Apocalyptic, by Leon Morris (Eerdmans, 1972, 87 pp., $1.95 pb), The Beginning of the End, by Tim Lahaye (Tyndale, 1972, 173 pp., $1.95 pb), An Eschatology of Victory, by J. Marcellus Kik (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1971, 268 pp., $3.95 pb), The Future of the Great Planet Earth, by Richard S. Hanson (Augsburg, 1972, 123 pp., $2.95 pb), Highlights of the Book of Revelation, by George R. Beasley-Murray (Broadman, 1972, 86 pp., $2.95), Jesus’ Prophetic Sermon, by Walter K. Price (Moody, 1972, 160 pp., $4.95), and The Kingdom of God Visualized, by Ray F. Baughman (Moody, 1972, 286 pp., $5.95), are reviewed by Bob Ross, campus minister, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston.
Reviewing seven books on eschatology is something like eating a seven-course meal, except that at the table the courses are served in a definite order—one cannot confuse the appetizer with the dessert. In the case of a seven-course eschatological feast, one hardly knows where to begin, much less where to end.
If the output of books is an accurate index, there is no lack of interest today in the biblical prophecies. A warm eschatological fervor, sometimes bordering on a fever, characterizes the Jesus movement. And when this impetus from young converts is added to the long-standing prophetic interests of certain older evangelical groups, particularly those identified with a dispensational premillennial theology, we have the makings of a revival of prophetic studies and speculations unparalled in Christian history.
The seven books listed here are only a portion of those that have come off the presses in recent months. Three of them develop the familiar dispensationalist eschatology. Baughman, Lahaye, and Price differ in format and in treatment of certain details, but each presents these points in the dispensational scheme: a pretribulation rapture of the Church, the renewed movement of God’s prophetic time clock as he turns to work with Israel again, the tribulation period in which the antichrist will rise to power and turn against Israel, and the coming of Jesus in glory to usher in the millennial reign with Israel restored to its land, forgiven of its sins, and blessed of God as the head of the nations.
Baughman’s The Kingdom of God Visualized is a kind of introductory work on biblical theology from the dispensational perspective. The first several chapters deal with Old Testament material: the covenants, the history of Israel, the prophets, and how the story of Israel fits into God’s total redemptive plan. Later chapters deal with New Testament material. The kingdom of God serves as a theological focus of the book, which is well organized and, as the title suggests, well illustrated. The author has evidently read widely in classic dispensational theology and is well acquainted with other conservative expositors. He presents a sane, well balanced view, given the limits of his presuppositions. I can see this book becoming widely used in introductory courses in Bible colleges sympathetic to dispensationalism.
In Jesus’ Prophetic Sermon Walter K. Price attempts a dispensational interpretation of Jesus’ Olivet discourse recorded in Matthew 24 and 25. He has taken on a difficult task, for if there is one text that seems not especially susceptible to the dispensational hermeneutic, Matthew 24 and 25 is that text. Price can accomplish his purpose only by giving the most cursory attention to the question of how much of the passage is fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. He avoids the problem by a very ingenious chronological key that he discovers in four key words in the passage. He sees a definite “time sequence” connected with the words or phrases “travail” (v. 8), “tribulation” (v. 9), “great tribulation” (v. 21), and “after the tribulation” (v. 29).
The Beginning of the End by Tim Lahaye reminds me of Hal Lindsey’s popular work. The Late Great Planet Earth. Indeed, Lahaye quotes Lindsey extensively in one chapter. The format and style of this book are inviting, and the author works in some interesting anecdotal material of the sort that makes good sermon illustrations. At the end of each chapter he presents an evangelistic appeal that is rather tenuously connected with the content of the chapter. I wonder if he is consciously trying to overcome a failing of much popular fundamentalist literature on prophecy, the failure to root eschatological speculation in a relevant evangelical and ethical concern.
