Idealism (Christian eschatology)

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In the context of Christian eschatology, idealism (also called the spiritual approach, the allegorical approach, the nonliteral approach, and many other names) involves an interpretation of the Book of Revelation that sees all of the imagery of the book as symbolic.[1]

Jacob Taubes writes that idealist eschatology came about as Renaissance thinkers began to doubt that the Kingdom of Heaven had been or would be established on earth, but still believed in its establishment.[2] Rather than the Kingdom of Heaven manifesting itself in society, it is seen as established subjectively for the individual.[3]

F. D. Maurice (1805-1872) interpreted the Kingdom of Heaven idealistically as a symbol representing society's general improvement, instead of as a physical and political kingdom. Karl Barth (1886-1968) interpreted eschatology as representing existential truths that bring the individual hope, rather than as history or as future-history.[4] Barth's ideas provided fuel for the Social Gospel philosophy in America, which saw social change not as performing "required" good works, but because the individuals involved felt that Christians could not simply ignore society's problems with future dreams.[5]

Different authors have suggested that the Beast of Revelation represents various social injustices, such as exploitation of workers,[6] wealth, the elite, commerce,[7] materialism, and imperialism.[8] Various Christian anarchists, such as Jacques Ellul (1912-1994), have identified the State and political power as the Beast.[9]

Christian eschatological idealism is distinct from Preterism, Futurism and Historicism in that it does not see any of the prophecies (except in some cases the Second Coming, and Final Judgment) as being fulfilled in a literal, physical, earthly sense in the past, present or future.[10] It views interpretation of the eschatological portions of the Bible in a historical or future-historical fashion as an erroneous understanding.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stan Campbell and James S. Bell (2001). The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Book of Revelation. Alpha Books. pp. 212–213. ISBN 9780028642383.
  2. ^ Occidental Eschatology By Jacob Taubes, p.86
  3. ^ Occidental Eschatology By Jacob Taubes, p.132
  4. ^ Encyclopedia of time By Samuel L. Macey, p.186-187
  5. ^ Karl Barth and Christian Unity - The Influence of the Barthian Movement Upon the Churches of the World, by Professor Adolf Keller, p.190-192
  6. ^ Third Way magazine, April 1987, p.23
  7. ^ Who rides the beast?: prophetic rivalry and the rhetoric of crisis in the churches of the apocalypse By Paul Brooks Duff, p. 70, Oxford UP 2001
  8. ^ Christopher R. Smith, "Reclaiming the Social Justice Message of Revelation: Materialism, Imperialism and Divine Judgement in Revelation 18", Transformation 7 (1990): 28-33
  9. ^ Christoyannopoulos, Alexandre (2010). Christian Anarchism: A Political Commentary on the Gospel. Exeter: Imprint Academic. pp. 123–126. Revelation
  10. ^ The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology By Millard J. Erickson, p. 95
  11. ^ Eschatology. Indexes: the concluding volume of the series Dogmatic theology By Francis Joseph Hall, p.13.

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