Monday, March 8, 2010

In God's Time Book Review

Apocalyptic fervor among Christians is reaching an all time high. With the immense popularity of the Left Behind Series, coupled with the imminent end of the world in 2012, the desire for a road map to the future has officially ascended to a level that surpasses anything we have ever seen.

In his excellent book In God’s Time, Craig C. Hill carefully guides us through the many diverse interpretations of apocalyptic literature in the Scriptures, and provides a way forward for Christians who are serious about sound hermeneutics. Hill opens his book by emphasizing that fundamentalism does not own eschatology. This point becomes even more important as you make your way through the book, because it becomes clear that Hill is directly arguing against a hermeneutic of interpreting futuristic passages in Scripture as though they could not possibly have a historical counterpart. Understanding the historical context, and varied nature of historical interpretation of apocalyptic passages in Scripture gives the interpreter a well-rounded view of the possible meanings of passages in question. If
Daniel and Revelation can be read not as guide maps to the future, but rather as carefully crafted literature that speaks to the historical context in which Christians are suffering the interpretation and meaning of those passages could be freed from narrow fundamentalist understandings.

Hill is correct in pointing out that eschatology in Scripture is not always unanimous. Varied positions, and perspectives grounded in historical context should be expected. Hill carefully traces eschatology throughout the Scriptures, and rightly points out that eschatology is not always about the future that cannot be changed, and is most certainly not about some far off distant land, which would be indiscernible to the original hearers.

In this book the reader is given a clear alternative to interpretations of the book of Revelation that rely completely on a futuristic interpretation. Revelation must be read in its proper context as apocalyptic literature, which always functions as the literature of the oppressed. Revelation must be firmly grounded in its historical context in order to be properly understood. Hill is careful to note that the pendulum normally swings between two extremes when interpreting Revelation:

“We are prone to domesticate Revelation in one of two ways. The first is to strip the book of its historical context, decoupling Revelation from the first century and viewing it as a timeless guidebook to the Last Days, which coincidentally happen to be our days… The opposite tack is to limit the book to its Roman context, assuming that to explain Revelation is to be done with Revelation. No enduring insights are met, no ongoing questions entertained. The book is tamed and our world goes happily undisturbed.” (Page 111)

If we are to properly understand apocalyptic literature in Scripture we must ensure that our understandings are firmly grounded in historical context, while at the same time realizing that Revelation has a significant message for us today.

I thoroughly enjoyed Hill’s book, however, as with all works there are inherent weaknesses. I disagree with Hill on some of the stances he takes on Biblical authorship, and his binary understanding between the Gospels, Jesus, and Paul. Christian Eschatology is multifaceted in Scripture, with different authors giving us a different viewpoint to the future. These viewpoints are to be expected, celebrated, and understood as giving us a multi-dimensional look at the future plans of God for our world. God’s kingdom is both here and not yet, causing the tension that we live with in Scripture today. That tension is clear in both the Gospels, and Paul where each author struggles with here and not yet manifestation of the Kingdom of God.

In God’s Time is an excellent book, and I recommend it for any serious student of eschatology.

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