is so often abused today that it has become a source of positive
embarrassment to the integrity of the Christian faith and biblical
Christianity. Two insightful books documenting this dismal state-of-affairs
are: Dwight Wilson’s Armageddon Now and Francis Gumerlock’s The
Day and the Hour. A steady flow of recalculated cries for the
end perennially ring out from the hollow shelves of Christian
trinket stores. Even the smooth entering of a new millennium has
not stalled the flow of the dispensational Chicken Littles. It
would seem that all one needs in order to be a “prophecy expert”
today is either a steady supply of Dapper Dan and access to television
air time, or a computer graphics program and a money-hungry publisher.
No new developments here!
Yet, despite such abuse eschatology remains a vitally important
aspect of biblical revelation. Indeed, we should consider eschatology
as the whole movement of biblical revelation than simply an individual
locus of systematic theology. As Walter Dumbrell has keenly noted:
the entire flow of Scripture progresses “from creation to new
creation by means of divine redemptive interventions.” Eschatology
is the message of all Scripture, the story of the outworking of
redemption. Hence, a careful study of eschatological developments
within evangelical theology is an important task for the student
of Holy Writ.
In this article I will mention
three recent developments in the eschatological debate. I chose
these for two reasons: they directly impact the Chalcedon Report
audience; and they are making a significant impact in broader
evangelical circles. In the mid-1990s Darrell L. Bock and C. Marvin
Pate, two editors involved in Zondervan’s CounterPoints series,
approached me about these three matters, which are: (1) The radical
transformations within dispensationalism; (2) the remarkable resurgence
of postmillennialism; and (3) the re-emergence of orthodox preterism.
When Darrell Bock (then of Dallas Theological Seminary) called
me in 1994 about joining with him in producing Three Views on
the Millennium and Beyond (1999), he particularly mentioned his
interest in distinguishing this new work from Clouse’s The Meaning
of the Millennium (1977), now two decades old. He noted that it
was now quite dated. Not only were three of the four authors deceased
(Ladd, Boettner, and Hoeksema), but the eschatological landscape
had undergone fundamental changes (except for amillennialism,
which is so bland and general as to be asking of prophecy: “Hey,
bro! Wha’s happnin?”). Bock surprised me when he noted that neither
classic dispensationalism nor historic premillennialism would
be included (as in Clouse’s work) — due to the rising prominence
of progressive dispensationalism. Furthermore, he requested that
I present the re-invigorated postmillennial view which included
theonomy and preterism.
Progressive dispensationalist Marvin Pate (of Moody Bible Institute)
first called me in 1996 to see if I would be interested in contributing
to Four Views on the Book of Revelation. He specifically expressed
his appreciation for my preterist writings, noting that they had
influenced him in developing his own understanding of the Olivet
Discourse and the Book of Revelation. His Doomsday Delusions favorably
cited some of my works. Furthermore, he commented that the Four
Views book would present two dispensational views of Revelation:
classic dispensationalism and progressive dispensationalism, noting
that they fundamentally differ in their analysis of Revelation,
the capstone of biblical prophecy. Gone were the days of classic
dispensational hegemony. Thus, progressive dispensationalism was
asserting itself in the market place of ideas, and beginning to
shake up the old line dispensational establishment. And orthodox
preterism was beginning both to gain a hearing and to be granted
a seat at the table. No longer was the decked stacked against
These remarkable episodes in my own experience suggest to me the
significance of the three matters I have chosen to highlight in
The Radical Transformations
The newer form of dispensationalism
is much more theologically astute than the naive sensationalism
of its predecessor. It represents a giant step forward in theological
discussion, making huge concessions to covenantal theology. In
addition, its theologians are of much greater competence, men
who are making serious contributions to evangelicalism in a wide
range of theological fields.
