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Cults and Futurism

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By large-hammer - Posted on 17 January 2003

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.

Marcus Booker

Virgil's picture

Yes, this is great! Mormons and Jehova's Witnesses are the best example of futurism run amock. This morning, a professor was proudly telling me about his upcoming debate (him and others from Biola Univ.) with a group of Mormon "scholars" about the legitimacy of the application of the "christian" label to Mormons. He went to great lengths (theologically) to explain why Mormons are not Christians. I was thinking how much easier it would be for a preterist to defend his ground rather than doing all kinds of biblical gymnastics...

If we can label anyone that doesn't fit the "norm" as a cult member, then is there such a thing as a futurist cult? :)

coderguy's picture

The cults are historicists. None of them are futurists, in the sense of the four-fold division of preterism, historicism, futurism and idealism. Historicists are by nature date-setters, since they are assigning to historical personages or events the fulfillment of the seal, trumphet and bowl judgments. That is why most believe that virtually all of the seal, trumphet and bowl judgments have occurred and they are awaiting Armageddon as the only future event to our time. While futurists believe that the entire tribulation is yet future. These are too great of differences for preterists to simply lump together.

large-hammer's picture

Your assessment may be fair.

Actually, the distinctions are confusing on many levels. Properly, historicism and futurism should be identified together. Yet first-century preterists are not "historicists," as the latter term is usually employed. These preterists see the prophetic fulfillment in past historical events, but not in ongoing history throughout the "church age." Historicism usually implies an *ongoing* history.

I lump historicism and futurism together because any post-a.d. 70 fulfillment of eschatological prophesy is futurism from a preterist perspective. Usually futurists are actually historicists (or partly historicists). What I mean by that claim is that futurists almost always view prophetic events as being fulfilled in their own time; the events are technically future but so near that they are present/contemporary. You might call futurists "contemporarians." Few futurists claim that Christ's second coming isn't near in their own generation. Their doctrine is of a perpetual nearness. Yet when these teachers say near, they actually mean near and contemporary (and not some perpetual near). Victorinus saw Revelation's fulfillment in an upcoming and expected destruction of the Roman Empire. Many others have seen in their own contemporary events what seemed to be fulfillment of Scriptural prophesy. What was Futurism for them is historicism for us. Indeed, if I believed Victorinus' futurist view of Revelation, I would [technically] be considered a preterist or a historicist today. I would not be a futurist.

Also, Tim LaHaye is a pre-trib futurist, yet his commentary on Revelation very plainly show him to be a historicist. Furthermore, the Reformers were largely historicists and futurists. They viewed the history of the true church against Rome (and later the Papacy) to be Revelation's message; this view was historicism. Yet their futurism presented itself as they looked forward to the culmination, when the Papacy would be destroyed. This view is historicism/futurism. Of course, the Reformers were also largely preteristic too. What confusion it is!

I know that the term historicism is misleading. Historicism should be a good term. Preterism and historicism should mean the same thing, but they don't (because of the *ongoing* connotations attached to historicism). Also, preterism simply means past (not necessarily first-century). First-century preterism is much different than other forms.

As for these cults, they may adopt any of the three views [technically]. Yet the cults themselves arise out of open-endedness concerning the endtimes (which is prominent in futurism and allowable in both historicism and non-first-century preterism). When the endtimes are explained convincingly from the Scriptures (i.e. without extra-Scriptural histories or modern newspapers) there is no wiggle room for the kind of invention that cults bring.

Indeed, first-century preterism needs the Scriptures alone. Some people use Josephus as a help, but I deem it totally unnecessary. The Acts of the Apostles and the several epistles show that Christ's olivet discourse referred to events in that generation. Of course, the context of the gospels themselves affirm that Christ was speaking against his contemporaries, who would soon be judged. He had in mind the Pharisees, the scribes, the Sadduccees, the elders, the chief priests, etc.

As for the claim that no cults are futurists, please elaborate. On my list, I would regard Mormons as futurists (more than historicists). Camping's views are futurist. The Hale Bopp comet folks were futurists. Of course, this trend doesn't, of itself, malign futurism, but these cults use the open-endedness inherent in futurism for their own twisted purposes.

Marcus Booker

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