D. Jeffrey Bingham and Glenn R. Kreider, ed. Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2016. See here to purchase the book.
Eschatology is a collection of scholarly essays about eschatology, the last days, which include the second coming of Christ. They are in honor of Craig Alan Blaising, a scholar who wrote about the topic. Timothy George writes the Foreword, which speaks briefly about eschatology then provides the reader with information about Blaising’s approach to it. Steven L. James contributes a biography of Blaising, which includes a bibliography of Blaising’s academic works.
In this review, I will comment on each essay.
“The Doctrine of the Future and Canonical Unity: Connecting the Future to the Past,” by D. Jeffrey Bingham.
If you want to learn about the life and thought of Marcion of Sinope and the reception to him during the second century C.E., then this is a good essay to read. Marcion posited that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament were different gods, with the latter being more beneficent than the former. Church fathers argued, by contrast, the the same God was God of the Old and New Testaments, but that the Old Testament had an earthy, material system that would foreshadow the spiritual system of the New Testament. Bingham effectively laid this out for the readers. Unfortunately, he failed really to address how Old Testament prophecies should be understood, from a Christian perspective. Old Testament prophecies discuss the eschatological restoration of Israel to her land, and some even depict the restoration of the Levitical or Zadokite priesthood and a Temple reconstruction. That sounds like a future restoration of the Old Testament earthy, material system, which many Christians believe has been supplanted. Why would God go back to that, from a Christian perspective? Bingham should have included something on that issue.
“The Doctrine of the Future and the Concept of Hope,” by Stanley D. Toussaint.
This essay taught me something that I had not previously considered, yet which is pretty obvious. In Matthew 23:31-32; Mark 12:26; and Luke 20:37, Jesus argues for the resurrection from the dead against the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection. Jesus appeals to Exodus 3:6, in which God says to Moses that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus says that God is not God of the dead but of the living. Many Christian interpreters make a big deal about Jesus in Matthew 22:32 quoting the passage to say “I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,” as if the “I am” part of the passage is what Jesus thinks establishes the resurrection. But there are problems with that. First, the Hebrew in Exodus 3 lacks an explicit “I am” (“I am that I am” is actually “I will be what I will be”), and that may be troubling to people who think that Jesus never erred. (Note: This is my observation, not Toussaint’s.) Second, “I am” would fit more with the patriarchs being alive now rather than in the future resurrection, whereas Jesus is arguing for their future resurrection. Third, as Toussaint notes, the Markan and Lukan parallels lack “I am.” According to Toussaint, what establishes Jesus’ argument for the resurrection is not the “I am” part of Exodus 3:6, but rather God being the God of the patriarchs. Because God is God of the patriarchs, and God is not God of the dead but of the living, that must mean that the patriarchs will live in the future, at the resurrection.
A critique that can be made of this chapter is that it is a bit incongruent in one detail. In discussing Jesus’ parables and teachings, Toussaint seems to maintain that Jesus envisioned a long time passing before his second coming. In discussing Acts, however, Toussaint states that the apostles thought Christ’s coming was imminent. Did they somehow misunderstand and fail to grasp Jesus’ teaching, according to Toussaint?
“The Doctrine of the Future and the Weakening of Prophecy,” by Charles C. Ryrie.
Ryrie assumes that Old Testament prophecies predict events in the life of Christ, and he asks what the chances are of that. That, for him, demonstrates that the prophecies are from God. The problem is that there are alternative ways to interpret those prophecies. Ryrie should have interacted with some of those.
“The Doctrine of the Future, the Doctrine of God, and Predictive Prophecy,” by John D. Laing and Stefana Dan Laing.
An asset to this chapter is that it presents scholarly arguments for the Book of Daniel being written in the sixth century B.C.E., rather than the second century B.C.E., during and after the events that it “foretells.” The chapter was trying to defend the reality of predictive prophecy, against skeptics. Unfortunately, it did not address the prophecies that Ezekiel made that, according to many scholars, failed to come to pass as predicted.
“The Doctrine of the Future and Moses: ‘All Israel Shall Be Saved,'” by Daniel I. Block.
Block tries to argue that the Book of Deuteronomy has eschatological elements, although he wrestles with the possibility that some of those elements can be interpreted non-eschatologically.
“The Doctrine of the Future in the Historical Books,” by Gregory Smith.
Smith makes a fairly decent case that I-II Chronicles has an eschatology. It is not overbearing in the books, but, according to Smith, one can discern from certain passages that the Chronicler expected a future restoration of the Davidic monarchy.
