Harold Camping’s latest false prediction concerning the end of the world once again illustrates how important it is that Christians think carefully and critically about controversial issues like Bible prophecy. Below is an article I wrote about the challenging and often speculative field of Christian eschatology. (This article is part 7 of a 12-part series on eschatology; all 12 posts are available in the Reflections archives.)
Future Things: Three Tips for Thinking about Eschatology, Part 7 (of 12)
How can a Christian think about eschatology (the study of “last things”) in a careful and intellectually responsible manner?
Let me offer three suggestions for believers to carefully consider when approaching the controversial theological topic of the “end times.”
1. Understanding the Bible’s Apocalyptic Literature
Evangelical theologian and eschatology specialist George Eldon Ladd notes the following:
Revelation is the most difficult of all New Testament books to interpret, primarily because of the elaborate and extensive use of symbolism…. Several distinct methods of interpretation have emerged.1
Both apocalyptic books of the Bible (Daniel and Revelation) are very challenging to understand and properly interpret. Throughout church history biblical scholars and theologians have come to a variety of different positions on how these books are to be understood.
Acknowledging this diversity of thought should cause Christians to be measured and cautious in what they assert about the Bible’s teaching on eschatological issues. Far too many believers think that their specific interpretation of end times passages is synonymous with what the Bible actually reveals about the topic. Remember, the Bible must be responsibly studied through a careful analysis of literary genre, grammar, and context.
2. Mere Christian Eschatology
While significant differences over the final events of human history exist, nevertheless all historic Christian theological traditions affirm essential core orthodoxy when it comes to eschatology. Parts two and three of this series elaborate on five significant events on which believers agree. Here’s that list enumerated once again:
Five Point Mere Christian Eschatology
- Second Coming of Jesus Christ
- General Resurrection of the Dead
- Final Judgment of Humankind
- Eternal State
- New Creation
3. Learning the Major Views on Eschatology
Because the study of future things is a hotly contested topic in Christian theology, believers should take the time and effort to study the field. If you have only been exposed to a form of premillennialism (which is very popular today among evangelicals), then consider looking into one of the best books on the amillennial and postmillennial positions. Or if you have only been exposed to amillennialism (probably the overall Christian consensus position over the centuries), then try reading the best books that defend a form of premillennialism.
Our churches stand to benefit when its members grow in their knowledge of the Bible and of historic Christian doctrine. I strongly recommend that pastors and teachers in churches and colleges encourage their people to read broadly on the topic of eschatology. It is certainly acceptable for churches and Christian colleges to affirm and defend a particular view concerning last things, but those affirmations mean a whole lot more when all the major views have been considered.
Here are a few good books explaining the different evangelical Christian positions on eschatology:
- Historic Premillennialism: George Eldon Ladd, The Blessed Hope.
- Dispensational Premillennialism: John F. Walvoord, The Blessed Hope and the Tribulation.
- Postmillennialism: John Jefferson Davis, Christ’s Victorious Kingdom.
- Amillennialism: Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future
- George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 10.