Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative

Sam Storms Mentor, March 20, 2013
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Storms, Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, OK, and President of Enjoying God Ministries, explains that the “primary aim [of this book] will be to provide a biblical rationale for what is commonly known as amillennialism. In doing so I will of necessity be forced to account for what I also believe are the shortcomings of all varieties of premillennialism, and in particular the dispensational, pretribulational eschatology of the quite famous Left Behind series of books authored by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. . . .  I will also examine the third among the millennial options known as postmillennialism, as well as the biblical perspective on the beast of Revelation” (p. 13). The book is rooted in his own story of transition from belief in dispensational premillennialism to amillennialism.

After briefly telling his story in the “Introduction,” an opening chapter provides a brief description of biblical hermeneutics, particularly the interpretation of prophecy. Storms correctly identifies Jesus Christ and His church as “the focal and terminating point of all prophecy” (p. 16). All of the Old Testament is fulfilled in Jesus, including the feasts, sacrifices, institutions, and the temple cult. Many premillennialists, including dispensationalists, would agree with Storms’s summary: “Everything and all that these events and institutions were designed to be and do, Jesus was and did. To suggest that any such Old Testament shadow might yet re-emerge in God’s divine economy is worse than redemptive retrograde. It is tantamount to a denial of the coming of Christ Jesus and the sufficiency of all that he accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection” (p. 25). Also in this chapter is an excellent, albeit brief, treatment of the meaning of metaphors and “literal” interpretation.

In an important chapter that sets the context for the writing of the book and further recounts the author’s personal journey, Storms defines dispensationalism as he understood it at Dallas Theological Seminary in the mid-1970s. Dispensations are “distinct periods or eras” during which “the unfolding purpose of God and his relationship with mankind are revealed” (p. 50). But since all Christians recognize eras in the biblical story, “what is unique about dispensationalism is the way these distinct periods in biblical history are used to justify or undergird a separation between Israel and the Church” (ibid.). According to Storms, “God, then, has two separate peoples: Israel in the Old Testament with her distinctive set of earthly promises and destiny, and the Church in the New Testament with her distinctive set of heavenly promises and destiny” (p. 52). A corollary, according to Storms, is “that according to the dispensational premillennialist, this present Church age is a parenthesis in God’s primary redemptive purpose” (p. 53).

Storms is correct that some dispensationalists have emphasized the anthropological dualism of the heavenly and earthly peoples and have described the church as a break in God’s program for Israel. But this is not the case for all dispensationalists. Ryrie for example wrote, “Any apparent dichotomy between heavenly and earthly purposes is not actual. . . . Believing Israelites of the Mosaic age who died in faith have a heavenly destiny. . . . Jews today who believe in Christ are members of the Church, His body, and their destiny is the same as Gentile believers. . . . That dispensationalism denies a heavenly hope and future for Israel is simply not true” (Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today [Chicago: Moody Press, 1965], 146–47). Treating this anthropological dualism as the standard articulation of dispensationalism, particularly when many dispensationalists reject that view, seems a bit unfair. To say it another way, many dispensationalists would join Storms in criticizing the “two-peoples” view, as Ryrie did in 1965.

Storms then moves to an extended criticism of premillennialism. He begins with the assertion that “premillennialism is by far and away the most widely held perspective on the end of human history” (p. 135). Surely he does not mean that most humans who have ever lived believe that Christ will return to the earth and establish a reign of 1000 years, prior to the new heaven and new earth? Even within Christianity, it seems unlikely to be an accurate statement. Further, it is not clear why he makes this claim. Perhaps it is important to Storms’s narrative that amillennialism is a minority view and that he has adopted a view that he believes has been marginalized in the Christian tradition.

Premillennialists believe that there is biblical support for their position. Storms holds a different view. He claims that there are many things that “premillennialists must believe (because of the way they interpret Scripture), [that] the New Testament explicitly denies” (p. 137). Later, he claims that the premillennial interpretation of Revelation 20 “contradicts the eschatological assertions in other New Testament books” and that “statements in other New Testament books concerning end-time chronology necessarily and logically preclude the notion of a post-parousia millennial age in Revelation 20” (p. 140). Finally, he writes, “My argument will be that a premillennial interpretation of Revelation 20 actually contradicts the clear and unequivocal assertions in such texts as 1 Corinthians 15, Romans 8, and others. No one questions that the Revelation sheds much additional light upon the eschatological constructs of Paul and Peter. It undoubtedly fills in much of the detail not addressed by the other New Testament authors. But I am convinced that the premillennial interpretation of Revelation 20 neither sheds light upon nor fills in but rather contradicts the assertions of other, decidedly more lucid, prophetic texts” (p. 142). These are strong claims. Since Storms does not interact with the way premillennialists have responded to the views he sees as contradictory, the uninformed reader is left to assume that premillennialism is antithetical to the clear teaching of Scripture. But premillennialism is an ancient tradition. As early as the second century, Irenaeus interpreted the Scripture to teach a future millennium in which glorified saints and surviving mortals would reign over the earth with Jesus at His return (Against Heresies 5.35.1).

