What’s the Big Deal with Eschatology?


“So do you think we’ll be able to get ordained?” I remember the words well because they echoed my own thoughts. My friend and I had just left another class on Biblical Prophecy. We both grew up in independent Baptist circles. We both knew dispensational theology and eschatology like the back of our hands. We knew the charts and the graphs. We knew names like Darby, Ryrie, and Scofield. Yet, for both of us, there was a nagging verse that echoed in both of our ears as we sat in this class: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days…”

His question expressed a sentiment that was increasingly becoming a worry for me as I neared graduation from my undergraduate studies. After 4 years of study and the prospect of at least another two years in seminary, I became concerned that it may have all been wasted because no one in our circles would touch someone unless they held dispensational, premillennial, pretribulational eschatology. As our conversation progressed, we admitted to each other that it seemed like the only way to get ordained and begin ministry was to lie. Graciously, the Spirit convinced us this was not the correct path to take.

Fast forward nearly 15 years. I am not sure of my friend’s experience (I do know that he is currently ordained and pastoring) but, I am ordained and have been pastoring for 4 years. Both my ordination council and my church were made aware of my uncertainty on eschatological issues (particularly the timing of the rapture). By God’s grace, my unusual eschatological position(s) were not an obstacle to my entering the ministry. However, in independent, fundamental, Baptist circles, this is often not the case.

So the question I would like to ask is this: Why do we make eschatology such a BIG issue in IFB circles?

The Big Deal

First, I think we need to establish that it is indeed a big issue in IFB churches and circles. Without naming organizations, some of the largest and most well know IFB associations or fellowships have very specific language in their doctrinal statements requiring adherence to a dispensational hermeneutic and premil/pretrib eschatology. On the local church level, a brief perusal of church doctrinal statements makes it clear that the majority of IFB churches write specific eschatological views into their doctrinal statements. Now these organizations and, certainly, local churches have every right to define their doctrine as they wish, but, as a consequence of doing so, they exclude engagement and membership with fellow believers who may take a different view on these non-essential doctrinal issues. Perhaps that effect should be rethought.

Non-Essential in Detail

Secondly, I think we need to establish that eschatological views are non-essential doctrinal issues. Throughout the course of the history of fundamentalism, eschatology has always been a second or third order issue. It has never been viewed as something that is indicative of heresy or apostasy, and I think you would be hard pressed to find someone in fundamentalism today who would argue that a differing eschatological viewpoint is grounds for separation. Certainly there are essential elements to our understanding of eschatology like the visible return of Christ, the destruction of the unbelieving in the lake of fire eternally, and the communion of the saints with Christ eternally. But the details of how things progress until those things come to pass have never been cause for one to separate from a brother.

Effective Separation

Thirdly, while most IFB pastors would agree that it is not an issue of separation, I would argue that the IFB movement has, effectively, made it an issue of separation while allowing divergent views on other doctrines within their fellowships. For example, take Bibliology and Soteriology. Both of these doctrinal arenas are considered vital! Yet, in various IFB organizations, there is fellowship between Calvinists and Non-Calvinists and fellowship between those who hold a KJV-Only position and advocates of modern versions.

This tendency effectively elevates the importance of eschatological viewpoints. Essentially, these groups say that your view on the millennium is more important than your view on translations. Why do we allow differing opinions on one and not the other? What makes a dispensational, premil, pretrib understanding of the end times so important that it excludes fellowship from those who hold a differing view? And, conversely, why are positions on translations or the ordo salutis not as important? When these questions are asked, the usual response is that this is what fellowship X has traditionally done throughout its history. Should we let our independent, fundamental, Baptist fellowships and associations be defined merely by what they have always done? Maybe we should stop and consider if there truly is a legitimate, biblical reason to exclude fellowship to someone because he or she doesn’t view the church as a parenthesis?

The Biblical Writers

Finally, the stance the biblical writers took toward eschatology can provide some help for us in this area. In Daniel 12, after receiving revelation from God that is admittedly difficult to understand, Daniel asks God for clarity, wanting to know the outcome of the things he has been shown. God’s response is telling. He doesn’t clarify it at all. He simply tells Daniel that these things are shut up “until the time of the end.” In Acts 1, Jesus’ own disciples inquired about the final eschatological plans as Christ had just demonstrated His divine power in rising from the dead. Jesus told them that was that it was not for them to know the times and the seasons but, rather, they were called to be witnesses. Finally, in Revelation 10, God reveals the seven thunders to John. As he is about to write them down, a voice from heaven commands him to seal them up. Then a great angel swears by God himself that God’s prophecy would be fulfilled, just as it was given to the prophets.

