Thursday, June 29, 2006

Eschatological Autobiography by Dr Ern Baxter.

I feel that there is an amazing symmetry between what I am thinking through on this blog and what Mark is writing about on his blog. His latest post, "The Results Driven Church" really hits at the heart of something I have been concerned about for ages. Mark summarises his post by saying; "Existing churches will also be reminded that they don't just exist for their own benefit as they release people to be part of a wider global mission, and new people are raised up to serve in their place". One must ask - a mission for what? I think David Holden summed it up excellently in his address at the Brighton Leadership conference in 2000 where he said; "Your eschatology will affect your ecclesiology".

Dr Ern Baxter didn't write much of an autobiographical nature, but in an unpublished book he wrote on the subject of Israel, I found a fascinating piece where he detailed how he moved through all the major eschatological positions in his ministry and how he ended up where he did. Here is the transcript:

"I have been on a journey over fifty years in the Word of God. I've divided that journey into three periods which I've called my dispensational years, my amillenial years and my victory years.

After a dynamic, dramatic experience of God, I was brought, in the providence of God into the company of an unusal and unique group of men who really don't have any paralell apart from some in Charismatic areas in recent years. These were men, many from seminarian, theological backgrounds who had, by the grace of God, been brought to see the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but due superficially at least to their seminary and theological training they were quite unable to embrace classical Pentecostalism. This posed a real problem because in those days, the only people who talked in tongues were the Pentecostals. For their survival anybody who talked in tongues outside of the Pentecostals had to join the Pentecostals or else go it on their own and probably have no where to go.

This was the situation for me. I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit among these men, but I also imbibed their doctrinal background. They were probably what you might call dispensational Spurgeonic Baptists; that would be the most accurate definition that I could give. I was steeped in reformed theology and in the Calvinistic tradition and I had the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I was young, zealous and very evangelistic. Actually when we brought St Giles Presbyerian Church in Vancouver we renamed it, 'Evangelistic Tabernacle' because that was my thrust. I had a two pronged programme; one was to teach God's people, the other was to save souls.

It was a struggle to get there. I watched my contemporaries - those without sufficiently strong ministries to make it on their own or those with ministries sufficiently strong as to be attracted to denominational allurements - many of whom were assimilated back into the denominations. Dr John Mitchell eventually started Mount Noma School of the Bible in Portland, Oregon. Simon Forsberg was assimilated into one of the big denominations. All these were men of stature in the Word, who had been baptised in the Holy Spirit. Dr John Wesley White who is probably Billy Graham's right hand man in many ways, sat under my ministry as a young man, and personally credits me with being the one who inspired him to become an Oxford graduate and thus, the best educated associate that Billy Graham has. He always comes to my meetings in Toronto. When I see him, he tells me he listens to my tapes and still talks in tongues privately. But he has been assimilated. Many of them went that way.

I couldn't. I wanted to! The Anglicans made overtures to me; the Presybterians made overtures to me. Of course the Assemblies of God made overtures to me and I yielded because for a time I felt that was the only answer. I took one of their Churches but it became obviously impossible for me to work with them. I disagreed with them on almost everything. Because I spoke in tongues after my ministry, I became fairly well known. I was sought by Classical Pentecostals on a different level. No longer did they want me to join them. They just wanted me to come and speak at their conferences (which I did).

But it meant that I raised an independent work in Vancouver which was unique in this respect. The Evangelicals were attracted to me because I was a strong teacher. I taught a big Bible Class every Sunday morning. My Sunday morning message was teaching; my Sunday night message was teaching Evangelism. My Thursday night Bible study which consistently went through the Pauline epistles was attended city-wide by over 1500 people. I had training classes and I had over 300 young people in a systematic Monday night Bible school. The Evangelicals came because I offered, in some ways, an incomparable teaching programme better than most Evangelical churches.

The Pentecostals came because they heard that I spoke in tongues and they wanted to know what it was all about. The Evangelicals came for the Bible study and stayed to get the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Pentecostals came because of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and stayed to hear the Bible study. So my Church grew up out of a combination of Evangelicals and Pentecostals.

