A-1 - Encouraged by What You Read?

One of the most controversial topics that the Bible addresses is eschatology. This theological term literally means the study of last things—popularly known as end times. Scripture speaks of both humankind’s past origin in creation as well as our future destiny in consummation. Yet rightly interpreting and properly understanding what the Bible teaches about the end of the world has proved difficult and controversial in church history.

A few years ago I wrote a short book on the topic of eschatology titled Christian Endgame: Careful Thinking about the End Times. One of the central themes of the book is that when Christian leaders engage in excessive speculation about the timing of Christ’s return and actually set dates (which are inevitably wrong), they damage Christianity’s credibility in the eyes of nonbelievers. So when eschatology is handled irresponsibly by Christ’s followers, it becomes an apologetics issue (an apparent challenge to the faith).

Some time ago, a person read my book and made several respectful but somewhat challenging comments about some of my conclusions concerning Christian eschatology. Since these comments likely reflect the thought of many evangelical Christians today about the end times, I decided to share both the comments and my responses to them.

I appreciate that the person read my book and was willing to express their thoughts and reactions to it. To respect the person’s privacy, I have reworded the comments to reflect more general statements.

Comment #1: “I am convicted on the basis of God’s Word that we’re definitely living in the end times. There’s no doubt about it. Scripture seems very clear to me—I can read the signs of the times.”

Response: Your strong convictions might prove true. The Lord’s people rightly look forward to the Parousia (Second Coming). But I would suggest greater caution because the same sort of comments have been made by prophecy enthusiasts throughout church history. Many, unfortunately, went further and set dates that were wrong—causing nonbelievers to doubt the truth of the Christian faith. Just in the last 50 years alone, several prominent Bible teachers have set dates and acted, in my opinion, eschatologically irresponsible, and evangelical Christianity’s credibility suffered because of it.

By the way, according to various biblical scholars, the terms last days or end times can describe the entire period between Christ’s two advents. And as I’m sure you know, having strong eschatological convictions isn’t a guarantee that one is correct.

Comment #2: “Israel has become a nation and is presently surrounded by enemies that want to destroy it, which is clear evidence that the very last days are upon us.”

Response: Possibly, but again, prophecy teachers said the same thing in every decade since Israel became a nation in 1948 and have been wrong thus far. Also, what you call “clear evidence” is only true if a popular form of premillennialism is the correct eschatological perspective. But many of Christianity’s classical theologians (AthanasiusAugustineAquinasLutherCalvinWesley) held different eschatological views. Of course we’re free to disagree with these scholars, but I think historical theology plays a very helpful role in testing present-day theological-biblical interpretations.

Comment: #3: “There are currently a number of nations that have the nuclear weaponry to wipe humankind off the earth, and there are other hostile nations presently seeking such weapons.”

Response: You might find it interesting to know that RTB astrophysicist Jeff Zweerink has doubts about whether present-day nuclear weapons could unquestionably wipe all of humanity from the earth. Also, one could reasonably argue that the atomic and nuclear threats were more distressing during the Cold War (from the late 1940s through the late 1980s) than now. But you are correct in stating that the nuclear threat, especially among rogue nations today, is very concerning to Israel specifically, and to world peace, generally.

Comment #4: “I don’t see end times prophecy as a matter of interpretation. Much of what the Bible describes prophetically is happening right before our eyes.”

Response: All of the propositional content of Scripture must be interpreted. Only the Holy Spirit knows all the truth of Scripture intuitively. And as the apostle Peter notes, some people’s interpretations of Scripture are in fact wrong (2 Peter 3:16). So all of us must be careful. Moreover, if a person hasn’t studied all the major eschatological positions carefully, then that person should be even more cautious.

Mere Christian Eschatology

The Bible has a lot to say about end times prophecy, but interpreting what it says is not always easy. It is unfortunately true that eschatology is one of the most divisive areas in Christian theology. That is why my little primer on eschatology spends so much time emphasizing what we can all agree on. In my book, I call it “Mere Christian Eschatology” (see chapter 3), and I hope it helps Christians avoid unnecessary obstacles as we seek to bring nonbelievers to faith in Christ.

Resources

Kenneth Richard Samples, Christian Endgame: Careful Thinking about the End Times (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2013).

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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