Protestant Reformation 012Zechariah 14:4 • Dr. Andy Woods • September 10, 2017 • Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation
9-10-17 Zechariah 14:4 Lesson 12
If you could take your Bibles and open them to the Book of Zechariah, chapter 14 and verse 4. We’re nearing the completion, hopefully, of our study on The Protestant Reformation. Don was just telling me that people are already talking about it in the Houston Chronicle and other places. So it’s going to be a big subject of discussion, particularly when we hit the month of October so I wanted to give us some understanding of the Protestant Reformation and why it was significant.
We started with the early church and what was handed off to the first generation of believers; basically what was handed off, as we have traced very carefully, is the literal method of interpretation. And the church interprets things literally for, probably its first two centuries and then what you discover is that method of interpretation was overthrown through the influence of Alexandria, Egypt. And Alexandria, Egypt, as we’ve talked about, introduced the allegorical method of interpretation. And we began to study how the church shifted away from a literal understanding of the Scriptures to an allegorical understanding. So that factor coupled with other factors essentially took the Bible, God’s revealed truth, and removed it from the masses. And whenever that happens it empowers the ecclesiastical church hierarchy and the sheep are in a state of manipulation and vulnerability. We talked all about that during the Dark Ages.
And so consequently God, in the 16th century raised up the Protestant Reformers who restored to the church biblical authority in certain areas, the five solas (as we’ve talked about). But we’ve also been very careful to point out that the Reformation that the Protestant Reformers introduced is partial at best. Particularly the week before, I guess two weeks ago, so last week and then the week that met before the flood hit we were talking about what the Reformers left undone and I showed you some major problem areas.
And what I want to shift to here and I kind of feel obligated to talk about this because I want to you the state of Reformed Theology today. Reformed Theology today remains in sort of a half done mode. And these are the churches that owe their direct spiritual lineage to the Protestant Reformers. Unless we understand this we don’t really understand why God continued to reform the church through others outside of the Reformed tradition.
So I’ve given you the major blind spots, dark spots if you will, of the Protestant Reformers. Now what’s the condition of the churches or the theological system that they started called Reformed Theology? Well, the error of Reformed Theology is it erroneously assumed there was no further progress to be made. So they took the advances given wonderful, by the way, to the church from the Protestant Reformers and assumed that there was no further ground to conquer. And that’s the great mistake in Reformed Theology. And that has to be an error because the Book of Daniel, chapter 12, verse 4 says this: “But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase.”
And then down in verse 9 it says, “He said, ‘Go your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time.’” Now we are studying Daniel on Sunday mornings so we’ll eventually get to this passage but it’s interesting that Daniel himself, God speaking to Daniel through Gabriel, predicted that right up until the end of the age there would be further ground to be conquered. In other words, you shouldn’t look back at the Protestant Reformation and assume it was the end all, be all of all biblical truth. In fact Daniel is very specific in his prophecies that as the human race got closer and closer to the end of the age more truth would be forthcoming. And when I say “more truth” I’m not talking about new revelation because the canon of Scripture is shut but new understanding would be forthcoming. In other words the truth was there but it would be made known at an increasing rate as we got closer and closer to the end of the age, particularly in the area of prophecy.
So I do not believe that today there is progressive revelation because once John completed the canon, the Book of Revelation in the first century the canon of Scripture was shut. But I do believe very strongly in progressive illumination today. In other words, we know things that Luther and Calvin and Zwingli and Tyndale and the rest of them could not know, not because we’re smarter than them, not because we have an additional book of the Bible they don’t have but we’re living further in time. And see, this is the mistake of Reformed Theology because they act as if what Luther and Calvin and the others developed (properly) from the Scriptures was the end all be all. And I just don’t think that’s true, I think the Holy Spirit continued to reform the church after the Reformers died and I think He’s continuing to some extent to reform the church even today. And if the next generation, the Lord tarries and the next generation comes they’re going to see things in the Scripture, rightfully, that we do not see. It’s not that they’re getting a new Scripture but they’re getting new understanding, or the information that’s there is becoming unsealed.
And it mentions there in Daniel 12:4 “many will go to and fro and knowledge will increase.” And that’s usually misinterpreted as air travel, the internet, and going on cruises, and things like that. But when you look at Amos 8:12, a parallel passage, it says this, “People will stagger from sea to sea and from the north even to the east; They will go to and fro” see, it’s talking about moving “to and fro” just like the Daniel passage talks about that, “to seek the word of the LORD, But they will not find it.’ So when Daniel talks about many going to and fro and knowledge increasing what he’s saying is as humanity gets closer and closer to the end times people are going to start to read the Bible and see things in the Bible, “going to and fro” is reading, not traveling, and they’re going to start seeing in the Bible that the greats of the past or the sages of the past didn’t see. And that’s what I would call progressive illumination.
