Volume 9, Issue 2: Eschaton
Does Eschatology Matter?
Jack Van Deventer
Have you ever heard someone say that studying eschatology is a waste of time? It is not uncommon for evangelicals to dismiss the biblical teachings of prophecy as irrelevant or unimportant. "It doesn't affect one's Christian life one way or another, so why should I bother with it?" Often the unspoken implication of such a statement is "Why should you bother with it either?"
Why is the study of eschatology important? First, the Bible is given to us that we might know God and His will. Anything God has chosen to reveal to us is certainly worth studying. It seems odd, therefore, that Christians would opt to downplay certain parts of God's revelation as irrelevant. Second, while eschatology may not be among the essential doctrines of the faith, neither is it unimportant. Barton Payne estimated that 38% of the Bible deals with prophecy, which is not an insignificant amount. Third, eschatology deals with God's plan in human history. How can anyone say that God's plan for the human race has no effect on one's life?
Sometimes one hears a conversation that goes something like this:
Person A: "Oh, I see that you are convinced of (fill in the blank: Pre-,Post-, or A-) millennialism. That's all well and good, but why do you waste your time?"
Person B: "Oh . . . what is your eschatological persuasion?"
Person A: "I'm a panmillennialist."
Person B: "Huh?"
Person A: "I believe God will make it all `pan out' in the end."
There are those who use the "panmillennial" line innocently enough. They are eschatological agnostics who have not adopted an eschatological position. There are others who use the phrase in a scoffing sense. They are the ones who have concluded that God's course for human history is unknowable and, as such, they believe that those who hold to a particular millennial view are naive and lacking perspective. Or perhaps the panmillennialist believes the subject matter is too unimportant for his attention. In either case there can be an air of superiority on the part of the panmillennialist. I tend to have greater respect for a brother who can articulate a particular millennial viewpoint from the Scriptures (even if I disagree with his use of the Bible) than I do for those who presume that God has left us in the dark on such issues.
In general, I find those who claim that eschatology has no effect on one's lifestyle to be those with a pessimistic view of the future. This claim seems to me a form of denial, like an investor who denies the possibility of loss in the stock market or a Californian who disregards the possibility of a major earthquake. In contrast to the denial that eschatology has no effect on lifestyle, other pessimists believe the increasing evil will result in unprecedented temptations away from godliness and they have resolved to remain obedient despite the cost. One pastor told me, "We're going down, but we'll go down fighting!" Even here the presumption of inevitable doom, despite the well-intended obedience, has deep implications.
Knowing that prophecy affected the way people behaved, the leaders of the fledgling dispensational movement in the 1800's intended to use premillennial eschatology as a club to wake up the backslidden church and to call sinners to repentance. Despite believing in an irreversible decline in society, they had hoped that preaching an "any moment" return of Christ would awake a moribund Church. The result, as described by a premillennialist, is more of the same: "twentieth-century premillennialists tend to be pessimistic, fatalistic, nonpolitical, and nonactivist."
It is hard to imagine an area of life that is not touched by eschatology. A pessimist will plan for the short term, an optimist for the long term. Do you disciple your children in such a way that they will know how to disciple their children? Or do you believe as many do that we are in the "terminal generation"? Do you educate your children the same way? Do you save your money with your children's children in mind (Prov. 13:22)? If you believe the end is near, why should you save? (How many churches and individuals, convinced of an imminent rapture, have accumulated indebtedness believing they will never have to pay back their debt in full?) Do you work toward progressive sanctification in your life, in your family, in your work, in your neighborhood, in your community, in your church? Or have you abandoned any hope of God-ordained revival, believing instead that irreversible decline is inevitable?
Eschatology affects one's perseverance. Not long ago a premillennialist confronted a postmillennialist undergoing a series of trials. "I would think these injustices would cause you to become a premillennialist."
"On the contrary," said the other, "If I were a premillennialist I would have given up in despair long ago."
The eschatological presuppositions of pessimism or optimism affect virtually every decision a Christian makes. The more a decision is affected by time, the more one's eschatological persuasion will influence his decision. Eschatology has a very profound effect on one's life. As a man thinks, so is he (Prov. 23:7).