(A Letter to a Close Friend)
  By Ward Fenley

This is a letter to a dear friend of mine concerning the issue of viewing Scripture with honesty and integrity. He is a pretribulational premillennialist, pretty much what I used to be. I hope you are encouraged by the letter. For the sake of protecting his identity, I will refer to him as Hunter.


Dear Hunter,

I understand that you care about me, and I know you know that I care about you. Whenever I describe you to people, I usually say that you and I were best friends and did everything from ski, to listen to Boston, 4x4, cycle, shoot guns, and even start growing close to the Lord at the same time. I have only fond memories of you.

I sympathize with what your cousin said and your response to him concerning future correspondence with me. I'm torn. It is very difficult because I know and you know that our beliefs are the most important thing now. But to think that we could possibly have all those other things (pot excluded of course :o) ) in common with our beliefs seems to be just a dream. I respond to you for the same reasons you respond to me. It's like we go through our phases: "well, maybe this time around." But it ends up the same way. But that does not deter me from continuing dialogue with you. It's just that I can only go so far in any given phase. Then I gotta wait and just trust the Lord to lead both of us until the next time around. I am sure you get frustrated with me and think, why doesn't he see this, and of course I feel the same too.

Though I plan on further discussion with you, and always have hopes of one day being united, yet at the same time I just have to ask a few questions. You remember when you and I debated tooth and nail (so to speak) about the issue of freewill, and then you came to see it upon reading Jeremiah 30? We were talking about it in Terrell's garage. Well, I just at least want you to consider something. Before you and I talked about that issue (predes. versus freewill) you were probably just like me when I heard about it for the first time: This is weird, who believes this, and this goes against everything I have been taught. But we both came to see it. So all I am saying is this: Hunter, I was a pretribulational dispensational believer in a very dogmatic way before I came to believe what I believe now. I won't go into detail here, but here is what convinced me Hunter: Believe it or not, it was not the time statements. It was looking at all statements in the NT that are quotations of OT prophecies that would say things like "that the Scripture might be fulfilled" etc. Well, so I started looking at the whole OT context to see what else should have been fulfilled if that particular element was said to have been fulfilled. Well, I found myself in a corner and forced with two alternatives: Either the rest of the context was fulfilled too, or Isaiah makes a prophecy in which he describes a yet future kingdom, but then suddenly interjects just one element that would take place 2000 years earlier, and then jump back to talking about a future kingdom. If it is ok with you, I would like to give you an example:

If I ask you if you believe Christ is the Living Waters, you would say yes. And If I quote a passage like these:

John 4:10 Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.
John 7:37-38  On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, {38} and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'"
Both of us would say, yes, Living Waters are fulfilled now in Christ and we are not having to wait for those. We have them now, for He is our Living Waters. So then I say, Well let's look and see if the OT speaks about these living waters:
Zechariah 14:8 And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be.
Well, it is interesting that Christ's blood was shed in Jerusalem and that from there the Gospel was preached and the Living Waters began to flow out from Jerusalem. So now it's possible that you can agree that Zech 14:8 is fulfilled in Christ. But the verse begins with an interesting statement: "It shall be in that day." Well, the question I was asking myself is, What day? Obviously it is a continuation of a context. So I worked my way back up the passage:
Zechariah 14:1-7  See, a day is coming for the LORD, when the plunder taken from you will be divided in your midst. {2} For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses looted and the women raped; half the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. {3} Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. {4} On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward. {5} And you shall flee by the valley of the Lord's mountain, for the valley between the mountains shall reach to Azal; and you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. {6} On that day there shall not be either cold or frost. {7} And there shall be continuous day (it is known to the LORD), not day and not night, for at evening time there shall be light.
Then the very next two verse state:
Zechariah 14:8-9  On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it shall continue in summer as in winter. {9} And the LORD will become king over all the earth; on that day the LORD will be one and his name one.
So Hunter, I was not even believing what I believe now. I was simply asking myself the question: Why does this passage combine these elements if they are thousands of years apart. Beyond that, why does it use such a strange time reference as if it was all supposed to happen around the same time? Honestly, Hunter, I tried to apply what all my teachers had told me to apply, and that was, look at the context and don't take a particular verse and separate it from its context. You know the old example...We dont just find the verse that says:
Matthew 27:5 And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.
Luke 10:37 Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.
Of course we have to look at the context and see that these were two totally different situations. So that is what I had to do with passages like Zechariah 14. I just could not with a clear conscience sit there and say that Zechariah just suddenly interjected verse 8 by jumping 2000 years back, and then in verse 9 jump ahead again 2000 years, especially with the phrase "in that day." So which is it? Is Christ the Living Waters now? or Is this an unfulfilled prophecy. Well, you could say it will be fulfilled literally one day. And I thought the same thing. But then I had to ask: If this is so, what Scripture proves this? In other words, if that is so, then to what fulfillment is Zechariah referring? The spiritual or the physical? If I say physical and it refers to the future, then what Scripture do I use to support it being fulfilled spiritually one day? You see, I kept trying to find ways to justify and make for two fulfillments, but the Bible does not do that, and I knew it didn't. And I also knew that there were a ton of other passages that did the same thing, and that if I tried to impose double fulfillment on the rest of those passages, I would be creating a maze that would be unconquerable and meaningless.

Then came the time statements. Hunter, I am not going to lie to you. I tried my best to make at hand not mean at hand, and quickly not mean quickly, and draweth nigh not really mean draweth nigh, and shortly not really mean shortly. But again, the same problem. I would see passages like this:

Acts 25:4 But Festus answered, that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself would depart shortly thither.
I would ask, what does shortly mean there? I had to be honest. It mean shortly. So then I would go to a passage like:
Revelation 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:
And then I would say, "Shortly does not mean shortly. That is God's time." But God was not speaking there. It was simply a declaration of John using the identical Greek word.

Suddenly I realized something, Hunter: The only time I was making at hand, shortly, quickly, near, a little while, day approaching, mean God's time and not ours was when they were used in reference to the second coming. So I had to ask myself the question: Where did I get that hermeneutic? Did I learn it from the Bible? Well, I knew I did not. Did I learn it from men. Well, quite honestly, yes. So then I tried changing the meanings of words like at hand. In fact it was very similar to what you are doing with that very phrase. Well, the same thing happened. Where did I get that hermeneutic to only apply this new definition when it was used in reference to the Second Coming? Well, I certainly did not get it from the Bible. In fact, I looked up all the places in the NT where at hand was used. This is what I found:

Mat 26:18 And he said, Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples.
We know that shortly thereafter Christ was crucified. The time came.
Matthew 26:45-46  Then he came to the disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. {46} Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand."
The same was true there. At hand clearly meant very near.
John 2:13 And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem,
John 7:2 Now the Jews' feast of tabernacles was at hand.
So I studied the Greek word because I found an apparent contradiction in the English language:
2 Thessalonians 2:2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
In the above the Greek word is enestimi which is defined as present or has come. In fact I looked at the other English translations:
2 Thessalonians 2:2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. NRSV
2 Thessalonians 2:2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. NIV
2 Thessalonians 2:2 that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. NAS
2 Thessalonians 2:2 not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. NKJV
[Paul's concern was that certain people were saying that the Lord had already come, when in fact His return had not yet come, but was at hand.]

Whereas the word in all the other cases was eggus, which is invariably translated at hand or near. When comparing it with the natural use of the word as it was used in the first references, I began to see that those verses combined with what I was seeing about OT context were slowly beginning to show me that I have been neglecting some very important things about the Bible and more pertinent to me, I knew I was not being honest about the real meaning of certain words. Why? Because I knew it did not fit with what I had been taught. I knew it did not fit with how I previously viewed passages about the new heaven and new earth. I was deliberately changing the meanings of very clear words to fit my view. This began to concern me, as I claimed to believe Scripture and always taught and was taught that whatever the cost always stick with the Bible.

Well, enough of my experience. I simply told you that to let you know that I am definitely not unfamiliar with what you are believing. I banged my head against a wall numerous times about this stuff. I studied and studied and tried furiously to find some way to prove that those words didn't really mean what they said. It was taking away a huge part of *my* theology. It was a treasure that I had in a box. It is hard to let go of treasures, especially when we feel that if we lose that treasure, then we lose everything. Well, honestly Hunter, if I continued with being dishonest about those words and my conscience and the OT contexts, I realized that I would lose even a greater treasure, and that was the inspired word of God. Don't get me wrong: I am not saying you are lying. But what I am saying is that I knew that I was desperately trying to make it all fit. I did not want those words to mean what they looked like they were saying. Basically it came down to saying that either the Scripture and the apostles were mistaken, and therefore my treasure lost altogether, or I had to throw away what I viewed as a sacred treasure. I could no longer make up meanings for these words and make up excuses for why Christ had not returned back then and why they were all expecting Him to return shortly and in a little while.

Finally, after just believing those words, I realized that I had exchanged what was sacred to me for what would be a far greater treasure, and that was realizing what Christ has already accomplished and that it is now fulfilled for all who are in Him. Sure, it took away *my* hope. But I have come to see this verse in a very real and biblical way:

Proverbs 13:12 Hope delayed makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
Christ is that tree of life. I hope that one day you and I will be able to share an appreciation for that glorious truth along with all of the other things we have shared.

Looking forward to further correspondence.

Much love,

Your friend

Ward Fenley