Should CMI take a stand on eschatology?
Image by Albrecht Dürer
Anthony G of Washington State, USA, wrote concerning a worldview conference at which many guest speakers, including speakers from CMI, were due to give presentations. He was concerned since the organizers had a view on prophecy/eschatology different from his own.
We reproduce here his initial enquiry and a slightly expanded version of the response sent to him by CMI’s Dr Carl Wieland, followed by a further exchange. Editing changes are mostly indicated with [square brackets].
The fact that we do not seek to rebut Anthony’s description of the conference organisers’ views does not mean that we necessarily think he accurately describes those views, or the converse. The point of publishing Anthony’s feedback is for us to highlight and clarify our ministry’s general ‘neutral’ policy when dealing with these types of issues in general. And also, to explain why we will gladly take the opportunity to teach the truth about Genesis regardless of which portion of the eschatological spectrum is represented by the venue/host. Anthony wrote:
‘ … My question is simple and to the point: does your ministry endorse the world view to be promoted at this conference which includes a denial of a future Tribulation as taught clearly in the Book of Revelation and throughout the Bible?
I view the teachings of [two well-known figures, including the head of the ministry organizing the upcoming worldview conference] as seriously flawed and a blight on the body of Christ.
Your speakers, by participating in this event, are implicitly endorsing these teachings and drawing young people who are likely to be swayed by this unbiblical teaching–who are not familiar enough with Scripture to see the fatal flaws of this ‘positive spin’ on Christianity which would be foreign to the writers of the New Testament.
It concerns me greatly that you would be closely associated with such teachings.
As I asked AnswersInGenesis some time back [concerning a similar issue]: is it fair to ask people to take Genesis ‘literally’ and then promote teachings which refuse to use the same hermeneutics where prophecy is involved (e.g., The Book of Revelation)?’
As our Dr Sarfati wrote to you some time back (then on behalf of AiG),
‘For reasons I trust you appreciate, as an organisation, [CMI] can’t take a formal stand on eschatology, or any other denominational issue where genuine Bible-believing Christians disagree (e.g. baptism, church government, Sabbath), because we must remain focused on the authority of Scripture especially pertaining to creation by the Triune God.’
‘My question is simple and to the point: does your ministry endorse the world view to be promoted at this conference which includes a denial of a future Tribulation as taught clearly in the Book of Revelation and throughout the Bible?’
The simple answer is: No, we do not. Neither do we endorse or disendorse any opposing eschatological view. I know this is frustrating to some, and we are not implying that these are not important issues, it’s just that it’s not our battle, not our mandate.
The ‘association’ argument puts us in a difficult position, because we get similar concerned mail from believers of opposite persuasion to yourself when we attend conferences, such as the [name deleted] conference at which our speakers took part, which are strongly associated with a position you (and the majority of our speakers) would feel much more comfortable with. We have to reply to them in exactly the same vein—we are not speaking ‘for’ those who hold such positions, we are speaking ‘to’ them. In both instances. And we speak only on our specialist topics.
It will hopefully put your mind further at ease to note that when I engaged in a debate at a similar conference with the same organisation a year ago, against an evolutionist, I was pleased to note that the organisers had made sure that the dispensationalist/futurist view was fairly presented, at that conference, by one of its foremost champions, [name deleted]. Similarly, at the current conference, there are speakers with [a view similar to your own]. For example [name deleted], an ICR adjunct professor.
On a side note, which has nothing to do with our ministry’s stance on prophecy-eschatology (our ministry has no such stance, and there is a range of views among us on the subject) it’s important to note that we do not take Genesis literally because we believe that every word in the Bible is intended to be taken literally [trees don’t literally clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12)], but rather because our grammatical-historical hermeneutic indicates that Genesis was intended to be taken literally.
I trust this is helpful, and I thank you for the opportunity to clarify our ministry’s stance.
Anthony’s further response, with Carl’s comments interspersed.
Hi, Anthony, you wrote:
Thank you for your thoughtful response.
While I respect your freedom to remain non-committal
Remember, that is only as a corporate body, as a ministry—we are very committed to our various views on eschatology, but as individuals.
in whatever areas of Biblical truth you choose, I must say that it seems inconsistent to hold that origins is an area where we are constrained to uphold clear biblical teaching, but regarding prophecy we are somehow not so constrained–as if there were disagreement about prophetic interpretation, but not about areas such as Genesis.