Blaising and Bock categorize three distinct forms of dispensationalism:
(1) “Classic dispensationalism” includes the earliest phase of
dispensationalism from the time of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882),
through C. I. Scofield (1843-1921) up to and including Lewis Sperry
Chafer (1871-1952). (2) “Revised dispensationalism” began to percolate
in the 1950s and 60s, reaching its full strength and addictive
influence with Charles Ryrie’s Dispensationalism Today (1965)
and the New Scofield Reference Bible (1967). In addition to Ryrie,
noted proponents include J. D. Pentecost and J. F. Walvoord. Populist
revised dispensationalists are presently in a state of denial
over this transmogrification (and by “denial” I do not mean a
river in Egypt). (3) “Progressive dispensationalism” began to
emerge and take shape in the mid-1980s through discussion among
thinking dispensationalists at the annual Evangelical Theological
Society meetings. Leaders in this school of eschatological thought
include Darrell L. Bock, Craig L. Blaising, and Robert Saucey.
Progressive dispensationalism is clearly not your father’s dispensationalism
(nor your favorite televangelist’s). Radical changes distinguishing
it from its antiquated forbears include:
(1) A rejection of simplistic literalism in hermeneutics. Progressive
dispensationalists pretty much adopt a genuine grammatical-historical-theological
theory of interpretation — like the rest of the evangelical world.
(2) A revision of the Israel-Church distinction, allowing that
Israel and the Church are two phases of the one people of God.
Classic dispensationalism argued for a radical distinction between
Israel and the Church that would even continue into eternity;
revised dispensationalism maintained that distinction only in
terms of the earthly outworking of redemption.
(3) A breaking down of the walls of separation between the dispensations.
Their dispensations are not discrete, unmixed time frames, but
rather evolving stages of historical development. Contained within
any particular dispensation are the seeds of the next dispensation
so that the dispensations gradually progress (hence the name).
This allows that Christ is now enthroned as king — in anticipation
of his coming earthly-millennial rule.
Numerous additional issues could be highlighted. But these three
are sufficient to establish a radical (and welcome) transformation
Essential texts for studying the issues include:
Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, eds., Dispensationalism,
Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition (Grand Rapids:
Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism:
An Up-to-Date Handbook of Contemporary Dispensational Thought
(Wheaton, Ill.: Bridgepoint, 1993).
For a shrill revised dispensationalist response, see: Wesley R.
Willis and John R. Master, eds., Issues in Dispensationalism (Chicago:
Resurgence of Postmillennialism
Contrary to popular opinion, postmillennialism
has never disappeared from the theological scene. Nevertheless,
after suffering a radical decline in the early part of the twentieth
century, it has experienced a remarkable, major and notable renaissance
in the past thirty years.
Three of the leading figures in keeping postmillennialism alive
during the 1950s were reformed writers, J. M. Kik (An Eschatology
of Victory1975; actually a compilation of published articles from
1948, 1955, and 1961), Roderick Campbell (Israel and the New Covenant,
1954: Foreword by O. T. Allis), and Lorainne Boettner (The Millennium,
1957). Boettner even participated in Clouse’s The Meaning of the
Meaning four views book (1977) — though his advanced age affected
Postmillennialism’s recent resurgence has come about (largely)
due to the publishing of postmillennial works in the 1970s and
early 80s by the Banner of Truth in Britain and Christian Reconstructionists
in America (through the Chalcedon Foundation and the Institute
for Christian Economics). Key figures in this publishing revival
were J. A. DeJong, As the Waters Cover the Sea (1970), Iain Murray
(The Puritan Hope, 1971), Erroll Hulse (The Restoration of Israel,
1982), R. J. Rushdoony (Thy Kingdom Come, 1970; God’s Plan for
Victory, 1977), Gary North, and Greg L. Bahnsen (the latter two
through articles in the Journal of Christian Reconstruction).
