A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times
by Kim Riddlebarger
Book review by Timmy Cochran. Citations with page numbers taken from the 2003 printing. This review has been revised from my original review posted at amazon.com.
Mr. Riddlebarger's book is not so much a "case for Amillennialism" as it is an attempt to tear down Dispensational Premillennialism and then slip in Covenant Amillennialism as some sort of viable alternative. This can be seen in numerous statements by Riddlebarger, such as on p.11: "My goal in writing this book is to humbly attempt to point out these errors [of Dispensationalism] and provide what I think is a more biblical way to understand the Bible's teaching on the coming of the Lord and the millennial age."
Mr. Riddlebarger attempts to set up a strange "point of reference" as pertaining to issues of Church history and systematized theology. On p.11, Riddlebarger says: "My purpose is to set forth the historic Protestant understanding of the millennial age... Amillenarians believe that the millennium is a present reality (Christ's heavenly reign), not a future hope (Christ's rule on earth after his return)." Mr. Riddlebarger wishes his readers to view the "historic Protestant understanding" as a reference point when considering historical issues pertaining to these subjects, or so as to suggest Amillennialism has a nice history backing it. The problem here, of course, is that the earliest Church held to a futurist and premillennial understanding of Biblical eschatology. The Amillennial view, along with its associated Historicist or Preterist views, simply did not exist in the first few centuries following the Apostolic age, and they are utterly opposed to the clear declarations of all important Christians (including Papias, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Barnabas, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, etc.) Riddlebarger's wish to set the "reference point" in the 15-1600's is an obvious attempt to sidestep important Christian history issues facing his Covenant Amillennial position.
Riddlebarger fails to inform his readers that Amillennialism is a third century apostasy derived from Gnosticism and introduced into Christianity by a shady character named Origen (who also denied bodily resurrection and taught universalism). That it sniped at the orthodox futurist and premillennial doctrine of the primitive Church, calling its adherents stupid and carnal (see here). Nor does Riddlebarger inform his readers that the earliest Amillennialists tried to have the Apocalypse removed from the canon of Scripture (see here), among other embarrassing facts in the history of the doctrine. Riddlebarger pretends these embarrassing facts of history don't exist, and so obviously no Covenant Amillennial defense against them is provided in this so-called "Case for Amillennialism."
Riddlebarger likes to illustrate Dispensationalists as irrational dogmatic folks who condemn to Hell all those who disagree. For example, on p.10 he says: "From my earliest youth I was taught that a secret rapture of Christian believers was a cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith." This simply is not a true representation of Dispensationalists. We don't consider pretribulationism a "cardinal doctrine." We also do not refer to our doctrine as a "secret rapture," which is a phrase only used today by vile opponents of our position. On p.133 we are said to "champion so militantly" the doctrine of pretribulationism. Its just part of our view, that's all. Riddlebargber is just trying to stir up trouble with such language. Pretribulationism unique to Dispensationalism, which is probably why certain non-dispensationalists spend so much time stomping around snarling at it. Such sensationalism has no rightful place in Christian discussion, and it tends to be Covenantalists, not us, who need to go get their heads examined over their unhealthy obsession with the doctrine.
Riddlebarger attempts to misapply some crazy ideas to Dispensational Theology in general. On p.10 he says: "Many of us thought that the coming and going of Y2K and the beginning of a new millennium would cause people to question dispensational assumptions and preoccupation with signs of the end." Why would Dispensational Theology be questioned with the coming and going of Y2K? Dispensational Theology had absolutely nothing to do with the Y2K issue. In fact, it was men such as Gary North (a preterist and "optimistic amillennialist") who made a big fuss over the Y2K issue. Riddlebarger seems to think he can take liberty to make up falsehoods of our position out of thin air, and fail to mention the people within his own "spiritualizing" party who have actually made false predictions pertaining to Y2K. These sorts of deliberately deceptive sneers permeate his book.
Just when did the Messianic Kingdom begin according to Riddlebarger? He teaches that the Kingdom was established when Christ was working miracles, when the Seventy were working miracles, and so forth, and that also it will be established when the Lord returns from heaven (pp.65-66). In other words, Riddlebarger doesn't know when the Kingdom was established. Or, actually, Riddlebarger thinks the Kingdom was established a multiplicity of times and will again be established in the future. This position must be rejected as purely nonsensical. Riddlebarger's confusion on the matter only highlights a problem that has always existed in Amillennialism. Amillennialists have taught that the Kingdom was established at Christ's birth, at His baptism, at His working of miracles, at His crucifixion, at His resurrection, at His ascension, at His outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, at His outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Gentiles in Acts 10, and even at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The truth is they really don't have any idea when the Kingdom was established. It is because the Bible never teaches the Kingdom was established at Christ's first advent.
