The Page That Changed My Life: Douglas Wilson

The page of this book that changed my life was page 145, or possibly 146, and it happened on this wise.

Growing up evangelical in North America meant that I had adopted (by osmosis, largely) the predominant premillennialism. Because my family was not dispensational and had a strong bias against all “systems,” my premillennialism was largely generic and pretty bland. No killer bees, beast-like computers in Belgium, or anything like that. Over time I drifted into what could be identified as historic premillennialism, and this was solidified somewhat by reading George Eldon Ladd’s fine book The Blessed Hope. But all was still not well. I knew the general system that I held to but had real trouble having it fall out of the text for me in any kind of natural manner.

This would be as good a place as any to mention that I am simply describing what happened to me, and how I was experiencing these things. My premillennialism was not exegetically derived, and I knew it. But I do not want to be heard, in making this claim, as saying that other premillennialists are doing the same thing. As for me . . . I was like a piano student, a young boy with a good ear for music, never learning to sight read because he memorized the tune, playing it by ear, while staring at the (to him) meaningless score.

As a result of my trouble getting my eschatology to focus, however much I turned the lens, I eventually dropped my allegiance to any eschatological system. The only thing I was willing to confess was the truth proclaimed by the Apostles’ Creed, which was that Jesus was going to come again to “judge the quick and the dead.” I was a pastor by this time, and I remember telling somebody that Jesus was going to come again, and “not to push me.” That’s all I knew. I was my very own non-millennialist. This was not a good position for a pastor to be in—it takes a good bit of preaching material (called Bible passages) and places them off limits for sermon texts.

During this time, I had various verses and hints about a possible optimistic future for this earth floating around in my mind like so much suspended particulate. I didn’t know what to do with these things, or where to put them, so I just persevered in my eschatological agnosticism. Occasionally I would scribble something in the margin of my Bible, like “post mill?” next to Psalm 22:27-28. But I am not sure I even knew what that meant, and may just have been the equivalent of a smiley face.

It is hard to gauge from this distance, but I suspect that I was in this unfortunate state for two or three years. As a result of several other factors, in the 1980s I had begun to read some reconstructionist writers. I was a conservative, baptistic, evangelical Arminian, but I was attracted to those Reformed writers who were trying to apply the Bible to every aspect of life. I had initially been given a taste for this kind of thing by Francis Schaeffer, but my first hardcore introduction to a Kuyperian approach was through the reconstructionists—I loved how they would try to connect the Bible with everything. So the Scriptures applied to everything . . . except my soteriology, that is. I would read these guys on pretty much any topic but Calvinism, against which I held at that time a deep and persistent prejudice. I think that the first book I read in this frame of mind was by David Chilton—Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators, a response to Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, which I had previously read. This was my introduction to Chilton, and I enjoyed his book very much.

As a result, in 1985, I got around to reading Chilton’s book on eschatology, Paradise Restored. While I enjoyed his writing, I never went in too much for his brand of what I would call fanciful exegesis. When he was answering Sider, it was all nuts and bolts. But on eschatology, it seemed to be fluffy clouds, rainbows, and glittery unicorns, and so I found myself reading his book, enjoying it, but not really being persuaded by it. And then it happened—on page 145, or perhaps, as indicated earlier, page 146.

On page 145, Chilton quoted 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, which concludes by saying “for he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death.” This is right near the bottom of the page, and so I am not sure when it hit me—right then or after I turned the page. Jesus remains in heaven until all his enemies are defeated, and the last enemy to be defeated will be death. Something snapped in my head, like a dry stick. I had always believed that when Jesus returned, the first enemy to be destroyed would be death. But this turned that order completely around—it described Jesus as staying in heaven until the process of subduing his enemies was nearly complete, and then he, by his return, would supply the coup de grace, and take out the one remaining enemy, which is death.

All those passages I mentioned earlier—what I called suspended particulate—then did something very strange. An entire worldview fluttered together in my head. It was a very strange sensation. My mind had been a dark and empty theater, and then somebody opened the doors, and it turns out there was a crowd of verses lined up outside, which surged in, all of them looking for seats.

This was not the only paradigm shift I have gone through. But I can say, by far and away, that it was the most theological fun I ever had. And at least part of the fun was being able to pinpoint just when it happened—page 145. This is the only paradigm shift that ever happened to me with a whoosh.

  • Frank

    Hi Pastor Wilson,

    Although this is a very interesting article, I’m missing the connection between your discovering that death is the last enemy destroyed and an eschatological paradigm shift. Did you go from Premil to amill or post mill?


