Rev. denHartog is a Protestant Reformed minister-on-loan to Singapore.

 

Rev. denHartog is a Protestant Reformed minister-on-loan to Singapore.

 

Christ’s Spiritual Kingdom: A Defense of Reformed Amillennialism, by David J. Engelsma. Published by The Reformed Witness, Redlands, CA. 2001. 158 pp. $9.00 (paperback). [Reviewed by Rev. Arie denHartog.]

 

As the subtitle of this book indicates, this book is a defense of Reformed amillennialism. The book is strongly polemical in nature. The occasion for Engelsma’s writing of this book was his strong conviction of the need for exposing the errors of and making a judgment of the new postmillen-nialism that has arisen in the last few decades in many Reformed churches. This teaching has come through a movement called reconstructionism, or theonomy. Very briefly, the movement teaches that the church of Jesus Christ should work towards a golden age on earth, which will come before the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. This age will come through mass conversions all over the world, which will take place before the end of time. Through the labors of the church, Christianity will gain great power and influence in the world in politics, culture, and art, in all spheres of this world, and exercise dominion over this present world. The nations of the world before the end of time and the return of Christ will be restructured on the basis of the law of the Lord, including much of the law of the Old Testament. There will be an age of peace and great glory for the church on earth before the Lord returns. Postmillennialism is obviously the basic teaching of this movement.

Engelsma’s book is a compilation and revision of a series of articles that appeared first of all in the Standard Bearer critiquing the movement. When these articles appeared, some of the leading proponents of reconstructionist and theonomist teaching reacted strongly. They cried “foul,” especially because of the strong language Engelsma used. They made accusations that Engelsma had not done sufficient careful exegesis of Scripture. They claimed to have done volumes of exegesis of relevant passages of Scripture, which, they say, is the basis of their teaching. The old thinking of the Reformed church, which she has maintained for centuries, must change. She must be stirred up to action according to the ideals of reconstructionism.

Professor Engelsma was undaunted in his severe criticism of the reconstructionists. The reason for the strong judgments of the book arose from several factors, as Engelsma himself points out in the book. For the last several decades now the advocates of the reconstructionist movement have made repeated, vicious attacks on historic Reformed amillennialism. Just one quote that Engelsma makes from Rousas J. Rushdoony, probably the “greatest” leader of reconstructionism, clearly indicates how vicious the attacks on Reformed amillennialism have been.

Amillennialism…(is) in retreat from the world and blasphemously surrender(s) it to the devil. By its very premise … the world will only get worse … it cuts the nerve of Christian action…. If we hold that the world can only get worse, what impetus is left for applying the word of God to the problems of this world? The result is an inevitable one: … amillennial believers who profess faith in the whole word of God … are also the most impotent segment of American society, with the least impact on American life. To turn the world-conquering word of the sovereign, omnipotent, and triune God into a symbol of impotence is not a mark of faith. It is blasphemy (“Post-millennialism versus Impotent Religion,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction, pp. 126, 127).

In his book, Engelsma turns the tables on such vicious condemnations of historic Reformed amillen-nialism. By historic Reformed amillennialism is meant amillen-nialism taught by the great reformers, by Reformed confessions, and in the Reformed churches for centuries. The need for defending the truth in this area of Christian doctrine is urgent. The errors of reconstructionism are widespread, even among the more conservative Reformed and Prebysterian churches of our day. Serving as a missionary in the Far East, I have been reminded of this. A few months ago I was invited to a conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where the errors of reconstructionism were dealt with and thankfully also refuted. In a few weeks I plan, the Lord willing, to be the speaker at a conference in Myan-mar, where I have been asked to speak on the subject of amillen-nialism, in part also because of the inroads of the false teaching of the reconstructionist movement even in this isolated country.

Engelsma clearly shows that the errors of reconstructionism are serious and fundamental. He makes bold to call the errors of reconstructionism heresies. They strike at the whole doctrine of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ and the manner in which the church presently in the world must be looking for and prepared for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and live in the blessed hope of His final and glorious heavenly kingdom. It is the contention of the author of this book that the Reformed churches should not allow the positions of premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennial-ism peacefully to co-exist together in the churches.

When theological controversy is properly engaged in by the church, she, by the grace and Spirit of God, develops in her knowledge of the truth of the Word of God and her understanding of the great doctrines of salvation. We are thankful that this book of Professor Engelsma is a great aid to the members of the truly Reformed church for doing this, especially in the area of biblical eschatology.

In his book, Engelsma sets forth the fundamental teachings of biblical amillennialism. Amillen-nialism teaches, above all, that Christ is now already the exalted and triumphant Lord sitting on His throne in the heavens at the right hand of God and ruling over all nations and over the course of history victoriously and triumphantly for the ultimate purpose of realizing His final and glorious kingdom in the new heavens and the new earth. Ever since His exaltation, Christ has been triumphant and victorious in the true sense of the word. He will finally appear as the victorious Lord of lords and King of kings at the end of the ages, when He establishes His glorious kingdom in the new heavens and earth.

The coming kingdom of Christ will not be earthly and carnal. Engelsma shows that one of the most serious errors of theonomy, as is the case with all forms of postmillennialism and premillen-nialism, is the carnal and earthly conception of the kingdom of Christ they espouse. The Lord Jesus Christ clearly teaches that His kingdom will not be of this earth, it will not be carnal, it will be spiritual and heavenly. This will be its true glory and blessedness. Engelsma shows that the kingdom of Christ as taught in the Scriptures will be infinitely superior in glory and blessedness to the false conceptions of the kingdom promoted by reconstructionism.

