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.

A Preacher’s Best Kindness

Why Jonathan Edwards preached the doctrine of hell:

“If there be really a hell of such dreadful, and never-ending torments, as is generally supposed, that multitudes are in great danger of, and that the bigger part of men in Christian countries do actually from generation to generation fall into, for want of a sense of the terribleness of it, and their danger of it, and so for want of taking due care to avoid it; then why is it not proper for those that have the care of souls, to take great pains to make men sensible of it? Why should not they be told as much of the truth as can be? If I am in danger of going to hell, I should be glad to know as much as possibly I can of the dreadfulness of it: if I am very prone to neglect due care to avoid it, he does me the best kindness, that does most to represent to me the truth of the case, that sets forth my misery and danger in the liveliest manner.”

~ Jonathan Edwards, Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God

Secret Church at the MIX

Secret Church 2013

This evening, our church will be participating in the Secret Church simulcast with David Platt. This is the 13th Secret Church event, and I’ve been blessed to participate in the last seven. It’s always fantastic, and I’m sure tonight will be no different!

At each SC event, Pastor David Platt of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL, teaches on a topic for about six hours, with times of musical worship and prayer for the persecuted church around the world interspersed throughout the night. This year’s prayer focus is for the Hui people, an ethnic minority in China that is predominantly Muslim.

Tonight’s topic is “Heaven, Hell, and the End of the World.” While I don’t know exactly how Platt will approach teaching about the End Times, the promo video gives a very encouraging preview:

Based on this video, and on a familiarity with Platt’s teaching style, here are some things I expect to happen tonight:

Mix of Individual and General Eschatology

Whereas most teaching events on the topic of eschatology that I’ve attended have been focused on the timing & manner of Christ’s return, I expect Platt to spend much more time teaching about the eternal fate of individual believers and nonbelievers. With this focus, a study of the doctrine of the future is one of the greatest motivators of evangelism. David Platt never opens his mouth without calling Christians to take the gospel to the lost, always stressing the extreme urgency of this mission. This is as it should be!

Focus on Unity Rather Than Division

There’s a joke that’s been around for quite some time that “the millennium is 1000 years of peace that Christians like to fight about.” Eschatology, sadly, is one of the most divisive doctrines among Christians. People tend to either be very passionate about their beliefs regarding the end of time, or to be ambivalent (which has a tendency to upset the passionate folks!), choosing to focus on other things. If anybody can teach what is sure to be a diverse group of believers in a way that unites believers around the gospel rather than dividing on millennial fault lines, it will be David Platt. Besides, whether you’re “pre-mill”, “a-mill”, or “post-mill”, you have WAY more in common with those of different eschatological persuasions than you have in difference. I expect Platt to highlight these unifying themes.

The Millennium is Now

That said, I doubt he’s going to teach for six hours without “planting a flag” somewhere. While I am sure Platt will endeavor to present other views fairly and accurately, I expect tonight’s teaching to lean slightly toward an amillennial perspective, as this seems to be the bent of his teaching in his books and sermons. This happens to be my own personal view (which has changed somewhat over the last five years after much study and prayer), but for those who hold to different views, don’t worry! I expect him to highlight the best aspects of other perspectives rather than highlighting areas of disagreement. I doubt anyone will walk away anything but encouraged and edified!

Incidentally, most of our church staff and members are Dispensationalists, and we all get along just fine! I’m thankful to serve on a staff that is united around the centrality of the Gospel rather than divided over peripheral doctrines. For a great book that models cooperation between Dispensationalists and Amillennialists, check out Understanding Dispensationlists by Amillennialist Vern Poythress (my review).

Join Us!

The simulcast at Stevens Street is being hosted by The MIX, our college ministry. However, this is NOT just for college students! All church members are invited to attend and study with us. There is no cost to attend, though if you are able to contribute, donations will be appreciated to help offset the cost to the college ministry. Study guides will be available (as long as our supply lasts!) for $5. Let me know if you want one and I’ll put your name on it.