  • Ryan

    Frank, he is postmillenial. His writings are very well known and influential in Calvinist evangelical and reformed circles.

    • Frank

      Thanks Ryan,

      That’s why I’ve never heard of him or of his theology; I’m Arminian myself and haven’t read too many Calvinist writings since I became convinced that Arminianism was more correct than Calvinsim.

      In the article, he said that he was Arminian, I guess that’s another paradigm shift he’s had.

  • John Carpenter

    Interesting but there’s a basic problem with his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:20-26. He just assumed that “He must reign” is equivalent to “He must stay in heaven”. Then he assumes that everything gets better and then the Lord Jesus returns to deliver the “coup de grace” to death. There’s no exegetical basis for such assumptions. There’s no reason that a amillenialists or even historic premillenialists (e.g. Ladd) cannot believe that Jesus reigns now and will return to finish off the last enemy death. So it appears that, as with his initial assumed eschatology, it wasn’t what he exegeted that caused his world-view shift but what he assumed.

    • Brian Watson

      Exactly what I was thinking, John.

    • Frank

      As an amillennialist, I do believe that Christ rules, right now, from heaven; Jesus established His kingdom while on earth during His first coming.

      I think 1 Cor 15:20-26, especially vv 22-23, shows something as important as death being the last enemy defeated, and it is mostly overlooked — that is that the dead do not raise until Christ returns! “22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”

      The dead are just that–dead–until His second coming, then they are “made alive”. The dead are resting in the grave right now; but they will be the first to come up to meet Jesus when He returns! Then those believers who are still living, and lastly, all the unsaved go to meet their Judge.

      • John Carpenter

        I’m an amillennialist too but I don’t believe there is a great deal of difference between amillenialism, post-millenialism, and historic premillenialism. It’s more a difference in attitude. It seems to me that it was dispensationalism that turned eschatology into such a divisive issue.

        Your last two paragraphs sound as if they are suggesting a doctrine of “soul sleep.” I hope I’m incorrect. The Lord Jesus told the believing “thief” that “today you will be with Me in paradise.” Paul said that to be away from the body is to be present with the Lord.

        • Frank

          Yes, I believe a person remains unconscious in the grave until the Second Coming; and no, I’m not a SDA or JW. I agree some verses seem to disprove soul sleep, but some verses do seem to prove it as well: Psalm 6:5, Psalm 49:15, Daniel 12:2, John 3:13, John 5:28-29 and Acts 2:29-34 to list some.

          And I do believe there are exceptions, just like Enoch and Elijah didn’t die even though the Bible says, “Just as man is destined to die once…”. So maybe there are some people in heaven right now?

          But soul sleep is not a show stopper, if I’m wrong, glory to God! If I’m right, glory to God!

          • John Carpenter

            You’re wrong and I’m glad you’re apparently open to that possibility. The scriptures you cite are not properly interpreted to suggest “soul sleep” and the scriptures I cite clearly exclude it.

            • Frank

              Of course you believe that “the scriptures I cite clearly exclude it” or else you wouldn’t have cited them; Just as I clearly see soul sleep in my citations. I see the Bible saying that we will raise out of the grave when the “at the last trump”, and not a second before.

              But it really doesn’t matter if soul sleep is right or not because when I die, I’ll be (to me) immediately in the presence of Jesus. If I lay unconscious in the grave for a thousand years I won’t know it. So yes, Paul was correct, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”; since the dead in Christ do not know of the passage of time.

            • John Carpenter

              The raising out of the grave is the body. If there is “soul sleep” then the Lord Jesus’ comment to the thief (“today you will be with me in paradise”) and Paul’s statement that “to be away from the body is to be present with the Lord”, make no sense (or are just not true). Since those statements are true and since there is no scripture that teaches “soul sleep”, that doctrine is false.

    • Andres Cabezas

      I agree that to go from “He must reign” to “He must stay in heaven” is an assumption. More than that, it is an exegetical leap. I don’t think 1 Corinthians 15 provides enough information to reach that conclusion. The question remains, where is Christ while he reigns, on heaven or on earth? Maybe the answer lies in Revelation…

      I think the points in 1 Co 15:23-26 are fleshed out in Revelation 19:11-20:15. To me it seems that Christ rides down to earth to fight and defeat the beast’s followers. Then the millennium happens, apparently still on earth, when Christ’s followers come back to life to rule with him. After the millennium, Satanic forces rise up to wreak havoc on the earth, but are defeated (put under Christ’s feet?) Then, in 20:14, death is thrown into the lake of fire (the last enemy to be destroyed?)