Isaac Newton, most people don’t know about Isaac Newton, but Isaac Newton was a devout Christian. In fact, Isaac Newton, who is probably considered the founder of modern science, the discoverer of the law of gravity and these kinds of things that Isaac Newton is known for, Isaac Newton spent more time studying the Bible than he did studying science. And it’s interesting that when you read secular humanists today they criticize Isaac Newton and they say think of all the further scientific knowledge we could have had from this guy if he’d just quit reading the Bible and devoted that time to the study of science. The reality of the situation is Isaac Newton’s knowledge of the Bible gave him an incentive to study science. Do you use that? Because Isaac Newton believed in a creator God and because he believed in a creator God he believed that the universe had certain laws to it that the creator had established. And that’s what gave him basically the incentive to study the natural with the same aggressiveness that he studied Scripture. And Isaac Newton wrote entire commentaries (most people don’t know this) on the Book of Daniel and also the Book of Revelation. Isaac Newton was a tremendous student of the end time. And Isaac Newton made this statement back in the 17th century, he lived at the end of the 17th century the beginning of the 18th century.
He said, “About the time of the end, a body of men will be raised up who will turn their attention to the Prophecies, and insist upon their literal interpretation,” and I like this last clause, “in the midst of much clamor and opposition.” [Isaac Newton cited in Nathaniel West, The Thousand Years in Both Testaments, 462] So he is making a comment there on Daniel 12:4 and Daniel 12:9 and he’s making a statement that is consistent with what I would call progressive illumination, that there’s going to be further light on the subject as you get closer and closer to the end.
And I share these things with you to tell you the major error of Reformed Theology, because when you talk to Reformed theologians or people that have been influenced by Reformed Theology their attitude is if you can’t find in Calvin and if you can’t find it in Luther then it’s not biblically true. And do my mind that is the huge mistake of Reformed Theology; it contradicts what Isaac Newton, and more importantly Daniel is saying. And it contradicts the principle of progressive illumination.
So what Reformed Theology did is it took the progress of the Reformers and froze it into creeds and they assumed that the final statement of truth is found in their creed. One of the favorites is the Westminster Confession. If you’re in Reformed circles you do not, you DO NOT disagree in any way with the Westminster Confession. In fact, I’ve read some of the doctrinal statements of some of the schools influenced by Reformed Theology and they hold their professors very strongly to the Westminster Confession and if you deviate from the Westminster Confession in any way your employment, you know, is terminated. And I’ve even read some schools that say if you begin to have thoughts against the Westminster Confession then you need to immediately go talk to the President of the school. I mean, that’s how strong Reformed Theology is anchored to the Westminster Confession.
And the Westminster Confession has a section in it that says this, it’s their statement on eschatology, the end time, “At the last day shall be a general resurrection of the dead both of the just and of the unjust. 2. All found alive shall be immediately changed. 3. Immediately after the resurrection shall follow the general and final judgment of all angels and men, good and bad. 4. That the date of this day and hour is purposely kept secret by God.” [Westminster Confession. Chaps. 32and 33; Larger Cat. , Ques. 87–89.–These teach—1.]
Now what you see in this clause is an error called reductionism. Reductionism is you take a subject which is a complex subject and you over simplify it. In fact, this statement here, to my mind, is woefully incomplete and woefully inadequate. It has some true statements in it but the picture in the Bible is much bigger than what you get in the Westminster Confession. You know, there’s a rapture, there’s a seven year tribulation period, there’s a coming kingdom on the earth, there are different resurrections at different times; church age saints resurrected at the point of the rapture, non-church age saints resurrected at the beginning of the millennium. Then you have the resurrection of the damned at the end of the thousand year kingdom, just prior to the Great White Throne Judgment. And where do I get all these things from? I’m leaving the Westminster confession and I’m turning my attention to the pages of Scripture using the same method that the Protestant Reformers used to rescue the church in the five solas.
So you’ll notice the Westminster Confession has none of those complexities in it, it’s just very simplified statement. They have one general resurrection at the end for everybody and the fact of the matter is the details of the Biblical text are far more intricate and far more complex than what you find in the Westminster Confession. But what you see, in Reformed circles the authority becomes the Westminster Confession and you are told to interpret the Scripture through the lens of the Westminster Confession.
So what happened with Reformed Theology is they took the progress that the Reformers had made and they froze that progress into creeds and confessions. And then what began to happen in Reformed Theology is the creed or the confession became the authority. See that? Even though Luther stood for sola Scriptura when you’re in Reformed circles and you point things out in the Bible that seem to deviate from the Westminster Confession you’re basically shown the door because the authority in their circle is now the Westminster Confession instead of the Scripture. See that? That’s why our church is called Sugarland what? Bible Church, the authority here is the Bible; it has to be biblical for us to believe. It really doesn’t matter is Luther understood it or Calvin understood it or what creeds or confessions we might study. We have our own creeds and confessions here but you know what? We can always change those if there’s a biblical case to change it. But that’s not how it is in Reformed circles, it’s all about the past. And I think Luther and Calvin themselves, if they saw what their spiritual lineage had done with the Protestant movement, they themselves would be disappointed.
