Reading 14. 2
What bearing, if any at all, does the doctrine of the "coming King" have upon the character of Christian ethics? The answer depends in part upon the view taken of the King's return, with the various possible views yielding a corresponding variety of ethical stances. Naturally there is not strict determinism in detail, but certain tendencies appear evident from the historical record.1
Our eschatological position in the Christian and Missionary Alliance is the view commonly known as premillennial.2 The impact of premillennialism upon Christian ethics has recently come under scrutiny, not always with flattering results. The purpose of this article is, in Part I, to survey this scrutiny, which amounts to a serious indictment, and to explore the connection between premillennialism and the ethic it has allegedly generated. In Part II, we will develop the argument that whatever may have been the case, it is certainly possible on a biblical basis, even within a premillennial framework, to support a very different ethical thrust. Part III will draw matters to a conclusion.
The charge against an ethic conditioned by premillennial theology is that whatever merits it may possess in terms of encouraging personal evangelism and promoting the missionary enterprise, it is woefully lacking in terms of providing any impetus to social ethics. The "imminence of the King's return" is a fine note upon which to sound the call to send missionaries out to reap the harvest, perhaps even a call to personal holiness and the dedication of one's life to Christ, but hardly a call to reform society, or to the devotion of one's life to the amelioration of oppressive or unjust social conditions. At best such issues must take second place; at worst they are a distraction and an impediment to the evangelist, pastor or missionary whose focus is steadfastly set upon the Great Commission. On such an agenda concern for issues of justice, the poor, the oppressed, racism, imperialism (military and economic) and even issues of social vice, abortion, homosexuality, prostitution, lotteries, and business ethics, fall well down the ladder of premillennial priorities.
The logic of all this is simple enough: the King is coming soon; things may be bad but they will get worse; there is no use the church wasting its time and resources on matters of secondary importance. The future is bleak; the psychology is pessimistic, the time is running out; and our reaction should be one of urgency. The ethical implications are, apparently, as obvious as the prophetic scenario upon which they are based is inevitable.
Recognition of the negative impact of premillennial eschatology on Christian ethics appears to be widespread, sometimes including evangelicals generally speaking, without separating out those of premillennial stripe. A sociological study, for example, charges that:
Evangelical Protestantism tends to take a miraculous view of social justice... Thus they concentrate their energies on conversions and evangelism and largely ignore social issues except for occasional efforts to make unlawful what they judge to be personal vices. They also largely ignore the empirical fact that "born-again" and regenerated Christians remain noticeably sinful and thus offer their followers little guidance in ethical behaviour.3
The "miraculous view of social justice" is the conviction that human effort through the normal channels of social change in existing institutions, such as government, are worthless; real change can only be brought about in an apocalyptic way, by divine intervention, with the return of Christ Himself. But what are the origins of social attitudes such as those described in this study? Perhaps they have little or nothing to do with any particular eschatological view.
The editor of a recent collection of essays on the various millennial views suggests otherwise. R. G. Clouse, an historian at Indiana State University, concludes in his Postscript to The Meaning of the Millennium:
An individual who takes a premillennial view will generally be more pessimistic about society than those who accept one of the other eschatologies... In his view the only hope for humanity is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This discourages involvement in social action and fosters a supernatural ethic which supports the status quo. Many evangelicals, heavily influenced by premillennialism, do not wish to see social change which would improve the lot of their fellow men.4
Clouse highlights what he perceives to be the psychological and theological force of the premillennial withdrawal from social issues: the premillennialist is "pessimistic" about social improvement, leading to a quietistic stance which, in effect, simply endorses the status quo; and the premillennialist's assessment of the instrument of possible social improvement is virtually negative with regard to human effort, and positive only with regard to the return of Jesus Christ Himself. What Clouse is calling a "supernatural ethics" is the view that since all human efforts are really impotent and only the return of Christ Himself will bring about real social improvement, there is little point in evangelical Christians expending efforts to effect such changes in the present era. Sociologically and politically, persons persuaded by such an ideology may be expected to support the status quo, if only because they view the attempt to bring about social change in the ordinary sense and through the "normal" channels as basically futile.
