A Book Review
By Darold Morgan
[Dr. Darold Morgan is President Emeritus of the Annuity Baord of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The New Millennium Manual
By Robert G. Clouse, Robert N. Hosack, and Richard V. Pierard. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1999. Paper $12.95.]
Here is must reading for anyone interested in the millennial issues which are now making headlines. Tied in with an effective historical overview of millennial theology are the inescapable ethical issues which result from some obvious applications.
The current Y2K crisis for our computer-driven economy, now nearing the twenty-first century, has produced a veritable army of evangelical alarmists who are preying on the fears of uncounted individuals. Many of these are quite possibly sincere in their beliefs. The results, however, are a strange combination of some questionable (though highly profitable) business ventures related to an escalation of eschatological frenzy that will inevitably run into a crashing dead-end.
This book, the New Millennium Manual, has a distinct calming effect to the sincere Bible student. It combines an excellent historical overview of millennial theology with a generous dose of common sense. It will be effective in countering the histrionics of the current "millennial madness." And at the same time the sincere student of end-times trends will discover in these three authors' approach a balanced, sensible, timely direction which is urgently, I think desperately, needed.
Some of the strengths of "The New Millennium Manual" are: (1) Its format is refreshing and readable. (2) The use of illustrations and cartoons adds to the reader's enjoyment. (3) Though there are three authors, there is throughout the book an obvious unity in style, content, and conclusions. Let's face it--eschatological theology can be both controversial and cantankerous. These authors avoid both pitfalls. (4) They present clearly and even-handedly the outlines and backgrounds of the various millennial positions with the unspoken assumption that the reader is responsible for choosing his or her own direction. (5) An additional plus of this book is the very helpful background of each millennial concept from the early days of Christian theology to the current frenzy being whipped up by some of the "terminal generation" zealots. From Augustine's adoption of the amillennial position to Hal Lindsey's contributions of a colorful and debatable dispensationalism, these authors delve into the extremes and norms of end-time theology. They touch upon the sexual promiscuity of David Koresh and the Branch Davidian movement, theblatant racism of some of the para-military movements which have an apocalyptic overtone, and the exorbitant monetary rewards in Hal Lindsey's publishing enterprises. They believe one needs to be aware of the abnormal movements as well as the more normal ones embracing the sincere hope for the soon return of Jesus to this world. It is all a part of understanding what they call "apocalyptic madness."
Their fresh and succinct handling of the varied approaches of millenial theologies really come down to this: this book is mandatory reading for serious Bible students. Premillenialism, post-millennialism, amillennialism, and dispensational millennialism are reviewed briefly but objectively and helpfully. Dispensationalism comes in for the most extensive treatment perhaps because it is the most vocal of all the positions. Dispensationalist views about Israel, their insistence on biblical literalism and inerrancy when it serves their purposes, and the on-going Near East political crises have contributed much to the current debate about millenial issues.
It comes as no surprise to discover that the "date-setters" in eschatological events are as old as Christian theology itself. An additional conclusion comes inescapably: nothing seems to phase them. The Y2K crisis is simply fresh fuel for an old subject. This volume calmly approaches the end-time speculations of several highly publicized figures today such as Pat Robertson, Billy Graham, Hal Lindsay, Tim LaHaye, and others. Much of their concern here is directed toward the wider impact of the influence of these teachings on the "international, social, political and cultural landscape." (p. 137.)
The authors' treatment of millennialism as a worldwide phenomenon is especially valuable. They trace "the development of American political and moral destiny within a religious framework" with Ronald Reaganbeing the prime example as a secular exponent of civil milllennialism. Whether or not one agrees with their conclusions, the reader can hardly ignore these provocative insights. Fascism, communism, Islamic millennialism, Catholic apocalypticism, and occultic prophecy are examined from this eschatological point of view. It makes for fascinating reading.
One of the finest quotations in the book (and there are many) is the excerpt from St. Augustine: "He who loves the coming of the Lord is not he who affirms it is far off, nor is it he who says it is near. It is he, who, whether it be far or near, awaits it with sincere faith, steadfast hope, and fervent love." This introduces the final chapter on the meaning of the millennium. The authors reflect a balanced philosophy and interpretation that not only results in an enhanced appreciation of the doctrine of the Lord's return, but it serves as an enlightening guide in this field of thought where many extremes abound.
Eschatology is a vital part of biblical truth, but its powerful edge has been often blunted by radical extremism. This book reaffirms the ultimate triumph of God, moderates the excessive emphasis placed by the dispensationalists on current events, puts in focus the peculiarities of religious nationalism, and wisely dampens the current millennial madness. With refreshing candor in this unusual doctrinal setting, the authors conclude with a strong call for justice, peace, equality, and stewardship. These, they say, should be the natural outworking of a dynamic faith in Jesus Christ as Lord who, in God's time, is coming again!