Riddlebarger has a bad habit of applying general premillennial ideas to Dispensationalism in particular. For example, on p.24-25 he says: "The literal fulfillment of these two covenants (the Abrahamic and the Davidic) figures prominently in the dispensational system." Actually, this figures prominently in any Premillennial position. Since the Scriptural doctrine of the Messianic Kingdom is built upon a foundation consisting of the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants, and since Premillennialists actually believe their Bibles, then all Premillennialists believe the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants will be fulfilled when the Lord returns and establishes the Messianic Kingdom.
Riddlebarger confuses/blends "Premillennialism" and "Dispensationalism," and confuses/blends "Covenantalism" and "Amillennialism." He then bases a few faulty arguments upon these confusions of terms. For example, on p.32 he says: "Because amillennialism has its roots deep in historic Christianity, when it comes to comparing amillennialism with dispensationalism, clearly the burden of proof lies with dispensationalists to prove their case." Why is he comparing Amillennialism to Dispensationalism? Shouldn't he be comparing Amillennialism to Premillennialism? And shouldn't he be comparing Covenantalism to Dispensationalism? The reason he does this is obvious: He wants his readers to think his system is way older than Dispensational Theology. However, a careful reader will not be fooled by this slight-of-hand. If Dispensational Theology were rightly compared against Covenant Theology, both sides would show that their sytematized theologies have come about due to the Reformation (Covenant Theology being only about two hundred years older than Dispensational Theology). And, if Premillennialism were rightly compared against Amillennialism, we would see that Premillennialism was the Apostolic and Ante-Nicene belief, whereas Amillennialism was a third century apostasy which finds its roots in Gnosticism rather than orthodox Christianity. (See our chart depicting this issue here).
Riddlebarger completely misrepresents the typical Premillennial understanding of Revelation 20. On p.87 he complains: "Who are these people who are still on earth at the end of the millennial age who revolt against Christ? Are they the redeemed? If so, the premillennialist has just introduced a 'second fall' of humanity into sin into the course of redemptive history. This time, however, we have a fall of glorified saints after the resurrection and the judgment... Premillennialists, who insist upon a literal one thousand years in Revelation 20:2, do so even though the consequence of this exegetical decision is the revolt of the redeemed against the Redeemer in verses 7-10." On p.233 he says: "If true, this millennial apostasy is tantamount to a second fall. Not even resurrected and glorified saints are safe from the future wrath of Satan and the unbelieving nations." The problem here is that no Premillennialists have ever claimed that it is the resurrected saints who rebel against Christ at the close of the Kingdom age. Riddlebarger can not demonstrate that his new-fangled idea is implied in Revelation 20:7-10. He quotes zero Premillennial authors who have ever taught any such thing. Riddlebarger is criticizing a position which does not exist. Premillennialists have always pointed out that mortal Israelites and Gentile nations exist during the Kingdom age, and it is many of these who Satan gathers against the kingdom at the close of the millennial age. This has always been the Premillennial teaching. How can Riddlebarger be ignorant of that? He isn't. Riddlebarger has crafted and published a deliberate deception here.
Riddlebarger completely misrepresents the Premillennial interpretation of Matthew 25. On p.233 he says: "In passages such as Matthew 25:31-46, where it is explicitly taught that the final judgment occurs when our Lord returns, premillenarians instead argue that there is a gap of one thousand years between our Lord's return and the final judgment." But Premillennialists do not apply the Matthew 25 judgment to the close of the millennial age. It seems odd that Riddlebarger, in all his alleged years as a Dispensationalist struggling with this passage, did not bother even to look up Scofield's notes concerning this passage. This should raise a red flag in the minds of all readers here. Riddlebarger uses an "ex-dispensationalist" claim to beef up his criticism of our position (p.10), yet he seems to lack some very basic understanding of our position. Just be warned of this, reader. In reality, when Riddlebarger does this, which is quite often throughout the book, it is not a mere slip of the pen or an unguarded statement. It is deliberate deception.
Riddlebarger spreads the common lie that Israel's rejection of Messiah was a "surprize" to God, and that the Church was a "hasty fix" to the problem. On p.103 Riddlebarger says: "God is delaying the kingdom for the lengthy period of time known as the church age or the 'great parenthesis' between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks of Daniel. The present dispensation results from humanity's ability to frustrate God's redemptive-historical purposes... despite Walvoord's efforts to insist that God is sovereign, the lack of human cooperation frustrated his plan, thereby forcing a delay in its inauguration for at least two thousand years. But the New Testament knows nothing of a kingdom offered and a kingdom withdrawn according to the whims of unbelieving Israel." On p.118 Riddlebarger says: "Therefore, the church age functions as a 'plan B' during this present dispensation. Israel has rejected the kingdom offer made by Jesus, creating the present parenthesis phase of redemption until God again deals with ethnic Israel at the beginning of the great tribulation after the rapture of the Gentile church." On p.123 Riddlebarger says: "The church is not a 'plan B' or a contingency developed by God in hasty response to Israel's rejection of Jesus and his messianic kingdom. . . . From this, it should be clear that Jesus did not consider the Gentile church as an afterthought on God's part."
