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Christ and the Future Paperback – November 1, 2008
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"If all of today's most popular books on the end times were suddenly raptured, The Promise of the Future" would likely be among those left behind."
Unfortunately, the book's hefty weight (and price tag) scared me off. Thankfully, the author was persuaded to publish an abridged version to be more accessible to people like me who aren't quite ready to take the plunge into such an immense and thorough exploration of a single doctrinal subject. Christ and the Future is the result.
Even as an abridgement, this book is very intense. It is definitely the most Scripture-saturated eschatological study I've read. Venema explores the Bible's teachings on both personal eschatology (what happens when we die) and general eschatology (Christ's return and the future Kingdom).
In the former, he emphasizes the fact that all people are created for immortality, and will spend eternity in eternal communion with Christ or in eternal torment apart from Him. He details the Reformed teaching of the "intermediate state" (what happens to both believers and nonbelievers between death and resurrection), refuting the ideas of annihilationism (which teaches that some or all people simply cease to exist upon death) and "soul sleep" (which teaches that there is no conscious existence between death and resurrection because the soul cannot exist apart from the body).
General eschatology receives the greatest portion of the book, however. Venema devotes a chapter each to the certainty of Christ's return, the "signs of the times", judgement, the four most prominent views of the millenium (which is actually explored from different angles in three chapters), resurrection of the body, the doctrine of eternal punishment, and the new heavens & earth. At each point, he fairly and accurately represents contrasting viewpoints, while clearly and firmly stating the case for his own beliefs. I won't go into a point-by-point analysis here, but I will sum up Venema's position and my reflections on it.
Venema writes from a "Reformed Amillenial" perspective. He contrasts this with "Golden Age Postmillenialism", "Dispensational Premillenialism", and "Historical Premillenialism" (which has been my view). It is at this point that I must confess to a previous gap in my theological study, which I am now working to remedy. I have never given myself to much study of opposing viewpoints, or to Scriptural critiques of my own. This is something I really need to do more often, as it is necessary for responsible scholarship.
While I won't go so far as to say that I have been "converted" to amillenial thinking, I will say that my previous understanding of the amillenial position was terribly misinformed. At many (perhaps even most) points, the difference between Venema's views and my own are negligible, which I did not expect. When compared to all the places in which we agree (personal eschatology for believers and non-believers, the possible imminent return of Christ, complete rejection of a dispensational interpretation of Scripture, final judgement, and our eternal future) these differences are a relatively minor issue, in my opinion... though I know to many it is a major problem.
The way I see it, the disagreement over the timing of the "Millenium" between the amillenial and Historic premillenial positions is purely academic. From a practical standpoint, we agree on just about everything right up until Christ returns. Presumably, we also agree that at that point we will know pretty much immediately which interpretation of Revelation 20 was correct! Neither view has any bearing whatsoever on our responsibility to live in such a way that seeks to bring Christ glory in all we do, making disciples of all nations as we look forward to His promised return!
Highly recommended reading for all Christians. As for me, I am certainly looking forward to reading Venema's more detailed treatment in "The Promise of the Future" at some point in the future. Unless, of course, Jesus comes back first!
Where the original volume contained sixteen chapters divided into six parts, this book has just twelve chapters. It may be easiest to trace the author's argument by simply listing the chapter titles:
* The Future is Now
* The Future Between Death and Resurrection
* The Future of Christ
* The Future Marked by "Signs of the Times"
* The Future Marked by Signs of Antithesis and of Impending Judgment
* The Future of the Kingdom: Four Millennial Views
* The Future of the Kingdom: Revelation 20
* The Future of the Kingdom: An Evaluation of Millennial Views
* The Future of All Things: The Resurrection of the Body
* The Future of All Things: The Final Judgment
* The Future of All Things: The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment
* The Future of All Things: The New Heavens and Earth
Time would fail me, of course, to describe the nuances of the author's argument--the particulars of his views in each of these areas. After all, the various eschatological views, which seem to be just about as numerous as the number of Christians, often depend on small distinctions of interpretation. As with his earlier volume, Venema leans towards an "optimistic amillennialism." His evaluation of the four millennial views is fair, I believe, and he goes to great lengths to describe their beliefs accurately. When he considers the resurrection, the final judgment, eternal punishment and other such issues, he comes down squarely on the side of biblical orthodoxy, speaking out harshly against annihilationism and universalism, and affirming the reality of judgment. He looks constantly to Scripture to defend all that he teaches.
This is a very readable, enjoyable and biblical examination of what the Bible teaches about the last things. Dr. Venema has crafted a careful, nuanced book that covers the topic well but also briefly enough that it avoids becoming bogged down in detail. While he defends the amillennial view, he offers information that will help anyone, regardless of his eschatology, to better understand what is to come. It will help every reader better understand what the Scriptures teach about the end of this age and the age to come. I recommend it for any reader.
Those who are seeking more detail about the nuances of his argument may wish to read these reviews by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. and Keith Mathison . Even better, buy it and read it for yourself. This book will make a great addition to your library.