The final ‘hard to understand’ issue Chris Wright discusses is what the Bible says about the future – which of course is rather a lot. The New Testament only makes sense within an eschatological framework. Moltmann said that “Christianity is eschatology” and it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment if not the hyperbole. It seems to me that many big themes are clear; it’s the details that are hard to be dogmatic about [although plenty of people don’t seem to let a lack of biblical support get in the way of their insistent interpretation]. I like to think of it as a line drawing sketched on a big canvas on the wall of a large room, but with colour, texture and fine details left to the imagination. It is only as you walk forward in time into other rooms that the picture becomes clear in marvellous technicolour detail.
In chapter 9, ‘Cranks and Controversies’, Wright will lose some friends – maybe especially in some strands of American Christianity where these things seem to matter more than in most other places – and here in Ireland in certain churches. Basically he criticises three hugely popular assumptions:
The MILLENNIUM– Wright sees it in amillennial terms, not a literal thousand years of the reign of Jesus on earth but a metaphor for the time between the first and second comings of Jesus. It just isn’t that central in Scripture (only appears once in the Bible in Rev 20:1-6) and we shouldn’t make it so either.
The ‘RAPTURE’: – his view is straightforward here; there isn’t one. The idea that there is rests on poor exegesis of one or two texts [1 Thess. 4:16-17; Matthew 24:40-41].
The NATION OF ISRAEL: there is no special spiritual significance to the contemporary state or land of Israel. Wright says that ideas concerning the significance of post-1948 Israel ‘skip happily off the pages of Ezekiel and land in the twentieth century, without reference to what the New Testament teaches about the fulfilment of OT hopes in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.’
I find myself in agreement with him on all three points here. But the point I’d like to make is that I find it strangely un-evangelical that numerous churches and mission organisations continue to insist on a particular end times scheme (e.g. premillennial dispensationalism) being written into their statement of faith and having to be assented to by their staff. The biblical support is highly contentious at best. Even places like Dallas Theological Seminary have in practice appeared to have moved a long way – to such a point where ‘progressive dispensationalism’ is almost unrecognisable from its original form. Why? Because, I think, the thinness of its biblical foundation has been unable to support the huge superstructure that has been subsequently constructed. Cracks abound.
I’m not saying this view is definitively ‘unbiblical’. My point is that it is so open to serious question that to make one dubious interpretation of the future a non-negotiable point of confessional faith is to put a theological system and/or denominational loyalty ahead of the Bible. That’s why I use the term ‘unevangelical’. And what I say here would go for insisting on amillennialism or post-millennialism as well.