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Revelation

This tag is associated with 9 posts

Book Review: “The Great Christ Comet” by Colin Nicholl

gcc-nichollThere are few biblical images which capture the imagination as much as the Star of Bethlehem. Its prominent portrayal in films featuring the Nativity, in popular renditions of a Nativity scene, and its place in many Christmas carols demonstrates its continuing popularity. Colin Nicholl’s work, The Great Christ Comet is a significant contribution to scholarship about the nature of the Star of Bethlehem. Nicholl approaches the topic from both the standpoint of theology and astronomy.

Nicholl’s analysis of the biblical data is extensive and interesting. Early in the book, he establishes that the exegetical evidence is important to anyone–including astronomers–who would like to pinpoint what the Star of Bethlehem may have been.

As I read through the theological portions of the book, I found myself opening up my running Bible commentary document to add several notes as Nicholl provide insight into the text and argued for specifics about the narrative. In addition to interpreting the passage, he also sheds light on it from extrabiblical sources, particularly in regards to the Magi and Herod. Regarding the former, he discusses the practice and likely origin of the Magi, noting they were likely astrologer/astronomers from Babylon. Regarding the latter, he shows how the Massacre of the Innocents would not be so out of place for Herod, and why he would have been so willing to go to the depths of evil action that he did. There were many more times I found Nicholl’s exegesis enlightening on various passages–including prophetic ones in Numbers and Isaiah and others in Revelation.

The interpretation offered by Nicholl related to the movement of the Christ Comet is different than any I have read. Nicholl delves into Revelation 12:1-5a in order to argue that this passage describes a literal astronomical phenomenon with the celestial movements of Virgo, a comet, and a meteor storm in view. It was in this section that my confidence in his conclusions wavered. He makes a convincing argument for showing that the comet could have moved and shined in the way he believes is described in this passage, but I am less convinced by the simple connection of Revelation to Matthew in this literal, astronomical way. The infancy narrative of Matthew and the description in Revelation are both referencing the birth of Christ, but I’m not convinced John in Revelation is attempting to give a full explanation of a cosmic event that occurred here. Regardless of my reservations, however, Nicholl does establish that this is a possible, if not probable, reading of the text while also laying out in extensive detail how a comet could have engaged in this “cosmic drama.”

I am not an expert in astronomy, so my comments on that regard are that of an interested lay person. Nicholl gave significant background into astronomy before he delved into some of the data and the competing theories regarding the Star of Bethlehem. This included extensive discussion of the nature of different kinds of comets and how they move throughout. At many points these details are accompanied by historical drawings or artistic renditions of the aspects discussed. Nicholl’s theory is outlined in intricate detail, and it includes a kind of procession of the comet throughout various astrological signs to the point that it reaches Virgo. At this point, the Magi were convinced by the movement of the comet that a significant birth was occurring and they headed west. Nicholl draws upon the words of the Magi as well as Matthew and Luke’s infancy narrative, in addition to Revelation 12 to show that his theory corresponds to literal readings of the various passages and allows a real astronomical event to lie behind the explanation of the comet. This, however, does not mean that the comet is a purely naturalistic phenomenon, as Nicholl argues that the one-of-a-kind, astounding nature of this comet and its performance–down to marking the very location of Jesus’s home in Bethlehem–point to divine intent.

One significant difficulty with the book is the overall feeling of “assured results” found throughout. A search for “certainly” shows up 66 results; 9 for “unquestionably” (each used in context of conclusions drawn). Other words like “undoubtedly” (11 results) show up throughout as well. While it is admirable to have confidence in one’s own position, at times I wondered whether the arguments presented could yield such levels of confidence. The very existence of such continuing debate over the nature of the Star of Bethlehem calls into question any interpretation which comes along and offers certainty across the board, whether it is the refutation of other theories or the interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

So much is invested in the relation of Revelation 12 to the infancy narratives that if one remains unconvinced by his exegesis there, one may not find his overall theory convincing. However, this is not necessarily the case. The argument he presented for a great comet being the origin of the Star of Bethlehem was quite convincing to me, despite my not being fully sold on the Revelation 12 theory. One does not have to accept Nicholl’s view of how the comet played across the sky to accept that the comet is the best explanation.

