Book Review: A Case for Amillennialism (Expanded Edition)

“A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times” by Kim Riddlebarger

Like many Christians in the last century, I grew up hearing about the secret rapture that would remove the Church just prior to the start of the Great Tribulation. I read the Left Behind books in high school, and felt sure I would be able to recognize the Antichrist as he rose to power in the European Union. I was a Dispensationalist; I didn’t know a Christian could be anything else.

Then, as I got more serious about studying my Bible, I began to have questions about the events surrounding Christ’s return to which my prior understanding could not provide satisfactory answers. I poured over Dispensational texts: first popular works like Chuck Missler’s Learn the Bible in 24 Hours and then more scholarly works like Dwight Pentecost’s Things to Come. While they did have answers to every one of my questions, something about those answers still didn’t sit right with me… though I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

It was then that I began to search out eschatological writings from outside the Dispensational viewpoint. At first, I was “tossed by the wind” because I did not ask for Godly wisdom, but relied instead on the wisdom of the authors I was reading. As a result, my “convictions” evolved quickly, from “pre-wrath” to historic premillennial to amillennial, partial preterist, and right back to confused.

Finally, I did what I ought to have done in the first place. I asked the Lord for wisdom, and searched the Scriptures with renewed vigor. The one positive result of my earlier reading was that it had at least served to reveal to me the hermeneutical presuppositions with which Dispensationalists view Scripture. Now free to study the Word without this interpretive lens, my questions gradually began to find their answers. I became more and more convinced that the Biblical authors seemed to be pointing ahead to a single climactic event in which Christ will return, the dead will rise and face judgment, and believers will enter their eternal rest. 

The Bible itself convinced me of the truth of amillennialism.

When I now went to leading amillennialist scholars, their books simply confirmed in my mind what I had already come to believe. And this, after the lengthy auto-biographical prelude, brings us (finally) to Kim Riddlebarger’s book.

Though, as the title suggests, this book builds a case for amillennialism, it is likely not sufficient on its own to fully persuade anyone who is not already an amillennialist to become one. Nor should it. Our theological positions should be built from Scripture itself.

Thankfully, A Case for Amillennialism forces the reader to interact heavily with Scripture. Riddlebarger writes with the expectation that the reader will either be extremely familiar with the relevant biblical texts, or, like me, have a Bible handy for frequent referencing. His goal is to let Scripture speak for itself, rather than reading his eschatology into the text.

The book is helpfully divided into four sections. The first clearly defines the terms used frequently in the book, and gives an overview of the major eschatological views. The second section addresses several biblical and theological concerns topically, contrasting the amillennial position with opposing views. Riddlebarger then goes into a lengthy exposition of four key texts (Daniel’s 70 Weeks, the Olivet Discourse, Romans 11, and Revelation 20:1-10) before a closing section on the signs of the end and some questions Bible students should ask when evaluating millennial options.

Of the many books on the “End Times” I’ve read over the years, this has been the most helpful, and will be the one I am most likely to recommend to others. I found Riddlebarger’s writing to be more accessible than Anthony Hoekema’s The Bible and the Future and less intimidating than Sam Storms’ massive Kingdom Come, though each of those is also worthwhile. His clarity and brevity are skills honed as the long-time co-host of the White Horse Inn radio broadcast; he is an excellent communicator.

A Case for Amillennialism is particularly helpful for those like me who come from a Dispensational background, as he spends much more time addressing that interpretation than he does preterism, post-mil, or historical pre-mil. He is gracious toward those with whom he disagrees, but firm in his opposition to their views.

Throughout the book Riddlebarger relies heavily on references to Hoekema’s classic work, though they do disagree at times. Their most notable point of difference is on whether or not there is a distinct future role in redemptive history for ethnic Jews. Hoekema says no (because “all Israel” in Romans 11 refers to the total number of believers rather than to ethnic Israel), but Riddlebarger believes that Paul teaches that there will be a large-scale conversion of Jews to faith in Christ just prior to the Lord’s second coming. On this point I side with Riddlebarger.

