is, generally speaking, the study of the end of the world, but when most people in the US hear the term, they generally think of Christian eschatology
Specifically, they tend to think of the barrels of ink
and that one movie (previously)
which have been devoted to the subject over the past couple of decades. Neither seems to have contributed to a wider understanding of the actual theology involved.
The main text in question is obviously the Book of Revelation
, though a couple of chapters in Daniel
do get some attention. These are where Biblical apocalyptic prophecies are primarily found, though scattered references throughout both Old and New Testaments do show up.
Well, here's a good introduction with some important vocabulary
, and a handy reference chart
for most of the dominant hermeneutical traditions. Wikipedia has a decent take on the subject
Regardless of what you should believe or what's true, or even if you think the whole thing is nonsense, here are the basic positions and who believes them.
take the view that the apocalyptic prophecies aren't really referring to historical events at all, beyond the general idea that Good will eventually prevail over evil. There's some blending with amillennialism here, as both do not consider the prophecies' "truth" to be tied to a specific literal fulfillment, but historicists will generally insist that there's a little more than mere poetry going on. A self-described idealist of this sort is more likely to belong to a more liberal Christian tradition--Episcopalianism, the UCC, the Congregationalists, etc.--or at least the liberal wing of their own tradition, as idealism in a variety of forms is a hallmark of liberal theology
. There's also a preterist idealist
approach, but that's kind of a different animal than most idealist eschatology.
believe that most if not all of the apocalyptic prophecies--all those except the ones predicting the actual end of the world and sometimes even that too--were about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70
by the Romans, admittedly a series of events
about which one could plausibly write an apocalyptic book if one had a mind to. Partial preterism
is actually pretty common, as one need only believe that some
of the prophecies, e.g. the beginning of Matt. 24
have been fulfilled. Most Christians who believe something like this don't tend to think of themselves as preterists. Pantelism
or "Full Preterism
" is a minority position and viewed by most Christian traditions as heretical, as it teaches that the "Second Coming" didn't involve the end of the world or any resurrection at all, but merely an archetypical inauguration of the kingdom with the destruction of the Jewish nation. Needless to say, this isn't given a lot of serious thought by most Christians today, and since most Full Preterists reject the Christian creeds entirely--what's the point if the end has already come?--the feeling is pretty much mutual. Full preterism can be viewed as a species of Christian universalism
, again, a minority position.
believe that the prophecies in the Bible are about the church age in general, not any specific, singular event, other than the end of the world, and most of the traditional mainline denominations--the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Orthodox (though there's some idealism in Orthodoxy, to be sure)
, Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed traditions--fall in here somewhere. The main view here is referred to as amillennlialism
, and Augustine
was the first major theologian to systematize
the view, which has been the dominant eschatological perspective in Christianity since about the fifth century. In its most refined form, the amillennial tradition views Revelation as a series of seven overlapping visions all describing the same general events, i.e. the trials of the church in the world until the end of the age in the sudden, triumphant return of Christ.
believe that the prophecies are almost all to be fulfilled at some point in the future, i.e. just before the final end of the world. This view includes postmillennialism and premillennialism. The basic postmillennial
view is that the kingdom of heaven will gradually but inexorably be made manifest in the world, things getting better and better, until the return of Christ once the kingdom of perfected. Definitely an optimistic view, and one which actually had a large following
among the original nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Progressives. The events between 1861-1865, and then 1913-1945 kind of took the wind out of the movement's sails, but it's still around, mostly located in Christian Reconstructionist
groups around the fringes of the mainstream Reformed tradition which have nevertheless had an influence far out of proportion to their numbers
But futurism also includes the big kahuna of contemporary eschatology, premillennialism
. Premillennialism is found mostly in your broadly evangelical traditions, i.e. Baptist traditions
, non-denominational churches (Lots in that one)
, and charismatic/Pentecostal
denominations. Premillennialism is where things get... funky... especially when we're talking about dispensational premillennialism
, which lends itself to charts
is a rather recent theological trend, the wider implications of which are interesting but not immediately relevant. Suffice it to say that dispensationalists tend to read Scripture with painstaking literalism, generally not even permitting other passages of Scripture to inform their interpretations. Dispensationalists focus most of their eschatological attention on two issues.
- The Great Tribulation
is identified by dispensational premillennialists as a distinct seven year period to occur at some point in the future, and which has proven ample nightmare fodder for the sorts of scare tactics which have traumatized countless American teenagers starting in the 1970s.
- The Rapture
is the event at which dispensationalists believe that Christians will disappear from the world en masse. When the Rapture happens with respect to the Great Tribulation is a point of considerable debate
in dispensational circles, but pretty much only dispensational premillennialists believe in a Rapture at all
, so the conversation doesn't really extend from there.
Any of these can take on an annihilationist
flavor, particularly if you're Eastern Orthodox
, which is traditionally more friendly to that view.
So, that's cleared that up, right?