A critique of the book: Dispensationalism and the History of Redemption

The book is a collection of essays by 10 theologians in the progressive movement within the dispensationalism camp. The book covers a great deal of ground, but this critique will focus on these theologians’ views of the nature of the eternal new heavens and new earth. Early dispensationalists, such as John Walvoord, were of the opinion that the Genesis earth and solar system would be annihilated after the millennium and would be replaced with a totally “new heaven and new earth.” The millennium would be a separate dispensation from the final dispensation. In his commentary The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Walvoord taught:

“The new heaven and new earth presented here are evidently not simply the old heaven and earth renovated, but an act of new creation. . . . There is remarkably little revealed in the Bible concerning the character of the new heaven and the new earth, but it is evidently quite different from their present form of existence.” (p. 311)

The view among these progressive dispensationalists is that the Genesis earth is only purged by a surface fire and that the eternal new earth is a restored Genesis earth for a restored humanity. The millennium is a first phase of the final dispensation. When Christ returns to this earth to establish his 1,000-year messianic kingdom, there will be an age of righteous humanity as described by Isaiah and the prophets with natural human beings experiencing marriage and procreation in a restored Edenic paradise. But there is still some measure of death and sin during the millennium, and this period of human history is seen as a dress rehearsal for the eternal earth when it will only be inhabited by immortal saints without any form of sin. This view of the eternal kingdom as a restored Genesis earth for a restored humanity has been the dominant view of many amillennialists who see no need for a millennium if the messianic promises are somehow fulfilled on the eternal new earth. The amillennialist Anthony Hoekema expressed this view in his book The Bible and the Future:

“There will be a future fulfillment of these prophecies [of a restored Edenic earth], not in the millennium, but on the new earth. Whether they are all to be literally fulfilled is open to question; surely details about wolves and lambs, and about mountains dropping sweet wine, are to be understood not in a crassly literal way but as figurative descriptions of what the new earth will be like.” (p. 276)

Although progressive dispensationalists believe the millennium is an important first phase of the restored earth, they have a similar view as Hoekema on the nature of the new earth:

“As in Hoyt, the consummation is viewed as a redemption and renewal of the present creation rather than its annihilation and replacement by a completely different, heavenly reality. . . . The holistic consummation of progressive dispensationalism can be described as a worldwide multinational kingdom order of redeemed peoples on a renewed earth.” (Blaising, p. 210)

“Each dispensation, or administration, is better than the previous one, culminating in a new creation, a new heaven and earth in which God makes the [Genesis] earth His home forever.” (Kreider, p. 37)

“In the eternal state, everything sin and Satan distorted will be restored.” (Pugh, p. 241)

“In sum, the kingdom and covenants are two of the key ways God reveals how He will execute His plan to restore creation to its intended goal for God’s own glory. God’s kingdom program is a reclamation project, taking humanity to where it was designed to be all along.” (Bock, p. 154)

There are fundamental problems, however, with this interpretation of the eternal new heavens and new earth as a restored earth for a restored humanity. In the Genesis account of creation, God created man, male and female, as mortal, sexual creatures with natural bodies. Mankind experiences marriage, and through sexual union, they reproduce their kind. Men and women were to fill and subdue the earth, turning it into an Edenic paradise. This is what I refer to as the Adamic order of being. Jesus referred to this definition of mankind in his answer to the Sadducees: “The sons of this age [the Genesis age] marry and are given in marriage [the Adamic order of being]” (Luke 20:34).

But notice what Jesus then said about the eternal age to come:

“But those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead [believers] neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:35–36)

The fact that our mortal, natural bodies are going to be resurrected and/or transformed into immortal bodies that will no longer experience marriage is a profound revelation from Christ about our eternal existence in heaven as immortal sons of God. A biblical theology of the future should recognize and emphasize these two orders of being identified by Christ:

  • the Adamic order of being destined for the Son’s restored Edenic earth during the millennium, and
  • the new creation as immortal sons of God destined for the Father’s eternal kingdom in the new heavens and new earth.

It is apparent that the implications of this remarkable revelation by Jesus have not been well thought out by these theologians. In fact, none of them wrestle with these teachings of Christ when they claim that the eternal kingdom will be a restored earth for a restored humanity. The Luke 20:35–36 passage does not even appear in the book—a critical omission when analyzing the nature of the eternal kingdom.

How can the eternal new heavens and new earth be “a reclamation project, taking humanity to where it was designed to be all along” if the immortal sons of God will no longer experience marriage on the restored earth? Marriage as the union of man as male and female gets to the very essence of what it means to be human in a natural body on this natural earth. Humanity is, by definition, male and female creatures in natural bodies that can experience marriage and the reproduction of their kind. The extended human family generated from this central function of our humanity is extensive: husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, grandsons and granddaughters, grandfathers and grandmothers, and so on. Therefore, if as resurrected immortal sons of God we will not be given in marriage in heaven and none of these extended family relationships will exist, then we will certainly not be returning to what “was designed to be all along” in Eden.