Space forbids a critique of all the peculiar points of interpretation in these books. However, the sort of problem the reader will encounter frequently can be illustrated by one of Lahaye’s interpretations. He maintains that the phrase “nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matt. 24:7) is a Hebrew idiom (2 Chron. 15:1–7; Isa. 19:1–4) for a war started by two nations, which then draws several other kingdoms of the world into the conflict. According to Lahaye, this is precisely what happened in World War I, and so that war must be the fulfillment of Matthew 24:7. Jesus said further that “this generation shall not pass away till all these things be fulfilled” (Matt. 24:34), and Lahaye takes “this generation” to mean the generation living or old enough to comprehend the sign given in Matthew 24:7 when it actually occurred. Since this sign was fulfilled in World War I, we may expect the fulfillment of “all these things,” including the Parousia, before those who were five to fourteen years of age in 1914 shall have died. This would be close to the year 2000. Thus we may confidently predict the time of the second coming plus or minus a couple of decades.
This tactic provokes several questions. (1) Does Jesus’ warning against date-setting apply only to setting the precise day and hour, or does it also apply to attempts to set the century and decade? (2) What about the historical context of Matthew 24? What did Jesus’ words mean to his disciples? Could they have understood them in the sense in which Lahaye interprets them? (3) Does it not require more than average ingenuity to interpret “this generation” in verse 34 by a reference all the way back to verse 7? Such questions are continually raised and seldom really confronted by Lahaye and by some of the other authors as well.
A nondispensationalist premillennialism characterizes the interpretation of Revelation in the mini-commentary by George R. Beasley-Murray. The title Highlights of the Book of Revelation should be taken seriously. There is not room in eighty-six pages to exegete thoroughly one of the New Testament’s longest and most complex books. However, I do recommend this book to the student of Revelation who has not had the advantage of a technical theological education. Here is a path into an apparently impenetrable forest of exegetical problems. The initial tour does not lead into every valley or to the top of every hill, but it provides a basic map that can later be used for more comprehensive explorations. The use of a combination preterist-futurist methodology seems to me to be both sound and extremely fruitful in letting Revelation speak for itself. I am convinced that the book has its ultimate fulfillment in the future, but the predictions of the future are inextricably tied up with the situation of the first-century churches to which the book was originally addressed. That situation must be taken into account by any responsible interpreter of the Revelation.
The only book in this collection that is seriously concerned with contemporary historical and theological research is Apocalyptic by Leon Morris. Apocalyptic is not an attempt to develop an eschatological scheme, and in this respect it differs from most of the other books reviewed here. What Morris has done is to survey the most current literature on the nature of apocalyptic and its influence on the New Testament. Attention is given to Ernst Käsemann’s thesis that “apocalyptic was the mother of all Christian theology.” However, this is not a thorough critical analysis of the issues raised by Käsemann and vigorously debated among New Testament scholars today. Morris has surveyed the field of battle, and this is, of course, a very helpful service. Beyond that he also makes a start toward developing his own perspective on apocalyptic and its influence upon New Testament authors. In the end he comes out with a rather dim view of apocalyptic.
In response to him, I would agree that there are elements in Jewish apocalyptic not compatible with the New Testament’s witness to Jesus Christ—for example, its militaristic view of the Messiah. On the other hand, I think Morris has bent over backward to try to show that several of the so-called apocalyptic elements of the New Testament are not genuine apocalyptic. He makes a very valid point in showing how the historic event of the incarnation and atonement is decisive for Christian thought. But I judge that he does not properly appreciate the eschatological significance of Jesus’ earthly ministry. For example, Morris tends to see the resurrection of Jesus as the triumphant conclusion to his ministry. I suggest that it should also be seen as the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s redemptive work, and that Christian hope rooted in the cross and resurrection is somewhat more central to the Christian experience than Morris would lead us to believe.
