I have heard for a while now that one of the most important books on the study of eschatology published in recent years is The Promise of the Future, by Cornelis Venema. My interest was further piqued upon reading this clever line from one of the book’s prominent reviewers:
“If all of today’s most popular books on the end times were suddenly raptured, The Promise of the Future” would likely be among those left behind.”
Unfortunately, the book’s hefty weight (and price tag) scared me off. Thankfully, the author was persuaded to publish an abridged version to be more accessible to people like me who aren’t quite ready to take the plunge into such an immense and thorough exploration of a single doctrinal subject. Christ and the Future is the result.
Even as an abridgement, this book is very intense. It is definitely the most Scripture-saturated eschatological study I’ve read. Venema explores the Bible’s teachings on both personal eschatology (what happens when we die) and general eschatology (Christ’s return and the future Kingdom).
In the former, he emphasizes the fact that all people are created for immortality, and will spend eternity in eternal communion with Christ or in eternal torment apart from Him. He details the Reformed teaching of the “intermediate state” (what happens to both believers and nonbelievers between death and resurrection), refuting the ideas of annihilationism (which teaches that some or all people simply cease to exist upon death) and “soul sleep” (which teaches that there is no conscious existence between death and resurrection because the soul cannot exist apart from the body).
General eschatology receives the greatest portion of the book, however. Venema devotes a chapter each to the certainty of Christ’s return, the “signs of the times”, judgement, the four most prominent views of the millenium (which is actually explored from different angles in three chapters), resurrection of the body, the doctrine of eternal punishment, and the new heavens & earth. At each point, he fairly and accurately represents contrasting viewpoints, while clearly and firmly stating the case for his own beliefs. I won’t go into a point-by-point analysis here, but I will sum up Venema’s position and my reflections on it.
Venema writes from a “Reformed Amillenial” perspective. He contrasts this with “Golden Age Postmillenialism”, “Dispensational Premillenialism”, and “Historical Premillenialism” (which has been my view). It is at this point that I must confess to a previous gap in my theological study, which I am now working to remedy. I have never given myself to much study of opposing viewpoints, or to Scriptural critiques of my own. This is something I really need to do more often, as it is necessary for responsible scholarship.
While I won’t go so far as to say that I have been “converted” to amillenial thinking, I will say that my previous understanding of the amillenial position was terribly misinformed. At many (perhaps even most) points, the difference between Venema’s views and my own are negligible, which I did not expect. In fact, the only major point of contention in Biblical interpretation is Revelation 20. When compared to all the places in which we agree (personal eschatology for believers and non-believers, the possible imminent return of Christ, complete rejection of a dispensational interpretation of Scripture, final judgement, and our eternal future) this is a relatively minor issue, in my opinion… though I know to many it is a major problem.
The way I see it, the disagreement over the timing of the “Millenium” between the amillenial and Historic premillenial positions is purely academic. Essentially, we agree on just about everything right up until Christ returns. Presumably, we also agree that at that point we will know pretty much immediately which interpretation of Revelation 20 was correct! Neither view has any bearing whatsoever on our responsibility to live in such a way that seeks to bring Christ glory in all we do, making disciples of all nations as we look forward to His promised return!
Highly recommended reading for all Christians. As for me, I am certainly looking forward to reading Venema’s more detailed treatment in The Promise of the Future at some point in the future. Unless, of course, Jesus comes back first!
Buy Christ and the Future here.