The Judgment Seat of Christ by Samuel L. Hoyt (Milwaukee: Grace Gospel Press, 2011, revised 2015), 236 pp., paper $19.95
Dr. Hoyt has provided an excellent, comprehensive understanding of the judgment seat of Christ. He states that the purpose of this study is “to carefully establish the limits of this judgment in regard to its nature and results” (p. 179). The thesis is “that the judgment seat of Christ is a most solemn evaluation at which there will be no judicial punishment for the believer’s sins, whether confessed or unconfessed, but rather commendation according to the faithfulness of the Christian’s life” (p. 15).
Hoyt rejects the prominent view of only one general judgment (pp. 17-22) espousing the understanding of most premillenialists that there are five major eschatological judgments (pp. 22-23). The judgment seat of Christ is specific to the church-age believer and occurs between the rapture and the second-coming of Christ (pp. 47-54). In describing the judgment seat of Christ the author provides individual chapters on the setting, nature, purpose, standards (or criteria) of judgment, and extent. Chapters ten and eleven are dedicated to the rewards received by Christians at the judgment and Hoyt tackles the thorny issues concerning the meaning of loss and shame that will be experienced by some at this event (chapter 9). In each of these discussions Hoyt does an excellent job of biblical exegesis.
My favorite chapter is the third dealing with the ethmological and cultural background of the “bēma” seat. Here Hoyt provides important information concerning the use of the Greek word “bēma” during New Testament times, and its distinction from kritērion, which can also be translated “judgment seat.” Hoyt clearly demonstrates that while the words can be used interchangeably to a degree, “bēma generally denotes a place of prominence, while kritērion specifically refers to a place of prosecution” (p. 45). Thus bema is used most often for the reward seat at athletic events while kritērion is used exclusively for the court of justice. Historically, Hoyt lays the background of the four great Pan-Hellenic games (Olympic, Rythian, Isthmian and Nemean), paralleling these contests with Paul’s writing on the Christian athlete and his rewards. This is a most interesting and helpful section which sheds much light on the New Testament metaphors and teachings. In particular, at the judgment (bēma) seat of the Grecian games the contestants did not face judicial punishment but received rewards according to their success in the events. Similarly, the Christian will not be condemned or punished at Christ’s bēma, but will gain rewards, or suffer loss of the same, depending upon how he has run the race.
The Judgment Seat of Christ is a thorough and valuable study of the subject. Whether used as a textbook or for personal study I recommend it highly. I do, however, have two caveats. In the original 2011 edition I stated that theologically I disagree with his view that all believers will enter the kingdom by faith but “inheritance” of the kingdom is obtained by our efforts (pp. 155-160). This is the position held by Zane Hodges and some others that I personally do not believe can be supported by Scripture. In the revised 2015 edition Hoyt seems to have changed his position, eliminating the quotes by Hodges and added an appendix promoting the view that all Christians inherit the kingdom. He specifically rejects the teachings of Hodges, Tony Evans, Joseph Dillow, Robert Wilkin and others who claim that only the “overcomer” Christians will actually inherit the kingdom. However he did not remove the quote by Theodore Epp which states that true believers can be denied their place in the kingdom, although not their place in heaven (p. 160). I assume leaving Epp’s quote in the revised edition was an oversight. It would have been helpful, however, to have stated that the author’s position has changed rather than ignoring what he had written four years earlier.
Secondly, The Judgment Seat of Christ is a rewrite of Dr. Hoyt’s doctoral dissertation submitted in 1977. As such, Hoyt offers no documentation and lists no bibliographical works past 1976, except for a few related to his changed position on the believer inheritance of the kingdom. While this does not deter from the biblical material, which of course has not changed since the mid-1970s, I would have liked to have seen Hoyt engage some of the modern scholars on the subject. Perhaps an appendix or two could be added to any future reprint addressing what theologians from N. T. Wright to Randy Alcorn are writing about the kingdom of God and heaven. I might be among the few, but I would find such a discussion beneficial. As it stands The Judgment Seat of Christ should find a place in the libraries of serious students of Scripture.
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Senior Pastor, Southern View Chapel, Springfield, Illinois