What Does the Future Hold? Pate’s Caricature!

Derek Ouellette —  February 7, 2010

What Does the Future Hold? seems to be a noble attempt to make the various views of eschatology available to the average Christian. In the last post I introduced the dilemma presented by Left Behind theology; namely that in large part due to its popularity and also in conjunction with the non-fiction material written by those who support this view, many Christians (I’d say most in Western Christianity) are under the assumption either that Left Behind is the only view believed in Christendom or at least that it is the only view available.

However, in the end I was disappointed with Pate’s book and in this post I want to explain why.

I was impressed to see Pate bring to the fore Oscar Cullmann’s work, Christ and Time, placing emphasis on the Already/Not Yet principle. I mentioned in another post that it is this principle I would like to see become more commonly taught in churches and in bible studies, and it appears Pate offers here to do just that in this easy-to-read non-academic book on eschatology.

But in the end it seems Pate makes either one of two mistakes: either he does not understand what it is the principle of Already/Not Yet teaches, or he knows but alters this biblical principle to support his own thesis. In other words, either he makes an intellectual mistake, or a bias one. I’ll return to this criticism later.

For brevity sake I am just going to look at his analysis of Premillennialism and Amillennialism only.

Premillennial Misleading:

In the historical analysis of the various views of eschatology Pate places the Premillennail view as the oldest view held by all prominent Christians for the first four hundred years A.D. Aiming to be brief and accessible I can only assume that Pate leaves out certain pertinent information in order to keep things simple. For example, one is left with the impression that all Christians from the Apostle John himself down until the time of St. Augustine were Premillennial. But this view can and has been challenged to show that some of the very earliest of John’s disciples held to something more like the Amillennial view (For example; Case For Amillennialism).

Secondly, Pate makes almost no distinction between Historic Premillennialism and Dispensational Premillennialism even though such a distinction is vast and prudently important. (Consider how these Historic Premillennialist wrote a book against any form of Dispensationalism, pre-mid-post-tribulationism: Case for Historical Premillennialism.) As a result of this error (I’m tempted to refer to it as an outright deceitful approach to teaching in order to give a particular view credibility) – as a result of this error, many have tried to claim that Left Behind theology has historical credibility by claiming roots in the early church. It has no such roots.

Amillennial Caricature:

Here Marvin Pate begins by discussion two different interpretive approaches to the bible, a) a literal approach and b) an allegorical approach. After giving an overview of each approach he charges the Amillennialist of “throwing caution to the wind” by taking the allegorical approach whenever they “feel as though it might be appropriate” [80]. Pates charge is absurd (to the nth degree) and reveals an extreme bias which he seems to be unable to contain.

He claims that the Amillennial view is Platonic in nature (spiritualizing everything) and that if they had kept to a Jewish “literal” interpretation of everything (“which the New Testament authors appear to do” [94]) they would have a proper understanding of the “Already/Not Yet” principle of the Kingdom of God. This makes me wonder if Marvin Pate has ever read the book of Hebrews, 1 Corinthians, the Gospel of Matthew or even (especially) John’s Revelation? For that matter, it makes me wonder if he even read Cullmann’s book (as I have). Where’s this “expert” getting his information from?

I’ll tell you. Marvin Pate is coming at us in this book from an extreme bias in which he is incapable of expressing accurately any view other than his own. This results in setting up strawmen oppositions which can easily be blown over.

Is it throwing “caution to the wind” to interpret Revelation chapter 20 allegorically when most of the book of Revelation is filled with symbolism? Wouldn’t it be throwing caution to the wind to conveniently interpret one chapter literally in what can be described as the most symbolic book of the bible? Isn’t it then the Premillennialist who has thrown caution (and reason and hermeneutics) to the wind by failing to read the biblical books according to their respected genre?

