Book Review

"Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative" By Sam Storms

Kim Riddlebarger
Sam Storms
Thursday, October 31st 2013
Nov/Dec 2013

There are a number of books currently in print that make the case for an amillennial understanding of biblical eschatology. Sam Storms's Kingdom Come is an important addition to a list that includesO. T. Allis's Prophecy & the Church (P&R, 1945); Anthony Hoekema's The Bible & the Future (Eerdmans, 1979); Cornel Venema's The Promise of the Future (Banner, 2000); as well as my own, A Case for Amillennialism (Baker, 2013). But Sam Storms's Kingdom Come does not merely replicate the arguments of those writing before him. As he recounts in his introduction, Storms was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS)’the bastion of dispensationalism’and studied under dispensationalism's most capable advocates: John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, and J. Dwight Pentecost (10). By 1985, Storms had given up dispensationalism, and subsequently premillennialism, which he recounted in a manuscript that he developed’after much honing and reflection’some twenty-eight years later into this current volume (12).

As a DTS insider, Sam Storms knows well the problems with dispensationalism and premillennialism. His unique perspective on the topic, I submit, explains why Kingdom Come is more of a refutation of dispensationalism and premillennialism, than it is a statement and defense of amillennialism (characteristic of the previously mentioned books on the subject).

This is precisely why Storms's book is such a welcome addition to the field. Although dispensationalism has serious flaws, it stills survives as a system of interpretation largely because the previous volumes are not comprehensive in terms of fleshing out and exposing the particular exegetical details and problems underlying the dispensational premillennial system. As long as dispensationalists can argue that the details of the system remain intact, they are not likely to give it up’despite the "big picture" criticisms raised against the entire system. Storms's invaluable contribution does precisely this as he painstakingly fleshes out those details, explaining why both dispensationalism and premillennialism fail to properly explain the meaning of a number of biblical passages. In the process, Storms accumulates an impressive amount of evidence as to why amillennialism provides a better way to make sense of the eschatology of the Bible.

Given the biblical and exegetical nature of Kingdom Come (which requires an equally biblical and exegetical review), I can give but a brief summation of the book's contents here before offering a few observations. Storms begins by laying out the ground rules of hermeneutics (chapter 1), and while doing so makes a compelling case that Israel's prophetic hope is fulfilled by the person and work of Jesus Christ (16, 42). In chapter 2, Storms accurately and fairly defines dispensationalism’of special importance is his discussion of dispensational chronology (62-67). Next, Storms pulls the thread of Daniel 9:24-27, which unravels the entire dispensationalism system (chapter 3), before discussing the significance of the four great empires that appear in Daniel's prophecy’the fourth of which, he contends, is Greece, not Rome (chapter 4). If true, this severely undercuts the dispensationalist belief that Daniel is predicting a revived Roman empire at the time of the end (132).

In chapter 5, as Storms recounts his own departure from premillennialism, he lists several standard objections to premillennialism (136-37), before addressing the problem of whether the amillennial interpretation of Revelation 20 is consistent with the rest of the New Testament teaching’a challenge raised by recent defenders of both dispensationalism and premillennialism. Storms concludes, "I must not force the whole of Scripture to dance to the tune of Revelation 20" (143); rather, he contends, Revelation 20 must be seen in light of the New Testament's overall teaching about regeneration, death, and the intermediate state. Doing so vindicates the amillennial interpretation of the first resurrection as spiritual, the basis for concluding that the scene in view in Revelation 20 is of the present, not a future and earthly millennial kingdom.

At the heart of the ongoing debate between dispensational premillennarians and amillennarians is the role of Israel in redemptive history. It is in this context that we hear the accusation often made by dispensationalists that amillennarians hold to a "replacement" theology (i.e., the church "replaces" Israel in the new covenant, the supposed basis for much of modern anti-Semitism). Storms's discussion of this matter in chapters 6 through 10 is especially helpful in addressing the role of Israel vis-à-vis recent premillennial responses to the amillennial literature mentioned above. Storms does an excellent job of marshaling the overwhelming New Testament data, concluding that "there is only one people of God, the Church, comprised of Jews and believing Gentiles" (226).

In chapter 11, Storms addresses the nature of New Testament eschatology, focusing upon the tension between "the already" and the "not yet." He describes how the kingdom inaugurated by Jesus Christ will be consummated at the end of the age in the resurrection and final judgment. When addressing postmillennialism (chapter 12) Storms admits to some sympathy with the view, but concludes that postmillennialism's inability to sufficiently explain the reality of suffering during this age ultimately renders the position untenable (380).

In the balance of the volume (chapters 13 through 16), the author addresses relevant themes in the book of Revelation’specifically the chronology of the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments (chapter 13), the binding of Satan (chapter 14), the nature of the first resurrection’in which Storms responds quite capably to the arguments raised by premillennarians that the first resurrection refers to the bodily resurrection at the end of the age, not entrance into eternal life (chapter 15)’and the antichrist (chapter 16). In chapter 17, Storms continues his discussion of the antichrist, taking up Paul's treatment of the "Man of Sin" in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. Those familiar with the work of G. K. Beale will find themselves at home with this section of Kingdom Come.

In the conclusion of Kingdom Come, Storms summarizes the case he has made, laying out thirty reasons why amillennialism is "the most cogent biblical account of the purpose of God in redemptive history" (549). The cumulative case is indeed impressive, though the sheer number of reasons why amillennialism is compelling (the "shotgun" approach) may not be as effective as making fewer points more precisely aimed (the "sniper-rifle" approach).

Kingdom Come is thorough in its scope and the exegetical arguments are cogent, well argued, and compelling. The author makes his case charitably but firmly. One strength of the volume is Storms's interaction with those dispensationalists and premillennarians who in recent years have challenged the rising tide of amillennialism (i.e., Craig Blaising and Michael Vlach). The author is to be commended for acknowledging that he does not fully understand particular biblical texts (547); but after making such admissions, let us hope that dispensationists do not continue to argue that such honest admissions actually reveal the weaknesses inherent in amillennialism.

Readers of Modern Reform­ation may notice an important omission in Storms's line of argumentation. Storms identifies himself as "amillennial, Calvinistic, charismatic, credo-baptistic." Important omissions are the terms covenantal and confessional. The historical connection between confessional Reformed covenant theology and amillennialism is an important one, yet it plays no factor in either Storms's exegetical or cumulative case (certainly due to his credo-baptistic position). This omission, in this reviewer's opinion, weakens his overall argument in favor of amillennialism’strong as it is.

Storms's Kingdom Come is highly recommended and is an important addition to the field. This should be the first book given to a dispensational premillennarian who is open to consider the arguments against both views.

Thursday, October 31st 2013

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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