What Kind of Church Culture Can Produce a Declaration like the Nashville Statement? Bearing Witness to Ourselves Rather than to Jesus Christ

I have had a chance, as the day unfolded, to reflect further on the so called Nashville Statement; the statement that a hundred and fifty evangelical signatories signed their names to. It seems to be their attempt to draw a line in the sand in regard to what they see as a pressing problem for the church, and in particular, their evangelical church. The problem for them, of course, is the progression and in-roads of the LGBTQ, homosexual gay agenda, as they see it transforming not only the body politic of culture in general, but its pressing into the church itself.

But I have a problem with it. For me, the problem has more to do with these leaders’s conception of how the church ought to operate in regard to its witness to the Gospel in relation to the world at large. As I see it, they are presuming upon an us versus them dynamic that the Gospel itself does not presume; instead, the Gospel is an equalizing reality. The Gospel as the Word of God in Jesus Christ stands as judge not just over those guys and gals out there, but as judge of the church itself; as Peter notes: “17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”[1] In other words, the Nashville Statement places itself in the place of God’s Word, as if its signatories are the judges; it actually and ironically displaces the Word of God with its own word over against others. If these signatories were to listen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and his admonition to the American churches, as he saw it back in the 30s, they may well not have penned such a statement. Bonhoeffer wrote:

American theology and the American church as a whole have never been able to understand the meaning of “criticism” by the Word of God and all that signifies. Right to the last they do not understand that God’s “criticism” touches every religion, the Christianity of the churches and the sanctification of Christians, and that God has founded his church beyond religion and beyond ethics. A symptom of this is the general adherence to natural theology. . . . But because of this, the person and work of Jesus Christ, must for theology, sink into the background and in the long run remain misunderstood, because it is not recognized as the sole ground of radical judgment and radical forgiveness.[2]

Do you see what Bonhoeffer is getting at, particularly when he references ‘natural theology?’ It is when churches displace her reality, founded in Jesus Christ alone, with a perception of herself as possessor of God’s absolute Word, and not just as possessor, but as dispenser, that she has presumed too much. She begins to elevate herself beyond the culture of which she is ensconced, and presumes that she has divined things, and thus has become able to pronounce things in absolute and damning ways, that in reality belongs to the Lord of the church alone; the living Word of God. Bonhoeffer’s point, is that when the church sees herself as coextensive with the Word of God itself, in an absolute way, that she actually loses her voice to bear witness to the living Word of God who not only stands in judgment of his church, but of the world at large.

Similarly, John Webster, as he comments on Barth’s critique of the liberal church in Germany is somewhat and ironically parallel with Bonhoeffer’s critique of the American church as he saw it. Here Webster, in line with Bonhoeffer points out how, in the thought of Barth, morality and ethics become too much aligned with the ‘moral and absolute self’ such that the Word of God loses its place for the Christian, and at the same time becomes coterminous with the Christian’s perception of the world at large and her pronouncements toward the world. Webster writes:

A large part of Barth’s distaste is his sense that the ethics of liberal Protestantism could not be extricated from a certain kind of cultural confidence: ‘[H]ere was … a human culture building itself up in orderly fashion in politics, economics, and science, theoretical and applied, progressing steadily along its whole front, interpreted and ennobled by art, and through its morality and religion reaching well beyond itself toward yet better days.’ The ethical question, on such an account, is no longer disruptive; it has ‘an almost perfectly obvious answer’, so that, in effect, the moral life becomes too easy, a matter of the simple task of following Jesus.

Within this ethos, Barth also discerns a moral anthropology with which he is distinctly ill-at-ease. He unearths in the received Protestant moral culture a notion of moral subjectivity (ultimately Kantian in origin), according to which ‘[t]he moral personality is the author both of the conduct with which the ethical question is concerned and of the question itself. Barth’s point is not simply that such an anthropology lacks serious consideration of human corruption, but something more complex. He is beginning to unearth the way in which this picture of human subjectivity as it were projects the moral self into a neutral space, from which it can survey the ethical question ‘from the viewpoint of spectators’. This notion Barth reads as a kind of absolutizing of the self and its reflective consciousness, which come to assume ‘the dignity of ultimateness’. And it is precisely this — the image of moral reason as a secure centre of value, omnicompetent in its judgements — that the ethical question interrogates. [3]

The Nashville Statement exudes this sense “of [the] absolutizing of the self and its reflective consciousness, which come to assume ‘the dignity of ultimateness.” The Word of God has now been conflated with the Nashville Statement, as if a hundred and fifty signatories, backing fourteen theses on homosexuality are what God himself believes about the state of affairs in regard not just to homosexuality but other moral proclivities.

What concerns me most is the culture, in the evangelical church, that fosters the idea that such statements are healthy and good. In what way do such statements bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; to the living Word of God? It ends up reducing the church to an organization of people who appear to be oriented around a cluster of ethical principles and mores instead of an organic reality who finds her sustenance in and from Christ. Whether or not homosexuality is contrariwise to the ethics of the Kingdom[4], the church herself should be more concerned with her own blights and inadequacies. The church should evidence humility before God wherein she is constantly crying out to him for his mercy and grace, such that this posture, before the world, bears witness to the reality of God in Christ. The church should avoid placing herself in positions where she appears to believe that she has become the absolute mouthpiece for God, in regard to perceived moral inequities, and instead submit to the personal reality of God herself. It is this repentant posture before God and the world wherein the power of God will be most on display. It is up to God in Christ to bring transformation into the lives of people; he alone justifies and sanctifies, the church does not!

Who do we think we are? Jesus is LORD, not the church!


[1] I Peter 4.17, NIV.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Protestantism without Reformation,” in No Rusty Swords, ed. Edwin H. Robertson (London: Fontana Library, 1970), 88-113 cited by George Hunsinger,Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2000), 71-2.

[3] John Webster, Barth’s Moral Theology: Human Action in Barth’s Thought, 35-6.

[4] Which personally I believe it is.

*Artwork of Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Mark Summers.