Church history appears to lend some support to the negative influence of premillennialism on concern for social issues. Writers analyzing the contrasting social vision of early and mid-nineteenth century evangelicals with twentieth century reaction and withdrawal from such issues, for instance, identify the rise of premillennial eschatology as a significant factor in this reversal. John Stott, in his book Involvement, having noted the British evangelical heritage of social concern in such late eighteenth and early nineteenth century notables as William Wilberforce, the Clapham Sect and the Earl of Shaftesbury, goes on to diagnose the "reversal" of this heritage and notes amongst other factors:
...there was the spread (specially through J. N. Darby's teaching...) of the premillennial scheme. This portrays the present evil world as beyond the improvement of redemption, and predicts instead that it will deteriorate steadily until the coming of Jesus... If the world is getting worse, and if only Jesus at his coming will put it right, the argument runs, there seems no point in trying to reform it in the meanwhile.5
American evangelical historian Donald Dayton arrives at similar conclusions.6 Having documented the concern for reform even of the great revivalist Charles Finney,7 Dayton identifies the shift in eschatology as a contributing factor in the reversal of this vision:
Finney's revivalism, as well as that of Jonathan Blanchard, the Wesleyan Methodists, and other Evangelical reformers, was tied to postmillennialism... But this vision collapsed after the Civil War and was replaced by an eschatology that looked to the return of Christ to rescue the "saints" out of this world. Premillennial teaching implied that the world was in such bad shape that it would only get worse until the return of Christ. Some even argued that efforts to ameliorate social conditions would merely postpone the "blessed hope" of Christ's return by delaying the process of degeneration.8
Dayton does acknowledge that the impact of premillennialism was "somewhat mixed": though in some cases the imminence of Christ's return in this teaching freed people "to give themselves wholeheartedly to inner cities and missions" leading to "contact with poor and oppressed peoples,"
... more characteristic was the tendency to abandon social amelioration for a massive effort to preach the gospel to as many as possible before the return of Christ.9
The extent to which this shift in eschatology was felt throughout Evangelical life and thought is difficult to overestimate.10
There are some rather sobering analogies to this attitude found in other religions and in the secular world today. The eastern notion of karma, for example, typical of Hinduism and currently being marketed in the West under the guise of New Age thinking, teaches that this life is inevitably assigned as a consequence of a previous life. The resultant attitude taken toward social life is obviously fatalistic and induces a helplessness of spirit favourable to the status quo. Similarly, the powerful latent fear of nuclear holocaust in the West appears to be generating a kind of "eat, drink and be merry" carelessness about long-term social reform: the cause is hopeless, tomorrow we die! Of course premillennialists will point out that their eschatology, far from being fatalistic and sapping initiative, is a powerful motivating factor for evangelism and missions; this is doubtless true, but if its critics are right, in other social spheres the results of premillennialist eschatology begin to look alarmingly like "karmic" fatalism or the despair of imminent holocaust. The examples which follow certainly appear to be cases in point.
In his history of Pentecostalism, R.M. Anderson highlights the impact of an "imminent Millennium" on early Pentecostal attitudes to social issues. He quotes the English Pentecostal J.T. Boddy, addressing an American audience (1920):
In the face of the appeals made to Christians today to join hands with the world in pushing its noisy reforms (most of which, whether secular or religious, are Satan-inspired), what course should we pursue?... While reforms may serve as temporary plasters upon the moral ulcers of the world, they can never reach the seat of the trouble, to effect a permanent cure....11
And to the question as to whether he would let the world go to the devil, Boddy responded:
No certainly not, we don't have to, it is there already.... The only permanent remedy...and the hope of this old, sin-wrecked world is the personal coming of Jesus into it.12
Anderson further documents early Pentecostal social attitudes (which probably reflect a fairly wide spectrum of evangelical churches) by quoting a 1934 article in the Latter Rain Evangel entitled, "The Solution to the World's Problems:"
These troubles, political, social, religious and otherwise can never be settled until the glorious Son of God comes back.... The question is now, How can we escape the tribulation period?13
The emphasis is on an "all or nothing" approach to the variety of problems society faces; we are not to "try to do the best that can be done under the circumstances." Rather, the implication that anything less than a total solution is worthless is underlined by the question: "How can we escape?"
