With his first book on eschatology, Paradise Restored, David Chilton launched an eschatological revival. “Revolution” would be too strong a word, for his viewpoint is an old one, stretching back to the early church. But overnight, Paradise Restored began to influence religious leaders and scholars who had believed that the Biblical case for cultural victory was dead – a relic of the nineteenth century. Now comes The Days of Vengeance, a verse-by-verse exposition of the toughest book in the Bible, the Book of Revelation. What was generalized in Paradise Restored is now supported with chapter and verse – indeed, lots and lots of chapters and verses. This book will become the new reference work on the Book of Revelation. Incredibly, Chilton’s style is so lively that few readers will even notice that the author has tossed a scholarly bombshell. The conservative Christian academic world will be speechless; Chilton has offered a remarkable exegetical challenge to those who hold to the traditional rival eschatologies, which I label pessimillennialism.
This is not just another boring commentary on the Book of Revelation. Even if it were only that, it would be a major event, for the publication of any conservative, Bible-believing commentary on the Book of Revelation is a major event. W. Hendrikson’s amillennial commentary, More Than Conquerors, was published in 1940, and is less than half the size of this one, and not in the same league in terms of Biblical scholarship. John Walvoord’s The Revelation of Jesus Christ is now over two decades old, and it, too, is only half the size of Chilton’s. Despite all the fascination with Biblical prophecy in the twentieth century, full-length commentaries on this most prophetic of Biblical books are rare.
They always have been rare. Few commentators have dared to explain the book. John Calvin taught through all the books of the Bible, save one: Revelation. Martin Luther wrote something in the range of a hundred volumes of material – as much or more than Calvin – but he didn’t write a commentary on Revelation. Moses Stuart wrote a great one in the mid-nineteenth century, but it is forgotten today. The Book of Revelation has resisted almost all previous attempts to unlock its secret of secrets. Now David Chilton has discovered this secret, this long-lost key that unlocks the code.
This long-ignored key is the Old Testament.
The Old Testament Background
“Very funny,” you may be saying to yourself. All right, I will admit it: it is funny-funny peculiar, not funny ha, ha. What Chilton does is to go back again and again to the Old Testament in order to make sense of the Apostle John’s frame of reference. This technique works. It is the only technique that does work!
Those who have never worked personally with Chilton cannot readily appreciate his detailed knowledge of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. I used him dozens of times as my personal concordance. He worked in the office next to mine. I would yell to him: “Hey, David, do you know where I can find the passage about…?” I would relate a smattering of a Bible story, or some disjointed verse that was rattling around in my memory, and he would almost instantly tell me the chapter. He might or might not get the exact verse; usually, he was within three or four verses. That was always close enough. Rare was the occasion when he could not think of it; even then he would putter around in his extensive personal library until he found it. It never took him long.
In this book, he has taken his remarkable memory of the Old Testament, and he has fused it with an interpretive technique developed by James Jordan in his book, Judges: God’s War Against Humanism (1985). Jordan works with dozens of Old Testament symbols that he has sifted from the historical narratives and the descriptions of the Tabernacle and Temple. Then he applies these symbols and models to other parallel Bible stories, including the New Testament’s account of the life of Christ and the early church. No one does this better than Jordan, but Chilton has successfully applied this Biblical hermeneutic (principle of interpretation) to the Book of Revelation in many creative ways. Chilton is not the first expositor to do this, as his footnotes and appendixes reveal, but he is unquestionably the best at it that the Christian church has yet produced with respect to the Book of Revelation. These Old Testament background stories and symbols make sense of the difficult passages in Revelation. He makes clear the many connections between Old and New Testament symbolic language and historical references. This is why his commentary is so easy to read, despite the magnitude of what he has accomplished academically.
