Literal Interpretation

Ties of Fundamentalism and Premillennialism

Thomas Ice

Republished from Voice, Jan/Feb 2020.

While all fundamentalists have not been premillennial, the overwhelming majority have been. Premillennialism has been a historic staple of fundamentalism. It is often the case that when one abandons the fundamentals of the faith, they also abandon the premillennial hope. Why has that been the case in the past and why should it continue into the future, especially within the IFCA?

Post-Civil War Rise of Fundamentalism

Postmillennialism in America arose as the dominant eschatology in the 1720s as a result of the influence of theologians like Jonathan Edwards and dominated evangelicalism until a decade or two after the Civil War. Higher critical liberal scholarship began to cross the Atlantic and make progress in America by the 1880s, which lead to the rise of fundamentalism as a response by conservative evangelicals. “Dispensationalism, or dispensational premillennialism, was the fruit of renewed interest in the detail of biblical prophecy which developed after the Civil War,” observes George Marsden. “Rejecting the prevailing postmillennialism… dispensational premillennialists said that the churches and culture were declining and that Christians would see Christ’s kingdom only after he personally returned to rule in Jerusalem.”1

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Literal or Figurative?

One of the biggest debates among Christians is how to interpret the Bible. Liberals accuse conservatives of taking the Bible too literally. Conservatives accuse liberals of not taking the Bible seriously enough, often by declaring controversial sections to be figurative. That seems to be a handy way to avoid passages that teach what you don’t want to believe.

But even conservative Christians divide over the issue of literal verses figurative. For example, Dispensationalists often accuse the Reformed of spiritualizing certain sections of Scripture, and the Reformed frequently fault Dispensationalists for their “wooden literalism” by awkwardly forcing literal interpretations upon passages that are intended to be figurative.

Dispensationalists charge the Reformed with “Replacement Theology,” which means interpreting Old Testament prophecies made to Israel as fulfilled in the New Testament Church, and the Reformed return the favor by charging Dispensationalists with interpretive myopia; focusing too narrowly upon the immediate context, and failing to see the forest for the trees.

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Memo to Gallup: No Christian Has Ever Taken the Entire Bible Literally

"The problem is that the question Gallup asked its respondents has no bearing on the alleged finding of the survey. The question does not ask whether the Bible is literally the word of God, but whether the Bible is the word of God and should always be interpreted literally." The Federalist

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