If you’d like to come, join us in the MIX room, Building H at SSBC (this is the building on Short St. across from the youth building). If you’d like to come early, there will be a spaghetti dinner in the Fellowship Hall starting at 5:00, with proceeds benefiting the family of Roger Vinson, one of our church members recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. The cost of the dinner will be $5.

Related Resources

I’ll bring copies of all the books listed below tonight, in case anyone would like to browse or borrow any of them:

Books by David Platt:

Sermons by David Platt:

Recommended reading on personal and general eschatology:

Other:

  • An Evening of Eschatology [Video] — A roundtable discussion on the millennium moderated by John Piper
  • Endtimes Q&A — A helpful series of videos summarizing the four predominant views of eschatology
  • Why I Changed My Mind About the Millennium — Examples of how one baptist pastor and seminary professor (Sam Storms) changed his beliefs from premillennialism to amillennialism, and how another (Tom Schreiner) changed his mind in the opposite direction.

Why I Changed My Mind About the Millennium

It’s rare to hear pastors (or anyone, for that matter) admit that they’ve changed their mind on something, particularly on major doctrinal issues. When I do come across examples of godly men recounting how their doctrinal views have evolved, I always find it encouraging. Certainly my own doctrinal views are very different today from what they were ten years ago… and perhaps different in some ways from what they may be ten years from now. It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one who hasn’t got it all figured out!

I direct your attention, then, to a blog post by Sam Storms entitled Why I Changed My Mind About the Millennium, in which this Baptist pastor describes the events that led to his abandonment of dispensationalism and eventual embracing of amillennialism. I recommend it for two reasons: First, because it’s a good example of someone who, when his convictions were challenged, turned to a long and serious study to find answers, despite the fact that it was unpopular. Second, because Dr. Storms’ experience in many ways mirrors my own.

While I am not as firmly convinced of the amillennial position as he is (I seem to vacillate between historical premillennialism and amillennialism), I have read many of the same books in my own study of eschatology. Anthony Hoekema’s The Bible and the Future has been particularly helpful.

If you’re interested in hearing more of Sam Storms’ perspective on the millennium, along with other views defended with just as much conviction, I encourage you to find the time to watch this roundtable discussion moderated by John Piper, in which Dr. Storms represented the amillennial view:

Perhaps the best short summary of the most common millennial views comes in a series of short videos by David Murray, which you can find here.

I’m also very much looking forward to the next installment of David Platt’s Secret Church, which will be on the topic “Heaven, Hell, and the End of the World”. You can learn more about the material that will be covered by following along on the Facebook Page, which will have several promo videos leading up to the simulcast on Good Friday. While I don’t know for certain whether or not this will be broadcast at Stevens Street, I suspect that it will. I hope you’ll come!

P.S. — In the interests of fairness, I should also point you to an example of someone who moved in the opposite direction. Tom Schreiner, one of my favorite professors at SBTS, changed his position from amillennial to premillennial (though decidedly NOT dispensational) while preaching through the book of Revelation four years ago. If you’re interested, feel free to peruse the many related links you’ll find here.

Seven Applications of Revelation

Why did God give us the book of Revelation?

Dr. Dennis Johnson, professor of practical theology at Westminster Seminary California, answers this question this way:

“God gave us the Apocalypse shown to John in order to bless us — to do us good, to convey His grace, to fortify our hearts.”

He then lists seven ways the book of Revelation should be applied:

  1. Revelation helps Christians see our situation in its true perspective.
  2. Revelation shows our enemies in their true colors.
  3. Revelation reveals our Champion in his true glory.
  4. Revelation enables us to see ourselves in our true beauty.
  5. Revelation summons us to endure as we suffer.
  6. Revelation calls us to stay pure when compromise invites.
  7. Revelation encourages us to bear witness as God waits.

This is a wonderful list of applications, and I encourage you to check out Johnson’s work in fleshing them out in his commentary on Revelation, Triumph of the Lamb. He provides a summary of these points in the January 2012 edition of Tabletalk magazine.