As far as substantive critique of Nicholl, on the astronomical part I admit I don’t have the knowledge to offer much. Both theologically and astronomically, it seems Nicholl’s proposal is airtight and stunning. Frankly, that is probably where my suspicion comes from: I tend to be a bit suspicious of anything that is such a perfect fit. The Bible is a complex work, and the debate over the Star of Bethlehem is entrenched with many differing positions. Could it really be so simple (in the sense of having this be the answer)? I would like to say yes. I want to. But I’m not sure I can be fully on board. Nicholl has convinced me that the Star was a great comet, and the movement he describes seem possible, but it is perhaps only a personal feeling of reservation that holds me back from embracing the whole picture. This does say something for the strength of Nicholl’s argument, of course, for it suggests that it is really this personal reservation that holds me back rather than significant criticisms.

Nicholl’s concluding thoughts about the Christ Comet deserve to be quoted:

What the Great Christ Comet did… was extraordinary and merits wide telling. People of all disciplines… must come to grips with its story. In an era when science is often viewed as the enemy of religion, the Christ Comet suggests that science may be the best friend of religion. In a period when the claims of Christ are commonly disregarded, the Star callse upon all to give his claims a fresh reappraisal… (Kindle Location 7343).

Whatever one thinks about certain aspects of Nicholl’s argument, the book as a whole presents a comprehensive, deep case for the Star of Bethlehem being a great comet. The Great Christ Comet is a fantastic, deep read that will expose readers to a variety of topics in a fresh way. The amazing intricacy of the movement of the comet and its correspondence to the readings Nicholl presents in the book would be, if true, a monumentally powerful testament to the power of God and the truth of the Gospels. I enjoyed it immensely, even though I may not be fully convinced of every detail.

The Good

+Extensive look at the Biblical data
+Fascinating topic
+Provides background for astronomical analysis
+Massive scope with in-depth discussion

The Bad

-Overstates case at points
-Exegesis of some passages uncertain

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Colin Nicholl, The Great Christ Comet (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other interests site for posts on science fiction, fantasy, television, and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Sunday Quote!- Is Natural Revelation Infallible?

100_2744Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Is Natural Revelation Infallible?

I’ve been reading through the free ebook A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture by Keith Mathison, and I came upon some interesting passages discussing natural revelation in the Reformed tradition (I’m Lutheran, so this is from an outsider). Mathison is keen to show that natural revelation–that is, that which God demonstrates through the created order–is capable of conveying truth. But his claim goes well beyond that modest level:

God’s revelation in creation is equally as infallible as His revelation in Scripture, because in both cases, it is God who is doing the revealing, and God is always infallible. (Kindle Location 208-212)

Mathison’s point, I think, well-taken. The fact is that natural revelation, if we assume is something God does, would be by definition infallible. After all, God cannot err. Thus, Mathison is correct. What I think is often missed in discussions about this and other topics related to creation is that although it is perhaps easier for humans to make mistakes when it comes to the natural world, it is quite possible (and obvious) that mistakes are made in interpretation of special revelation–Scripture–as well.

What do you think? Is natural revelation infallible? If so, what does this say about how we should interact on science-faith issues? If not, how does error creep in? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Keith Mathison, A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture (Ligonier Ministries, 2013).

SDG.

Question of the Week- What’s your view of “The Millennium”?

ca-riddlebargerEach Week on Saturday, I’ll be asking a “Question of the Week.” I’d love your input and discussion! Ask a good question in the comments and it may show up as the next week’s question! I may answer the questions in the comments myself.

What’s Your View of “The Millennium”

There are few in-house debates which are as divided among Christians as issues related to eschatology. I’m curious as to what views my readers take on various eschatological themes, so I figured I’d ask! Before we ask the question, here’s a brief outline of different views about “The Millennium”:

[P]remillennialism… claims that the return of Christ precedes the millennium [as an actual 1000 year reign of Christ on Earth], postmillennialism… holds that Christ returns after the millennium… amillenialism.. holds that the millennium is not limited to a thousand years but includes the entire period of time between the first and second comings of Christ (Riddlebarger, 19, cited below)

There are seemingly endless permutations of how these different views may be hashed out, but I’m curious:

What is your view of the Millennium? Will it be a literal 1000 years, or is it some finite, but undetermined period of time? Will Christ come before or after it?

Eschatology– the study of the end times- is not something I’ve focused on much at this blog (though you may read what I have written by clicking on the word) for a few reasons. The most prominent is that I haven’t studied it much. This makes me curious: which view do you hold and why? Let me know in the comments.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more.

Question of the Week– Check out other questions and give me some answers

Book Review: “Four Views on the Book of Revelation” (Zondervan Counterpoints Series)– I review a book which focuses upon Revelation–the book of the Bible which is most commonly associated with eschatology. Check it out for a survey of four views on how to read the book alongside various eschatological views.

