On Grief and Eschatology

Concerning Paul’s words in 1 Thess 4:13–18, Linda Bridges says “Paul’s words are intended to create a space for comfort for his grieving friends, not a millennial event chart for eager sky watchers.”1

  1. Linda McKinnish Bridges, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008), 118.

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Book Review: Eschatology—Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches

Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches
edited by D. Jeffrey Bingham and Glenn R. Kreider

This review will be an abbreviated version of what I would normally do for a book of this sort, i.e., an edited volume with multiple contributors. Because I’ve not had the time to complete the full review, I thought I’d post what I’ve written thus far.

The book is broken up into four parts: (1) The Doctrine of the Future and Its Foundations, (2) The Doctrine of the Future in the Bible, (3) The Doctrine of the Future in the History of Christian Thought, and (4) The Doctrine of the Future and Christian Ministry.

Chapter 1—The Doctrine of the Future and Canonical Unity: Connecting the Future to the Past (Bingham)

This chapter begins with Marcion and a brief biography, the bulk of which concerns his theology. This early discussion focuses primarily on Marcion’s theological miscues as hashed out by Tertullian, Irenaeus, and other early church fathers and then segues to the topic of the chapter—canonical unity and the doctrine of the future. Bingham essentially looks to Irenaeus as a way to “account for the discontinuities between the Testaments without falling into the error or Marcionism” (48). Overall, this was a decent entry in the discussion and employing Irenaeus’ hermeneutic as means of avoiding Marcionism was an interesting take.

Chapter 2—The Doctrine of the Future and the Concept of Hope (Toussaint)

Toussaint begins with the following definition of hope—“desire accompanied by expectation” (54). Toussaint notes the trouble of defining hope using biblical Hebrew vocabulary and finds support in articles written in the 30s and 60s—surely this concept has been explored in more recent studies? (54) However, he does state this does not undervalue the virtue of the Hebrews (55). After a few notes on the use of the term ελπις in the NT, he moves to a brief discussion of hope in terms of result. The next few paragraphs take on a decidedly homiletical tone, practically reading a sermon manuscript. As above, this isn’t necessarily a criticism. Toussaint devotes the bulk of the chapter to a biblical-theological summary of hope, beginning (obviously) with Genesis, in which he cites the protoevangelium as the “first anticipation of a future good” (Gen 3:15). This, of course, is a much later Christian interpretation and one I don’t think the original audience would have made, but is a common interpretation of the serpent’s fate and isn’t really a surprise here, especially given the dispensational necessity of literal interpretations. The remainder of the OT discussion of hope focuses primarily on the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, with brief references to the prophets and the historical Melchizedek, the brevity of which is due to the number of textual references (too many) and likely publication restraints. The discussion of hope in the NT follows the typical groupings—hope in the Gospels, Acts, Paul, general letters, and Revelation, each which traces the theme of future hope through a dispensational lens (58–69). Toussaint’s is what I would say is a fairly standard dispensational biblical-theological understanding of eschatology, but obviously articulated here around the concept of hope, specifically the hope of future life and restoration.

Chapter 3—The Doctrine of the Future and the Weakening of Prophecy (Ryrie)

Ryrie notes a number of questions that might be raised in the modern climate of never-edning prognostications about an impending apocalyptic end to our world—what does this mean for biblical prophecy? “Are they reliable? Were any of them false? How accurately can we expect yet unfulfilled prophecies to come to pass?” Ryrie begins with some “facts” about prophecy in the bible—(1) A true prophet is “someone who announces God’s will to people and/or predicts the future”, (2) some prophecies were wrong, (3) in OT times, false prophets were put to death; in NT times, they were to be tested, and (4) “[t]here are many true and accurate prophecies in the bible” (71–72). Notice that number two above Ryrie claims that some prophecies in the OT were false—GASP! Surely this didn’t come from the pen of a dispensationalist, right?! Yes, but he refers to the serpent’s (read Satan) statement to Eve that if she ate from the tree, she would not die. While I think this stretches things a bit concerning what is/is not prophecy, I’ll concede for the sake of making the point. As you might imagine, these opening paragraphs have very apologetic overtones and continues throughout the chapter. The purpose of this chapter, says Ryrie, is to explore how the existence and/or accuracy of yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecies are being weakened (72). The first example is the changing of traditional dates, particularly as it concerns certain books, e.g., Daniel, that is critical for dispensational readings of the biblical story to hold together. Likewise, Ryrie claims that the book of Revelation has also been subject to scholarly date shifting. His argument is that if Revelation were written in the 90s, then the content of chapters 4–19 would take place in the future; yet, some scholars have argued for a composition date in the 60s, which would then render the book’s prophecies fulfilled by 70 ce, when Jerusalem was sacked and the temple destroyed.