Perhaps the most unusual book in the collection reviewed here is An Eschatology of Victory by the late J. Marcellus Kik, who has given us what is an infrequently observed theological creature, a postmillennial eschatology. His book is divided into three sections. In the first, on historic reformed eschatology, he outlines the spiritual lineage of post-millennialism. In the second part he provides an interpretation of Matthew 24 that is 180 degrees from Price’s (see above). Whereas Price and other dispensationalists tend to make most of Matthew 24 future to our own time, Kik sees most of it—including the language about the coming of the Son of Man (v. 30)—fulfilled in the Jewish War of A.D. 70. In the third section he exegetes Revelation 20 along postmillennial lines. Interestingly, he sees the vision of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21, 22) as part of the present Messianic kingdom, not the “consummate kingdom” (to use his words) that will follow the Parousia and Last Judgment.
Common Bible: The Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical Books (Collins, $7.95, $4.95 pb). By adding certain writings from the intertestamental period, which Protestants do not consider canonical, the publishers have secured Catholic and Orthodox endorsement for this expanded “Bible.”
Landing Rightside Up in TV and Film, by G. William Jones (Abingdon, 128 pp., $1.75 pb). Creative approach to learning how audio-visual technology ought to be used in churches.
Healing and Christianity, by Morton T. Kelsey (Harper & Row, 398 pp., $8.95). A comprehensive, readable study of the preaching and practice of healing, from ancient and Old Testament times and the striking ministry of Jesus through the history of the Christian Church to the present. Argues cogently for a holistic view of man and for the place of Christian healing, especially with regard to recent thought in psychology, philosophy, and medicine. Impressive bibliography.
Covenant and Hope, by Eric C. Rust (Word, 192 pp., $5.95). A Christ-centered interpretation of Old Testament prophecy in Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and discussion of how it relates to Christians today. Informative and biblically sound.
God’s “Bad Boys,” by Charles Emerson Boddie (Judson, 125 pp., $4.95). Biographical portraits that honor eight outstanding black Baptist preachers: R. Barbour, J. Boddie, E. Estell, V. Johns, M. King, Jr., J. McNeil, J. Rose, and M. Shepard.
Women Priests: Yes or No?, by Emily C. Hewitt and Suzanne R. Hiatt (Seabury, 128 pp., $2.95 pb), and Women and Jesus, by Alicia Craig Faxon (Pilgrim, 126 pp., $4.95). Two good, different approaches on a woman’s role in God’s Kingdom. The first surveys the problems of women’s ordination in the Episcopal Church and provides good background material for anyone interested in this conflict. The second reviews New Testament women. Perhaps we’ve overlooked most of the biblical evidence.
Marriage Encounter, by Antoinette Bosco (Abbey, 128 pp., $4.95). The story of a Roman Catholic-sponsored attempt, now furthered by Protestants and Jews as well, to help married couples understand and talk about the spiritual and physical dimensions of their relationship. Marriage Encounter, which originated in Spain, offers impressive improvements over more common group-therapy or encounter-group experiments.
Dust of Death, by Os Guinness (Inter-Varsity, 419 pp., $7.95, $4.95 pb) A comprehensive overview of the prevailing culture and countercultures, together with an advocacy of biblical Christianity as the only satisfactory course. In the tradition of Francis Schaeffer.
The Little White Book, by Johannes Facius, Johny Noer, and Ove Stage (Harold Shaw Publishers [Box 567, Wheaton, Illinois 60187], 79 pp., $.75 pb). A pocket-size booklet for young people that speaks about problems of drugs, free love, homosexuality, and the occult. A great tool for personal evangelism.
The Great Second Advent Movement, by J. N. Loughborough (Amo, 480 pp., $23). A history of Seventh-day Adventism, originally published in 1905, by one who was firmly committed to the denomination.
The Monastic Achievement, by George Zarnecki (McGraw-Hill, 144 pp., $5.95). An expansion of a chapter by the same author in The Flowering of the Middle Ages; combines a history of monasticism with a history of monastic art. Very readable and beautifully illustrated, but too brief to serve as other than an introduction.
