changes how we serve, how we live from day-to-day, how we handle suffering… with an eye toward the new creation, we will not be crushed by the trials of this fallen one.
2. I am thankful our salvation is not dependant upon our eschatology. Let’s be honest: there is not a single eschatological viewpoint that is entirely accurate. Because the subject matter itself is complex, and the texts that speak to it are so frequently filled with symbolism that is easily lost on modern readers, we should approach eschatology with a great deal of humility. We should be fully convinced in our own minds, even as we rejoice that our understanding of this area does not exclude us from the kingdom. Faithful Christians are dispensationalists, just as faithful Christians are amillennial, postmillennial, historic premillennial… and when we meet one another in the new creation, we will have plenty of opportunities to say to another, “Wow, we were all so wrong on that—but how amazing is this?”
3. Most importantly, I’m thankful for areas of disagreement that do not require division. This can’t be said of all doctrinal issues, certainly. Some demand us to divide in order to be faithful to historic orthodoxy, but those tend to be matters of first importance—the person and work of Christ, the nature of Scripture, the nature and character of God… the things that, unless you hold to, you can’t rightly be called a Christian. But in matters where we can disagree without division—and I believe eschatology is one of them to some degree—let’s put down our guns, ‘kay? Christians are to pursue unity in Christ, without question, but unity doesn’t require uniformity. We should fight vigorously for the defining beliefs of the faith, without a doubt. But we probably don’t need to exclude someone from fellowship (or declare them excluded the kingdom for that matter) if their interpretation of passages where Christians have been disagreeing for the last 2000 years. So when we can disagree about them in a Christlike way—when we can disagree without unnecessary division—it is a glorious thing indeed.