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During the 2007 Shepherds Conference at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, John MacArthur delivered a lecture entitled “Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist Should Be a Premillennialist.” It created quite a stir among Reformed pastors and theologians. I remember reading Tom Ascol’s “Founders Ministries Blog” and the dust-up MacArthur’s lecture created in the comments there.

Probably no one has done more for the resurgence of expository preaching in our generation than John MacArthur. In a few personal encounters, I have found Dr. MacArthur to be gracious, modest, thoughtful, and kind, and I have learned much from him and almost always consult his commentaries when I’m working with a New Testament passage. I still have a first edition copy of The Gospel According to Jesus, published in 1988 and bought and read in 1988. MacArthur clearly stated and defended the biblical gospel against the “easy believism” of twentieth-century evangelicals (and of too many Southern Baptists, my own denomination, even today).

And yet, as a former dispensational premillennialist, I have for years regarded Dr. MacArthur’s eschatological views regrettable and find his lecture on Calvinism and premillennialism disappointing. There have been several very good responses to the assertions in MacArthur’s lecture, and one of the best I have read is by Kim Riddlebarger, senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, California, and visiting professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California. I encourage you to read it on Riddlebarger’s “Riddleblog: Devoted to Reformed Theology and Eschatology.” Riddlebarger helpfully clears up a lot of mischaracterizations of Amillennialism, in particular the bogus charge of replacement theology.

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From the time of my conversion until the mid-1990’s, I held to a dispensational premillennial view of eschatology. The independent Baptist church I joined as an eighteen-year-old taught it, the Bible college I later attended promoted it, and the seminary where I studied in the 1980’s viewed no other option as viable. The longer I studied the Scriptures, however, the more untenable I found dispensational premillennialism.

Dispensational premillennialists claim to take the Bible more literally than do those who are historic premillennialists, postmillennialists, or amillennialists. Actually, I contend they take the Bible less literally, treating the Bible more like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, forcing unrelated verses and passages to fit together in an attempt to create a coherent, yet complicated, picture of the end times.

Finding dispensational premillennialism untenable biblically and weary of the hermeneutical gymnastics necessary to make it work, I made my way to historic premillennialism. Gone were the Part A and Part B division of the return of Christ (the secret coming of Christ for his church at the rapture and the public coming of Christ with his church to conquer rebellious humanity), the partitioned seven-year tribulation (two 3 1/2-year divisions) between the “comings” of Christ, and the various judgments. Gone was trying to find the rapture in the gospels. Matthew 24:40-41 refers to people being taken away to judgment, by the way, as even many dispensational premillennialists acknowledge (see John MacArthur’s Matthew 24-28, 75), not to a rapture of believers. Gone was trying to find the rapture in the book of Revelation. Surely there is something better than the “Come up here” command to John (Revelation 4:1) or the contention that the word “church” is not used from the end of chapter three until 22:16. Things became more simple, but I continued to hold onto a future Millennium. After all, that seemed the more literal reading of Revelation 20.

But even that interpretation became untenable to me, being fraught with problems. Sam Storms has helpfully listed some:

If you are a Premillennialist (whether Dispensationalist or not), there are several things you must necessarily believe:

You must necessarily believe that physical death will continue to exist beyond the time of Christ’s second coming.

You must necessarily believe that the natural creation will continue, beyond the time of Christ’s second coming, to be subjected to the curse imposed by the fall of man.

You must necessarily believe that the New Heavens and New Earth will not be introduced until 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ.

You must necessarily believe that unbelieving men and women will still have the opportunity to come to saving faith in Christ for at least 1,000 years subsequent to his return.

You must necessarily believe that unbelievers will not be finally resurrected until at least 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ.

You must necessarily believe that unbelievers will not be finally judged and cast into eternal punishment until at least 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ.

Amillennialists don’t see these beliefs being taught in Scripture.

Indeed, I do not see those beliefs being taught in Scripture and have settled upon an amillennial understanding of eschatology. If one wants to study seriously an amillennial understanding of eschatology instead of caricatures put forth by dispensationalists, I recommend a book that has been very helpful to me: A Case for Amillennialism by Kim Riddlebarger. Also helpful is The End Times Made Simple: How Could Everybody Be So Wrong about Biblical Prophecy, by Sam Waldron.

Premillennialists of various persuasions seek to be faithful to the Scriptures, but I view their system of eschatology as wrong. Otherwise, I would still be among them. The crucial belief for orthodox Christians, though, is not the hows and whys of the Lord’s second coming but the fact of his second coming. On that we must not waver.

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