The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society, by Henri J. M. Nouwen (Doubleday, 104 pp., $5.95). A priest-psychologist creates a new model for the ministry, a minister who uses his wounds as a source of healing in a “shared confession of our basic brokenness.” A good emphasis, but the author fails to balance it with God’s solution.
A Theology of Liberation, by Gustavo Gutierrez (Orbis, 323 pp., $7.95). Apparently assuming the “unity” of mankind in universal salvation, Gutierrez is able to take over Marx’s and Marcuse’s concept of liberation, eulogizing the poor and oppressed as God’s instruments to end poverty and oppression. Assumes that Marxists and Christians share a common vision and task; eloquent but logically and historically soft.
Religious Experience: Its Nature and Function in the Human Psyche, by Walter A. Clark et al. (Charles Thomas [301 E. Lawrence Ave., Springfield, Ill. 62703], 151 pp., $7.95). Stimulating essays from a symposium on psychology and religion, held under the auspices of Fuller Seminary. Clark, professor at Andover Newton, follows William James’s thesis on the possibility and variety of religious experience within each person. Maloney, Daane, and Tippet (all from Fuller) respond from the Christian world view, and Clark has the final word.
Mysticism: Its Meaning and Message, by Georgia Harkness (Abingdon, 192 pp., $5.50). A helpful, clearly written discussion of mysticism, including mysticism in the Bible, plus a historical overview from early and medieval mysticism to present manifestations. Good introduction to the subject.
God and Man in Contemporary Islamic Thought, edited by Charles Malik (Syracuse University, 214 pp., $10). Twelve scholarly addresses (eight in English) given at a symposium at the American University of Beirut by distinguished government officials and religious leaders and thinkers from both East and West.
A Harsh and Dreadful Love, by William D. Miller (Liveright, 370 pp., $9.95). The story of the Catholic Worker Movement begun in the 1930s by Dorothy Day and others committed to radical Christian social idealism and communal living. Stimulating.
Christian Mortalism from Tyndale to Milton, by Norman I. Burns (Harvard, 222 pp., n.p.). Scholarly, well-written introduction that should be of particular interest to literary historians. Good background material for the study of seventeenth-century writing.
Vatican, U.S.A., by Nino LoBello (Trident, 237 pp., $6.95). A journalist tries to uncover the financial assets of Catholicism in America, presenting his findings so as to shock.
The Formation of the Christian Bible, by Hans von Campenhausen (Fortress, 342 pp., $10.95). A detailed, lucid study of the historical and theological process by which the present bipartite canon was formed. Concentrates on the concepts of Scripture and canonicity from Jesus’ time through the first Christian centuries, rather than on the mechanical data of how the Bible was put together.
Essays in the Philosophy of Religion, by H. H. Price (Oxford, 125 pp., $7.75). A revision of lectures delivered at Oxford in 1971. Psychical-research approach to problems in the philosophy of religion, such as prayer and life after death. Ingenious, sometimes humorous, overpriced.
God and Man, by Archbishop Anthony Bloom (Newman, 125 pp., $3.95). Few theologians can match Bloom’s curriculum vitae: exiled from Russia, a physician, member of the French underground, converted to Christianity, and now an Eastern Orthodox archbishop. He gives us some solid thinking on apologetics, prayer, and discipleship centered in the doctrine of the Incarnation.
The Analogy of Experience, by John E. Smith (Harper & Row, 140 pp., $6.95). Princeton Seminary has come a long way when 1970’s Warfield Lectures can be devoted to a downgrading of creedal belief and propositional truth in favor of attempting to understand Christian faith by interpreting hard-to-verbalize personal and community experience. An impressive presentation, but one that leaves unanswered some of the basic questions about content and “true truth.”
