Premillenial dispensationalism was the only kind of "end times" theology that I knew. Supposedly, only "liberals" believed anything else, Prescott recalls.
Editor's note: This is the seventh part of an ongoing series in which Bruce Prescott, executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, reviews the steps that led him away from fundamentalism.
Before I went to seminary, I took one more step away from fundamentalism. It was the step that caught me most by surprise. It was a time when Hal Lindsey's "Late Great Planet Earth" had stirred up a lot of interest in "end times" theology. It began when a group of young people at my church wanted me to teach them something about eschatology.
I was well aware that most of what Lindsey was saying had been in the footnotes of the Schofield Reference Bible for more than 60 years. I carried a Schofield Reference Bible at that time because it was the only study Bible that the fundamental Baptist preachers I knew would approve.
I also had a copy of Dwight Pentecost's "Things to Come," John Walvoord's commentary on Revelation and a number of other books on eschatology by dispensational premillenialists, but I hadn't read them. So I started reading them and that is when I ran into difficulties.
I soon discovered that, aside from a fairly broad outline of events, there was little consensus on details among the different authors that I was reading. That made me pay close attention to the Scripture references they used to support what they were saying.
Doing that made it obvious to me that they all were inserting a lot of things from the Old Testament, particularly from the book of Daniel, into the text of the New Testament. Most alarming to me, I couldn't find "the rapture" in the book of Revelation, and I couldn't understand how John Walvoord knew it happened in the blank space between the third and fourth chapters of the book of Revelation:
"The rapture as a doctrine is not part of the prophetic foreview of the book of Revelation. … From a practical standpoint, however, the rapture may be viewed as having already occurred in the scheme of God before the events of chapter 4 and the following chapters of Revelation unfold." (John Walvoord, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ," p. 103)
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Premillenial dispensationalism was the only kind of "end times" theology that I knew. Supposedly, only "liberals" believed anything else. I needed some help trying to make sense of eschatology, so I turned to my Southern Baptist pastor and future father-in-law, Dr. Doyle Winters, for assistance.
Winters was a conservative New Testament Greek scholar with a doctor of theology degree from Southwestern Seminary. He advised me that he did not hold to the dispensational premillenial view of the end times.
That theology was invented in the late 19th century and has been promulgated mostly through the Schofield Reference Bible, he said. It is not the way that eschatology has traditionally been understood throughout the history of the church. As he spoke, I finally realized why he was so unimpressed with the white leather Schofield Reference Bible that I had given his daughter years before on the first Christmas we were dating.
Winters' understanding of the end times was best summarized by Dr. Ray Summers, a Southern Baptist Greek scholar, who wrote a commentary on the book of Revelation titled "Worthy is the Lamb." He loaned me his copy. I read it, and biblical eschatology finally began to make sense to me.
Summers put the last nail in the coffin of dispensationalism for me when he explained how that theology believes that the church age – all the time from when Christ died until his second coming – is a "Great Parenthesis."
In that view, the Jews at the time of Jesus put a kink in the divine plan for an earthly kingdom of God. Supposedly, 69 of the 70 weeks in Daniel's prophecy about the end times (Daniel 9:24-27) were fulfilled by the time of Christ. The 70th week, however, had to be postponed because the Jews rejected Jesus and put him to death. The 70th week is on hold until Christ returns.
In my eyes, Christ's atoning death is the very heart of the divine plan, not a kink in it. No one who understands that Christ was "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" should be inclined to accept dispensational premillenialism. (Revelation 13:8; 1 Peter 1:18-20)
Bruce Prescott is executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists. This column appears on his blog, Mainstream Baptist.
Step 1 – Wherever He Leads: Called at Baptist Youth Camp
Step 2 – Slowly Realizing the Flaw with Inerrancy
Step 3 – Breaking the Chain-of-Command Family Myth
Step 4 – An Education in Fundamentalist Scholarship
Step 5 – Not Confining God to Man's Expectations
Step 6 – What I Learned From a 'Liberal' Theologian