Building an Eschatological Library
Few doctrines of the Bible receive more attention among evangelicals today than the second coming of Christ. His return is a foundational doctrine of the historic Christian faith, as we see in its embodiment in the great ecumenical creeds of the church, such as the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. Consequently, study of this doctrine well deserves our time.
Unfortunately though, the second advent is more deeply loved and firmly believed than biblically understood and accurately proclaimed. Evangelicals too often tend to have a “zeal without knowledge” when approaching this great biblical theme. This is especially tragic in that properly comprehending it is vitally important for framing in a Christian worldview. After all, it exalts the consummate glory of his redemptive victory, completes God’s sovereign plan for history, and balances a full-orbed theology of Scripture.
In the church today we have five basic eschatological positions. In order to better understand eschatology it serves the serious student of Scripture well to read the best presentations. The evangelical market is absolutely flooded with trite, disoriented, unsystematized studies of the doctrine. Indeed, if you took the most popular books on eschatology and lined them up end-to-end, it would be a good thing. They need to be gotten off our bookshelves.
In order to encourage deeper study of eschatology, I would recommend the following books as the best representatives of each system.
The two leading amillennial works currently available are very clear and concise. They are:Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003).
Cornelis P. Venema, The Promise of the Future (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2000).
Venema’s is the larger, more balanced, and better of the two works. But both of them deserve attention and should be in the library of anyone doing serious study in the field of eschatology.
Because of the dominance of dispensationalism in the book-buying market, the older form of premillennialism — known as historic premillennialism — does not have as many current advocates as one might think. Nevertheless, two books which admirable present this viewpoint are:
Craig L. Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung, eds., A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to “Left Behind” Eschatology (Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2009).
Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology, vol. 3: Spirit-Given Life: God’s People Present and Future (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994).
I would note that Blomberg and Chung’s work recognizes the problem of getting a hearing for saner versions of the premillennial system by providing its sub-title: “An Alternative to “Left Behind” Eschatology.”
Dispensationalism owns the eschatological market, selling millions of books. In fact, the book-buying evangelical is so enamored with this viewpoint that it does not care whether the books are careful studies or exciting novels, as we can see in the enormous sales of the novel series Left Behind. Dispensationalism suffers terribly from embarrassing advocates, who seem always concerned to predict the rapture and name the Antichrist. Yet standard dispensationalism does have some able advocates, as we see in these two books:
Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (2d. ed.: Chicago: Moody, 1995).
Paul Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy (2d. ed.: Chicago: Moody, 2006).
The reader can sense Ryrie’s dismay as he ministers to his large market: he not only has to debate non-premillennial advocates but also historic premillennialists, hyper-dispensationalists, and progressive dispensationalists. Such is the nature of this popular but mutating system. Very few of the books published by dispensationalists today are careful, academic works.
Dispensationalism has suffered a severe brain-drain. As the televangelists have dominated the dispensational market, making more bizarre and grandiose claims, and as the other eschatological positions have hammered away at dispensationalism, the brighter advocates of dispensationalism have created a new version of the system. Progressive dispensationalism accepts many of the standard features of eschatology and reduces the more innovative elements of the system.
Two leading presentations of this new, academic version of dispensationalism include:
Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Wheaton, Ill. BridgePoint, 1993
Robert L. Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism: The Interface Between Dispensational & Non-Dispensational Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1993).
Of course, the favored view of this website is that which gives its name to our site: postmillennialism. This eschatological position is the only one of the five major views (three of which are variants of premillennialism) that presents an optimistic outlook on the progress of history before Christ’s return.
Two leading presentations of postmillennialism are:
Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology (3d ed.: Draper, Vir.: ApologeticsGroup, 2009).
Keith A. Mathison, Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1999).
My work, He Shall Have Dominion, is more thorough — weighing in at over 600 pages. But Mathison’s work is more accessible to the broader market, due to its smaller size and less footnoting.
If you are serious about studying and comparing each of the millennial systems, these are the books you really need to have in your library. These are not the only books available, but they are the leading presentations.