October 1960

Part I.  The Strange State of Christianity in 1960

Since World War II there has been a “new look” in religion.  It is sometimes referred to as the “Neo-Orthodoxy.”  Its salient characteristic is a strong emphasis on eschatology.

What is eschatology?  A parable can explain it:

There was once a man who went to see a play at the theater.  He arrived an hour

and a half late and had barely taken his seat when an emergency call obliged him

to leave.  The next day a friend asked him, How did you like the play?  What

was it about?  What could the man answer?

Such is our position in the world.  We come late to a play which has been in

progress for ages, and we never stay long enough to find out what is really

happening.  We get a glimpse of the stage and the actors and hear a few lines of

speech and music.  From that we may try to reconstruct the plot of the play, but

our speculations can never be more than guesses.  Yet unless we know how the

play began (“protology”) and how it ends (“eschatology”) the performance is

utterly meaningless – “a tale told by an idiot … signifying nothing.”

This is an intolerable state of things.  We are not willing to settle for a meaningless

drama, but who can tell us the plot of the play?

Literature and Art can help us enjoy or endure the play, but cannot, by their own

confession, tell us what it is about.

Science as such confines itself rigorously to examining the props on the stage –

measuring and describing tangible objects.  It renounces the goal of

comprehending the play as a whole.

Philosophy would like to tell us what the play is about, but will not allow itself to

run out of scientific bounds: it remains a scavenger in the camp of science.

Religion alone can, if anything can, tell us the plot of the play from beginning to

end – the “eschatology” without which it has no meaning.

Can we dispense with eschatological knowledge or speculation?

The History of Art and Literature show that great creative artists cannot leave the

theme alone, and hence find (and confess) themselves constantly frustrated.

Science, while theoretically renouncing all concern with “higher things” cannot

resist eschatological speculation.  The vast appeal of Darwin was that he

gave the world a secular eschatology, evolution being actually an

“eschatological” concept.

Even the layman cannot be indifferent.

a) We were made that way: we cannot rest until we know what it is all

about.  (Aristotle, Augustine)

b) Indifference to eschatology is the mark of sterile societies, and can

even be dangerous.  (Avicenna)

c) It is the unknown that appeals most: where Science and Art can only

promise “more of the same,” religion alone has the excitement

of infinite possibilities. (Whitehead)

Eschatology is not philosophy, ethics, or aesthetics.  It deals exclusively with things that really happen.  It is this that sets off the “new orthodoxy” from the conventional intellectual and speculative orientation of religion, as in the past it has set off the Mormons from other religions.

The “rediscovery of eschatology” is hailed today as one of the great and surprising achievements of our generation (C.N. Dahl).  The discovery of new and important documents has shown eschatology to be the core and essence of the original Christianity, if not of all religions.

How could that important fact have been so long overlooked?  Why did eschatology, with which the Scriptures are completely saturated, have to be Rediscovered at this late date?

It was because the theologians had deliberately expunged the eschatological

element from their teachings.  The history of the Christian Church has long

been one long steady process of progressive “de-eschatolization.”  (A. Schweitzer)

Ever since the 3rd century the Church and Eschatology have been deadly enemies.

(K. Holl)

The process began very early (Clement of Alexandria), and with the great fathers

of the 4th and 5th centuries (Jerome, Augustine) was completed.  These men, after

a long struggle, finally discredited “Chiliastic Christianity” once for all.

(Augustine’s Confessions)

All the charges against the Mormons from the beginning have a single theme:

the crime of preaching the old Christian eschatology in its old literal sense.

(Improvement Era, March-November 1959).  What are the offensive literal

beliefs which the Christian world so resented in the Mormons but to which

they are today returning?

The Old Testament.

The long process of “de-eschatologizing” the Scriptures began in very ancient

times (J.S. Spiegel).  The most famous teacher of a non-literal approach to the

Old Testament was Philo of Alexandria, who at the time of Christ substituted

a philosophical interpretation of the Bible for the old eschatological

interpretation.  The Jewish doctors have followed his lead ever since.

Today, in the light of new discoveries, the process is at least being

reversed, with the growing realization that the O.T. is far more

reliable as a history and far more authentic as a record than anybody

would have admitted a few years ago.  (C.Gordon; W. Albright)

What is the Old Testament?  Torah, Prophets, Poets

All have the same theme: the eschatological plan of life and salvation, God’s

past, present, and future dealing with men on earth.

The O.T. is not a volume of philosophy, ethics, politics, or aesthetics.

Its mood is eschatological and literal – those things really happened,

they are history, or else they really will happen – they are prophecy.

(W. Albright)

Through all the writings runs the theme of a single plot – “the plot of

the play,” that can only be learned through direct revelation.

The New Testament restates the same propositions as the O.T. (Luke 1)

Why was such a repetition necessary?  Such repetition is basic to the

eschatological pattern itself.  (The idea of Dispensations.)

Edited and reformatted by

Gary P. Gillum, 22 October 2003

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