The CWP Inner Circle is a very exciting group of Bible students from around the US and Canada, as well as the rest of the world, that loves serious Bible study. It is an “open” group, meaning that it is possible in this group to have open conversation about a broad range of ideas without fear of getting ostracized for floating the idea. However, rather than being an “anything goes” group, it is given to the up-close evaluation of ideas against the context of a serious study of the scriptures.
I taught biblical languages and literature in University and Seminary settings for years (from Fuller Seminary in California, to the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, and to Martin University in Indianapolis), and to be quite honest, this online group (The Inner Circle) of housewives, factory workers, professionals, retired people, lawyers, doctors, and preachers is as capable and engaging as any seminary class I’ve ever had, and at least as energetic, if not more. It is a marvelous experience, surpassing any Bible class experience I’ve ever found in any church, since most people in a church don’t care about the Bible much anyway.
For the past several months we have been looking at 1Thessalonians in detail: English text and Greek text (for those who want that). And during the last couple of weeks we have been talking about the different ways that many people understand the topics of the Parousia, Coming of Jesus, Day of the Lord, the Book of Revelation . . . etc., etc.
Now, if you’ve been around any time at all, you know that Christians are all over the map on these topics. Not only do they vary widely, they come across as hating each other over these topics. It is shameful, really how much bickering and controversy exists over such things. Our group–made up of people from a variety of backgrounds and “persuasions” have taken a very different tack. We decided to see if we could actually be Christians in the process of the pursuit of such ideas.
The diversity of thought of this group has been superseded only by the the charity of mind. And what I share now in the rest of this article is not only my opinion, it is my evangelistic urging on this topic.
A Blur of “Right Ways”
There are some things we learn from our ancient and precious scriptures (which have been handed down to us) that are fairly straightforward. E.g., God is love. We exist in, with, and by love. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, to treat others as we want to be treated. And more.
There are other things not quite so straightforward. Historically, many Christians of many backgrounds want to find all the right answers. Once found, since they are “right”, we then want to insist on them for all.
On the study of “The Apocalypse of John” (the book of Revelation), 2000 years of Christian history has given us 4 or 5 major competing ways of approaching the book which end in vastly different results. Such as . . .
- Bla bla bla
And each of these has been split into multiple and competing groups (and they all argue with each other interminably).
Christians then see this and feel like they need to figure out “which one is right?” As you know, I’m all for deep and detailed study. The reason is, you get blessed along the way with many things you did not otherwise expect. Growth is a marvelous thing! I urge detailed study!
But on this topic, you don’t have to study this for years to figure out that just maybe there is no “one right” solution to “what exactly did/does/will Revelation mean.” Once you see that all of these very bright people who love the Lord cannot even agree whether the stuff has already happened or not, or when, or how . . . I just start laughing about it. I think we’ve had enough history, now, to show us that we are not going to figure all of this out. What makes us think that we are going to come up with the “one right answer” when nobody has been able to do that for thousands of years (or, more accurately, when so many competing and contradictory groups already have the one right answer, and they all so markedly disagree with each other)?
A Sharper Focus
I think all of the debate is useful and interesting and worth our time. I also think that, kept in perspective, it can be useful to us. But in the end, on the topic of the coming of Jesus, the Day of the Lord, the “end of time”, the real meaning of Revelation, and other such things, we should be asking an additional question that we sometimes just entirely overlook.
- We are trained to ask: “What is the correct answer here? What did it really mean? Am I believing correctly?” That can be Ok. Absolutely, let’s ask these questions.
- But maybe we should ask these more often: “How did this teaching function in the life of early Christians and churches? Why was it taught, and what outcome was wanted?”
I think this is especially helpful on the topic we are talking about for this reason: Consider any approach to Revelation (etc) above—–Past, Present, Future: all of them!—–and here is the end result:
We win! So, live up to it!
In every case in our ancient scriptures, when these things are discussed, they are always discussed as related to the context needed—to help people live and grow. They are never discussed as individual pieces of a big puzzle, nor are they intended to be “partial revelations” of a larger whole. They are discussions of the topic within contexts to encourage people to live lives for God. And when you strip away the context and cram the various naked things into a single puzzle, they don’t exactly fit and they look a lot different. Why can’t we be satisfied with leaving them where we found them: in context! Why do we need a so-called “big picture”?
A Christmas tree might look beautiful in my home, but it looks a whole lot different (and much more inviting) on the mountainside next to the blue lake from which I cut it down.
I urge all to adopt an attitude of openness and diligence to the ideas of others–especially on this extremely broad-ranged topic. But we do not need to get tripped up into thinking that these ideas, in the end, are the point of the texts we have. Let me state it this way: if you have believed all your life that the “end of time” means the stars literally must fall from the sky, and you die before that happens, what difference will it make? And if you believe that the Parousia already happened in 70 AD, and he ends up coming tomorrow—are you going to argue about it? The main question for every position that anyone is taking should be “what difference is this making for how I live now?”
These are exciting topics—(I sincerely mean that). I have my opinions about how to best approach all of the texts on this topic. But the really exciting part is that we win. And question I have to answer next is: Since that is true, how do I live now?
Gary D. Collier
Coffee with Paul Classroom