The Evangelical Free Church Drops Premillennialism

TEDS

TEDS campus

When I was a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) between 1989 and 1992, the official position of the sponsoring denomination, the Evangelical Free Church of America, was premillennialism. In other words, in order to teach at TEDS or receive ordination in the denomination, one needed to espouse the belief that the second coming of Jesus Christ would usher in his literal 1000-year reign as king of the earth.

Since my early evangelical experience was filtered through premillennialism, I never really thought twice about any of this.  I have always been interested in the relationship between premillennialism and American evangelicalism, but at the time I was a student at TEDS I was more obsessed with the intramural theological debate over whether or not one was a dispensational premillennialist or a Reformed or “covenant” premillennialist.  Theologians of both persuasions taught at TEDS.

Now, as Daniel Silliman reports at Christianity Today, the Evangelical Free Church has decided to drop the word “premillennial” from its statement of faith.  Here is a taste of his piece:

An internal document explaining the rationale for the change says premillennialism “is clearly a minority position among evangelical believers.” Premillennialism has been a “denominational distinctive” for the EFCA, according to the document, but shouldn’t be overemphasized.

“The thought was, we must either stop saying we are a denomination that majors on the majors … and minors on the minors, or we must stop requiring premillennialism as the one and only eschatological position,” said Greg Strand, EFCA executive director of theology, in an interview with Ed Stetzer.

The revised statement says, “We believe in the personal, bodily and glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Whether or not Jesus will set up a literal kingdom on earth for a millennium is left to individual discretion.

The EFCA has been considering the change for more than a decade. John Woodbridge, a professor of church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), the ECFA-affiliated seminary in Deerfield, Illinois, spoke in favor of the shift back in 2008.

Read the entire piece here.

As of Friday night, August 23, 2019, the doctrinal statement of TEDS still reads:

We believe in the personal, bodily and premillennial return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ, at a time known only to God, demands constant expectancy and, as our blessed hope, motivates the believer to godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission.

I will be eager to see how this change will influence future faculty hiring at TEDS.

5 thoughts on “The Evangelical Free Church Drops Premillennialism

  1. Dave,
    That’s a common attitude as well, but the argument that “We do know that this Earth will be around for atleast another 1007 years” is almost the opposite side of that coin. It’s that the earth and humanity are effectively invincible for atleast another 1007 years. It leads them to believe that we can do whatever we want without consequences. We can double the amount of CO2 in the air without any consequences, regardless what science tells us. Which is why when we do get more extreme storms they have to believe God is making it happen. Then they search for reasons why God might be making storms more extreme, and you get the logical conclusion of this flawed premise: that God must be punishing us. For … gays probably?

    In Politics:
    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/ann-coulter-harvey-climate-change-god-punishment-more-credible-tweet-a7919301.html

    In Religion:

    Instead of simply recognizing it’s the natural consequence of disobeying God’s command to take care of his creation: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

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  2. “Why bother worrying about the environment since this world is not permanent and it’s all going to burn up some day anyway?” seems to me to be akin to “Let’s go on sinning so that grace may abound all the more!” Even if one is convinced they’ve properly interpreted “the end of the story” (and wow, they had better be right since there are no do-overs), that doesn’t alleviate the need for personal responsibility in the here-and-now.

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  3. I’ve come across Evangelicals who will use premillennialism to prove that climate change is a hoax.

    “We do know that this Earth will be around for atleast another 1007 years. Rapture, then 7 years of tribulation then millennium reign of Christ. There are weather cycles. Trust God’s Word!” -Prominent member at John Fea’s church

    Not only are they wagering the church’s credibility, the Bible’s authority and inerrancy, and our children’s prosperity and security on their understanding of end times prophesies just to defend fossil fuels, it’s also simply a ridiculous argument because it ignores all the possibilities that fall between “a hoax” and “the end of this Earth”. It’s a pretty bad argument but all the same it’s common. Maybe this change will reduce it’s prevalence?

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  4. I am glad they are doing this. I was a member of an EFCA church for 27 years, and it always seemed odd to me that the EFCA statement of faith contained a position on this question. In almost every other way, the statement of faith was pretty much focused on the basics. This one item seemed to stick out as one on which people could have many understandings, and it surprised me that they incorporated this as a set position in the statement of faith.

    When our church’s one pastor left two years into our time there for (I believe) a PCA church, he mentioned his discomfort with that one position among his reasons for leaving. I knew he did not hold to this position (although I did think his reference to it as he left was a bit of a deflection, making the reasons for his departure seem more about theological issues than the issues of poor treatment at the hands of some in the congregation).

    It will be interesting to see what happens with “eschatological timing” issues going forward. They seem to me to not be worth fighting about, particularly since the Bible is deliberately opaque about such timing (e.g. “no one knows the day or hour”). People have a wide range of beliefs about these things. I also sense that some Christians who were previously staunchly premillennial may be hedging on that, perhaps due in part to the rise of political activism and dominionist views that lead some people to believe that we ourselves can establish the kingdom of heaven on earth through earthly sociopolitical means, without the return of Jesus being required to do that (I happen to strongly disagree with this view because of, you know, the sin nature).

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  5. Speaking as a dispensationalist, I think it is a great move. I also think among younger evangelicals there is a declining interest to participate in some of the older doctrinal divides (i.e. Calvinism/Arminianism, premil/amil/postmil). If the church members and students take a broader (but still historically Christian) approach to these areas, then I think the leaders should be allowed to do so as well.

    Start with broad agreement on eschatological basics and then leave the rest for discussion. I’m all in favor for irenic discussion and the experiences of agreeing to disagree.

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