The church that I was converted into was your common, evangelical Baptist church. Although it was conservative and generally had a high view of God, it was not Reformed. Through various circumstances, that I won’t get into here, I came to the doctrines of grace. As a result, I switched churches to one that was Calvinistic. This latter church strongly preached the five points of Calvinism and the five Sola’s of the Reformation – so much so that I started to begin to think that maybe that was the only theology they knew, but that’s another story (can one be too Calvinistic? Maybe not Calvinistic enough!). Not only did they hammer the five points, they were also very strong on dispensational premillennialism.
For quite some time I considered myself to be a dispensationalist. Essentially, this was a default position because I had really not studied the issues thoroughly. It was therefore no problem for me when the church I attended and worked for taught this version of eschatology.
At this time, one radio program that I listened to fairly regularly was The Bible Answer Man, hosted by Hank Hannegraaf (sp?). One day, as I was driving in my car, I heard ole Hank interview a guy named Gary DeMar on the issue of the Left Behind novels. I was quite taken aback by what transpired. Without going into all of the details, they essentially put a question mark on much of what I believed about the end times. I was quite surprised and was thankful that the show played again the same night and I had the opportunity to listen to it another time.
About a week or so after hearing this, and discussing it with some friends, I happened upon DeMar’s book End Times Fiction, as well as Anthony Hoekema’s The Bible and the Future and Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism. The local Christian bookstore normally didn’t have much in the way of theology, so I was extremely excited to find these books. I bought all of them and began to read.
I started with Hoekema first because he taught at Calvin Seminary, so I figured it would be pretty Reformed. Admittedly, I didn’t understand much of what he was talking about. I was still in the earlier stages of my theological education, and all of the terminology was hard to keep track of. So I read DeMar to much profit. Yet, as I read DeMar, I had the nagging question in the back of my mind: “Okay, if Left Behind is nonsense, what do I believe now?” I found that DeMar didn’t answer my questions. He tore down my dispensationalism, but didn’t build up a better theology. That is when I turned to Riddlebarger.
I must say, Kim Riddlebarger’s book is one of the best Christian books that I have ever read. Not only did he confirm my problems with dispensationalism, he provided a clear alternative: amillennialism. He wrote fairly with an irenic spirit, making sure to treat all views fairly. He gave excellent exposition to key passages, and set the eschatological positions in their historical places. I came away from this book quite convinced.
While I was going through this shift, some friends of mine and I started a study on eschatology. We bought three copies from the Counterpoints series. One on the millennium, one on the rapture and one on Revelation. We met weekly, on Monday’s to look into the subject. By this point, I was pretty much amillennial – and this study sought to cement it in my mind. The others slowly came along. What this meant was that in a dispensationalist church, two members of the staff were now amillennial. Without going into details, we all ended up leaving the church (no, not because of eschatology).
So, here I am today. A convinced amillennialist, a convinced Calvinist, a convinced Baptist and (and!!!) a convinced Covenant Theologian. Ooh. Forgot to mention that.
This post is not to say that I don’t like dispensationalists. Quite on the contrary, I think dispensationalists are grande, even though I disagree with them. In light of John MacArthur’s recent statements, I still love the man, and love to listen to his preaching. But I think he is wrong when he claims that to be truly Reformed we should all be dispensationalists.
I would recommend to you readers out there an awesome post by Riddlebarger listing resources on Reformed amillennialism. Very, very helpful indeed. Sadly, Riddlebarger posted an article by the absolutely amazing historical theologian Richard A. Muller on why you have to be amillennial to be Reformed. Although I am amillennial, I think the claim is just as bad as MacArthur’s. He’s at his worst when he claims that to be truly Reformed, you must be a paedo-baptist. Hopefully, I will post more specific thoughts on this later. But don’t discount Riddlebarger for posting the Muller piece – in fact, don’t discount Muller either, both men are excellent theologians. Just read and listen to everything with an open, but critical mind.