|Very strong in the
|The power of the
expectation and World War I
|Media and Message
|Good writers wanted
This approach assumes that the work of John is a more or less continuous prediction of the history of events affecting the church. (One of the false objections raised against it is, “where’s the rest of world history?” This book was meant to be understood; can you imagine the puzzle that Aztec history would have been in prophetic writing before 1492? God is not the author of confusion.) As such, it is a continuation of the early (not contemporary) Preterist viewpoint. It says, “these events will happen.”
It also therefore carries the burden of saying when they will happen, and what those symbols mean in historic events. The viewpoint rose in the early Reformation (it would have been death to have held this point of view during the Inquisition!) and was strongly held by a number of great figures, including Martin Luther and Isaac Newton (who wrote more theology than he did physics). It was, until the twentieth century (and indeed until the last half of that) the dominant form of interpretation of Revelation.
Its rise starts with the Reformation. The Reformationists, reading the works of the early church fathers, picked up their method and extended it to account for history since then. This quite naturally led them into the conclusion that the Roman Catholic church -- more particularly, the papacy -- played a large and evil part in history. The theory itself might not have prevailed had it not been for an atheist: John Gibbon. He wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Suddenly, all the dates of the Roman Empire were at the fingertips of every Bible scholar -- and variations on this theory exploded into existence. You did not have to be a professor of theology at a university with a large library to interpret this book; you just needed Gibbon, perhaps one other history since then, and your Bible.
Its “demise” (it is by no means dead, but it is no longer the dominant interpretation) came about not by theological reasoning but by elements which affected its popularity:
• First, many of its most popular authors -- writing at a time when dense, complicated prose was popular -- were in the middle to late 19th century. Some of them made the assumption that the Millennium was almost upon us (we take the history we have, match it to all of Revelation we can -- poor technique, but understandable. Everyone wants to know the date of the return.) The expectation of the common Christian in late Victorian times (i.e......, the English speaking world) was that the millennium was just around the corner. What was just around the corner was World War I. Some of the events in that war -- the communist revolution in Russia; the fall of the Ottoman empire and the taking of Jerusalem, all in 1917 -- should have served as startling confirmation of the method. Instead, people asked, “what Millennium?” (Interestingly, those who propound this method now place the Millennium at a much later date, such as about 300 years from now -- and many now are premillennial historicists).
• Second, the authors of the “futurist” theory belonged (at that time) largely to churches which were not “mainstream.” The theory arises out of dispensationalism; such churches typically did not see themselves continuously connected with the early church (as, say, a Lutheran would). They were open to the radical method of establishing God’s kingdom; they were open to other radical methods, too -- like broadcasting on the radio. “Fringe” churches broadcast long before “mainstream” ones took it up in earnest. To this day, the bulk of religious broadcasting is fundamentalist in tone.
•Finally, the writers of the historicist theory in this century have tended to be, for reasons that escape me, dull. There is no historicist equivalent to Hal Lindsey.
Kindly note one thing, however: not one of these arguments has anything to do with whether or not this interpretation is correct. It may be correct (IMO); it is not popular.