I may not have expressed myself clearly enough—the point is that there is (by definition) only one ‘correct’ interpretation re eschatology, just as for Genesis, but our ministry mandate is not able to address that, i.e. we have to draw the fence around the areas of concern [to us]. Another issue is that if we were to also proclaim a particular eschatological view, and not just Genesis, then we would by definition find it much harder to get a hearing for these vital foundational Genesis issues in the ‘opposing camp’ (whichever it might be), which like every other part of Christendom desperately needs to hear about the authority of Scripture in general in the Bible-science areas. To push any of these other issues in other areas would give some folk in some circles an ‘excuse’ to persuade their fellows not to listen to us.
Concerning Dr. Sarfati’s comment:as an organisation, [CMI] can’t take a formal stand on eschatology, or any other denominational issue where genuine Bible-believing Christians disagree (e.g. baptism, church government, Sabbath)Many bona fide Christians hold a much different interpretation of Genesis than you and I see as clearly taught. It may even be that more true Christians disagree about how Genesis should be understood than disagree concerning prophetic issues. If disagreement among Christians is license for withholding our views about certain teachings, then why not be just as uncommitted about Genesis as prophecy?
A ministry that was vitally concerned with promoting a particular eschatological view may well choose to do just that, i.e. to withhold their views on Genesis, because they might have varying views within their organisation. And that (i.e. getting involved in the origins controversy) would be diluting their thrust. In practice, every evangelical parachurch ministry draws ‘fences’. Otherwise you would also have difficulty finding enough staff that share that particular view on every area to be able to propagate your specialist message.
Dr. Sarfati could just as easily have written:as an organisation, [CMI] can’t take a formal stand on the interpretation of Genesis, or any other denominational issue where genuine Bible-believing Christians disagree (e.g. baptism, church government, Sabbath)The interpretation of Genesis is a denominational issue as is the interpretation of prophecy. Various Christian denominations hold varied views about how Genesis should be read. So, this line of logic, if consistently applied, would prohibit taking a stance on creationism as well.
Perhaps the above clarifies that a little.
You mentioned:it’s important to note that we do not take Genesis literally because we believe that every word in the Bible is intended to be taken literally, but rather because our grammatical-historical hermeneutic indicates that Genesis was intended to be taken literally.This seems to imply that those who understand prophetic passages to teach a future time of judgment and travail coming upon the earth are somehow guilty of shallow hermeneutical understanding and a woodenly literal interpretation of all passages—a widely expressed misrepresentation of the futurist/dispensationalist approach to Scripture. It sounds like you are saying that although your organization is convinced that a grammatical-historical hermeneutic indicates that Genesis was intended to be taken literally, prophetic passages evidently do not share this characteristic.
No, I’m not saying that, you may have taken my comments further than intended. All I’m saying is that that can be argued by some, i.e. it dilutes the force of your argument that we are necessarily being inconsistent. I.e. it is a separate question that needs separate resolution. I am definitely not intending to say that our organisation itself makes the claim you attribute to us above about prophetic passages.
But a futurist view of prophecy does not hinge on how one chooses to interpret Revelation or Daniel alone (apocalyptic genre). Prophetic passages run throughout the gospels and include many passages which are as equally justified in being taken literally as anything in Genesis. If you held the same zeal for prophetic passages as you appear to hold for creation passages, I wonder whether you’d see how similar your statement sounds to those our opponents use to dismiss we creationists’ interpretation of Genesis?
I’m acutely aware of that, and I hope I’m not coming across as disagreeing with you (concerning zeal for prophetic passages), except on whether our ministry should be involved in this or not.
What concerns me is that in upholding Genesis, but remaining noncommittal concerning Revelation and related passages, we leave the barn door wide open for incorrect hermeneutics leading to beliefs that are just as damaging as an allegorical view of Genesis.
It’s an understandable concern, and I’m not being patronizing at all when I say that we get people who write to us with equal concern about how we are leaving the door open for e.g. the ‘damaging’ beliefs of dispensationalism, etc. etc. by not adopting the ‘self-evident truths’ of e.g. covenant theology, or whatever. And they precisely target the socio-political realities, as you do. The bottom line is that God has not raised us to address these issues, others are better equipped and directly led to address them. We have learnt the hard way that in order to try to affect the drift in our Western nations that is occurring, the drift away from any biblical authority, we have to choose our battles. We do this consciously, and sometimes at great personal pain, when we would perhaps rather jump in as individuals and strongly defend our viewpoint (which inevitably varies within an organization of our size).
Beliefs such as Replacement Theology, Dominion Theology, and the abandonment of God’s chosen nation: Israel. Just like an incorrect interpretation of Genesis, there are every-day consequences to these teachings which work themselves out in socio-political realities with negative consequences.