Source

Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillenialism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003).

– I chose this specific book because it featured a concise outline of the three most prominent views on the millennium.

SDG.

Really Recommended Posts 6/20/14- textual criticism, Krauss, and more!

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneI’ve put together what I think is a pretty diverse array of topics for you, dear reader, to peruse. Check them out, and let me know what you thought of them! If you liked their post, let them know, too! Comments keep we bloggers going!

Gospel Truth? 10 Quick Questions– Here’s an interesting way to approach evaluation of rival Scriptural traditions–how might we determine whether one is true? What do you think of this list of questions about revealed truth? While you’re at it, Saints and Sceptics (they’re British!) is a great site that is well worth your time to follow and read on a regular basis.

Lawrence Krauss debates “A Universe From Nothing” with an Astrophysicist– Check out this review and commentary on a debate in which Lawrence Krauss continues to press his redefined version of “nothing” to try to explain the existence of the universe. This time, he debates an astrophysicist. Hint: it doesn’t go well.

Towards a Deeper Theology of Women: 4 Contributions of Women Scholars– Both men and women were created in the image of God. As such, they are each capable of contributing to theology and teaching. Check out this list of four contributions of women scholars, complete with some reading to pick up along the way!

Free Bible Icons– The title isn’t the catchiest, but these digital icons for every book of the Bible (and groupings therein) are fun, free, and a great thing to just print off and use as book markers in your Bible. Moreover, they’re just fun to look at.

Evangelical Textual Criticism– How might evangelicals engage in textual criticism? Here’s a site that explores that while also providing a number of resources like bibliographies for study, conference reminders, and the like. For an example of how this plays out, check out this post on Codex Bezae.

The Binding of Satan: An Eschatological Question

michael-binds-satan-william-blakeWhen does the binding of Satan occur? Is it something yet to come, or is it something which has already happened? Here, I will analyze the futurist position on these questions: the notion that Satan and his minions are yet to be bound.*

Futurism is, essentially, the position that the prophecies in Daniel and Revelation (and many elsewhere) are largely yet to be fulfilled. This is in contrast to historicism– the view that these prophecies have been fulfilled through the church age (with some yet future); preterism– the view that many of these prophecies have already been fulfilled in the past; and idealism– the view that these prophecies have spiritual meanings which may be fulfilled multiple times through history until the End.

The central passage for the question at hand is Revelation 20:1-3:

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. (NIV)

The futurist interpretation of this passage would be fairly straightforward: at some point in the future, before the millennium, Satan will be bound. Many futurists hold that this also includes Satan’s minions. Representative is Paul Benware: “With the removal of Satan comes the removal of his demonic forces and his world system” (Benware, 334, cited below). It is on this point that the question I have turns. Consider Jude 6:

And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling–these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. (NIV)

Note the interesting parallels with the passage from Revelation 20. Both use the language of “chains” and reference a time when something will happen after this binding. Yet Jude 6 seems to imply the definite binding of these demonic forces from the time it was written or even before. Why? Jude 5 gives the temproal context, which is sandwiched in between discussion of the Exodus and Sodom and Gomorrah. Of course, Sodom and Gomorrah predate the Exodus, but the overall context of the passage is given by Jude as being around that time period (“I want to remind you…” v. 5).

Moreover, 2 Peter 2:4 states:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment…

Again, in context Peter is discussing a number of past events. So it certainly seems that at least some demonic forces have already been bound. Benware writes of these passages: “The Scriptures reveal that Satan and his angelic followers will be judged for their sin and rebellion…” (329, emphasis mine). Now, Benware is clearly saying that there will be a judgment in the future, and that seems correct from both passages. However, he does not note anywhere in his major work the difficulty these verses present to his own view, for he insists elsewhere that amillenialists are incorrect when they view this binding as being a present reality (129ff). But he does grant that at least some demonic forces are bound now.

The question, then, is how is it that futurists can consistently insist upon the impossibility of Revelation 20:1-3 being a present reality while already granting that it is, at least in part, fulfilled? That is, if one grants that at least some demonic forces are bound, it seems that one cannot insist that certain spiritual forces cannot possibly be bound at present. Thus, it seems to me this particular aspect of futurism is not on as strong a ground as many insist.

