The Abandonment of the Analogy of Scripture
The Westminster Confession of Faith states that “the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” 1 J. I. Packer understands this to mean “that we must give ourselves in Bible study to following out the unities, cross-references and topical links which Scripture provides.” 2 There is nothing controversial within the Reformed community about the above principles. Reformed believers all strive to be faithful to the principle of “the analogy of Scripture.” This being the case, why then are there so many differing opinions within the Reformed community when it comes to the question of how to form a sound eschatology? There are perhaps as many differing interpretations of eschatological texts as there are denominations. Clearly, there is a need to bridge the gap and bring healing to this eschatological division within Reformed and Protestant churches.
What is the cause of the division? It is widely assumed that the cause is the enigmatic nature of the texts in question. While I agree that there are difficult eschatological texts, I submit in this article that the problem lies not in the vagueness of Scripture but rather in our unwitting betrayal of the principle of the analogy of Scripture.
Reformed eschatology has a strong Preterist tradition, which argues that the New Testament’s eschatological statements of imminence must be taken literally because there are no contextual indicators leading us to interpret them in any other way. As Gary DeMar states, “any student of the Bible who does not interpret these time texts to mean anything other than close at hand is in jeopardy of denying the integrity of the Bible.” 3 To put a finer point on it, R. C. Sproul suggests that any eschatology which denies a literal interpretation of the New Testament’s time texts has adopted a liberal or neo-orthodox view of God and time: “When F. F. Bruce speaks of faith making the time be ‘at hand,’ this sounds all too much like Rudolf Bultmann’s famous theology of timelessness, which removes the object of faith from the realm of real history and consigns it to a super temporal realm of the always present hic et nunc [here and now].” 4 Sadly, this same view is so commonly articulated among Reformed and Evangelical believers 5 that few seem to recognize its liberal and mystical implications or its exegetical lack of support. In the interest of preserving eschatological futurism, many have compromised the principle of scriptural analogy by sweeping away the plain and obvious meaning of the imminence texts. In so doing, conservatives are unwittingly handling the Scriptures like Bultmann.
In an effort to mitigate this liberalism, some have become partially Preterist, suggesting two returns of Christ, one in AD70 and another yet-future final coming and resurrection. The obvious problem with this view is that “Paul looked for one climactic future event, the return of Jesus Christ, the blessed hope.” 6 The Partial Preterist side of our “house divided” understands that in the AD 70 return of Christ (accomplished in His generation) God “gathered” and “redeemed” His church. Jesus was straightforward and clear that “all these things” were going to take place in His generation. Thus, Partial Preterists swim bravely against a strong tide of “newspaper exegesis.”