“The Doctrine of the Future in the Psalms: Reflections on the Struggle of Waiting,” by George L. Klein.
Klein focused largely on God’s deliverance of individuals. Unfortunately, he did not talk much about scholarly views that some of the Psalms are eschatological, or that the Book of Psalms is organized in its final form in reference to a coming Messiah. These topics should not be ignored in a book about eschatology!
“The Doctrine of the Future in the Prophets,” by Mark F. Rooker.
Rooker argues that the Old Testament prophets do not just discuss their own time but the far-off future. Yet, in making eschatological predictions, the prophecies discuss what will happen to nations that existed in their own day. How would Rooker account for that? Do those nations symbolize nations in the far-off future? Can resurrection account for it? Rooker should have wrestled with this.
“The Doctrine of the Future in the Synoptic Gospels,” by Darrell L. Bock.
Unlike scholars who believe that Jesus envisioned an imminent end, Bock points to passages in the synoptics in which Jesus envisioned a time of waiting until the Son of Man comes. To his credit, Bock does attempt to address passages in the synoptic Gospels that appear to suggest that Jesus would return in the first century C.E. Bock does not want Jesus to be wrong, and that is understandable. But, when one takes away the apologetic motivation and thinks of other ways to see the text, is a time of waiting really inconsistent with believing that Jesus would return soon after 70 C.E.? Forty years is still a long time to wait for Jesus’ return! Plus, are those passages about waiting authentic to the historical Jesus? One could argue that early Christians put those words in Jesus’ mouth after they had waited for the second coming, and it had not yet materialized. There are a lot of passages to consider, and one can inquire about the extent to which they pass the criteria of authenticity (which are somewhat marginalized these days, but they may still be useful).
“The Doctrine of the Future in John’s Writings,” by David L. Turner.
Many scholars argue that the Gospel of John has a realized eschatology rather than a futuristic one. Turner, quite sensibly, argues that it has both.
W. Edward Glenny’s “The Doctrine of the Future in Paul’s Writings” and David L. Allen’s “The Doctrine of the Future in Hebrews and the General Epistles” will be considered together, in this review.
In Psalm 110:1, the LORD tells “my lord” to sit at his right hand, until he makes his enemies his footstool. This passage is applied to Jesus in many places in the New Testament. Glenny interprets I Corinthians 15’s interpretation of that passage in light of the millennium of Revelation 20: Jesus will come back and rule the earth, and during that millennial rule God will be in the process of subjecting all of Jesus’ enemies to his feet. This view is not surprising in this publication because many of its contributors expressed agreement with dispensationalism, which believes in a millennium. Interestingly, though, David L. Allen expressed a different view on Psalm 110, in considering the interpretation of the passage in the Book of Hebrews. Allen states that “God has ‘not yet’ subjected all things under his feet”, for “That will occur in the end times with the second coming of Jesus” (page 249). Does Allen believe that Jesus is sitting on God’s right hand now, not just in the millennium, and that God is in the process of subjecting things to Jesus’ feet (albeit not everything)?
That said, while there were many believers in classic dispensationalism in this book, there were also many contributors who believed that the Kingdom of God is already and not yet, which differs from the futurist focus that a number of classic dispensationalists have held. There are also progressive dispensationalist contributors to this book.
“The Doctrine of the Future in the Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyons,” by Stephen O. Presley.
A question that occurred to me in reading this book concerned the extent to which the church fathers believed in a heavenly hope for believers, and the extent to which they believed in an earthly hope. Did they think believers after their resurrection would go to heaven and see God, or that they would inhabit a renewed earth? Presley could have tackled this question more directly, especially since so many Christian thinkers today criticize the emphasis on going to heaven in Christendom and stress that God loves the physical. Still, Presley does offer patristic quotations that are relevant to this issue. According to Presley, Irenaeus presents resurrected believers dwelling in different places, based on their level of spiritual maturity (which, for Irenaeus, is not stagnant, even after the resurrection).
“The Doctrine of the Future in Origen and Athanasius,” by Bryan M. Litfin.
This chapter is helpful for those interested in Origen’s belief in universal salvation because it provides primary references that relate to whether Origen did or did not believe in the ultimate salvation of the devil. Litfin also discusses the relevance of Plato to patristic eschatology, but he could have explained Platonic eschatology a lot better than he did.