The Missing Piece: The Covenant Structure
There was a missing piece in the puzzle, however, and this kept the book in Chilton’s computer for an extra year, at least. That missing piece was identified in the fall of 1985 by Pastor Ray Sutton. Sutton had been seriously burned in a kitchen accident, and his mobility had been drastically reduced. He was working on a manuscript on the symbolism of the sacraments, when a crucial connection occurred to him. The connection was supplied by Westminster Seminary Professor Meredith G. Kline. Years earlier, he had read Professor Kline’s studies on the ancient suzerainty (kingly) treaties of the ancient Near East. Pagan kings would establish covenants with their vassals. Kline had pointed out that these treaties paralleled the structure of the Book of Deuteronomy. They had five points: (1) an identification of the king; (2) the historical events that led to the establishment of the covenant; (3) stipulations (terms) of the covenant; (4) a warning of judgment against anyone who disobeyed, but a promise of blessing to those who did obey; and (5) a system of reconfirming the treaty at the death of the king or the vassal.
Kline developed some of the implications of this covenant scheme. Sutton developed a great many more. These remarkable, path-breaking discoveries can be found in his book, That You May Prosper (1987). But more importantly, he noticed that this five-point covenantal structure governs the books of Psalms, Hosea, Matthew, Hebrews 8, and several of Paul’s epistles. Sutton’s thoroughgoing development of the covenant structure has to be regarded as the most important single theological breakthrough in the Christian Reconstruction movement since the publication of R. J. Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law, in 1973. After Sutton pointed out this five-point covenantal structure, I recognized it in the Ten Commandments, just before I had finished my economic commentary on the Ten Commandments. 
Sutton presented his discovery in a series of Wednesday night Bible studies. The first night that Chilton heard it, he was stunned. He came up to Sutton after the message and told him that this was clearly the key to Revelation’s structure. He had been trying to work with a four-point model, and he had become thoroughly stuck. Chilton went back to work, and within a few weeks he had restructured the manuscript. Within a few months, he had finished it, after three and a half years. (Time, times, and half a time.)
I am confident that The Days of Vengeance will come in for its share of ridicule – from many camps, for many reasons. Chilton’s rhetorical brilliance will make this approach risky for critics who go into print, but the unpublished murmurings and backbiting will spread rapidly. Chilton is going to take a lot of heat because of his excursions into biblical symbolism and his argument that the structure of the Book of Revelation is the same as the structure of Deuteronomy. What the reader should understand from the beginning is that these two insights, while executed with great skill, are derived from the works of Kline, Jordan, and Sutton. Chilton should not be singled out as some sort of isolated theological maverick who simply invented his findings out of thin air – or worse, in a room filled with odd-smelling smoke. He came to these insights while he was working with other men in what has become known as “the Tyler group,” located in Tyler, Texas, a town of about 75,000 in East Texas.
This book is a good example, for better or worse, of what has become known as “Tyler theology.” This theology is part of a larger stream of thought called Christian Reconstruction, also called ”theonomy,” although some members of these schools of thought prefer to avoid these terms. The broadest term is “dominion theology.”
There are many people who espouse dominion theology who are not theonomists, and there are theonomists who are not “Tylerites.” In fact, they are very loudly not Tylerites. They will go out of their way to buttonhole people to tell them the extent to which they are not Tylerites. They have come close to defining themselves and their ministries as “not being Tylerite.” (There is a scene in the old “Dracula” movie when the professor flashes a crucifix at Bela Lugosi, who immediately turns aside and pulls his cape over his face. I think of this scene whenever I think of these men telling others about Tyler. Some day I would like to flash a “Welcome to Tyler” sign in front of them, just to see what happens.) I know several of them who might someday be willing to start churches with names like “The First Not Tylerite Church of…. ” I know another who thinks of his group as “The First 11 A.M. Sunday Morning Not Tylerite Bible Study….” They will therefore not appreciate Chilton’s book. They will blame Chilton for adopting ideas that have been distributed from East Texas. Even though they might otherwise have agreed with his arguments, they are infected with a serious case of NDH – “Not Discovered Here” – a common malady among intellectuals.
In short, they may attack The Days of Vengeance when they are really after Jordan and Sutton. Readers should be aware of this possibility well in advance. There is more to this book than meets the eye.