As noted above the revival of postmillennialism has gained wider
recognition and more visible standing. The recent Zondervan publication
of Three Views of the Millennium and Beyond (1999) included my
distinctly Reconstructionistic brand of postmillennialism in this
broad market publication February 1, 2001. A flood of postmillennial
books in the late 1980s and 1990s has inundated the evangelical
landscape, including: John J. Davis, Christ’s Victorious Kingdom
(1986), David Chilton’s Paradise Restored (1987), North’s Millennialism
and Social Theory (1990), Gary DeMar’s Last Days Madness (1991),
my He Shall Have Dominion (1992), Alexander McLeod’s Governor
of the Nations (rep. 1993), Andrew Sandlin’s Postmillennial Primer
(1997), Keith Mathison’s Postmillennialism (1999), and Bahnsen’s
Victory in Jesus (1999). A recent noteworthy “convert” to postmillennialism
is R. C. Sproul, who invited me to speak on postmillennialism
and preterism at his 1999 National Conference in Orlando.
The essence of postmillennialism (contrary to naive perceptions)
is not its interpretation of Revelation 20. Rather, its optimism
regarding the progress of the gospel in history before the end
comes. Anyone who believes that the gospel of Jesus Christ will
exercise a dominant influence in the affairs of men at some point
in history is a postmillennialist — whether he likes it or not
(optimistic amillennialism is an oxymoron).
A development within the postmillennial tradition since the 1960s
— but becoming especially strong by the late 1980s — is Christian
Reconstructionism, involving “theonomic” ethics (“theonomy”= “God’s
Law”). Theonomic postmillennialism (a feature of Christian Reconstructionism)
combines the inter-advental gradualism of the modern generic variety
of postmillennialism with the socio-political interests of the
older Puritan form. The theonomic postmillennialist sees the gradual
return to biblical norms of civil justice as a consequence of
widespread gospel success through preaching, evangelism, missions,
and Christian education. The judicial-political outlook of Reconstructionism
includes the application of those justice-defining directives
contained in the Old Testament legislation, when properly interpreted,
adapted to new covenant conditions, and relevantly applied. With
a core theological sub-structure firmly rooted in the absolute
sovereignty of God (classic Calvinism),Christian Reconstructionists
not only have a confident hope in the future (postmillennialism)
but also a vision of how that optimistic future will operate in
the area of social and political arenas (theonomy).
Foundational texts for studying postmillennialism today include:
Greg L. Bahnsen, Victory in Jesus: The Bright Hope of Postmillennialism
(Texarkana, Ark.: CMF, 1999).
Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial
Eschatology (2d. ed.: Tyler, Tex.: Institute for Christian Economics,
Keith A. Mathison, Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope (Phillipsburg,
N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1999)
The Re-emergence of Orthodox
The word “preterist” is
based on a Latin word praeteritus meaning “gone by,” i.e., past.
“Preterism” holds that many judgment prophecies of the New Testament
come to pass in the first century, within the very generation
of their utterance. Though these several prophecies were in the
future when written, they are now in our past.
Many mistakenly assume that evangelical preterism burst upon the
eschatological scene through Reconstructionist publications, such
as Chilton’s The Great Tribulation (1987), my The Beast of Revelation
(1989), and DeMar’s Last Days Madness (1991) (all were former
students of Bahnsen at Reformed Theological Seminary in the 1970s).
Actually amillennialist Jay Adams’ The Time is at Hand (1966)
was an (early) important seminal text that helped spark the (later)
preterist revolution. It was even used by Bahnsen at RTS in his
“History and Eschatology” course. Other pre-resurgence books include
Campbell’s Israel and the New Covenant (1954), Kik’s The Eschatology
of Victory (1975), and Cornelis Vanderwaal’s Search the Scriptures
Nevertheless, preterism has recently been exegetically justified
and evangelically popularized largely by Reconstructionist writers.
And once again, major Christian publishers have recently helped
fuel the debate: Thomas Nelson’s release of Steve Gregg’s Revelation:
Four Views: A Parallel Commentary (1996), Zondervan’s Four Views
on the Book of Revelation (1998), and Kregel’s The Great Tribulation:
Past or Future? (1999). Gary DeMar is presently discussing a publishing
venture with Thomas Nelson which would release even more preterist
books in the broader market. Furthermore, R. C. Sproul has wholeheartedly
adopted orthodox preterism and even published a major work on
the subject: The Last Days According to Jesus (1998).