Granted, as the author Pugh notes, Satan has caused sinful mankind to distort God’s original intent for humanity as evidenced by our fornication, adultery, and other forms of sexual immorality. But Pugh claims that “in the eternal state, everything sin and Satan distorted will be restored.” How can human relationships be restored if we are not going to experience marriage in heaven? Marriage and the extended human family—so central to the human experience—will not be reclaimed, restored, redeemed, or renewed in the eternal kingdom of heaven. The eternal kingdom is not a “culmination” of this Genesis creation. Rather, the human experience as we know it will come to an end. In heaven, as immortal sons of God, we will inherit a new kind of eternal body adapted for a new kind of eternal earth. And we will experience a new kind of companionship as fellow children of God. My wife may be my intimate female companion on this earth, but in heaven she will only be a fellow child of God. This is a major change in being from our current relationship as husband and wife and father and mother. It is not a minor detail about our eternal existence that can be ignored. Yet, these authors claim that the billions of raptured saints living an embodied existence on the new earth without marriage should be characterized as a restored humanity.

When Paul discusses the nature of the eternal body in 1 Corinthians 15, instead of stressing the continuity with the current Adamic body, he stresses the incredible discontinuity between the natural body of flesh and blood and the currently unknown kind of eternal body the resurrected sons of God will possess in the Father’s eternal kingdom. He even calls people “fools” who think they can know what kind of eternal bodies we will have after they are transformed and adapted for the eternal kingdom. Paul may have taught that the current creation that is subject to futility may somehow be brought into the Father’s eternal kingdom, but he does not describe any of the features of this Genesis creation that will be brought into the eternal kingdom. Both the nature of our eternal bodies and the eternal new earth currently remains “a mystery” according to Paul.

One thing we do know, however, is that the new heavens and new earth are not for a restored humanity on a restored Edenic earth; otherwise, there would be marriage and procreation in heaven. In fact, contrary to Hoekema’s claim, that is the purpose of the 1,000-year messianic kingdom, which is described by the prophets as a restoration of the Adamic order of being on a restored earth during an age of righteous humanity. Isaiah 65 clearly describes the messianic kingdom as an Adamic paradise with the people of God living in houses with rich agricultural fields and extended human families in a kingdom of peace and prosperity on this Genesis earth. The messianic kingdom is a restored humanity on a restored Edenic earth.

In Matthew 19 and Mark 10, Jesus also promised the disciples that because of their willingness to sacrificially follow him, one day in the future when He sits on his throne and rules the world as the Messiah, they will receive a hundredfold reward in this Genesis age with houses, land, and extended human families on a regenerated Genesis earth. The curse will be removed, and the earth will be restored to its original Edenic condition. The disciples will even assist him in governing the twelve tribes of Israel during this era of paradise on the Edenic earth. In addition, after receiving this hundredfold reward, they will inherit eternal life in the age to come. Matthew recorded this teaching:

“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, in the new world [the restored Genesis earth], when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne [and rule the world], you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones [on the regenerated earth], judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold [in this present age] and [in the age to come] will inherit eternal life [an eternal embodied life in the eternal kingdom of heaven].’” (Matt. 19:28–29)

Jesus is describing two ages, or two different dispensations:

1. The promise of a hundredfold reward of a restored humanity on an Edenic earth during an age of righteous humanity, which will be fulfilled in this Genesis age.
2. The reward of eternal life for the immortal sons of God not given in marriage, which will be fulfilled in the eternal age to come.

In Revelation, the apostle John further informed us that this restoration of humanity will last for a thousand years—before this Genesis creation perishes and the saints inherit eternal life in the new heavens and new earth. In fact, to use the words of Blaising, Bock, and Pugh, the very purpose of Christ’s millennial kingdom is for the “redemption and renewal of the present creation” on a regenerated earth, “taking humanity to where it was designed to be all along”; “everything sin and Satan distorted will be restored.” The eternal new heavens and new earth, however, are for the eternal sons of God in the eternal age to come. As Jesus taught:

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me [on Judgment Day], to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha [the beginning of this Genesis creation] and the Omega [the end of this Genesis creation]. . . . Behold, I am making all things new [the new heavens and new earth].” (Rev. 22:12–13; 21:5)

Christ did not say he is “renewing” this Genesis creation when he comes again at the end of the world. Rather, he said he is bringing this Genesis creation to an end, and, in its place, he will create a truly “new” eternal habitat for the immortal sons of God. In short, the restoration and regeneration of this Genesis creation occurs during the millennium and is for the restored Adamic order of being; whereas, the eternal new heavens and new earth are for the new order of being as transformed sons of God—a new kind of resurrected eternal body dwelling on a new kind of eternal habitat. These theologians have failed to distinguish between the two kingdoms of the triune God:

  1. the Son’s millennial kingdom on a restored Edenic earth for a restored humanity in this age or dispensation, and
  2. the Father’s eternal kingdom on the new earth for his immortal sons in the eternal age or dispensation.

An online video series of lectures called “godsendgame” explores this approach to understanding God’s endgame.

We all agree that a biblical theology of the past, present, and future should have a high degree of consistency, coherence, congruity, and comprehensiveness. With these principles as a given, we must continue to search the Scriptures and discern the truth about the kingdom of God on earth and in the eternal new heavens and new earth.

Reviewed by Gary S. Cangelosi