Anderson is led to the following conclusions:
The Pentecostal movement was a force for social conservatism in that is abstained from social improvement and disparages all social ameliorative efforts by others. Reform was futile because the degeneration and dissolution of the present world system was prophesied in the Bible.14
Even taking into account Anderson's extreme reductionism of the history of Pentecostalism to primarily sociological forces, an approach with which we would differ, his observations are not entirely wide of the mark. Certainly the note of fatalism apparently induced by the fulfilment of prophecy offers sobering reflection even for evangelicals today.
Not entirely different sentiments can be picked up in early Christian and Missionary Alliance history as well:
Philanthropic schemes and social reforms are absorbing the interest and enthusiasm of thousands of redeemed men and women who ought to be giving their strength and wealth to do the best things and not the second best. We admit there is something good.... They have a place and a value, but let the world take care of them....15
These words of A. B. Simpson, though tempered by the recognition of some value in social concern, still appear to assign "social reforms" to the category of "second best" for the Christian and, indeed, to suggest that the redeemed not bother with such matters at all but rather leave them to the "world." Simpson had joined the premillennialist stream and was to some extent at least being conditioned in his assessment of social issues by its powerful current.
To inject a note of caution, and perhaps to suggest that the historical tale has not yet been fully told, it is well worth noting that in a recent article, "The Social Interest and Concern of A.B. Simpson," from which the above quotation is taken, J.V. Dahms surveys the impact of Simpson's work and is able to conclude that "the social welfare impact of his movement was both enormous and magnificent."16 It must also be remembered that Simpson was no elitist in his church polity; in Louisville he was deeply troubled by the "social exclusiveness" of his fashionable Presbyterian church, and at the first service of their elegant new Broadway Tabernacle in 1878, made it clear that the supreme purpose of a church building, whatever its design, was to bring within its wall "the great masses of every social condition...."17 Such sentiments simply do not reflect a narrowly defined sociological vision and, in the end, his vision would mean moving on, which he did within eighteen months of that first service. Nevertheless ambivalence remains. Dahms notes the "decline" in concerns towards the end of Simpson's life and quotes remarks such as:
If we had a hundred million dollars, we would not spend one cent of it establishing another school at home, or an institute abroad, unless it were simply for the purpose of training persons directly to preach the gospel.18
Of course, the commitment to focus exclusively on gospel and missionary training institutions does not in itself amount to the abandonment of the social dimensions of Christian ethics, but on the other hand the tone, i.e., the exaggerated figures, certainly implies that other sorts of involvement even in Christian education have little if any value at all.
Nevertheless, our purpose is not to establish the validity of the thesis that premillennialists neglect the social dimension of Christian ethics, so much as openly to acknowledge this indictment and, as premillennialist ourselves, to ask whether premillennialists must adopt such an ethical stance. Happily, we can leave to well-equipped church historians the task of sorting out the pros and cons of the historical thesis in question; for ourselves, we shall be content if we can establish on a biblical and theological basis the extent to which premillennialism must counsel evangelicals to withdraw from the arena of social concern if they really want their lives to count for God.
While eschatology doubtless should be related to ethics, and systematic theologians do us the service of exploring these ramifications, the thesis I wish to advance is that the prevailing interpretation of premillennialism, in terms of an ethic without significant social implications, has been more a matter of succumbing to a psychological temptation than of sound theological deduction. Whatever implications for ethics we may draw from eschatology, acceptable theological method would surely dictate that they confirm, not sabotage, explicit biblical principles relating to doing the will of our heavenly Father. My basic argument is that the extent to which the historical accusations surveyed in Part I have validity, will depend on the degree to which premillennial evangelicals have designed their ethical views in accordance with a psychology appropriate to their reading of the events surrounding the coming King, rather than conforming them to the explicit ethic the King has left for us in His Word.
The logic of the mistake I am alluding to is straightforward enough: if A is a long-term principle of action and B is short-term activity, and if we anticipate the King's imminent return, then it is easy to fall into the temptation to promote B with much greater zeal than A, even though there are grounds for believing that the King's will was that we do both. The situation is further exacerbated by our perception that B (the task of evangelism and missions) has consequences that are truly eternal in their significance, whereas A (the amelioration of social conditions) really does not. The cup of water may be a good gesture when we are confronted by a thirsty man, but if his soul is bound for hell and if offering the cup takes resources from evangelism, then there is clearly little worth in it (hence, let Caesar or the world take care of such things).
