The Beginnings of ABI – Part III

In that first two-line email to Jimmy DeYoung in June, 2008, I had mentioned the “Pre-Trib Study Group.”

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The Pre-Trib Study Group  (now the Pre-Trib Research Center – www.pre-trib.org) was started in 1992 by Tim LaHaye and Tommy Ice out of a concern that they were witnessing a broad departure away from Pretribulational Premillennialism within evangelicalism. Premillennialism is the belief that Christ will return prior to a literal 1000-year (millennium) during which time He will rule as the earth’s sovereign king from the Throne of David in Jerusalem.

This is distinguished from Amillennialism – meaning “no millennium” – which teaches that Christ is already ruling in a spiritual way from heaven and in the hearts of believers and that there will be no literal earthly kingdom. Perhaps, the major defining characteristic of the Amillennial view is the idea that the Church has replaced national Israel in God’s program and therefore, all the promises made by God to Israel will only have some sort of spiritual fulfillment. The problem is that to arrive at such a conclusion requires one to allegorize whole sections of the Old Testament and also claim that virtually all of Revelation should only be understood in some sort of symbolic way (except for the part about Satan being bound, which is said to be true during this present age).

In contrast, Premillennialism teaches that Israel and the Church are distinct groups in God’s program and that national Israel still has a future because there are many sure promises made by God to Israel that have not yet been fulfilled. A significant part of this fulfillment means that Israel will literally occupy the land promised and guaranteed to her by God in the Abrahamic covenant (found in Genesis). This fulfillment will be during the millennium (the 1000-year reign of Christ on the earth).

Pretribulational Premillennialism further holds that when certain passages, particularly in Daniel, Matthew, 1 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians and Revelation are taken together in a synthesized, consistent and unified way, it becomes clear that Christ’s return (His Glorious Appearing) will be preceded by a seven-year period of time known as the Tribulation or Daniel’s 70th week. During that time, God will pour out His wrath upon the earth in fulfillment of the promised judgments against both Israel and the nations for their wickedness and rejection of God through the ages. However, because God has promised to preserve His people, the Bride of Christ, the Church from the wrath to come, He will catch up or rapture his church (all believers in Christ, living and dead) away from the earth to meet Christ in the air prior to the onset of the Tribulation period. This is most clearly stated in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. And because there are no more prophecies yet to be fulfilled prior to the Rapture, it is said to be “imminent” – it could happen at any moment.

Although Pretribulational Premillennialism has historically been the prevalent view within conservative evangelicalism over the last 100+ years, the Pre-Trib Study Group was formed because more and more were abandoning this in favor of Amillennialism or some significantly modified form of the historic Pre-Trib view. Since its beginnings with about 30 men in 1992, the Pre-Trib Study group has grown such that it at its annual meeting at Dallas in December, 2008, a record number (over 500) were in attendance. The purpose of the meetings are to encourage people to remain faithful to this biblical view and to also provide them with the biblical resources necessary to defend this view from various “attacks” and temptations to abandon it for a more broadly acceptable and popular view. Each year some of the world’s top evangelical scholars present relevant articles and discuss related issues from a thoroughly biblical and historical perspective.

This is the background for my question about whether there might be a need for a similar group that would serve a similar function with regard to historic, conservative evangelicalism. As I watched what was happening in the American church, as I was reading books, articles and blogs, it became apparent to me that things were quickly changing and that there was a growing tendency away from the theological moorings that had held classic evangelicalism in place as a foundation for conservative, biblical Christianity.

As I mentioned earlier, we sensed that there was a broad shift in the world-view of the average person in evangelical churches and they were being drawn away from their biblical roots in vast numbers. These shifts seemed to be to especially affecting more and more churches, particularly some of the larger influential ones and then in a ripple-effect, many smaller churches that adopted the larger churches as their models for ministry were also being affected. In talking with many Christian educators and other Christian leaders, I sensed that this move away from solid biblical-teaching and expositional teaching was also beginning to take place in some historically evangelical schools – or at least in some departments within those schools. More and more was being written and taught by those who were challenging the biblical views of heaven, hell, salvation, the atonement and even the very nature of God. And with the instantaneous nature of the internet, the spread of these new ideas was quickly becoming “viral” – and reaching levels of influence that in previous generations could take multiple decades to achieve.