A Reflection on the Church and Science conference, and Schleiermacher’s Doctrine of Creation

Today I attended the Church and Science conference sponsored by New Wine, New Wineskins which is a theology of culture ministry that Dr. Paul Metzger initiated at my alma mater, Multnomah Biblical Seminary. Multnomah has partnered with the American Association for the Advancement of Science who has provided Multnomah Seminary with a sizeable grant to work on producing theological curriculum that is attentive to the discipline of science in the 21st century. We had two plenary sessions, the first was Dr. Se Kim, of the AAAS; and then Dr. Rod Stilt of Seattle churchandsciencePacific University, he is a historian of science’s development as a discipline. There was also two workshop sessions. The first one I attended was offered by Dr. S. Joshua Swamidass, he is an Assistant Professor of Laboratory and Genomic Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, and his presentation was entitled Is Jesus Greater than Anti-Evolutionism? The second workshop I attended was offered by Derrick Peterson and Dr. Michael Gurney, Derrick has his MDiv and ThM from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (and is a friend), and Mike Gurney has his PhD from Highland Theological College, University of Aberdeen (also a friend and former prof in undergrad) — their presentation was entitled “When Galileo Goes to Jail”: Rethinking What Galileo’s Controversy with the Church Means Today (Derrick presented the paper, and Mike moderated and facilitated the Q&A following).

I mention all of this because it leads to what we will consider in this post; in other words, the discussion from today at the conference has motivated me to write this post. I just happened to have read something from Bruce McCormack last week on Schleiermacher’s doctrine of creation, and in particular, about Schleiermacher’s qualified belief in the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. I actually think that this topic would be an interesting one to explore at a conference like the one I attended today at Multnomah.

I am going to share from McCormack at length. The first piece from him is providing context for why Schleiermacher developed his doctrine of creation the way that he did. Here’s McCormack:

At the dawn of the modern period in theology, Schleiermacher was concerned that the day might come when the natural scientists would be in a position to provide a complete explanation not only of the movements of heavenly bodies but even of the origins of the physical universe. He writes,

I can only anticipate that we must learn to do without what many are still accustomed to regard as inseparably bound to the essence of Christianity. I am not referring to the six-day creation, but to the concept of creation itself, as it is usually understood, apart from any reference to the Mosaic chronology and despite all those rather precarious rationalizations that interpreters have devised. How long will the concept of creation hold out against the power of a world view constructed from undeniable scientific conclusions that no one can avoid?

By means of his heuristic and critical norm, he found a way to limit a theology of creation so as to obviate a conflict with the exact sciences but also to make a reasoned use of the creation story found in Gen. 1.[1]

Schleiermacher was anticipating what later came to be known as full blown naturalism and/or metaphysical materialism; where all of reality can ostensibly be reduced to physical reality and “natural” (i.e. observable) phenomenon. Schleiermacher was concerned with providing a kind of apologetic basis for Christian theology that elided the potential (in his day) findings of the natural sciences. As the direct quote from Schleiermacher illustrates he wasn’t concerned with the minutia of various biblical interpretive approaches, but instead he was concerned with the macro issue of origins itself. He was trying to provide a rigorous theological basis that would be impenetrable from the attacks of the natural sciences; as he perceived their development in his day in the 18th and 19th centuries.

McCormack distills for us in four points the way that Schleiermacher attempted to develop a genuinely Christian doctrine of creation that would out-pace Schleiermacher’s antagonists in the natural sciences. McCormack writes of Schleiermacher (at length):

This is not the place for a comprehensive exposition of Schleiermacher’s doctrine of creation. It will suffice here to allow Schleiermacher to describe his approach in his own words and to briefly sketch its results. “The doctrine of creation is to be elucidated preeminently with a view to the exclusion of every alien element, lest from the way in which the question of Origin is answered elsewhere anything steal into our province which stands in contradiction to the pure expression of the feeling of absolute dependence.” Since everything that exists must be absolutely dependent upon God, a Christian doctrine of creation must oppose “every representation of the origin of the world which excludes anything whatever from origination by God,” and it must oppose all conceptions of the origin of the world that would place “God under those conditions and antitheses which have arisen in and through the world.”From this state of affairs, Schleiermacher draws the following conclusions, all of which are supported by exegesis of Gen. 1: (1) God does not work with preexisting materials in creating. For if God found material ready to hand that he himself had not created, such material would be independent of him and the feeling of absolute dependence would have been destroyed. So the idea of a Divine Architect is ruled out of court. (2) If it is the case that the Christian doctrine of creation excludes anything that would place God “under those conditions and antitheses which have arisen in and through the world,” then God could not possibly be seen as having deliberated before acting. To be sure, creation is a “free” act of God, but divine “freedom” is wrongly construed where it is seen to entail “a prior deliberation followed by choice” or as meaning that “God might equally well have not created the world.” To define “freedom” in God in this way is to play it off against “necessity”—which is to bring God under an antithesis that is proper to the conditions of life in the world God creates. God’s freedom consists in his “otherness” and in his capacity to be who and what he is in all of his activities. It does not consist in a choice among options over which he must first brood before deciding upon the one he thinks “best” (as Leibniz had it). And in any case, as Spinoza put it (in a passage Schleiermacher would have approved), “because in God, essence and will are one, then the claim that God might possibly have willed a different world would be the same as saying that he could have been Another”—that is, a different God.(3) God cannot be conceived as having begun to create. Now this might seem to make creation “eternal,” but Schleiermacher resists this formulation of the relation. The reason is that if we say that creation is “eternal,” we seem to make it independent of God, which would destroy the feeling of absolute dependence. So Schleiermacher wants to uphold two values: (a) that God has never been without the world, and (b) that the world has always been absolutely dependent upon the divine activity for its existence. His conclusion is that God alone is “eternal” (in the sense of transcending time); the fact that the world does not transcend time but is structured by it is sufficient, in his view, to preserve a proper distinction between Creator and creature. But how then to speak of a creation that has no beginning without resorting to the term “eternal”? Alexander Schweizer would later use the word Sempiternität (from the Latin sempiternitas—meaning “everlasting” or “perpetual”) to describe the existence of a world that knows of no beginning. Such a world is “everlasting,” but God alone is “eternal.” I should add, perhaps, that this is not a linguistic trick but a real distinction, rooted in the differing kinds of being that God and the world are (God as a being transcending time and the world as a being structured by it). (4) Schleiermacher is willing to use the phrase creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”) so long as its meaning is restricted to the understanding that God used no instrument or means in creating. That, he believes, is the force of the New Testament phrasing according to which God created “by His Word” alone. Such a phrase is to be taken in a critical sense, rather than as a positive explanation of how God works.[2]

Schleiermacher was obviously concerned with maintaining his principle of ‘feeling’ as the locus for his theological methodology; again motivated by his desire to move beyond the rationalism of his day and find a “safe place” as it were for theology to take place (unfortunately this ended up having deleterious consequences for subsequent theologizing, even if there is something also latently pregnant and valuable within this move of Schleiermacher). The point here though is that Schleiermacher desired to keep God distinct from his creation, and at the same time leave room for encounter or ‘feeling’ of God to happen in his creation/creatures.

