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What Shall We Believe? by Aurelia T. Fule


Aurelia Takacs Fule is a former staff member of the Program Agency of the United Presbyterian Church and later Associate for Faith and Order in the Theology and Worship Ministry Unity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). She is retired and living in Santa Fe, N.M. What Shall We Believe? was copyrighted by Aurelia T. Fule in 1987 and is used by permission. This text was prepared for Religion Online by John C. Purdy.


II. What Does the Strange Talk Mean?


When I was asked to write on this subject, the first book I started to read was written by three seminary professors, each of whom holds strong views on the Rapture. One position "represented posttribulationism expressed through covenant premillennialism." Someone else "defended premillennialism over against postmillennialism rather than arguing for the posttribulation Rapture as opposed to the pretribulation position." I did not write this. I am quoting from the first essay of that book.

When we start to approach the brand of eschatology so widely purveyed in current religious media and books, the first obstacle is the language itself. What Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Pat Robertson and others are teaching cannot be understood without the underlying ideas. And to understand the ideas, one needs to learn the vocabulary. Later we will turn to the teaching but first to some definitions. If you find you have no patience at all with these terms, go to the next section and later you may want to return.

Apocalypticism (from the Greek word meaning revelation, or unveiling) -- A belief that God will intervene, on behalf of the faithful, in history. The future is not seen as the outcome of the present but will require a complete reversal due to divine intervention, which will take place through cataclysmic events. Parts of Daniel and the book of Revelation are apocalyptic writings. Apocalyptic is characterized by bizarre images, and violence which is needed to overcome evil.

Dispensationalism -- A system of belief focusing on successive dispensations. Dispensations -- Prescribed time periods in history that are certain to occur.

Dispensationalists --People who subscribe to dispensationalism. An attitude of certainty about dispensations and events that will follow is based on the teachings of John Nelson Darby of Dublin, who visited Canada and the U.S. in the late 19th century. Darby became a mentor of C.I. Scofield, chief proponent of dispensationalism in this country. Chiliasm or Millennialism (from the Greek chilias, or the Latin millennia, both meaning one thousand) -- All millennialist theories are concerned with a thousand-year literal, this-worldly reign of Christ referred to in Revelation 20. Millennialism speaks of what will happen here on earth on this side of death and eternity. The Council of Ephesus (431) condemned belief in a literal, future millennium, but the idea has cropped up time and time again, and has been very much on the scene in Britain and the U.S. since the middle of the last century. Diverse views of the timing of the millenium are held, as shown by the not very helpful terms pre- and post-millenialism. These refer to when the kingdom of God will arrive -- are we living before (pre) the kingdom, or has it come (post) already? Pre-millennialism holds that the Second Coming of Christ will be followed by Christ’s thousand-year reign on earth before the fulfillment of God’s redemptive purpose in the new heaven and new earth. Dispensational pre-millennialism asserts that the "millennial kingdom will be ushered in by a divine, supernatural and catastrophic manifestation from heaven at the Second Coming of Christ...when the conditions of life have reached the depth of great tribulation" (from Herman A. Hoyt,an article in The Meaning of the Millennium, edited by Robert G. Clouse, p. 63. Downer’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity, 1977). Post-millennialism believes that the kingdom of God is spread now through the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit. This view expects the world to be Christianized, leading to a long period of righteousness and peace, referred to as the millennium, at the end of which Christ will return. Amillennialism considers the millennium in Revelation 20 not only future but also present. This theory rejects the idea of a literal thousand-year earthly reign after Christ’s return. It reads the book of Revelation in the context of the first century and as responding to problems the church faced at that point. Rapture -- A theory held by pre-millennialists (whether dispensationalist or not) which posits a two-stage coming of Christ. The first is a mysterious arrival on clouds, without touching the earth, taking the true church -- i.e., true believers -- with him (rapture literally means being carried away). Theories about when the Rapture is to take place divide believers in the Rapture: as pre-, mid-, or post-tribulationists. Tribulation, or the Great Tribulation, a time of suffering which the whole world -- or mostly Israel -- will undergo, is a seven-year period during which the church may -- or may not -- be present on earth. Pre-tribulation Rapture holds that the Rapture will take place immediately prior to the beginning of the Tribulation, i.e., seven years before Christ's Second Coming. Mid-tribulation Rapture posits the Rapture three and a half years after the start of Tribulation, therefore three and a half years prior to Christ's Second Coming.

Post-tribulation Rapture believes the Rapture and Second Coming is a single event, one that will occur after the Tribulation.

Someone described the boxed-in system of dispensationalism as a structuralist’s dream. As I survey these definitions of exactitudes and certitudes, there is more than structuralism here. There is a great fear of freedom and looseness. Small rooms, even prisons are less frightening to some people than windswept, open places. But God has put us into wide open spaces so that the Spirit can blow, and blow away the chaff.

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