When we look at these passages, we can see that, when it comes to eschatology, there is a great amount of uncertainty among the biblical author’s own understanding. Dan Olinger’s blog posts on this topic are extremely helpful in hashing out this uncertainty. These passages should drive us to humble faith that God will accomplish His plans, just as He revealed them. They show us that the details are not the most important thing. Rather, confidence in God’s sovereign hand and obedience to the church’s gospel commission should be the focus of the church. The most biblical eschatological position is that God will accomplish His purposes so we must come together for the sake of the gospel. When we elevate eschatology to such a level that it inhibits fellowship and cooperation with believers for the gospel, we are missing the point of eschatology entirely. Eschatology should bring us together, not drive us apart.

Fundamentalism and its leaders have voiced and are continuing to voice their concern about shrinking numbers and dwindling influence. As has been pointed out by many within the movement, fundamentalism’s biggest enemy is, in many ways, itself. There has been substantial movement in better understanding the doctrine of separation, showing love and compassion rather than harshness and judgmentalism, and moving away from an emphasis on man-made standards. All of these changes and critiques have made the fundamentalist movement stronger. Perhaps the emphasis on eschatology is another area that could use reforming.

So let me rephrase my title question a little and honestly ask yourself the question: “Should eschatology be such a big deal in independent, Baptist, fundamentalism?”

Phil Golden Bio

Phil Golden Jr. grew up in a pastor’s home and felt God’s leading into the ministry at a young age. He is currently pastor of Bible Baptist Church of Pittsburgh.


My view: the interpretive approach that tends to lead to premil, pretrib eschatology is more important than premil/pretrib conclusions. And, looking at the times we live in… we certainly have bigger fish to fry. People should be fully persuaded in their own minds (Rom 14), but not allow it to be a separation issue.

The link to Dan Olinger’s posts was especially helpful to me. I had never considered that perspective on the whole thing. Makes a lot of sense.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

One of the problems around this discussion is the fact that the early church was an eschatologically-minded organization. They lived out Christianity in a posture oriented toward Christ’s return. If you go through the New Testament and mark up every verse that mentions or alludes to Christ’s appearing, the end of the age, eternity, etc., you will have a pretty well marked up New Testament. Then the reader gets to the book of Revelation, where at both the beginning and the end calls itself a prophecy, and promises a specific blessing for those who keep the words of the prophecy.

So its easy to blame fundamentalism for an emphasis on eschatology, but one might first blame the New Testament writers themselves. One’s view of end times and Christ’s return does affect how one lives. Many think they are in Christ’s kingdom right now, and as such have said the church has replaced Israel. That presupposition affects how one lives out Christianity in this age. That interpretive approach also forces the allegorical or spiritualizing of so much of the prophets when they foretell the coming blessings to Israel in Christ’s kingdom. The prophet Micah said Christ would be born in Bethlehem. And He was. He wasn’t born in some Bethlehem-like town, or born in some spiritualized way, rather than literally being born.

If one travels abroad and mixes with the persecuted church in China, or some of the Muslim dominated countries, these believers will be much more oriented toward Christ’s return, and rather than thinking they are in Christ’s kingdom, they will be more likely to think they are in the Great Tribulation.

I view eschatology like a hand-held compass. It is important to pull it out frequently and check the arrow which always points north, so it re-directs my steps and keeps me going in the right direction.

It is no surprise that those who think we are now in Christ’s kingdom want to diminish and push aside eschatology as irrelevant. But sound interpretation of Scripture tells us the kingdom is still future, and so Satan is not currently bound, and we live in an evil age. So in this age we charge the gates of hell because Christ told us they will not prevail against His church, and we rescue souls in His name, so that they too will be caught up and be with Christ at His appearing, and then rule and reign with Christ in His kingdom, just as the Scriptures say.