I would like to say more, but this is running a bit long for a blog post. Suffice it to say, I think that Schleiermacher actually has the potential to provide some fruitful place in his doctrine of creation for some of the things considered today; particularly with reference to Dr. Josh Swamidass’ presentation. But also, Schleiermacher also helps to illustrate how conflict was happening, even for him, between the natural sciences of his day and his own theological development and methodology (which was something being considered at the conference today in general; i.e. the conflict or “warfare” between ‘religion’ and ‘science’ and how that might be mitigated and in fact used as a place where fruitful engagement might happen between scientists and say Christian theologians/pastors and lay people in the church).

P.S. There is much more to say, particularly with the place that Schleiermacher has in the development of the continued rift between science and religion. Does he help soften that rift, or contribute further to it? Questions like that. Not to mention the kind of theological space he might create for folks like Dr. Josh Swamidass who would like to focus on ‘experience’ and ‘encounter’ for evangelizing scientists in the public square and beyond (although I believe Barth provides a better more orthodox and constructive basis for a theology of encounter via his analogy of faith/relation).

[1] Bruce L. McCormack, Mapping Modern Theology, 21.

[2] Ibid., 22 scribd.

In Response to Richard Beck and Derek Rishmawy: Fundamentalists, Hermeneutics, and Sola or uh Solo Scriptura

In the past I have written much on a reality I was first introduced to in 1999 at Bible College; i.e. the reality that we all as Christian Bible interpreters have an interpretive tradition. Recently Richard Beck made the claim in regard to Christian Fundamentalism that,

… we all have a hermeneutic. The only question is whether you are consciously vs. unconsciously using a hermeneutic. Fundamentalists are interpreting the text unconsciously. Fundamentalists are interpreting the text right and left, they are just unaware that they are doing so. This lack of awareness is what produces the sorts of statements described above.[1]

biblegunIn other words as Derek Rishmawy summarized, “For Beck, though, the mark of a fundamentalist is that they alone believe they don’t have a hermeneutic, even when they do.”[2] So Beck’s critique against Fundamentalists, and against what he wrongly calls out as Sola Scriptura (which he should have labeled Solo Scriptura), is that when Fundamentalists claim: “this is the clear teaching of Scripture,” that they are providing a “diagnostic” of themselves insofar that they are not even self-aware enough to recognize that they are indeed doing interpretive work when engaging with and reading Holy Scripture.

I fully agree with Beck’s assessment of Fundamentalists, but it is too short-sighted, and in fact like I alluded to above this isn’t reflective of a historic understanding of Sola Scriptura or the historic notion of ‘Scripture alone’, instead what Beck is referring to is the more naïve concept that can be labeled as Solo Scriptura or de nuda Scriptura, ‘Scripture all by itself.’ Sola Scriptura never denied the reality of interpretive tradition, and in fact made robust and thick appeals to it during the time of the Protestant Reformation, say among folks like Martin Luther, John Calvin, et al. Beyond simply entailing the idea that Scriptural interpretation involved appeal to prior interpretive tradition, say with reference to Augustinian, Athanasian, Irenaen, et al categories, the concept of Sola Scriptura was also meant to signify a new theory of authority. In other words, Scripture, as one of the principia of the Protestant Reformation, was the place of which all else was subordinate, even the church. So the church was not the magesterium, but Scripture now held that place of authority for Protestants.

Furthermore, as I just asserted above, Beck’s critique stopped short, it isn’t just the Fundamentalists who embody the kind of ‘emotional instability’ that leads to ex cathedra like pronouncements of ‘this is clearly what the Bible teaches,’ indeed it is also the so called ‘Liberals.’ In other words, all humans are prone to thinking they are right and everyone else is wrong, even if this is held in a collectivist sense; i.e. a tribe of people find their identity sociologically around a set of common-shared belief about this or that. The problem isn’t really that either, I would contend, i.e. the idea that we think we are right (even if it is group-think), and everyone else is wrong in regard to this or that biblical interpretation; the problem is the attitude with which that approach is held. It is okay to be convicted by the idea that the view you hold about Scripture is indeed what ‘Scripture clearly teaches,’ it is just not okay to absolutize that approach resulting in a sectarian attitude where I look at other views and other people as necessarily less than me, or my group/tribe.

With all of that said, let’s close with some good words on this and Sola Scriptura with reference to John Calvin from Angus Paddison:

Calvin himself, to alight upon a theologian firmly associated with a sola Scriptura approach, was keenly aware that theology always needed to deploy extra-canonical words and resources. That we use words and concepts not found in Scripture itself – in a bid to help us understand this same text – is not a sign that we have departed from the fabric of Scripture. Writing against his opponents Calvin writes if

they call a foreign word one that cannot be shown to stand written syllable by syllable in Scripture, they are indeed imposing upon us an unjust law which condemns all interpretation not patched together out of the fabric of Scripture … [i]f anyone, then, finds fault with the novelty of words [Calvin is talking of such words as ‘Trinity’ and ‘Persons’] does he not deserve to be judged as bearing the light of truth unworthily, since he is finding fault with what renders the truth plain and clear.

When Calvin’s counsel is not heeded, sola Scriptura often mutates into biblical scholarship alone. Understanding the Bible in this way of thinking is wholly defined by reference to its (often putative) context of production. It is as if we are reading a text that has had no impact, a text without any subsequent readers. Writing more than 50 years ago G.E. Wright’s diagnosis (not espousal) of this mindset common among ‘biblical Christians’ drawn to biblical scholarship is still remarkably apposite:

When one has the Bible, what need is there for subtleties and sophistries of theology? In evangelical Christianity, the Bible is typically read with scant regard for the ling and intricate dialogue with the Bible that is the history of Christian theology. Many (most?) Protestant Biblical scholars are attracted to the field in the first place by an evangelical piety of this kind, and – whatever else is abandoned under the notoriously destructive impact of the so-called “historical critical method” – the abstraction of the biblical texts from their theological Wirkungsgeschichte is tenaciously maintained.