Here’s a quote from Jerry Edmonson in an article he wrote, and I like what he says here. I think it kind of summarizes the point I’m trying to get across. He says, “The goal of the Reformation was to point Christianity back to the Scriptures. The noble intentions of the Reformers called for the Bible as the supreme authority for believers everywhere. For this we rejoice! But if the Reformation and its resulting creeds are exalted to the standard of measuring orthodoxy, does it not defeat the very purpose for which it was intended?”
And that just sums it all up. The Reformers stood for sola Scriptura and in Reformed circles they will follow sola Scriptura to a point, until it contradicts a creed or a confession. So what has happened is the creed or confession now has been elevated to a place of authority over the Scripture itself which is the very thing that Luther and Calvin railed against related to Roman Catholicism.
And in Reformed Theology Augustinian amillennialism, the “kingdom now” idea that you find encapsulated in Augustine’s writings, particularly The City of God, an idea that he got using Origen’s spiritualizing hermeneutic and Origen got this spiritualizing hermeneutic from Alexandria, Egypt, and so what developed is this kingdom now belief called Augustinian amillennialism. Augustinian amillennialism never got corrected by the Protestant Reformers. The Protestant Reformers never took their literal approach and corrected Augustinian amillennialism. They corrected the church in certain areas but Augustinian amillennialism, which goes back to the fourth century, which ultimately goes back to Alexandria, Egypt, lives and breathes and is alive and well in Reformed Theology, reformation theology.
Renald Showers puts it this way: “ “The Lutheran, Reformed, and Anglican Reformers rejected Premillennialism” now what was the original name for premillennialism? chiliasm, going all the way back to where? Antioch. “The Lutheran Reformed, and Anglian Reformers rejected Premillennialism as being ‘Jewish opinions.’ They maintained the Amillennial view which the Roman Catholic Church had adopted from” who “Augustine.” [John Ankerberg and Renald Showers, The Most Asked Prophecy Questions (Chattanooga, TN: ATRI, 2000), 328.]
That’s why you can go into a Reformed church or Reformed seminary today and I like to call it a hybrid; it’s Protestant in certain areas, particularly the solas, but it remains Roman Catholic in other areas, including this very important subject of the doctrine of the church and the doctrine of the end. Now a great book on this which explains all of these things so well is the book by Barry Horner and the title of it is Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged and I think that’s the sub title of the book, I think the title of the book has the name Israel in the title but you can just Google Barry Horner and the word Israel and you’ll run across this book. And he has a tremendous statement in here demonstrating what I’ve been trying to articulate.
Horner says, “The inheritance from the Augustinian tradition that modern Europe received, notwithstanding the opposition of Melanchthon and others to Luther’s excesses, resulted in a continuance of an eschatology that upheld the essentially anti-Judiac thesis, namely, the transference of blessings, formerly promised to Israel, to the Christian church for its fulfillment…On a much larger scale the reformed movement maintained its allegiance to Augustinian eschatology, which essentially found authoritative expression in the writings of Francis Turretin [notice the dates here,” just after the Reformers and their generations, “(1623–1687)] who studied at Calvin’s academy in Geneva and later taught there for 30 years. His monumental Institutes of Elenctic Theology became the epitome of reformed doctrine. Not surprisingly, his quotations of Augustine are copious,” talking about this theologian, Turretin that followed Calvin, “his quotations of Augustine are copious even far exceeding references to Calvin. Consequently, Turretin’s eschatology is almost predictable…Of course such a mass incorporation into the church is to the exclusion of any perpetuation of Jewish identity. In classic Augustinian fashion, there is token recognition of Jewish individuality for a time, though any form of Jewish restoration was considered to be a gross form of chiliasm. Turretin’s Institutes became the central textbook for systematic theology in American Ivy League colleges during the last half of the 18th century. It is not surprising that the early theologians of Princeton Theological Seminary highly esteemed this most influential legacy, and of course it’s eschatology.” [Barry E. Horner, Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, NAC Studies in Bible & Theology (Nashville, TN: Baker, 2007), 155-60.]
And you see, this is the reason why Lewis Sperry Chafer started Dallas Theological Seminary in the 1920’s because he was displeased with the things that were coming out of Princeton and he was displeased with what was coming out of Princeton because here’s the trajectory. We go from Alexandria, Egypt to Augustine, who develops amillennialism, that goes right into the minds of the Protestant Reformers, including Calvin. I’ve given you citations where Calvin said I’m wholly with Augustine almost in every area. And then Calvin then begins to train theologians and so what happens in the writings of Turretin is the Augustinian amillennialism continues to live, it continues to breathe, and it goes right into Reformed Theology and right up to today. Reformed churches, Reformed seminaries are holding to this doctrine of amillennialism which rejected chiliasm and it’s just something that got passed down over and over again through the generations that was never corrected in Reformed Theology. And Reformed Theology, because they took whatever progress they had made and solidified it into a creed is incapable of correcting this error. See that.