Dispensational Eschatology.
I was a dispensationalist. The first thing that was put into my hand when I came into this group of men was a Scofield Bible. I imbibed it, footnotes and all. "Thus saith God" in Scofield. I would deny that I put those notes on the same level of Scripture but when I turned to a passage I would probably read the notes and then the Bible. I preached to tremendous crowds on great prophetic themes. Mussolini was still alive and Hitler and Stalin - tremendous candidates for a full Church. I rang the changes on that area while, at the same time giving very sound evangelical teaching. That went on for some time but a number of things started to happen. Two or three of my close friends started to change their eschatological posture. William Booth Clibborn was one. I wasn't about to change. We had some toe-to-toe confrontations that almost ended in blood, but we loved one another and we stuck it out.

At that time I was proposing to do a study on the book of Hebrews. I did all my background work but I became suspicious that whoever wrote the book of Hebrews (and I think it was Paul) wasn't saying the things that Scofield would have him say. It was what he didn't say that was concerning me. There was nothing about the millenium, about the great tribulation or about the restoration of the Jews to political ascendancy. There was really nothing in there. I was also teaching a class on Revelation. I was going to teach it in a good dispensational way but when I got to the end of chapter 6, and the end of the world and the wrath of the Lamb, everything was finished and I had all those chapters left over. I told the congregation that I felt led to discontinue that for the present until I found the right key to the Book of Revelation. I was in bad shape!

So I decided to stop teaching on eschatological subjecst until I could document what I believed from the Bible. For six months I never mentioned a word about eschatology. I lived, night and day in the Bible. I realised to my embarrassment that my whole eschatology was based on what I had been taught, what I had read in books and what I gleaned from Scofield's Bible. I had never read the Bible to find out what God said eschatologically. When I did that I came to one conclusion - Jesus is coming again the second time. That's all I knew! My charts were all gone. My dates were all gone. And I didn't know anything about the seventieth week of Daniel. My entire past doctrine had evaporated. From there I started to build.

Amillenial Eschatology.
That brought me to my amillenial years. I saw the Jews as a nation, totally finished. Israel was now a new covenant people of God and the word "Israel" covered the entire redeemed community of Jew and Gentile. The Gospel was only to be relatively successful and I had virtually the same future in this age as the premillenialist without any future Jewish evangelism. I wouldn't have conceded it at that time, but amillenialism was as pessimistic as premillenialism. Amillenialism teaches much the same as premillenialism concerning this age; it is going to finish up in pretty bad shape; the judgement is going to come and eternity is going to begin. There isn't too much emphasis on any kind of ultimate success of the gospel.

Victory Eschatology.
Then I began to make a further shift. I didn't make the shift to my present position of what I call "Victory Eschatology" on the basis of the prophetic scriptures. I made my shift on the basis firstly that the gospel is the power of God and if God is going to be successful in history, it has to be through the gospel. Secondly if Jesus Christ must reign until His enemies are made His footstool that's to be done in history because I no longer have any room for a future millenium. Therefore the gospel and Christ must finish out this age with the kind of success that makes Jesus Lord of all in very deed, that makes His enemies His footstool and it is accomplished through the gospel. That's my present position.

The question is often raised and I've been accused of it - am I a postmillenialist? I don't even know what that means! And I don't want to be marked that way. If you say you are a premillenialist and if you have any understanding of historical premillenialism and modern dispensational millenialism you will know that there are a number of brands of premillenialism. Which are you? Are you a pre-tribulation rapturist? Are you a mid-tribulation rapturist? Are you a post-tribulation rapturist? There are probably at least a dozen brands of dispensational premillenialism.

Postmillenialism has it's departments too and I don't want to be identified. I simply don't believe that there is a theological, eschatological category that can handle adequately what I believe God is saying and doing today. Therefore I simply say; I believe in the victory of the gospel. I call these my victory years and my eschatology is victory eschatology.


Armando said...

Very interesting parcours. Probably today the concept of "inaugurated eschatology" could be appropriate to describe what Mr Baxter called "victory eschatology".

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