Tradition For the Future, by Mirrit Ghali (Alden Press [Osney Mead, Oxford, England], 288 pp., $9). A remarkably original contribution to the theory of society and government, seen from a broadly Christian perspective, by an Egyptian.
Insight, Authority, and Power, by Peter Schouls (Wedge [229 College St., Toronto 2B, Ontario, Canada], 46 pp., $1.95 pb). A clearly reasoned, thoroughly biblical (or shall we say Dooyeweerdian?) approach to three interrelated concepts and their practical meaning for church, home, and school.
George MacDonald, by Richard H. Reis (Twayne, 161 pp., $5.50). Primarily a semi-critical survey of MacDonald’s fiction (fairy tales, fantasies, and “realistic” novels). Consideration is given to MacDonald’s life, major ideas, and—as C. S. Lewis defined it—his “mythopoeic imagination.”
The Mystery of Christ and the Apostolate, by F. X. Durrwell (Sheed and Ward, 180 pp., $7.50). Beginning with an only slightly qualified conviction that everyone is saved, Durrwell manages to give some helpful thoughts on the nature of Christ and the Church, from which he derives a less persuasive argument for the necessity of evangelism.
To Win the West, by John Schermerhom, Samuel Mills, and Daniel Smith (Arno, 161 pp., $10). Reprints of three reports originally written in 1814–15 on the religious condition of what was then “the West” (i.e., beyond the Alleghenies).
The Cross and the Cries of Human Need, by Robert Howard Clausen (Augsburg, 127 pp., $2.95 pb). Using excerpts from six modern plays, the author explains the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection. Modern man’s nihilism is contrasted with Christ’s solidity.
Liberty of Conscience, by L. John Van Til (Craig, 192 pp., $3.95 pb). Traces the Puritan roots of liberty of conscience from Elizabethan times up to the writing of the First Amendment. A well-documented study on a timely topic.
In some ways this is to me the most fascinating, even disturbing, book of the lot. Having been raised on dispensationalist fare and trained to refute the amillennialist, I hardly know what to do with the postmillennialist. For the stimulation this book will provide to most of us, premill and amill alike, I recommend it. Of course, its optimism over the progress of the Gospel in this present age as a means of bringing Christ’s rule effectively to the entire world will probably not convince many of us. And at least for the premills it will seem to etherealize some very earthly Old Testament prophecies. Indeed, apart from the old argument about spiritual versus literal interpretations of the prophecies, there is a growing consensus that much of pietistic Protestantism has overlooked the holistic character of divine redemption. God loves and redeems man body, soul, and spirit. And Kik’s attempt to tell us that our concept of the millennial blessings is too materialist does not quite hit the target.
The Future of the Great Planet Earth by Richard S. Hanson is a reaction to—you guessed it—Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth. Of all the books reviewed here, this one has the least to offer the evangelical reader—or any other kind of reader. (This is not to say that The Late Great Planet Earth is beyond criticism; I personally find it unreliable and offensive in several ways.). Hanson does make a few good points—for example, in showing how prophecy is much more than prediction of the future. However, he overreacts, and in downplaying the predictive element in prophecy he leaves the reader wondering whether the Bible tells him anything about God’s plans for the world. One might call this a diluted idealistic amillennialism. For example, about the most Hanson can tell us of the coming of God’s kingdom is that it “always comes.” And the fulfillment of prophecies like that of Gog and Magog (Ezek. 38, 39) has “always been with us and the war of the ages is quite likely being fought at all times.” So what else is new?
After finishing this seven-course prophetic meal, I am not sure whether I merely feel stuffed or am suffering from some indigestion. The experience provoked at least three serious questions. In the first place, I feel a concern that so much evangelical material published in this field is rather simplistic and unreflective. Each author has his own preconceived doctrinal stance and simply goes from that point. With the exception of Morris and to some extent Beasley-Murray, most of the authors reveal little acquaintance with recent studies that not only raise important eschatological issues, for example in the modern hope school, but also point the exegete to historical material that is extremely important to a responsible interpretation of the Bible. Despite constant reminders of the importance of a literal interpretation, often the author’s theological bias prevents him from letting the Bible speak for itself in terms of its own concerns expressed in its unique historical circumstances.
