The fifth essay in the book A Case For Historic Premillennialism is titled The Theological Method of Premillennialism by Don J. Payne. This chapter introduces what the idea of a theological method in general is, and then proceeds to define some of the ideas involved in the theological method of Premillennialism. For the most part, this chapter leans toward a dispensational side often favorably quoting Charles Ryrie and Craig Blaising, but still maintains a distinction for Historic Premillennialism at certain points. It’s a very tough line to follow but this chapter is primarily elevating premillennialism against amillennialism without completely resorting to dispensational extrapolation. The divisions of this chapter are quite easy to follow. The methods are divided up (roughly following the Wesleyan quadrilateral) into the subjects of scripture, tradition, reason, experience, and finally, implications acts as a summary to the chapter. I will outline a couple of points within each section and then summarize some of my thoughts on the chapter.
Upon entering this section, you should already have a working knowledge of the debate within the subject of the millennium. The author gets straight to work in pointing out how premillennialism assumes biblical authority. Beyond this though, he states that there is an entire theological method besides “its claim to a straightforward and objective reading of Scripture.” The author follows Ryrie’s documentation of the utilization of scripture from the ante-Nicene church fathers which saw the millennium as being a literal, future, one thousand year period. Only with the wedding of church and state did there ensue an attack on chiliasm and the introduction of an allegorical method of interpretation. When dispensationalism began to resurface, so did premillennialism. Yet the author also cites Stanley Grenz who shows that while dispensationalism is often equated with mainline premillennialism, there have been non-dispensational premillennialists present with the church since the patristic period.
The author also points out that when the focus comes back to the Historic version of premillennialism, the line between Israel and the Church becomes blurred. This line has been quite distinct in dispensationalism. With works by Ladd showing the kingdom as both present and future, the blurring of the line only increases. One huge issue is touched on as a point of contention, that of either the old testament being interpreted by the new testament, or vice-versa. I’m sure you can see that there are immense issues to wrestle with when we try to determine a theological method for coming to our end times position.
At the end of this section, Craig Blaising, a progressive dispensationalist, is cited favorably. Blaising points that along with a “literary, grammatical, and historical hermeneutic”, there are also preunderstandings, traditions, and confessional precommittments that affect our theological method. Payne points out that Historic Premillennialism distinctly recognizes and lives with the idea of tension. (I have blogged about prophetic tension before.) Here I quote Payne for accuracy. “Having chosen a basic posture of literal interpretation yet recognizing that in some spiritual sense the church does fulfill the role of Old Testament Israel, historic premillennialists live with tension and are criticized by both dispensationalists and amillennialists for their apparently selective approach.” Blaising is cited again to contrast a “new creation model” of premillennialism with a “spiritual vision model” of an allegorical approach. The new creation model is more consistent with premillennialism. One major point overshadowing this entire section is that scripture will not be enough to settle the issues. All positions claim to have scripture on their side. So with that, let’s proceed to the next section.
This brief section shows that while scripture is the sole reason for the premillennial position, many times premillennialists point to the church fathers for consensus. The Reformers appealing to sola scriptura has generated some suspicion of this though. Yet there is some value in reviewing the positions of others at various points in history. Also, many who might seem resistant to creeds have embedded some type of statement within their written confession. At this point, it becomes a tradition whether or not that particular denomination likes the idea of tradition within their church or not. Ultimately, tradition will play a factor in our theological method.
This section is almost over my head. The basic idea can be grasped, though, if we just use the right terminology. Common sense philosophy, Old Princeton theology, and modernism are all terms that must be understood to grapple with the points made in this brief section. However, I point out that what the author is getting at is the idea of the perspicuity of the Bible. Basically, God made the Bible to be understood. He didn’t write it so the average person would be in the dark about its message. So when we come to a passage and examine the differing views, we could ask ourselves the question, “Is it reasonable to believe in a literal thousand year period following the coming of Christ?” Would that have been the intent of the original author in this situation? Again, there is a method at work here before we even begin to examine the scriptures.
While this section may not appeal to you based on the title, it’s worth the read. Payne pays tribute to the resurgence of dispensationalism stating that premillennialism would not have come back to the forefront without it. However, he steps back even further distancing Darby’s scheme from Scofield and Chafer’s version of it. Instead, he aligns Scofield-Chafer with an enlightenment rationalism approach embraced by Isaac Watts (1674-1748) and Pierre Poiret (1646-1748); note the dates carefully as they considerably predate Darby. Both these men emphasized the power of reason, held to congregational type ecclesiology (due to suspicion of institutional religion), and seemed to have a penchant for fine distinctions and tight categories. Experience has affected those in the past, it affects us now, and it will continue to affect our theological method in the future. What we have experienced has affected the theological method of those before us, and it affects us.
The author has good closing points in this section. Examining our theological method should bring us closer to God, Christ, and a study of God’s Word. It should inspire humility as we realize that tradition, reason, and experience are significant factors within premillennialism. “If we already have a kinder, gentler premillennialism, we also need a premillennialism that can recognize and wrestle well with the new issues in hermeneutics and epistemology, remaining tethered to the enduring gospel of Jesus Christ as that against which all will ultimately be assessed.” Amen Dr. Payne.
This chapter was worth the read simply to examine my own theological method in approaching the scriptures. We all have a way to approach the Bible that may differ from someone else’s approach to the Bible. Both approaches are claiming scripture as their final authority, yet they disagree. Preunderstandings, traditions, and our very experiences should be questioned, scrutinized, and put to the test. Illustrations, cute stories, hymns, diagrams, and catch phrases have all shaped our thinking in ways that we may not realize. Let’s go back and review the way we look at scripture.
All in all, this was a good chapter. But it is not really a defense for Historic Premillennialism. It’s only a starting point, just as the other chapters have been starting points. This theological method will lay the foundation for studying the Bible and should lead us to the Historic Premillennial position, that is, nondispensational premillennialism. However, many of the methods which lead to premillennialism have led others to dispensationalism. So while Historic Premillennialists have their work cut out for them in contrasting the position with amillennialism and postmillennialism, they also must depart from dispensationalists at some point as well. Now we are five chapters into an eight chapter book, and we still haven’t read a set of tenets which comprise Historic Premillennialism. The only things we might gather are a literal thousand year period which follows the return of Christ, a posttribulational rapture, the bodily resurrection of the righteous at the beginning of the millennium, and continuity between Israel and the church. If this were someone’s first exposure to Historic Premillennialism, the position would remain somewhat fuzzy to them.
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