The “Expanded Edition” adds a chapter on the Antichrist (with content taken largely from his book The Man of Sin) and a chapter on the signs of the end. If you don’t own a copy, I’d recommend that you purchase the new edition, but there’s probably not enough new material to warrant an upgrade if you already have the earlier version.

Whether you’re a convinced amillennialist, a proponent of another eschatology looking to fairly represent your opponents, or simply someone with questions that need answering, you can’t go wrong reading this book. Buy it here.

Book Review: The Concise Book of Cults

“The Concise Book of Cults” by George H. Martin

Fourteen years ago, as a college freshman, I sat in a philosophy of religion class learning that all belief systems were equally valid, and equally valuable. That same semester, I participated in a small group study on Cults and World Religions at the Baptist Student Union, learning that doctrine matters, and that seemingly small discrepancies can make all the difference in the world when it comes to a person’s eternal destiny.

Those two vastly different experiences opened my eyes to a much wider and more diverse world than I had known, and to the dramatically different ways in which people interpret the world around them. Ever since then, I have had a passionate interest in studying worldview and apologetics. I had to know what is true, and how to defend my faith against those who would seek to deceive me.

This new little book by George Martin begins with a section containing basic questions pertaining to cults. What is a cult? Why are people attracted to them? Why is it important to study them? Martin defines his terms and builds his case concisely (appropriately enough) before launching into an overview of eight religious movements that have gained a measure of prominence in the last two centuries.

Each of these groups contains at least some element of connection with Christianity, though not all are, strictly speaking, cults. The groups Martin has chosen to address include four founded in the 19th century (Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventism, and Christian Science) and four that originated in the 20th century (Scientology, the Worldwide Church of God, the Unification Church, and the Jesus Movement).

With just a few pages devoted to each group, this book will not provide more than a superficial understanding of what adherents actually believe. That is not its purpose. What this book can do is serve as a quick-reference guide to the history and founders of each group and the basic tenets of their faith (particularly handy when it’s available at the touch of a button on your smart phone’s Kindle app). It will also, for those who are not well-versed in cults, whet the appetite to learn more. In fact, this book’s greatest asset is its annotated bibliography, which points the reader to the best materials available for further study on the topics it raises.

I should note quickly that Adventism and the Jesus Movement are not universally listed among “cults” by Christians. While Dr. Martin does not firmly say yay or nay on the SDA (“the jury seems still to be out“), he rightly points out that much of what they believe is in line with historical Christianity; while the differences that exist are significant, many Christians (including myself) view Adventism differently from the rest of the groups addressed in the book. Similarly, Martin says the Jesus Movement is not a cult per se, but that the theological vacuum and resistance to the accountability of “organized religion” characterized by this trend of the 60′s and 70′s helped prepare the way for several more extreme groups rebelling against organized Christianity.

The final section of The Concise Book of Cults stresses the practical application of a study of cults. This is another of the book’s strengths, as I greatly appreciate the author’s care and concern that Christians study the Scriptures not just to win arguments, but to win people to Christ. Having sat under Dr. Martin’s teaching at Southern Seminary, I have seen first-hand the heart he has for those who are caught up in false religion, and the zeal that he has to reach them with the gospel. This love is quite evident in this final section, urging believers to pursue further study in order to prepare ourselves better for the mission of evangelism.

As I learned the hard way in my college philosophy class, it’s not popular to assert that there is only one way to be saved; one faith that is objectively true. Yet we cannot back down, for there are so many who are deceived, and who need to truth of the gospel! This book is a useful tool in the preparation for ministry to members of these groups, such as the Jehovah’s Witness who is probably knocking on your door right now. Buy it here.

Book Review: The Song of Annie Moses

“The Song of Annie Moses: A Musical Quest, A Mother’s Gift” by Robin Donica Wolaver

Five years ago, I invited the Annie Moses Band to perform here in Cookeville at a concert sponsored by the Stevens Street School of Performing Arts. The school purchased tickets for each of our students to hear this conservatory-trained family “chamber pop” ensemble, as part of our mission to provide them with opportunities to be exposed to great live musical performances. But while the AMB concert was fantastic (as always!), the highlight of the weekend came the following morning as Annie and Robin Wolaver spoke with our students and parents about the importance of good practicing (requiring the diligence of the child AND the parent) and their own road to musical excellence.