Two things make the Tyler theology unique in the Christian Reconstruction camp: (1) its heavy accent on the church, with weekly Communion; and (2) its heavy use of the five-point covenant model. Covenant theology, especially the church covenant, has not been a major focus in the writings of some of the non-Tyler leaders of the Christian Reconstruction movement. Theologically speaking the original “four points of Christian Reconstructionism” that Chilton and I have summarized – providence (sovereignty of God), Biblical presuppositionalism (Van Til’s apologetics: the Bible is the starting point and final court of appeal, eschatological optimism (postmillennialism), and Biblical law (theonomy) – were insufficient. The fifth point, covenantalism, and specifically Sutton’s five-point model, was added in late 1985 to complete the theological outline.
The Days of Vengeance is especially concerned with the Revelation’s covenant structure and the historical focus of its judgment passages. If, as Chilton argues so brilliantly, these passages of imminent doom and gloom relate to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., then there is no legitimate way to build a case for a Great Tribulation ahead of us. It is long behind us. Thus, the Book of Revelation cannot legitimately be used to buttress the case for eschatological pessimism. A lot of readers will reject his thesis at this point. The ones who are serious about the Bible will finish reading it before they reject his thesis.
The vast majority of Christians have believed that things will get progressively worse in almost every area of life until Jesus returns with His angels. Premillennialists believe that He will establish an earthly visible kingdom, with Christ in charge and bodily present. Amillennialists do not believe in any earthly visible kingdom prior to the final judgment. They believe that only the church and Christian schools and families will visibly represent the kingdom on earth, and the world will fall increasingly under the domination of Satan. Both eschatologies teach the earthly defeat of Christ’s church prior to His physical return in power.
One problem with such an outlook is that when the predictable defeats in life come, Christians have a theological incentive to shrug their shoulders, and say to themselves, “That’s life. That’s the way God prophesied it would be. Things are getting worse.” They read the dreary headlines of the daily newspaper, and they think to themselves, “Jesus’ Second Coming is just around the corner.” The inner strength that people need to rebound from life’s normal external defeats is sapped by a theology that preaches inevitable earthly defeat for the church of Jesus Christ. People think to themselves: “If even God’s holy church cannot triumph, then how can I expect to triumph?” Christians therefore become the psychological captives of newspaper-selling pessimistic headlines.
They begin with a false assumption: the inevitable defeat in history of Christ’s church by Satan’s earthly forces, despite the fact that Satan was mortally wounded at Calvary. Satan is not “alive and well on Planet Earth.” He is alive, but he is not well. To argue otherwise is to argue for the historical impotence and cultural irrelevance of Christ’s work on Calvary.
The Revival of Optimism
While pessimistic eschatologies have been popular for a century, there has always been an alternative theology, a theology of dominion. It was the reigning faith of the Puritans in that first generation (1630-1660) when they began to subdue the wilderness of New England. It was also the shared faith in the era of the American Revolution. It began to fade under the onslaught of Darwinian evolutionary thought in the second half of the nineteenth century. It almost completely disappeared after World War I, but it is rapidly returning today. David Chilton’s books on eschatology are now the primary manifestos in this revival of theological optimism.
Today, the Christian Reconstruction movement has recruited some of the best and brightest young writers in the United States. Simultaneously, a major shift in eschatological perspective is sweeping through the charismatic movement. This combination of rigorous, disciplined, lively, dominion-oriented scholarship and the enthusiasm and sheer numbers of victory-oriented charismatics has created a major challenge to the familiar, tradition-bound, aging, and, most of all, present-oriented conservative Protestantism. It constitutes what could become the most important theological shift in American history, not simply in this century, but in the history of the nation. I expect this transformation to be visible by the year 2000 – a year of considerable eschatological speculation.
If I am correct, and this shift takes place, The Days of Vengeance will be studied by historians as a primary source document for the next two or three centuries.
Producing New Leaders: Key to Survival
Because pessimillennialism could not offer students long-term hope in their earthly futures, both versions have defaulted culturally. This withdrawal from cultural commitment culminated during the fateful years, 1965-71. When the world went through a psychological, cultural, and intellectual revolution, where were the concrete and specific Christian answers to the pressing problems of that turbulent era? Nothing of substance came from traditional seminaries. It was as if their faculty members believed that the world would never advance beyond the dominant issues of 1952. (And even back in 1952, seminary professors were mostly whispering.) The leaders of traditional Christianity lost their opportunity to capture the best minds of a generation. They were perceived as being muddled and confused. There was a reason for this. They were muddled and confused.