So this is why God has to raise up other people. I’ll be sharing some of those other people with you the next time we’re together, outside of the Reformed tradition because the great mistake of Reformed Theology is we conquered all the ground. And I’m reminded of what was said to those that conquered the land of Israel in the days of Joshua. What did God say to them? There’s much land left to be conquered, and that’s what I would say about the Protestant Reformation. I thank God for the Protestant Reformation, it resulted in some wonderful things but you should not look at the Protestant Reformation as the end all, be all of biblical truth. There is much, there was much ground left to be conquered. And you can’t find it in these sages of the past. You can’t even find it in Reformed Theology today; it’s a hybrid, having formally frozen whatever progress they made into the form of a creed, then the creed becomes the authority rather than the Scripture.
So what they began to develop is covenantalism, or covenant theology. What is covenant theology? It’s a system of interpreting the Scriptures on the basis of two covenants, the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. Some add the covenant of redemption.
The importance of grace in every age, believers are always saved by grace so there are certain things in covenantal theology, Reformed Theology, even in replacement theology that are accurate. I would disagree with them on this point, God’s primary purpose on earth is redemptive. I don’t think that’s true at all; I think God’s primary purpose is to do what? To glorify Himself. And as folks get saved who gets the glory? God! So even the concept of redemption you can subsume it, if you will, under the overarching purpose of God in human history, which is to glorify Himself.
See, if you’re definition of what God is doing is too narrow there are parts of the Bible that can’t be explained. If God’s primary purpose on earth is redemptive then how do you explain the fall of the angels and the fact that the plan of salvation is not open to the fallen angels. How would you fit that into your overarching rubric? So you have to back up and you have to have an overarching rubric that captures all the biblical data. And if you don’t have that what you’re going to start doing is you’re going to start interpreting the Bible literally in some areas and allegorically (thank you Alexandria, Egypt) and allegorically in other areas.
So in covenantal theology what they now have is a partial allegorical system of hermeneutics. They really have no place for Israel yet future, the best they say is Jews can get saved in the church age. But if a Reformed theologian were ever to come in here and listen to my sermon from last week where I talked about a rebuilt temple in the millennial kingdom, they would just think I’m crazy talking like that. And yet maybe I am crazy, people have called me worse, but I think I’m getting my ideas from where? The Bible, the B-i-b-l-e, that’s the Book for me, Amen.
Now if I’m in a Reformed circle I’m put under all this pressure to not interpret the Bible outside of a manmade confession. And they developed these three covenants and to be completely honest with you I hate the idea that they call themselves Covenant theologians because I think we are the covenant theologians. Where do we get our covenants from? The Biblical text. We’ve gone through on Wednesday nights and even to some extent Sunday mornings biblical covenants. I’ve shown you exactly where they are in the Bible. I’m not making anything up. The Hebrew word “covenant” or berith is used to describe each of these covenants.
Our covenants are exegetically found in the Bible but see, that’s not the way it works in Reformed Theology. They have covenants which are basically manufactured. They have a covenant of works that God entered into a covenant with Adam as the central head of the human race, in which He promised eternal life for obedience and eternal death for disobedience. That’s their first covenant. Then they have a second covenant called the covenant of redemption, this is allegedly a covenant in between God the Father and God the Son in eternity past in which they covenanted together for the redemption of the human race. And then they have another… this is the Biggie, with a capital B, the covenant of grace. It’s a covenant made by God with the elect in which He provides salvation to the elect sinner.
Now the thing to understand is their covenant of grace becomes a lens through which they read the entire Bible. And it becomes the lens in which certain parts of the Bible are de-historicized, de-literalized and are soteriologized. For example, a Reformed theologian would go to the land tract that God promised to Abraham and they would just tell you flat out that that land is not land on planet earth; that’s heaven. So what are they doing here? Well, they’re re-writing the Bible through an ancient practice called allegorization and they are reading the Bible through this lens of a covenant of grace.
Well guess what? A literal interpretation of Israel and the land covenant that God made to Abraham doesn’t fit with our covenant of grace. It doesn’t fit with this alleged covenant made by God with the elect in which He provides salvation to the sinner. And remember they think that the primary purpose of God in history is what? Redemptive. So if that’s your beginning point then what do you do with all of these promises that God gave to Abraham regarding a physical kingdom yet future. Well, all of those things get soteriologized or de-literalized or allegorized. And this is why they either rewrite books of the Bible or they completely ignore books of the Bible.
Anne and I were on an Israel trip with Dr. Randall Price and we ran into some people on the trip with us that had spent… you know, family lineage there in Reformed Theology, in Reformed churches and by God’s grace they were pulled out of that. And they told us flat out that when we got out of Reformed circles we knew absolutely nothing about the Book of Revelation. We’d never even heard it taught. Well, that’s because your sitting in a church that’s dominated by this lens called the covenant of grace and you’re sitting in churches started by men, and I’ve showed you the quotes last week that actually had antagonism or animosity toward the Book of Revelation. They knew nothing about Romans 11. All they knew is just little tidbits that the Reformed pastors or preachers would give to them on Sunday morning.
