Monday, December 23, 2013

Review of Christ's Prophetic Plans: A Futuristic Premillennial Primer

John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, ed.  Christ’s Prophetic Plans: A Futuristic Premillennial Primer.  Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012.

I would like to thank Moody Publishers for my review copy of this book.  See here for Moody’s page about the book.

Christ’s Prophetic Plans is an explanation and a defense of futuristic premillennialism, the pretribulational rapture, and classical dispensationalism.  Futuristic premillennialism is the notion that Jesus Christ will come back to earth in the future and will rule the world for one thousand years.  Prior to Christ’s second coming, according to futuristic premillennialism, there will be a Great Tribulation that will befall the world.  The pretribulational rapture is the idea that God will take Christians to heaven (as well as resurrect past saints) before this Tribulation occurs.  Classical dispensationalism states that God is still committed to the nation of Israel, and it interprets the Old Testament promises to Israel literally rather than spiritualizing them out of a belief that the church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people (replacement theology).  For classical dispensationalists, Israel continues to be God’s chosen nation.  (Note: I use the term “Old Testament” rather than Hebrew Bible in this review because the authors of Christ’s Prophetic Plans regard the Hebrew Bible as an Old Testament.)

This book contains contributions by John MacArthur, Richard Mayhue, Michael Vlach, Nathan Busenitz, and Matthew Waymeyer, all of whom are associated with the Master’s Seminary.  The contributions by MacArthur, Vlach, and Waymeyer are very lucid and well-argued.  Mayhue’s writing is rather complex and elliptical in areas, and yet his defense of the pretribulational rapture is quite thought-provoking, and it avoids (perhaps even repudiates) some of the weak defenses of the pretribulational rapture that I have encountered over the years (i.e., Matthew 24:40-41 concerns the pretribulational rapture, or Christ’s coming as a thief in the night indicates a pretribulational rapture).  Busenitz’s chapter might be useful to scholars in the field of the History of Biblical Interpretation or Church History, for it quotes church fathers who believed in a literal, future millennial reign of Christ, as well as offered reasons that much of the church departed from futuristic premillennialism in favor of amillennialism, the idea that the millennium in Revelation 20 refers to Christ’s present spiritual reign (which commenced after Jesus’ resurrection) rather than a future earthly reign.

Overall, I found the book’s defense of futuristic premillennialism and classical dispensationalism to be effective.  Against amillennialists who argue that the millennium of Revelation 20 is Christ’s present spiritual reign and that (in accordance with Revelation 20:2-3) Satan is currently limited in terms of his ability to deceive the world, more than one contributor referred to New Testament passages indicating that Satan has been active in the world even after Christ’s resurrection.  The book also appealed to New Testament passages in arguing that God is still committed to Israel.  John MacArthur even contended that Calvinists especially should believe in God’s commitment to Israel, since God has elected Israel, and Calvinists often regard God’s election as unconditional and lasting.  MacArthur offers reasons that a number of Calvinists have instead embraced replacement theology and a non-literal interpretation of parts of the Old Testament.

I did not find all of the book’s arguments to be convincing, however.  The book purported to support a literal hermeneutic of Scripture, yet there were times when I thought that it failed to take the text at face value due to its commitment to biblical inerrancy.   Mayhue, for instance, said that the church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3 refers to a first century church and also an end-time church, and the reason is probably that Mayhue wants to use Revelation 3:10 as a proof-text for the pre-tribulational rapture, and he cannot do so if Revelation 3:10 applies only to the first century church in Philadelphia.  Consequently, he embraces a notion that Revelation 3:10 has a first century and an end-time fulfillment, when Revelation 3:10 could simply have been an expectation of what would happen in the first century.  Similarly, on page 99, Mayhue says that God often warned God’s people in the past about a judgment that they would not experience in order to encourage them to repent.  I think that this is Mayhue’s attempt to account for imminent eschatology: the idea that God will soon exact judgment and set up a paradise.  This idea appears in prophecies in the Hebrew Bible and also in the New Testament, but the eschaton did not materialize in the past, and this can pose a problem to those who regard the Bible as the inerrant word of God.  In my opinion, not only does Mayhue deal with this problem inadequately, but he also skirts the literal meaning of the biblical text.

In addition, there were times when I wished that the book went more deeply into certain issues.  For example, there was a chart near the beginning of the book that explained futuristic premillennialism, and it distinguished among the Judgment Seat of Christ that Paul mentions, God’s judgment of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46, and the White Throne Judgment in Revelation 20:11-15, asserting that these are three separate judgments.  I was hoping to read a discussion about the judgment of the sheep and the goats later in the book, but I was disappointed.

On page 43, Vlach quotes the dispensationalist Scofield Reference Bible, which states regarding John 1:17 that “The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ, with good works as a fruit of salvation.”  Vlach is arguing against the idea that dispensationalists teach that there have been multiple paths to salvation—-that the Old Testament held to salvation by obedience to the law, whereas people today are saved by grace through faith in Christ.  Vlach refers to dispensationalist statements that even people in Old Testament times were saved by grace, but, unfortunately, he does not explain what that passage in the Scofield Reference Bible meant in implying that legal obedience was once a “condition of salvation.”  Instead, Vlach quotes Charles Ryrie’s statement that earlier dispensationalists made “unguarded statements that would have been more carefully worded if they were being made in the light of today’s debate” (Ryrie’s words).  I wish that Vlach had explained how dispensationalists believe that salvation occurred in Old Testament times, and what role (if any) the law played.

I also wish that the book went into more detail about the significance of Israel’s establishment as a nation in 1948.  The book mentions that event, but I was curious as to whether the book’s contributors believe it fulfilled the prophecies in the Old Testament about Israel’s restoration.  Many of the glorious occurrences that are associated with Israel’s restoration within the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible did not occur in 1948.  I wonder about how the contributors to Christ’s Prophetic Plans would address that.

Overall, however, I found this book to be interesting and informative.

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