Indeed, one may read Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2 and get the impression that these things have already occurred. There is no stipulation within the text to say that only some wicked angels have been bound. Indeed, they both seem to imply the total binding of all demonic forces. But this would not be compatible with the standard futurist interpretation of Revelation 20:1-3.

*Readers should note that I am not here intending to critique the overall futurist position. Instead, I am merely wondering about one specific aspect of some futurist interpretations.

Links

Check out my other posts on eschatology (scroll down for more).

Also, read my review of Benware’s massive work on premillenial dispensationalism, Understanding End Times Prophecy.

Sources

Paul Beware Understanding End Times Prophecy (Chicago: Moody, 2006).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Four Views on the Book of Revelation” (Zondervan Counterpoints Series)

4vrI have been researching eschatology quite a bit of late. Please be aware, therefore, that this review comes from one who has only read a limited amount on the subject. I will not be offering insights from an expert, and am fully ready to admit that I am still learning. That said, I chose Four Views on the Book of Revelation because I enjoy reading from different sides of debates like these. I think it is important to have an understanding of each position from proponents of the different views. I will here offer a brief review of the book. [If you decide to get the book, please use the links in this post support my ministry through Amazon.]

Overview of Content

Introduction

The work begins with a rather lengthy introduction to the book of Revelation and the various views regarding its content. The bulk of this section is its introductions to each of the views featured in the work. Interestingly, the historicist view is basically dismissed out of hand in the introduction:

This volume incorporates the current, prevailing interpretations of Revelation. Thus, while the historicist approach once was widspread, today, for all practical purposes, it has passed from the scene. (18)

Preterist View

Kenneth Gentry, Jr. begins his exposition of preterism with a bold claim: “I am firmly convinced that even an introductory survey of several key passages, figures, and events in John’s majestic prophecy can demonstrate the plausibility of the preterist position” (37). Before diving into this survey, however, Gentry outlines the importance of understanding that Revelation “is a highly figurative book that we cannot approach with… literalism” (38). He defends this claim with a number of points, including the precedent of earlier prophets who used symbolism and the difficulty of consistent literal readings (38-40).

Gentry’s case for preterism focuses squarely on the introduction to the book. This is not to suggest that is the only part of his argument, but rather than he himself recognizes the introduction as a central tenant of preterism. He notes the continued refrain of Jesus “coming soon” and argues that this suggests a reading of the text as real prophecies occurring within the lifetimes of those present.

Much of the rest of Gentry’s survey is built upon tying the prophecies in Revelation to the historical events of the attack upon Jerusalem. A good representation can be found in tying the “Beast” 666 to Nero and the seven mountains to Rome (67-69).

Idealist View

Sam Hamstra, Jr. argues that the core of the idealist view of Revelation is found in a message: “While at this moment the children of God suffer in a world where evil appears to have the upper hand, God is sovereign and Jesus Christ has won the victory” (96).

The idealist case centers around seeing Revelation as apocalyptic literature, and interpreting it through that lens (97). However, Revelation is not exclusively apocalyptic but is rather “a mixture of literary styles” (99). The idealist interpretation sees the use of “like” throughout the descriptions of Christ and elsewhere as supportive of the non-literal nature of the book (101ff).

Hamstra’s survey of the book of Revelation continues to note what he holds are the symbolic use of symbols and other imagery. Representative is the use of the number seven, which suggests “completeness… the author is speaking of the church at all times and in all places” (102).

For the idealist, then, the book of Revelation can have multiple fulfillment throughout time. It is a book which comforts Christians who see the constant wars, plagues, and the like seen in Revelation by reminding them that God is in charge. Ultimately, Pate’s view can be summarized easily: “the best understanding… is that Jesus’ utterances about the Kingdom of God were partially fulfilled at his first coming… but remain forthcoming until his return” (175).

Progressive Dispensationalist View

C. Marvin Pate’s progressive dispensationalism is grounded in the theme of “already/not yet” (135). This notion hints at eschatological tension which can be found throughout the book of Revelation, according to Pate. That is, there are things which may seem fulfilled “already” but have “not yet” reached their fullest completion. As an example, he notes “with the first coming of Jesus Christ the age to come already dawned, but it is not yet complete; it awaits the Paraousia for its consummation” (136).

The notion of already/not yet allows Pate to interpret some texts in a kind of preterist light, while maintaining that they still have yet to find their fullest realization. An example can be found in the letters to the churches in which Pate notes that these are set against the background of Caesar worship while also pointing forward to future events (139ff).

