Thursday, October 8, 2015

Brief Review: The end is near! This book is not new!

When news headlines start filling up with pronouncements of wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, and other natural or man-made disasters, there are few Christians who don’t perk up our end-times-antennas. It’s what we do and that’s okay.

But when these kinds of headlines increase in frequency, then the books offering predictions and interpretations start rolling off the presses and flying off the shelves. Some new. Others old but repackaged.

Everyone wants to get in the last word on the last days.

The easiest way to start a heated discussion among believers is to bring up the book of Revelation (or any end-times-worthy biblical passage of prophecy) and toss out an opinion. Any opinion.

When these kinds of discussions kick up around me, I usually try to walk away or at least remain mum. They, sadly, tend to be no-win situations. Plus, even though I’ve been involved in two books covering the Book of Revelation, this is a tough topic to tackle and I get easily befuddled.

I mean, just the basic four views of the end-times -- historicist, preterist, futurist, and spiritual -- each have their unique definitions and multiple off-shoots of thought.

For example, the preterist view (yes, I know it’s a ridiculously weird word but that’s the way of theology) can be sliced into radical preterism, moderate preterism, partial preterism, orthodox preterism, full preterism, and who knows how many more.

And let’s not forget premillenialism, amillenialism, postmillenialsim, and dispensationalism.

Ah, the lovely lilting language of eschatology! Mishandled it can create the fog of bore.

Which brings us to this book.

In his recently re-issued 1998 book (which is not really a new edition as the copyright page indicates), The Last Days According to Jesus: When Did Jesus Say He Would Return, R. C. Sproul, Sr. tackles eschatology.

But before I go further, let me offer this caveat: I like R. C. Sproul, Sr.. I’ve read a couple other of his books and really enjoyed them. I don’t always fully agree with his theology, but he’s a good guy.

But this book? Well, my issues aren’t with the content so much as with the style. While the back cover copy calls it a “compelling” style, it actually reads more like a dry dense doctoral dissertation.

Despite its teasing title, Sproul’s book is a far cry from, say, The Late Great Planet Earth kind of read. And it’s not just me who thinks so.

When reading a book for review, I seldom look at others’ reviews when they’re available. But I had to make an exception for this one because I wasn’t clear what Sproul was trying to accomplish. I needed some help.

Another reviewer also had the same problems I was having, stating, “Dr. Sproul seems a bit hesitant to come right out and admit that he believes in the preterist position and so that makes his points seem a little wishy-washy at times.... [This] makes for a passive voice approach at times that lacks clarity...[and] makes for difficult reading at times. The information is there, just not as clear as if he had stated his views plainly then proceeded to explain why he held those views.”


Another reviewer pointed out that Sproul seems to be rebutting Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not A Christian, which would imply to understand Sproul’s book it would be helpful to have read Russell’s.

Reading these and other reviews helped clarify a few things for me. Namely, that Sproul is attempting to defend moderate preterism. Also known as, I think, partial preterism, which is also known as orthodox preterism, as per Sproul’s definitions.

He almost comes right out and says as much at the end of the fifth chapter -- about halfway through the book -- when he states, “Moderate preterists, such as those who hold a postmillenial view of eschatology, insist that though the bulk of the Olivet Discourse was fullfilled in AD 70, there still remains a future coming or parousia of Christ.”

If that sentence sets your heart a-flutter, then this will probably be a book you will enjoy and will be worth your time to read accompanied with a strong cup or two of coffee.

On the other hand, if it makes your eyes glaze over, you have no idea what preterism mean,  and you feel a nap coming on, then you’ll want to give it a pass. You’re welcome.

The book was not out of print and has been available on Amazon for about $18 in paperback. Now, it’s got a new cover and a lower price. Go figure. Other than that, it’s the same as the 1998 edition.

Sproul is generally even-handed and fair when discussing views with which he disagrees. Although, he does takes a mild swipe at futurists by lumping them together with references to “Rosemary’s Baby” and Jeane Dixon. Well, then!

He concludes saying, “Debates over eschatology will probably continue until the Lord returns and we have the advantage of hindsight rather than the disadvantage of foresight. The divisions that exist within the Christian community are understandable, considering that both the subject matter and the literary genre of future prophecy are exceedingly difficult. This does not mean that we may push the Bible aside or neglect its eschatological sections. On the contrary the interpretive difficulties presented by eschatological matters simply call us to a greater diligence and persistence in seeking their solution.”


In the meantime, I just ask that books like this actually be written in a truly “compelling” and accessible style when targeted to the general reader. Especially when titled in such a teasing manner.


NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

How would you define your views of the end-times? Are you concerned about what is going to happen? Do you believe we are in the end-times now? Why or why not? Leave a comment sharing what you think!

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