“The Doctrine of the Future in Augustine,” by Jonathan P. Yates.
Christians often talk about the torment of souls in hell. According to Augustine, however, resurrected bodies, not just souls, will be in heaven and hell. I am finding more Christians who talk about that, who say that God will give the damned bodies that will be able to survive eternally in hell, notwithstanding the torment.
“The Doctrine of the Future in John Calvin,” by Nathan D. Holsteen.
This chapter depicts Calvin was rather amillennial. Calvin did not emphasize eschatology but preferred to stress Christ’s current spiritual reign and triumphs. Holsteen maintains that Calvin was similar to the Catholic church in this regard, even though Calvin took that thought in his own direction.
“The Doctrine of the Future in Anabaptist Thought,” by Paige Patterson.
This chapter is largely about how Anabaptists were against the radicals of their day who tried to establish the Kingdom by force or by violence. Many Anabaptists taught that Christians should wait for Jesus to return to set things right.
“The Doctrine of the Future in Jonathan Edwards,” by Glenn R. Kreider.
This chapter was an effective explanation of Edwards’ views, but there were a few unclarities. First, did Edwards believe that heresy would be destroyed on earth before or during the millennium? Second, did Edwards believe that the earth would be destroyed and that believers would be in heaven, or did he posit a renewal of the earth in the eschaton?
“The Doctrine of the Future in Baptist Theology,” by Kevin D. Kennedy.
Kennedy is fair in his explanation of amillennialism, postmillennialism, and premillennialism. Kennedy also refers to prominent Baptists who adhered to these positions.
“The Doctrine of the Future and Dispensationalism,” by Mark L. Bailey.
Bailey defends the pretribulational rapture and premillennialism. On page 397, he states that Paul understands the wrath from which believers are delivered as the eschatological Day of the Lord, not the great white throne judgment. For Bailey, that supports the pretribulational rapture: believers will be taken to heaven before God pours out God’s wrath on the earth. But how does Bailey know that Paul understands God’s wrath as the Day of the Lord rather than the last judgment?
Bailey does offer an extensive defense of the millennium being a literal one-thousand year reign on earth after Christ’s return. He presents fifteen arguments! They were all decent, but his third argument particularly stands out to me as good: “…since Isaiah 65:17-25 describes the blessings of the kingdom to come with the presence of sin and death, this argues for an earthly fulfillment prior to eternity in which according to both Isaiah 25:8 and Revelation 21:4, death will be no more.” For Bailey, these tensions in Scripture can be reconciled by positing a millennial reign, during which sin and death will still exist, followed by a new heavens and a new earth, which will lack sin and death.
“The Doctrine of the Future in Jurgen Moltmann,” by Lanier Burns.
According to Burns, Moltmann was a panentheist, one who believed that God was closely connected with nature.
“The Doctrine of the Future in Contemporary European Theology,” by Friedhelm Jung and Edward Friesen.
This chapter is informative about modern Catholic eschatology. It also discusses Karl Barth’s belief that God may save everyone, and yet is free not to do so, as well as Wilfried Harle’s universalism. For Harle, many Christians emphasize faith for salvation, rather than Christ. I had not heard of Harle before reading this book, and now I am intrigued. Friesen, not surprisingly, disagrees with Harle, but his presentation of Harle’s thought is quite detailed, and probably fair.
“The Doctrine of the Future: Millennialism in Contemporary Evangelical Theology,” by David S. Dockery.
This is another chapter that explains amillennialism, postmillennialism, and premillennialism. Surprisingly, although that territory was covered more than once in this book, it never got old. I loved reading about postmillennialism’s optimistic views about God’s activity on earth, even if the authors disagreed with that perspective!
“The Doctrine of the Future and Pastoral Care,” by J. Denny Audrey.
Audrey refers to the argument that many Christians look to eschatology for personal comfort rather than “direction for the contemporary church” (page 460). Audrey never seems to flesh out how Christians can do the latter. He does provide an interesting history, however, of how Christians in the past have conceptualized pastoral care.
“The Doctrine of the Future and Contemporary Challenges,” by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
Augustine in The City of God was addressing the fall of the Roman empire. Mohler says this was devastating to Christians, since the Roman empire protected them.
“The Doctrine of the Future and the Marketplace,” by Stephen N. Blaising.
How this chapter relates to eschatology is unclear. It is mostly about being a good steward, in the economic realm.
My critiques notwithstanding, I still give this book five stars, since it is thorough and informative.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.