Such endeavors help identify historical-criticism, the engine of much biblical scholarship, as the modern attempt to “start over” in a manner that left behind the gifts of the past’. Accordingly, historical criticism is notoriously restricted in what history is interested in. Fundamentalism and historical criticism both presume that the church and the church’s teaching is an obstacle, not an aid, to reading Scripture well.[3]

So Paddison takes things a step further, and in a fruitful direction I think. Not only does his analysis highlight the shortcomings of Beck’s analysis – that this hermeneutical naïveté should be restricted to Fundamentalists alone – but Paddison also identifies, as I asserted previously, that the problem is not just an issue of ‘emotional imbalance’ (as Beck theorizes in his post), but that there is a critical component that lies behind this ostensible emotional imbalance; it is the move away from the historic Protestant understanding of Sola Scriptura, and a move towards Solo Scriptura, as if the text of Scripture can be abstracted out of its theological and confessional location, and instead approached in a ‘naked’ way simply reconstructing what the text itself says by appeal to historical-grammatical-rhetorical-literary analyses. We see this move to Solo Scriptura, even if in different ways, by both ‘Liberals’ and ‘Fundamentalists,’ and we see this move being held up by Enlightenment rationalist historicist-critical approach to the text of Scripture. This move fosters the belief, the Modernist/rationalist belief that our mind’s have the capacity to cut through all presuppositions, tossing off the husk and getting to the kernel and essence of what Scripture means; this move allows folks (with the proper attitude in place, or improper as the case may be) to assert that ‘this is clearly what the Bible is saying,’ without any consideration that there just might be traditional, confessional, and theological categories informing their conclusions – even if they think they have been able to get beyond all of that. In the end, I would contend that Fundamentalists (and Liberals) are part of a tradition of biblical interpretation known as rationalism that does indeed evince itself as reflective of an emotionally unstable and imbalanced approach to not only Scripture, but life itself.

[1] Richard Beck

[2] Derek Rishmawy

[3] Angus Paddison, Scripture a very Theological Proposal (London/New York: T&T Clark International, 2009),

The ‘Coming Out’ Party of the progressive Christians: An Historical-Sociological Sketch

I cannot but help to sense the ‘spirit’ of Friedrich Schleiermacher alive and well within my own Christian heritage in evangelicalism; but in its younger expression found in what some call progressive Christianity. It is almost as if the same record is being played again, in a way, although at a faster speed with some new notes and lyrics placed onto this old record.

Evangelicalism finds its roots, and mood, in and from within a German movement known as Pietism. Pietism was an attempt by certain Christian thinkers like Phillip Jakob Spener, Count von schleiermacherZinzendorf, et. al. to provide a counter style of Christianity to what had come to be perceived as the dry arid Christianity produced by the schoolmen known as ‘Post-Reformed-Scholastic-orthodoxy. Pietists wanted to return to a warm-hearted Christianity where an intimacy of Christian love of God cultivated by spiritual practices like devotional Bible reading was the emphasis. Note H.R. Mackintosh’s take on this:

The purpose which men like Spener and Francke had in their mind was not so much to remodel doctrine as to quicken the spiritual life. The fought the worldliness and apathy of the Church. Like the Methodists in England, they urged the necessity for a deeper devotional acquaintance with Scripture, and with this in view they encouraged the formation of private circles for Bible study, the tone of which should be devout rather than scientific. In addition, they called upon Christian people to be separate from the world and give up its ways. These principles were recommended by the establishment of noble philanthropic institutions, some of which persist to this day.

But the weaker men who followed in their train were apt to turn principle into narrow and bitter prejudice. Attendance at private Bible-circles came to be regarded as of more importance than Church fellowship. A meager and utilitarian idea of doctrine tended to become a favourite; nothing could pass muster except that which yielded immediate edification; and the rank and file soon forgot that there is such a thing as the study of Christian truth for its own sake. Again, the demand was frequently made that every believer must have undergone a certain prescribed series of conversion-experiences, in a prescribed order–so much in the way of legal terrors, so much new-found joy. Nor, as we might expect, was it long before certain representatives of the Pietistic school began to use expressions, imprudent or worse, which meant that these subjective experiences of the convert are the real ground of his acceptance with God. This was plainly the thin end of the legalistic wedge. It taught men to look inward, not upward, and threatened to silence that open declaration f the free and undeserved grace of God without which the preached Gospel has lost its savour.[1]

Without getting too deep into the history there are interesting parallels, even at a sociological level, that inhere between what is occurring today and what happened back in the day of the Pietists. Like I noted, the Pietists were reacting to the dry, arid Christianity, as they perceived that, produced as it was by the scholastic Reformed Christians. The scholastic Reformed Christians (like what we see given expression, theologically, in the Westminster Confession of Faith) were an institutionalizing group of Christian thinkers, particularly in the 16th and 17th centuries, who were in a ‘fight’ with Roman Catholic thought, and in this fight there was produced a body of Protestant Reformed teaching suitable for bringing up generations of Christian pastors, students of theology, and lay people who could have recourse to an identifiable and distinctly Protestant body of teaching. In this process, the schoolmen, used academic tools, inherited from their medieval forbears, and philosophical thinking such as could be found in: Aristotle, Plato, Aquinas, Scotus, Agricola, Ramis, Ockham, et. al. They successively accomplished their task of producing an institutionalized Christianity, but for many, what they produced, again, was a dry, arid, and abstract Christianity that had no personal or intimate components that emphasized and helped to foster relationship with God in Christ; at least not at a felt level.

We can see this song being replayed in a way. At the turn of the 20th century, as a result of the Enlightenment (of the English and German sorts), ‘Liberal’ theology began to penetrate into the walls of and halls of traditionally scholastically Reformed, etc. seminaries. As a result, the ‘conservatives’ or who came to be known as the Fundamentalists reacted (like the original Pietists reacted against their perception of dry, abstract Christianity) against the intellectualist Liberalism of their day, but in the process, ironically, like the scholastic Reformed, produced a rigid form of ‘Fundamentalist’ Christianity that ended up, itself, being rigid, arid, abstract, and rationalist; it lost any type of felt Christianity wherein intimacy with God in Christ was emphasized or could be cultivated. As a result, even among the Fundamentalists, and within its ranks there was a turn, or reaction against the rigidity of rationalist Fundamentalism, without though a total abandonment of the intellectualism that was funding Fundamentalism. In other words, like the Pietists, evangelicals wanted to emphasize a warm-hearted relational Christianity that focused on personal Bible-devotion and intimate Bible-fellowship-meetings; nothing wrong with that.