      Now, given 20:11, and the flight of Earth from the judge’s presence, is Christ still ruling on earth? It’s hard for me to tell, yet it’s clearer to me that Christ has already ruled on earth, over the millennium, before this takes place.

      As you can see, I’m led to favor a premillennial interpretation, on exegetical grounds. Nonetheless, I’d still be interested in reading “Paradise Restored”, as well as finding out what Douglas Wilson thinks of Revelation 19-20. Time for another paradigm shift (whether for me or for him)?

      • John Carpenter

        The problem with that interpretation is that you are reading a number literally from a book that commonly uses numbers symbolically. In addition, why would we even want a literal millennium on earth? We know how it is going to end and so why not cut to the “new heaven and new earth”. It’s a scenario that not only doesn’t make any sense, it isn’t even desirable. And that all pre-millenialism has to rest on is a literal interpretation of a number in a symbolic book, makes it exegetically tenuous.

        • Andres Cabezas

          Would you care to offer an alternative interpretation for the usage of the term “thousand years” in Revelation 19-20, John? Even if it doesn’t mean exactly 1,000 years, wouldn’t it still refer to a stretch of time?

          Also, would you care to specify why this scenario doesn’t make any sense?

          • John Carpenter

            Hi Andres,

            Post-millenialists and some amillenialists see it as a symbol for the rule of Christ through the gospel and the church for a long period before He returns. That is, that Christ begins establishing His rule (e.g. “He must reign”) gradually until “He has put all His enemies under His feet”, that final conquest at the end of the millennium. Some just take it (1000 years) as a figure for a long period in the future.

            The problem with the literalistic interpretation is that first a literal millennium would actually be undesirable. Why would we even want to live in such a period? It is still imperfect. It’s only temporary. We know it’s going to end in a rebellion and battle and horrific judgement. We would want to go directly to the perfect “new heaven and new earth” and so such a millennial kingdom would be a disappointment, not a reward. But I’ll guess I’ll take it if, somehow, it turns out to be true! :)

  • John Carpenter

    I was hoping, based on the blurb, this article was going to turn out to be about how the essential doctrine is, as in the Apostle’s Creed, that Jesus will return and not to be so particular about specific eschatological systems. Instead, it’s about how if you really understand the Bible (especially, he thinks, 1 Corinthians 15), you’ll be post-millenialists.

    • Garry

      I was hoping, based on the blurb, the comments of this article were going to turn out to be informative, objective, and exegetical. Instead, it’s about how some arrogant people need to play hero and try to rescue people from other theological convictions that they may feel awesome for correcting (using the term loosely) people.

      • John Carpenter


        That’s nothing other than a viscous personal attack. If you are incapable of contributing anything but this kind of thing here, please don’t bother.

        By the way, it turns out that “Garry” is only 23 years-old and thinks he can be “Reformed” and “KJV only”.

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  • David Severy

    I don’t get the same clarity on the order of events from 1 Corinthians 15. But is the matter of such great importance? We know Jesus will return from many other scriptures, notably from Acts 1:11. We know that it is the promise of God to save those who trust Jesus and endure in faith to the end. We know enough to know that what we do not know cannot condemn us who believe! I too had a paradigm shift about three years ago. The scripture which initiated it was John 17:3. A bit later a second scripture confirmed it powerfully; it was Jeremiah 9:23-24.

    John 17:3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

    Jeremiah 9:23-24
    23 Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches:
    24 But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.

    • John Carpenter

      I’m to the point that I automatically am biased against an opinion bolstered with the KJV. I reason that if someone were really educated and reasonable, they would use a reliable modern translation.

      • Simon Kennedy

        Wow, John. You’ve just insulted a Christian brother with sarcasm and spurious reasoning, there. I’m not pro- or anti-KJV, I just don’t think that comment is necessary or helpful for anything except your own self-satisfaction.

        • David Severy

          Simon, I am learning not to take insults personally anymore, and I’m learning not to make self satisfying comments. Mortifying the carnal mind is a consistent battle for me. Pride is a slippery sin, eh?

        • John Carpenter

          Hi Simon,
          First, there is no “insult” there. Second, the reasoning is sound. The KJV is an old version, based on inferior manuscripts, the only reason for which it would be used as a citation is because of traditionalism. I believe a soundly educated person would know that.

          • David Severy

            Simon what Bible do you read/study? An old presbyterian pastor said the best version of the Bible is the one you (actually) read.

