Well, I’m about to make some dispensationalists mad, but here I go. This is a book review I did for my Eschatology class. The book is called The Bible and The Future by Anthony Hoekema. I hope you enjoy.
The Bible and The Future: A Review of the Book by Anthony A. Hoekema
This book has a total of 20 chapters divided into two parts. The first six chapters are part one entitled “Inaugurated Eschatology.” The last fourteen chapters are part two entitled “Future Eschatology.”
In Chapter One, Hoekema discusses the eschatological outlook of the Old Testament. He does this by looking at several concepts throughout the Old Testament. The first is that of the expectation of a coming redeemer. Then he discusses the concept of the kingdom of God, the new covenant, the restoration of Israel, the outpouring of the Spirit, the day of the Lord, and the new heavens and the new earth. All of these are concepts with which the Old Testament discusses.
In Chapter Two, the nature of New Testament Eschatology is discussed. It is apparent that some of the Old Testament expectations have been fulfilled, but not all of them. As Hoekema notes, there is a tension between the “already” and “not yet.” Hoekema sums up the nature of New Testament eschatology in three observations: (1) the great eschatological event predicted in the Old Testament has happened; (2) what the Old Testament writers seemed to depict as one movement is now seen to involve two stages; the present age and the age of the future; and (3) the relation between these two eschatological stages is that the blessings of the present age are the pledge and guarantee of greater blessings to come.
The Meaning of History is then discussed in Chapter Three. Hoekema examines two views regarding this: that of the Greeks regarding cyclical history and that of the atheistic existentialist. Both views, Hoekema says, are incompatible with Christianity. He makes five points regarding the Christian interpretation of history: (1) History is a working out of God’s purposes; (2) God is the Lord of history; (3) Christ is the center of history; (4) The new age has already been ushered in; and (5) All of history is moving toward a goal, the new heavens and the new earth.
In Chapter Four, the kingdom of God is discussed. Hoekema makes the very important point that according to the very words of John the Baptist, the kingdom of God began when Jesus began his ministry and yet has not reached it’s ultimate fulfillment in the new heavens and the new earth.
Chapter Five discusses the Holy Spirit and Eschatology. Hoekema starts by listing the role of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament in three ways: (1) The Holy Spirit will prepare the way for the inbreaking of the final eschatological age by certain prophetic signs; (2) The Spirit is said to be the one that will rest upon the coming redeemer and equip him with the necessary gifts; and (3) The Spirit appears as the source of the future new life of Israel, including both material blessings and ethical renewal. A summary of the rest of the chapter is best summed up by quoting the last paragraph in the chapter. “…In the possession of the Spirit we who are in Christ have a foretaste of the blessings of the age to come, and a pledge and guarantee of the resurrection of the body…”
In Chapter Six, Hoekema elaborates more on the tension between the already and the not yet. He says it is characterized by what we often call “signs of the times” and that the church is involved in this tension. However, the tension should be an incentive for responsible Christian living and that our self-image should reflect this tension. This tension also helps us understand the role of suffering in that of believers and it affects our attitude toward culture.
Hoekema then launches into part two of his work focusing now on Future Eschatology. Unfortunately, because of the fourteen-chapter weight of part two, we can only discuss some of the more important issues. The focus of Hoekema’s work seems to lie in his ammillenialism. He begins this focus by examining some major millennial views and then spends some time critiquing dispensational premillenialism. His first point is that dispensationalism fails to do full justice to the unity of biblical revelation. He also believes that the teaching in dispensationalism that Israel and the Church are two separate entities is in error. He notes that the Old Testament does not teach that there will be a future millennial earthly kingdom nor does it teach a millennial restoration of Jesus to their land, but maintains that most of the passages in the Old Testament that talk about this are talking about the new heaven and the new earth. He also maintains that their belief in the postponement of the kingdom is not supported by Scripture nor is the belief of salvation after Christ returns. In short, Hoekema rejects dispensational millennialism because he rejects dispensationalism of which he does not agree.