Putting “Already/Not Yet” to Service:

Finally Marvin Pate is very successful in one thing: completely failing to grasp and understand the biblical principle of “Already/Not Yet”. He states:

If the church would have followed the Jewish preference to the literal, normal method of reading a text… then the church’s teaching could have held on to both the already/not-yet tension and a future, temporal messianic kingdom of earth. [94]

What Pate fails to grasp (evidently in his entire eschatological framework) is the significance of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (i.e the Jewish Messiah and also the Messiah of the world). The already/not-yet principle centers on this one event alone, and all things eschatological must revolve around it.

Pate reminds the reader of the Jewish concept of time being three fold: the Age before the Fall, the present evil Age, and the Age to come. Pate believes the “age to come” is the future millennial Kingdom which is inaugurated by the coming Messiah and the Resurrection of the dead, and so believes his view holds closest to the Jewish expectation. He is wrong.

If we know anything from Paul’s encounter with Jesus the Messiah (as Cullmann teaches in Christ and Time) it is that what Paul (as a Jew) expected the Messiah to do at the end of the Present Evil Age, Jesus the Messiah did in the middle – and this is what the already/not-yet principle is all about. It has nothing to do with interpreting a prophecy as having two meanings as Pate believes (totally misconstruing this principle. Did he even read Cullmann?).

The resurrection of Jesus meant that the Messianic Kingdom has begun – it has been inaugurated but not consumated. And so the Kingdom is here (already), but not fully until he consumates it at his second coming (not yet). Get it? Already but Not Yet – as the Amillennialist asserts. Again (redundancy so that he might get it), this principle has nothing to do with some so-called “double fulfillment” prophecy!

What this means for the believer is that the resurrection of the righteous has already occurred “in Christ” as Paul reminds us. And this shines light on the two resurrections in Revelation 20 which have baffled the minds of Premillennialist for ages – they have not been able to understand the resurrection of the righteous or of the wicked in Revelation 20 because they do not understand this principle (failing to grasp completely Isaiah 40-55 and the N.T. explicit teaching of Christ as the representative of Israel [a major point in Cullmann’s book] and Paul’s explicit teaching of one people of God, not two, among other things).

Either Pate does not know this, does not understand this, or does not believe what Paul and the other N.T. authors have to say about this. Failing to place the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah in the center of your eschatological model while twisting Cullmann’s biblical principle of already/not-yet (completely missing the point) will result in fantastic and untamed interpretations of the bible and End Times. The kind of fantastic interpretations that can be made into novel series and movies, but not the kind that follows God’s story very well.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Josh

    The Case For Amillennialism is a great read!

    And this was an awesome post! I hope lots of people are being exposed to new (I believe, more scripturally/exegetically sound) ways of viewing scripture. Keep it up Derek!

  • http://churchrevolution.wordpress.com Will Riddle

    Thank you for this review.

    As a progressive disp. you can see why Pate would either blur or not see the distinction between historical premil and disp. premil.

    You can also understand why his view of Amillennialism might be a caricature. Those from the dispensational/fundamentalist rooted backgrounds are blinded by the hyper-literalism in all of their hermeneutics. It is very difficult to imagine a different way of reading the scripture until you actually exit that system.

    I think you overrate the significance of a non-evangelical theologian to an essentially evangelical debate, as well was the sense of incumbency that Pate should feel to intereact with him. Neo-othodox, liberal and catholic notions of the eschaton are a fundamentally different kind of debate, not just different positions. I think people like Ladd, Riddlebarger, Beale are the interesting ones to cover.
    .-= Will Riddle´s last blog ..Book is out! =-.

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    Thanks Will for your comment,

    I wish I knew more about the Catholic (or Orthodox) understanding of the eschaton. My understanding is that both of these Traditions have some type of position closely in line with the Protestant Amillennialism, I think all three (Amillennialism, Catholicism and Orthodox) take their cue from Augustine on this subject – with variance.
    .-= Derek Ouellette´s last blog ..Theology of Plan B =-.