John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, ed. Christ’s Prophetic Plans: A Futuristic Premillennial Primer. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012.
I would like to thank Moody Publishers for my review copy of this book. See here for Moody’s page about the book.
Christ’s Prophetic Plans is an explanation and a defense of futuristic premillennialism, the pretribulational rapture, and classical dispensationalism. Futuristic premillennialism is the notion that Jesus Christ will come back to earth in the future and will rule the world for one thousand years. Prior to Christ’s second coming, according to futuristic premillennialism, there will be a Great Tribulation that will befall the world. The pretribulational rapture is the idea that God will take Christians to heaven (as well as resurrect past saints) before this Tribulation occurs. Classical dispensationalism states that God is still committed to the nation of Israel, and it interprets the Old Testament promises to Israel literally rather than spiritualizing them out of a belief that the church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people (replacement theology). For classical dispensationalists, Israel continues to be God’s chosen nation. (Note: I use the term “Old Testament” rather than Hebrew Bible in this review because the authors of Christ’s Prophetic Plans regard the Hebrew Bible as an Old Testament.)
This book contains contributions by John MacArthur, Richard Mayhue, Michael Vlach, Nathan Busenitz, and Matthew Waymeyer, all of whom are associated with the Master’s Seminary. The contributions by MacArthur, Vlach, and Waymeyer are very lucid and well-argued. Mayhue’s writing is rather complex and elliptical in areas, and yet his defense of the pretribulational rapture is quite thought-provoking, and it avoids (perhaps even repudiates) some of the weak defenses of the pretribulational rapture that I have encountered over the years (i.e., Matthew 24:40-41 concerns the pretribulational rapture, or Christ’s coming as a thief in the night indicates a pretribulational rapture). Busenitz’s chapter might be useful to scholars in the field of the History of Biblical Interpretation or Church History, for it quotes church fathers who believed in a literal, future millennial reign of Christ, as well as offered reasons that much of the church departed from futuristic premillennialism in favor of amillennialism, the idea that the millennium in Revelation 20 refers to Christ’s present spiritual reign (which commenced after Jesus’ resurrection) rather than a future earthly reign.
Overall, I found the book’s defense of futuristic premillennialism and classical dispensationalism to be effective. Against amillennialists who argue that the millennium of Revelation 20 is Christ’s present spiritual reign and that (in accordance with Revelation 20:2-3) Satan is currently limited in terms of his ability to deceive the world, more than one contributor referred to New Testament passages indicating that Satan has been active in the world even after Christ’s resurrection. The book also appealed to New Testament passages in arguing that God is still committed to Israel. John MacArthur even contended that Calvinists especially should believe in God’s commitment to Israel, since God has elected Israel, and Calvinists often regard God’s election as unconditional and lasting. MacArthur offers reasons that a number of Calvinists have instead embraced replacement theology and a non-literal interpretation of parts of the Old Testament.
I did not find all of the book’s arguments to be convincing, however. The book purported to support a literal hermeneutic of Scripture, yet there were times when I thought that it failed to take the text at face value due to its commitment to biblical inerrancy. Mayhue, for instance, said that the church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3 refers to a first century church and also an end-time church, and the reason is probably that Mayhue wants to use Revelation 3:10 as a proof-text for the pre-tribulational rapture, and he cannot do so if Revelation 3:10 applies only to the first century church in Philadelphia. Consequently, he embraces a notion that Revelation 3:10 has a first century and an end-time fulfillment, when Revelation 3:10 could simply have been an expectation of what would happen in the first century. Similarly, on page 99, Mayhue says that God often warned God’s people in the past about a judgment that they would not experience in order to encourage them to repent. I think that this is Mayhue’s attempt to account for imminent eschatology: the idea that God will soon exact judgment and set up a paradise. This idea appears in prophecies in the Hebrew Bible and also in the New Testament, but the eschaton did not materialize in the past, and this can pose a problem to those who regard the Bible as the inerrant word of God. In my opinion, not only does Mayhue deal with this problem inadequately, but he also skirts the literal meaning of the biblical text.
In addition, there were times when I wished that the book went more deeply into certain issues. For example, there was a chart near the beginning of the book that explained futuristic premillennialism, and it distinguished among the Judgment Seat of Christ that Paul mentions, God’s judgment of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46, and the White Throne Judgment in Revelation 20:11-15, asserting that these are three separate judgments. I was hoping to read a discussion about the judgment of the sheep and the goats later in the book, but I was disappointed.