My reply is that since we do not know just when the King is going to return, however carefully we may read the signs of the times, we are well advised to be found doing His will until He comes, rather than rearranging the priorities He has given. If He has made it clear that we should do A and B, then that is what must be done. Should we at some point become convinced that His return is very near, then all the more, and in every way, we must press this two-pronged attack; certainly it would be the height of presumption to jettison A (social amelioration) in favour of B (evangelism and missions) for strategic reasons based on our calculations of His schedule. It would reflect a similar presumption were we to decide, on the basis of our own calculations of eternal worth, to respond to one sort of command but not to the other. Our efforts would be better employed discerning His commands and doing them; He will not assign projects to us which have no eternal worth in His eyes.
The questions that must now be addressed are: What are His commands? What did Jesus teach was "the Father's will?"
In our Saviour's classic teaching on prayer we are told to make the following request of the Father: "your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).19 This request, which contains the fundamental guiding principle of Jesus' own life (Jn. 5:30), should be foundational for Christian ethics: we are to do our Father's will on earth (Mt. 7:21). The Scriptures in general and our Saviour's teachings in particular reveal the essential contents of His will for us. Let us then examine several of Jesus' prescriptions for us in an effort to catch the flavour of the kind of thing our Father wants us to be about. For the sake of brevity, considering the vast amount of material relevant to such a study in the Scriptures, we will limit our exploration primarily to the book of Matthew, the gospel of "the King."
We embark upon our exploration with reflections on a prescription much favoured by premillennialists, the Great Commission of Matthew 28:17b-20b:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
Now the premillennialist, like any other fair-minded reader, draws from this passage conclusions to the following effect: that we should be winning others to Christ: that we must respond to our Saviour's "missionary" challenge; that we have been issued a commission by our Saviour of the utmost import and urgency. Although history does not uniformly reflect a proper response to this challenge, surely no one would gainsay this sort of conclusion being drawn from this passage. However, the questions still to be asked is, does this passage justify "playing off' these conclusions against involvement in socially ameliorative activities either at home or abroad? The question is not whether the normal premillennialist conclusions are valid, but whether they represent the whole thrust of what Jesus is saying here.
The case for making a social ethic a very secondary matter relative to evangelism can only be sustained on the basis of the Great Commission given the following two conditions: 1) being a disciple has no primary social dimensions; 2) the "everything" Jesus commanded, which He tells us is to be taught to the disciples (vs. 20), contains no prescription of behaviours with a social dimension. To put the matter this way is to see at once the mistake, or at least the alleged mistake, of typical premillennial exegesis: the premillennialist is in fact caught in a very deep contradiction, that of playing off the results of evangelism against the task of evangelism: the task of evangelism is indeed to win people to Christ, to seek "decisions" for Christ; but the Great Commission makes it quite plain that the decision involves, or is meant to involve, a commitment to discipleship, the result of which will be an endeavour to practice "everything" that Jesus commanded. And, as I wish now to argue, the "everything" that Jesus commanded contains implications for social ethics which are primary and non-negotiable. The argument against Christian involvement in matters of social ethics, therefore, can only be sustained at the cost of ignoring or misrepresenting the essential character of the Great Commission itself, the logic of which so unmistakably is: evangelism, discipleship, baptism, and the teaching of everything Jesus commanded (surely to be practised).
What then did He teach? At once we think of the other great pillar of Jesus' teaching, namely, the Great Commandment of Matthew 22:35-40. In response to the Sadducees and Pharisees, Jesus summarizes all the Law and Prophets in the command, first, to:
Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37).
And secondly, we are to:
Love you neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:39).
Doubtless these are commands sufficient to challenge the energies and resources of any disciple for a lifetime, even the power of Christ Himself.