In the 1970’s, only two groups within the Christian community came before the Christian public and announced: “We have the biblical answers.” They were at opposite ends of the political spectrum: the liberation theologians on the Left and the Christian Reconstructionists on the Right. The battle between these groups has intensified since then. Chilton’s book, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators (1981), is the most important single document in this theological confrontation. But from the confused middle, there have been no clear-cut Biblical answers to either of these two positions.
The future of pessimillennialism is being eroded. As the world’s social crises intensify, and as it becomes apparent that traditional conservative Protestantism still has no effective, specific, workable answers to the crises of our day, a drastic and presently unanticipated shift of Christian opinion probably will take place – an event analogous to the collapse of a dam. There will be a revolution in the way millions of conservative Christians think. Then there will be a revolution in what they do.
The liberation theologians will not win this battle for the minds of Christians. There will be a religious backlash against the Left on a scale not seen in the West since the Bolshevik Revolution, and perhaps not since the French Revolution. At that point, only one group will possess in ready reserve a body of intellectual resources adequate for stemming the tide of humanism: the Christian Reconstructionists, meaning those who preach dominion, and even more specifically, those who preach dominion by covenant. With this intellectual foundation, given the existence of catastrophic cultural, economic, and political conditions, they will take over leadership of conservative Protestantism. The existing Protestant leaders suspect this, and they do not like its implications. Nevertheless, they are unwilling or unable to do what is necessary to counter this development. Specifically, they are not producing the intellectual resources to counter what the Christian Reconstructionists are producing.
Instead, they murmur. This tactic will fail.
Silencing the Critics
For over two decades, critics chided the Christian Reconstructionists with this refrain: “You people just haven’t produced any Biblical exegesis to prove your case for eschatological optimism.” Then came Paradise Restored in 1985. A deathly silence engulfed the formerly vociferous critics. Now comes The Days of Vengeance. The silence will now become deafening. Few critics will reply in print, I suspect, though if they refuse to reply, they have thereby accepted the validity of the coroner’s report: death by strangulation (footnotes caught in the throat).
Oh, there may be a few hastily written book reviews in unread Christian scholarly journals. Dallas Seminary’s Prof. Lightner may write one, like the one-page bit of fluff he wrote on Paradise Restored, in which he said, in effect, “See here, this man is a postmillennialist, and you need to understand that we here at Dallas Seminary aren’t!” There may be a few brief disparaging remarks in popular paperback books about the insignificant and temporary revival of full-scale dominion theology. But there will be no successful attempt by scholarly leaders of the various pessimillennial camps to respond to Chilton. There is a reason for this: They cannot effectively respond. As we say in Tyler, they just don’t have the horses. If I am incorrect about their theological inability, then we will see lengthy, detailed articles showing why Chilton’s book is utterly wrong. If we don’t see them, you can safely conclude that our opponents are in deep trouble. To cover their naked flanks, they will be tempted to offer the familiar refrain: “We will not dignify such preposterous arguments with a public response.”
That is to say, they will run up the intellectual white flag.
Chilton’s critics will have a problem with this silent approach, however. The problem is Professor Gordon Wenham, who wrote the Foreword. There is probably no more respected Bible-believing Old Testament commentator in the English-speaking world. His commentary on Leviticus sets a high intellectual standard. If Gordon Wenham says that The Days of Vengeance is worth considering, then to fail to consider it would be a major tactical error on the part of the pessimillenialists.