  • This rings with scholarly paranoia to me—just because some scholars don’t buy into a particular dating scheme doesn’t mean they’re out to weaken or otherwise diminish prophetic texts.
  • This leads to the second example, which is essentially an expansion of the first—the embrace of preterism. Preterism is the view that the fulfillment of prophecies in Revelation took place prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 ce. Ryrie’s stringent hermeneutics, especially with regards to the date of Revelation, leads to the outstanding claim that even moderate preterism “eliminates some fulfillment and weakens the force of the entire body of biblical prophecy” (73).
  • His other examples of scholarship’s apparent quest to weaken prophecy are a focus on “genre-dependent” hermeneutics (74) and banking on “chance” (75–76), which is described as essentially waiting long enough that eventually anything can happen.
  • Thus far, this has been the most disappointing chapter. It’s practically a rehash of decades-old apologetics on the reliability of prophecy.

Chapter 4—The Doctrine of the Future, the Doctrine of God, and Predictive Prophecy (John and Stefana Laing)

In their chapter, the Laings set out to “address the reliability of the Bible to speak authoritatively concerning prophecy and future events, as its reliability is ground in God’s self-revelation, sovereignty, and omniscience” (78). Laing and Laing delve seek to ground their discussion in the person and nature of God and have produced what is thus far the most academically engaging chapter, at least through its opening sections. Though it is fairly predictable in terms of trajectory—you know where they will land ultimately—they provide a good discussion of theological concerns that underpin the bible’s reliability, specifically in terms of prophecy. The latter portion of the chapter concerns examples of fulfilled prophecy and, based on the groundwork laid previously, why we can trust in these particular prophecies. The chapter concludes with a few thoughts on how prophecy works and how to approach it. Though notably much less, there is a hint of suspicion cast upon liberal scholarship when they write, “there are examples of successful prophetic prediction that even the most liberal scholars cannot explain away” (101). Despite this, the Laings offer a fairly well written and most heavily footnoted chapter to this point in the book.

Section 2—The Doctrine of the Future in the Bible

  • The second section of chapters turns the focus to the biblical texts and how they demonstrate what the future holds in God’s plans.

Chapter 5—The Doctrine of the Future and Moses: “All Israel Shall Be Saved” (Block)

Like Toussaint before in chapter two, Block begins with the planting of the seed of eschatological hope in humanity’s heart that’s recorded in Gen 3:15—the protoevangelium—but proceeds for the length of his contribution to discuss Deuteronomy. Though I’ve known of Daniel Block for a number of years and have read some of his works, I was surprised to read the following statement in a volume saturated with Dispensational thought: “In His addresses Moses offers the most systematic instruction of Yahwistic theology to be found in the Hebrew Scriptures” (108; emphasis mine). My surprise is that this wording suggests a preservation of the old documentary-hypothesis view (JEPD) of the Pentateuch’s authorship, a view I assume most/all Dispensationalists would take issue with. Perhaps Block doesn’t subscribe to D/dispensationalism, but in any case, I was surprised by this statement.

Because this is a volume written for Craig Blaising (a leading Dispensationalist) by numerous scholars who hold to some form of Dispensationalism, it’s no surprise that it colors every chapter. Because of the prevalence of this interpretive matrix, perhaps the title could have indicated that. That it doesn’t is not necessarily a criticism, but just a point of note—this book concerns eschatology from a dispensational perspective. As such, each chapter is fairly predictable if you’re familiar with the tenets and tendencies of Dispensationalism in its various forms. If you’re friendly towards D/dispensationalism, then much of this book’s contents will ring familiar and true; if you’re not, then I doubt this volume would change your mind.

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For Your “End-Times” Preachers

One of my former profs Gerald Stevens writes

“Signs of the times” preaching is pure gimmickry. The goal is to persuade an uncritical audience, which, given America’s rampant scriptural ignorance, general gullibility, pervasive conspiracy mindset, and widespread fears of social and political disruption, is not that hard.

Gerald L. Stevens, Revelation: The Past and Future of John’s Apocalypse (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014), 160–61.

Ouch. Blood moons, anyone?

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