Pate’s view is decidedly focused on the millennium and a more literal reading of the texts than the previous two views. The interpretation of Christ’s return is illustrative (166ff).

Classical Dispensationalist View

Robert Thomas argues that dispensationalism must be viewed in light of its hermeneutical system, which attempts to remain as literal as possible throughout the itnerpretation of a text (180). Thus, Thomas is an ardent futurist, waiting for the events recorded in Genesis to come about.

A major challenge for this view is the interpretation of texts about Christ coming “soon” and “quickly.” Thomas notes that this theme can be grounded in the notion of imminence in which we are to always be ready for Christ’s return as opposed to a notion of immediacy (189).

A typical classical dispensationalist reading of Revelation can be found in Thomas’ interpretation of the horsemen. He notes that the first “portrays a rider on a white horse, who represents a growing movement of anti-Christian and false Christian forces at work early in the period… the third… rider on a black horse [represents] famine-inducing forces….” (193-194). Thomas also argues that Israel is not the church and so must have the promises fulfilled to Israel as a nation (196ff).

Thomas argues that the major issue is dependent upon which hermeneutical system one employs. If one employs a literal hermeneutic, he contends, one will be dispensational. Period (211-214).

Analysis/Conclusion

I will only briefly comment on each view here.

Preterism

Gentry’s case is quite strong, but I have to wonder about the appeal to the language of “coming soon,” particularly in light of the constant refrain in the Hebrew Scriptures of the day of the Lord being “near.” These prophets clearly did not witness the “day of the Lord” (which, on preterist views is either the 70AD destruction of the Temple or still is yet to come), and so such language has a precedent for longer periods of time than the preterist appeals to.

Overall, however, some of the themes Gentry points to does hint at the possibility for interpreting certain prophecies as fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem.

Idealism

The idealist position has some draw for me because it focuses on the applicability of the book to all Christians in every time and place. In particular, the idealist interpretation of the letters to the churches is, I think, spot on. It allows for historicity while also noting the fact that we continue to live in an age in which all those types of churches still exist.

Yet I can’t help but also note that the idealist interpretation at times seems to play too fast and loose with the text, assuming that certain persons or events are types when it seems more clearly to point to a future fulfillment. Of course, the idealist could respond by saying many of these still are in the future after all.

Progressive Dispensationalism

There is great appeal in the notion of the already/not yet aspects of Revelation, which seems to give proper deference to the historical background of the book while also grounding it ultimately in the future promised fulfillment.

It is interesting to see that Pate is willing to interpret some aspects of the text figuratively, yet remains convinced that there will be a literal 1000 year reign, among other things. One could charge him with inconsistency here (as Robert Thomas does).

Classical Dispensationalism

I admit Thomas’ view was the most confusing for me. He insists that one must read the text literally, but then says that the white horse is not a white horse with a rider but rather “anti-Christian and false Christian forces.” Frankly, that is not the literal meaning of the text. It is commendable to desire to stay as true to the text’s meaning as possible, but using the word “literal” in this way seems to be abuse of language.

But Thomas’ view also has more to recommend it, such as his focus upon the future fulfillment. It is hard to read Revelation and not see many of the events as yet to occur, particularly if one desires to read the text as literally as possible.

General remarks

One thing I must note is that I did experience some great disappointment with the book in that it did not follow the standard format of the Zondervan Counterpoints series. Specifically, the book does not have each author interacting with the others after each view. Although the authors clearly had access to the other essays and were given the opportunity to interact via footnotes throughout their own essay, the level of interaction was not on par with other books in the series.

Others have expressed displeasure with the fact that the book does not present the historicist view of Revelation. I share some of that, though I would still maintain that–despite other reviewers [mostly on Amazon] are saying–there are definitely four distinct views presented in this book. They do not cover all the views as comprehensively as some might like, but the views which are included are each unique and worth reading. The quick dismissal of historicism in the introduction may be the consensus of scholarship, but historicism remains a major view among the laity as well as many clergy and some scholars. To have it not included is not the greatest crime, but it does hint at a lack of completeness with the survey here.

Overall, I would recommend this book as a way for those interested in Revelation and eschatology more generally to read. It presents four major views of the interpretation of Revelation by giving each author a rather lengthy section to make their case. Readers will be familiarized with the different views, along with arguments for and against each view. Although the book could be improved by the inclusion of the historicist position and greater interaction between the views, Four Views on the Book of Revelation is a worthy read. Let me know what you think. What is your view on Revelation?

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.”

