Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Critique of "A Case for Historical Premillennialism"

I thought I'd throw out a small critique of a book I was asked to read recently. This is one book that doesn't live up to its cover.

Introduction

The title of the book is written to capture the attention of anyone with an interest in eschatology. With the addition of Craig L. Blomberg’s name on the cover it gives the potential reader the mindset that he will be reading a scholarly work that will aid him in his understanding of eschatology. Blomberg along with his colleague Sung Wook Chung are the chief editors of the book. Their body of work in this volume is primarily a compilation of scholarly articles by various professors from Denver Seminary with the addition of a few others who have joined their cause.

The authors of the various chapters are Craig L. Blomberg (professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary), Oscar A. Campos (professor of theology in the Seminario Teologico Centroamericano in Guatemala City), Sung Wook Chung (associate professor of Christian theology, Denver Seminary), Helene Dallaire (associate professor of Old Testament, Denver Seminary), Donald Fairbairn (professor of historical theology, Erskine Theological Seminary), Richard S. Hess (professor of Old Testament and Semitic Language, Denver Seminary), Don J. Payne (associate dean and assistant professor of theology and ministry, Denver Seminary), and Timothy P. Weber (senior consultant at EFL associates). Together they seek to present an alternative to the “Left Behind” eschatology, otherwise known in this volume as dispensational pretribulational premillennialism.

Critique

The attempt at striking a death blow to “Left Behind theology” seems to have been the main thrust in putting together A Case for Historic Premillennialism. Over and over again the authors attack dispensationalism and speak of it as a populist movement. They seek to position themselves as the ones holding the traditional position of the early church, and therefore the more biblical of the views on eschatology. They portray themselves as a “blue collar” version of premillennialsm, and paint the dispensationalists as sensationalists who through their Hollywood productions and exciting end-times schemes draw big crowds and attention to their view. The impression portrayed by the authors is that they seek to take the “humble road” to the truth, and don’t need all the lights, cameras, and action that dispensationalists use in “promoting” their theology.


The book is broken into eight chapters. The first chapter discusses dispensational and historic premillennialism as popular millennialist movements. It is here that Weber gives his view of the history of dispensationalism where he speaks very condescendingly towards dispensationalism. He says that there is no way to measure how many dispensationalists there are, but says that no more than one-third of American evangelicals are dispensationalists (18). This is a contradiction all in one paragraph. How can you not have a way to measure, but then say there is no way dispensationalists make up a majority of American evangelicals, and then say that at most only one-third of them can be dispensationalists? This is just hope on Weber’s part.

Weber’s attempt at labeling dispensationlism as a populist movement is rather bold. He speaks of the best-selling dispensationalists books as being fictionalized, and labels dispensationalists as those who target common folks all while saying that historic premillennialsim is school-based and is mostly written by scholars (20-21). Weber demonstrates an amazing amount of arrogance in portraying himself and his belief in this “humble” and “scholarly” manner.

Chapter two focuses on the Old Testament and the Millennium. Here Hess seeks to support his logic and position by quoting pagan or non-biblical sources to support his position and interpretation of biblical texts. Some of his parallel comparisons are helpful in showing how people sometimes thought during this period, but he is too dangerously close to allowing unbiblical sources to influence his interpretation of the holy, inspired Word of the Living God.

Chapter three focuses on Judaism and the world to come. This chapter is helpful in coming to understand the Jewish views of eternity. Dallaire demonstrates that most of the history of Judaism over the last two-thousand years has not consistently held one position on what happens to a person after death. Judaism has primarily demonstrated a concern and focus on the present life without giving much consideration to life after death. The question is how the Jewish positions on the eternal state can lead the reader from holding “Left Behind theology” to historic premillennialism. I personally don’t see much weight in the argument of this chapter for the position of historic premillennialism.

Chapter four discusses the posttribulationism of the New Testament. Craig L. Blomberg himself seeks to take on “Left Behind” and present what he believes to be the correct and historic view of the tribulation, which is a posttribulational rapture. He in fact says, “I actually think the doctrine of the tribulation is more important than the doctrine of the millennium” (69). This is evident throughout the chapter. His argument is more for a posttribulational rapture than it is for the historic premillennial position.

