Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Earthy amillennialism

i) At the risk of oversimplification, premils interpret Revelation more literally, but think the bulk of the action takes place at the tailend of church history while amils interpret Revelation more symbolically, but think the bulk of the action takes place throughout the church age.

To some extent these are irreconcilable positions. As such, the amil/premil debate will remain at an impasse. But to some extent I think it poses a false dichotomy. 

ii) I think many amils are repelled by the "materialism" or "carnality" of the premil reading. Repelled by cartoonish depictions of Armageddon in pop dispensationalism. Repelled by the suggestion that Revelation is describing real physical warfare in the future. Real bloodshed. Flesh-and-blood combatants attacking each other. 

Amils react by etherializing, privatizing, and even secularizing the text. That it's basically about the history of world missions, and sanctification (i.e. the battle between good and evil within the human heart).

That, however, generates an internal tension in amil hermeneutics. For if Revelation is, in fact, describing church history in general, then church history includes real warfare. For instance, during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, Catholic authorities tried to exterminate the Protestant movement. That led to civil wars and armed resistance. So if, as amils, we think the descriptions in Revelation apply to church history, then some of the martial imagery could and should be taken more literally. For church history is often gritty, grisly, and gory. That's unfortunate, but that's a fact.

iii) This also goes to the nature of the symbolism. For instance, the OT contains some mythopoetic descriptions of the Exodus (e.g. Ps 74:13-15; Isa 51:9-10). Yet these correspond to an actual event. Likewise, we have a couple of back-to-back accounts of OT battles, where the first version is prosaic while the second version is poetic (Exod 14-15; Judg 4-5). 

A symbolic account doesn't imply that what the account stands for is a different kind of event. To the contrary, it can be the same kind of event. 

I don't think an angel opens a hatch in the firmament and empties a bucket of brimstone onto the earth below. And I doubt John thought that either. But the OT depicts real natural disasters, real celestial portents and prodigies. As such, there's no reason to preempt an interpretation of the Apocalypse in terms real natural disasters, astronomical phenomena, angelic apparitions, &c. There's ample precedent for that in OT history and literature. 

When, therefore, Revelation contains battle scenes, the fact that these are couched in symbolic imagery doesn't necessarily mean they stand for something other than actual battles. Although that's possible, the mere fact that the descriptors are metaphorical doesn't entail that conclusion.

iv) Revelation naturally depicts warfare in archaic terms. Yet in theory, even that could be fairly realistic. If the power grid was destroyed by cyberterrorists or EMP devices, our hitech society would revert to more primitive technology. 

I happen to think that's a clunky way to interpret futuristic prophecy. But I make that observation for the sake of argument, as a limiting case. 

v) In addition, the OT records numerous conflicts that include supernatural elements: angels, miracles, natural disasters (e.g. Gen 19:11,24; Exod 10:21-23; 14:19-20; Josh 5:13-15; 10:11-14; Jdgs 5:20-23; 2 Kgs 6:17; 19:35; 20:8-11; Isa 38:7-8; Dan 3:25,28; 6:22). Once again, there's ample precedent for the possibility that the descriptions in Revelation are more realistic than amil exegesis typically allows for. 

vi) In church history, miracles are reported in connection with Christian persecution (e.g. the Covenanters, the Camisards). If Revelation depicts recurring kinds of events in the course of church history, then the supernatural elements in the Revelation narrative may well have church historical counterparts. 

vii) In my opinion, the imagery in Revelation is flexible. Although it sometimes denotes specific events (e.g. the life of Christ, the final judgment), it more often denotes particular kinds of events rather than particular events. Kinds are repeatable. That dovetails with the cyclical action we find in Revelation. 

It's possible that if the conflict escalates towards the end of the church age, church history will more closely resemble OT history in terms of open supernaturalism. To that extent, one can agree with amils on the scope of Revelation, but agree with premils on the physicality or supernaturalism of the referents. Amils view the plot of Revelation as a spiral, combining repetition with progression. And a spiral and pick up the pace towards the end–as it narrows. 

Ironically, many premils are cessationists, which generates a degree of tension between their cessationism and their supernaturalistic reading of Revelation. Apparently, cessationism is suspended towards the end. 

My point is not to take a firm position on how to correlate Revelation with future events. My point, rather, is to expand our interpretive repertoire. 

1 comment:

  1. "My point, rather, is to expand our interpretive repertoire."

    And it's a good point. I'm not a hermeneutic-level dispy. Apologetically, the only level of dispensationalism warranted is where the historical factors between God and the original audience provide a relevant context for understanding a passage. Hermeneutic-level dispys derive artificial systems for generating an uber-context that relegate all other contextual factors to minor consideration.

    That said, the only reason I'm still a pre-mil is that there are elements of Revelation 20 that seem too oddly specific to classify as purely figurative. Although there is one consideration that has me thinking:

    The question I have always had is where the mention of a millennium comes from that would make sense to the believers of the day. I have discovered a likely possibility that it is a reference to Jewish eschatology developed from Genesis 1. It was largely held that the days of creation had a double meaning in that they not only referred to the days that God took to create, but also referred to the entire timespan of creation up to the moment of new creation and each day at least loosely represented a thousand years. Jewish schools of thought differed on what each of the millennia meant, but they tended to agree that the day God rested was some final millennium where God would reign and all would be a peace.

    Now this could go either way. On the surface, it sounds dispy-esque. You can read this more literally and still not be able to identify where each of the days of creation are throughout history with any certainty. You could understand the meaning to be figurative but you have the problem of seeing the signs of the end of the sixth day if the seventh represents some eternal state. (All this would be aside from whether they represent real days of creation or not.

    For what it's worth, I'm a young-earther and the criteria for determining the literalness of Genesis 1 and the literalness of Revelation 20 are similar if it differs somewhat according to the literary type.