Book Review: “Understanding End Times Prophecy” by Paul Benware– I review a book on eschatology written from the premillenial dispensationalist position.

Source: Four Views on the Book of Revelation edited by C. Marvin Pate (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Understanding End Times Prophecy” by Paul Benware

uep-benwareUnderstanding End Times Prophecy by Paul Benware certainly deserves its subtitle: “A Comprehensive Approach.” Benware presents a lengthy tome defending his position, dispensational premillenialism (more on that soon), while also outlining and critiquing many other views on various eschatological concepts.

Wait, What?

Yes, I just used the words dispensational premillenialism together in a sentence as though it made sense. It does. That is one of the many views Benware surveys in the book. Before reading Understanding End Times Prophecy (hereafter UEP), I admit I could not have distinguished a dispensational premillenialist from an amillenialist. Nor could I have identified a pre-wrath view in contrast with a post-wrath view. Benware’s book touches all of these and more, explaining the various positions out there on the various eschatological themes while also providing a thorough critique of those with which he disagrees.

Outline of Contents

Benware starts by outlining some principles for interpreting Biblical prophecy. Primary among these is the notion that prophetic passages must be interpreted literally. Benware explains: “Literal interpretation assumes that… [God] based His revelatory communication on the normal rules of human communication. Literal interpretation understands that in normal communication and in the Scriptures figures of speech are valuable as communication devices…” and it is therefore “not… a rigid ‘letterism’ or ‘mechanical understanding of the language’ that ignores symbols and figures” (23-24).

UEP then outlines a broad understanding of Biblical covenants, noting that the covenant God made with Abraham was unconditional, and so must be fulfilled.Next, Benware turns to a number of passages which outline the Palestinian, Davidic, and New Covenants. These he discusses in the context of promises God makes to Israel which must be fulfilled.

The next major section outlines the major views on the millennium. Benware favors the dispensational premillenial view and so spends some time outlining it.The dispensational view focuses on the covenants found throughout the Bible. It holds that there are different “economies” of God’s working. These dispensations are not time periods, nor are they different ways of salvation. Instead, they are specific truths about how God chooses to work with His people (86ff). This view also holds that God will fulfill promises through Israel as a literal nation in the place that God promised them (88ff).

The premillenial view holds that Christ returns before the millennial kingdom. It holds that the millennium is a literal thousand-year reign of Jesus on earth. Thus, there are two resurrections: first, before the millennial kingdom; second, after the millennial kingdom. Israel factors prominently into this view; Israel will be part of the thousand year reign and will occupy the land that God promised unconditionally to Abraham (94ff). Benware argues against the notion that Israel has become displaced or fulfilled in the church (103-120).

Then Benware turns to the view of amillenialism. Essentially, this view holds that the “millennium” is non-literal and is being fulfilled now during the church age. There is one resurrection, and the judgment comes immediately upon Christ’s return. Thus, the current period is the millennial kingdom (121-137).

Postmillenialism is the subject next discussed in UEP. This view tends to be tied into the notion that we are now living in the kingdom of God and so will usher in a golden age through social justice or action. After this undefined point, Christ will return to judge (139ff). Benware is highly critical of this view, noting that it relies upon the notion that we will continue improving the world (yet the world seems to be falling farther rather than progressing); as well as its rejection of the notion of a literal reign of Israel (150ff).

Finally, Benware evaluates preterism. Essentially, this view holds that the events prophesied in Revelation and elsewhere have either all or mostly been fulfilled already. There is much diversity within this perspective, but largely it is tied in with the notion that the destruction of the temple ushered in the end times (154ff).

The next major area of evaluation in UEP is that of the rapture. Benware analyzes pre-tribulation; post-tribulation; and other rapture views. Pre-tribulation is the view that the rapture will happen before the tribulation period. Post-tribulation is the view that the rapture happens after the tribulation. These directly tie into how one views the coming of Christ and the millennial kingdom (207ff).

Finally, UEP ends with outlines of the seventieth week of the book of Daniel, the Kingdom of God, death and the intermediate state, and the final eternal state. An enormous amount of exposition and discussion is tucked into these final chapters. For example, Benware includes a critique of annihilationism.

I have here only touched on the surface of UEP. Benware is exceedingly thorough and has managed to write an amazing resource on the issues related to End Times Prophecy.

Analysis

As has been noted, UEP is a simply fantastic resource for those who want to look at the various views which are discussed in contemporary evangelicalism. Benware has also provided an extremely detailed exposition of the dispensational premillenialist position. If someone wants to critique that view, UEP will be a book which they must reference. It is that good and that comprehensive.

