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.