Over time I’ve found it increasingly odd—even disturbing—how quick most creation ministries seem to be to remain ‘suitably vague’ regarding how to understand other parts of God’s Word. To me, it seems naïve (at best) or disingenuous (at worst) and I can’t see how it is God-honoring.
If we were to do this as individuals, that might be true in many circumstances.
Ultimately it seems a stance that is more interested in unity and maximizing the support of numbers than in upholding all aspects of Scriptural truth.
Not as far as we are concerned, at least in terms of our conscious motivation. We have often defied ‘unity’ in standing up for the truth in areas that we have made our ‘turf’ (i.e. Genesis/science issues). One other point that might have escaped you, too, is the motivation behind the various interpretations. People are generally motivated to not read Genesis as it was meant to be written because of outside influences, i.e. science. (See also our article End Times and Early Times). And if they were honest, they would know that they were taking liberties with the Word. However, in some of these other areas, these are mostly divisions between people who deeply, deeply love and honour the Bible as totally authoritative, and get frustrated with the other side, i.e. ‘Why can’t they see that [xyz] … is what it really teaches?’ Whereas Genesis-compromisers are generally not passionate believers in a viewpoint so much as searchers for loopholes to enable them to live more comfortably with the scientific consensus. So I think that in a very real sense, there is a qualitative difference in the nature of the Genesis controversy as opposed to the eschatological ones.
I hazard these observations as I feel there is inconsistency in the treatment of God’s Word. Young people who might otherwise get a good foundation in how to read the Bible will rightly wonder why they should accept a literal interpretation of Genesis when the same organizations are strangely silent about how to interpret prophecy. As a teacher of God’s Word, I have to bridge these two areas every week–I don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘Genesis is important to interpret this way, but prophecy is something ‘Christians do not all agree on’ so let’s leave it alone.’
Correct. And that is your job as a teacher of God’s Word, as opposed to a narrow specialist ministry. As it would be for someone of the opposite eschatological persuasion (Rom 14:5b–“Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”)
Nor can I say, "prophecy is important to interpret this way, but Genesis is something ‘Christians do not all agree on’ so let’s leave it alone." Instead, I have to deal with both ends of the book equally and explain the importance of proper hermeneutics applied from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22.
I find myself asking why is it that organizations like CMI believe it is important to be confident about what God said about the past (which we haven’t personally witnessed?), but then go ‘soft’ on what He also said about the future (which we also haven’t personally witnessed)? Are the Scriptures perspicuous or are they not?
I believe they are. So too, I venture, do all my colleagues. Nevertheless, colleague ‘A’ may come to a different conclusion as to the consequences of that perspicuity [than colleague ‘B’]. As I said, the ministry chooses its battles. Please don’t mistake organizational non-committal for a belief that one cannot be committed, or should not be committed, to a position on those issues.
Are they only clear about the past—but not about the future? And if so, why would God be clear about one end, but not the other? These are just some of the disturbing questions which arise when considering the noncommittal stance of organizations like CMI and AiG.
Thanks for hearing my concerns. I guess in this we’ll have to disagree. It is certainly not my intention to ‘debate’ the points—our website also has a Q&A ‘service’ and I am well acquainted with the exhausting impossibility of interacting with those who only want to ‘ping-pong’ points back and forth. I am mainly replying this one additional time to try and illustrate how saying that one has a ‘mandate’ to uphold the teaching of Genesis, but not to uphold the teaching of prophecy can come across as arbitrary and inconsistent. Both are controversial within the Body of Christ and both must be taught clearly using proper hermeneutical principles.
We agree with you that understanding any part of Scripture must use proper hermeneutical principles. I understand, truly, how it may seem and feel for you. And I hope that you can to some extent understand us a little better now.
I thank you for your ministry. I was especially grateful to be able to reconnect with Creation magazine after being mysteriously disconnected by AnswersInGenesis (something which was handled quite poorly for subscribers).
May I diplomatically say simply: ‘That’s putting it mildly’ :-).
I’m especially thankful that Creation magazine has not gone the way of “Answers” Magazine which seems to have embraced the post-modern emphasis of increasingly flashy presentation coupled with ever-shallower content. I’ve actually let my “Answers” subscription expire because it is so surface-level that it just wasn’t worth reading.
All the best in Christ.
Anthony later wrote back in a friendly vein that he had appreciated the interaction, and now had a better understanding of why the situation may be somewhat different for a parachurch ministry than for an individual or church.