Furthermore, Benware provides a number of excellent insights through the use of charts. Throughout UEP, there are charts scattered which summarize the content of what Benware argues, show pictorially what various views teach, and more. These charts will become handy for readers to reference later when they want to discuss the issues Benware raises. They also help interested readers learn what various views and positions teach.

Benware rightly shatters false notions that Biblical prophecy is some kind of indiscernible mystery language which humans weren’t meant to think on. His care for making clear what the Bible teaches on a number of issues is noteworthy.

Unfortunately, there are several areas in the book which are cause for caution. Benware’s use of proof texts is sometimes questionable. There is great merit to utilizing a series of related texts after an assertion in order to support one’s argument, but upon looking up several texts that Benware cites to make his points, it seems that he often stretched texts far out of their context or even cited texts which had nothing to do with the argument he made in the context in which he cited them. For just one example, Benware writes “The second phase of his [the Antichrist’s] careerwill take place during the first half of the tribulation… During his rise to power he will make enemies who will assassinate him near the midpoint of the tribulation (cf. Rev. 13:3, 12, 14). But much to the astonishment of the world, he is restored to life and becomes the object of worship (along with Satan)” (300). Note that Benware specifically says that the Antichrist will be assassinated and resurrected. Now, turn to the passages that Benware cites. Revelation 13:3, 12, and 14 state:

3: One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast… 12: It exercised all the authority of the first beast on its behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed… 14: Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth. It ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. (NIV)

Now, where in this section does it say the Antichrist will be assassinated? Where in this section does it talk about the Antichrist dying and being raised to life? Strangely, Benware seems to reject the literal hermeneutic he advocates, and begins to interpret texts in ways that bend them  to the breaking point.

The issue of these proof texts opens a broader critique of UEP. Benware constantly insists upon a literal reading of Revelation and other prophetic texts, while also criticizing those who hold other views of using an inconsistent hermeneutic. Yet, as I believe I demonstrated above, Benware often goes well beyond the literal meaning of the texts and comes to conclusions which stretch them past literal readings. In fact, it seems that Benware balances an often literalistic reading of the text with a non-literal reading. Thus, Benware seems to fall victim to the very error he accuses all other positions of falling into.

An overall critique of the position Benware holds would take far too much space and time for this reader to dedicate in this review, but I would note that the conclusions Benware comes to are often the result of the combination of literalistic readings and/or taking texts beyond what they say that I noted above. Some of the worrisome issues include the notion that the sacrificial system will be reinstated (334ff); a view in which the notion that the church seems in no way fulfill the Biblical prophecies about Israel (103ff); hyper-anthropomorphism of spiritual beings (i.e. demons, which are spiritual beings, being physically restricted [130]); and the insistence on literalizing all numbers in the Bible (168), among issues. It’s not that Benware doesn’t argue for these points; instead, it was that it seems his method to get his conclusions was sometimes faulty, and the case not infrequently was overstated.

One minor issue is Benware’s use of citations. It’s not that he fails to cite sources; rather, the difficulty is that he inconsistently tells the reader where the source is from. Very often Benware block quotes another text (with proper end note citation) without letting the reader know who or what he is quoting. Although this may be better for readers only interested in the argument, it can be very frustrating for those interested in knowing where Benware is getting his information to have to flip to the back of the book all the time to trace down sources. The problem is compounded by the fact that sometimes he does tell the reader where the quote is from (for example, he’ll write “so-and-so argues [quote]”) while at other times he just dives directly into the quote. The inconsistent application here may be a minor problem, but it did cause major frustration through my reading of the text.

Conclusion

Understanding End Times Prophecy is worthy reading. It provides an extremely in-depth look at the dispensational premillenial position. More importantly, Benware gives readers an overview of every major position on the millenium, the rapture, and the tribulation. The book therefore provides both an excellent starting point for readers interested in exploring eschatological views while also giving readers interested in the specific position of dispensational premillenialism a comprehensive look at that view. It comes recommended, with the caveat of the noted difficulties above. It would be hard to have a better introduction to the issues of Biblical prophecy from a premillennialist perspective than this one. The question remains, however, whether that view is correct. So far as this reader is concerned, that question remains unsettled.

Source

Paul Beware Understanding End Times Prophecy (Chicago: Moody, 2006).

Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of this book by the publisher My thanks to Moody Books for the opportunity to review the book.. 

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The end of it all…

There’s a lot of confusion about endtimes in our world. It isn’t helped by the fact that there are false prophets springing up all around us, trying to tell us that which is to come. The recent controversy over Harold Camping’s prediction that the world would end on May 21st has me thinking about the study of end times (eschatology).

It’s an area I admit I haven’t studied much. The subject is confusing. There is a staggering array of views about what will happen in the end. The book of Revelation, from which we draw much of our knowledge over what will happen in the end times, can be greatly confusing to both the uninitiated and the scholar.

There are two major themes upon which I’d like to focus: knowledge of the end and our behavior at the end.

1) Knowledge of the end

Thinking about the apocalypse–the end of the world–is a tough issue. Like I said, there is a lot of diversity on the subject. As such, it is important for Christians to look to the Bible to see what we can know about the end. The key is to remember that must always go back to the Bible to see what it says about a subject before we believe what someone tells us it may say.

We are warned by Jesus in Matthew that there will arise false prophets (Matthew 24:24). Harold Camping is one such false prophet. He has distorted the truth of Scripture to gain followers.

Perhaps the most telling verse in the Bible which speaks against us being able to know when the end will come is Matthew 24:36, in which Jesus Himself says “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” If that’s true, then how would any other human know? Not even Christ, in his state of humiliation, could tell us when the last day would come!

The bottom line is that we can’t know and we won’t know when the last days have arrived–not until Jesus Himself is here.

2) Behavior at the end

Suppose for a moment we are at the last days; what should our attitude be? The resounding chorus in Scripture is that we should be diligent and ready, but we should continue to spread God’s Kingdom. Looking back at the Matthew 24 passage, Jesus tells us, ““Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come… Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns” (24:42, 45-46).

So our attitude should be one of the watchful servant: ready for Christ to come, but not letting that distract us from the work He has given us. Rather than put up billboards and go around telling everyone the end is nigh, our task is to continue what should be our “business as usual”–spreading the Word, taking care of the needy, and living our lives as Christians.

Conclusion

It is easy to get caught up in the “end times” controversies. I admit that often when I hear of such predictions, I am more diligent than usual in remembering to repent of my sins. But what does that tell me? It tells me that I need to be more diligent about that at all times. For we need to be ready when Christ does come. A life of readiness for Christ means a life of spreading the Good News about Him to all people. It means living a life of repentance and reconciliation to God. We may not know when the end will come, but it is coming–and we will experience it either in this life or the next.

SDG.

Links

Check out this blog post by Austin which discusses the Camping controversy: here.

News article discussing Camping’s befuddlement about his failure: here.

Image: “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1887.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Awesome Person of the Bible: Michael

There are few persons (using the word “person” here in the broad sense as opposed to meaning simply “humans”) in the Bible more awesome than Michael the Archangel. He only shows up a few times, but those times in which he does appear, he is one bad (read: good) dude. Seriously, check out the three major places he shows up:

1) Daniel 12:1: “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered.”

You read that right. The archangel Michael is the prince of God’s chosen people. And by prince, we don’t mean that sissy version of a prince who’s always running around wishing he wasn’t king or being stupid. We mean he’s the ruler, protector, and guide of Israel. He protects them until God’s chosen people are delivered, according to God’s plan.

I know, “So what? There are a bunch of princes out there. Big deal.” Fine, but what about:

2) Jude 1:9: “But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him [the devil] for slander but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!'”

Oh yeah, that’s right. The archangel Michael fought with SATAN over Moses’ body. Not only that, but he won the fight. How did he win? By invoking the name of the Lord, YHWH. You may be saying “Wow, that’s not a very big deal. I could probably do that.” Think so? How about:

3) Revelation 12:7-9: “Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”

Uh huh. Try that one on for size. First off, Michael’s an archangel. That, on its own, makes you awesome. But Michael isn’t just some rank-and-file archangel, he is an archangel out to kick some massive tail. Michael is just chilling out in heaven one day, picking his teeth with a toothpick made of demon’s bone, when suddenly war breaks out between God and Satan. I don’t know about you, but I’d be running the opposite direction. What does Michael do? He gets his gang of burly warrior-angels and fights Satan and the demons. And notice what the text tells us about Michael: “[Satan] was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.” Yup, Michael is more powerful than Satan himself. He comes along and literally hurls Satan out of heaven and down to the earth. I don’t know about you, but I think that is pretty awesome.

Archangel Michael, you are a certified “Awesome Person of the Bible.”

SDG

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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