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Al Mohler’s Theological Triage: Is Eschatology Really a Third-Order Doctrine

June 20, 2011 5 comments

I have posted previously concerning the amount of scripture that teaches eschatology, or last things, as compared to the amount of scripture concerning so-called secondary doctrines important enough to divide fellowship over:  baptism and the Lord’s supper.  See this quote for S. Lewis Johnson’s observations concerning the number of verses that teach these doctrines.

I recently had a brief discussion with someone who still maintains, like Al Mohler, that eschatology is actually a third-order doctrine, less important than even baptism and the Lord’s supper.  He put forth the following reasons for such, which I would like to respond to here:

  1. “Regardless of how much the Bible teaches about the end times it is still rather speculative. The main point is Christ is coming back and so be prepared.  Yet Baptism and the Lord’s Supper has everything to do with defining the nature and boundaries of the church and thus is a second level issue.”    — and —
  2.   those second-level issues have “only been a defining character of fellowship since the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversies.”

In reference to the specific words from S. Lewis Johnson (referenced above), this person acknowledged familiarity with Johnson, and just said that Johnson over-emphasized certain teachings whereas others have taught more concerning ecclesiology.

If his first point referenced only the timing of the rapture, I would certainly agree that such discussions can get too speculative: the rapture timing can only be inferred.  However, the context of this discussion concerned overall future things including viewpoints on the millennium and the nature of Israel and the church — and his point that “no matter how much the Bible teaches … it is still rather speculative.”

Having read so many biblical texts throughout the Old and New Testament, I cannot see that the Bible is at all unclear in its many references, especially considering the many passages in the Old Testament that speak of the future restoration of Israel, as well as describe a time that will be somewhat different from our world yet during which sin and death will still exist (such as Isaiah 65).  If words mean anything and are not merely wasted platitudes about the gospel going forth during the glorious church age, such a type of world has never existed yet, neither does it fit with the Eternal State.  Such passages are only unclear if one plays loose with words, and thinks that perhaps the word Israel doesn’t really mean Israel — and to do so is to wreak havoc with basic hermeneutical principles and head down the path towards unbelief and rejection of many other biblical doctrines.   Historic premillennialist J.C. Ryle well observed that he simply could not understand how anyone reading their Bible could not see these things, things that are so plainly set forth and as clear as a sunbeam.

Regarding his second idea, that these second-level issues were never really considered important for fellowship until the fundamentalist movement (early 20th century) — I answer from a general knowledge of church history.  Luther and Calvin and their followers, in the 16th century, parted ways over differing ideas of the Lord’s Table — and so we have Lutherans as distinct from the other Protestant denominations that followed Calvin.  The Anabaptists, also of the 16th century, sharply divided with all the Reformers over the matter of baptism:  believers baptism only for Anabaptists, versus infant baptism for the Reformers.  The Reformation period shows many other instances of the divisions amongst all the differing Protestant denominations, so to say that these divisions only occurred in the early 20th century is also quite misguided.

Finally, if some theologians “over-emphasized” certain teachings and neglected ecclesiology, it can also be justly said that the reason why these men “over-emphasize” the Second Coming, is precisely because so many other teachers have neglected that.  Someone has to over-emphasize, to compensate for the vast majority of teachers who practically ignore the prophetic word.