Eschatology is not a topic that comes up here often, though I have a series of posts devoted to the subject. Book reviews are a bit more sparse, so this is probably the first one to highlight a book about the end times. So far, I’ve been a fan of the 40 Questions series and would commend the hermeneutics and biblical law books to you. Now to go along with those there is the very useful 40 Questions About The End Times.
There are a number of ways a book like this could fail. Thankfully, Eckhard Schnabel’s work adds clarity to the end times discussion instead of confusion. No doubt this is true in light of Schnabel’s scholarly expertise, but I think it is also because of his rhetorical strategy in selecting, framing, and answering the questions presented in the book.
Many of us are familiar with the general eschatological positions, whether amillennialism, premillennialism, or postmillennialism. Further still, those of us with a dispensational background know of the variants within premillennial eschatology regrading the rapture, whether it be pre-trib, post-trib, or mid-trib. A virtue then of Schnabel’s strategy is that he eschews these labels and you can’t really pin down where he falls on the eschatological spectrum without reading his book. As he explains,
I will generally refrain from using these terms, not because they cannot be helpful is marking a position, but because labels are often used as “party terms” that tend to commit people to an entire system of belief regarding the end times. I an not interested in labels, nor in justifying a particular “systematic” approach to the interpretation of passages that speak about the end times. I will not compare eschatological systems with each other, such as classical dispensationalism, progressive dispensationalism, amillennialism, postmillennialism, premillennialism, or preterist positions (whether partial preterist or consistent preterist) (10-11).
Instead, Schnabel is “interested in reading the relevant texts of the Old and New Testament afresh,” and he hopes “that the readers of this volume will share this interest” (11). In my estimation this sets the whole book off on the right foot and whether or not you agree with his answers, the approach of posing questions and investigating the relevant texts to find an answer works much better than starting with a system and then trying to justify it from preferred passages.
Further, Schnabel’s book has a broader focus than some people envision when they hear “the end times.” As he clarifies his terms on the opening page, “end times” and “last days” are equivalent expressions and both refer to the period of history before the last day, which is Christ’s return (9). In that sense, ever since the ascension, Christians have been living in “the end times.” If “eschatology” refers to the doctrine of the last things, once your perspective is adjusted to see the period we’re living in as “the last days,” regardless of whether Christ returns in two days or two thousand years, then eschatology is not some kind of abstract speculation about the future. Rather, eschatology used in this broader sense can describe “the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets in the person, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and in the life and ministry of the church – the messianic period of the last days when Israel’s Messiah has come and when his followers reach Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and all the nations with the gospel” (9).
In this light, Schnabel’s book does focus on the future but in a way that is connected to the present. He outlines his questions into 4 general groups:
- General Questions About the Future (Q’s 1-16)
- The Return of Jesus Christ (Q’s 17-32)
- The Millennium and The Last Judgment (Q’s 33-38)
- Interpreting the End Times (Q’s 39-40)
The first group is broken down into three categories: (1) the world, (2) the church, (3) Israel. Likewise, the second group has questions regarding events before Jesus’ return, as well as Jesus return itself. While one doesn’t have to read the questions in any specific order, the alpha and the omega of the questions might not be a bad place to begin your reading (that’s the first and last question in case you missed the reference).
The last question interestingly enough is “Why Should I Care About The End Times”? If you’ve done a straight read-thru of the book then that question is somewhat superfluous. But, as an opening question, it provides a good counterpart to Schnabel’s introduction. In answering this question he offers advice for dealing with disagreements about the end times, as well as the significance of prophecy in the life of the believer. I’m not really sure why the fourth section of questions isn’t really the first because they really do frame the survey of the other questions. Luckily, if you pick a copy of this yourself, you can just start with questions 39 & 40 and then pick whatever interests you most and go from there.
There is however some logic to following the questions chronologically. In discussions of the end times, I think we tend to become overly fixated on our millennial positions, or at least the way the positions are parsed out make it the prime factor (since the positions are named for how they related the return of Christ to the millennial kingdom). However, in Schnabel’s work, we look first at general questions surrounding the future, then at the events leading up to Christ’s return, and then finally talk of a millennial kingdom and final judgment. In this way, he moves chronologically from the ecclesial situation readers find themselves in toward the full realization of our eternal hope. This helps guide the discussion well and I think adds clarity to a subject that can otherwise be not only confusing, but frustrating to discuss in detail with anyone.
All that being said, this is a great resource for anyone interested in grounding their understanding of eschatology in the relevant biblical texts. I think it might be even suitable to pass along to someone who has never formally studied eschatology before. It is written in a style that lacks jargon and focuses on unpacking Scripture, doing so in a way that most people will be able to easily follow. Regardless of your “system” of eschatology, reading through the questions in this book will benefit you. It will either dissuade you from positions you’ve been holding that do not have sufficient warrant in the biblical text, or it will lead you to sharpen your position in distinction to the one Schnabel offers by helping you clarify your own view. I found that I didn’t agree with all the answers Schnabel offers, but this is definitely a book I’ll be going back and referring to in the future.
- Author: Eckhard Schnabel
- Title: 40 Questions About the End Times
- Publisher: Kregel Academic (February 1, 2012)
- Series: 40 Questions
- Paperback: 352pgs
- Reading Level: Bible School/General Reader
- Audience Appeal: Prophets interested in biblical answers to eschatological questions
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Kregel Academic)
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