It would be easy to show that at our present rate of progress the kingdoms of this world never could become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. Indeed, many in the Church are giving up the idea of it except on the occasion of the advent of Christ, which, as it chimes in with our own idleness, is likely to be a popular doctrine. I myself believe that King Jesus will reign, and the idols be utterly abolished; but I expect the same power which turned the world upside down once will still continue to do it. The Holy Ghost would never suffer the imputation to rest upon His holy name that He was not able to convert the world – C.H. Spurgeon (from back cover)
The Rebel Alliance reflects a group of people who desire to see our culture and world won for Christ. To a man, each one of us have had a theological and eschatological paradigm shift over the years. Most of the Rebels have shifted from the Dispensational Premillennial perspective to one that is covenantal, postmillennial, and partial-preterist. If you don’t know what any of those words mean or you are wondering how a group of seemingly pleasant people could be so off course, or you just don’t care because you are just waiting for the rapture, then I have a book for you to read.
David Chilton’s Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion is the book I would recommend if I had to choose one small volume which would explain our position here at the Rebel Alliance and how we approach eschatology and hermeneutics. This book is a paradigm changer. It challenges the reader to approach the Bible as a united whole. It challenges the reader to make sure their interpretation of scripture is Biblical, and not speculative. It challenges the reader to examine long held assumptions about how prophecy should be interpreted. Paradise Restored is written with the lay person in mind and is accessible to those that have not done extensive reading on the topic. It also has encyclopedic chapters which makes it a great resource to look up a certain topic after the first reading. This book is a book about hope and a book about hermeneutics.
Paradise Restored outlines the Biblical case for the postmillennial hope. The hope of Gospel victory through the Great Commission is infused throughout the chapters. The basis for Chilton’s hope is that God has won the victory, his Kingdom is slowly growing to cover the earth, and the paradise and the fellowship that was lost Eden will be restored. Chilton will have none of the pessimism so characteristic of the modern church. He remarks that,
the eschatology of defeat is wrong. It is no more biblical than its twin sister, the false view of Spirituality. Instead of a message of defeat, the Bible gives us Hope, both in this world and in the next. The Bible gives us an eschatology of dominion, an eschatology of victory. This is not some blind, “everything-will-work-out-somehow” kind of optimism. It is a solid, confident, Bible-based assurance that, before the Second Coming of Christ, the gospel will be victorious throughout the entire world (4-5).
He writes, in fact, that the optimism that the Great Commission would be successful was the historic belief of the church through the ages (5). Chilton rightly points out that most of the historic hymns we sing talk about the dominion of Christ and his rule spreading to the ends of the earth. Hymns and carols written throughout the ages of the church have proclaimed that “Jesus is now leading us ‘from victory unto victory … till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed’ [and that] ‘He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found’” (7-8). The Biblical basis for this is of course the Psalter. Psalm 22:27 says that “all the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will worship before Thee.” Psalm 72 says that “He will rule from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.” We could go on of course. The rest of the Bible sets forth the grand narrative of the victory of God and His redeeming a people unto Himself. Chilton summarizes the issue this way
will the gospel succeed in its mission, or not? Regardless of their numerous individual differences, the various defeatist schools of thought are solidly lined up together on one major point: The gospel of Jesus Christ will fail. Christianity will not be successful in its worldwide task. Christ’s Great Commission to disciple the nations will not be carried out. Satan and the forces of Antichrist will prevail in history, overcoming the Church and virtually wiping it out – until Christ returns at the last moment, like the cavalry in B-grade westerns, to rescue the ragged little band of survivors” (10).
Does this type of attitude characterize you? Are you discouraged because of the apostasy and the cultural decline we see around us? Be encouraged. Cultures, kingdoms, and states come and go, but the Word of the Lord and its promises stand forever. There is hope because the gospel of Jesus Christ will prevail.
Paradise Restored is also a book about reading and interpreting the Bible (hermeneutics). Chilton has a way of breaking paradigms. He deals with one of the biggest divides between the Dispensational and Covenantal camps when interpreting scripture. That is, he deals with so called “literalist” approach juxtaposed with the “symbolic” approach of interpretation. Chilton argues that one must keep the literary style in mind when interpreting the Bible. Indeed,
would we understand the Twenty-third Psalm properly if we were to take it “literally”? Would it not, instead, look somewhat silly? In fact, if taken literally, it would not be true: for I daresay that the Lord doesn’t make every Christian to lie down in literal, green pastures (16).
I think most “literalists” would agree with this assessment. Dispensationalists take Biblical poetry as symbolic in this fashion. After all, the context of the passage and the genre of its literature tell us it should be taken symbolically. It is in this way that Chilton further argues that
the same is true of the prophets: they, also, spoke in poetry, in figures and symbols, drawing on a rich heritage of Biblical images which … actually began in the original Paradise – the Garden of Eden (17).