Thanks for the comments, Darrell. I realize that “things to come” are a significant focus of the scriptures. My point is that while there are certain, essential eschatological teachings, we have somehow conflated the non-essential aspects of eschatology to essential status in the way we interact with others who hold different views on the “big” details. My post is not meant to imply that eschatology is somehow unimportant. It is important. The question I am asking is why do we elevate certain details of eschatology and then end up excluding from fellowship and involvement brothers and sisters who differ on the specific details in our associations and churches. As I mention, soteriology and bibliology are also important, but we don’t, historically, draw lines on non-essential aspects of those doctrines. I am curious as to what is going through the minds of a Calvinist or a non-Calvinist when they can dwell together in a particular, baptist fellowship but not allow someone who takes a different view of the rapture to cooperate with them in that fellowship. I just don’t understand the logic.

Phil Golden

From the OP article: “The most biblical eschatological position is that God will accomplish His purposes so we must come together for the sake of the gospel. When we elevate eschatology to such a level that it inhibits fellowship and cooperation with believers for the gospel, we are missing the point of eschatology entirely. Eschatology should bring us together, not drive us apart.


From the FBFI Position Statement 15.05: Prophetic Views and Separation: “Regarding views on the millennium: We are committed to a premillennial position on the second coming of Jesus Christ. Orthodoxy has made room for various positions on the millennium. Nevertheless the difference in hermeneutic between the consistently literal approach of premillennialism and the partially allegorical approach of amillennialism and postmillennialism has an impact on ministry philosophy, cultural application and ecclesiology. Therefore this difference limits the level of cooperation between those who hold to these two views and those who hold the premillennial position.

Regarding the views on the rapture: While faithful people, implementing a normal, literal hermeneutic, have come to different conclusions regarding the timing of the rapture, we affirm the doctrine of a pretribulational rapture. We believe there is clear and compelling biblical evidence that the rapture will occur prior to a literal seven year tribulation period as described in Revelation 4-19.

Views on the millennium and rapture do not demand ecclesiastical separation but do limit cooperation. See Position Statement on limited participation (FBFI Resolution 09.03). We consider it legitimate for local churches, fellowships, and ministry institutions to include such a doctrine in their defining doctrinal statements as well as to make agreement on this doctrine a condition for membership or employment.”



(I agree with the OP article, FWIW.)

Perhaps its because its easier to defend a weak position if we declare it settled and exclude those who might challenge our pronouncements from Scripture?

G. N. Barkman

Phil, thanks for your clarifying comments. I had gleaned from your closing question, “Should eschatology be such a big deal in independent, Baptist, fundamentalism?” That the presumed answer based on the thrust of your article was ‘No.’ Glad to hear you affirm that eschatology is important.

I understand what you are saying about Bibliology. I would not join a KJV Only church. Others who are not familiar with the details of that position might join. It doesn’t mean they are bad people, they just might not have learned the dangers of that position. When it comes to Calvinist understanding of soteriology, versus Arminianism, I follow D. A. Carson’s compatabilist approach, so I can get rocks thrown at me from both sides. If pressed, I would affirm absolutely four of the five points of Calvinism, waffling on Limited Atonement.

But for many people in the pew, they have not even thought these things through, and they join a church and have fellowship not even realizing the person sitting in the next pew could have a radically different view of Salvation.

Part of the problem with all of this, is widespread Biblical illiteracy. Few churches have members who really know the Scriptures, and far too many pulpits are filled with men who do not know how to exegete and preach. The substitute is an emotionalism and ranting against perceived boogeymen which herds the people into camps split up over a variety of issues, rather than being split up over important doctrinal truths.

I have long thought about this subject myself. I am not from nor have ever been part of an Independent Baptist Church, but for some years I belonged to the IFCA, which takes a similar stance.

Yes, the timing of the rapture to the tribulation is complicated. I myself lean to the Pre-trib or at least Agnostic (Christ can come anytime before,during or after the Tribulation, the Scriptures are intentionally ambiguous about this so we are always expectant) positions, because I do believe the Scriptures are quite clear that we should live in a anticipation of Jesus returning at any time. We don’t have at least a guaranteed 7 year buffer. If you combine the immanency of Christ’s coming some Amils hold with the literal Tribulation and Millennium, you end up with either Pre-trib or Agnostic, both of which meet the criteria, IMO.