Hoekema begins the next chapter by explaining ammillenialism, his belief. He supports the progressive parallelism view of the book of Revelation. Using this background he exegetes Revelation 20:1-6, the only place in the Bible that mentions the millennium. Because of the progressive parallel view that Hoekema takes, Revelation 20:1 would take us back to the beginning of the New Testament era. Hoekema does not take the word “thousand” literally, but rather symbolically standing simply for a long period of time. The binding of Satan is that of Satan not being able to any longer deceive Gentile nations as he did before the first coming of Christ and Hoekema points to the Great Commission as support for this. In that, Christians are commanded tomake disciples of the nations.
This book’s strengths lie in its exhaustive search of the Bible. Whether or not one agrees with Hoekema or not, he does indeed present his argument well. A major strength is that he takes the time to look at the Old Testament eschatological outlook as well as the New Testament. This is where I think that dispensational premillennialists have not done a very good job. He also does a very good job in his chapter on the different views of millennial systems of presenting other’s arguments well and not mischaracterizing them. A weakness of the book is that he offers only one critique of biblical systems other than his own and he does so before he presents his own view, and that seems to be more of a critique of dispensationalism than premillenialism (although I do understand that the two complement each other). It seems much more consistent to present your own view and then offer critiques of others. He spent little to no time on postmillenialism.
However, he does focus on the one dominating millennial view here in his own country of America, that of dispensationalism. That is strength; particularly that he offered an entire chapter to it. In this way, it also contributes very well to current eschatological thought.
As far as my own personal views are concerned, I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church where dispensationalism is the theology taught. Upon leaving the south in order to go to school, I have been challenged by my reformed leanings to dismiss dispensationalism as in error. It is much easier said than done. Dispensationalism has its strong points, but I do agree with Hoekema that it fails to do full justice to biblical revelation. I think that dispensationalism divides things that should not be divided, things such as the church and Israel. I see more unity in covenant theology, but I would not go as far as to say that I am fully persuaded. I have often described myself as a “covenant dispensationalist” because I do see truth in both. It has also been my observation that a great deal of dispensational thought relies heavily on eschatology. I think that dispensational theology is mostly in error here. I believe that Hoekema is correct in his observation that the teaching of the division of Israel and the Church is in error although, as I mentioned, I am not ready to “sell out” to a belief where all the covenants apply to the church either. I agree with Hoekema that the Bible does not teach a future millennial reign of Christ and I hesitantly agree with him on his assessment of the meaning of the word “thousand.” I do wish that there were some more compelling evidence as to the meaning of that word.
I have often marveled at the hyper-literalness approach to the book of Revelation by dispensationalists and their ability to determine what is symbolic and what is not. As Hoekema says, the only place the Bible mentions the millennium is in one place in Scripture and somehow that one mention, I believe has been distorted into something that it is not.
I heartily agree with Hoekema regarding his non-belief of the postponement of the kingdom of God. I believe that the Bible was very clear through the words of John the Baptist and of Jesus that the kingdom of God started a long time ago and is not simply a future manifestation, a sort-of pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by. By emphasizing that, I think that the belief can lend itself to a sort-of delayed materialism where we are more concerned with our laying up of treasures in heaven for our own benefit and pleasure in the afterlife rather than being concerned with becoming an influence here on earth.
I very much enjoyed Hoekema’s book because I have found myself leaning that direction. I like the fact that he took the time to examine what the Old Testament says as well as the New Testament and the time to properly explain terms in their proper context. Prophecy and apocalyptic literature are subjects that many so-called scholars seem to not be so knowledgeable about. Prophecy should not be treated as something in the future but also as a genre of literature and as that it should be properly understood.
In summary, I would heartily recommend Hoekema’s book to anyone who has an interest in the ammillenial point of view. It is very scholarly written and deserves to be heard, especially in this country where the opposite view so prominently exists.