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The Odd Couple of Bible Prophecy

Well, not really so odd if you have a basic understanding of the differences between the eschatological (end times) views. This email relates to a new book in the library, and the reason I called them the Odd Couple is that the authors hold to different end times perspectives, yet really not so very different.  

This is not a book review, because I am in the process of reading the book. But in skimming it, I can see what they are saying, and do not hesitate to recommend it.  A fuller book review may follow later.  

The book is Understanding Prophecy: A Biblical-Theological Approach, by Alan S. Bandy and Benjamin L. Merkle (Kregel, 2015, 264 pages). Bandy has a PhD from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and is an Assistant Professor of NT at Oklahoma Baptist University. Merkle has a PhD from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and is Professor of NT and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Seminary.  

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 The twist, leading to my Odd Couple designation, is that Bandy holds to a historic premillennial perspective, while Merkle holds to an amillennial perspective.  

And again, in my reading of commentators and theologians from various perspectives, I find amillennials frequently cite historic premillennialism as the next best option, and historic premillennials (like John Piper,  Michael Bird, and  Tom Schreiner) frequently cite amillennialism as the next best option.  The reason is that they agree on the basic issues like hermeneutics (interpretation), believing the NT should interpret the OT, rather than the dispensational view that the OT should interpret the NT, and they believe that the church is the New or Fulfilled Israel (Israel is the bud, the church is the flower), rather than the dispensational view which holds to a distinction between Israel and the church and a continuing role for national Israel.  Also, both amills and historic premills, along with postmills,  reject a pre-tribulational rapture, contrary to dispensationalism.   

Thus when it comes to theology, imagine a continuum, with dispensationalism at one end, and historic premillennialism, amillennialism and postmillennialism all close together as separate points on the other end. They are closer to each other than to dispensationalism. It would be rare to find an amill or historic premill or postmill moving to a dispensational position. Whereas many former dispensationalists (including many from DTS) have changed to an amill (Bruce Waltke, G.K. Beale, Sam Storms) or historic premill (James Hamilton) or postmill position after getting out of seminary.  

So you really find historic premills and amills in general agreement, except on the interpretation of Revelation 20, the only place in the Bible mentioning the 1,000 years commonly known as the millennium, and a chapter filled with symbolism. Amills believe the millennium is symbolic for the church age and Christ’s spiritual rule between His two comings.  But even in holding to a literal millennium, historic premills reject a special role for national Israel. All non-dispensational positions believe that after Christ’s first coming, there is only one people of God, not two.  

The other thing that makes this book so helpful is its strong emphasis on biblical theology, which means big-picture theology, which sees the Bible as presenting a unified story from Genesis to Revelation, as Israel is fulfilled by Christ the true Israelite, and in union with Him, by the church, with final consummation in the New Heavens and New Earth.  

So whatever your position on end times or on the Israel vs church issue, this should be a rewarding read. It has been endorsed by both historic premills (Tom Schreiner) and amills (Sam Storms), and even by a progressive dispensationalist (Danny Akins, president of Southeastern Baptist Seminary, who says he is pretrib and premill, and does not agree with everything in the book, but finds himself more in agreement than disagreement).  (Librarian Note: progressive dispensationalism represents a movement by some dispensationalists away from some of the positions of traditional dispensationalism; leaders include Darrell Bock of DTS and others).  

Everyone can profit from a better understanding of prophecy, and how the position they hold relates to other prophetic understandings, and where the differences lie. This book offers an excellent opportunity to do so in a book which is very understandable, non-technical, and relatively short (264 pages).   

Ron Maness, CBC Library 

NOTE: I believe congratulations are in order to the former and current leaders of CBC, who wisely determined not to commit CBC to a particular position regarding eschatology.