For many parents who attended, that morning changed not only the way they practiced with their children; it changed the way they lived and parented. For some, that meant instituting “pajama practice” the next morning, a discipline that has remained in place for years. For others, the result was a conviction to emphasize family prayer time in the home. And for some it opened their eyes to the possibility of early childhood music education, leading them to enroll their young children in lessons the following week. Many of the families who attended that day are still enrolled in private music lessons, and most of them are excelling!

During that morning’s workshop, Mrs. Wolaver mentioned that somehow, in the midst of a busy travel schedule, ongoing musical instruction, and being a homeschooling mom, she was also working on writing a book with much of the same content that she had shared with us. I am happy to report that this book has arrived at long last!

The Song of Annie Moses is a riveting read, not only because of the author’s credibility when speaking about raising musical children, but also because of her skill as a writer and storyteller (she isn’t a Dove Award-winning songwriter for nothing!). If you are a music teacher or a parent, this absolutely has a place on your bookshelf.

That said, this book is not for the feint-of-heart.

Any delusions that the Wolavers’ path to success was an easy one should be chucked out right now. Theirs is a tale of diligence, perseverance, and faith that would put most of us to shame. From the 5 a.m. practice sessions to moving their entire family to the East Coast in order to benefit from some of the best music teachers in the world, Bill and Robin’s commitment to their children’s instruction is both daunting and inspiring.

Difficult? Absolutely. Impossible? Not at all. While most families will not (and need not) go to the extremes that the Wolavers did, every family can learn from their example. With parenting principles ripped straight from the pages of Scripture, there is much to be admired and emulated in their family dynamic: contentment with little, rightly-ordered priorities, and an unquenchable dedication to the discipleship of their children, to name a few.

What I love about this book as a music teacher is the way Wolaver seamlessly weaves tried-and-true practices of music education into the story. She includes all the statistics and research findings that music teachers wish more parents would know about, but by incorporating them into an engaging narrative, she delivers them with greater impact than the raw data we’re used to seeing “in the business.” This book is an absolute gold mine of tips and encouragement for music teachers and parents alike. And for those who do like the raw data laid out in black & white, four appendices address practical concerns such as how to choose an instrument and find a good teacher.

If you’re a musician, a parent, or someone who just loves a good story, pick up a copy of The Song of Annie Moses today!

Here’s Robin Wolaver describing the book in her own words:

Book Reviews: Till We Have Faces

“Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold” by C.S. Lewis

Given the fact that Lewis is one of my favorite authors, it is a bit surprising that, until recently, I had never read the book which Lewis himself claimed was his best-written and personal favorite of his own works. This is a situation now happily rectified!

Like his friend J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis believed that stories were the best vehicle for spreading ideas. In this story, he adapts the old Greek myth of Cupid & Psyche into a novel told from the perspective of one of Psyche’s sisters. (Incidentally, a summary of the original myth is included as an appendix to the book for those unfamiliar with it, so prior knowledge is no prerequisite for reading this book!) Through fiction, Lewis explores love and the hidden motivations behind human action.

The principal theme of the book is related to the 12th verse from 1 Corinthians 13, the “love chapter”: For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. The novel wrestles with the question of whether we can truly know God without seeing him face to face. While this theme is a decidedly Christian one, the book is devoid of the overtly Christian symbolism common in most of his other works of fiction—something perhaps expected in a book that takes pagan mythology as its source!

If you’ve never read this story, I highly recommend it. You won’t be disappointed; Lewis picked it as his favorite for a reason! Buy it here.

Book Review: Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart

“Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved” by J.D. Greear

How many times have you asked Jesus into your heart?

If you’re anything like Pastor J.D. Greear and countless others, it could be thousands of times. “Am I really saved?” is a question that haunts Christians, causing them to live plagued with fear and doubt, rather than joy and peace. While I don’t know that my own count reached into the thousands, I can distinctly remember  praying the “sinner’s prayer” every single time I heard it in a worship service, youth camp, or revival meeting growing up. “Just in case,” I told myself.