Storms ratchets up the pejorative rhetoric even more when he writes, “Is it not becoming increasingly evident that premillennialism necessarily entails a scenario that is simply bizarre, not to mention without biblical warrant? Is it really the case that the Bible teaches an earthly reign of Christ in which millions of physically dead believers hover in his presence, strangely mingling with physically alive unregenerate people, as well as physically alive but unglorified regenerate people, as well as resurrected and glorified people? . . . This eschatological system necessarily entails such bizarre and unbiblical ad hoc developments and explanations that it stretches credibility beyond the breaking point” (pp. 157–58). Surely this ancient Christian position deserves more respect than this.

A chapter is devoted to postmillennialism, of which Storms writes, “As an amillennialist, I must admit that the textual support in defense of postmillennialism is impressive, if not altogether persuasive” (p. 369). The contrast in tone between his treatments of the two millennial views is stark.

When Storms shifts to a positive articulation of his own view, engaging in biblical and exegetical studies, he shines. His treatment of God’s plan of redemption and his rejection of “Replacement Theology” is outstanding. Although dispensationalists disagree with his conclusions that the church is the Israel of God and that God’s plan no longer includes land promises for ethnic Israel, all can agree that “whoever among the Jewish people is saved, regardless of when that may occur, will enter the kingdom and on the same terms as do Gentile believers” (p. 227). Storms is correct that salvation is found only by grace through faith in Christ—for Jews and Gentiles.

In his defense of amillennialism, Storms makes several points that millennialists need to hear. First, he explains, “I most assuredly do believe in the reality of a literal millennial kingdom.  . . .  The ‘millennium’ that I believe John describes in the Apocalypse is concurrent with the church age in which we live and consists of the co-regency with Christ of those believers who have died and entered into the glory of the intermediate state” (p. 423). Later he puts it this way: “Contrary to what the name (amillennialism) implies, amillennialists do believe in a millennium. The millennium, however, is now: the present age of the Church between the first and second comings of Christ in its entirety is the millennium. Therefore, while the amillennialist does deny the premillennial belief in a personal, literal reign of Christ upon the earth for 1000 years following his second coming, he affirms that there is a millennium and that Christ rules” (p. 424). Second, Storms insists that his interpretation of Revelation 20 is literal. “The point is simply that the millennium for which I will argue is just as real and literal as the millennium for which the premillennialist contends” (p. 429). He argues against the common premillennialist charge that amillennialism “spiritualizes, and therefore dishonors, God’s word” (p. 428).

Chapters on the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24), the book of Revelation, the identity of the Antichrist, the binding of Satan, and the kingdom of God contribute to the argument Storms is making. The book concludes with “A Cumulative Case Argument for Amillennialism,” in which the author summarizes thirty reasons for his view.

This book accomplishes four major functions. First, the author tells his story of transition from a dispensational, pretributional, premillennial view to amillennialism. Understanding this story puts the arguments in the book in their context. In Storms’s experience in seminary and in churches, amillennialism was seen as dangerous, liberal, and rooted in a rejection of the Bible. When he rejected belief in a pretribulation rapture, people in his church responded in “horror.” “More than a few were convinced that I was well on my way into theological liberalism! But when in the early 1980s I abandoned premillennialism in all its forms, public reaction was such that you would have sworn I had committed the unpardonable sin. I’m not suggesting that all or even the majority of dispensational premillennialists feel this way today (I hope and pray that few do), but the atmosphere in the 1970s and 1980s was something less than amicable for those who departed from the accepted eschatological faith” (p. 12). Perhaps Storms’s attitude toward dispensational premillennialism and the strong tone of his argument is rooted in that woundedness.

Second, the author attempts to demolish the biblical arguments for premillennialism. The tone in this section is harsh and derisive. Tragically, he treats premillennialism similarly to the offensive way he describes amillennialism being treated by his professors in seminary (see pp. 9–10). If he wants premillennialists to listen to his criticism and to consider the merits of amillennialism, it might be good to stop calling their view bizarre and contradictory to the Bible.

Third, the author provides a brief but sympathetic defense of postmillennialism. He concludes, “I want to believe that postmillennialism is true. The notion of a progressive and ultimate triumph of the gospel within history itself such that when Jesus returns he finds a truly Christianized cosmos is profoundly appealing. But as of the publication of this book, I am not yet convinced. I remain an amillennialist” (p. 384). This is not surprising, since both postmillennialists and amillennialists believe that Christ will return to the earth after the millennium and the optimistic perspective of the triumph of the gospel in postmillennial thought is attractive.

Fourth, the author defends amillennialism. This section is the strength of the book. Storms is an excellent biblical scholar and writes with an engaging and attractive style here, quite unlike the earlier section.

This book is an engaging account of spiritual autobiography. The author tells a compelling story. It is useful as a defense of two of the three Christian views of the millennium. Sadly, its dismissive, disrespectful, and derisive tone toward premillennialism detracts from its value, with the result that premillennialists, particularly dispensationalists, may fail to examine its biblical arguments for amillennialism.

—Glenn R. Kreider

June 7, 2013
 

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