As we cross the threshold from one millennium to the next, prophecy experts seem to be at the forefront, interpreting current events and predicting what the future will bring. Countless television and radio programs are broadcasted into homes, and thousands of books are circulated around the globe, offering advice regarding how Christians should prepare for the End.
The practice of predicting future events is not new. As Walter Klaassen’s recent book on eschatology observes, there is
nothing new under the sun in the field of end-time calculations. In virtually every era of Christian history, people have concerned themselves with the future. While countless predictions offered throughout history have not been fulfilled, this has not discouraged persons at some later date from trying their hand at calculating what the next year, decade or century may bring.
The abundance of unfulfilled predictions, however, has left many serious-minded Christians skeptical about end-time discussions. Such discussions seem irrelevant at best, and superstitious or heretical at worst.
While critical of the forecasters of our time, Klaassen argues in his book that eschatology is not a dispensable aspect of Christian faith. In his view a basic confession of the church is that Christ will come again. He offers a critique, not only of the forecasters of popular religion and culture, who try to force-fit the Scriptures into some kind of preconceived premillennial framework, but also of those Christians who would rather understand their faith exclusively in this-worldly terms.
The first half of the book seeks to analyze the ideas and interpretive methods of today’s popular forecasters; the second half is devoted to constructing an alternative eschatology. A major premise in this latter section is that the question of
when is unanswerable, and that setting the time of the End is completely up to God. A further premise is that any faithful and scriptural interpretation concerning the future must take into account the fullness of the gospel, a view that represents the heart of the traditional teaching of the church, where the Bible is allowed to interpret itself.
The book makes a valuable contribution to the topic of eschatology. The author’s critique of premillennial views is detailed and comprehensive—perhaps more than necessary. Klaassen’s own construction effectively avoids narrow interpretations of Scripture. The apocalyptic books of the Bible are read and interpreted in light of other major themes in the Scriptures. The topic of eschatology is skillfully woven together with other central theological themes in Christian theology, such as God, Jesus Christ, creation, salvation and ecclesiology.
Like all interpreters of Scripture, Klaassen does not entirely avoid reading the biblical text through a particular interpretive lens. His reading is shaped by the biblical tradition that focuses on the kingdom of God—a theme that the popular forecasters seem to avoid. Klaassen takes up the prophetic notions of the kingdom in the Old Testament and links them with New Testament notions as understood in Jesus Christ. In his view, it is the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ which supplies the meaning of the End.
From those central realities, all the rest of the future derives any significance it has. Klaassen insists that
the events of the End have to be interpreted in the light of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ (202).
This point of view ultimately leads the author to question popular descriptions of a violent God, who ushers in an
Armageddon filled with violence and destruction. Readers sympathetic to Anabaptist-Mennonite perspectives will find this perspective insightful, for it exposes a serious problem in the theology of the premillennial forecasters; namely, that their conception of the Divine appears to have little in common with the God whom Jesus invited humanity to trust and love. Klaassen maintains that our eschatological visions must be consistent with the
peaceable kingdom, which God has inaugurated in Jesus Christ.
I found Armageddon and the Peaceable Kingdom an accessible and comprehensive study concerning how Christians should view the future. We can be grateful to Walter Klaassen for his contribution to an important topic of our time.