On page 43, Vlach quotes the dispensationalist Scofield Reference Bible, which states regarding John 1:17 that “The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ, with good works as a fruit of salvation.” Vlach is arguing against the idea that dispensationalists teach that there have been multiple paths to salvation—-that the Old Testament held to salvation by obedience to the law, whereas people today are saved by grace through faith in Christ. Vlach refers to dispensationalist statements that even people in Old Testament times were saved by grace, but, unfortunately, he does not explain what that passage in the Scofield Reference Bible meant in implying that legal obedience was once a “condition of salvation.” Instead, Vlach quotes Charles Ryrie’s statement that earlier dispensationalists made “unguarded statements that would have been more carefully worded if they were being made in the light of today’s debate” (Ryrie’s words). I wish that Vlach had explained how dispensationalists believe that salvation occurred in Old Testament times, and what role (if any) the law played.
I also wish that the book went into more detail about the significance of Israel’s establishment as a nation in 1948. The book mentions that event, but I was curious as to whether the book’s contributors believe it fulfilled the prophecies in the Old Testament about Israel’s restoration. Many of the glorious occurrences that are associated with Israel’s restoration within the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible did not occur in 1948. I wonder about how the contributors to Christ’s Prophetic Plans would address that.
Overall, however, I found this book to be interesting and informative.
Thanks for this, James…. Pretty amazing! I mean that people of obvious intelligence (I imagine all of them but I have more direct knowledge of MacArthur, as a fellow Talbot grad just a few years behind him) still not only believe but try to defend such a complicated and impossible-to-harmonize scheme of prophetic interpretation.
I went through a period about 25 years ago in which I studied hard to try to line up the predictions and timing of the pre-mill/pre-trib system. I was not finding it possible and began wondering further about the nature and role of prophesy. Around this time I was also following some of the debate between some amillennial (Covenant) folks and the pre-mill scheme I’d been taught at Biola/Talbot. Was finding some factors recommending the former over the latter, as well as the “Covenant” emphasis/centering point over against the dispensational framework, in the larger picture.
Around this time I began examining the even broader theological and biblical picture (partly via some courses) and pursued that interest in the nature and role of prophesy itself. I came to increasingly realize what even my dispensationalist teachers had sometimes emphasized: that prophesy was as much or more about exhortation to righteous behavior than about prediction. It has a vital SOCIAL role (as does all of religion, purported “revelation”, ritual, etc.)
The sooner we get the idea of the Bible supposedly laying out ANY kind of scheme of future events, including some literal or semi-literal “return of Christ”, the better and deeper can be our understanding of what the Bible is really about. Also how and why “prophesies” are written up as they are, and the role Utopian future expectations have always and probably WILL always play. (A very important one, but which must be understood and kept in perspective, well AWAY from real-world [or “real politic”] international policy, whether of the US, Israel, etc.)
It is no wonder whatsoever that the formation of the modern Israel state does not match thoroughly the various biblical prophesies of its regathering. I certainly hope that believers in the historical veracity of the OT, throughout (admitting it provides some general outlines that are historical), and who seek to force prophecies into present-day conditions and possibilities, do not gain high offices relative to international diplomacy and policy, such as the presidency or secretary of state… even key congressional positions (where some, unfortunately, already are). Let’s be open-eyed and pursue more big-picture, inter-disciplinary understanding of what biblical (and general) prophesy is all about and treat it accordingly!
Good points, Howard.
A “reply” (correction) to myself: In the 2nd to last paragraph above, it should begin with “The sooner we get [out of our heads] the idea…”
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Thanks for this review James.
I was raised in dispensationalism and continued to accept it until after I finished Bible college. However, I began questioning aspects of dispensationalism and devoted myself to investigating it deeply. By the mid-1980s, I discarded dispensationalism completely.
For awhile I continued to read in dispensationalism, but I have not done so in the last couple decades. So I am not aware of current dispensational thinking and issues. Perhaps this is the book to help me catch up.
Thanks for reviewing it for us!
Yeah, I figured that was what you meant to say! 😀
Thanks for your comment, Tim!
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