Thursday, February 7, 2008

Before Jerusalem Fell, pt. 5

The following is the fifth and final installment of a chapter-by-chapter summarization of Before Jerusalem Fell by Kenneth Gentry. There are five sections to the book, and each entry here will cover one section. Note: quotations are being taken from a pdf copy of the book, therefore page references may not match exactly with hard copies.

Section 5: Conclusion
Chapter 20: Concluding Remarks
Gentry finishes his books with a reminder of the importance of Biblical Introduction, which deals with such matters of authorship, audience, and dating of Biblical books (to mention only three important considerations under this topic). He then gives a summation of his early date argument, including the external and internal witnesses. He then proceeds to another reminder of the practical importance of resolving the question for oneself. Since it comprises the final section of the chapter, I will reproduce it here in full:

The resolution of the question of the dating of Revelation has far-reaching practical implications for the average Christian. As noted in our opening comments, fascination with Revelation is an extremely widespread phenomenon in American Christianity. Almost certainly this fascination will continue. The importance of Revelation for eschatological inquiry lends it an especially influential role in the development and implementation of a Christian worldview. Hence, it is of grave ethical and cultural significance in that it impacts on the Christian’s view of history.

On the one hand, if Christianity’s eschatological expectation is that of an imminently portending and dismally precipitous decline and extinction of Christian influence in our day, as much of current Christian literature suggests, then our Christian endeavor will be powerfully bent in one direction. And it must necessarily be turned away from the implementation of long-term Christian cultural progress and dominion. If Revelation’s judgments are yet to occur and lie in our future, then we must expect and prepare for the worst.

On the other hand, if the expectation held by the Christian community is of a sure hope for progress and victory, then the focus of Christian enterprise will be of a constructive and future-oriented nature. Our cultural endeavor will not be in despite of our eschatology, but in light of it. In this regard, if Revelation’s judgments lie in the past and punctuate the close of the old order in preparation for a divinely wrought novus ordo seclorum in which God will be engaged in “reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19) and “drawing all men” to Christ (’John 12:31), then the Church can confidently seek to bring “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

We also noted in the beginning of our inquiry that a serious confusion as to the nature and message of Revelation is partly responsible for the cultural defeatism and retreatist pietism so influential in twentieth century Christianity. There we observed that one reason for confusion as to the Church’s future is due to a radical misunderstanding of the date of the writing of Revelation. If Revelation is inadvertently dated after the events it prophesies as future, the way is opened to a radical misconstruing of its message. Indeed, not only has the message been misread in such circumstances, but it has been wholly inverted, placing in our future what really lies in our past. Hence, the significance of the date of Revelation. (336-337)

Although I am not going to produce a summary of it here, the reader may also be interested in the appendix provided in Gentry's book, which is a refutation of House and Ice's book "Dominion Theology: Blessing or Curse?" Much of the refutation involves arguments already discussed in the book by Gentry, but a few additional arguments are made regarding dominion theology and the commentary on Revelation by Bruce Chilton, entitled "Days of Vengeance," which House and Ice focus much of their attention on.

Finally, now that I've concluded the summary of Gentry's book, I wish to add my own commentary, brief though it may be, on the value of the book. Although it took me quite a while to get through the book (even longer than it took to summarize it, I assure you!), I found that skimming through it again during my summary was a helpful aid in reflecting upon its arguments. Whatever one may think about Gentry as a person or the strength of Gentry's arguments in one place or another, I have been quite impressed by the exhaustive nature of his investigation into the dating of Revelation. His command of the scholarly literature, his attention to the ancient sources, his commitment to evangelical presuppositions, and his even treatment of the evidence are all things I hope to emulate in my own research efforts. A second appreciation I have for Gentry is his open recognition of the role that presuppositions play in EVERY endeavor of analysis. I have encountered many folks who wish to make arguments and claim that they are simply dealing with "the facts" or "the plain meaning of the text" or the "the best method of hermeneutics." While these folks have good intentions and strong convictions, it remains the case that behind every claim is an epistemological foundation, a source of authority to which one must appeal, a set of first principles, and a system of meaning that are all operating in and influencing the conclusions that one draws about what constitute "facts," what counts as "plain meaning," and what "method" accords with what can be counted as knowledge. These deeper issues of philosophical importance often float above the heads of most folks in the ethereal realm of abstraction, but they are nonetheless the property of all rational thought, whether anyone takes the time to consider them. For all those who are unwilling to end their inquiry with "common sense" or what is "self-evident," Gentry's careful thinking will be refreshing.

I am indebted to Gentry's work in strengthening conclusions that I had only assented to in principle prior to reading his book. I encourage the reader to engage with his arguments even if they are convinced of their own conclusions on eschatology. Their efforts will not be in vain!

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