Book Review: The Last Things

Thiselton The Last Things

Anthony Thiselton is a name familiar to some, and probably not that familiar to many readers of this blog. Personally, he has been a great inspiration and professor, his module on Systematic theology last year (the last undergraduate module he ever taught, sadly!) was brilliant at painting afresh the dogma and the drama of Christian orthodoxy, and his books on Hermeneutics and Paul have been massively helpful to me.

First up, the reasoning and context behind the book bears careful consideration. Thiselton suffered a major stroke, which left his colleagues, fellow theologians, students and others concerned for his health – and future voice in theological discussion. He recovered, fortunately, and has produced this book. Discussion of the last things, of eschatology, has reached the level of critical in the church. Thiselton also engages with heaven, hell, death and resurrection – touching on issues raised by the Love Wins controversy, and put in challenging and fantastic terms in N.T.Wright’s superb “Surprised by Hope“.

The “Blurb” on the back of the book reads thusly; “Anthony Thiselton is one of the world’s greatest living hermeneutical thinkers. Following a near-fatal stroke, he embarked on a detailed study of the Bible’s teaching on eschatology. The result is a book that is at once scholarly and personal, faithful to Christian tradition yet full of fresh exegetical and theological insights”. That sets the tone. Lets go into the book and explore why you should read this book.

Fundamentally, this is a book aimed at scholars, teachers, preachers and those desirous of an advanced understanding of these kinds of issues. The entire book is written in Thiselton’s inimitable style – conversational yet causually and insightfully referencing, quoting and engaging with great thinkers of different fields and traditions with great ease – and the bibliograph reads like a pretty comprehensive selection of texts! The way in which the Biblical authors are brought in and the divine word given voice is superb – all the while in the context of an intellectually rigorous and fundamentally intelligent piece of writing.

Unlike recent popular books, Thiselton does not compromise on the character, will and nature of God – yet engages fully and clearly with differing persepctives. One of the most interesting – and arguably unexpected – chapters was the one engaging with the sacraments as aspects of covenant – which Thiselton effortlessly weaves into his overall argument. Great emphasis is made, too, on the way in which the somewhat thorny issues of “expectation” and “waiting” are engaged with – issues that a causal reading of the New Testament can leave a reader very confused by! There is much to commend in even the trickiest of subjects – Hell – as Thiselton writes, hopefully and with a great respect;  No-one can reshape the Christian message as he or she pleases. On this subject, we can only commit our uncertainties to God in his sovereign love“. This is not to say that Thiselton abandons an orthodox view of things – only that he is clear to stress, artfully and comprehensively, just how overwhelming God is both Sovereign AND Loving. 

Thiselton, by and large, provides masterful summaries and conclusions in this work about the variety of different views on the various topics he engages with. The scope of this book is genuinely comprehensive – which is one of the greatest strengths and ‘selling points’ – engaging even with the views of various stereotyped and much-maligned American Conservative Christians. As a former student of Thiselton, I recognized and appreciated the teaching ability of his writing – he clarifies ideas and indeed entire traditions very well, and very clearly. For the thinking lay person, this book is an excellent gateway into some of the murkiest and most muddled waters of Christian theology.

A great theme of the Vineyard is of course God’s Kingdom in the world. This book helps round out and understand many of the hints and themes of such theology – and I look forward to reading Simon Ponsonby’s “And The Lamb Wins” (Which I purchased at great value from Vineyard Records bookstall!) which is a more popular and different approach to similar issues. Eschatology is vitally important – this book by Thiselton is incredibly relevant, needed and useful – and I heartily commend this book to those with a serious interest in such things. One word of warning – with the scope of ideas and approaches that Thiselton engages with, this book is not for the faint-hearted – or those averse to footnotes!

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