But as we noted, just as the Pietists originally were reacting to the institutional Christianity they inhabited, part of that reaction involved a turn ‘inward’, a turn to the subject so to speak; a situation wherein the individual’s relationship and experience of God became the standard for Christian reality. It was within this milieu that, ironically, theological liberalism’s most prominent thinker was produced, and it his ‘spirit’ that I see living on among so named progressive Christians; not as a reaction from evangelical pietism, but as its logical extension. When the ‘subject’ becomes the norming norm for Christian doctrine and spirituality, when this is taken to its conclusion we end up with a radical form that wants to push off anything that sounds authoritarian or institutional; whether that be doctrinal, or whatever. Schleiermacher in the 18th century was Pietism’s logical extension then; progressive Christianity, in the ‘spirit’ of Schleiermacher is the logical extension of modern day evangelicalism/Pietism today. Note what Schleiermacher wrote in regard to the mood of Christianity he was attempting to promote:

You reject the dogmas and propositions of religion. Very well, reject them. They are not in any case the essence of religion itself. Religion does not need them; it is only human reflection on the content of our religious feelings or affections which requires anything of the kind, or calls it into being. Do you say that you cannot away with miracles, revelation, inspiration? You are right; we are children no longer; the time for fairy-tales is past. Only cast off as I do faith in everything of that sort, and I will show you miracles and revelations and inspirations of quite another species. To me everything that has an immediate relation to the Infinite, the Universe is a miracle; and everything finite has such a relation, in so far as I find in it a token or indication of the Infinite. What is revelation? Every new and original communication of the Universe to man; and every elemental feeling to me is inspiration. The religion to which I will lead you demands no blind faith, no negation of physics and psychology; it is wholly natural, and yet again, as the immediate product of the Universe, it is all of grace.[2]

For Schleiermacher anthropology was theology, and ‘feeling’ and/or human experience became the canon by which all Christian doctrine was developed and measured.


My little historical genealogical development, and attempt to parallel things did not correlate one-for-one throughout. But the point was simply to underscore that there are interesting patterns inherent in the history and development of ideas that provide precedence for what is happening today among former evangelical and now progressive Christians. It is a ‘spirit’, I would contend, the ‘spirit’ of Schleiermacher, and others too, that progressives (and that itself represents a continuum) imbibe and think from. What used to be sacrosanct, in regard to Christian holiness, is no longer binding because it does not meet currently with the standards of what counts as ethical and ‘holy’ in our 21st century context. Schleiermacher had a ‘coming out’ party in his day, and the progressives are having theirs today. There really isn’t a lot of difference between the two; our experience of God has become conflated with the Spirit of the Lord’s voice which allows movements in the culture to dictate new standards for what counts as ‘good’ (across all spectrums: doctrinally, ethically, etc.), and as if from God Himself.

[1] Hugh Ross Macintosh, Types of Modern Theology: Schleiermacher to Barth (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1937), 11-12.

[2] Friedrich Schleiermacher cited in Ibid., 43-4.

The Dispensational Hermeneutic, An Enlightenment Invention: Ryrie, Berkouwer, and Webster in Relief

Thomas Reid
Thomas Reid

There is no doubt a retreat, or migration as it were, of evangelicals has taken place from engaging with doctrine, but insofar as doctrine is still present for many evangelicals of a certain era anyway, what informs them most, at least hermeneutically is the hermeneutic known as Dispensationalism. It was this hermeneutic that I was groomed in myself, not only as a kid, but in and through Bible College and Seminary (of the Progressive sort).

Dispensationalism, without getting into all of the nitty gritty, is a hermeneutic that prides itself on using the ‘literal’ way of reading Scripture in a ‘consistent’ form as they claim; it is a hermeneutic that maintains a distinction between Israel and the Church (in its classic and revised forms); and it is a hermeneutic that simply seeks to read its understanding straight off the pages of Scripture in the most straightforward ways possible (again ‘literally’ with appeal to Scottish Common Sense Realism[1]). One of its most ardent proponents says it like this:

Literal hermeneutics. Dispensationalists claim that their principle of hermeneutics is that of literal interpretation. This means interpretation that gives to every word the same meaning it would have in normal usage, whether employed in writing, speaking, or thinking. It is sometimes called the principle of grammatical-historical interpretation since the meaning of each word is determined by grammatical and historical considerations. The principle might also be called normal interpretation since the literal meaning of words is the normal approach to their understanding in all languages. It might also be designated plain interpretation so that no one receives the mistaken notion that the literal principle rules out figures of speech….[2]

The Dispensationalist’s hermeneutic springs then from a philosophy of language that holds to the idea that language corresponds to real and perceptible things in reality, and as such, based upon this assumption attempts to, in a slavish way (to this principled understanding of language and reality) reads Holy Scripture in such a way that comports with language’s and history’s most basic and simple and normal component parts (i.e. as it can be reconstructed through critical and rationalist means).

It is no surprise that Dispensationalism developed when it did, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when what it meant to do Biblical Studies and exegesis of Scripture was to engage Scripture through developmental/evolutionary criterion for reconstructing Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) history (the periods that Biblical Scripture developed within), and using various other literary criteria for determining Scripture’s origination and the cultural-societal-rhetorical contexts that gave it rise. In other words Dispensationalism developed in a context wherein things are only true insofar as they comport with the canons of observable and empirical protocol. G.C. Berkouwer describes this development this way:

We now confront the noteworthy fact that, during the rise of historical criticism, concentrated attention to the text of Scripture was considered vital and necessary. Criticism protested against every form of Scripture exposition which went to work with a priori and external standards. It wanted to proceed from Scripture as it actually existed; it sought to understand Scripture in the way in which it came to us in order thus to honor the “interprets itself.” This is what it claimed in its historical exposition of Scripture: something supposedly free of all the a prioris of dogmatic systems or ecclesiastical symbolic. In that way justice could be done to Scripture itself.[3]

Maybe you noticed something in the Berkouwer quote, he is implicitly noting something that happened in the 18th century—again remembering that this is the context which the Dispensationalist hermeneutic developed within and from—there was a split (as a result of Enlightenment rationalism among other forces) between doing confessional/churchy biblical interpretation/study from the kind of biblical interpretation/study that came to dominate what it meant to do ‘critical’ biblical study. This split was given formalization in the mid-1700s first by publications from Anton Friedrich Büsching and then most notably by G. Ebling; Gerhard Hasel summarizes it this way:

