Shifting Paradigms: The Bible’s millennial prophecies

If you didn’t see US. News & World Report’s cover story on the new clash over the Bible’s millennial prophecies (December 19, 1994), do yourself a favor and take a few minutes at your local library to make a photocopy of the article for your future study and reference. The article by Jeffery L. Sherer succinctly describes the growing discomfort of many Christian leaders and theologians over the dispensational premillennial theory of Christ’s Second Coming which has been advanced in popular literature, such as Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth.

Despite Christ’s biblical admonition against predicting the time of the Second Coming (Matthew 25:13), many evangelical authors have published books in recent years predicting the exact time of the Second Advent. The dispensational view, with its elaborate conspiracy theories, time tables, charts and graphic scenarios, has come under growing scrutiny by scholars.

U.S. News correctly notes that most Roman Catholics and Protestants of past centuries have been either amillennial or postmillennial in their end-times viewpoint, with a fair representation of historical premillennialists. The dispensational theory of premillennialism, advanced in 1830, by John Nelson Darby, the English founder of the Plymouth Brethren movement, has gained popularity among modern evangelicals. The problem with this theory is that it ascribes biblical significance to almost every new development in current world events. The locust plagues of Revelation 9 become Cobra helicopters and the northern invader of Israel described in Ezekiel 38 becomes the Soviet Union’s army. The article also notes that bizarre eschatological theories are the hallmarks of many cults.

As the predictions of the doomsdayers are inevitably refuted by the facts of history, more evangelicals are revising their end-times prophecy charts. Many are shifting to the historical stance of the Church prior to 1830. Some now assume the historical premillennial view which assigns the predictions of the enigmatic book of Revelation to “sometime in history” but not necessarily our generation. Others are adopting an amillennial view or a more optimistic postmillennialism. U.S. New’s report on the shifting “end-times” paradigms among evangelicals (although tainted in places by secularism) is forthright and says more than most evangelical publications dare.

The article concludes with an important point, which describes the problem introduced by dispensationalism: “Aside from concerns about faulty interpretation, critics also worry that some Christians may be getting so wrapped up in deciphering prophecy and awaiting divine deliverance that they ignore other missions.”

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