Back in March of 2007, John MacArthur stirred up a bit of controversy by offering a critique of amillennialism in the opening address of the annual Shepherds’ Conference at Grace Community Church. In fact, one amillennialist went so far as to write an entire book in response to select portions of MacArthur’s message—MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response by Samuel Waldron (Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2008). I have more thoughts about Waldron’s book—which I may or may not have the time to address at some point—but for now I’d like to focus on one criticism in particular that Waldron makes about MacArthur’s message.
In MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto, Dr. Waldron faults MacArthur for quoting only three representatives of covenant theology in his address—O.T. Allis, Floyd Hamilton, and Loraine Boettner. And why is this a problem for Waldron? Because the quotes provided by MacArthur came from works published in 1945, 1942, and 1958, respectively, and they are not representative of amillennialism today. This, according to Waldron, is “a defect that cannot be overlooked” (MMM, p. 26). (Incidentally, I find it somewhat humorous that on one hand many amillennialists are quick to champion their view as the position of the historic Christian church throughout the centuries, and yet on the other hand they cry “foul” when you quote someone from more than 50 years ago—but that’s for another time.) To express his concern, Waldron writes:
I think it is legitimate to respond to the citation of such dated materials by asking this question. How would MacArthur like it if I cited the (old) Scofield Reference Bible or the Classic Dispensational authors and assumed that he held their position? He would think (and rightly so) that this is quite unfair (MMM, p. 26).
The irony here is that Dr. Waldron appears to be guilty of precisely that. In 2003, Waldron wrote a 250-page book on eschatology entitled End Times Made Simple: How Could Everyone Be So Wrong About Biblical Prophecy? As you might expect, part of this book is devoted to debunking what Waldron sees as the various errors of dispensationalism. In light of the concern articulated by Waldron in the quote above, one might assume that he made significant effort to interact with some of the more recent dispensational works in End Times Made Simple, especially in light of the developments within dispensationalism in the last 30 years. But such is decidedly not the case.
Instead, as representatives of dispensationalism, Waldron cites John Nelson Darby (1800s) once, the old Scofield Reference Bible (1909) four times, Charles Feinberg (1936) once, Charles Ryrie (1965 and 1969) three times, the New Scofield Reference Bible (1967) five times, and J. Dwight Pentecost (1974) twice. Elsewhere Waldron mentions classic dispensationalists John Nelson Darby, E.W. Bullinger, J.H. Brookes, C.I. Scofield, L.S. Chafer, John Walvoord, J. Dwight Pentecost, and Ernest Pickering. But no other references to dispensational writers can be found in the entirety of his 250-page book.[i] In fact, the only “dispensational” work that Waldron cites which is more recent than 34 years ago is Edgar C. Whisenant’s 1988 booklet, 88 Reasons Why Christ Will Come in ’88! To use Waldron’s word, is this fair?
I suppose one could defend Waldron by saying that End Times Made Simple was designed to target classic dispensationalism rather than the modified forms which have characterized dispensational thought in the past 30 years. But the problem with this response is that even though Waldron acknowledges in MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto (p. 107) that there are different forms of dispensationalism—classic, modified, and progressive, as well as sub-divisions under each—he makes no such distinction in End Times Made Simple. In fact, in End Times Made Simple Waldron insists “that at the end of the day there are two and only two basic positions which one may hold on the matter”—covenant theology or classic dispensationalism (ETMS, p. 246; cf. pp. 136-37).
To make matters worse, Waldron claims that “the inevitable tendency” of dispensational theology is that “of teaching a different way of salvation for Israel” (ETMS, p. 139). In support of this claim, Waldron cites—you guessed it—the old Scofield Reference Bible published in 1909, the very work he said it would be unfair for him to cite. Waldron then continues by asserting that dispensationalists have “long-resisted” this tendency to see a different way of salvation for Israel and have “frequently denied” it, but still, he says, it remains “inevitable” (ETMS, p. 139). According to Waldron, then, at the end of the day we have only two options available to us—either (a) covenant theology or (b) the view that OT Israel was saved by keeping the Law. Is this really a helpful way to frame up the debate?
Look for part 2 tomorrow.
[i] Even though MacArthur would not distance himself equally from each of these dispensational writers—in fact, Charles Feinberg was a dear friend and influential mentor to him—this list of representatives is clearly in the line of what is known as classic dispensationalism, rather than MacArthur’s significantly revised form of dispensationalism.