This review appeared in the Apr-Jun 2007 vol. 164 no. 2 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End TimesBaker Books, Grand Rapids March 1, 2003
Although accurately titled as a case for amillennialism, this book is also written as a case against premillennialism. And to a lesser degree it is a case against postmillennialism, especially in its points of similarity to amillennialism. Classic postmillennialism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has been modified at present in light of the chaotic and war-ravaged state of the world since World War I.
The basic difference between the author’s position as an amillennialist and the dispensational premillennialism he rejects and opposes is the hermeneutical difference between a primarily figurative system of biblical interpretation especially of the Old Testament and the primarily literal interpretive system of the entire Bible used by dispensationalists, which the author calls “literalistic” (p. 38). Riddlebarger agrees that “the differences between the two millennial viewpoints are, therefore, largely due to the hermeneutical presuppositions that their adherents bring to the study of the data” (ibid.)
Like most amillennialists Riddlebarger frequently identifies his system of interpretation as “the historic Protestant position” (ibid). He points out that amillennialism was “first given systematic expression by St. Augustine” and that “all major thinkers in Christian history have held something akin to the amillennial position” (p. 32). Though he acknowledges that “this does not mean that amillennialism is true, he considers it “an impressive point” (ibid.). Actually belief in a millennial reign of Christ following His return to earth (in effect, premillennialism) was the belief of most church fathers from Papias (A.D. 60–130) until Augustine.
“Amillennialists,” the author writes, “hold that the promises made to Israel, David, and Abraham in the Old Testament are fulfilled by Jesus Christ and his church during this present age” (p. 31). Furthermore, “The millennium is the period of time between the two advents of our Lord with the thousand years of Revelation 20 being symbolic of the entire interadventural age” (ibid.), in other words, this present church age. The same point is also made on pages 11, 19, 82, 87, in spite of the fact that Revelation 20:2–7 refers six times to the thousand years as a future event, a declaration obviously meant to be taken seriously.
For amillennialists, therefore, the entire Book of Revelation describes the present church age rather than future events following the rapture of the church.
Amillennialists believe that the promises God made to the patriarchs (Abraham and David in particular) and to Israel as His chosen people have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ and in His church, thus eliminating any future recognition of Israel as a chosen people of God distinct from the church, the body of Christ.
To support his equation of Israel and the church, the author quotes Anthony Hoekema, who points out that the same word is used for Israel and the church (lh;q; in the Old Testament and ejkklhsiva in the New Testament and the Septuagint; p. 121). However, both words simply mean “assembly.” If their use proves identity, how do Hoekema and the author explain the use of ejkklhsiva to refer to the riotous crowd in the amphitheater in Ephesus (Acts 19:32)?
Numerous other objections could be raised to Riddlebarger’s amillennnial interpretation of the Bible; but, as stated near the beginning of this review and recognized by both this reviewer and the author, the basic conflict is hermeneutical—between an essentially literal system of interpretation of all of the Bible (premillennialism) and the spiritualization of much of Scripture, especially the Old Testament (amillennialism). Throughout the book Riddlebarger maintains an irenic spirit, and he concludes with the recognition that all Christians of whatever millennial persuasion “long for the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns for his people. . . . This is the blessed hope” (p. 246).
—John A. Witmer