07 April 2009

a case for historic premillennialism

Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung, ed., A Case for Historic Premillennialism (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009).

Although the fervor of 'Left Behind' theology has certainly died down from what it was just five years ago, the damage of its pattern of thought (unfortunately) has not. Thus, it remains the task of the academic community to continue in its response and education. The fact of the matter is that the perspective given in LB is so often out-of-step with traditional orthodoxy (at best) and is sometimes outright anti-Christian (at worst). If we truly believe that eschatology holds the power to shape how we live in the present, then it should not need stating that this level of theology matters greatly.

So it is good to see that the work goes on, even after the headlines aren't so frequent in our culture. As someone who has taught a course on Revelation for the last 4 years I can certainly testify that there is too much LB and not enough Bible-in context happening with our view of Christianity and eschatological thought. Knowing one of the editors and a few of the authors, I was willing to recommend this book sight unseen - but since I've read it . . . I will include my brief thoughts.

Chapter One: Dispensational and Historic Premillennialism as Popular Millennialist Movements (Timothy P. Weber) - the opening chapter presents a concise and solid historical overview of two millennial movements, tracing their developments while offering a critique of their thought. Personally, this chapter is beneficial for the many times I have been met with questions of how one perspective has become culturally dominant if it is not the more biblical model. There are certainly socio-historical factors at work in the solidification of Dispensational thought, and Weber provides a fair treatment of the record.

Chapter Two: The Future Written in the Past: The Old Testament and the Millennium (Richard S. Hess) - typically speaking, the Old Testament is ignored in LB eschatology except where it serves to directly advance their reading of Revelation (i.e., the flagrant and frequent misreadings of Daniel and Ezekiel). Hess seeks to put these particular misreadings back into context while also giving a fuller picture of OT eschatology. He rightly states: "These prophets were concerned with the future. They saw it as a time of restoration" (29). Quite right.

Chapter Three: Judaism and the World to Come (Hélène Dallaire) - this particular chapter widens the scope of the OT perspective by exploring the concept of afterlife and the resurrection of the dead. Admittedly, there is not much explicit evidence to explore on this topic in Torah and Prophets, but the author here does trace the development of thought until: "The belief that the soul survived death and that the body would one day be resurrected and reunited with the soul became the traditional Jewish view during this period and for many subsequent centuries" (55).

Chapter Four: The Posttribulationism of the New Testament: Leaving 'Left Behind' Behind (Craig L. Blomberg) - in what I would consider the most impacting chapter in the book comes in this essay which deals not only with the NT text, but also with the many misreadings and misuses of the data to serve other agendas (cf. Hal Lindsay; LaHaye & Jenkins). Since the NT contains the majority of texts used for constructing modern millennialism, this is perhaps the chapter which will get many people looking forward to most (if not just skipping to it first). In his typical fashion, Blomberg gives a solid survey of the landscape and interacts with modern questions and debate. Though there is too much here to give in great detail, of interest is his assertion that while the NT does speak of an imminent return of Christ, there is no 'hyper-immincence' of the parousia to be found (cf. 84).

Chapter Five: The Theological Method of Premillennialism (Don J. Payne) - having established a biblical reading of texts to support historic premillennialism, the book next examines its own theological approach. Attention is here given to hermeneutical principle, the role of tradition, reason, and experience (long live the quadrilateral!).

Chapter Six: Contemporary Millennial/Tribulational Debates (Donald Fairbairn) - the often forgotten perspective in much modern biblical and theological debate is that of church history. In this chapter, Fairbairn asks what perspective the early church had on the millennial issue. Of course, one would expect a survey which emphasizes the position of historic premillennialism . . . but the author is able to do so while also examining dispensational readings as well. One issue at the forefront is the challenge to 'literal' readings (from dispensational thought), which would have been methodologically foreign to the early church (cf. 119).

Chapter Seven: Toward the Reformed and Covenantal Theology of Premillennialism: A Proposal (Sung Wook Chung) - bringing together all of the material presented in the various essays, Chung offers a synthesis of thought and a proposal to move forward. Placing the argument as it stands explicitly against the Reformed tradition of amillennialism, Chung re-presents a theological reading of the covenant, citing texts and important moments in the covenantal history of Israel. Though I find some points of disagreement in Chung's overview of the covenant concept in Israel, his direction seems to be headed in the right direction - that the renewal of this world is in scope for the remaking of the heavens and the earth. And even though I accept his direction, there are still questions left unanswered in what he presents regarding timing and the role of believers in the process. But it is a good discussion-starter nonetheless.

Chapter Eight: Premillennial Tensions and Holistic Missiology: Latin American Evangelicalism (Oscar A. Campos) - this chapter has the feel of an addendum to the main body of the book, but does provide a wider perspective on millennial matters by opening the scope of the topic to a culture outside of American evangelicalism. A brief history of dispensational influence turns to modern mission within the framework of Latin evangelicalism help the reader to consider modern implications of the preceding material.

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