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Cults and Futurism
by Marcus Booker
Any doctrine, even when close-ended, is liable to be twisted and misused by unstable men. Nevertheless, futurism is particularly susceptible to speculative scenarios and end-times schemes generated by cults (i.e. heretical sects). Cults typically use what is popularly uncertain/unexplained as a springboard for a whole system of questionable teachings. The more open-ended the Scriptures are in the public view, the more ground cults can gain. Yet when the populace understands the whole of the Scriptures, cults can't get their foot in the door. But Futurism allows that foot in the door. Any doctrine, even when close-ended, is liable to be twisted and misused by unstable men. Nevertheless, futurism is particularly susceptible to speculative scenarios and end-times schemes generated by cults (i.e. heretical sects). Cults typically use what is popularly uncertain/unexplained as a springboard for a whole system of questionable teachings. The more open-ended the Scriptures are in the public view, the more ground cults can gain. Yet when the populace understands the whole of the Scriptures, cults can't get their foot in the door. But Futurism allows that foot in the door. Indeed, futurism is necessarily open-ended. Yet Preterism is inherently historical, particular, and close-ended. In its purest form, it admits of no speculations. Futurism, on the other hand, leaves the door open for a vast multitude of guesses. And this thought generates a question concerning "mainstream Christianity," which is this: How many opinions have there been concerning the beast, the mark, the antichrist, the timing, the chain of events, etc.? If even the mainstream is open to such wide divergence, imagine what the cults do!
To be fair, Thomas Ice seems to speak against these types of speculations (at least regarding timing). Yet his dealings with Tim LaHaye make me question his earnestness on this point. The Left Behind series, by its very nature, must make guesses [otherwise, there'd be no series]. In so doing, LaHaye teaches as doctrine the teachings and speculations of men, which sets aside the command of God. He also comes out of it, as you may well know, with a penny or two. He must be quite the workman if he be worthy of such wages.
Yet, LaHaye aside, I must admit that not all Futurists necessarily encourage guesswork. But even if Ice and others discourage such speculations and refrain from making them personally, they cannot close the door on the Scriptures to prevent someone else from doing it. They can't stop the cults from getting in and from gaining ground and credibility. Here is a true statement: unanswered questions always leave room for cults--period. How many modern cults would be without an open wound to infect in a predominantly Preterist society? Of course, it must be stated that Preterism would by no means end all heretical efforts and ambitions. Nevertheless, it would close a gaping hole and impede the cults considerably.
Consider it. How many cults depend upon the open-endedness of futurism or historicism (which is really a brand of futurism)? Mormons? Jehovah's Witnesses? Harold Camping? etc. These would have no wiggle room without popular misunderstandings concerning end times. They'd have to find a hole somewhere else or go out of business. [And "business" is what it is].
Futhermore, it is interesting to note that the grammatical-historical method of interpretation is *only* possible under Preterism. Let that thought soak in. Reread it if necessary. Only Preterism can consistently apply the grammatical-historical method. Yet this method, supposedly cherished by Dispensationalists, would have to go completely out the window (in some texts) under a Futurist scheme. Why is this? Well...there are no historical events to bind the interpretation. The prophetic events, according to them, are in our future rather than in our history. Therefore, another hermeneutic would be necessary. And the question that I have for the Dispensationalist is this: "What will that hermeneutic be?"
It is interesting how the Dispensationalists vigorously insist upon the grammatical-historical (literal) hermeneutic, while at the same time failing to follow it themselves. As Ice has himself pointed out, the grammatical-historical (literal) is often confounded with the denotative (literal).
The connotative (figurative) and the denotative (literal) are both legitimate within the Dispensational system, according to Ice's own affirmation. Yet in most cases when Dispensationalists accuse others of failing to be literal, they don't really mean grammatical-historical (literal) but denotative (literal). Their radical insistence on the denotative (literal), in inappropriate places, shows deficiencies in their understanding of Sciptural grammer and language use.
Indeed, these Dispensationalists fail to follow through on rigorous and thorough grammatical analysis. So...they are deficient in both the historical and the grammatical portions of their supposed hermeneutic. The grammatical deficiency surfaces as they ignore the normal use of connotative (figurative) language in the Scriptures. The intricate "sun, moon, stars," "heavens and earth," "coming," "winepress," "harvest," and other such normal language is not at all understood by the Dispensationalists at large.
This deficiency makes a mockery out of the grammatical-historical method. It is weak and inconsistent application. Moreover, it leaves the door wide open to cults to speculate and deceive (as these cults may have learned to do from "Christians").
Yet amidst all this confusion is a light of hope. For my part, I am convinced that Preterism, in the future, will be recognized as the post-Reformational recovery of the grammatical-historical method. Posterity will both laugh and cringe at the mistakes of the 20th Century.
Furthermore, Preterism (once popularly adopted) will likely deal a death blow to many cults and liberal skeptics. It may also unify the church considerably and powerfully. In any case, it's certainly an exciting development.