The study of final things.
This area of study is more directly an area of study within theology unlike epistemology – which was more directly an area of study from philosophy.
It is concerned with studying and understanding what has been revealed about the end of times – the end of the world as we know it. This inherently involves what happens to us after we die as well as what happens after the world comes to its end.
Etymology (history of a word as found on etymonline):
“1834, from Latinized form of Greek eskhatos “last, furthest, uttermost, extreme, most remote” in time, space, degree (from PIE *eghs-ko-, suffixed form of *eghs “out;” see ex-) + -ology. In theology, the study of the four last things (death, judgment, heaven, hell). Related: Eschatological; eschatologically.”
This area of study involves a diversity of views and can also involve a diversity of responses – some aggressive and others not so much. The reason for such diversity in response often gets rooted in the individual’s associated angle of viewing theology (like in Covenantal Theology vs. Dispensational Theology). As you probably already know, people can get very passionate about their views. Nevertheless, such differences also make clear all the more that not everyone agrees on how the end times will play out – or have largely already played out if you’re a Preterist.
I do not intend to give an exhaustive introduction to all the different views; however, I do want to at least attempt to provide some clarity to some of the terms that get thrown around to define one’s position in this area of theology.
In this eschatology, there are what I would call four “general” overarching views within which more specifically named eschatological views can be found.
These include Historicist, Preterist, Futurist, and Spiritualist.
Historicist isn’t as common anymore but it still has its adherents. It largely ties various events in history to particular mentions in Scripture. In other words, it commonly looks to tie end times fulfillments to particular points in time and space. Preterist and Futurist have a tendency to do the same but much less. How? Well, the Preterist will read the end times fulfillment as being largely completed in the times shortly after Christ’s death leaving the rest to be fulfilled into the present time. Futurist, if you couldn’t guess by the name, places much of the end times fulfillment into the future. Those with a more Spiritual (or Spiritualist) view take many of the fulfillments less literally and lean toward a metaphorical interpretation that can be applied to all of the time since Christ to the present – what some have termed the “Present-age” view.
If that description seems muddy…..well that’s because there’s variance within each. The short of it is that Historicist isn’t that common anymore and often gets ignored. Preterist has adherents (like R.C. Sproul) who view much of fulfillment as already passed. Futurist sees things as in the future, and Spiritual don’t tie themselves to a specific time frame except that the end times refer to the time frame from Christ to now.
These four overarching angles do not get as much time spoken about these days as the next 3 terms/positions. Those include Premillennial, Postmillennial, and Amillennial. I want to note that these 3 are not concerned with the end times as a whole as much as they are focused on a particular event – the millennial kingdom as mentioned in Revelation 20:2-7.
To make this very brief:
Premillennial – before the millennium – Christ’s return ushers in the millennial kingdom.
Postmillennial – after the millennium – a period of prosperity & Christ-likeness lead by Christians leading up to Christ’s return.
Amillennial – not a “real” millennium – there is no literal, physical millennial kingdom. The millennium refers instead to this present church age.
Each of these has varying potential to appear within each of the 4 before mentioned general overarching views of eschatology. As an example, most Futurists would also be described as Premillennial. However, there are also Historic Premillennialists which I believe John Piper would label himself as – though it be his own version (which you can find plenty “own versions” out there if you look at the various views held by church leaders over the years).
I would have to say that Premillennialism and Amillennialism are the most prevalent today with Pre being clearly the one with the most adherents as of this writing. Not that number of adherents is any proof of a view’s validity but it is good to be aware.
Those adhering to Dispensational Theology (ex. include First Baptist churches) are typically Premillennial whereas the Covenantal Theologians (ex. include Presbyterians & some Baptist) are more or less Amillennial.
As you can imagine just by the descriptions so far, there is much room for variance leading to a diversity of views on eschatology. Regardless of the view one ends up taking, I personally always advise people to remember to ground their view in Scripture. Sadly, there have been those who have taken an idea or another from a piece of Scripture, run with it, and have driven themselves to a point that they had to deny other parts of the Scriptures to continue holding to the view they established. This is the territory of heresy, and there is no need for it as there are much more biblically-based views already in existence and continue to stand because of their dependence on Scripture to justify the position. In short, when in doubt, always seek out the Scriptures first and read them in light of other parts of Scripture. Also, make use of your church leaders. They are an invaluable source of information, direction, and previous study.
Now, some may ask – what about Judaic eschatology or Islamic eschatology? Why didn’t you bring them up? My answer: while I recognize these other belief systems do have their own eschatology, they are not part of Christianity and this blog site is focused on Christianity. However, I could see the possibility of doing some kind of comparison with them down the road – stay tuned!