Dr. Mike Heiser loves to take on tough topics. In addition to his academic work primarily on the first half of the Old Testament books and on Semitic language studies, his published works include a rich trove of popular non-fiction works addressing perceptions (often misperceptions) of topics related to the Bible. His goal seems to be to disabuse Christians from popular flights of fancy and redirect them to sound Bible study and interpretation.
The topic of eschatology or the end times provides an arena for some of the widest discrepancies of understanding found among Christians. In his course Why Do Christians Disagree about End Times? Heiser enters this arena not to persuade his students to one interpretation or another. He doesn’t even spend that much time explicating the various interpretations, figuring—I suppose—that the main points of the various positions are fairly well known. However, to establish a common baseline, he does outline the main shape of the arguments in five areas: (1) the Abrahamic covenant and the nature of the kingdom of God, (2) is there a rapture of the church or not, (3) the second coming of Christ, (3) interpreting the seventieth week of Daniel’s prophecy, (4) the relationship of Israel and the church, and (5) should we interpret prophecy literally or is nonliteral interpretation an acceptable option. For all of these areas the devil is in the details but Heiser manages to keep us out of the weeds so that a broader perspective may give us some needed clarity.
Why do Christians disagree?
Wrapped around these specific topics—as fascinating as they may be—is a much needed discussion focused on answering the question of the title: Why Do Christians Disagree about the End Times? In fact, the question might be truncated simply to “Why do Christians disagree?” Here is where Heiser’s presentation becomes most helpful. He raises the often ignored matter of the presuppositions and assumptions all of us bring to questions of interpretation before we even open our Bibles. The truth is that every reading is an interpretation and that interpretation is often directed by presuppositions rather than exegesis; our presuppositions determine which exegesis is correct. Admitting that fact at the start pulls the fangs of potentially relationship-destroying arguments that fracture unity in the body of Christ. In fact, it is worth noting that all of us carry about a bundle of presuppositions whenever we make any evaluation, biblical or not, and we’d be better off if we admitted it and tried to examine them with the help of trusted others who hold other presuppositions.
Heiser completes his task when he answers the “why” question. I’d love to see him tackle another topic: from where do these assumptions and presuppositions come? I suspect a starting point might well be the best-selling Bible that shaped both the formulation of The Fundamentals and Dispensationalism: The Scofield Reference Bible. I’d take that class.
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