Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A Cup of Weak Tea

“Facts don’t care about your feelings,” Ben Shapiro is fond of saying. Unlike much of his recent book The Right Side of History, that statement is fairly accurate.

But facts also don’t care about your eschatology. Not a bit. Premillennialist Bible teachers and popular writers who make careers out of dogmatically applying specific prophecies to current events tend to find this to their chagrin — well-know date-setter Harold Camping being one recent example.

Facts take no joy in embarrassing the likes of Camping. They are not mean-spirited. They simply are what they are.

To the best of my knowledge, amillennarians are not renowned for their frivolous speculations. For those who read Old Testament prophecy figuratively rather than literally, temptations to make wild predictions are likely few and far between. All the same, writers who come at prophetic scripture from the amillennial viewpoint are not for that reason excused from the obligation to deal with reality. Attentive readers of Kim Riddlebarger’s 2013 expanded reissue of A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times are sure to experience the same sort of cognitive dissonance I did at some of his stranger assertions, even those who find themselves substantially in agreement with his basic eschatological schema.

No Longer Free

Take this one for example:
“At the first advent of Jesus Christ, Satan was bound by Christ’s victory over him at Calvary and the empty tomb. The effects of this victory continued because of the presence of the kingdom of God via the preaching of the gospel and were evidenced by Jesus’s miracles. Because of the spread of the gospel, Satan is no longer free to deceive the nations.”
Now, it is indisputable that Calvary did indeed change certain things forever in connection with Satan’s rule over this world. Sin no longer has dominion over a certain subset of human beings: we are not under law, we are under grace. It is also true that the “mystery of lawlessness” is under some measure of divine restraint during the present administration.

Straining Credulity to the Breaking Point

But is Satan no longer free to deceive the nations? Really? George Soros has spent billions of dollars indulging his fantasies of a borderless world, but globalism is not his brainchild. He’s just the latest in a long series of human pawns moved around the political chessboard by a much greater and more evil mind. If we rule out Satan as the spiritual power behind the massive disinformation campaigns of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, to whom might we reasonably attribute them? To claim the devil is not currently deceiving the nations strains credulity to the breaking point. It could be argued that never in history has there been so much popular confusion about what is really going on behind the scenes in our world.

The only daily dose of truth we experience is when we open our Bibles. We don’t get it from our media. We don’t get it from our governments. We certainly don’t get it in public school or higher education, and there is a massive campaign currently afoot to scrub the internet of it as well. If Satan is not currently deceiving the nations, how on earth do we account for these things?

Fortunately for Mr. Riddlebarger, he is writing about Bible prophecy and not current events, so he is free to make completely indefensible assertions and move on to other subjects without having to explain how they play out in the real world.

Don’t Reign on my Parade

Another example. Memorializing eight generations of saved ancestors in his dedication, Riddlebarger adds this:
“They have come to life and are reigning with Christ for a thousand years.”
In a strictly spiritual sense the first part of this is quite true. Jesus said, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” For this reason Christian death is referred to repeatedly in the New Testament as having “fallen asleep”. Spiritual death has no hold on those who are in Christ. “Away from the body, at home with the Lord.” Amen to that. If the author is claiming the souls of his relatives are with Christ enjoying his presence and awaiting their glorified bodies, all well and good. We would have no difficulty accepting that scenario.

Borrowed Language

But Riddlebarger is saying considerably more than that that, and defiantly so. He is using “reinvigoration language” borrowed from a heavenly scene in Revelation 20:
“Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. 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 ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.”
The reader is left with two options. If it is legitimate to use this very specific New Testament language to describe the present condition of Mr. Riddlebarger’s ancestors, then either: (1) they are among those seated on thrones to whom authority to judge is committed, or (2) they are among those beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God because they would not worship the beast or its image.

I think we can safely dispense with the martyrdom theory for a multitude of solid reasons. And yet oddly it is the language used of this latter group (“they came to life”) that Mr. Riddlebarger borrows to describe his family members.

Words and Meanings

Mr. Riddlebarger’s point is that these family members are alive and reigning with Christ right now. Either this is a massive exaggeration of their current situation in heaven — pure and unadulterated hyperbole, in other words — or else Riddlebarger’s concept of “reigning with Christ” is an unspeakably feeble, etoliated facsimile of the real thing.

When we look bluntly at the condition of the world over which they are said to be “reigning”, it is exceedingly difficult to imagine what it is exactly these men might currently be administrating. What are they deciding? How are they enforcing their wills? In what ways are they shepherding or assisting those under their care? What is the effect of their rule, and how could we measure it? And if, as very much appears to be the case, they are doing none of these things, then in what way can they be said to be “reigning” at all? Why does the New Testament saddle the Christian with the obligation to learn discernment in this life if it is not to be exercised in the next life in any meaningful way?

Again, we are hit with a wave of cognitive dissonance. Reality meets eschatology, and the amillenarian reading of Revelation 20 goes down like a cup of weak tea.

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