Under the partial impetus of Pietism and with a strong dose of rationalism Anton Friedrich Büsching’s publications (1756-58) reveal for the first time that “Biblical theology” becomes the rival of dogmatics. Protestant dogmatics, also called “scholastic theology,” is criticized for its empty speculations and lifeless theories. G. Ebeling has aptly summarized that “from being merely a subsidiary discipline of dogmatics ‘biblical theology’ now became a rival of the prevailing dogmatics.”[4]

Dispensationalism developed within the new ‘critical’ approach to doing biblical studies, although it was attempting to still honor its pious commitment to Scripture as Holy and God’s. But it did so under the ‘Modern’ constraints provided for by Enlightenment rationalism; its philosophy of language (i.e. the literalism we have already broached), grounded in Scottish Common Sense Realism, was very so much so moving and breathing in and from a non-confessional, non-dogmatic mode of doing biblical study. Hasel once again describes the ethos which the Dispensational hermeneutic developed within:

In the age of Enlightenment (Aufklärung) a totally new approach for the study of the Bible was developed under several influences. First and foremost was rationalism’s reaction against any form of supernaturalism. Human reason was set up as the final criterion and chief source of knowledge, which meant that the authority of the Bible as the infallible record of divine revelation was rejected. The second major contribution of the period of the Enlightenment was the development of a new hermeneutic, the historical-critical method which holds sway to the present day in liberalism [dispensationalism] and beyond. Third, there is the application of radical literary criticism to the Bible …. Finally, rationalism by its very nature was led to abandon the orthodox view of the inspiration of the Bible so that ultimately the Bible became simply one of the ancient documents, to be studied as any other ancient document.[5]

It might appear that what was just described sounds nothing like who the practitioners of the dispensational hermeneutic are (i.e. evangelical Bible loving Christians). That would be correct, but the point is to note that dispensational hermeneutes don’t ever really abandon the Enlightenment principles nor the split from confessional hermeneutics that the Enlightenment produced between the disciplines. Instead dispensationalism attempts to work with and from the material and rationalist principles provided by the Enlightenment;  primarily meaning that the Dispensational hermeneutic hopes to be able to go immediately to the text of Scripture, through its grammatical and historical analysis under the supposition that biblical language simply functions like any other literary language does under its plain and normal meanings without any pretext or reliance upon its (potential) theological significance. Instead its theological significance can only be arrived at after abstracting that out from the plain meaning of the words of Scripture.


John Webster summarizes what happened during this period of development this way (and what he describes applies to the development of the Dispensational hermeneutic as well):

To simplify matters rather drastically: a dominant trajectory in the modern development of study of the Bible has been a progressive concentration on what Spinoza called interpretation of Scripture ex ipsius historia, out of its own history. Precisely when this progression begins to gather pace, and what its antecedents may be, are matters of rather wide dispute. What is clear, at least in outline, is that commanding authority gradually came to be accorded to the view that the natural properties of the biblical text and of the skills of interpreters are elements in an immanent economy of communication. The biblical text is a set of human signs borne along on, and in turn shaping, social religious and literary processes; the enumeration of its natural properties comes increasingly to be not only a necessary but a sufficient description of the Bible and its reception. This definition of the text in terms of its (natural) history goes along with suspension of or disavowal of the finality both of the Bible and of the reader in loving apprehension of God, and of the Bible’s ministerial function as divine envoy to creatures in need of saving instruction.[6]

Whenever you hear someone say they just interpret Scripture ‘literally’ dig deeper to see if what they mean is ‘literalistically’ under the constraints of what we described provided for by the Enlightenment.

To be clear, following the Enlightenment does not, of course, nor necessarily terminate in the Dispensational hermeneutic, in fact a case can be made that what the Enlightenment did to biblical studies, in some ways provided for some fruitful trajectory as well (insofar as it highlights the fact that the Bible and its phenomenon cannot be reduced to historist or naturalist premises themselves); but we will have to pursue that line later. Suffice it to say, Dispensationalism is not the pure way to Scripture that its adherents want us to think that it is. It does not spring from Christian confessional premises, and in fact ignores the fact that indeed Scripture study and exegesis is actually a theological endeavor at its heart. The only way to get a plain meaning of Scripture is to read it through the lens of God’s life revealed and exegeted in Jesus Christ.

[1] See Thomas Reid, “If there are certain principles, as I think there are, which the constitution of our nature leads us to believe, and which we are under a necessity to take for granted in the common concerns of life, without being able to give a reason for them — these are what we call the principles of common sense; and what is manifestly contrary to them, is what we call absurd.” The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Reid (2004), 85.

[2] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism. Revised and Expanded (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 80.

[3] G.C. Berkouwer, Studies In Dogmatics: Holy Scripture (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 130.

[4] Gerhard Hasel, Old Testament Theology: Basic Issues In The Current Debate. Revised and Expanded Third Edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1989), 19.

[5] Ibid., 18-19 [Brackets mine].

[6] John Webster, The Domain of the Word: Scripture and Theological Reason(London/New York: T&T Clark, A Continuum Imprint, 2012), 6.

Jesus is not Relevant!: Commentary on evangelicalism in the USA

What are people getting “saved to?” I am increasingly wondering this, and was an idea that was first introduced to me way back in seminary (02-03) by the professor of my Church and Culture class, Dr. Paul Metzger. I have continued to think about this, on the back, but in reality I think this is something that really has been pressing in on me with full frontal force, and increasingly so! I jesusflaglook around at the state of (my context) N. American evangelicalism and I have absolutely no idea what it is even about anymore. I grew up as the son of a Conservative Baptist pastor (as so many of you know already), and have been in the heart of evangelicalism right through my undergrad/grad experience and into the present. I am currently 41 years old, and in my short years I have seen evangelicalism move from a tight type of fundamentalism to now either a hyper-loose progressivism, or more in the main, an irrelevant “mainline-evangelicalism;” so even in my short span we can see the basis of the problem (i.e. Fundamentalism, and its proto-rationalism and turn to the subject as the norming norm of Christian spirituality).

This is just a personal reflection, as you will notice. But who I am thinking about in this are those who are outside of the church. I know that there are plenty of people still coming to a relationship with Jesus Christ, but then I wonder (for them): now what?! Most of the evangelical churches in America are more concerned with being “relevant” based upon their socially awkward perceptions of what they even thinks this means. As I already noted above, their pursuit for being “relevant” whatever that means (from my perception of what that means as it is played out in evangelicals churches [and I’ve visited many] what this looks like is that they attempting to make their church services feel and look like an Apple launching of a new product with their CEO [“lead” pastor] doing the launch etc.) has made them irrelevant! The church of Jesus Christ is not in the business of selling or projecting anything, we are in the business of bearing prophetic witness to Jesus Christ the concrete ground and inner reality of all things church. But this doesn’t seem “relevant” so instead what I see happening in most of evangelicalism is a Pelagian (oops … I said it!) short sell to people trying to make them feel like they fit in the broader culture. And yes, often times the pastor will challenge the body to some hard things in passive aggressive ways, but usually only to play the part (i.e. there is no real teeth to what is being communicated).