It is interesting, that it seemed that the Lord had used our entire time in Hungary to prepare me to ask this question. I had taught Bible Study Methods and Expository preaching for twelve years. The very heart of my ministry was specifically centered around teaching others to handle the Word of God correctly. My interests and passions also developed along the lines of apologetics – and biblically evaluating teachings, trends and movements in light of clear biblical teaching. For many years and in a number of different schools (both in and outside of Hungary) I had taught courses on Apologetics, Creationism, Critique of the Charismatic Movement and Understanding Roman Catholicism.

Within 48 hours of sending that email to Jimmy DeYoung, I was on the phone with him, preparing for an interview on his national weekly radio program. We would be discussing the results of the survey I mentioned in the last two posts and the concern we shared for what seems to be happening in the evangelical world regarding the departure from biblical truth . From that point things began to move very quickly.

Stay tuned for “Part IV.”

Dave James

3 Comments
  1. Dear Brother, you wrote “the major defining characteristic of the Amillennial view is the idea that the Church has replaced national Israel in God’s program and therefore, all the promises made by God to Israel will only have some sort of spiritual fulfillment.”

    Rather than depicting the church as “replacing” Israel, it seems the Amillennial position, as I understand its best representation, describes Israel as EXPANDING to include Gentile believers who are now included within the same household and nation as the believing Jewish “called out ones” (Heb. 12:22-24; 1 Pet. 2:4-10). So this is a matter of FULFILLMENT which appears to have unfolded as God originally purposed in eternity (Eph. 2:10-22), promised to Abraham, and procured through Christ’s sacrifice of Himself in securing our redemption (Gal. 3:8, 13-14, 28-29).

    Paul makes it clear that things have unfolded this way not because God’s word has failed (and a parenthetical age has been ushered in due to Christ being rejected and His kingdom being delayed), but because this is precisely how God said beforehand through His prophets events would play out (Rom. 9:6ff).

    To say that Amillennialism also teaches that “all the promises made by God to Israel will only have some sort of spiritual fulfillment” also falls short of what I know of this view. All eschatological views agree that ultimately the final, perfect fulfillment of God’s promises, types, shadows, and covenants will occur both spiritually and physically in the glorified kingdom after God once again shakes not only earth but heaven (Heb. 12:25-29; cf. Dan. 2:44 vision of the kingdom put in place by Christ during the Roman era which continues to expand, as described in Matt. 13:31-33, and is crowned with glory in the new heavens and new earth, Rev. 21-22).

    Yours by His grace alone,

    Rick Owen

  2. Rick,

    Thanks for your comments. In the not-too-distant-future I plan to post several blogs dealing with the issues related to dispensational versus covenant theology. There will also be articles on this topic available on the ABI website as soon as I can either write or collect them. My main goal in this “Beginnings” series is to let people know how ABI got started and why. So, I won’t get into the details of responding to your comments at the moment.

    However, I will just make the observation that “replacement theology” (Israel is replaced by the Church in God’s program) is historically inherent to Amillennialism. In Covenant theology, this fact is somewhat blurred by the teaching that the Church began with Abraham – and so the Church is not an expansion of Israel, but is synonymous with Israel as the “People of God.” However, this immediately causes a problem with the land promises. Either the land promise has been abrogated or you and I have a claim to some acreage in the middle East.
    Dave

  3. You might also include in your future discussions the New Covenant perspective which encompasses both Amil and Historic Premil folk [Wayne Grudem, John Piper (to a pretty large degree), John Reisinger, Jon Zens, Tom Wells, many Reformed Baptists, and a growing number of non-denominational Bible Churches, Community Churches, and House Churches]. The New Covenant view comes closer to expressing my own understanding of Scripture than does either Covenant Theology or Dispensationalism. Wikipedia gives a pretty fair summary of this view and a few links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Covenant_Theology.

    On the land promise, it seems that even within Dispensationalism the expansive never-ending nature of its fulfillment is ultimately realized only in the glorified, eternal state and extends beyond the Middle East to the whole (new) earth. This appears to be the final country Abraham and the other patriarchs looked toward (Heb. 11:10, 13-16, 39-40).

    However things might play out in the meantime or the end-time, our purpose, privilege and pleasure as believers remains the same as we seek in every way possible (by word and deed) to proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9).


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