Now is Reformed Theology liberalism? Not really, it’s not liberalism because they don’t allegorize the whole Bible. They take the Gospels literally, the life of Christ literally, and if they were to take their method of interpretation, which they use to allegorize the study of the end times and they were to apply it to the whole Bible they wouldn’t be conservative at all; they would be full-blown liberals. But because they’re partially allegorical in their method of interpretation they remain within the camp of conservativism, but if you were to take what they do in some areas of the Bible and do it to the rest of the Bible they would be outside the camp of Orthodoxy; they would be into full-blown liberalism. And what keeps them with one foot in the door is their belief (properly) that the Reformers rescued the church in literal interpretation and the five solas. If they didn’t have that they wouldn’t even be orthodox Christianity.
And the thing that’s so interesting about this is this covenant of grace that they have is such a big deal and you ask them, you’re reading the whole Bible through this covenant of grace, you’re allegorizing parts of the Bible, can you show me the covenant of grace in the Scripture? And the answer is crickets, they can’t find it in the Scripture because it’s manmade. In fact, on their better days their own theologians, Charles Hodge being at the top of the list, would admit that this covenant of grace is not found in the Bible.
Now this is a quote that comes right out of Charles Hodges Systematic theology. He says, “This statement” that’s the covenant of grace, “does not rest upon any express declaration of the Scriptures…” Wow, what an admission there. “And although the word covenant [as in works] is not used in Genesis, and does not elsewhere, in any clear passage occur in reference to the transaction there recorded,…it [still] is plain that the Bible does represent the arrangement made with Adam as a truly federal transaction.” [Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:117] Now I guess I’m of the old school. If you’re going to erect this covenant of grace and use it as a filter through which all biblical data is interpreted you need to show me in the Bible where the covenant of grace is. And here Charles Hodge is saying it can’t be found.
See, from this pulpit when I mention covenants, and I show you chapter and verse where the covenant is found in the Bible. Our covenants are exegetically determined. You don’t have that in Reformed Theology. What you have is a manufactured theological covenant. Now this is all a carry-over of Augustinian amillennialism, which the Protestant Reformers inherited and never corrected. And the Reformed tradition today hasn’t corrected this problem. That’s why it gets under my skin a little bit when people try to buttonhole me and want to know if I’m a Calvinist. Are you a Calvinist? And I’m always thinking in the back of my mind, do you realize everything you’re asking me in that statement? Do you understand everything that Calvin said and did not say? I got so tired of the question I said I’m not a Calvinist, I’m not an Arminian, I’m a Biblicist, that’s what I am. I don’t believe anything, any manmade theology tells me unless I can find it in the Biblical text. You see, that is NOT how it works in Reformed circles.
So consequently in Reformed Theology today they take passages that we would take literally and they just allegorize them out of existence. And that’s why I had you open up to Zechariah 14:4, which says, “In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south.”
So what does that passage mean? I know the answer, when Jesus Christ comes back His feet are going to touch the Mount of Olives and the Mount of Olives is going to split in two. Isn’t that what it says? No problem! In Reformed circles though, what you find is no, no, no, no, no, you simple-minded Antiochian, chiliast, what this is talking about is being born again. And when Jesus comes into a person He pierces their hearts. Now what are they doing there? They are interpreting a plain sense statement through the lens of the covenant of grace because the covenant of grace is what’s important in Reformed Theology, not the details of the text.
And so David Regan of Lamb and Lion Ministry, a prophecy ministry, makes this great statement in one of his articles. He says: “Let me give you a classic example of spiritualization taken from the writings of a theologian by the name of Loraine Boettner.” A very reformed guy. “It has to do with his interpretation of Zechariah 14:1-9. That passage says that in the end times Jerusalem will be surrounded by enemy forces and will be ready to fall to them when the Lord will suddenly return to the Mount of Olives. When His feet touch the Mount, it will split down the middle. The Lord will then speak a supernatural word that will instantly destroy all the enemy forces. And on that day, the Lord will become King over all the earth.” So far so good.
However, “In his commentary on this passage, Boettner completely spiritualized it. He argued that the Mount of Olives stands for the human heart. The enemy forces symbolize the evil in this world that surrounds and attacks the heart. The Lord’s return represents what happens when a person accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior. Thus, when Jesus comes into a person’s heart, their heart” (the Mount of Olives) is their heart, right? “(the Mount of Olives) splits in contrition, and all the evil influences in the person’s life are defeated, and Jesus becomes king of that person’s heart.” And Reagan adds, That’s what I call an exercise in imagination!” [“The Beginning and the Ending,” online: http://christinprophecy.org/articles/the-beginning-and-the-ending/, accessed 19 April 2017, 1.
When you read something like this I give you an A+ for creativity. I give you an F- for exegesis, trying to figure out what the text says, because that text doesn’t say that. It might make for a good sermon that gives people a liver quiver but it’s one of those cases where it’s a great sermon, wrong passage. That passage does not say that. Well what happened with Lorraine Boettner? The covenant of grace subsumed the details of the text and he began to de-historize, allegorize, soteriologize, passages that God never authorized to be interpreted in that way.