There is also this sense, apparently, for evangelicals that church history started either when they personally came to Christ or not much before the 20th century at the very latest! This is problematic for many reasons. For example: evangelicals tacitly endorse orthodox Christology (i.e. the full divinity and humanity of Christ); they endorse, in word, the Trinity (i.e. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit); they endorse justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, but in all of this it is only inchoately affirmed (but they have no idea why, and if they had to explain what any of that even meant, by way of reference to the historical grammar supporting their affirmations they couldn’t even come close … and the really sad thing is is that they don’t even care for the most part!). So evangelicals are left to the wind of the culture, and to their own rationales to carve out a way for their personal style of Christianity. And so they have chosen in the 21st century to be relevant, to demonstrate how Jesus is relevant to the broader culture, and hope that He will be accepted, and that they then will be accepted. This gets cashed out most prominently in the “culture wars.” Evangelicals are conversionists, and so they hope, in order to feel good about themselves through acceptance by the “world” that the world will be converted to their projection of who Jesus Christ is with the result that the fabric of USA culture will look like the insides of the evangelical church in North America. But once we get to those insides one wonders where the substance is? Jesus looks and sounds ever so much like the evangelicals seeking to make Him relevant (like a projection of themselves). And this takes us full circle: who are people getting “saved to?” I ask!

The Fundamentalists, Holy Scripture and Apologetics: A Critique and Description from G.C. Berkouwer

Someone who would be considered a conservative thinking Dutch Reformed theologian from the actual Netherlands, G.C. Berkouwer, has some interesting things to say about Christian Fundamentlists and the way that they have engaged, or disengaged with a proper doctrine of Scripture. Because I think this needs to be heard I will quote GCB at length, and then offer my own reflection upon what he has written afterword. Here is Berkouwer at some length:

Upon closer scrutiny … fundamentalism proves to be far from a simple phenomenon. The use of the word “fundamentalistism” becomes unclear if it is intended to indicate the necessary preservation of the foundation that results, according to Scripture, in a blessing (I Cor. 3:10-12; Mt. 7:24ff). Such a use of the term implies that fundamentalism is no more than an echo berkouwerof the biblical testimony that speaks of the foundation that is laid (I Cor. 3:11), of the value of an anchor of the soul that is sure and steadfast (Heb. 6:19; II Pet. 1:10-21), and that speaks of faith as a substance which also expresses an inviolable certainty (Heb. 11:1 – “the assurance of things hoped for”). This foundation as such, therefore, cannot explain the nature of fundamentalism. To be sure, many expressions from the fundamentalist camp frequently give the impression that the acceptance of a fundamental truth and a certainty that cannot be subjectified are at stake, especially when its members gladly accept the name “fundamentalist” to set them apart from those who have fallen victim to the influence of subjectivism. This, however, terminates the discussion at the point where it actually should begin. Especially concerning the doctrine of Holy Scripture, the fundamentalists’ call to a simple and childlike acceptance of Scripture – no matter how seriously they mean this – is not unique to them, because in this respect they are not any different from many others who are equally convinced that God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light upon our path. The issue is undoubtedly far more complicated, as is already evident from the many analyses of this phenomenon.

Ahlström described fundamentalism as “a fervent but poorly informed protest movement against extreme and militant liberalism.” Stonehouse mentions that fundamentalism evidences a lack of sound biblical knowledge and historical perspective and has “certain emphases and peculiarities” that make it impossible to identify it with orthodoxy. This and similar criticism is by no means intended to deny the good intentions of fundamentalism: no good cause is served by making it the butt of “professional gossip.” It would be incorrect to ignore its legitimate “wholeness of dedication” in the discussion. The person who concurs in the lamentation of Psalm 11:3 (“If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”) cannot avoid trying to analyze fundamentalism’s apologetics, especially its view of Holy Scripture and its authority.

I believe I am judging no one unfairly when I say that fundamentalism, in its eagerness to maintain Holy Scripture’s divinity, does not fully realize the significance of Holy Scripture as a prophetic-apostolic, and consequently human, testimony. It is true that fundamentalists do not deny the human element in Scripture, but they allow their apologetics to be determined by the fear that emphasis on the human witness may threaten and overshadow Scripture’s divinity. From an historical and psychological point of view, this reactionary position is quite understandable in the light of much “humanizing” of Holy Scripture that has taken place. Yet that does not prevent other, more serious, problems from presenting themselves; for it is God’s way with and in Scripture that is at stake. Fundamentalism has hardly come to grips with the problem of whether attention for the human character of Holy Scripture might be of great importance for its correct understanding. Fundamentalists often give the impression that the point at issue is the acceptance or rejection of the vox Dei, of Scripture’s infallibility. They suggest, that, in spite of many divergences within fundamentalist circles in understanding Scripture, an a priori acceptance of Scripture’s infallibility precludes all dangers. Thus, they manifest great tolerance for all who maintain the fundamentalist view of Holy Scripture. They tend to relativize concrete obedience in understanding Scripture. The result is that their apologetic, which is meant to safeguard Scripture’s divine aspect, threatens in many respects to block the road to a correct understanding of Scripture, which is normative, by ignoring and neglecting its human aspect.[1]

This is an interesting critique and description of what Fundamentalism is and does. It is interesting to me, in particular, because many of the people who I know (in theological circles) would place someone like Berkouwer in the ‘fundamentalist’ camp simply because he is rather traditional and affirming of classical (i.e. pre-critical and confessional) understanding of Holy Scripture. But as is obvious, GCB has something more particular and geographic in mind, his focus of course is the North American Fundamentalist who came to the fore at the end of the 19th and early part of the 20th century[s].

What I wonder is if North American evangelicals have actually escaped this critique or if they only continue to reinforce it with doctrines like biblical inerrancy? I think Berkouwer would believe that evangelicals are only a new iteration of this old style Fundamentalism that he is describing from his vantage point. I wonder if neo-Evangelicals like Kevin Vanhoozer and his style and articulation of biblical inerrancy escapes Berkouwer’s critique or only enlivens it, but maybe in more sophisticated ways than originally conceived of by its original architects (in re. to biblical inerrancy)?