Yes, I agree we should freely fellowship with those who hold a different position on the Tribulation / Rapture issue. But I can see a church refusing to accept a pastor or board members who disagree with their eschatology, a right that Philip acknowledges. There is a difference between the views you want in your pastor and the views you want in churches with whom you fellowship.

I don’t know how good it is for a pastor to be preaching expectancy and a pretrib rapture from the pulpit while the Sunday School teacher is teaching Christ can’t return for at least 7 years. It can be polarizing. When I preach my preferred views (which is Pretrib), I try to educate people that this is not a issue to separate over and that it is complex. But I have discovered that some Post-trib people are not as gracious, but often use mockery and caricatures to sarcastically persuade listeners to their viewpoints. It is not just the pre-trib people who need to chill.

I would that I agree with Aaron, the real issue is not the rapture, but hermeneutics. When you believe the church is the “new Israel” and remove God’s sure promises to the Jewish people, one’s understanding of so much of the Bible changes. That does not ALWAYS happen with a post-trib position (it doesn’t have to), but it USUAL:LY happens. Then the millennium becomes allegorized, how the Old Testament is applied becomes allegorized, and it affects much more than eschatology, but also affects Ecclesiology and other practical matters, like Sabbath observance. And much more.

I have often found it odd that someone who is Amil and believes in expectancy is considered scholarly. Someone who is Premil and believes Christ’s coming is tied to the end of the Tribulation is considered scholarly. But someone who believes in both expectancy and Premil is a country bumpkin.

"The Midrash Detective"

“Third-order issues are doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations. I would put most of the debates over eschatology, for example, in this category. Christians who affirm the bodily, historical, and victorious return of the Lord Jesus Christ may differ over timetable and sequence without rupturing the fellowship of the church. Christians may find themselves in disagreement over any number of issues related to the interpretation of difficult texts or the understanding of matters of common disagreement. Nevertheless, standing together on issues of more urgent importance, believers are able to accept one another without compromise when third-order issues are in question.”


Larry, I don’t agree with this. You end up with not being able to teach the subject.

For example, we had some folks here who held a preterist view of Revelation. So I avoided teaching through the book. When they moved, I felt the freedom to teach through Revelation without the constant pain (and intimidation) of challenging this and that. It wasn’t worth it. I didn’t want a forum or seminary class, although such a thing would be fine if announced and planned that way. I was not willing to do all that work to appease a few.

When you embrace such a truce, you may as well trash teaching eschatology, period, unless you just teach about the resurrection and eternal state. You have surrendered Revelation, a chunk of Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Zechariah, and a number of Psalms.

I would argue that churches that embrace a variety of views in essence simply cut out chunks of Bible in the name of harmony and unity.

"The Midrash Detective"

[Ed Vasicek]

Larry, I don’t agree with this. You end up with not being able to teach the subject.

For example, we had some folks here who held a preterist view of Revelation. So I avoided teaching through the book. When they moved, I felt the freedom to teach through Revelation without the constant pain (and intimidation) of challenging this and that. It wasn’t worth it. I didn’t want a forum or seminary class, although such a thing would be fine if announced and planned that way. I was not willing to do all that work to appease a few.

When you embrace such a truce, you may as well trash teaching eschatology, period, unless you just teach about the resurrection and eternal state. You have surrendered Revelation, a chunk of Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Zechariah, and a number of Psalms.

I would argue that churches that embrace a variety of views in essence simply cut out chunks of Bible in the name of harmony and unity.

Not at all. You just teach them with the understanding that their interpretation is a longstanding subject of debate, even among Bible-believing Christians. My church has both pre-trib and post-trib members. (Neither is in any clash with our doctrinal statement, since it doesn’t specify one or the other.) Everyone gets along regardless; the different views are not a source of serious division. Everyone in the church believes in and looks with expectancy to Christ’s return; must we have internal strife over the timetable of that glorious future event?

This is a good article because it graciously reveals a thorny problem. I think the comments only help with clarifying the issue. Ed’s first comment was excellent I thought. The issue does matter more in some circumstances than in others.