I will go farther than Wenham does. This book is a landmark effort, the finest commentary on Revelation in the history of the Church. It has set the standard for: (1) its level of scholarship, (2) its innovative insights per page, and (3) its readability. This unique combination – almost unheard of in academic circles – leaves the intellectual opposition nearly defenseless. There may be a few academic specialists who will respond competently to this or that point in The Days of Vengeance, but their technical essays will not be read widely, especially by the average pastor or layman. There may also be one or two theologians who attempt to respond comprehensively (though I doubt it), but their muddled expositions will win few new followers. (I have in mind a particular amillennial scholar who is known for his unique insights into Biblical symbolism, but whose writings communicate his ideas with the clarity of Zen Buddhist thought-teasers or Alexander Haig’s press conferences.)
Mainly, they face the tactical problem of calling attention to this book within their hermetically sealed followings. If their followers ever sit down and read The Days of Vengeance, Christian Reconstructionism will pick off the best and the brightest of them. Why? Because earthly hope is easier to sell than earthly defeat, at least to people who are not happy to accept their condition as historical losers. A lot of Christians today are tired of losing. Even if it means starting to take responsibility – and that is precisely what dominion theology means – a growing number of bright, young Christians are ready to pay this price in order to stop losing. Thus, any extended discussion of this book becomes a recruiting device for Christian Reconstructionism. Too many bright, young readers will be tipped off to the existence of dominion theology.
Our opponents know this, so I do not expect to see any systematic effort to refute Chilton on eschatology, any more than we have seen a book-long effort to refute Greg Bahnsen’s Theonomy in Christian Ethics (1977) or R. J. Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law (1973). The potential critics have had plenty of time; they have not had plenty of definitive answers. I believe the reason is that the Bible’s case for the continuing standard of Biblical law is too strong. Our opponents would prefer that we remain silent and stop raising these difficult ethical questions. Our opponents are caught in a major dilemma. If they continue to fail to respond, their silence becomes a public admission of intellectual defeat. If they do respond, we have an opportunity to reply – and the replies are where the academic debating points are always scored. When you fail to respond effectively to the replies, you lose the debate. Our opponents understand the rules of the academic game. They do not begin the confrontation.
At the same time, they need our insights in order to make sense of at least parts of the Bible. I have seen copies of Rushdoony’s Institutes for sale in the Dallas Theological Seminary Bookstore. They need his insights on Biblical law, yet they cannot deal with the underlying theology of his book. They simply dismiss him as somehow unimportant on such issues. They pretend that he has not offered a monumental challenge to dispensational ethics. They pretend that they can successfully use his book as a kind of neutral reference work on the Old Testament case laws, and also somehow avoid losing their most energetic students to the Christian Reconstructionist movement. The career of Pastor Ray Sutton (a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary) indicates that they have made a mistake.
In a popularly written essay for a non-Christian audience, two fundamentalist authors insisted that while R. J. Rushdoony’s insights on education and politics are used by fundamentalists, they do not take his kingdom views seriously. When their Christian schools are brought to court by some arrogant state attorney general, they call in Rushdoony to take the witness stand for the defense. This has been going on since the mid-1970’s. They need him. They know they need him. Yet his two fundamentalist critics went on to say that hardly anyone in the Christian world takes his views on the kingdom of God seriously. “Fortunately, we can say with confidence that he represents a very small group with absolutely no chance of achieving their agenda.”
In terms of numbers, they were correct: The Christian Reconstruction movement is small. In terms of young men who can write and speak and take leadership positions, the two authors were whistling by the graveyard – their own movement’s graveyard. If traditional, pessimillennial fundamentalist intellectual leaders really had the academic answers to today’s problems in social, economic, and political life, they would not be drinking at the well of Christian Reconstructionism. But they are. They have no place else to go.
I do not expect to see The Days of Vengeance for sale in the Dallas Seminary Bookstore. I do not expect to see it on any traditional dispensational seminary’s recommended reading list. If this book gains wide circulation among the next generation of dispensational pastors, there will be a sharp break of leadership within dispensationalism. The best and the brightest will be absent. If Dallas Seminary students read it, and also read Paradise Restored, the professors at Dallas will be subjected to hard questioning, the likes of which they have never seen since that school was founded. (If the students also read Sutton’s That You May Prosper, the faculty will have a theological revolution on its hands.) The faculty is not about to make this sort of short-run trouble for itself, even though in the longer run this conspiracy of silence will cost dispensationalism dearly. These books probably will not be sold at Grace Theological Seminary, either. And, just for the record, let me predict that you will not see Chilton’s books recommended at non-dispensational seminaries either, for very similar reasons: They are too hot to handle.
