I have not read a lot on eschatology. At some point I made an intentional decision to keep away from the books (knowing full well that one day I would have to seriously attend to it) and the arguments, and what Matt Smethurst (assistant editor at TGC) brilliantly calls eschatomania. A couple days ago I saw something over at The Gospel Coalition that intrigued me; I read a great little interview that Matt Smethurst had with Eckhard Schnabel, professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Professor Schnabel has a new book out titled 40 Questions About The End Times. At this point I was only mildly aroused to take a peak at the Q&A; I’m so glad in God’s providence that I did. Here is something that caught my eye:
“You focus on examining the relevant passages afresh, not comparing eschatological systems. Why do you refrain from the latter?”
”Comparing eschatological systems forces people to identify, or abandon their identification with, a particular tradition of viewing eschatological questions. Such efforts have been undertaken, of course, and they are legitimate. But they are generally not very conducive to promoting a fresh reading of the biblical texts. As we evangelicals are committed to Scripture as norm for faith and practice, we should be committed to a constant search for an ever-better understanding of Scripture, including disputed passages and disputed doctrines, with a view to achieving greater unity among believers. Christians committed to Scripture should be committed to seeking a better understanding of Scripture: the quest for truth should supersede the inclination to defend a particular tradition of interpretation. If the sola scriptura principle stands, exegesis has priority over tradition and thus over traditional eschatological systems. Thus, reading texts that have been used, in one way or another, to describe the end times is more profitably done, I think and hope, with a focus on the biblical text rather than on tradition.”
–Professor Eckhard Schnabel
And I would add, if the sola scriptura principle is to stand then a commitment to a better understanding of Scripture and proper exegesis must always supersede and take priority over any tradition and over any movement. Christ must always have the preeminence.
I will fight the temptations of my label-loving heart here, and refrain from identifying the eschatological school of thought with which I am most settled, and besides, this post is not about eschatology per se. Reading the interview got me thinking about any and all movements and the human tendency to identify oneself with positions and systems of thought. This type of identifying/crusading goes beyond just conviction, beliefs and opinions. It has two dangers: One, it raises to primary focus, love and attachment which only the gospel and Christ himself should have in our hearts, minds and lives. Second, it entices us to become proselytizers of our hobby horses.
Yes, it is important to search the Scripture and grow in the knowledge of the Lord. It is good to be grounded and convinced of what you believe. I am certainly not suggesting we should be chaff blown around by every wind of doctrine. I’m arguing here for the exact opposite. It’s quite the contrary actually when you stop to think about it. It is when we are centered on Christ and hold these other convictions loosely that we will be more established and will be less tempted to theological hopping or movements of all and sundry.
Yes, I did end up buying the book and I am very much looking forward to reading it and starting the process of examining these things for myself.