In the church I pastor we are premil, but we don’t have a dogmatic pretrib stance. However, we could not have an amillennialist as a teacher because he would obviously be teaching things at variance with the other elders. This sort of thing is why denominations are okay. Of course, an Amil church would and should have the same approach regarding a Dispensational premil teacher. As those called to teach the whole counsel of God we cannot vacillate on eschatology. But we can go carefully where the Bible is not as clear as we would like it to be (See e.g. the C3 ‘inference to the best explanation’ in my so-called Rules of Affinity).

I have attended churches in England for prolonged periods where the OT was preached from and the prophecies to Israel were automatically applied to the church. I disagreed with that view but it wasn’t for me to cause a rumpus about it. Further, it would have been positively sinful and proud of me to seek to teach my views in those churches.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Larry, I am keenly aware of the FBFI’s position on this. Their statement (and other’s like it) expresses my concern with the position. They say its not an issue of separation, but they effectively separate from individuals who hold different eschatology viewpoints by limiting membership to only those who hold their view. Again, that is their right. But I am simply asking if they should keep holding the line on that one. And I am also wondering where such a rigid stance on Eschatological details comes from. Is it perhaps a fear that not holding a dispy, premil, pretrib position has, in the past, led people into liberalism? Maybe? I dunno. But that is certainly NOT the case today. (Also, thanks for agreeing with me. I too agree with the OP article!)

Ed, I appreciate the willingness to state a possible agnosticism in all this. That is sorta where I have landed. I am not hard and fast post-trib nor am I completely unconvinced of a pretrib rapture. But there is enough haziness in the biblical data to keep me from being dogmatic on it. But I would have to disagree with you, as Larry did, on it being required that pastor’s hold the line on specifics on eschatology,

As I suspected, the discussion has, so far, centered on what to do in a local church. And I am really aiming at both local church AND fellowships/associations. That being said, I uphold the autonomy of the local church and that churches have the “right” to define their doctrinal positions however they want. However, while it may be lawful, the question I think churches need to ask themselves is is it expedient? I can understand the desire to be more stringent when it comes to a pastor or someone who will be teaching. But, varying views on eschatology can work in a local church, as Larry points out. And that church can still teach about eschatology. I am currently teaching through the book of Revelation on Sunday evenings at my church (1. Most challenging thing I have done to date. 2. Am doing it because I asked my congregation what they wanted to study. 3. Will never ask my congregation what they want to study again! :)). I am walking through it verse by verse, providing different views for various elements in the apocalypse of Christ, and then driving back to the main point of the book, Suffering Christians can hope in their King and His Kingdom because, in the end, He will win! Sure, I get questions from people about my views, and I have been intentionally vague in my responses. Because eschatology is not given to convince me of a pre or post trib position or of an amill or premill or postmill position. Eschatology has been given to give me confidence in my Savior. And that’s something that all the believing positions can get behind.

Undoubtedly, there are members in our pews who hold varying views on soteriology and few churches write TULIP into their doctrinal statements. If we don’t do it there, why do we do it with eschatology? So I believe the question is equally relevant to churches and fellowships, even though fellowships can have some more wiggle room from a practical standpoint.

Phil Golden

You hit the nail right on the head Paul. That attitude is what I think we need more of!

Phil Golden

I’m a died in the wool dispensational, pre-everything:) However, I don’t believe it is an essential doctrine. I fellowship with those who hold to different positions. In fact, most of the younger pastors I know are not dispensational. My church’s statement of faith includes dispensational eschatology. Our Constitution forbids amending the statement of faith. When I retire/leave where will the church find younger men who can in good faith sign this statement? Are we unnecessarily limiting ourselves when it comes to future pastoral candidates? Although I have taken a middle of the road approach to eschatology in my preaching and people know there is room for disagreement, should I begin working on somehow changing the statement of faith?

Greg Wilson

We should be free to admit when our best study leads us to say, “I can buy this position, but it’s really the best bad option.” This is where I’m at with:

  • Dispensational eschatology
  • The “no divorce ever” interpretation of the “one-woman man” phrase in the pastoral epistles
  • A hard cessationist perspective.

It’s not cowardice to admit “this is where I’m at, but there are problems with this perspective … there’s just less problems than the other perspectives.” When I can devote more time to detailed study of issues 2-3 above, I expect my views to solidify further a bit further away from those positions.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.