I will make myself perfectly clear: If the faculty members of any institution calling itself a Bible-believing theological seminary cannot risk assigning to their seniors, Chilton’s Paradise Restored, Sutton’s That You May Prosper, and Bahnsen’s By This Standard – three short, easily read, minimally footnoted books – because they are afraid of disturbing their students’ thinking, or because they themselves are not ready to provide answers to their students’ inevitable questions, then that faculty has raised the white flag to the Christian Reconstructionists. It means that we Reconstructionists have won the theological fight.
We are already picking off some of their brightest young men, and doing it on a regular basis. They read our books secretly, and they are waiting for their instructors to say something in response. Their instructors are hiding. They are involved in the child’s game of “let’s pretend.” “Let’s pretend that these books were never published. Let’s pretend that our brightest students are not being picked off by them. Let’s pretend that this flood of newsletters out of Tyler, Texas doesn’t exist. Let’s pretend that Christian Reconstructionism is going to go away soon. Let’s pretend that someone else will write a book that answers them, and that it will be published early next year.” This strategy is backfiring all over the country. The Christian Reconstructionists own the mailing lists that prove it. When seminary professors play a giant game of “let’s pretend,” it is only a matter of time.
Frankly, it is highly doubtful that the average faculty member of the typical Bible-believing seminary is ready to assign my short paperback book aimed at teenagers: 75 Bible Questions Your Instructors Pray You Won’t Ask (1984). This is why I am confident that the prevailing theological conservatism is about to be uprooted. Seminary faculties that need to be on the offensive against a humanist civilization are incapable of even defending their own positions from cheap paperback Christian books, let alone replace an entrenched humanist order.
I will put it as bluntly as I can: Our eschatological opponents will not attack us in print, except on rare occasions. They know that we will respond in print, and that at that point they will be stuck. They want to avoid this embarrassment at any price – even the price of seeing their brightest young men join the Christian Reconstructionist movement. And, quite frankly, that suits us just fine. Heads, we win; tails, we win.
If any movement finds that it is being confronted by dedicated opponents who are mounting a full-scale campaign, it is suicidal to sit and do nothing. It is almost equally suicidal to do something stupid. What generally happens is that the leaders of comfortable, complacent, and intellectually flabby movements do nothing for too long, and then in a panic they rush out and do a whole series of stupid things, beginning with the publication of articles or books that are visibly ineffectual in the eyes of the younger men who would otherwise become the movement’s future leaders.
The most important tactic that the existing leadership can adopt is a program of convincing the movement’s future leaders that the movement has the vision, the program, and the first principles to defeat all enemies. To be convincing, this tactic requires evidence for such superiority. Such evidence is presently lacking within traditional pessimillennial groups. They begin with the presupposition that God has not given His church the vision, program, and first principles to defeat God’s enemies, even with Christ’s victory over Satan at Calvary as the foundation of the Church’s ministry.
The traditional pessimillennialists have issued a clarion call: “Come join us; we’re historical losers.” They have built their institutions by attracting people who are content to remain historical (pre-second coming) losers.
Understand that I am discussing traditional pessimillennialism. As the climate of Christian opinion shifts, we find that younger, energetic, and social action-oriented premillennialists and amillennialists are now appearing. This will continue. They insist that they can be kingdom optimists and social activists, too. They insist on being called members of the dominion theology movement. I do not see any evidence that they have been willing to go into print on how their eschatologies are conformable to earthly, “Church Age” optimism, but I am happy to see them coming aboard the Good Ship Dominion. What I need to point out, however, is that in all the seminaries and in the large publishing houses, no such social optimism is visible yet. Traditional pessimists still run these institutions. This is going to change eventually, but it will probably take decades.
Eschatological optimism is the first step in many people’s journey into dominion theology. This is why the leaders with more traditional outlooks are so upset. They recognize that first step for what it is: the end of the road for pessimillennialism.