The question of the disciples' energies and time, however, is this: does the Great Commandment appear to suggest that "evangelism" and "caring for others" are properly seen as competitors, with the latter inevitably losing out to the former? Surely not! The neighbour is, by definition, social: the neighbour is the "other"; he or she is the essence of my existing not as an isolated atom but as a member of society. In society I have contact with my neighbour not only personally, as an individual, but also through the institutions, corporations, organizations, governments and all the social structures and systems of which I am a part. Moreover, my responsibility for the quality of this contact extends not only to the personal but to the structural and systematic elements as well. Clearly, we can control our personal actions much more easily than the "systems"; nevertheless, insofar as we have opportunity in an appropriate way,20 our love of neighbour must extend from the important personal and individual contacts through to the policies and practices of the larger social units and systems, such as my business, club, school, college, union, company, country, not to mention my church or mission society. In this broad spectrum of responsibilities the whole ethic of the Scriptures come into play from the individual gestures of love that are meant to meet a personal or family need, to the sharing of the gospel and the prophetic call to justice and fairness in social structures.
What then does it mean to love our neighbour, presuming that we love the Lord our God to the uttermost? Shall we launch shells from our gunboats if he is attempting to stop the trade in opium which is profitable to us, but harmful to his people? Shall we persuade the Third World mother to stop feeding her baby breast milk and buy our baby formula because it is "modern," "western" and happens to be profitable for our company? Is it loving our neighbour to pay them the lowest possible wage and to threaten them with unemployment if they resist? Is it to avoid associating with someone whose skin is a different colour or who speaks a different language, or who belongs to a lower socio-economic class? Is it to extract him or her from the mother's womb, wrap them in a garbage bag or place them in a bottle destined for the incinerator, or some commercial or experimental laboratory? It does appear terribly difficult to see how the kind of love of neighbour of which Jesus is speaking can be contained in a narrowly defined channel; rather it wants to swell into a mighty river until everything and all of life is swept into its beautiful stream; and it is into this stream that the disciple is invited to plunge.
According to Jesus, love of the neighbour is indeed secondary, not to evangelism but rather to the love of the Lord our God. And this secondary love of the neighbour is the powerful motive both for sharing the gospel with him or her, and for the kind of caring behaviours Jesus so powerfully prescribes. On the basis of the Great Commandment, therefore, it appears unlikely that an individual responding to Christ and becoming a disciple would be counselled to avoid social ethics and social reform.
What other sorts of things did Jesus command? What priorities did He call His disciples to adopt?
In His ministry of preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing the sick, Jesus saw the crowds as sheep without a shepherd in Matthew 9:35-38. Then, dramatically changing metaphors, He calls for leadership in the image of the harvest which was plentiful and the labourers who are few. We are then commanded to "ask the Lord of the harvest... to send out workers in his harvest field" (Matthew 9:38). Clearly and most emphatically the disciple ought to be paying heed to such a command as this: just as clearly, on such a command the call to missions, evangelism and the life of full-time ministry are properly based. Not only premillennialists, but all who take their Bibles seriously will surely be doing their Father's will in this way until the King comes!
Along with the "harvest reaping," however, there are in Jesus' teaching commands which go in another - not competing but complementary - direction. Think of the parable of the sheep and the goats of Matthew 25, a parable which has as its very setting the image that the King has come: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory ...." (Matthew 25:31).21 Now surely He will tell us in this parable the things we ought to have been about until He returned, and we are not disappointed; in a striking way He goes so far as to claim that these are the sorts of things that will be of decisive significance for the King's judgement. What are they? We know the answer; simply doing the Father's will on earth: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, taking in the stranger, providing clothing, looking after the sick and visiting those in prison. All are matters of social ethics and to anyone familiar with the Great Commandment they should come as no surprise whatsoever: each is only an outworking of loving our neighbour and treating him or her as if they were Jesus Himself. Again, the disciple will surely be about such a business as this, and the closer the return of the King appears to be, the more zealously he or she will pursue such tasks.
The parable of the sheep and the goats also addresses the issue of the eternal worth of loving the neighbour. However things may appear to work out according to our tables of calculation, and however confident we are of our own perspicuity in the matter, according to the King acts of love are of eternal consequence; the dichotomy we feel so strongly between the eternal value of the "decision for Christ" over against the fleeting value of the "cup of water" is quite foreign to Christ's teaching. Perhaps the answer to our confusion is to be found in our failure to see that a "decision for Christ" necessarily is a decision to become the sort of person who will offer the cup of water: viz. to become a genuine disciple.
