This was originally posted a few months ago. It is re-posted here for your reading pleasure.
Dr. Kim Riddlebarger (Ph.D., Fuller Theological Seminary) is senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, California, and visiting professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California. He is also a co-host of the White Horse Inn radio program, which is broadcast weekly on more than fifty radio stations. For a complete bio click here.
My questions are in black. Dr. Riddlebarger’s responses are in blue and blockquoted.
What is your religious background? (growing up, adulthood, denominational affiliations, etc.)
I was raised in independent Bible church fundamentalism-although we often attended local Southern Baptist and Evangelical Free churches. Raised by godly parents, I have always known Christ as my Savior. My parents owned a Christian bookstore, so I grew up smack dab in the middle of the Southern California “Jesus People” revival of the late 60’s-early 70’s. Once upon a time I had hair longer than Greg Laurie and I spent many a Monday night at his Bible study at Calvary Chapel. Now, the only thing we have in common is our hairline.
I became Reformed in the late 1970’s, left the EFCA where my wife and I had become members. Through a mutual friend, I met then Biola student Michael Horton in 1983 and we became fast friends. Along with Michael, I was originally ordained in the Reformed Episcopal Church, but eventually ended up in the CRC (thanks to Bob Godfrey). Our current congregation (Christ Reformed) left the CRC in 1998 and joined the URCNA along with a number of sister churches from our classis. I am still the pastor of Christ Reformed, which Michael and I co-founded in 1996.
When did you become interested in eschatology? What was the catalyst, so to speak?
I have been interested in eschatology as long as I can remember. My family regularly watched Howard C. Estep’s TV show-the “World Prophetic Ministry.” Some of you may remember this guy and his clear dry-erase board. The first serious theology book I read was Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth, back when it first came out in 1969. I was fourteen at the time. When I became Reformed, the last things to go were my credo Baptist beliefs and my premillennialism.
The catalyst was a Lutheran minister who came into our bookstore and challenged me about all the dispensational books we were selling. He opened up his Bible and quickly tied me in a pretzel. His point about the first resurrection being the time of conversion (cf. John 5:24) and the presence of evil in the millennium really rattled me (Revelation 20:7-10). He also pressed me as to the location of the scene in Revelation 20:1-6 (in heaven, not on earth). These questions sowed the seeds of doubt about premillennialism in my mind. How could people exist in natural bodies after the Christ’s second coming? How could people somehow avoid being resurrected or condemned when Christ came back? Even worse, how could there still be sin on the earth after Christ’s return? Would people actually revolt against Christ’s rule? This really troubled me.
And then in seminary, I read Vos and Kline on the distinction between “this age” and the “age to come.” It was all over.
What is your eschatological background before Amillennialism?
My family has deep roots in the Grace Brethren tradition. So I was born and bred a dispensationalist. I became Reformed (as far as my soteriological views went) in my mid twenties and for a long time attempted to remain a dispensationalist. By the time I went to Westminster Seminary in California, I was historic premill, having been deeply influenced by George Ladd but still struggling with the questions mentioned above. Kline’s lectures on the kingdom, Strimple’s lectures on eschatology, and Bob Godfrey’s patience in answering my constant questions, along with assigned textbooks by Vos and Ridderbos, finally did me in. After briefly flirting with postmillennialism, I was amillennial by the time I graduated from Westminster in 1984.
Why did you decide to write the book, The Man Of Sin?
I have long been concerned that amillennial Christians have simply abandoned the field of eschatology to the dispensationalists, and now to the-preterists of various sorts. Hoekema’s book, The Bible and the Future, is great, as is Cornel Venema’s The Promise of the Future. But these were not accessible to many. I felt that it was time to write an accessible book which simply set forth an amillennial perspective on this subject, which I find absolutely fascinating-especially all of the Puritan speculation about the time of the end.
How important is the idea of the Antichrist to eschatology in general, and more specifically, to Amillennialism?
While the revelation of the Antichrist is one of the signs of the end, the presence of the spirit of antichrist throughout the course of this age is primary reason why the church must always be on guard against heresy (1 John 4:3).
When taken as a whole (Paul’s man of sin in 2 Thessalonians 2; John’s teaching about antichrist in his first two epistles; and John’s vision about the dragon, beast and false prophet in Revelation 13), it seemed to me that based upon the biblical evidence, we must say that antichrist is a past, present and future phenomena, which culminates in an Antichrist at the time of the end.
Dispensationalists push this off into the future and mistakenly tie this to a seven-year tribulation and peace treaty with Israel. The recent resurgence of various forms of preterism is surely a counter-reaction to the over-reaching of dispensational prophecy pundits. But it is also incorrect to interpret all the biblical data to be speaking of events pre-A.D. 70. Thus, I wanted to address this in an exegetical manner and make my case as simply and clearly as I could.
This is just a question that comes from my own curiosity. In recent news we have seen the ‘re-re-re-release’ of The Gospel Of Judas to a prominent media role, as well as Dan Brown’s novel, now made into a movie, The Davinci Code. It seems as if there is a renewal of the heresy of Gnosticism that is addressed in John’s first letter. Many are seeking an alternate ‘truth’ or ‘history’ that denies either the deity or the humanity of Christ. How does this fit into the picture of antichrist drawn by John in First John? In light of the resurrection of these gnostic heresies, do you see this as a prophetic fulfillment pointing to the revelation of the Antichrist and the coming of Christ, or is this another revelation of the antichrists that are already in the world that we are to stand guard against?
My sense is that John is warning Christians of a proto-gnosticism (specifically docetism). There is no doubt in my mind that this is exactly what John is warning us about in his epistles-men who go out from our midst who deny that Jesus is God in the flesh (John 2:18-22).
