I have no plans to see the new Left Behind movie, and it is not because one of my least favorite actors is the star (Nicholas Cage). No, I'm afraid I'm skipping out on this one for theological reasons.
First of all let me say, Yes! I believe Jesus is returning. Yes! I believe it is a literal, personal return. Yes! I believe that He is coming back to judge the living and the dead.
But not in the way that Left Behind popularly portrays the rapture. I think they've got it seriously wrong, at least judging by the first movie (did we really need a new one?) and the fictional book series by the same name.
Instead, I want to recommend a book on eschatology (study of the end times) that I think interprets the Bible's real view of the endtimes much better. (See review below).
It is taken for granted that pretribulational premillennialism (or dispensationalism) is gospel truth in most quarters of the evangelical world today. This, however, has not always been the case.
Pretribulational premillennialism, popularized by such fictional works as the Left Behind series and fantastical works as The Late Great Planet Earth--not to mention the Scofield Reference Bible--has quickly infiltrated the center of evangelicalism. This despite the fact that it is less than 200 years old!
Many evangelicals are not even aware that there are any "alternative" positions on the end times. That these alternatives held the majority consensus among the Puritans and Reformers is lost on most. If many today are aware of these other eschatological options at all, they have likely been taught that they are the positions held by liberals who do not "take the Bible literally."
In Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative, Sam Storms destroys these preconceptions by powerfully asserting the Biblical force of the historic position that the millennial kingdom--mentioned explicitly only in Revelation 20:1-10--is symbolic of Christ's present reign in this age.
Storms begins the near 600-page work by advancing the hermeneutical principles on which he will build his case. In these early sections of this book, Storms makes clear that bald literalism is not always the best interpretive grid, especially for apocalyptic literature. Genre, literary conventions, and OT usage of language are also crucial factors when we interpret Scripture.
Using a redemptive-historical and grammatical-historical approach, Storms then wades through the most important Bible texts related to eschatology: Daniel's 70 weeks, Jesus' Olivet Discourse, 2 Thessalonians and the Antichrist, and of course, a volume of passages in Revelation.
While Storms works through these passages as a master exegete, he calmly (and without a divisive spirit I am glad to report!) shows how many of these texts have been misread through the dispensational lens, often without the critical reflection that the texts themselves demand. Storms reveals an absolute mastery of Biblical Greek, and employs this trade in the most intricate details of these Biblical passages.
Though most will doubtlessly disagree with at least a few of Storms conclusions (I doubt all readers will be convinced of his partial preterist interpretation of Matthew 24, for instance), it will be impossible to suggest any longer that amillennialism is built upon either a lesser view of the authority of Scripture in particular, or a liberal theological framework in general. No, it will no longer do to simply dismiss amillennialism (or postmillennialism for that matter) as though they do not take the Bible seriously enough.
On the contrary, the reader--who must do significant work alongside Storms with Bible and pencil in hand throughout--will see a cumulative case building for amillennialism. This is spelled out clearly and finally in the last chapter of the book where Storms gives 30 reasons that he believes pretribulational premillennialism is not Biblically defensible. Storms' amillennial construct (actually the simplest and cleanest of the four major end-times positions) holds up remarkably well when tested by the WHOLE of the New Testament rather than conditioned by one admittedly difficult and highly symbolic text (i.e. Revelation 20).
For me, the most compelling Biblical data summoned by Storms can be summed up in the following points:
- The NT never splits up the Return of Christ (that it, His Second Coming) from the Rapture as though they were two separate events. (Dispensationalism demands this).
- Neither the OT nor the NT ever split up the resurrection of the dead into two events (or possibly many more!) separated by a thousand years as dispensationalism requires.
- The NT teaching on Jesus' parousia (Greek: return, presence, coming i.e. the Second Coming) demands the end of all sin, death, and rebellion, along with the immediacy of the judgment; all of which dispensationalism denies.
- The NT does not make an irreconcilable distinction between the Church and Israel (which dispensationalism requires) but rather shows repeatedly that the elect people of God are made into one Body of Christ with the inclusion of the Gentiles.
- The NT does not admit of a secret pretribulational rapture, allowing Christians to escape the great tribulation mentioned in Matthew 24 (as dispensationalism holds), but rather describes the trials and tribulations of the present church age as the necessary path of all Christians, through which Christ will preserve His people.
-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.