Reconstructionism constantly boasts of having a triumphal view of the kingdom. With the strongest possible language the leaders of this movement try to claim that amillennialism is defeatist and pessimistic. Engelsma, in his book, does an excellent job of showing that the amillennialist position in fact promises the victorious, certain, and glorious triumph of the kingdom of Christ presented in the gospel.

The kingdom of Christ was realized through the cross and resurrection and exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ. The kingdom of Christ is presently evident and realized in the salvation and preservation of the church of Jesus Christ. The kingdom of Christ is realized in its glorious universal extent through the mighty and glorious power of the preaching of the gospel among all the nations of the world. In this true triumph the church of Jesus Christ must glory, now already while she is yet on earth.

Rather than having the church focus on the glorious heavenly kingdom of Christ, postmillen-nialism wants that church to look for an illusory earthly and carnal kingdom of Christ that will be realized through the earthly and temporal power and influence of the church in this present age. The church will realize this kingdom through active involvement in world politics and the various spheres of earthly society and culture to bring about a golden age here on earth before the final return of Christ. By the force of large numbers that will be converted according to the expectations of the theonomists in the last days, and by reconstruction of earthly society according to the principles of the word of Christ, much of this world will be Christianized. The church will already on this earth gain a position of great power and glory and influence.

Engelsma clearly shows that the gospel does not prophesy such an earthly golden age. Rather, Scripture clearly teaches that in this present age the church will suffer persecution by the ungodly world powers. She will be hated and despised by the world even as her Lord was. Especially at the end of time the wickedness of the world will increase more and more. Apostasy will abound in the church. The faithful who remain steadfast to the end will be few in number. This we believe is the clear teaching of the Scriptures. Yet, in spite of all that appears to men, the kingdom of Christ will triumph and will be glorious in the end—far more glorious and triumphant than the temporary earthly kingdom envisioned by the reconstructionists. The church will triumph through the work of the exalted Lord Jesus Christ. Her final glory will be in her heavenly citizenship in the new heavens and earth. She is in fact, by all of Scripture, exhorted not to look for earthly glory and power but always to set her heart on the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness.

In his short book, Engelsma offers extensive exegesis of many important relevant and controversial passages of Scripture, such as Matthew 24and a number of others. The extensive exegesis of Matthew 24 is excellent and clearly proves the opponents of Reformed amillennialism wrong. In a careful exposition of Isaiah 65:17, Engelsma shows the biblical way of how Old Testament prophecy must be interpreted in the light of its fulfillment in Christ. Crucial to the right understanding of the question of the millennium is the method of interpretation, especially of Old Testament prophecy. It is wrong and even impossible to interpret Old Testament prophecy literally. This method of interpretation leads to all sorts of absurdities and inconsistencies and to carnal ideas of the kingdom of Christ similar to those held by apostate Judaism. Most importantly, however, Scripture itself shows us how Old Testament prophecy must be interpreted in the light of its New Testament fulfillment in Christ.

In the last three chapters of the book, Engelsma gives an excellent and necessary criticism of the seriousness of reconstructionism’s preterist interpretations of many of the prophecies of the New Testament. To support their visions of a golden age of an earthly kingdom, the teachers of reconstructionism must necessarily have preteristic interpretations of many New Testament passages. The preterist method of interpretation of New Testament prophecies of the last days maintains that many of the prophecies of Christ’s return and the coming of His final and glorious kingdom must be understood as having been exhaustively fulfilled in the past, especially at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Professor Engelsma has very strong criticism of the preterism of leading teachers of reconstructionism.

In response to this strong criticism, some of the leading teachers of the movement vehemently insist that they are not consistent preterists. They claim that they do not follow through on the extreme preteristic interpretation of some. Extreme preterists so interpret New Testament eschatology that they end up with the position that there is nothing at all left in the New Testament of the blessed prophecies of the final hope of the coming of Christ and of His glorious final kingdom. Engelsma admits that theonomists do not teach complete, radical preterism. The preterism of leading theonomists is nevertheless very serious. The seriousness of their preterism becomes evident when one considers how many of the major passages of eschatology are excluded by their wrong, preteristic interpretations, and how very little of the biblical teaching of blessed hope for the return of the Lord and of His glorious heavenly kingdom is finally left for the church as a result of this destructive way of interpreting Scripture.

By no means are the issues of this book merely a matter of abstract theoretical interest. Professor Engelsma points out repeatedly in his book that the doctrines at stake in this controversy have very serious practical consequences for the church. The eschatology of Scripture that the church must faithfully preach in the world must prepare her for living in the end times. The church must live antithetically in the midst of an increasingly wicked and ungodly world. She must not imagine that the world is in fact getting better and better, so that she may make common cause with the world to bring about the kingdom of Christ on earth. The true church of Jesus Christ must not be wrongly discouraged when she sees the number of the faithful in the last days becoming fewer and fewer because of the apostasy in the church. The saints of God must be prepared to suffer tribulation in the world, as Jesus and His apostles constantly exhorted us to be prepared for.

The church in the last days will be able by the grace of God to endure even the great tribulation when she has a clear understanding of the blessed hope of the coming of her Lord and Savior, and the vision of the glorious, everlasting, heavenly kingdom, which cannot be in this world, which will finally be destroyed by the exalted Christ, but which will be, in the world to come, realized by His sovereign Almighty power.

We urge all to read this book, even read it over several times, to help in understanding some of the false teaching of our day and to equip ourselves for living with spiritual understanding and faith in the blessed and sure hope of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ at the end of the ages.