Do you think that Dispensationalism has actually created the common misconceptions regarding the Antichrist, or has simply provided a fertile ground where these misconceptions flourish? In other words, are Dispensationalists the cause, or are they victims because they are made more susceptible to these misconceptions through their end-times perspective?
There has been Antichrist speculation since the time of the church fathers. Dispensationalists cannot be blamed for being interested in the Antichrist, since it is a revealed doctrine. The reason why dispensationalists are so prone to so much weird speculation is that they see this through the lens of Middle-Eastern politics because of their misreading of Daniel 9:24-27. As I mentioned, this has led to a focus upon a seven-year tribulation and a peace treaty with Israel, when instead Scripture focuses upon Antichrist both as an internal threat (heresy) and as external persecution of Christians on the part of the state (i.e. the dragon-empowered beast).
In The Man Of Sin, you included a quote from Herman Ridderbos, which you summarize like this, “The prophet is not concerned with when certain things will come to pass but with the fact that they will come to pass.” (p. 69, emphasis yours) How important is this perspective in developing a Biblical understanding of prophecy?
The reason why dispensationalism makes sense to a dispensationalist is that it fits with his presuppositions, which are that the Bible is to be interpreted literally and that we are to take notice of God’s respective redemptive programs for Israel and the Gentiles.
In the rest of that quote, Ridderbos is making the point that the Old Testament prophet predicts future events which will indeed come to pass, but may not all come to pass at once (i.e., Christ’s first and second coming). The Old Testament prophet cannot see things from the perspective of New Testament fulfillment. This is why it is vital that we allow the writers of the New Testament to tell us what the Old Testament prophets actually predicted-i.e. from the perspective of fulfillment. Looking forward, the prophets saw that these things will come to pass, but they did not know when. Nor did they know that what seemed to be one event, may actually be two. Here, we must carefully observe how the writers of the New Testament apply these prophecies to Christ and follow their lead.
One aspect of Biblical prophecy that is often overlooked is ‘double fulfillment’. A fairly obvious example of this I think would be Isaiah’s prophecy of Emmanuel in Isaiah 7:14. This is clearly a prophetic sign given to Ahaz, and yet is said by Matthew to be fulfilled in the birth of Christ. Why has this aspect of prophecy been ignored, and how far should it be taken?
We need to be careful here because double fulfillment could become a kind of wax-nose, which we can twist any way we wish. But when Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple in the Olivet Discourse, we see that Daniel’s prophecy of an abomination (Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11) was not only fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 BC, it was fulfilled again by Titus in AD 70. In turn, this might be a foreshadowing of a future world-wide desecration of the temple of God (the church) at the time of the end (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). But we will only know this when (or if) it happens. This is why Geerhardus Vos warns us that there is a certain sense in which the best interpreter of difficult prophecies is its fulfillment in history.
Progressive Dispensationalists have made some very important steps in the right direction in their understanding the nature of the Kingdom. In Russell Moore’s book, The Kingdom Of Christ, he gives a lot of weight to the already/not yet aspects of the Kingdom found in Scripture. My question is, can this view be held consistently outside of either a Post- or Amillennial framework?
I have found George Ladd’s book The Presence of the Future, helpful in this regard. He was historic premill, and yet took the already/not yet data of the NT quite seriously. But the major problem for all forms of millennialism is the discussion between this age and the age to come (which runs parallel to the discussion of the kingdom). This distinction between “this age” and the “age to come” not only supports the presence of the kingdom in the midst of this age (through word and sacrament), but anticipates its consummation in the age to come (the not yet). Whenever this age is mentioned in the NT, it is tied to things temporal. But whenever the age to come is mentioned, it is tied to things eternal. Thus when Christ comes back and consummates the present kingdom, there is no place for a half-way renewed earth (as in premillennialism) or a consummate kingdom (of some sort) before Christ’s return (as in postmillennialism).
Many times Amillenarians are accused of spiritualizing texts. Some of my dispensational friends in the blogosphere characterize the Amillennial position as a, “Yeah, OK, whatever,” approach to biblical prophecy. As an Amillennialist who has written books on biblical prophecy, what is your response to these accusations?
These characterizations usually stop after people actually read Reformed amillenniarians like Anthony Hoekema, Geerhardus Vos and Meredith Kline. While people may not agree with them, if you have taken the time to interact with these men you know that they are Christ-centered and taking biblical texts very seriously. You also need to refute their arguments from Scripture.
What about the allegation that Amillenarians do not read the Bible literally?
These allegations have great rhetorical effect (like the charge made by postmillennialists that amillennialism is inherently pessimistic), but have little or no basis in fact. I would argue that allowing the New Testament writers to interpret the Old Testament is to take the “plain sense” of the text, and that it is the dispensationalist who must take the text literalistically when they allow an Old Testament prophet to over-ride the clear teaching of the New Testament. Acts 15:15-18 is a great example of this where James quotes a passage from Amos which refers to Israel, and then applies this to the Gentiles. Is James not taking the Bible literally or “spiritualizing prophecy?”
You said that you are writing a new book on eschatology. Are you at liberty to discuss the contents of this new book? If so, what are the major themes addressed? Is this a book I need?
I am working on a book proposal for a book on the future, which answers the question, “OK, Mr. Amillennialist. What remains to be fulfilled? What has already been fulfilled?” I’ll keep you all posted as to its progress.
Thank you for your patience with me, and your willingness to serve Christ through your ministries of radio, writing, Pastoring, and (my favorite) blogging.
Happy to do it!
Dr. Riddlebarger’s blog, The Riddleblog, is a blog devoted to reformed theology and eschatology.
To ask Dr. Riddlebarger a question about eschatology, click here. Serious questions only, please.
For a ‘Listmania’ list of Dr. Riddlebarger’s various writings at Amazon.com, click here.