The fifth chapter is devoted to the theological method of premillennialism. Payne speaks of the importance of recognizing and evaluating one’s theological method. He speaks of how everyone has a theological method an how it affects our interpretation and study of Scripture. Here Payne discusses hermeneutics and how they affect the interpretation of Revelation 20 and other texts. He says that one cannot overlook “the theological weight assigned by historic premillennialism to the New Testament as the interpretive lens for the Old Testament, and vice-versa for dispensational premillennialism” (95). This strikes at the very heart of the problem between dispensational and historic premillennialists. Historic premillennialists acknowledge some spiritual sense in which the church fulfills the role of Old Testament Israel. They seek to strike middle ground here between dispensationalists and ammillennialists.

Chapter six explains the contemporary millennial/tribulational debates. In this chapter Fairbairn gives a very helpful explanation of the history of premillennialsm and the history of ammillennialism. He gives references of early church fathers speaking in premillennialist terms, and then points to Augustine as basically being the father of ammillennialism.

Fairbairn places much emphasis on the people of God and suffering. He takes on the dispensationalists’ view of the pretribulational rapture as that which is against the way in which God has dealt with His people throughout history. He gives examples of the people of God experiencing great suffering and never being rescued from it, and uses this as an argument of the posttribulational rapture of the church. He closes the chapter by stating that the proper place for eschatology is near the center of Christian truth.

The seventh chapter is devoted to discussing the Reformed and Covenantal theology of premillennialism. Here Chung lists Reformed theologians who were ammillennialists and even Jonathan Edwards who was a postmillennialist. Chung takes on the ammillennialists’ view of the millennium by accusing them of putting too much attention on the soteriological dimension of the covenant of grace (134). In his challenge to them, he calls them to view the covenants through the eyes of the kingdom dimension of God’s work within history. In fact, under the title of the chapter he subtitles it “A Proposal.” The problem is that he basically acknowledges that these covenants exist, and the only tweak he seems to make is that they should look at it more through a kingdom dimension than a soteriological dimension. Why are we to interpret the various texts he lists from a covenantal perspectives as he challenges the reader? How is this chapter to help lead one out of “Left Behind theology?”

The last chapter discusses premillennial tensions and holistic missiology. Campos speaks of the effects of dispensational premillennialism in the context of missions. He accuses dispensationalists of giving Latin America a Gospel without Kingdom and a western worldview that has deprived them from a holistic understanding of human beings and the world” (158). He goes on to talk about the need to not only “reach souls” through evangelism, but to also help them socially. He accuses dispensationalism of overlooking the human element in reaching the lost.

Conclusion

Overall the book fails to convince the dispensational reader that historical premillennialism is the superior premillennial position. In fact, the book was disjointed and poorly written. It is basically a compilation of essays on various topics put together to take shots at dispensationlism without making much effort to exegetically or logically lead someone out of their “error.” The book would be best promoted with a different title, since it fails in a huge way to present a good case for leading one to hold the views of historic premillennialism.

3 Comments:

Daniel said...

I just started reading this book. And to be honest, I have begun a serious quest for the truth in these matters. I have been a pre-tribber for near 20 years. I no longer find the pre-trib doctrine to be Biblically (sic?) tenable.

Let me just make this one critique of your critique: where's the Biblical verse by verse refutation? I have yet to find anybody in the pre-trib camp defend their position in a cogent, Biblical manner when faced with the arguments of either a post-trib rapture or a non-dispensational escatology.

I'm sorry, all I saw with your critique was attack, the very same thing that you accused the authors of doing.

Perhaps you would care to have a "back and forth" with a simple lay Christian? If so, I would like to focus on the Olivet Discourse primarily, with some basic ground rules for debate. What say you?

Daniel said...

First, I would like to apologize for the tone of my last post. As a lame excuse, it was the end of a long work day yesterday, and I was not in the right frame of mind when I posted a response to your critique.

I don't even know, yet, what your eschatological views are. For all I know, we might even agree on much eschatology.

So, once again, please eccept my sincere apology.

In His precious name.

Lance M. Roberts said...

Daniel,

Thank you for your comments. The article I posted was an assignment I had. The assignment was to critique the book, so I did. One of my main points was that if the goal book was to do as it's title suggests, win over the pre-mil/pre-trib/dispensationalists, that it was a failure on many fronts.

There were some great things in the book, but there was a lot of stuff in the book that didn't belong in the book or contribute to what they were trying to accomplish.

I'm not sure what questions you have on the Olivet Discourse.

Whenever talking about dispensationalism I guess it is good to see where someone is at in regards to it. There are many "shades" of dispensationalists. Some more progressive, some more classical, some "leaky," and etc. In my opinion one of the up and coming theologians in dispensationalism today is Dr. Michael Vlach at the Master's Seminary. His website www.theologicalstudies.org has a lot of articles and links on different things regarding supersessionism, and etc.