Amillennialism, by William Bunting and David McAllister. Northern Ireland: Assembly Testimony, 2020. Available free at assemblytestimony. org. Pp. vi + 138. N.p. (softcover). [Reviewed by David J. Engelsma]
Out of Northern Ireland, especially of late, has flowed an abundance of witness to the truth of the gospel, including the future fulfillment of the gospel in the (one) coming of Jesus Christ. Out of Northern Ireland has also come Amillennialism, a short book perpetuating and defending the heresy of premillennial dispensationalism.
The value of the book for the Reformed reader is that it sets forth the full theology of dispensationalism in clear, brief, summary form. Having read the book, the Reformed student can be confident that he knows the theology of dispensationalism in its fundamentals.
In that the book is also the summary of the basic attack of premillennialism on amillennialism (the book is written as a polemic against amillennialism; hence, the book’s title), the Reformed reader can also be sure that he is now familiar with the strongest attacks on amillennialism by premillennialism. These attacks do not, in fact, refute amillennialism. Rather, they expose premillennial dispensationalism as heresy with regard to a number of fundamental truths of the gospel. These heretical elements of dispensationalism include the following tenets, as freely acknowledged by Amillennialism. First, there are two different saving works of God in history: the exalting of national Israel, the Jews, as an earthly power enjoying earthly benefits, and the spiritual work of the saving of the church, which gives believing members of the church spiritual blessings. Second, the Old Testament and New Testament are virtually unrelated, in keeping with dispensationalism’s separating of the kingdom of Jews and the church of Gentiles. Third, salvation for the Jews (Israel) was, and is, carnal (in the words of John Calvin, amounting to the “feeding of a herd of swine”); salvation for the church, which is merely a “parenthesis” in God’s chief work with Israel, is spiritual. Fourth, Old Testament Israel did not, and the restored, future Israel still will not, share in the spiritual blessings of salvation that are in Jesus Christ:
Israel and the Church are not identical. Believers in this dispensation…are “blessed…with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ” Eph. 1:3. No Old Testament believer is ever said to have enjoyed such blessing. (20)
It is supposed to be the great blessedness of Israel that its members miss out on the spiritual blessings that are in Jesus Christ, but instead fill their bellies with rich food and alcoholic beverages (wine).
In bondage to its axiom that Old Testament prophecy must be explained literally, the dispensational theologians dare to predict a future restoration of the Old Testament temple and all its ritual, including the restoration of animal sacrifices for sin. Refusing to explain the church as the fulfillment of Old Testament Israel, premillennialism denies that the church is the reality of the Old Testament temple (1 Pet. 2:5) and that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was the fulfillment and, therefore, the abrogation of all the sacrifices of the Old Testament (Hebrews). So serious is dispensationalism’s demand for literal interpretation of all Old Testament prophecy that it necessarily forces dispensationalism to deny the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
Dispensationalism’s doctrine of a restoration in the future of animal sacrifices, on the basis of its literal interpretation of Ezekiel 40-48, all by itself alone condemns dispensationalism, not as a minor error in eschatology, but as heresy—as gross a heresy concerning the cross of Christ as is imaginable.
Present Jewish aspirations to rebuild God’s house [which in reality is the church and has already been rebuilt by Jesus Christ—DJE] will in His time be fulfilled…and animal sacrifices will again be offered upon His altar, Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11 (compare also Hos. 3.4, 5) (43)… In a future day, when Israel is restored, in the land, with priests, and a Temple, then sacrifices will be in order….(124)
In defense of this indefensible doctrine, the authors argue that the future bloody, animal sacrifices will merely be memorials of the death of Christ. The defense fails for two main reasons. First, Ezekiel 40-48 describes these sacrifices, not as mere memorials of the sacrifice of Christ, but as “sin offerings,” that is, bloody sacrifices that typified to the church of the Old Testament the atonement of the cross of Christ (Ezek. 43:18-27). Typically, they did nothing less than to “make reconciliation for the house of Israel” (Ezek. 45:17). Second, after the death of Christ, there may be no introduction into the worship of the church of any bloody ceremony whatever, for any reason or purpose whatever, least of all a bloody memorial of the cross (Hebrews). The sign and symbol of the cross of Christ in the New Testament is the unbloody sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
This is premillennial dispensationalism, according to Amillennialism: Jewish priests in all the garb of the Old Testament priesthood will be sacrificing bullocks on an altar in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem in order to “make reconciliation” for an earthly kingdom of the Messiah of God. The purpose is that the Jews, who once rejected the Messiah exactly because He did not bestow upon them these kinds of benefits and this kind of kingdom, may be a carnal kingdom of God who revel in earthly prosperity and who exercise earthly power over all the world.
In what would be laughable, were not the issue so serious, the authors of Amillennialism transgress their own law of literal exegesis of Old Testament prophecy in a passage that is essential to premillennialism, Daniel 9, the prophecy of the seventy weeks. A literal explanation would be compelled to explain the seventy weeks as weeks, that is, some four hundred ninety days. Since this number would not serve dispensational theology, the authors make of the seventy weeks seventy weeks of years. And then, compounding the outrage of their explanation of the passage, to say nothing of their violation of their own demand for a literal interpretation of prophecy, they impose on the seventy weeks of Daniel’s prophecy a separation of some two thousand years between the sixty ninth year and the seventieth year. Nothing in the text itself even suggests these impositions upon the text of Daniel, which impositions are essential to dispensationalism. This is not solid typical exegesis. It is not even the wildest allegorical exegesis. It is the sheer forcing of Holy Scripture into the service of a preconceived, arbitrary, fanciful theology.
Prominent on every page is the transference of the hope of the church, as also of the citizens of dispensationalism’s kingdom of Christ, from the (next, second, and only future) coming of Christ to the thousand-year, earthly kingdom of the Jews. It is the premillennial hope “that Israel will be regathered and become the centre of Divine administration and blessing upon the earth” (29). This is to strike a fatal blow at the heart of the gospel, for “we are saved by hope” (Rom. 8:24).
In involuntary admission of the weakness of their biblical arguments, the authors cannot resist the cheap shot of accusing those who reject premillennialism of anti-Semitism (136). One stands amazed: A theology that has Israel sharing in the spiritual blessings of salvation in Jesus Christ (Rom. 11) is anti-Semitic.