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THE NATIONS, ISRAEL AND THE CHURCH IN PROPHECY, by John F. Walvoord; Zondervan Publishing, 1988; 497 pp. (no price available) (paper). (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko)

The author of this book is the chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary, the leading Seminary in pre-millennial thought. The book was originally published as three books: “The Nations In Prophecy,” Israel in Prophecy,” and “The Church in Prophecy.” These three books are now published in one volume by Zondervan.

The first book, “The Nations in Prophecy,” gives a brief summary of the whole history of the world from the viewpoint of the prophetic writings in Scripture; the second book, “Israel in Prophecy,” deals with the prophecies which, in the author’s opinion, treat the history of the Jews; the third book, “The Church in Prophecy,” discusses those prophetic utterances which deal specifically with the church.

There are many differences among premillennialists over many questions of prophecy: differences with respect to various dispensations; differences, concerning the interpretation of individual texts as they relate both to Israel and to the church; differences between pre-tribulationists and post-tribulationists on the question of the rapture; and differences concerning the role of the nations in relation to Israel. The author occupies something of an intermediate position—if that expression can be used. While opposed to covenant theology, he does not hold to rigid dispensationalism as propounded, e.g., by the well-known Scofield Bible. He does not hold to an absolute literal interpretation of Scripture, but allows for symbolic interpretation where the context requires this. He does not even make a clear-cut distinction between the church and the “kingdom people,” although the distinction is surely present in his thinking. Nevertheless, his position is squarely in the tradition of premillennialism.

In general, he holds to the fact that, with the crucifixion of Christ, the Jews went into exile. The ages of the new dispensation up to this point are the times of the Gentiles when the church is gathered. This time of the Gentiles will be brought to an end by the rapture which can occur at any point. Those who have been faithful from the church, both living and dead, will be caught up into the air. Immediately following this, the nation of Israel will establish a covenant with the nations and live in peace for 3 1/2 years during which a kingdom in Israel will be firmly established (something which is already taking place with the establishment of that nation in Palestine). After 3 1/2 years, Russia, the revived Roman Empire of Europe (developing now in the common market), and the nations of the East, will march against Israel, and a time of great persecution and suffering will begin for the Jews and for those Gentiles who, during this period, turn to God. This also will last 3 1/2 years, after which Christ will come again with those who have been taken in the rapture. This coming of Christ will usher in the millennium. Christ will reign on Mt. Zion. The temple and the sacrifices will be restored. The faithful Jews throughout history will be raised, including David, to live in the millennial period. The nation of Israel will enjoy a millennium of unparalleled prosperity. All the Gentiles will also live with the Jews in that kingdom. This millennium will be brought to and end by the gathering of the nations against Israel and the great battle of Armageddon will be fought. All the enemies of Israel will be defeated by Christ and the eternal joy of heaven will be ushered in.

We cannot, in a book review, evaluate the position of premillennialism. We call attention to three areas which, in our judgment, are basic to a criticism of this position.

The first area is that of Hermeneutics. This is, to us, most crucial. It involves the whole question of the “literal” interpretation of Scripture. While Walvoord is ready to grant that Scripture must be interpreted symbolically in some places, he calls the amillennial interpretation of prophecy a “spiritualizing” of prophecy. Especially when amillennialists refer prophecies of the Old Testament to the church when Israel is mentioned, he demurs and castigates amillennialists for refusing to take Scripture literally. He refuses to recognize that the New Testament itself refers such passages to the church. I have in mind, e.g., such passages as Amos 9:11-15 and Acts 15:15-18Hosea 2:28 and Romans 9:25, 26, and others. In fact, although the passage in Amos 9 is briefly treated, he does not even mention these other passages.

In connection with this, he, along with all premillennialists, does not understand the typicalcharacter of the Old Testament. This is a serious error and leads to many wrong interpretations.

The second area is the whole area of the forced division between the nation of Israel and the church. He admits that the Scriptures speak of the elect Gentiles as the seed of Abraham as well as the Jews, but the very nature of premillennial thought makes an identification of the two impossible. He does not reckon with the fact that Stephen, in his speech before the Sanhedrin, literally refers to the nation of Israel in the wilderness as the “church.” He claims, wrongly, that the word “Israel” never means “church’ in Scripture. And so he denies that the church. in all ages is one, that Christ is both the Head of this one church and the King of the kingdom in which all the people of God are citizens, that this one universal church, gathered from the beginning to the end of time from both Jews and Gentiles has its great unity in Christ Jesus the Head and Lord of all. This too is a. fundamental error.

The third area is his obviously wrong exegesis of texts which are twisted to fit his premillennial conceptions. I can give only a few examples. Both John 14:1-4 and I Corinthians 15:51-57 are said to be descriptions of the rapture, an obvious impossibility. Psalm 2:6, 7 is said to refer to the resurrection of David and his reign with Christ in the millennial kingdom, an obvious contradiction of Acts 13:33 where Paul explains that Psalm 2was fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The whole premillennial conception also brings to the fore various serious doctrinal questions which the premillennialists seem incapable of answering. I refer to such questions as: Why, if the one sacrifice of Christ is complete and perfect, will the sacrifices have to be restored in the millennial kingdom? Walvoord answers that they will be merely symbols of the perfect sacrifice of Christ. But this stands in conflict with Hebrews which tells us that the symbolic and typical sacrifices of the Old Testament, which could not take away sin, are forever removed by the perfect sacrifice of Christ. Another problem is the question of how it is possible that the glorified bodies of the people of God taken up into the air at the time of the rapture can live with the earthly bodies of the people who live in the millennial kingdom of Israel. Walvoord brushes this question aside as being unimportant. Still another question is how the sounding trumpet of I Corinthians 15:52 can be called the “last” trumpet when it only ushers in the millennium, and when another trumpet will have to be sounded at the end of the age.

The clearly written book of Walvoord not only describes in a very understandable way the position of premillennialism, but sharply defines its many weaknesses.

THE CONCISE DICTIONARY OF THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION: DOCTRINE—LITURGY—HISTORY, by J.D. Douglas, Walter A. Elwell, and Peter Toon. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1989. 422 pp. Cloth. $19.95. (Reviewed by the Editor)

The Concise Dictionary is a very good, single-volume dictionary of the names, terms, and doctrines found in the theology, liturgy, and history of the church. Three noted evangelical scholars give brief, but pointed, definitions or descriptions of some 3,500 names (e.g., Marcion, John Hus, Karl Barth) and terms (e.g., antmomianism, common grace, theotokos).

The Reformed student will take issue with theDictionary at certain points. Is it indeed the case that “the Bible condemns homosexual practice (Rom. 1:26-27), but the condition of homosexuality as such is not sinful”? On this reasoning, must we not also say that the act of adultery is sin, but an adulterous nature is not sinful? Is not the underlying assumption this, that sin is only in the deed and will, and that sin is not in the very nature itself of fallen man? Rome will be delighted to learn of this (fatal) concession by Protestants.

Nevertheless, the volume will be very helpful (and interesting) to all who have an interest in the church’s words and names, especially those who have occasion to look up the meaning of words and names that are unfamiliar.