A Case for Historical Premillennialism: An Alternative to "Left Behind" Eschatology

By Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung, eds.
Grand Rapids : Baker (2009). xix + 184 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Richard Mayhue
20.2 (Fall 2009) : 250-252

The genesis of A Case for Historic Premillennialism came from a faculty lecture series sponsored by the Biblical Studies division of Denver Seminary. The purpose of the lecture series and this boo k is to honor longtime Denver Seminary faculty member, Bruce Demarest. Of the eight lectures/chapters, six are written by current faculty members and two by friends of the seminary. The editors are to be congratulated for such an honorable undertaking.

The title promises much and piqued this reviewer’s interest in that it created the expectation that “a case” would be made to offer strong support for belief in historic premillennialism. Unfortunately, the title offered more than the lectures delivered.

This review proceeds in two major sections. First, the contributors are to be commended for supporting a basic premillennial approach to eschatology as opposed to amillennialism or postmillennialism (see 64-67 for brief mentions of these other prophetic schemes). Several contributions were extremely helpful such as in chapter two “The Future Written in the Past: The Old Testament and the Millennium” and chapter five “The Theological Method of Premillennialism.” The remaining chapters were either unconvincing or too uneven in their presentation. For a list of all the contributors, consult pp. 173-74. This reviewer found the Scripture index (175-78), Ancient Writings index (178-79), and Subject index (181-84) to be thorough and quite helpful.

Second, as often happens with lecture series turned into books with multiple lecturers/authors, what made for a great lecture series does not make for such an effective book. This would appear to be true for this volume. One senses an underlying tone of scholastic elitism throughout, particularly when comparing historic premillennialism with futuristic premillennialism (a.k.a. dispensationalism). A futuristic view of Revelation and eschatology in general has more representatives than the two cited most often, Hal Lindsey and the fictional series (Left Behind) whose purpose presumed a right theology and never was designed to develop or defend that theology. The reviewer was quite surprised that no mention was made of the Pretribulation Study Group, its members, or articles/volumes that have been written with serious exegetical and theological material.

This volume does not systematically deal exegetically or theologically with historical premillennialism as such, but much more with pretribulationism versus posttribulationism (championed by co-editor Craig L. Blomberg) in chapter four “The Posttribulationism of the New Testament: Leaving ‘Left Behind’ Behind.”

The chapter sequencing makes no evident sense. The volume certainly did not seem to develop a logically flowing inductive case for historic premillennialism. The reader and the book’s intended purpose would have been better served had that approach been followed. Throughout the book historic premillennialism was assumed, but never seriously proven. Ultimately, this book fails to grapple with the most important differential between historic premillennialism and futuristic premillennialism, i.e., the difference between theological covenants (for which there is no commonly accepted biblical basis) and biblical covenants (on which most theologians agree in historical fact). Though an attempt was made by co-editor Sung Wook Chung in chapter seven (“Toward the Reformed and Covenantal Theology of Premillennialism”), no acknowledged contrast is drawn with the non-covenantal theology approach that is unique to futuristic premillennialism. This is a serious lapse given that the contributors and editors repeatedly stated that they wanted to make a very serious attempt at a scholastic case for an academic presentation of their view in contrast to what they alluded to was the popular “origin,” support, and articulation of futuristic premillennialism.

In the opinion of this reviewer, the works by the late George Eldon Ladd (1911–1982) such as The Blessed Hope (1956), The Gospel of the Kingdom (1959), The Presence of the Future (1974), and A Theology of the New Testament (1974) remain the most biblically articulate and compelling pieces of literature supporting both historic premillennialism and its associated posttribulationism.

Let this reviewer conclude on a positive note. He agrees with the comment made by the co-editors (xvi), “…no one has emerged to take his [George E. Ladd’s] place.” That remains true to this day.