May 30, 2012

These Last Days: A Christian View of History

5 Min Read

What would you expect if you were to attend a conference on "last days"? I came of age during the Jesus Movement of the '70's, when books like The Late Great Planet Earth were selling like hot cakes, and Larry Norman was crooning, in reference to the Rapture, "I wish we'd all been ready." My friends and I were fascinated by discussions of what would happen then, and of how events in the daily papers clearly indicated that the end was near. During church all-nighters for youth, we watched dramatic Christian films depicting the Great Tribulation. And that was before the whole Left Behind series hit the bookstores!

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals chose "These Last Days" as the topic for their 2010 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. The book These Last Days is a written collection of the conference's main addresses and of several of the seminars, provided by nine different Reformed theologians. It is so other-than typical "end times" material!

These Last Days takes a long and thorough look at eschatology (the study of last things). What makes this book different from most evangelical fare on the subject is that it prefers the views of the apostles to human speculation and sensationalism. Rather than focusing on a few highly figurative portions of apocalyptic Bible literature, this book looks through the lens of the clear teaching of the apostles. The apostles understood "these last days" to be the period of time we're in now. The last days began at Christ's first coming and will reach their consummation at His return. The kingdom of God had come, the Apostles realized, and they were in it. Taking this stance, this book, like the New Testament itself, offers Christians wisdom for everyday life, comfort in death, hope in trial, a challenge to be holy as God is holy, and reason upon reason to praise our great God.

In one chapter, Cornelis P. Venema leads readers through a quick overview of "The Four Main Millennial Views," necessary for understanding what Christians believe in this essential area. In another chapter, Jeffrey K. Jue provides a survey of America's religious history showing why the majority position among American evangelicals has come to be dispensational premillennialism (see the opening paragraph of this review).

Sinclair Ferguson begins at the beginning with his chapter, "The Christ of History." Ferguson demonstrates that Christ is the center of history, come to redeem all that Adam had given away in the Fall. The conflict between the serpent and Christ (the seed of the woman) begins in the Garden of Eden, continues through every book and every era of Bible history, reaches a climax in Christ's death and resurrection, and resolves at last at Christ's return. This is the point of the Bible, and we rob God and ourselves when we read it in any other way.

D. A. Carson takes us to the twelfth chapter of Revelation, where a dragon, angry that he could not destroy the Baby born of a woman, goes off to make war on the rest of that woman's offspring. Carson shows us, as Revelation does, that all the opposition Christians and the church face during "This Present Evil Age" (the title of his chapter) springs from this fury of the dragon. Satan is the problem, Carson insists, and the gospel is the answer. Then he takes us on a quick spin through the book of Galatians to demonstrate his point.

While Carson focuses on the opposition in this period of time, Alistair Begg's chapter emphasizes that the times we live in are "The Age of the Spirit." This is an age in which the clear, biblical gospel must be faithfully proclaimed; this must be done in the power of the Holy Spirit; and every individual believer must live in daily dependence upon Him.

In "The Resurrection Hope," Michael S. Horton challenges the modern (and ancient Greek) assumption that souls are important while bodies are not. He emphasizes, as did the Apostle Paul, the necessity of Christ's bodily resurrection. Our hope is not a soul freed from the limits and pains of the body, but body and soul raised to newness of perfect life. But what will we do in those perfect bodies? What will we find in the new heavens and earth? One of J. Ligon Duncan III's answers in "The Eternal Glory" is that the church will be gathered there. When you read Revelation with any attentiveness at all, you can't miss that the climax of the story comes when the church is led to Christ for the marriage supper of the Lamb. This is why, Duncan points out, we must love the church now; "the church … will be the only monument of God's glory that stands for all eternity." We will worship there, with the entire gathered church, and we will live in perfect communion with the Lamb. The rich truths of these two chapters are fleshed out in "A Pastoral Guide to Life after Death" by Richard D. Phillips. This chapter is a simple, biblical, and thorough source of information and comfort for anyone facing death or the loss of a loved one.

In "Partakers of the Age to Come," D.A. Carson challenges us to avoid an "over-realized eschatology" (we can have health and wealth, our best life, sinless perfection now), while not falling into the opposite trap of an "under-realized eschatology" (failure to live in the power of the gospel with all the dramatic change that it brings). In a similar, highly practical vein, Paul David Tripp calls readers to see "The Radical Implications of Eternity." He urges us to live out our theology of eternity, here and now. He calls us to long for heaven as pilgrims long for their destination, keeping up our courage in the face of obstacles because of the certainty of our hope and fleeing the idols of this life because we value something better that's coming later.

These Last Days is not one more guess at what Gog and Magog represent, who the Antichrist is, and what the number of the beast will look like. Instead, this book offers the rich study of one biblical passage after another, leading to a deeper adoration of God and a renewed commitment to life for his glory. As the editors comment in their preface, "Reformed Christians have often shunned the field of eschatology, surrendering end-times doctrine to more popular (but less biblical!) schemes held by other Christians." If this is true, how we have cheated ourselves! And how grateful we can be to the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals for publishing These Last Days to help us correct the situation.