And this is very common in Reformed Theology. One of the recent views that they have been pushing lately is the doctrine of preterism. Preterism is a Latin word that means past and it’s the idea that the whole Book of Revelation, maybe with a few exceptions, was already fulfilled in the past. Think what you have to do to the Book of Revelation to get the whole book to be fulfilled in the past in the events of A.D. 70. Who promotes this? People that are big names. R. C. Sproul promotes this. I’ll give you a quote from R. C. Sproul in just a minute. N. T. Wright promotes this. Roman Catholic apologist Scott Hahn promotes this. Second from the bottom you’ll recognize the name Hank Hanegraaff is steeped in all of this allegorical way of thinking related to Bible prophecy. One of the big names also out there is at the very bottom, Kenneth Gentry, who also, interesting enough, is a huge voice in the Lordship salvation controversy. I mean, John MacArthur is sort of the popular preacher of Lordship salvation but the brains behind a lot of it is Kenneth Gentry. He’s the academic that produced a lot of these ideas related to Lordship salvation. And he is also the brain child of this doctrine of preterism that’s more popularly promoted by people like Hank Hanegraaff and R. C. Sproul.
So what preterism is trying to say is the whole Book of Revelation with a few exceptions, already happened in A.D. 70. And look how wildly allegorically you have to get to make that work. The Book of Revelation talks about a destruction of half of the world’s population, the sea turning to blood, the greatest earthquake in human history, the great city which reigns over the entire earth. Now how are you going to fit all that into the local… how are you going to fit these global events into the local events of A.D. 70? Well, the answer is Alexandria, Egypt, handed off a baton to these guys called allegorical interpretation and that’s what they use over and over again in eschatological end times passages.
Kenneth Gentry says, “…the preterist view does understand Revelation’s prophecies as strongly reflecting actual historical events in John’s near future, though they are set in apocalyptic drama and clothed in poetic hyperbole.” [Four Views of Revelation, p. 38.] All that Revelation stuff is just hyperbole, don’t take that too literally.
Here’s R. C. Sproul, now what I’m saying here about Sproul is not hearsay, I know Sproul is very popular in the minds of people, not that he doesn’t have some good things to say on other subjects. This is not something I overheard on the radio. Sproul wrote a whole book dealing with this topic. You can buy it and read it for yourself. He tries to defend this; it’s called The Last Days According to Jesus. He’s arguing for preterism. Sproul says, “Russell and Calvin agree that the language employed in biblical prophecy is not always cold and logical as is common in the western world, but adopts a kind of fervor common to the East.” In other words it’s all hyperbole.
Don Preston who is to my mind a heretic; the reason I call Don Preston a heretic is he doesn’t even believe in a Second Coming. Even Sproul and Hanegraaff hold to a Second Coming, so they interpret Revelation 19 literally but the rest of the Book of Revelation allegorically. Don Preston has gone the whole way and says Jesus already came back and once you go that direction you’re, to my mind, you’re outside the bounds of orthodox Christianity. Don Preston talks about how the whole creation was shaken when the war began in Jerusalem and he is trying to argue here that that’s all hyperbole, the Book of Revelation is not future, the Book of Revelation is past. The antichrist is not future, the antichrist is past in the person of Nero.
Kenneth Gentry goes on and he says, “Before beginning my survey, I must note what most Christians suspect and what virtually all evangelical scholars” now notice what’s in parenthesis here, “(excluding classic dispensationalists)” so everybody has seen the light on this except those stubborn dispensationalists, what they all “recognize regarding the book: Revelation is a highly figurative book” I agree with that, it is highly figurative, “that we cannot approach with a simple straightforward literalism.” [Four Views of Revelation, p. 38.] Gentry will put on one set of glasses when he’s reading Matthew, Mark, Luke or John; when he’s reading the Book of Revelation another set of glasses goes on. He puts on Reformed Protestant glasses reading the Gospels; he puts on the covenant of grace glasses when he’s reading eschatology. And this is common place in Reformed circles.
Robert Thomas who just passed away, I think on Wednesday, who’s one of the good guys and he’s done some great work exposing these guys, Robert Thomas says, “A Preterist approach must assume an apocalyptic genre in which the language only faintly and indirectly reflects the actual events. This extreme allegorical interpretation allows for finding fulfillments in the first-century Roman Empire prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.” [A Classical Dispensationalist View of Revelation,” in Four Views of the Book of Revelation, p.181]
The emergent church, Brian McLaren is aggressively moving in this direction of preterism as well. There’s a quote there from Brian McLaren indicating this. [“The book of Revelation is an example of popular literary genre of ancient Judaism, known today as Jewish apocalyptic. Trying to read it without understanding its genre would be like watching Star Trek or some other science fiction show thinking it was a historical documentary…instead of being a book about the distant future, it becomes a way of talking about the challenges of the immediate present.” Brian McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus, 175-76]
So you see what’s happening here is it’s very common in their circles to just widely spiritualize Bible prophecy, which really is nothing new. That’s an old approach going all the way back to Alexandria, Egypt. So when you go to Revelation 20:1-10 it mentions the thousand year kingdom. Does anybody know how many times the thousand year kingdom is mentioned in Revelation 20:1-10. How many times does it say a thousand years? It says it six times in ten verses.