            • Simon Kennedy

              Hi David. Not sure if you’ll read this, as it’s months later. Anyhow, I read the ESV, and sometimes the NIV. I appreciate the KJV for its beauty, and from my (educated?/un-educated?) understanding it is quite an accurate rendering of the manuscripts it utilises. Good on you for not getting trapped by Mr Carpenter. I now see from further comments on this and other posts that he is what some call a Troll.

          • David Severy

            John, you wrote: “if someone were really educated and reasonable.”

            Aren’t you implying that I am uneducated and unreasonable? That is an insult, but I refuse to be offended (trapped) by it. But instead want to bless and help you in anyway I can.

      • David Severy

        My Bible softwares have dozens of english translations which I read and compare, but when I started truly studying the Word of God I was in a KJV using congregation. The KJV is quite accurate according to the greek, but to most english speakers is is almost foreign.

        • Garry

          David, you keep reading your KJV and completely reject what John Carpenter says, because he is the personification of worldly wisdom.

          “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” -James 3:13-18

          But of course he will twist the scriptures in attempt to prove me wrong.

          • David Severy

            thanks for the courage Gary!

      • Garry

        Yeah I know, John. That Charles Spurgeon, what an ignorant guy. He didn’t lead thousands to Christ, have godly wisdom, or become the most quoted preacher or anything. He used the KJV! There’s no possible way for that to happen. Have you not read that the Father hid things from the wise and prudent, but instead revealed them unto babes? I’m not against education, but that will never be my false god.

        • John Carpenter

          Hi Garry,

          Spurgeon lived in the 19th century, before many of our earlier manuscripts were available and most of our more accurate translations.

          • David Severy

            John Carpenter, you write “… before many of our earlier manuscripts were available and most of our more accurate translations.”

            Specifically to WHICH MANUSCRIPTS do you refer?

            Have you personally translated the Bible you read from the greek, aramaic and hebrew? That is where they came from and they are certainly came before and are very old, and ancient compared to you. When you can tell me you have READ STUDIED and understood the Bible in those three languages (and understood their Inspirer), THEN I will listen to you teach the Bible. But to condemn the KJV is just silly beyond all sillyness!

    • David Severy

      John 17:3
      The Message (MSG)

      Jesus’ Prayer for His Followers

      1-5 Jesus said these things. Then, raising his eyes in prayer, he said:
      Father, it’s time.
      Display the bright splendor of your Son
      So the Son in turn may show your bright splendor.
      You put him in charge of everything human
      So he might give real and eternal life to all in his charge.
      And this is the real and eternal life:
      That they know you,
      The one and only true God,
      And Jesus Christ, whom you sent.
      I glorified you on earth
      By completing down to the last detail
      What you assigned me to do.
      And now, Father, glorify me with your very own splendor,
      The very splendor I had in your presence
      Before there was a world.

      Jeremiah 9:23-24
      The Message (MSG)

      23-24God’s Message:

      “Don’t let the wise brag of their wisdom.
      Don’t let heroes brag of their exploits.
      Don’t let the rich brag of their riches.
      If you brag, brag of this and this only:
      That you understand and know me.
      I’m God, and I act in loyal love.
      I do what’s right and set things right and fair,
      and delight in those who do the same things.
      These are my trademarks.”
      God’s Decree.

      • John Carpenter

        The Message isn’t a translation at all but a paraphrase.

        • David Severy

          hair splitter, you translate this scriptures for me, will YOU?

  • Elisabeth

    I am postmil. I understand it all through the many years of being conditioned through faithful preachers.

    • David Severy

      Elisabeth You better be conditioned by Jesus, the fear of man bringeth a snare.

  • Natalie

    I loved reading this because almost the exact same thing happened to me. The Blakeys (my huband’s sister/bro-in-law) gave us Paradise Restored for our wedding 20 years ago. I started reading it, hated it, and, emotional young wife that I was, threw it in the garbage. Eighteen years later the persistent little boogers gave me another copy. (They knew I was studying this stuff again and wanted to help me along.) This time the “whoosh” happened to me. All the pieces fell together. (LOVED your analogy of the verses rushing in to find seats.) I’ve been saved for 37 years, and reading the Bible has been a regular part of my daily life that entire time. But since the “whoosh”…the Word has made sense in ways I never dreamed. God got a whole lot bigger. What’s not to love about that?

  • Clark

    Do postmils really think the world is getting better? Which world are they living in? I do believe that the kingdom is advancing through the nations, but it is also becoming like it was in Noah’s day, and judgment must be close at hand. I am a semi-reformed historic premillennialism.