The point, then, is that every school takes some parts of the Bible in a symbolic way. The difference is not a literal versus a symbolic approach, but when to take things either way based on the context of the passage. Chilton makes the point that the prophets, and not just the poets, in scripture use symbolic language which cannot be taken in any literal sense.
This point has been borrowed by the Rebels many times when discussing passages like the Olivet Discourse. We recognize that Jesus and the New Testament authors are drawing on a rich vocabulary of prophetic symbols and images. Jesus was a prophet and thus used prophetic, apocalyptic language when speaking of the judgement coming against Israel in 70 AD. He quotes from Isaiah and Ezekiel in Matthew 24. In this case the question still needs to be answered: did the sun and moon “literally” not give off their light when God judged the Babylonians (Isaiah 13:10) or the Egyptians (Ezekiel 32:7)? If the prophets can use symbolic language in this way, then why can’t the Greater Prophet?
Chilton then delves into many Biblical themes laid out in topical chapters. He touches on a multitude of Biblical themes including ‘The Holy Mountain’, ‘The Fiery Cloud’, ‘The Garden of the Lord’, ‘The Coming of the Kingdom’, ‘The Great Tribulation’, ‘The Restoration of Israel’, and many more. Thus, this book becomes a valuable introduction to reading the Bible in a Biblical Theological way; with the grand narrative of scripture in mind. Chilton weaves the promise of Genesis 3:15 through his topics: that God would send a deliverer to crush the seed of the serpent and restore His people to a Paradise lost.
Paradise Restored also has a valuable section about interpreting the book of Revelation. Like the previous section, these chapters are also laid out topically. It includes such topics as ‘The Beast and the False Prophet’, ‘The Great Harlot’, and ‘The New Creation’. Chilton answers many debated questions like who is the beast of Revelation?, who is the harlot?, and is the millennium a literal 1000 years? Chilton is consistent in his hermeneutic. He filters Revelation through the Old Testament paradigm that John the Apostle was certainly utilizing. We interpret the Bible with the Bible. When looking at the harlot in Revelation 17, for instance, Chilton remarks that
this striking picture of a Harlot-city fornicating with the nations comes from Isaiah 57 and Ezekiel 16 and 23, where Jerusalem is represented as God’s Bride who has turned to harlotry. The people of Jerusalem had abandoned the true faith and had turned to heathen gods and ungodly nations for help, rather than trusting God to be their protector and deliverer. Using language so explicit that most modern pastors won’t preach from these chapters, Ezekiel condemns Jerusalem as a degraded, wanton whore: “You spread your legs to every passerby to multiply your harlotry” (Ezek. 16:25). John saw the harlot sitting in the wilderness … an image of the curse; moreover, the specific picture of Jerusalem as a harlot in a wilderness is used in Jeremiah 2-3 and Hosea 2 (187).
The point is then, why do some many interpreters miss the connection between the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament prophetic scriptures; particularly in Revelation? John is drawing on Old Testament imagery to make the point that Jerusalem was the apostate city persecuting the prophets (Acts 7:51-52, Luke 13:33) and was shortly going to be judged (Matt. 24). Chilton, then, gives a compelling introductory look into the preterist interpretation of Revelation.
Speaking of preterism, this edition of the book provides an appendix that outlines in detail how the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled in 70 AD. He does this by providing extensive quotations from Josephus for the pertinent topics mentioned in the Discourse. This is an invaluable resource if you are stuck on an airplane with a futurist and need a quick way to look up the pertinent sections of Josephus that show that the “this generation” meant “that generation”.
David Chilton will challenge the way you read the Bible. He will also challenge the way you look at culture; i.e. the way that paradise will be restored. He says that
it is a mark of our unbelief that we put our trust in men and princes rather than the Spirit of God. Which is more powerful – human depravity or God’s sovereignty? Can God convert the world? Of course! More than that, He has promised that He will convert the world! He has told us that “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9). How much do the waters cover the sea? Is there any part of the sea that is not covered with water? (217-218)
We can again hear the pessimist object that the culture around us makes this seem very outdated and naïve. We will end with Chilton’s response to this objection. He says that
the eschatology of dominion is not some comfortable doctrine that the world is getting “better and better in an abstract, automatic sense. Nor is it a doctrine of protection against national judgement and desolation. To the contrary, the eschatology of dominion is a guarantee of judgement. It teaches that world history is judgement, a series of judgments leading up to the Final Judgement. At every moment, God is watching over His world, assessing and evaluating our response to His Word. He shakes the nations back and forth in the sieve of history, sifting out the worthless chaff and blowing it away, until nothing is left but his pure wheat. The choice before any nation is not pluralism. The choice is obedience or destruction (220).
You can purchase a copy of Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion at American Vision here.