Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Prophecy and Literalism

I have often been confused by Evangelicals and Fundamentalists being accused of being "literalist'. I do not read that, see that, or get that from my ilk.

I have to thank Frank Cocozzelli for leading me to a possible answer and understanding of this brain cramp: prophecy in scripture. Frank's "Michael, Michael, Michael--Please Stop!" continued on his theme of the unenlightened, dispensationalist, literalist religious right vs. the Enlighted and reasoned Christianity elsewhere. I think that is actually bad analysis - but that is not what this is about.

Dispensationalism is the idea that God's history with humanity can be broken into different periods, or dispensations, which are both progressive and over-lapping:

  • the dispensation of innocence (Gen 1:1–3:7), prior to Adam's fall,
  • of conscience (Gen 3:8–8:22), Adam to Noah,
  • of government (Gen 9:1–11:32), Noah to Abraham,
  • of patriarchal rule (Gen 12:1–Exod 19:25), Abraham to Moses,
  • of the Mosaic Law (Exod 20:1–Acts 2:4), Moses to Christ,
  • of grace (Acts 2:4–Rev 20:3), the current church age, and
  • of a literal, earthly 1,000-year Millennial Kingdom that has yet to come but soon will (Rev 20:4–20:6).
Another view listed in the Wiki article:
  • the dispensation or age of Gentile Nations (Gen 1-11)[9], from Adam to Abraham’s Call;
  • of Israel (Gen 12 – Acts 1), from Abraham’s Call to Pentecost in Acts 2;
  • of The Church (Acts 2 – Rev. 2), from Pentecost in Acts 2 to the end of The Church Age;
  • of The (missionary) Tribulation of Israel (Rev. 6-19), a yet-future Seven-year period;
  • of a literal, earthly 1,000-year Millennial Kingdom (Rev 20:4–6) with a rebuilt temple and reinstituted animal sacrifices and O.T. rituals (Eze 40-48) that has yet to come but soon will.
Now, dispensationalism was a counter, in part, to
supersessionism, which teaches that the Christian Church has replaced the Jewish people as "God's People", and that there is only one people of God, joined in unity through Jesus Christ. It is maintained that, since the Jewish people have largely refused to accept Jesus as Christ, "the Messiah of Israel", and since He is their only means of salvation, those individual Jews that reject Him also reject his atoning sacrifice for sins, and have, in effect, rejected the only provision that God has offered for divine forgiveness. Consistent with this viewpoint, which is held by Amillennialists and the Catholic Church, they are no longer considered as the true Israel. Christians have, in effect, become the "New Israel". This teaching is also often referred to as "replacement theology", in that, according to this theology, the Church from its very inception has replaced the Jewish people as God's "chosen people" and "holy nation", now and forever.
Dispensationalism, in opposition to this
teaches that the Christian Church is a "parenthesis", that is, an interruption in God’s divine dealings with the Jewish people, when the Gospel began to be preached to the Gentiles, but that God’s continued care for the Jewish people will be revealed after the end of the Church Age (or Dispensation), when Israel will be restored to their land, and then they will accept Jesus as their Messiah, as is recorded in Zechariah 12:8-10 . . . Hence, dispensationalists typically believe in a Jewish restoration.
I do not know where I stand in the Covenant/replacement theology vs dispensationalist theology argument. I know a few things:
  • dispensationalism explains why God's relationship with the human race has changed over the years
  • it explains why it is stupid to ask me about shellfish, blended fabric, and stoning my daughter for disobediance
  • it explains PD's error about Huckabee and Acts of God - that God acted through nature in the Old Testament doesnt mean he will do so in this particular Age or dispensation
  • however, I do not believe that once Christ returns that animal sacrifices for atonement will continue at a rebuilt temple
  • I think the church is more than a parenthesis in the history of God's relationship with Isreal
  • and there are some other major issues
I took that side trip into describing dispensationalism because it is little understood - even by me - and misrepresented often.

What this post is really about is this paragraph from the Wiki article:
Dispensationalism hinges on three core tenets:
  1. The Bible is to be taken literally. This is explained by John F. Walvoord, who, in his book, "Prophecy in the New Millennium" provides this explanation:
    "History answers the most important question in prophetic interpretation, that is, whether prophecy is to be interpreted literally, by giving five hundred examples of precise literal fulfillments. The commonly held belief that prophecy is not literal and should be interpreted nonliterally has no basis in scriptural revelation. Undoubtedly, a nonliteral viewpoint is one of the major causes of confusion in prophetic interpretation. Some prophecies that are in figurative language have to be interpreted, such as some in Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation. But in many cases, the meaning is clearly understood and seldom is the symbol left unexplained in the Bible. A solid record emerges of fulfillment of prophecy in the past and an anticipation that each prophecy will have that same literal fulfillment in the future."
Even the Wiki author misses the point - Walvood doesn't say the Bible is to be taken literally. He says that Biblical prophecy is to be taken literally.

With that I tend to agree and would consider myself a literalist when it comes to Biblical prophecy:
  • Whether prophecies in scripture were fulfilled or definitely not fulfilled was a major question in the canonization of scripture - a prophecy could have not happened yet but if it should have happened, and it didn't, then it wasn't inspired: Pat Robertson need not apply
  • Many OT prophecies were seen in new light with their fulfillment by Christ
  • there is no reason to suppose that prophecies which were definitely placed in the future which have not occurred will not occur
  • As with those related to the advent, that fulfillment may make us see them in a new light
So, if you want to accuse my ilk of being literalist about prophecy - I cannot bitch.

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1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly