Friday, October 25, 2013

The Millenium 2:Methodology: Are you a Weathervane or stuck in stone?

In Tom Schreiner's Sermon that I referred to in my previous post he talks about methodology: About 20 mins into the sermon he says,

“I am just looking at this text... What is the most natural meaning of this passage? What do I think this passage says, most naturally?” 
Now, to be fair to Dr Schreiner, the manner in which he looks into 'this passage' is by referring also to other passages, and seeing how well it fits under different schema. 
There are a couple of ways in which I could do try to find the right reading (which, rightly understood is the most natural reading, so long as I'm looking for the reading that is most natural to the TEXT, not that which comes most naturally to ME).
I could use this set of questions.
1) What is the 'most natural' reading of Revelation 20?
2) Can the rest of Scripture be made to fit with that reading of Revelation 20?
3) If it can, I should adopt the 'most natural' reading of Revelation 20, and allow it to influence my reading of other eschatological passages in Scripture
Or, I could use a second set of questions.
1) What is the most natural reading of the rest of Scripture concerning the millennium?
2)  Can Revelation 20 be made to fit with that reading?
3) If so I should adopt that reading of Revelation 20.
If we only use the first set of questions, we will become theological weathervanes; whenever we come across the 'best text' for a certain position, our theology will wander off in that direction. We'll become premil when we preach Revelation 20, until we preach Isaiah 2, when we'll become postmil, until we preach 1 Thess 4-5 when we'll become amil again. That obviously won't do, and when we are weary of changing our minds for the umpteenth time, we'll conclude that Scripture lacks either clarity or consistency.
If we only use the second set of questions, we'll become theologically set in stone, and therefore exegetically insensitive. No text will be able to convince us that our current understanding of Scripture is inadequate. As sinful human beings this is a very dangerous place to be, because we become practised at dismissing the natural reading of the text of Scripture, and will end up doing so whenever it is inconvenient.
Better is to allow ourselves to be genuinely unsettled whenever the reading of the text that is most natural to us is not consistent with the reading of the whole bible that is most consistent to us. 
We should be very cautious of the first three set of questions when they seem to lead us to establish doctrines on a single text in such a way as they radically affect our reading of many other texts.
We should be very cautious of the second set of questions when they seem to make the reading of the single text  highly contrived.
We should not become settled once more, until either we see from the first set of questions that this actually sheds light on the rest of the bible in a way that brings out things that we previously hadn't noticed, but are natural to the rest of Scripture, or, as we look at the second set of questions, we look harder at that text, and see that it actually fits better than initially seemed most natural to us.

The Millennium 1: When Unity is more important than being right.

So, I'm preaching on Revelation 20 this Sunday (if Jesus doesn't first return first... and then my question will be answered before I have to preach the answer).
I'm therefore forced to give an interpretation of what the 'Millennium' of Revelation 20:2,3,5,6,7 refers to.

So much has been written about this and so much unnecessary division has taken place over this through the history of the church, that I'm a little nervous to preach on it: but praise God for expository preaching that means that I'm forced to preach on things I'd prefer not to!

Some initial thoughts.

1) It is 'unacceptable' in certain places to have certain views on this. This side of the Atlantic it is far less acceptable to be Premil. West of the Atlantic (certainly among baptists) it is less acceptable to be Amil.
2) People I deeply respect take different sides to this. In fact people I respect deeply have changed views on this in different directions to one another. (e.g. Tom Schreiner from Amil to Premil, Sam Storms from Premil to Amil)
3) As a tentative (actually, to be honest I'm only a little tentative!) amillennialist, I've just listened to Schreiner's sermon on Rev 20. I don't usually listen to other people's sermons before I preach or I'll be tempted to preach them. I thought that I ought to hear someone I respect teach the opposing view (particularly someone who was changing their mind from my view).

What I love most about his sermon is the sense of proportion: he is very gracious with those with whom he disagrees. but he is so without saying that the millennium is a not issue, or that we should just 'wait and see'.
We should all seek to understand every chapter of the bible and apply it to our lives.

In fact, in all I've read and heard from people on all sides of this debate, I've most enjoyed reading those who are most patient and charitable towards those with whom they disagree. I've not enjoyed reading those who characterise those who disagree as stupid or faithless.

We'll evaluate the arguments in subsequent posts, but for now I think that Tom is right, that grace and fellowship between brothers and sisters who disagree on this debate is FAR more important than where exactly each of us lands on this debate. Not to say that the debate is unimportant: It just isn't THAT important, and unity IS that important.