Idealism (Christian eschatology)

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] Other scholars merge a preterist view with an idealist perspective. [10] The beast not only represents the Roman empire of the first century AD; it is a signifier for a universal political/cultural setting. For example, the Lutheran scholar Craig R. Koester suggests that “the vision [of the beast] speaks to the imperial context in which Revelation was composed, but it does so with images that go beyond that context, depicting the powers at work in the world in ways that continue to engage readers of subsequent generations.”[11] And his comments on the whore of Babylon develop this perspective: “The whore [of Babylon] is Rome, yet more than Rome.”[12]It “is the Roman imperial world, which in turn represents the world alienated from God.”[13]

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.[14] It views interpretation of the eschatological portions of the Bible in a historical or future-historical fashion as an erroneous understanding.[15]