Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The Hope of the Gospel, by Vic Reasoner

Vic Reasoner, The Hope of the Gospel: An Introduction to Wesleyan Eschatology, 1999 Fundamental Wesleyan Publishers

When I studied for my PhD, I was told in no uncertain terms, that it was naughty to transfer lots of text to the footnotes in a move to get around word limits. Vic Reasoner places an awful lot of text in his chapter notes. The reader who skips them would miss out on some really solid discussion of the history of eschatological views and their Biblical foundations.

This book presents a full-length treatment of Postmillennial eschatology from a Wesleyan perspective. Wesleyanism holds that Christ died for the whole world, so Reasoner maintains it is natural that Wesleyans should expect the victory of Christ's Gospel over the whole world. Wesleyans are optimistic about the power of grace in individuals, holding that it is impossible for the Christian to achieve sinless perfection, therefore Reasoner maintains that it Wesleyans should optimistic about the power of the Gospel to transform human society in all nations. He painstakingly traces the history of eschatological thought in the Methodist and Holiness movement and argues that Postmillennialism is the classic Wesleyan position.

John Wesley is sometimes cited as being a Premillennialist. However, Reasoner argues this is an erroneous conclusion. Having no strong opinions on eschatological questions, Wesley incorporated Bengel's notes on the Book of Revelation into his Explanatory Notes on the New Testament. This taught Bengel's peculiar view that combined both Postmillennialism and Premillennialism in an historicist system of interpretation. Our author argues that Wesley was otherwise more inclined to the Postmillennial view and the Methodists who came after him were all decidedly of the Postmillennial persuasion. It was only in the Twentieth Century that Premillennialism became influential in the Wesleyan-Holiness movement.

As well as addressing the history of eschatological belief, Hope of the Gospel also presents a well articulated Biblical case for Postmillennialism, together with Preterist interpretation of prophetic texts. It also offers a robust critique of Premillennialism and pessimistic Amillennialism. Appendices address some key arguments against Postmillennialism and ask hard questions about the Dispensational Premillennial point of view.

Catholicism shares something of Wesleyanism's optimism about the power of grace and I think ought to look kindly upon an optimistic eschatology. While Postmillennialism has seldom been articulated as a view by Catholic writers, Catholics have at times shown optimism about the future prospects of the Church.

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