From time to time I like to interrupt my preoccupation with my planned reading and engage with something that a friend has written, partly because it is from someone I know, and partly because the topic is so interesting. I’m also a fan of things being produced and disseminated digitally, where appropriate, so was delighted to recieve a copy of this latest Grove Booklet from and by my friend Ian Paul. Theologically, I am a charismatic, and particularly one who finds resonance in the Vineyard Movement. A key hallmark of that movement, and what I would say is a fundamental difference between us and other charismatic Christians, is our understanding of the Kingdom of God. If you’ve been around the Vineyard, or churches/movements influenced by it, I’d imagine you’d have heard the phrase ‘the now and not yet’ of the Kingdom of God. This is an eschatological framework, rooted in New Testament scholarship best exemplified by George Ladd and (differently) N.T. Wright, which seeks to make sense of the biblical stories of God’s kingdom breaking in, and the reality that it doesn’t always seem to happen.
Ian opens this little booklet with a bang, and the humble and arguably accurate observation that “many people find the subject of eschatology either baffling or exotic“. Grove Booklets, for those who haven’t encountered this form of publication before, are meant to be sane and balanced introductions to important topics. This is one in the ‘Biblical’ Series, and is a readable and comprehensive introduction to the thorny topic of the end of the world and the renewal of all things… This booklet is straightforwardly laid out – with a chapter on the Old Testament, a chapter on the Gospels and Acts, a chapter on Paul and Revelation, and a final chapter on the pastoral implications of a biblically informed theology of the Kingdom of God.
The biblical material is a brief but thorough journey through the three ‘chunks’ of the Bible, with a particular focus on language of Kingship in relation to God. I think Ian is right to close his Old Testament section with this great observation: “Prophetic expectation has moved into apocalyptic anticipation“. For those readers wondering if this is technical jargon, it is well explained, and serves as a good bit of writing to bridge into the section on the Gospels and Acts. In this second section Ian’s focus is on the Kingdom of God: “The primary vehicle by which the writers of the Synoptic gospels express this sense of fulfilment in Jesus’ ministry is by recording his proclamation of the ‘kingdom of God’“. The engagement with this proclamation is not divorced from the very real sense and reality of the Kingdom of God as not being fully present – reality dealt with in Scripture and for many of us a day to day experience. The section on the Gospels closes optmistically, and I could rest with this section for a while:
“At no point does any NT writer suggest that Jesus does anything other than fulfill all God’s promises in the OT. We might not yet see their complete fulfilment until his return – but it is his life, death and resurrection, and not some other historical events, which meet all our hopes”
The latter chapters of this booklet, those focusing on Eschatology in Paul and Revelation and the pastoral implications of all this, are perhaps the most useful and practical. Ian isn’t afraid to confront some of the more confusing aspects of the Kingdom of God – not least the fact that Paul in particular seems less concerned with the language of it! The in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, though, is writ large in Paul’s theology. As Ian notes, “[the] dynamic of past, present and future is evident in Paul’s language about salvation… tension… between past, present and future is expressed by Paul“. From a helpful discussion of Pauline theology and a brilliant whistlestop tour of the book of Revelation, Ian moves to some pastoral implications. Here, noting that “there are many aspects of Christian living which are affected by our understanding of eschatology and where misunderstanding creates serious obstacles both within the church and at the boundaries of faith“, we have a brief discussion of some controversial but important issues; End-Times Speculation (live a life worthy of your calling because you do not know when Jesus will return and cannot predict it!), Israel and the Land (not putting my interpretation of Ian’s suggested answer hear – buy and read the booklet!), Suffering, Healing and Answers to Prayer (“Worship and lament, kingdom and suffering, can only be held together by the ‘patient endurance’ that John commands“), Social Reform and Transhumanism (our salvation comes from beyond ourselves, and the end of the world comes by divine intervention), and Death and Post-mortem destiny:
“Our hope is not that God will restore or imitate our life and pattern of relationships, but that we will live a transformed bodily life in transformed relationships within a transformed and renewed creation”
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this little booklet – and am grateful to the author for giving me a copy. I’m often critical of books that I don’t like – so I hope the fact I got a free ride on this one doesn’t tar your view of my review. For a short, readable and biblically rooted look at the end of the world, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a more useful guide than this. Ian has done a great job walking through Scripture, myth-busting, and also offering some direction and trajectory for thinking through what a theological understanding of what the Bible says might mean for people following Jesus today.