What most people do not understand is that there has not been a major dispensational commentary on the Book of Revelation since John Walvoord’s The Revelation of Jesus Christ, published back in 1966 by Moody Press and reprinted repeatedly. Even more significantly, there had not been a major dispensational commentary on Revelation before Walvoord’s book. Understand, Walvoord’s commentary appeared 96 years after W. E. B.’s Jesus Is Coming, the book that launched dispensationalism’s popular phase in the United States. It appeared over half a century after the Scofield Reference Bible (1909). In short, the exegesis that supposedly proves the case for dispensationalism came at the tail end of the dispensational movement’s history, just about the time that R. J. Rushdoony had his initial social and law-oriented books published. The dispensationalists could point to only a handful of books with titles such as Lectures on Revelation or Notes on Revelation. In short, bits and pieces on Revelation, but nothing definitive-not after over a century of premillennial dispensationalism. The bibliography in Walvoord’s book lists a small number of explicitly dispensational commentaries on this book of the Bible, above all others, that we would expect the dispensationalists to have mastered, verse by verse.
Whatever we conclude about the history of dispensationalism, its wide popularity had very little to do with any systematic exposition of the book that dispensationalists assert is the most prophecy-filled book in the Bible. In fact, the average dispensationalist probably does not own, has not read, and has never heard of a single dispensational commentary on the Book of Revelation. It is doubtful that his pastor knows of one, either, other than Walvoord’s which is about half the size of Chilton’s.
In contrast, the publication of Chilton’s two books on eschatology, along with Rushdoony’s far less exegetical book, Thy Kingdom Come (1970), in the early phases of the Christian Reconstruction movement places the foundational exegesis at the beginning, where it belongs. We now have the basic exegetical work behind us. Chilton’s first two eschatology books are seminal, not definitive. He and others will continue to build on their foundation. If they do not continue to build, then the movement is dead. Any movement that specializes in reprinting “classics” and does not produce path-breaking new material is dead. Our opponents will learn soon enough that this movement is not dead. We have just barely begun to publish.
The point is, it is important to get the foundations laid early if you intend to reconstruct civilization. This is what the dispensationalists did not do, 1830-1966, perhaps because they never intended to change civilization. They intended only to escape from what they regarded as modern civilization’s more unsavory features, things such as liquor, cigarettes, movies, and social dancing. (I have often said that if anti-abortionists were to spread the rumor that the local abortionist gives a glass of beer to each woman to calm her nerves after an abortion, half the fundamentalists in town would be on the picket lines in front of his office within a week.)
Protestant amillennialists, who are primarily members of Dutch or Lutheran churches, or churches influenced by Continental European theology, have a far stronger academic tradition behind them. It stretches back to Augustine. Chilton draws from these amillennial traditions in explaining Biblical imagery. Nevertheless, Chilton has demonstrated that this imagery can be understood far better within a framework of historical Christian progress than within a framework that presumes increasing historical defeat at the hands of covenant-breakers.
The fundamental message of Biblical eschatology is victory, in time and on earth (in history) – comprehensive victory, not simply a psychologically internal, “smile on our faces, joy in our hearts” sort of victory. In short, he makes effective use of their scholarly contributions, but he does not thereby become dependent on their underlying eschatological presuppositions. (Again, I have in mind a previously mentioned anonymous theologian, whose response to all this is easily predictable: lots more stony silence. Discretion is the better part of valor. He was thoroughly rebutted by another Reconstructionist on a related topic, so he is, understandably, a bit gun-shy.)
The fact is, amillennialist churches are not noted for their evangelism programs. (Those that use the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church’s Evangelism Explosion materials are exceptions to this rule of thumb.) These churches are not out in the theological arena, challenging humanists or anyone else. Members see their churches as holding actions, as defensive fortresses, or as ports in the cultural storm. These churches are simply not on the offensive. They do not expect to achieve anything culturally. They also do not expect to see a wave of converts. They probably will not lose many people to Christian Reconstructionism anytime soon. The slow erosion to liberalism and modernism and liberation theology will continue to plague them, as it has in the past, but there will be no major defections. There will also be no major victories. They will remain spiritual, defensive outposts in the midst of a turning point in world history.