It wasn’t until I was in my 20′s that I finally realized I didn’t have to constantly panic over the state of my soul. The assurance that I was truly and eternally saved came through the counsel of a godly man, who taught me things very much like what Greear has written in this little book.

There are two prevalent problems associated with the doctrine of assurance: true Christians who doubt their own salvation, and unregenerate people who have a false assurance that they are saved. Greear seeks to tackle both of these problems.

In the book, false assurance is primarily chalked up to the common teaching that if someone “prays a prayer” they are saved. When this false teaching is accompanied by the true teaching that salvation cannot be lost, it is a recipe for disaster! The solution is to hold fast to the doctrine of justification by faith alone (stressed to a greater extent in one of the book’s appendices), so that people realize that there is nothing magical about any particular set of words which grants us a new heart. The faith that saves is a faith that is accompanied by a changed heart, a renewed mind, and an obedient spirit.

These same truths are also the solution to the problem of doubt. If a Christian is worried about his “status” as a believer, he need only examine his life for the evidence of salvation. Greear urges believers to focus not on determining precisely when their walk with God began , but rather on whether they are walking with God now. The presence of this evidence, particularly love for other believers, ought to set a Christian’s mind at ease.

Greear also addresses some of the common arguments raised against the idea that Christians can know they are saved in a chapter titled, “If ‘once saved always saved,’ why does the Bible seem to warn us so often about losing our salvation?” These are questions that must be answered, and they are answered very well here. Hopefully every reader will come away more convinced than ever in the perseverance of the saints.

This is a book that I know I’ll be handing out to believers struggling with assurance. It would have greatly benefited me a decade ago! I pray that the Lord will use it to aid many Christians to rest assured in the power of the gospel. If you struggle with doubt about your salvation, or know someone who does, get Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart here.

A quick note about the audio book, which I received free for reviewing purposes from christianaudio.com: I think it’s the first book I’ve heard read by Tom Parks, but I really liked him! He’s a very engaging reader, and has the added benefit of sounding a lot like one of my favorite preachers. I hope to hear more from him!

Book Review: Humble Orthodoxy

“Humble Orthodoxy: Holding the Truth High Without Putting People Down” by Joshua Harris

Three years ago, I wrote that “Humble Orthodoxy,” the final chapter of Joshua Harris’ book Dug Down Deep, was worth the price of the book all by itself. Evidently, I wasn’t alone in thinking so!

By popular demand, Harris has finally expanded and expounded the contents of that great chapter into its own book, and I’m so glad he did! Humility is sadly lacking in modern discourse, particularly in the realm of theological convictions. While the abundance of attention being given by evangelical authors to getting our doctrine right is a good thing, far less attention has been given to how we ought to contend for the faith.

Does God care about the attitude with which we stand for truth? Of course he does! Yet, as Harris points out, “orthodoxy has gotten a bad reputation.” We Christians are not exactly known for our compassion and humility when it comes to defending our beliefs.

Something has to give. As Harris argues, that something is our pride. We need to stop seeking the approval of men, and start living for the only approval that matters—God’s. When we understand that our deeds merit nothing but damnation, and that God’s approval is based solely on the obedience of Christ, we cannot be arrogant. This is the heart of true orthodoxy, and it can only be realized in true humility.

We don’t have to choose between humility and orthodoxy. We need both, and, in fact, each leads to the other. Humble orthodoxy changes the way we relate to others. Instead of puffing ourselves up through comparisons with those we see as more sinful, we should see God’s grace as something to be extended to others. Harris writes, “Instead of looking down on the unorthodox, how can we not want to humbly lead them toward the same life-giving truth that has changed our lives?

This book is tiny—its 61 pages weighing in at under five ounces—but exhibits an incredible economy of words. Nearly every sentence is worthy of highlighting… no filler material here! Throughout its four chapters, Harris gives examples from Scripture of men who exhibited humble orthodoxy, and shows readers how to develop this godly character in our own lives.

There is quite a bit of overlap with the last chapter of Dug Down Deep, but there is easily enough new material to make this book stand on its own merits, even if you have read the “Humble Orthodoxy” chapter that led to it. Its small size and easy readability means this book lends itself to many repeat readings, something I’ll be certain to take advantage of whenever I need a good dose of conviction about my pride (which is often!).

