Why We Should—and Can—Teach and Preach Eschatology

St. John of Patmos, Gustave Doré

 

Walter Kaiser Jr. is a renowned Old Testament scholar, and this month his book Preaching and Teaching the Last Things is free. You can also get two others by him for $3 and $4. (And if I remember right, the $4 one was a textbook I found quite helpful in seminary.)

But when there is so much to read, why invest time reading about preaching and teaching a controversial topic like eschatology?

Kaiser actually speaks to this in the book’s introduction.

1. End times passages are there for our instruction

Taking down common objections to teaching and preaching eschatology—such as it being too difficult or inciting too much speculation and division—Kaiser reminds us why we preach anything in the Bible:

Why is prophecy and the study of ‘last things’ so often demeaned by some, when our Lord saw fit to include material of this doctrine amounting to almost one half of the Bible? We need the teaching of the whole counsel of God if we are to be fully equipped for every good work.” (Emphasis mine. See 2 Tim 3:16–17)

Not only does eschatology make up a large portion of Scripture (to avoid it would be to avoid much of God’s counsel), but God put it there for our instruction. As the apostle Peter says:

We have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Pet 1:18–19)

God has spoken. He tells us to listen and affirms he will bring understanding “as to a light in a dark place.” When we say eschatology is too confusing to be of much use, we demean God’s revelation.

Further, we demean our own competency.

2. We are competent to understand and teach end times passages

Kaiser reminds us that we do have competency—both spiritual and hermeneutical—to interpret eschatological passages.

On spiritual competency, he quotes Paul:

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter [not the graphē, “writing,” but “letterism”] kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor 3:5–6)

Has God not equipped us with the Spirit to understand what he has spoken? Of course, he has.

He has also equipped us with a sufficient understanding of how language works. Kaiser writes:

Others might complain that we are not always sure how we should interpret prophetic passages, for we have heard that these types of texts must be spiritualized or allegorized if we wish to hear them correctly. However, it is always best to begin by taking the words of the text in their natural sense unless we see a signal, found in the text itself, that the words are meant in a figurative or typological sense. If one sees the words “as” or “like,” then we are assured that a “simile” or a “parable” is being offered, for it wishes to make a direct comparison between the subject and the abstract truth it points to.

However, if there are no words such as “as” or “like,” and yet an animate subject is being put with an inanimate description, then it most likely is an unexpressed comparison, called a metaphor, or if made into a larger story or developed more extensively, it is an allegory. Such are some of the rules of figurative language, rules that are not invented as we go, but are clearly part of all writing and speaking, which can be identified, defined, and illustrated in classical and biblical sources.

In short: interpreting prophetic writing is not guesswork. There is plenty interpretive history to go on to arrive at a tenable interpretation. (There is also, Kaiser reminds us, plenty of ancient history that aligns with biblical prophecy.)

So why teach and preach the last things? Because God has revealed them for our instruction, and he has given us the Spirit and skills of language to comprehend them.

Even if in a mirror dimly.

Get Preaching and Teaching the Last Things free this month only.

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When Everything Seems in Ruins: Encouragement from C.S. Lewis

It’s C.S. Lewis week here at Faithlife! We’re celebrating the scholar’s life and writings, and with that, discounting the 30-volume C.S. Lewis Collection for one week only.

This guest post is from pastor and C.S. Lewis scholar Ryan Pemberton.

***

When I get called in to speak, it’s either on the topic of C. S. Lewis or calling. That’s about all I’m good for, I like to joke (half-jokingly). The best is when I can share a bit on both.

As a minister for university engagement in Berkeley, I’m often doing some combination of the two. And while C. S. Lewis is quoted as much as any other writer among Christians, it isn’t often that I see others looking to Lewis for wisdom on calling. But I’ve found him to be a helpful guide here, too.

While studying theology at Oxford, I had the privilege of serving as President of the Oxford University C. S. Lewis Society. Nowhere else was my feeling of Imposter Syndrome more acute.

One of the many perks of this role was the opportunity to meet scholars and those who knew Lewis during his life, and to hear firsthand stories of their experience with Lewis. One of the most memorable of those conversations was with Laurence Harwood, C. S. Lewis’s godson.