Evidently then, both the Matthew 9 passage about the harvesters and the Matthew 25 passage about the sheep and goats represent the kind of thing that Jesus, in the Great Commission, intended to be taught to disciples. Do we still dare to play off the one against the other? It is our decision to do so. His intention was clearly quite to the contrary: both harvesting and caring and sharing are part of discipleship. How out of character with our Saviour's teaching to render them competing interests! Moreover, the harvesting in and of itself should result not only in even more harvesters, but also in more caring and sharing, at least if disciples of Jesus Christ are being harvested.
There are, of course, numerous other passages and themes which illustrate similar commands for the disciple (of the Great Commission), and thus principles of a truly Christian ethic: think of the importance of the one lost sheep, leaving the ninety-nine on the hills to search for it, and the implications of this parable for evangelism (Mt. 18:10-14); alternatively, consider the social implications of: "Love your enemies" (Mat. 5:44a), "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth" (Mt. 6:19a), "Blessed are the merciful" (Mt. 5:7), "You cannot serve both God and Money" (Mt. 6:24b), "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets" (Mt. 6:21), and "... unless you forgive your brother form the heart" (Mt. 18:35). The picture that emerges of the disciple is one of a transformed person, a member of a New Humanity, who will both share his or her faith boldly and, in the whole network of his or her social relationships, reflect the new life that Christ has wrought.
What then is the conclusion of the matter for the premillennialist and his or her ethic? Simply that insofar as we endeavour to fulfil the Great Commission, to make disciples and to be disciples, to teach His commandments and to do them, there are profound implications both for evangelism and social action. Consequently, the prophetic reading of the "signs of the times" should serve as a powerful motive to undertake the whole mission, not a reason to abandon half of it. Eschatology does not provide the substance of ethical principles and priorities, but it can provide motivation for ethical action. The knowledge that the king is coming challenges us to accomplish the ethical mission He has given, not to alter it.
As premillennialists who believe in the imminence of the "coming King" we have the responsibility of teaching and doing everything that the King commanded us when He lived upon earth in the form of a Servant. Were we to do so, the critics of premillennialism may or may not be silenced, but at least there would be less ground to their accusations. And, even if we believe the scenario of the world's future is not a bright one, this conviction need not be translated into social paralysis. (Presumably it will not generate evangelistic paralysis!) Whether the world's future be bright or dim, let us do as our King has commanded:
...let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
* His Dominion, 15(4):2-13 (1989).
1.For an interesting discussion of the implications of the various eschatological positions, at a more popular level, see Christianity Today, vol. 31, no. 2 (February. 6, 1987), CT Institute, "What to Make of the Millennium," especially pp 5-1 and 6-1 on "Eschatology, evangelism, and social action."
2 "The Christian and Missionary Alliance Statement of Faith," [see Reading 15.3] article #11: "The second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is imminent and will be personal, visible, and premillennial."
3 R. Stark and C.Y. Glock, American Piety: The Nature of Religious Commitment (Berkeley: U. of California Press, 1968), pp. 68; quoted in R.G. Clouse, "The Evangelical Christian, Social Concern, and a Theology of Hope,: The Evangelical Quarterly, XLIV, 1972, p. 74.
4 R.G. Clouse, ed., The Meaning of the Millennium (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1977), pp. 209ff [emphasis added].
5 John Stott, Involvement, vol. 1 (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Revell), p. 27.
6 D.W. Dayton, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage (New York: Harper and Row, 1976).
7 Dayton draws attention to the somewhat scandalous fact
that: "Modern editions of his works are often expurgated. Offending passages
are removed....Ibid, p.19.
Dayton notes several quite shocking instances where in later editions of his works, for example, Finney's views on "hindrances to revival" of a social nature, i.e., relating to human rights and reform, were subtly eliminated and the omission masked. In another case the contents of one letter, entitled, "The Pernicious Attitude of the Church on the Reforms of the Age," were censored and the contents of another letter substituted under the heading of the first!
