“Still Great” Table of Contents and Sample
Table of Contents
The Still Great Planet Earth
The Chicken Little Syndrome
View 1: Two Peoples of God
View 2: A Thousand Years of Peace
View 3: Not in a Million Years?
View 4: The Millennium Is Now!
A New Eschatology
Sermon on the End Times
I love eschatology. When I was a young teenager, in 1973, the oil crisis hit the Western world. I found out that we only had enough oil and other natural resources left for so many years. Then I happened to read the reports of the Club of Rome, a group of scientists who studied the consequences of unrestrained growth. Their reports were based on a simple presupposition: there are limits to growth, because ‘Spaceship Earth’ is finite. World population and environmental pollution were growing exponentially. Food production was lagging behind. Natural resources were rapidly being depleted. Before long, things would have to collapse; the growth curves in the book showed it convincingly. That discovery shattered my faith in our type of society.
But what could take its place? I could see that socialism and communism had already outlived their credibility. A school trip to East Berlin was enough to convince me of that. What other revolution beside communism was there to join that could offer a ‘realistic Utopia,’ or a road back to Paradise? What long-term hope was there anyway? One day the sun will have burned up its hydrogen, and then it is all over; such is the eschatology that the natural sciences have to offer.
I began to get interested in the ‘ecological’ approach, and I’m sure the new age movement would have strongly appealed to me. I suppose it could to some extent have filled the void I felt. But before the Age of Aquarius could find me, Jesus did, and that changed everything. He promised a better future world that was no Utopia. At the same time he provided a program for life now. Jesus saved me from a futureless future (among other things) and gave me hope. That is why I love eschatology. It’s essential. How could we live without it?
Years later I found myself working towards a master’s degree in biblical studies, and I had to select a topic for my thesis. Naturally, there was little room for doubt: the subject had to be related to the field of eschatology. I was especially intrigued by the eschatological aspects of the prophets in the Old Testament and by the challenge to interpret them correctly (no easy task). My topic readily suggested itself: how to interpret eschatological prophecy in the Old Testament. To answer that question, I had to acquaint myself with the various views of eschatology, since one’s understanding of this greatly affect how one reads and understands the Old Testament prophets.
What I learned while writing my thesis is the basis for this book.
Imagine a city where everybody drives a Chevrolet. There are two dealers in town, but both only carry Chevrolet cars. People have never even heard of other brands. Chevrolet is all there is.
One day, rumors begin to circulate about something called Ford, which some claim is a car as well. The immediate result? Suspicion. Anything that is not a Chevrolet cannot possibly be a car.
Ardent Chevrolet fans may agree with that, but that is not the point here. This imaginary situation seeks to illustrate what provincialism is: you only know one alternative. In eschatology, this is not an imaginary situation. It is quite common. Many people know only one view, the one they have always been taught. Or, if they have heard of other views, they treat them with suspicion, as less than orthodox Christianity.
There is an advantage to living in a one-car country. It makes it a lot easier to choose what car to buy. That doesn’t mean you will end up with a better car, though. Think of East Germany, for instance. Until recently, prospective car buyers had little choice. They were quite likely to end up buying a Trabant, if they managed to buy a car at all. Not necessarily the best value for your money.
Likewise, if you only know one system of eschatology, that will be the one you will believe. It may not be the best one around, but you will never know. If you want to increase your chances to a good buy, there is only one way: you will have to know them all.
Four Options to Choose from
That may sound discouraging; just how many views would one have to know? Isn’t there a Babylonian confusion out there? The answer is no, not really. Not if we keep our heads cool and allow the dust to settle before we start moving around. Then we will be able to see that there are only four major ways to go, with perhaps a fifth one arising recently as a potential way to bring the conflicting camps closer together.
These four views differ in how they see the millennium, the period of a thousand years mentioned in Revelation 20, and in when they expect Christ to return: before or after this millennium. That is why they are called pre-, post- and amillennialism. In passing, it should be noted that this also shows in what the views agree with each other. All believe in the visible and bodily return of Christ to earth, in glory and power, in accordance with the New Testament promise:
This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. (Acts 1:11 NRSV)
For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. (Matthew 16:27 NRSV)
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. (Matthew 25:31 NRSV)
These are therefore the four options we have in prophetic interpretation:
Premillennialism believes that Christ will return before the millennium (pre means before), which is seen as a time of great peace and prosperity on earth. There are two kinds: dispensational premillennialismand historic premillennialism. These two varieties are quite different from each other. In fact, they are so different that historic premillennialism is in many ways closer to amillennialism than to dispensationalism. I will therefore treat them as two distinct systems.
Postmillennialism places the return of Christ after the millennium (post means after). It believes in the victory of the gospel and the kingdom of God within the present age. This victory will result in a mostly christianized world and a time of great peace and prosperity will arrive,before the second coming. The second coming will then usher in the new heavens and the new earth. At present, reconstructionism or dominion theology is the most vocal and active form of postmillennialism.
Amillennialism does not believe in a literal future period of a thousand years (a stands for none). Instead, it believes that the millennium has a symbolic meaning and coincides with the present era, the church age, in a way I will explain later. In this system, the second coming of Christ also ushers in the final state of the new heavens and the new earth, not the millennium.
The fifth alternative is a view of the kingdom of God rather than an interpretation of the millennium. It will be introduced after the four views have been discussed in more detail.
Two more things are important here. First, the systems are named after their view of the millennium, something that is explicitly mentioned in the Bible only once, in Revelation 20. It may therefore appear that this is a rather unimportant issue. However, there is a lot more involved than just what is believed about the millennium. The different systems strongly affect our understanding of the kingdom of God. They not only determine the way we look at the future, but also how we see our own day and age, and our responsibility in it. This is what makes eschatology such a crucial topic: how we see the future will shape our life in the present.
Second, there is a lot of variation within each of these four views. The discussion in the following chapters will therefore have to simplify and generalize. Not every pre-, post- or amillennialist will hold to all the elements presented for each view. Just as there is no average American, the average x-millennialist does not exist either.
Still, these generalizations will enable us to understand the issues that are involved. If we are familiar with these four views, it will diminish our confusion about seemingly countless end-times theories. We will begin to find our way. We will also be able to avoid the trap of provincialism and make for ourselves a more enlightened choice.
Approximately 85 pages (letter and A4). Also available in German.
The English version is now available as a free download in pdf format (readable with the Acrobat Reader).