Volume 7, Issue 6: Eschatoon
The Case Against Premillennialism
Jack Van Deventer
Premillennialism is the doctrine that there will be an earthly
reign of Christ established by His second coming. His coming will
initiate a 1,000 year period, the millennium, in which peace and
righteousness will be the rule.
This article deals with dispensational premillennialism which
has been the dominant eschatology among evangelicals in the U.S.
since at least the early 1900's. One prominent radio preacher
noted, " Most people are dispensational, but they don't know
it." 1The premillennial eschatology filling
most Christian bookstores is the dispensational variety forewarning
readers of holocaust, Armageddon, and rapture. However, the heyday
of this form of premillennialism seems to be waning; even adherents
admit that their doctrine has come under severe attack in the
Principal criticisms of premillennialism involve (1) its claim
to superior (literal) hermeneutics, (2) its claims of historicity,
(3) the transitional and disintegrating theological foundations
of dispensationalism, and (4) the timing of the millennium and
(1) Dispensationalists pride themselves in their belief in
the literal interpretation of the Scriptures. They contrast this
claim of literalism against others who allegedly use a spiritualizing
or allegorizing method of interpretation. Charles Ryrie argues
that since all prophecies concerning the first coming of Christ
were fulfilled literally, it stands to reason that all prophecies
concerning the second coming will also be literal.2The problem for premillennialists is that this is simply not true.
A review of the prophecies concerning Christ reveal that only
34 of the 97 (35%) were fulfilled literally.3The rest were analogical or typical fulfillments. Some premillennialists
have begun to admit that such exclusive claims to literalness
have been exaggerated. 4 Critics maintain that
hermeneutics did not determine dispensational premillennial theology
but rather the reverse. The inconsistencies of this view are well
documented 5 and have undermined its credibility.
(2) Ryrie has claimed "premillennialism is the historic
faith of the church." 6 Lightner comments
that premillennialism is "the oldest of the three millennial
views" and prevailed "virtually unchallenged until the
time of Origen (185-254) and his allegorical and nonliteral methods
of interpretation of Scripture." 7 Both
Ryrie and Lightner were professors at Dallas Theological Seminary
where Alan Patrick Boyd completed his masters thesis on the eschatology
of the early church fathers. Boyd wrote "It is the conclusion
of this thesis that Dr. Ryrie's statement is historically invalid."
8 "These churchmen were not literalistic;
drew no essential distinction between Israel and the Church; did
not have a dispensational view of history; . . . did not hold
to imminency and pretribulationism; and their eschatological chronology
was not synonymous with Dispensationalism's."9Boyd's thesis stated Ryrie changed his opinion on the historicity
of premillennialism but lamented that published corrections had
not been made. Despite Boyd's findings and documentation by others,
Lightner continued to claim this as late as 1990.
(3) Dispensational premillennialism is undergoing an identity
crisis. In the last 30 years, many books have been written challenging
dispensationalism's claims of biblical legitimacy. Despite being
the dominant eschatology among evangelicals, dispensational theologians
are now quick to admit that their system lacks definition and
meaning.10The theological transitions have
many dispensationalists expressing uncertainty about their own
system. In the context of defending dispensationalism, one theologian
urged "the dispensational community to publish decisive clarification
of the significant issues of dispensationalism in terms of its
history, its essential identifying element s . . . and the decisive
issues that distinctly set dispensationalists apart from covenantalists.
Dispensationalists must seize the present opportunity to state
what is and what is not essential to dispensationalism . . . and
how dispensationalism of the 1990's differs from that of past
And why will dispensationalism of the 1990's differ from the
past? Because dispensationalists realize some past doctrines are
largely indefensible; thus they are having to redefine their system's
most essential tenets. They are quick to point out that all eschatological
systems have undergone developments and refinements, and this,
of course, is true. However, the upheaval within dispensationalism
has rocked its very foundation.
(4) The Bible teaches that the great future events (the resurrection,
final judgment, and the end of the world) all coincide (Matt.
13:37-50; John 5:25-29; 1 Cor. 15:22-26; Phil 3:20-21; 1 Thes.
4:15,16). Premillennialists teach multiple resurrections, multiple
judgments, and multiple, literal second comings. However, there
is only a single day of judgment: "He has appointed a day
on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom
He has ordained" (Acts 17:31a, cf. Dan. 12:2; John 5:28,29;
Acts 24:15). Christ's second coming and "the end" will
occur at the same time (that is, no 1,000 or 1,007 year gap):
"Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God
the Father; . . . He must reign till He has put all enemies under
His feet" (1 Cor. 15:24-26).
The future direction of this form of premillennialism is currently
uncertain as proponents are dividing into traditional and progressive
dispensationalism, with others adopting a classical premillennial
view. But despite their short history (about 160 years), dispensational
premillennialists do deserve praise for upholding the Bible as
the inerrant word of God, and for combatting liberalism when the
Church at large was falling into apostasy. Indeed, the bulk of
evangelism in the last century has been accomplished by godly
premillennialists, and I am among those personally indebted to
their proclamation of the Word of God.