Posted by: Tim | September 1, 2010

Book Review: A Case for Historic Premillennialism

If you’ve watched the old Spiderman cartoons, you know that he talks to himself a lot. Often some supervillain will gas him or poison him or somehow make him dizzy, and he then says something like this: “Losing…consciousness….must….keep…going”…at this point he either makes it out or collapses (to somehow make it out later).

For most people, a blog post titled “Book Review: A Case for Historic Premillennialism” (CfHPM, edited by Craig Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung), produces that same numbing response as supervillian gas, so if you’ve read this far and you’re still conscious, you might as well keep reading. But unlike the supervillain poisin, CfHPM is actually a very good book on an important area of Biblical eschatology (end times). It is a collection of essays by instructors at Denver Seminary about, you guessed it, Historic Premillennialism. I picked up at the seminary bookstore when I was down in Denver in July, and read it in just a few days, as it is well written, insightful, and held my attention.

Historic Premillennialism (HPM) is a view of the future that understands the Bible to teach that Christ will return and usher in a 1000 year age of peace, called the millennium (I think that one of the end scenes of Lord of the Rings, Return of the King, where Aragorn is crowned king in the White City, gives an interesting picture of how I could imagine the beginning of the millennium, with Christ (not Aragorn!) being crowned king in Jerusalem (not Minas Tirith) ). HPM is to be distinguished from Dispensational Premillennialism, which usually holds that the church will be raptured at the beginning of the seven year tribulation (though it should be noted that some people hold to mid- or post-tribulational timing for the rapture, but are still dispensational), and then Christ will return to set up the millennial kingdom at the end of the tribulation.

CfHPM starts with an interesting essay by Tim Weber looking at the development of historic and dispensational premillennial thought.  As an aside, I appreciated his mention of post-tribulationalist Oswald J. Smith, founder of The Peoples Church, Toronto, the church I grew up in. I would have assumed Dr. OJ Smith was a dispensational post tribulationalist, not HPM, but maybe I’m wrong. I have an old OJ Smith sermon mp3 somewhere about the wonders of the millennium – I think it is the kind of popular level treatment that premillennialism needs as it is so rarely talked about in church.

I also really appreciated Donald Fairbairn’s essay studying the history of eschatological thought in the first centuries of the church. Fairbairn makes a strong case that the early church assumed the HPM position (this is why the term “historic” is attached to the HPM view).

Essays by Craig Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung (who are the co-editors of the book) also stood out to me as highlights, particularly Chung’s argument that Reformed Theology fits well with HPM.

There were two main weaknesses that I observed. The first was the overemphasis on responding to “Left Behind” eschatology (the popularized version of Dispensational Pre-Millennialism).  It seemed to me that much of the engagement was with popular level dispensational eschatology, rather than with some of the Dispensational Pre-Mill scholars. It is my opinion that “Left Behind” is just too easy a target for scholars of the calibre represented in CfHPM.

The second weakness was the lack of significant discussion about the relationship between Israel and the church in HPM. It seems to me that a person could hold to HPM and still see a distinct future for Israel.

Overall this book is a helpful, up-to-date contribution to the millennial debate. While it would have needed to be at least double the size to make a more complete case for HPM, it does a good job of presenting some solid scholarship and fresh thinking on the subject.

In fact it’s good enough to get your spider-sense tingling…

Recommended, but only if you have some background in eschatology – this is not a popular level introduction to HPM.

Of related interest: I reviewed Kim Riddlebarger’s “A Case for Amillennialism” here.

Blomberg, Craig, Chung, Sung Wook, A Case for Historic Premillennialism, Baker, Grand Rapids, 2009, 184 pages.

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