[Revelation 20:1-10, “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.  And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;  and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.  Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.  The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.  Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.  When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison,  and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore.  And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.  And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”]
Well, what does that mean, a thousand year kingdom. I have the answer, Jesus is going to rule for a thousand years, that’s what I think it means. But they think that’s too simplistic. So out comes the allegorical method of interpretation. Gentry says, “The proper understanding of the thousand-year time frame in Revelation 20 is that it is representative of a long and glorious era and is not limited to a literal 365,000 days. This figure represents a perfect cube of 10, which is the number of quantitative perfection.” [He Shall Have Dominion: A Post Millennial Eschatology (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian economics, 1992), page 335] That’s kind of odd, I thought seven was the number of perfection. Gentry tells us well, yesterday it was seven, today we’ll call it ten. And it’s really ten cubed and what do we get cube from? I guess we can find that in the Trinity or wherever, and all it’s talking about is Jesus reigns for a long time.
Well guess what folks, John knows how to say short time and long time, doesn’t he? He says that in Revelation 20 a couple of times. And if you throw out the number a thousand here what in the world are you going to do with the rest of the book; 2 witnesses, 7,000 people, 4 angels, 7 angels, 144,000 Jews, 42 months, 1,260 days, which I’m going to be showing you in our Daniel series is very literal. All those numbers are sort of up for grabs and the interesting thing…. I’ve got other arguments here why a thousand means a thousand but you get the idea here.
Robert Thomas, one of the good guys, and I agree with this, “observes” in his commentary on Revelation “that, no number in Revelation is verifiably a symbolic number.” [Revelation 8 to 22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992, Revelation 8 to 22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992, 408]
Every single number is literal unless you can demonstrate from the text itself that God intended it to be allegorical. And there are clues that you can look at which demonstrate a non-literal interpretation at certain points. But if the text says a literal number that’s what it means. It’s just like when it says Jesus had twelve disciples. What does that mean? He had twelve disciples. Just like when it says Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days to be tested by the adversary, what does that mean? Well, it means he was in the wilderness for forty days. We all understand this, don’t we, with other parts of the Bible. But when it comes to eschatology the rules change and I’m trying to explain why Reformed Theology continues to do this.
Now what do you do with Revelation 20:16-17, which describes the New Jerusalem as a 1500 mile by 1500 mile by 1500 mile cube, the city in which the righteous will indwell (isn’t that cool) descending from heaven to the earth? What do you do with that? Well, I have the answer; it means we’re all going to live one day in a city called the New Jerusalem that is a 1500 mile by 1500 mile by 1500 mile square cube. The gates are open so people can go in and out but that’s exactly what’s portrayed there in Revelation 21. The size of that New Jerusalem will be roughly, maybe a little bigger than half the size of the continental United States of America. Why do I think that? Because I take the words and phrases in that chapter at face value. But you see, your Reformed theologians come along and they think it’s just crazy to interpret the Bible that way. One of them says, “Such dimensions defy imagination and are permissible only in the language of symbolism.” [Paul Lee Tan, Cited in, The Interpretation of Prophecy (Winona Lake, IN: BMH, 1974), 285-86.]
Another one says, [Swete] “Of course, this must preclude all idea of there being such a city literally in Palestine…this cannot be understood literally; and the very idea of a literal fulfillment of this shows the absurdity of that method of interpretation…this cannot be taken literally; and an attempt to explain all of this literally would show that that method of interpreting the Apocalypse is impracticable.” See, they’re just waving a wand and causing dimensions that God said are actual to disappear. This is very common in Reformed circles. Another theologian says no clear proof that all is figurative, such a height is simply out of harmony with the constitution of our world. Well guess what, Mr. Grant, that’s talking about another world so you can’t compare what’s normal in this world to another world that’s yet on the horizon.
Lorraine Boettner, who I made a statement about earlier, says: “Neither the shape nor the dimensions of the city can be taken with mathematical exactness,” and he ridicules people that do, “as if it were a gigantic apartment house.” You go through Reformed commentaries you’ll find this mindset displayed constantly.
Well, the city is big, it’s got pearls next to each gate; the streets are made of what? Gold. And yet what do Reformed theologians say? This quote is from the writings of progressive dispensationalists who are building a bridge to Reformed theology. They’re trying to find a middle ground between dispensationalism and Reformed theology. And unfortunately the progressive dispensationalist at Dallas Seminary today have the upper hand; not that there aren’t some good people at Dallas Seminary but the progressive dispensationalists dominate every department whether it’s New Testament, Theology, Old Testament Department, right on down the list.
