Hermeneutics Or “Zeitgeist” As The Determining Factor In The History Of Eschatologies? -- By: Stanley N. Gundry

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 20:1 (Winter 1977)
Article: Hermeneutics Or “Zeitgeist” As The Determining Factor In The History Of Eschatologies?
Author: Stanley N. Gundry

Hermeneutics Or “Zeitgeist” As The Determining
Factor In The History Of Eschatologies?

Stanley N. Gundry*

Discussions of the history of eschatology as a Christian doctrine generally take one of two directions. One we might refer to as the polemical use of history by theologians and exegetes to provide one’s own eschatology with the credentials of Christian antiquity and to level the charge of novelty at opposing positions. We are well enough acquainted with the eschatological works of Berkhof, Allis, Walvoord, Pentecost, Ladd, Payne and Robert Gundry to know what I mean here without the necessity of illustration. Of course such discussions always insist that Scripture is the final arbiter, but it is nice to have antiquity on your side anyhow. This, however, is not my concern in this paper.

The history of eschatology is also often discussed in terms of the scheme for the historical development of theology suggested by James Orr in his book, The Progress of Dogma. In these lectures he argued that there is “a singular parallel … between the historical course of dogma, on the one hand, and the scientific order of the text-books on systematic theology on the other.” “The history of dogma … is simply the system of theology spread out through the centuries.” “The temporal and the logical order correspond. The articulation of the system in your textbook is the very articulation of the system in its development in history.”1 Orr says there is a logic behind this parallel between the systematic and historical development of doctrine. There is an order of logical dependence reflected in the manner in which most systematic theologies are developed. Some doctrines are the presuppositions of others. “So in theology the derivative doctrine cannot be exhaustively expounded till those which it presupposes have, at least in some measure, been explained.”2

So also in the historical development of doctrinal discussions. The second century was the age of apologetics and of the vindication of the fundamental ideas of Christianity. Then came theology proper (third and fourth centuries), anthropology (Augustine and Pelagius, fifth century), Christology (fifth century and following), objective sotetiology (Anselm and Abelard, eleventh century), subjective soteriology (Reformation era), and finally eschatology (nineteenth and twentieth centuries).

Of course Orr did not mean that there were no eschatologies before the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Rather, it was then that it

*Stanley Gundry is a faculty member in the department of theology, Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, Illinois.

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