A second concern that some of this literature, particularly the dispensational sort, provokes is the use of prophecy to score hits on the bad guys—Russians, Chinese, Arabs, ecumenists, and moral reprobates—with very little in the way of a direct word to the conservative, Bible-believing Christian. Much of this literature smells of Pharisaism with occasional strong whiffs of nationalistic pride. The biblical prophetic critique spoke to the sins of the Gentile nations, to be sure. But the prophet as a man of God speaking within the covenant community was always concerned primarily about the spiritual life of the people within the covenant community.
I spoke recently with an Egyptian Christian who felt considerable agitation at the uncritical approval by Christians of Israel’s modern expansion. He believed that many of the developments since 1948 are indeed fulfillments of ancient prophecies, but he felt that American Christians were giving Israel a blank check morally speaking by viewing its political and military triumphs as a fulfillment of prophecy. It is clear that while a person or nation may fulfill a prophecy, if it does so without regard for the rights and needs of its neighbors it must answer to the God who hears the cries of the widow, the orphan—and the Arab refugee. Judas fulfilled prophecy and went to perdition doing so.
Finally, I have been forced to ask why we are having so much trouble coming up with a mutually agreeable interpretation of the last things. For example, among the books reviewed here there are at least two totally different interpretations of Matthew 24 and as many significant variations as there are commentators. When it comes to some doctrine like Christology or soteriology, evangelicals can produce a significant united front. But on eschatology we must surely be the laughing stock of unbelievers, at least those who read what we write on the subject.
There is, I believe, a fundamental methodological problem here that we have not confronted. To refer again to Matthew 24, which certainly causes as many problems as Revelation 20, we have all been proceeding on these two assumptions: (1) Jesus had a pretty clear idea about the course of future events, and (2) Matthew, or Mark or Luke, reports everything significant that Jesus taught on this subject. Are these assumptions self-evident? First, did Jesus have a clear vision of the entire future, including two thousand years of church history? Perhaps. But if he disclaimed knowledge of the day or the hour of the Parousia (Mark 13:32), it is not impossible to conclude that he may not have known other details. Second, do any of the evangelists give us any assurance that they are providing a comprehensive report of what Jesus taught? Indeed, do not the variations among the Synoptic Gospels warn us that none of them has it all, and that perhaps all of them together may have omitted extremely vital pieces of information, vital, that is, to a well developed eschatological scheme, although not vital to our spiritual life?
We have proceded on the assumption that God’s plans for the future are revealed in Scripture something like pieces of a giant prophetic jigsaw puzzle piled in a box. Our challenge is to sort out the pieces and put them together into a single picture with no spaces left open. If we come up with an arrangement that has an open space, we continue shuffling the pieces, perhaps surreptitiously dropping a few unwieldy ones on the floor and bending a corner here and there to get a fit.
But suppose we have only some of the pieces. Or suppose we have parts of the pieces to several different puzzles. That is, suppose that the variety of biblical material is expressive of different ways of depicting God’s plans for the future, much as different artists paint their own unique pictures of a single landscape.
At any rate, prophecy is not God’s crystal ball given to curious men. It is the proclamation of his sovereign, gracious will for all creation and his call to covenantal fidelity to the people who are called by his name and who are ready to follow him without knowing in advance where they are going. “Hope that is seen is not hope” (Rom. 8:24). The Church today needs prophecy more than ever, not only to berate the heathen or to satisfy idle curiosity but to stir up dissatisfaction with its own situation in Ur, Egypt, Babylon, or the suburbs of Chicago, and to fire up lukewarm hearts with a vital hope in God’s glorious future world, to be made known at the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ.
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