Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Why Every Self-Respecting What? Is a What?

Few contemporary writers have generated as many books as John MacArthur. With more than 26 commentaries, 43 books, and over a dozen study guides released under his name, the productive pastor of the Grace Community Church (Sun Valley, CA) has impacted today’s evangelicalism in many and varied ways. But, for many pastors, a highlight of the MacArthur ministry is the annual “Shepherd’s Conference,” held at the church. Last year, however, brought a surprise, as MacArthur variously delighted and outraged his standing room only audience of clergy. The topic? "Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist is a Premillennialist."

The logic of the message was clear. Calvinists believe in the sovereignty of an electing God who acts monergistically. What eschatology better reflects the genius of such unilateral divine action than the one that is built on unconditional promises made to Abraham and to his descendents? In other words, what MacArthur was saying was that “every self-respecting Calvinist” should be a “premillennialist.”

But, here Dr. MacArthur uncharacteristically minced his words. For the oldest version of the view that Jesus would come to inaugurate a millennial rule on earth, the so-called “historic premillennialism,” has much in common with the other types of second coming schema popular in Christianity for the last two thousand years.

The historic premillennialist does not build a doctrine of last things upon a distinction between Israel and the Church, but upon the interpretation of a few verses in Revelation 20. Rather, it is only the dispensationalist type of premillennialism, with its unyielding differentiation between Israel and the Church that MacArthur thinks should be the position of every “self-respecting Calvinist.

Now a card-carrying Calvinist, DR. SAM WALDRON, one of the pastors of the Heritage Baptist Church of Ownesboro, Kentucky, and the Professor of Systematic Theology at the Midwest Center for Theological Studies, responds to MacArthur’s “manifesto” with a detailed analysis of the message. (MacArthur’s Millenial Manifesto: A Friendly Response, Sam Waldron, Reformed Baptist Academic Press (2008), 172 pages).

In one of the most irenic rebuttals ever penned, Waldron shows continual respect for MacArthur and his ministry and tackles his topic with great gentleness but systematically dismantles the logic of the much talked about Shepherd’s Conference address that is actually printed as an appendix to the book.

If there were ever a book showing what contemporary amillennialists (those who contend that Jesus will return in a singular way at the end of the age to resurrect the dead, to judge the world, and to usher in the new heavens and the new earth) actually believe, this would be it.
Waldron carefully sweeps away the accumulated misunderstandings, mischaracterizations of the position by opponents, and mean-spirited polemics. Relying upon a command of the Bible, hermeneutics, and two millennia of Christian theology, Waldron writes with simple clarity in some of the shortest chapters in memory. He details why he thinks that MacArthur's dispensational eschatology does not tally best with the teaching of the Bible. The cumulative impact is to make any honest premillennialist want to become, if not an amillennarian, at least a more careful teacher on the subject of the return of Christ.