Unfortunately, a distortion of preterism is currently gaining
advocacy — a view variously designated as “hyper-preterism” (Gentry),
“Hymenaenism” (Sandlin), or “pantelism” (Jonathan Seriah). A cult-like
enthusiasm fuels this unorthodox movement, which teaches that
the total complex of end time events transpired in the first-century:
the Second Advent, the resurrection, the rapture of the saints,
and the great judgment. It is to preterism what hyper-Calvinism
is to historic Calvinism: a theological pushing beyond biblical
constraints. This view is not supported by any creed or any council
of the Church in history.
A “Foreword” to one work from this movement inadvertently highlights
the (all too typical) problem: “John Noe is not a professional
theologian. He has had no formal seminary training, but that may
be an advantage.” Then again, lacking training in biblical languages,
careful study of exegetical principles, in-depth instruction in
systematic theology, and formal schooling in historical theology
may not be helpful at all. (This book by John Noe received a scathing
review in the December, 2000, Journal of the Evangelical Theological
Society. Sadly, this review will dissuade some readers from even
considering the orthodox root from which hyper-preterism mutated.
I have had numerous letters from folks turning against preterism
because of these bizarre excesses.)
The origins of this modern movement arise from and are fueled
by many Christians either presently or previously within the church
of Christ sect (e.g., Max King, Tim King, Ed Stevens, and others).
Some hyper-preterists have even become Unitarians; see Ed Stevens’
own lamentation: “Wanda Shirk & PIE,” Kingdom Counsel (April
1994-Sept. 1996): 3-17. Others have begun to apply the biblical
references about hell to the events of A.D. 70, thereby denying
the doctrine of eternal punishment. See: Samuel G. Dawson, “Jesus’
Teaching on Hell: A Place or an Event?” (Puyallup, Wash.: Gospel
Themes, 1997). The theological structure of the movement appears
to be continually mutating. Of course, such should be expected
when the position decries creedal moorings and rejoices in being
adrift on a sea of untrained theologues. (I guess the hyper-preterists
are our gadfly-answers to the dispensationalist embarrassments
such as Jack Van Impe and the LaLonde brothers.)
For helpful rebuttals to hyper-preterism, see:
·Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology
(2d. ed.: 1997), App. C.
·Jonathan Seraiah, The End of All Things (1999).
·R. C. Sproul, “. . . in Like Manner,” Tabletalk 24:12 (December
·Vern Crisler, “The Eschatological A Priori of the New Testament:
A Critique of Hyper-Preterism,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction
15 (Winter, 1998): 225-56.
·Keith Mathison, Postmillennialism (1999), App. C.
Mathison is currently editing a multi-author response to the hyper-preterites.
It should be complete in 2002.
Orthodox preterism is not so much an eschatological system as
a hermeneutic tool. It recognizes the interpretive significance
of: (1) time-frame indicators (e.g., Matt. 24:34; Mark 9:1; Rev.
1:1, 3); (2) audience relevance (e.g., the Seven Churches enduring
tribulation, Rev. 1:4, 9); and (3) the possible non-literal character
of apocalyptic imagery (“falling stars” may indicate “collapsing
governments”). However, evangelical preterism refuses to allow
one or two time-tied texts to become a black hole that sucks in
all other texts that are merely similar. That is, preterism should
not make the mistake of averring similarity entails identity,
which is the informal logical fallacy known as converse accident
(i.e., hasty generalization). That is, just because two texts
are similar does not mean they are speaking of the same events
(consider the various “Day of the Lord” prophecies in the Old
Orthodox preterism views the great tribulation (Matt. 24:21 cp.
v. 34) and Revelation’s judgment passages (Rev. 1:1, 3; 22:6,
10) as being fulfilled in the first century. Consequently, preterism
works nicely with (but is not demanded by) postmillennialism.
· Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness (Atlanta: American Vision, 1994).
· Kenneth Gentry, Perilous Times: A Study in Eschatological Evil
(Texarkana, Ark.: CMF, 1999),
· R. C. Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus (Grand Rapids: