If Owen was indeed wrong as we have seen, what can we learn from this fact? It is to answer this question that I have taken so much time to firmly disagree with the properly revered John Owen. I believe there is something to be learned from the serious exegetical mistake he makes with 2 Peter 3. I think there are important lessons to be learned.
First, this shows that no one—not even the man who is probably the greatest of the Puritan and Reformed Scholastics—may be given an almost infallible status by us. The fact is that in some places—it has appeared to me—that if Owen said it, that was the end of all discussion. That is certainly not true with regard to his preterist interpretation of 2 Peter 3. It may not be true in other places.
Second, this shows that we may not fix one period of church history, and one group of theologians in that history, as the standard of orthodoxy for all times. The Bible teaches a developmental or progressivist view of church history. That means that, not only was there progressive revelation in the Bible, there is progressive enlightenment of the church during this inter-adventual period. This is the straightforward implication of the parables of Jesus regarding the wheat and weeds, the mustard seed, the leaven, and the seed growing by itself.
As much as we love the Puritans and as much as we love our Baptist forefathers, church history did not end with them. Nor did the church’s insight into the Scriptures cease developing. Valuable as is our honored confession of faith, it is a human document which reflects the best understanding of the Scriptures by the church at a certain point in time in that development. Personally, I do not think that we have come to the place where it is good to think of attempting an expansion or refinement of that great document. But in principle we must admit that such a place could come in a future era of the church.
Third, let me finally express my view that it is particularly in the doctrinal area where Owen goes wrong that we must be ready for further light upon Scripture to have been given to the church since the 17th century. There have been vast and important developments in eschatological thought since Owen wrote. There was the prevalence of postmillennialism for a time, followed by the rise of historic premillennialism and dispensational premillennialism in reaction to postmillennialism. There has been the long critique of Dispensationalism by Amillennialism, the splintering of Dispensationalism as a result, and the rise of a new and wiser form of Amillennialism. I think this history is significant. I think it has presented us with an alternative to Owen’s preterism which is vastly to be preferred.
Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.