8 Ibid., pp. 125f [emphasis added].
9 Ibid., pp. 127.
10 Ibid., p. 127 (emphasis added).
11 R.M. Anderson, Vision of the Disinherited (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), p. 200.
12 Ibid., p. 200.
13 Ibid., p. 201.
14 Ibid., p. 201f.
15 J.V. Dahms, "The Social Interest and Concern of A.B. Simpson," in Birth of a Vision, D.F. Hartzfeld and C. Nienkirchen eds., (Regina: His Dominion, 1986), p. 49.
16 Ibid., p. 64 [emphasis added].
17 R.L. Niklaus, J.S. Sawin, S.J. Stoesz, All for Jesus, (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1986), p.17.
18 Ibid., p. 65.
19 Note: all biblical references are taken from the NIV.
20 An understanding of "opportunity in an appropriate way" will help us understand why St. Paul did not tackle the issue of the abolition of slavery in the Roman empire of the first century, choosing instead the route of tempering it morally. Neither the apostle's office (he was not the emperor!) nor the position of the Christian church in the first century were such that a radical Christian critique of the institution was propitious. The position of Wilberforce in eighteenth-nineteenth century Britain (and the church in his day), however, or of a Finney or Blanchard (a "violent abolitionist") and the church of their day, in pre-Civil War America, was very different. Thankfully these latter warriors had greater insight than to use St. Paul's assessment of the appropriate Christian response to slavery in the first century as an excuse for social quietism in their own.
21 A. The passage is evidently a fulfillment of an earlier
statement of Jesus, recorded in Matthew 16:27, "For the Son of Man is going
to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each
person according to what he has done." See R.V.G. Tasker, The Gospel According
to St. Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961), p. 237. On this reading
the passage is thus: "... not a parable in the conventional sense . . . [but]
. . . a poetic description of the way in which the prophecy of Jesus in XVI.27
will be fulfilled."
B. For an esoteric interpretation arising out of the "dispensational" school, see The New Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), notes on Matthew 25:32. This view has the passage relating to the very specific instance of how Gentiles treat the
Jews ("my brethern") during the period of the Tribulation: sheep = saved Gentiles; goats = unsaved Gentiles. Whether strained eisegesis or legitimate exegesis, this interpretation has the unfortunate consequence of severely limiting the ethical force of what Jesus is saying, in a manner quite out of keeping with the general tone of His teaching. Of course, it may be in the interests of premillennial pessimism to relegate such an obviously social ethical teaching to a narrowly defined historical moment, thus absolving us of present responsibilities!
For years Albert B. Simpson's Christ in the Bible volume covering Revelation has been unavailable. Even when the other books were in print, Revelation was not.
As you read this final volume in the series you may understand why it was not kept current. It was not simply that Simpson's view of a partial rapture ran counter to the prevailing evangelical opinion in the first half of the century. But much of Simpson's interpretation of the book was tied to increasingly obscure 19th century events unrelated to the return of Jesus Christ. It is important to realize that the views and positions expressed in this book do not necessarily constitute the views and doctrinal positions of Christian Publications or its parent denomination, The Christian and Missionary Alliance.
So why publish Simpson's Revelation now?
First, Revelation is needed to round out what many recognize as a still-significant commentary on the whole Bible. To stop one book short of the end leaves the work incomplete.
Second, Simpson readers are curious concerning his eschatological views. They are here--in detail.
Third, times have changed. Regarding the rapture, many evangelicals have returned to the historic post-tribulation view. (Simpson expected only a few believers--the "firstfruits"--to be raptured prior to the tribulation; most believers would go into that awful period.) And today's Bible students are less persuaded than those of a generation or two ago that the Revelation is transparently clear in detailing the future. Simpson offers another viewpoint.
Fourth--and most important--present-day readers need exposure to the warm, evangelical heart of this mighty crusader. Simpson was unashamedly in love with Jesus Christ, and he longed for His return. Simpson was concerned for a lost world of people, and he worked night and day for their evangelization. He was persuaded that world evangelization must precede the end-time events portrayed in Revelation. All of that comes through forcefully in this final commentary in Simpson's long series.
Read Revelation not for enlightenment concerning all of the details in the Bible's last book. Rather, read it devotionally. May you share Simpson's love for Jesus Christ and the world He died to save. May you anticipate as eagerly as he did our Lord's glorious return.
**A.B. Simpson, "Revelation," The Christ in the Bible Commentary 6 (Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1994). pp. 407-8.