And this particular progressive dispensationalist says you can’t interpret these pearls literally. Well why not? There’s not oysters big enough to make pearls like that is basically what he’s saying in this quote. And he goes on and he says you can’t interpret the streets of gold literally, there’s not enough gold in the world to make a street like that. And my response is this is a new creation we’re talking about. Does God have any problems bringing oysters or gold into existence. He speaks and things come into existence. There’s no reason not to take the streets literally, the dimensions of the city literally, the gold literally, the oysters literally.
I like what David Cooper says, that’s your fancy definition of literal interpretation; I would interpret it as follows: When the literal sense makes good sense seek no other sense lest you wind up with nonsense. Now we do that in any area of the Bible and God has called us to do that in the area of prophecy as well. [“When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.” David L. Cooper, The World’s Greatest Library Graphically Illustrated (Los Angeles: Biblical Research Society, 1970), 11.]
Or you take Ezekiel 40-48, a lot of them just think I’m crazy believing that there’s an actual temple in the millennial kingdom. Here’s a statement, I’ll let you read that on your own, by Gary DeMar spiritualizing away Ezekiel’s temple despite the fact that the exact dimensions of that temple are given. [The Book of Hebrews was written to show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the entire Old Covenant system–with its priest, sacrifices, ceremonies, and temple–has been done away with in Christ…The prophecy of Ezekiel’s temple is a picture of the restored covenant community that returned to the land after the exile. The vision should not be projected 2500 years into the future into some earthly millennial kingdom where sacrifices will be offered for atonement in the presence of the crucified Christ.” [Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness, 4th rev. ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American, 1999), 97-98.]
The problem that Gary DeMar has is there’s another temple described in Ezekiel 8-11. The Book of Ezekiel is symmetrical, there’s a temple in Ezekiel 8-11; there’s another temple in Ezekiel 40-48. They are both described with the same precision mathematically and detail. But Gary DeMar comes in and he says the first temple in chapters 8-11 is literal, the other temple mentioned in Ezekiel in the millennium, despite its mathematical precision and numerical count, that’s not literal. So you see what he’s doing? He’s interpreting part of the Book of Ezekiel with one lens and the eschatological sections of Ezekiel with a completely different lens. This is the problem with Reformed Theology.
And let me leave you with this quote; this quote kind of sums it all up, their problem in not applying a literal approach to the whole Bible. This is a quote from Albertus Pieters given in 1931. And he gets to the heart of the problem. He’s a Reformed theologian. He says: “The question whether the Old Testament prophecies concerning the people of God must be interpreted in their ordinary sense, as other Scriptures are interpreted, or can properly be applied to the Christian church, is called the question of spiritualization of prophecy. This is one of the major problems in biblical interpretation, and confronts everyone who makes a serious study of the Word of God. It is one of the chief keys to the difference of opinion between Premillenrians” that would be us “and the mass of Christian scholars.” See, why can’t we just have a Rodney King theology… can’t we all just get along? And Peter says you can’t because one camp wants to interpret the whole Bible literally, the other camp doesn’t and as long as there are applying different methods they’re going to reach different conclusions. Peter says, “the former” that would be us, reject spiritualization, the latter” that would be his group, “employ it;” and look at this last sentence here, “and as long as there is no agreement on this point the debate is interminable and fruitless.” [The leader,” September 5, 1931; as cited in John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom: A Basic Text in Premillennial Theology (Findlay, OH: Dunham, 1959), 128.]
You keep debating these things when two groups of people are applying different methods, the debate will never end and it won’t solve anything until we can agree on the fundamental issue which is a consistent literal interpretation. In fact, here at the church office I had a Lutheran pastor call me and he had read something that I had written defending literal interpretation and he was working on some kind of project for either a seminary course that he was taking or teaching and he basically called me to talk to a real live dispensationalist, like he had never met one before. It’s like visiting an endangered species in the zoo or something. And he was a very nice guy, and I liked him, we had a nice conversation, and he was obviously very bright and he put a lot of work into this and we would be talking and suddenly he would weave into the conversation, so you take all that Old Testament stuff literally, huh? I’d say yeah, I do. And then he would go another direction, start talking, eventually he’d come back and he’d say do you really take all that stuff literally. Honest to God, this happened three, four or five times in the conversation. And finally he could see that we weren’t agreeing, not because I’m a better person than him or I’m more spiritual than him but we are methodologically on a different page and that sort of ended the conversation.
And the first thing you’ve got to resolve when you come to God’s Word is are you going to take the whole thing literally or not, particularly in the area of eschatology. The Reformers did not; Reformed theology today does not. So what did God have to do to continue to reform the church? He had to raise up others outside of the Reformed tradition to complete the revolution started by Calvin and Luther.
So the next time we’re together I’ll be introducing you to some of those key movers and shakers who took the Reformer’s hermeneutic and started applying it consistently. And I’m sorry for rushing through like that and not leaving time for questions but we’ll have a Q and A session either next week or the following week. Let me pray.
Father, we’re grateful for Your truth and we’re grateful for history and the lessons that it teaches us. And I ask that You’ll continue to help us grow in this area so we can be good stewards of Your truth, rightly dividing the truth that’s been handed to us. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We lift up these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said… Amen