This is also a perfect little book to give away to young Christians and new theologians, whose “newfound zeal for truth often makes them dangerous,” as Harris points out. I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes open down the road for deals on bulk purchases of this book to go in the giveaway box in my office. It’s important to note, though, that as this book is primarily concerned with exhorting readers toward humility rather than establishing orthodoxy, this book alone would not be sufficient to help a new believer achieve humble orthodoxy. To get a good grasp on what orthodoxy is, they will need to consult other resources. For this purpose, Harris’ earlier book remains one of my top recommendations.

Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Humble Orthodoxy. Reference it frequently. You won’t regret it!

Book Review: The Conviction to Lead

“The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters” by Albert Mohler

I have a confession to make: I really don’t like leadership books.

Don’t get me wrong. I read books on leadership frequently, and I understand the value that good books on leadership add to my own ability to lead. In many ways, leadership is a very pragmatic subject, and I’ve greatly benefited from many of the ones I’ve read. I’ve just never actually enjoyed one before.

Until now.

Mohler makes no effort to hide the fact that The Conviction to Lead is categorically different from the plethora of other leadership books that have flooded Christian and secular bookstores over the last few decades. His first sentence lays it all on the line: “Let me warn you right up front—my goal is to change the way you think about leadership. I do not aim merely to add one voice to the conversation; I want to fundamentally change the way leadership is understood and practiced.

This book approaches a problem which Mohler sees in today’s evangelical culture. The church, he says, seems to be increasingly divided between two groups: “Leaders” and “Believers.” That is to say, today’s churches and seminaries are filled with those who are gifted and driven to lead well, and with those who care deeply and passionately about theology, but there is not necessarily a lot of overlap between the two. Mohler thinks there should be. This book is his effort to bridge that gap, “to redefine Christian leadership so that it is inseparable from passionately held beliefs, and to motivate those who are deeply committed to truth to be ready for leadership.”

Leadership books speak often of different types of intelligence, building on Howard Gardner’s (no relation!) theory of multiple intelligences. Often there will be some sort of personality profile test (or “spiritual gifts inventory” in the churchy lingo) to help leaders best use their natural abilities to discover their own leadership style. This can be very useful, and Mohler adds his own twist here. He suggests another type of intelligence which strong leaders require: “Convictional Intelligence.”

Convictional intelligence emerges when the leader increases in knowledge and in strength of belief. It deepens over time, with the seasoning and maturing of knowledge that grows out of faithful learning, Christian thinking, and biblical reasoning.” As leaders become committed to studying what they believe, the convictions that develop from these beliefs inform the direction in which they are leading. In turn, these convictions drive the passionate student to lead others down the same path. It’s a powerful cycle.

Mohler’s arguments are quite compelling, and very attractive. This book resonated with me, largely because it gives voice to much of my own experience. The times at which I feel I have developed most as a leader have been the times at which I was most diligently studying, learning, and forming strong convictions about everything from theology to philosophy to history and every other form of knowledge. Usually, these have been times when I myself have been led by a man of very strong conviction. So what Mohler is saying here sounded quite familiar, though I had never made the connection before.

That said, I have MUCH yet to learn about leading well, both in terms of leadership philosophy and practical concerns. This book deals with both. Mohler instructs those who read his book to seek to grow by following 25 principles, with a healthy mix of the abstract and the pragmatic. These principles also cover the entire length of a leader’s life, from how to develop the conviction and skills necessary to lead in the first place, to how to leave a legacy for future generations to continue following once the leader is gone.

Some chapters cover areas in which I am already strong (e.g., “Leaders Are Readers”), while others cover areas of personal weakness. You might say these chapters were particularly convicting, which is, of course, something to be expected in a book seeking to develop “the conviction to lead.” For me, the chapter I need to read over and over again in my current stage of leadership development is “Leaders Are Communicators.” For you it may be another area of weakness which must become a strength, but I believe every leader (or potential leader, i.e., all Christians) will benefit greatly from this book.

I don’t often recommend leadership books, but I hope you’ll read this one. Buy it here.

If you like, listen to Mohler tell you himself why you should: