Book Review: How will the world end?

It’s with thanks to Shaun Tabatt, of Cross Focused Reviews, I had a chance to check out this little 93 page book, How will the world end?: and other questions about the last things and the second coming of Christ (Questions Christians Ask) (The Good Book Company, 2014) written by Pastor Jeramie Rinne (MDiv, GCTS).

how will the world endRinne’s basic thesis in his book is that when it comes to the end of the world, many Christians are confused and unsure about what the Bible teaches about the last days.  Rinne asserts this is the case be all too often most Christians and even those who teach on end times tend to miss the trees for the forest; they get bogged down in the details instead of taking a step back and getting a sense of the larger picture.

The purpose of Rinne’s book then, is to help regular Christians regain that big picture about the end of the world.  Its a book about seeing the whole forest once again, not a microscopic study of tree bark. (9)

At the same time he hopes to give the reader the opportunity to do more than have a cursory or even confused understanding of end times to “have a basic commonsense understanding” (9).  Many also have fear and anxiety about the end of the world and he hopes this little book will free people from that fear and allow for joy and peace to give direction to them as they explore the topic further.

The topics discussed are:

1) How will the world end? (and why is it taking so long?).  Here Rinne asserts:

At the center of the Bible, and at the center of the whole human story, stands Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  And it will be Jesus himself who brings the world to its end (19).

2) What will happen before Jesus comes back?  Here he uses Jesus’ own image of labor pains.  Various events that take place such as the rise of false messiah’s and wars and disasters, persecution, the increase of wickedness, etc are all labor pains that will happen just prior to Christ’ return.  Though Christians are to press on with proclamation of the gospel, we must remember, like labor pains, all these things will happen before Jesus’ return.

3) How will Jesus come back?  Here Rinne states that “we know Jesus will come back “publicly, gloriously, victoriously, and savingly” (41).  He spends time unpacking each of these concepts.

4) Will Jesus come back before or after the “Millennium”? For Rinne, this book is not intended to be an in-depth study of eschatology. Instead, “seeks to point us back to the primary focus of the New Testament’s teaching about the end of the world, namely, that Jesus is returning” (53).  So, in this chapter Rinne does not directly give his take, but instead covers all the basics as far as what the millennium is and the different views as to when Jesus may return in light of it, and lets the reader decide.

5) What Happens after Jesus comes back?  In this it is important for the reader to understand “the world’s finale is merely the beginning of our eternal saga.  The end of the world is not the end of the story” (69).  Here he talks about the Great White Throne of Judgment (something that should both comfort us and caution us); the Lamb’s Book of Life (is your name in it?); Hell and the Lake of Fire (which is the final judgment of the wicked).

Finally,

6) How should we live until Jesus comes back?  “What we think will happen in the future, shapes our in the present” (81).  Our understanding of how the world will end greatly affects how we live now.  Many live in fear and others have found out how to live in faith and godliness as history moves forward to the end of days.  His desire is that more Christians would move away from fear about the end of the world and to a place of faith, hope, and love.  Rinne’s most poignant point in this section is his assertion that “when the reality of Jesus’ return and the end of the world grips us, it should spawn an urgency in our hearts to proclaim “this gospel of the kingdom” to all nations” (89).

I think this is a good little book that could be helpful for those Christians who are wanting or needing some direction in their understanding of how the world will end.

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Neufeld thoughts on the Revelation

Henry Neufeld taught recently on the book of Revelation and shared some of his reflections about that experience:

  1. I’m more convinced than ever that we need to read Revelation more for theology and spiritual growth and less for trying to lay out timelines for the end of the world. I find good theology and good principles in many of these passages even if we continue to disagree on the specific referents.

  2. I have a great deal of sympathy for the preterist position, even though that is not precisely what I believe. Symbols generally do find credible referents in the immediate time and place. The problem with the preterist position, in my view, is that it is easy to leave all the book’s other lessons in the past as well. Revelation spoke to its own time, but it also speaks to the future.

  3. Revelation is possibly the most violent book in the New Testament. But it’s not about the violence. It’s about God’s faithfulness.

  4. Revelation is an unfolding of the gospel. It begins with Jesus with his church/people, and it ends with Jesus with his people. The rest assures God’s people that God is paying attention and is with them even when he doesn’t appear to be.

  5. In teaching Revelation we need to emphasize the persecuted church more. When you get to the fifth seal, for example, and the souls under the altar are asking “How long oh Lord?” it helps if we understand what persecution was and is like. I have always discussed persecution as an historical phenomenon. This time I spent more time discussing the present and what some of these passage might mean viewed from the perspective of people suffering persecution right now. Like Hebrews, Revelation speaks to people suffering or soon-to-suffer great hardship. We American Christians, in our ease, are likely to have a hard time hearing the message.

  6. The most important thing a Bible teacher can so, I believe, is teach people how to study for themselves. It’s not about getting across all of my beliefs or particular interpretations. What people need is to find a way to experience God for themselves—to hear God’s voice—through the pages of scripture.

I think these are some good thoughts!  I have never taught on the book of Revelation before, but I really like Henry’s reflections here.  Additionally, I agree with David Alan Black that Henry’s last point is his most important point.  🙂

Words and Meanings

Here is a good thought for the day about words and their meanings from Edward W. H. Vick’s book Eschatology: A Participatory Study Guide:

One of the continual problems of communication and one which gives rise to much misunderstanding and sometimes even hostility, is that identical language can have very different meanings.  I use a word as I understand it.  You take the word I am using as you understand it and we go on talking until we discover that the same terminology has quite different senses for you than it has for me. Now you may not want to allow that my meaning is the right one.  But if you are going to understand me, you may have to bracket your understanding and put your mind into my frame of reference.  Or you can simply assert your meaning and reject mine.  If you are enthusiastic and your conviction is unshakable you may even become hostile.  But without a mutual consideration the result is almost inevitably misunderstanding.

If I mean one thing by a term and you mean another, we shall have to see that difference and then we can either allow that both meaning are proper and recognize both usages.  Or, if I use the term ‘end’ in one sense and you use it in another, it may be that neither of us will allow the propriety of the use the other is making.  So there will be conflict, or without further consideration, rejection and possibly hostility.  On the other hand you may see that one use of ‘end’ is different from the other and then understand why the term is used in that way.  Then there can be mutual consideration and understanding.  (Eschatology, pg 77)

This is very good!  I think this could be a classic case of the line from the Princess Bride where Inigo Montoya says to Vizzini regarding his overuse of the word “inconceivable,”

“You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”

lol

One thing this scene does is highlight the fact that sometimes and not infrequently – overuse of words can tend to flatten their meaning so that then they become meaningless- which is what I think could be happening with overuse or inappropriate use of words such as liberal or conservative, etc.  Context is always important, as when we remove the context or overlook it, then words start to lose their meanings and impact.

We tend to do this alot, I think, with biblical words and words used in Christian-speak.  We either fail to understand the range of meanings and show respect to various usages, or we just throw caution to the wind and use them however we want to use them.  For obvious reasons, this is not good.

The meanings of words often depend on how they are being used.  I understand it probably better to speak of the fact that meanings of words have semantic range, but in this case Vick is touching on the fact that for mutual understanding to occur (even if there is disagreement) a particular meaning of a word needs to be agreed upon, depending on the how it is being used – as in his example of “end’.

So the thought for the day is that we need to show respect to words and their various meanings and be sure that we always seek mutual understanding when conversing with others in regards to the Bible and how we talk as Christians.

Blessings,

Quote of the Day: Thomas C. Oden

Thomas C. Oden‘s book Classic Christianity (which is a re-working of his 3vol Systematic Theology) is on a $3 sale for the Kindle edition and I was browsing it – this is a really great portion in my estimation:

OdenThe purpose of God in redemption is not merely to prolong creation quantitatively, but to redeem and perfect it qualitatively. This consummation has begun irreversibly in Jesus Christ. The consummation does not come by human action, political strategy, revolutionary planning, or evolution, but by God’s own completing activity. This does not mean that God’s kingdom lacks political consequences, or that there is therefore no need for peacemakers or the struggle for justice in history. Rather, it means that however imperfect is our own struggle for peace and justice, it will be perfected by God’s own peace and justice finally beyond history.

-Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity

Guest Post: on Pentecostal Eschatology

The following is a guest post book review of Larry McQueen’s Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology by my friend Monte Lee Rice, who lives in Singapore. This was originally posted on the goodreads site and is re-posted here with permission.  Be blessed!

pentecostal eschatologyMcQueen, Larry R. Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology: Discerning the Way Forward (Journal of Pentecostal Theology Supplement Series). JPTSup 39. Dorset, UK: Deo Publishing, 2012.

McQueen’s published dissertation surveys and critiques the development of eschatological perspectives and diverse doctrines in the early North American Pentecostal movement. He begins by surveying recent Pentecostal approaches to eschatology over the past two to three decades, which have illustrated revisions away from classical Darbyian-rooted dispensational categories, in attempts to articulate eschatology in manners best congruent to core elements of Pentecostal ecclesiology, soteriology and spirituality. As McQueen shows, this includes efforts by persons such as Peter Kuzmic, J. Rodman Williams, Steven J. Land, Peter Althouse, Amos Yong, and most notable is the comprehensive proposal envisioned by Matthew K. Thompson in his own published 2010 dissertation, Kingdom Come: Revisioning Pentecostal Eschatology, JPTSup 37 (Dorset, UK: Deo Publishing, 2010). McQueen’s work falls within this direction, which I will more specifically summarize further along in this discussion.

Next, McQueen devotes substantial effort towards reviewing early Pentecostal periodical literature representative of the two major streams of early Pentecostalism, namely the Wesleyan and Finished Work Pentecostal streams. Following are some of McQueen’s own conclusions reached through this critical survey. Concerning the Wesleyan stream as exemplified in early Church of God (Cleveland) periodical literature, McQueen argues that a diversity of eschatological perspectives existed, and not all strongly followed the Darbyian system. Others better rooted eschatological assumptions within ideas of Spirit baptism “in the via salutis and its meaning for the missional task of the Church.” McQueen thus argues that it was “Spirit baptism” which gave foremost “eschatological significance to the core testimony of the early Pentecostals,” narrated in what they called the “full gospel” of Jesus as Saviour Sanctifier, Spirit Baptizer, Healer, and Coming King (p. 141).

McQueen argues that the early Finished Work stream of Pentecostalism (along with Oneness Pentecostalism) more readily adapted and comprehensively expressed Darbyian dispensational doctrinal categories. This was due to greater compatibility with the finished work tendency to closely tie all soteriological benefits to the atonement, which are then presumed as wholly available through faith, rather than entered into in through the salvific journey that comprises Christian life (as assumed in more Wesleyan terms). Consequently, McQueen argues that this stream is more prone to an “over-realized eschatology” (p. 294). In his book review on McQueen’s work Peter Althouse (Pneuma 35 [2013]: 253-255) however, observes in McQueen’s contrast between the Wesleyan and Finished work streams, some over extended and far too rigid generalizations. Althouse argues that McQueen fails to adequately appreciate “cross-fertilization” between the two streams, which can be observed in several notable early Finished Work Pentecostal pioneers who articulated more process oriented soteriologies as well as softer dispensational categories. Hence, Althouse finds McQueen strict contrast between the two streams as “counterproductive to an ecumenical reading of early Pentecostalism.”

Notwithstanding these supposed limitations to McQueen’s analysis, I find his concluding proposals for ongoing development of Pentecostal eschatology highly constructive. I will just briefly mention some of his key points. First, McQueen argues that Pentecostals should bring eschatology “into dialogue with their holistic spirituality, allowing the experience of the Spirit, in both its individual and corporate dimensions, to inform their hermeneutical practice and subsequent conclusions about eschatology” (p. 201). What results is a perspective towards eschatology, which McQueen finds within much of early Pentecostal literature, that is more shaped by the “dynamic spirituality” of Pentecostalism, rather than by the “predefined script of the future” that Darbyian dispensationalism espouses and imposes on the apocalyptic and prophetic texts of Scripture (p. 201).

McQueen provides some helpful guidelines on just how such a Pentecostal spirituality-informed hermeneutic would shape our reading of John’s Apocalypse as well as other apocalyptic texts, moreover— in manners that critically discern and engage spiritual conflict in context of contemporary culture and settings. He writes,

I suggest that Pentecostalism must reappropriate the book of Revelation, not as a text to be dissected and pieced together to form a map for the future, but as a symbolic world into which we enter in order to be challenged and transformed by the same Spirit in which John received the revelation. This method of reading the text in the present tense preserves the pathos of immediacy so valued in Pentecostal spirituality and reflects the way we interpret other portions of Scripture.” Hence, “We find ourselves in the visions of the innumerable multitude, the two witnesses, the thousand-year reign of Christ and the New Jerusalem. But we also find ourselves in the apathy of the Laodicean church . . . In essence, one way to discern the relevance of eschatology is to discern what the Spirit is saying to the churches (Rev. 2:7) through the visions of the book of Revelation.  (pp. 286-287).

To further demonstrate this more robust eschatological understanding of Christian life, McQueen’s climaxes his book with a reading of John’s Apocalypse through the Pentecostal fivefold gospel motifs, while also integrating theological contributions via recent scholarship in Pentecostal eschatology (such as reviewed in his second chapter). Hence, McQueen stresses that

“recent theological contributions to Pentecostal eschatology that take seriously Pentecostal presuppositions point to the need need to articulate the fivefold narrative within a larger trinitarian and creational framework. Such a move expands the eschatological scope beyond individual salvation to include a vision of cosmic redemption and helps to unify the experiences of salvation within this larger vision for the kingdom of God. (p. 215).

Here, McQueen’s conclusions parallel themes strongly argued by Matthew Thompson (Kingdom Come: Revisioning Pentecostal Eschatology). Concerning the more common popular Pentecostal approach to the Apocalypse interpreted according to Darbyian dispensational categories, McQueen writes,

A major lesson learned form the past is that Pentecostals should not adopt uncritically any eschatological vision developed apart from a distinct Pentecostal soteriology and spirituality. Otherwise, the eschatology may impose various foreign elements that must be held in tension with Pentecostal perceptions or be allowed to compromise those perceptions. Such as has been the case with the long-standing ‘uneasy relationship’ between Pentecostalism and dispensationalism. (p. 215).

In the concluding chapter, McQueen states, “this study demonstrates that Pentecostal eschatology is not so much concerned with mapping a script of the future as it is in discerning the Spirit of the future in our present life and witness.” McQueen thus argues that this thesis can be substantiated in early Pentecostal literature and also by John’s testimony in the Apocalypse.” He strives to demonstrate this by utilizing the fivefold gospel as a hermeneutic for arriving at a distinctive Pentecostal reading the Apocalypse (p. 296).

Finally, another core motif McQueen challenges Pentecostals to integrate into their development an eschatology deeply reflecting Pentecostal spirituality, is the kingdom of God. He thus proposes,

Current studies in Pentecostal theology that take account of the fivefold gospel . . . point to the kingdom of God as an appropriate eschatological symbol. A constructive contribution to Pentecostal eschatology could be offered with the themes of the kingdom of God articulated in the Synoptic Gospel narratives serving as the principal entry points into the eschatological dimensions of the fivefold gospel.

Hence, as McQueen himself concludes, his study exemplifies a current response to Steven Land’s earlier call for “the revisioning of Pentecostal eschatology within an integrative view of God’s eschatological presence” (p. 297), in manners that moreover retrieve early Pentecostal motifs and core elements that characterize Pentecostal spirituality.

a thought on “grace”

I recently picked up a copy of Siegfried Schatzmann’s A Pauline Theology of Charismata (Hendrickson, 1987).  It is his PhD dissertation from SWBTS.  It’s a packed 103 pages of reading and highly technical reading on the use of “charismata” in Paul’s letters.  It’s a good work.   As well one should he starts out exploring the etymology of the concept and it is quite interesting.  Consider the following:  (sorry I am not able to access Greek fonts at this time so you will forgive the transliterations and keep reading?  Thx!  🙂 )

Xarismata is derived from the root word xaris.  Whereas the former is used sparingly, the latter occurs profusely both in secular Greek literature and in the NT.  Xaris, in the Pauline letters generally translated as “grace,” and xarismata, the unique NT term for “gift,” develop from the stem, xar-.  “Grace” is probably Paul’s most fundamental concept by which he expresses the event of salvation.  It is crucial to understand, therefore, that “grace” does not, for Paul, convey the notion of God’s disposition or attitude towards mankind but rather God’s gracious “act.”  Rudolf Bultmann appropriately summarizes the foundational character of xaris in Paul as “God’s eschatological deed.”  Paul’s Theology is this appropriately described as “charitocentric”; xaris denotes God’s “fundamental gift of salvation” to humanity.  By no means must this be construed to mean that Paul considered “grace” as God’s generous act in the past only.   Every cursory study of such passages as Rom 3:24, 5:15, and Eph 2:5,8, shows that grace, as God’s eschatological event in Christ, is experienced in the present and also transforms and characterizes existence in the present.  This understanding of xaris, then leads to its correlate, xarismata.  Yet, the further probing into the significance of the relatedness of these terms mus await the exegesis Rom 5:15, 16, and of 6:23.

This is interesting.  So often we talk about grace as God’s unmerited favor towards us, and probably this is true, but as seen in Schatzmann, it in fact refers to God’s act of salavation!

Yes, this is interesting.

Co-creators with God?

Consider the following:

How are we co-creators with God in the world?  (via my friend Monte on Facebook and related to this post).

We create cultural artifacts. That’s a very simple answer. The cultural mandate.

A more relevant answer is that every true, good and beautiful thing we do that is born from the Spirit of God, God is using in the re-making of creation. The basis is the resurrection of Jesus through the power of the Spirit. The resurrection is God’s act of redeeming not just “souls,” but the whole material creation. What God is now doing in and through the Church, is a proleptic foretaste of what He is doing in all creation. He begins with the human, and through the human (the new human race of which Christ is the Head), renews creation. 

This is why our works shall follow us; what we do now will indeed echo in eternity. The good we do will in due time, become part of God’s new world. Every “good work” that is a true labour of Christ’s love, will find its way into God’s new world. 

Easter Sunday, actually every Sunday, is the the day when the Father proclaims in Jesus’ resurrection through the Spirit, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.” (Isaiah 65:17). It begins with the “new humanity.” “Behold, if anyone be in Christ, He is a new creation.” On the basis of the resurrection, the Scripture thus reads, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that: your labour in the Lord is not in vain.”

Every “good work” that is a true labour of Christ’s love, will find its way into God’s new world, and our works in Christ through the Spirit will commend us before God’s throne; there will be reward given for running the race well. So we are partnering with God in re-making, or “re-wiring” of all creation in the space-time continuum. In doing so, we manifest through word and deed, signs of God’s coming kingdom.