This simply is not what Dispensationalists teach concerning the Church age. Our article God's Salvation Machine provides a description of the reason and purpose of the Church in Dispensational Theology, and it bears no resemblance to Riddlebarger's "Plan B" lie. Dispensationalists have always maintained that the dispensation of the Mystery (the present age for the Church) was established "in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus" as taught in Ephesians 3:8-11, so there is no excuse for Riddlebarger to spread this old refuted lie.
Riddlebarger quotes zero Dispensationalists who teach God was "caught by surprise," or "thwarted," or that the Church was "developed by God in hasty response to" Israel's rejection of Jesus. It is because we teach no such thing. He speaks his misguided opinions to his readers as though it were the doctrine we teach. This sort of deceptive propaganda has no place in so-called "Christian literature." Riddlebarger deliberately avoids presenting Dispensational exposition on the Pauline revelation of the Mystery, which says that the Church was "hid in God" and "not revealed in ages past" (Ephesians 3, Colossians 1, etc.), nor does Riddlebarger present any explanation of Romans 16:25-27 which plays directly into this issue. This failure on Riddlebarger's part immediately calls his ex-dispensationalist claims into question. How could an ex-dispensationalist be so totally wrong on such important issues concerning the nature and purpose of the Church? The truth is, he is not really confused or ignorant of our true position, nor is he an ex-dispensationalist. He is spreading deliberate lies about us. Is Riddlebarger even a Christian to begin with?
Riddlebarger ridicules the futurist interpretation of Daniel 9, thus: "The insertion of a gap of at least two thousand years between the sixty-ninth and seventieth week is a self-contradictory violation of the dispensationalist's professed literal hermeneutic. Where is the gap to be found in the text? Dispensationalists must insert it." (p.153) There is no violation of the historical-grammatical hermeneutic, as we discuss here. And why does Riddlebarger say "a gap of at least two thousand years"? Imminency demands that the Church age could end at any time, whether in the first century or centuries from now. The course of the present age is nowhere charted in Scripture, and imminency rules out any "deadline for it." And since the Church is not Israel, the present age is not included in the prophetic outline of Israel's destiny presented in Daniel chapter 9. This is Dispensationalism 101, folks, and Riddlebarger is completely ignorant of it. He is in no position to pretend to critique our interpretation of Scripture, for goodness sake the man is clueless on the entire subject matter. Exdispensationalist, so he says.
Riddlebarger raises childish complaints against the futurist position. For example, when speaking on Daniel 9:27, Riddlebarger says (on p.153): "The failure to acknowledge the obvious covenantal context of the messianic covenant maker of verse 27, who confirms a covenant with many, leads dispensationalists to confuse Christ with antichrist. A more serious interpretive error is hard to imagine." Of course, if our interpretation is the correct one, then Mr. Riddlebarger and party are guilty of applying Antichrist themes to the Messiah, which is blasphemous. The futurist interpretation is both the Scriptural and historical interpretation of Daniel 9:27.
Finally, Riddlebarger's book fails to answer many of the age old problems which have plagued Covenant Amillennialism over the years. He offers no solid treatment of the Abrahamic Covenant, nor does he offer any justification for the new metamorphosed application of the Covenant per Covenant Theology. He offers no solid treatment of the Davidic Covenant, nor does he offer any justification for the new metamorphosed application of the Covenant per Covenant Theology. He offers no solution to the problems of Daniel chapter 2 or Daniel chapter 7, such as 1) the literal fulfillments right up to the last part but then a sudden "spiritual fulfillment" of the most important part, and 2) the chronological problem in which the passages clearly place the Great Tribulation as a brief period immediately preceding the establishing of the Kingdom. He nowhere explains why the Scripture and early Church could embrace imminency if the Kingdom had just been newly established at Christ's first advent. Riddlebarger doesn't even approach these problems in his book.
One may wonder why Riddlebarger even wrote this book in the first place. It doesn't provide any answers to age old problems which plague Amillennialism. It doesn't provide any new interesting arguments against Premillenniallism. It doesn't provide anything helpful at all. Ever since 1948, Covenant Amillennialists have been looking for a good book that would answer this reemergence of Israel as a nation, disruptive as it is to their theory of a supposed ongoing spiritual "Kingdom" for "New Israel" at the present time. Or, they would like to see a real book which solidly refutes Dispensational Premillennialism. Mr. Riddlebarger is just an opportunist who created this useless book to make money.
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