Another thing of note is how Fundamentalists build their whole edifice of Christianity upon rationalist arguments against their ‘Liberal’ counterparts. What Berkouwer rightly notices is that this type of reactionary movement and ‘intellectualist’ response (by the Fundamentalists) ends up doing exactly the opposite of what the Fundamentalists are hoping for; i.e. that is to ardently affirm the veracity and reliability and authority of Holy Scripture. What GCB implicitly is suggesting is that Fundamentalists argue with such vigor for Scripture’s inerrancy that that in and of itself becomes an end in itself with its own idiosyncratic hermeneutic in tow.

Personally I find Berkouwer’s analysis to be very accurate. I grew up in Fundamentalist Christianity in North America (as have so many others). This all rings so true to me, and unfortunately it continues to ring true for too many Christians out there. People are getting ripped off from the riches and heritage bequeathed to us by Christ as He has provided for that through the centuries of His church. Evangelicals who imbibe Fundamentalism (positively, or like the so called Progressive Christians, negatively) are malnourished, and as a result for all of their Bible knowledge and “sword drilling” they are ultimately missing the depth dimension of Holy Scripture in its realistic fullness, the reality: Jesus Christ.

[1] G.C. Berkouwer, Studies In Dogmatics: Holy Scripture (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 21-3.

We Are All Fundies At Heart


It is so so easy to get lost in the trees, and miss the proverbial forest. Now without the trees, of course, there would be no forest, and vice versa—the whole part to whole/whole to part thingy. But what I want to reflect upon in this short post is how important it is to keep the forest as the perspective by which we approach the various trees; how important it is to realize that there is a broader nexus holding together the nearer knotholes as it were.

When I was but a wee Fundamentalist living in my tree-house it was so easy to set up fort and defend my network of tree-houses moment by moment. I was trapped. Then my life was contradicted, my tree-house was shown to be something floating in mid-air with no real trunk underneath. My life was contradicted by Jesus, and it still is. And I was set free, free indeed. Jesus showed me that all my tree-houses and forts were nothing but wood, hay and stubble; and that all I was really fighting for was my own constructs, my own ideas, and that the big idea holding them together was me and my fears.

Well, once I realized that Jesus was bigger than anything I could ever conceive, ever hope to construct; I was finally free to look to him, and realize that he holds it altogether. He is the ‘inner-logic’ so to speak that keeps the black and red ink on the pages of scripture. Once I encountered Jesus in this way, I was free, truly free to look to God in Christ, and realize that he is so much bigger, so much newer, so much fresher than anything heretofore I had ever been confronted with. My life lost its sense of security, I couldn’t look to something that I had built, and worship it as God anymore (like Micah the Levite did). I lost all control, and I had to finally admit that I couldn’t come up with a totalizing (modernist) answer that created world peace or chaos. I finally was allowed to say “I don’t know,” but I do know the One who does.

We are all Fundies at heart. We all worship pictures of the sublime, but until we realize those pictures are of ourselves we will always live out of a fear that can only and finally be circumscribed by a genuine fear of the truly sublime, who is God in Jesus Christ.

I’m a Fundy Again! [apparently]

Apparently I am a Christian Fundamentalist again. Someone I “know” (electronically) through years and years of interaction via social media (like right here at the blog) has kind of provided a genealogy of my theological development over the past many years as he has watched me move to and fro; the genealogy was provided, on a Twitter comment thread that I stumbled upon. To my surprise it was all about me; I feel special.

The primary reason this friend has labeled me a Fundamentalist again, is apparently, because he has perceived with powers that I must not have, that I have moved back to an inerrancy position of Scripture. But surely this is a wrong conclusion. I mean I know that I am way more “conservative” than this friend of mine when it comes to a doctrine of Scripture, and biblical criticism; but dang, I am still an evangelical Christian after all! And this is why I am somewhat surprised at my friend’s conclusion about me; I have always maintained my evangelical identity, even as I have twisted and turned in my theological development. But twisting and turning theologically is what evangelical Christians have the freedom to do, in fact I think it is the best of what evangelical Christianity has to offer; the ability to move where Scripture leads, as we continuously grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Anyway, I just thought it was kind of funny that I was being called a Fundy again, simply because I am not as “Liberal” as my friend; at least when it comes to a doctrine of Scripture and an attendant text and historical critical apparatus relative to biblical studies.

Left Behind’s Theology?

October 3rd, 2014, the event everyone has been waiting for: Left Behind with Nicholas Cage will go live in a movie theater near you! What is all of the hype about in regard to the story line that funds the Left Behind movies and books (coauthored by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye)? Glad you asked. The story line behind Left Behind, in case you didn’t know, comes from a theological (and hermeneutical: biblical interpretive) approach called Classical Dispensationalism; which is always characterized by these component parts: Pretribulational view of the Rapture, and Premillennialism. Pretribulational rapture theory is what is most prominent, and indeed the very premise of the whole Left Behind empire; the theory is that Jesus will come secretly for his church and snatch her away (i.e. rapturo) to be with him during the 7 year tribulation period that various biblical exegetes believe will happen leading into the second coming of Jesus which will happen after all hell breaks loose on earth; when Jesus comes back, according to the Pretribulational view, it will be at this point that he sets up his millennial kingdom on earth (Revelation 20), where he will rule and reign for a literal 1,000 years with his glorified bride, the church, over the remnant of people who make it through the 7 year tribulation period. It will be during this period that the Davidic Covenant (II Sam. 7; etc.) will be literally fulfilled, and God’s first covenant people (his earthly people), the Jews will finally have what was promised to them: the Land.  These are the basic contours of thought behind the theology of Left Behind. Since the church, according to Pretribulational teaching, is not appointed to God’s wrath (cf. I Thess. 5.9), and the 7 year tribulation period represents God’s wrath (i.e. ‘the Day of the LORD’), and since the church is not Israel, all of this added together; the Pretribulational theory logically concluded, requires that the mechanism of a rapture be in place so that all of these other prophetically given events can unfold in the literal and orderly way in which the Pretribulational interpreter has come to expect.

Personally, I used to hold to Pretribulational/Premillennial Dispensational teaching; I no longer do. I see serious exegetical and theological problems with the whole approach, but I will have to save why I have problems with it for a later date. Here is the ‘Left Behind’ movie trailer. Enjoy.