    • doug

      I’m not postmil- but I heard Wilson discuss the fact that he believes that Christ’s return is potentially thousands of years off and that we are still a part of the “early church.” He commented that he believes that one day church history students will be asking “Who came first, C.S. Lewis or Athanasius?” So, to your question “do postmills really think the world is getting better?”, at least in Wilson’s case, he would say “it may not seem to be so in the here and now but we’ve got a long ways to go and we will, one day, see the Gospel prevail.”

    • John Carpenter

      I agree that post-millenialism can’t reckon with what I believe is the obvious decline of society and the church in the Western world.

      As for Doug’s comment on Doug Wilson’s long-term view, that would undermine the Bible’s expectation of a “soon”, at any time, coming of Christ.

      • Scott Kistler


        Wilson and the other postmills that I’m somewhat familiar with (James Jordan and Peter Leithart) deal with decline as part of a cycle. They see the church and cultures that are penetrated with the gospel as following the pattern of OT Israel: redemption, sin, punishment, repentance, redemption.

        They also tend to view the “soon” in the NT as a prediction of the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70.

        That’s my understanding anyway.

        • John Carpenter

          Thanks for that insight, Scott. Their reasoning sounds dubious, however. First, Israel didn’t, in the end repent and get redeemed. There is no such cycle, overall. Second, it’s the return of Christ (“Maranatha!”) that is expected soon, not the destruction of the temple. I realize they want to say AD 70 fulfilled everything but the reality is that Jesus didn’t return then.

    • David Severy

      I am persuaded that the destruction of the US is accomplished! We KNOW that at some point heaven will declare that the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom (singular) of our Lord.

      Revelation 11:15
      And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.

      The twin towers in NYC were much more a center of INTERNATIONAL COMMERCE than of National righteousness.
      In fact nationalism, which is glorified ethnic pride is hardly the model of righteousness at all.

      We simply must cut the ourselves loose from the world by the word and power of God!

      Instead, are some not seeking (and some are promising) to rebuild a worldly system that God has sent our enemies to destroy?

      Isaiah 9:10
      King James Version (KJV)
      10 The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycomores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars.

      Oh, the ignorance of God’s word and ways.

      Romans 15:4
      King James Version (KJV)
      4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

      Proverbs 16:7
      King James Version (KJV)
      7 When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.

      The USA is not enjoying this peace, our enemies are NOT at peace with us? Why? I can only believe it is because Americans who say they are Christians have not trusted God and quit sinning! The church needs repentance, it needs to change! If it will not, how can the peoples OF the world in the USA believe in God and that they may also repent and be saved?!?!!??!!??? If we continue to embrace the system that has brought drugs, lust, pornography, and greed to epic heights today, our attempts to rebuild the economy of this perishing world system will come to nothing. God may push us FURTHER into involuntary self denial if we don’t repent.
      Mark 16:24-27
      24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
      25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
      26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
      27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his work

      Matthew 10:38-39
      38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
      39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

  • Chris Zmuda

    About three years ago, Pastor John Piper hosted “An Evening of Eschatology” with Doug Wilson (postmillennialist, natch), Sam Storms (amillennialist) and Jim Hamilton (historic premillennialist). I really enjoyed the discussion.

    The video is here (it’s just over 2 hours):

    • Chris Zmuda

      It barely scratches the surface, but it’s still worth a watch.

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  • Jeff Higgins

    It must be noted that the verses Wilson refers to (1 Corinthians 15:20-26) are set in the context of the whole chapter. A chapter that begins with Paul, reminding the Corinthian believers, about the gospel. A discussion then ensues about resurrection; Christ’s resurrection being both the focus and answer. I assume the author of the book (a book I haven’t read), and Wilson, assume that it is in this gospel age, through the proclamation of the gospel message, that Christ will ever increasingly ‘reign’. Such an age will culminate in the defeat of death at the second coming.

    I.E. Post Mill

  • Jeremy

    I don’t know about all this -mill talk! Simply based upon what I’m reading in vs 22-23 especially, I don’t see how Wilson can be correct. Being somewhat grammatically conscious, it seems one slip and you fall off the fence. What I read says that Jesus is actively involved in those last days, period. I can’t think of a reason why he would leave us to fend for ourselves after promising he’d never leave nor forsake us.

    • John Carpenter

      Hi. While I’m not post-millenial, I don’t think it is a fair characterization of that position that it says that we are having to fend for ourselves until He returns. I believe they would say that the Lord is actively involved through His Word and Spirit in the church transforming the world. Amillenialists and historic premillenialists agree, only differing that that will be gradually effective to make the world better and better.

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