There isn’t any historic (non-dispensational) premillennialism, institutionally speaking. Historic premillennialists are scattered in churches that are dominated either by dispensational premillennialists or amillennialists. Covenant Theological Seminary does exist, but its graduates get swallowed up ecclesiastically in churches that are eschatologically neutral officially, meaning churches run by amillennialists. Historic premillennialism has not been a separate theological force in this century.
David Chilton has provided us with a masterpiece. He has issued an epitaph:
71 A.D. – 1987 A.D.
“We preached defeat, and got it!”
I am throwing down the gauntlet to the opponents of the Christian Reconstruction movement. I am challenging all comers, and I am doing it the smart way: “Let’s you and Chilton fight.” Furthermore, “Let’s you and Bahnsen fight.” If anyone wants to fight me, I will switch on my word processor and give him my best shot, but I am such a sweet and inoffensive fellow that I don’t expect that anyone will waste his time trying to beat me up. But someone in each of the rival pessimillennial camps had better start producing answers to what Christian Reconstructionists have already written. Specifically, someone had better be prepared to write a better commentary on Revelation than The Days of Vengeance. I am confident that nobody can.
From this time on, there will be only three kinds of commentaries on the Book of Revelation:
Those that try to extend Chilton’s
Those that try to refute Chilton’s
Those that pretend there isn’t Chilton’s
December 17, 1986
 David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Ft. Worth: Dominion Press, 1985).
 Tyler, Texas: Geneva Ministries, 1985.
 Kline, Treaty of the Great King (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963); reprinted in part in his later book, The Structure of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972).
 Ray R. Sutton, That You May Prosper: Dominion By Covenant (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987).
 Gary North, The Sinai Strategy: Economics and the Ten Commandments (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1986).
 Gary North and David Chilton, “Apologetics and Strategy,” Christianity and Civilization, 3 (1983), pp. 107-16.
 Gary North, Dominion and Common Grace (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987), especially chapter 5.
 Francis Schaeffer had been announcing since 1965 that humanist civilization is an empty shell, and that it has no earthly future. He repeated over and over that Christianity has the questions that humanism cannot answer. The problem was that as a Calvinistic premillennialist, he did not believe that any specifically Christian answers would ever be implemented before Christ’s second coming. He did not devote much space in his books to providing specifically Christian answers to the Christian questions that he raised to challenge humanist civilization. He asked excellent cultural questions; he offered few specifically Christian answers. There were reasons for this: Chilton and North, op. cit.
 In the highly restricted circles of amillennial Calvinism, a short-lived movement of North American Dutch scholars appeared, 1965-75, the “cosmonomic idea” school, also known as the neo-Dooyeweerdians, named after the Dutch legal scholar and philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd. They made little impression outside of the North American Dutch community, and have since faded into obscurity. Their precursors in the early 1960s had been more conservative, but after 1965, too many of them became ideological fellow travellers of the liberation theologians. They could not compete with the harder-core radicalism represented by Sojourners and The Other Side, and they faded.
 David Chilton, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators: A Biblical Response to Ronald J. Sider (4th ed.; Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1986).
 Bibliotheca Sacra (April-June 1986).
 2nd edition, 1984. Published by Presbyterian & Reformed, Phillipsburg, New Jersey.
 Nutley, New Jersey: Craig Press, 1973.
 The one book-length attempt of any dispensationalist scholar to refute theonomists is an unpublished Dallas Theological Seminary doctoral dissertation: Ramesh Paul Richard’s Hermeneutical Prolegomena to Premillennial Social Ethics (1982). It has not been published even in a reworked form. It is understandable why not: a terrible title. Worse, the dissertation gave away too much theological ground to the theonomists. This indicates the crisis facing dispensationalism today.
 Ed Dobson and Ed Hindson, “Apocalypse Now?” Policy Review (Oct. 1986), p. 20.
 Published by Spurgeon Press, P.O. Box 7999, Tyler, Texas 75711.