Laurence was tall and well dressed. He spoke in a calm voice, which peaked to excited high notes when he recalled what it was like to grow up with Lewis visiting his family’s home for dinner.

“I always loved it when Jack came around,” Laurence told us over dinner. “As children, we’d be playing games when he’d come over, and he’d get right down there with us on the floor, at our level. He was genuinely interested in what we were playing, and he’d play with us. Not in a condescending way. He’d always beat us, of course, but we really enjoyed him.”

Before our meal was finished, Laurence shared a difficult experience he faced during his own days as an Oxford student. He told us how, after being struck with double pneumonia, he did not pass his first-year’s preliminary exams, and therefore was not able to return for his second year. He received a letter from Lewis in response to hearing this news.

“At the moment, I can well imagine, everything seems in ruins,” Lewis wrote to Laurence. “That is an illusion.”

Lewis encouraged his godson neither to dwell on this seemingly bad news, nor to consider himself the victim of Oxford’s exam system, but rather to do his best to brush himself off and get on with life. He must trust that this would actually serve to save him much hard work and many years spent traveling in what very well might have been the wrong direction.

Lewis went on to explain that many people, if not most, find this to be one of life’s most difficult periods, struggling from failure to failure, as it had been for him:

Life consisted of applying for jobs which other people got, writing books that no one would publish and giving lectures that no one attended. It all looks hopelessly hopeless, yet the vast majority of us manage to get on somehow and shake down somewhere in the end. You are now going through what most people (at least most of the people I know) find, in retrospect to have been the most unpleasant period of their lives.

But it won’t last; the road usually improves later. I think life is rather like a bumpy bed in a bad hotel. At first you can’t imagine how you can lie on it, much less sleep on it. But presently one finds the right position and finally one is snoring away. By the time one is called it seems a very good bed and one is loath to leave it. (C. S. Lewis, My Godfather, 125)

For those of us standing on this side of Lewis’s remarkable success and achievements, it’s difficult to imagine his experience with self doubt and vocational struggles. And yet, knowing that Lewis struggled here can offer peace to those of us who are yet struggling with disappointment or questions. If nothing else, Lewis’s candid letter is a reminder that faithfulness to the One who calls, rather than to any particular call, is the true measure of success.

***

Ryan J. Pemberton, MA (Oxon), MTS (Duke Divinity School), is the minister for university engagement at First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley. He is the author of Called: My Journey to C. S. Lewis’s House and Back Again (Leafwood Publishers) and Walking With C. S. Lewis: A Spiritual Guide Through His Life and Writings (Lexham Press). Follow Ryan at @ryanjpemberton or RyanJPemberton.com.

For more C.S. Lewis insights, read the man himself. Grab the C.S. Lewis Collection for 30% off while you still can—the rare sale ends midnight Sept. 24.

Or check out the other posts in this series:

 

Photo by Elias Schupmann on Unsplash.

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F.F. Bruce, “Dean of Evangelical Scholars”

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One of the twentieth century’s most prolific scholars, Bruce penned more than 40 books spanning commentaries, church histories, and biblical theology—a dozen of which have been carefully selected for the F.F. Bruce Collection.

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About F.F. Bruce

In a time when the academic community looked down upon evangelicals, F.F. Bruce demonstrated that an evangelical could perform worthwhile academic work.

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These words from contemporary C.F.D. Moule provide a compelling picture of the mind and manner of F.F. Bruce:

I know no better example of uncompromising truthfulness wedded to that most excellent gift of charity: Fred Bruce always speaks the truth in love. Certainly the truth: he is one of the rare souls who actually do verify their references. What he says can be relied on to be correct—not that he needs to do much verification, for he is blessed with an exceptionally tenacious memory. On the granite rock of a thorough classical education (Gold Medallist in Latin and Greek at Aberdeen, senior classic of his year at Cambridge) he has built a formidable edifice of extensive and accurate learning.

About the F.F. Bruce Collection

This 12-volume collection makes many of Bruce’s writings available that were previously inaccessible to most Christians. It contains:

  • Select commentaries, including a pared-down version of his famous 1954 Acts commentary
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  • A delightful autobiographical account of Bruce’s childhood and career
  • Books on church history, biblical criticism, biblical theology, and more

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