It was the 1980s and we were young. Also, we were on a mission to change the world. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? But each generation does change the world, and while the young men of the 1980s were not like the boys who scaled the cliffs of Point du Hoc, they have had their own impact on culture and society.
The 1980s was a world where, within evangelical Christian circles, eschatology, or the study of last things, was rampant. Many Christians I know testify that the first book they read after being converted was The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsay. He was a popularizer of “we are living in the last days” theology, but he was far from alone. The sound of many preachers preaching on Revelation (which some called Revelations), Israel, the rebuilding of the Temple, the Anti-Christ, and the rapture was deafening.
I became a Christian in the 1970s, but never connected with any form of Dispensationalism. Perhaps it was the Methodist roots that held me back. I suspect it was that I really found it disappointing to think that I might never get through college and get to teach history. Besides, I never understood what the preachers were talking about. I could never quite get the charts and fulfilled prophecies settled in my mind. And, no one ever gave me a copy of The Late Great Planet Earth.
Instead, I began–after I got into college–reading books with titles like A Theological Interpretation of American History (C. Gregg Singer), This Independent Republic (R. J. Rushdoony), Nietzsche (H. Van Riessen), Christianity and the Problem of Origins (Philip E. Hughes), and at least one popular best seller in Christian circles, How Should We Then Live? (Francis Schaeffer). I also read the books by Loraine Boettner, such as Studies in Theology and The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. At some point, I plowed through Boettner’s The MIllenium.
In other words, I was on my way to being a nice, ordinary evangelical believer when I suddenly got hijacked by a notorious circle of writers who believed in serious Christian thought, based on the theology rooted in the Reformation. The shorthand for all that was the term “Calvinist,’ which referred in part to the “Five Points of Calvinism,” but really embraced much more. (James Jordan’s delightful article “The Closing of the Calvinist Mind” chronicles these same kinds of life-changing events, as does P. Andrew Sandlin’s essay “The De-Intellectualization of the Reformed Movement.”)
In my earlier years in Reformed circles, I was somewhat Amillennial in my views. I was reading both Amillennial and Postmillennial authors on topics other than eschatology. Dispensationalism, which never took root anyway, was ignored completely. I was also finding myself reading and liking more and more of the writers who would come to be labeled as “Reconstructionists” or “Theonomists.” It was, however, the reading of two books that pushed me into the Postmill camp. One was J. Marcellus Kik’s Eschatology of Victory and the other was John Jefferson Davis’s Christ’s Victorious Kingdom: Postmillennialism Reconsidered. Neither of those authors were considered part of the Reconstruction Movement. (Kik’s death preceded the rise of the movement.)
In the course of time, I learned about a new book, titled Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators, and a new young author, named David Chilton. This book with an awkward title was a rebuttal to a book called Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald J. Sider. Already secure in conservative political thinking, Chilton’s book was a real delight. I realize now that I should read Sider’s book (and will, if I find a used copy cheaply priced) and re-read Chilton. But Christian-leaning socialism is distasteful to me even when I recognize serious concerns they raise. Defending capitalism and the free market involves some careful thinking and formulating, lest one get tossed in with the worst of the money grubbing capitalists. David Bahnsen’s The Crisis of Responsibility is a brilliant and balanced study of the issues in our time.
David Chilton was a student of Gary North and an writer within the web of organizations of that time that were promoting Christian Reconstruction. He undertook to writing a few books on eschatology. These works were Paradise Restored and Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation. I read both books. Or to use the more aggressive term, I devoured them. Add to that, embraced them, quoted them, promoted them, and built my views around them.
David Chilton’s life and ministry were cut short by serious heart problems and an early death. While someone (I cannot remember who) suggested that he wrote his books too early and should have waited until he was more mature in his thinking, it is good that he wrote when he did since his days were not long in this world.
Over time, especially after I married, had children, and began working to establish a classical Christian school, many theological hot spots cooled down. This is not a confession of wrongdoing, but rather a recognition that life changes result in changes of focus. And I mellowed. In Christian school circles, I was around people of differing views. The more I read, the more I became comfortable with the wide range of theological positions people who love Jesus hold to.
These past two months, April and May 2019, I reread Chilton’s Paradise Restored. Sometimes, re-reading a book results in a feeling of disappointment, meaning that it was not as good as I once thought. Or, some rereadings result in rejection, meaning that the book is no longer convincing. Rereading Chilton was, however, confirmation. I found the book strangely warming, to borrow from John Wesley a bit. I read it without looking for ammo to use in battles with the pre-mills and a-mills in my life. Instead, I read it for devotional comfort from God’s Word.
One thing I would not like is for people to read this book to either battle with unrelenting zeal for the postmillennial position or, worse, to look for gaps in the position that Chilton takes. Notice the title: Paradise Restored. Much of this book is a serious study of Paradise, God’s original Creation, and its reflections found in the Temple and in prophecy. Did God’s Plans A (Creation of Paradise) and B (the Covenant People of Israel) fail, leaving Him to abandon the whole planet earth project?
My mellowing out over the years does not mean that I have lost my bearings or convictions. It does mean that I seek and I want other Christians to seek to read and study the views of their fellow believers with care and grace. I think this book will convince some, maybe many, to embrace or lean to a postmillennial view of the Bible and history. But I would also like to see it enable some to simply appreciate the depth of arguments for this position.
A few months back, a man at church was talking to me about millennial issues. The church I am part of is generally Amillennial. When I told him that I was Postmillennial, he said, “There are not many of you around, are there?” Well, back in the 1970s that was the case, but there are plenty of Postmill folks that I know or know of. In this book, Chilton has an appendix that lampoons Hal Lindsay’s statement “There used to be a group of people called postmillennialists.” We are closer now to being able to say, “There used to be a group of people who read Hal Lindsay.”
One more point in favor of this book: In reading this book, you actually get a really good study of Athanasius’ classic work On the Incarnation. Chilton uses lengthy quotes from Athanasius at the beginning of each chapter, so reading this book is like reading the Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of Athanasius. Then, Chilton has a nearly 50 page appendix excerpted from the Jewish historian Josephus concerning the Fall of Jerusalem. That event in history, written by someone with no agenda on modern eschatology issues, adds lots of details to what was prophesied in Matthew 24 and other places. So, in one book, the reader is able to garner understanding of three writers. But the main reason to read this book is not for picking up on or reviewing Athansius or Josephus, or even for understanding David Chilton’s ideas. Read this book to better understand the Bible.