Differences On The Millennium

Understanding Bible Prophecy, by Morris A. Inch (Harper & Row, 1977, 151 pp., $3.95 pb), Contemporary Options in Eschatology, by Millard J. Erickson (Baker, 1977, 192 pp., $7.95), and The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, edited by Robert G. Clouse (InterVarsity, 1977, 223 pp., $4.25 pb), are reviewed by Earl D. Radmacher, president and professor of systematic theology, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, Oregon.

The continuing publication of books on eschatology seems to indicate that the interest is more than just a passing fad. Perhaps it is a confirmation of the prediction by the late James Orr in the nineteenth century that eschatology, the one remaining undeveloped area of theology, would receive its major treatment in the twentieth century.

This spate of books on prophecy is not always met with enthusiasm, however, because the authors too often seem consumed with prediction. There is more concern with setting dates and establishing eschatological time charts than in promoting the changed life, which is the major purpose of prophecy. It is this practical value of prophecy to which Inch draws our attention in Understanding Bible Prophecy. He begins by stripping away the idea of prophecy as simple prediction and begins to develop its character as the revelation of God. “The heart of the prophet’s concern,” Inch stresses, “was not primarily emphasizing what might come to pass but who cradles life in his hands. God is the subject of the prophetic message … man is its target, and the message is an invitation to a creative relationship between the two.”

This would be an excellent volume for the beginning student of prophecy to gain a proper perspective before he digs into the heavier details of the predictive element. Each of the thirteen brief and easy-to-read chapters concludes with a stimulating set of questions for study and discussion.

For the thoroughly initiated student of prophecy Erickson fulfills a quite different purpose in Contemporary Options in Eschatology. Although theological conservatives have long had a consensus on many major points of eschatology, there has been considerable variation of interpretation respecting the rapture, “the great tribulation,” and the millennium. As crises multiply and as the glorious coming of Christ draws nearer, there seems to be a growing desire to examine the options more closely. Thus, Erickson’s students at Bethel Theological Seminary pressed him for “a course that would examine thoroughly and objectively the eschatological options extant in the circles in which they would one day minister.”

Article continues below

In order to place the “conservative options” in a broader context, however, Erickson in his first two chapters gives a succinct, yet helpful, summary of alternatives that generally fall outside the range of what is usually considered evangelical thought: consistent eschatology, realized eschatology, and existential eschatology, for example.

Moving to the primary area of concern—the millennial and tribulational positions—he follows a regular pattern: a brief overview of the position, its history, a more thorough examination of its major concepts and the arguments offered in support of them, and finally an evaluation of both positive and negative aspects of the position. Erickson is to be commended for the fair, balanced, and careful treatment he has given to each position. He avoids that all-too-common tactic of quoting the extreme representation of a position in order to discredit it. Rather, he seeks to put each view in the best light possible. For example, although Erickson is not a dispensationalist, any dispensationalist will be gratified to note his positive evaluation: “The first strength and benefit of the dispensational system is that it is a system. Second, the dispensationalist has attempted to take seriously the idea of progressive revelation and has developed a theology based upon it. Third, dispensationalism has attempted to be genuinely and thoroughly Biblical.”

The inherent weakness in this kind of comprehensive work is two-fold. First, you cannot be brief and thorough. Perhaps the book will whet the appetite for further study. I hope that it will not cause the reader to think he completely knows the position. Second, it seems virtually impossible to present another’s viewpoint as convincingly as one’s own.

This latter problem is nicely solved, however, in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views. “Historic Premillennialism,” “Dispensational Premillennialism,” “Postmillennialism,” and “Amillennialism” are presented by George Ladd, Herman Hoyt, Loraine Boettner, and Anthony Hoekema, respectively, along with an important integrating Introduction and Postscript by editor Robert Clouse, professor of history at Indiana State University. After each major essay the other three writers respond to it. On the lighter side, Ladd gets upset with Hoyt for labeling his view “the biblical view.” Likewise, Hoyt feels that it is untrue for Ladd’s position to be labeled “historic.” Again, Ladd almost refuses to respond to Boettner on the ground that “there is so little appeal to Scripture that I have little to criticize.” Hoekema responds to Hoyt that “… he nowhere gives us a specific exegesis of any Scripture passage … he simply gives scriptural references in parentheses.…” Hoekema concludes, with Ladd, that Boettner’s view “is not solidly based on Scripture.”

Article continues below

It is evident that historic premillennialism has much less in common with dispensational premillennialism than it does with amillennialism. Ladd states that “I am in agreement with practically all that Hoekema has written with the exception of his exegesis of Revelation 20.” Hoekema says that “There is indeed a great deal in Ladd’s essay with which I agree.… Our basic disagreement concerns the interpretation of Revelation 20:1–6.” Furthermore, Boettner concludes that “there is comparatively little difference between postmillennialism and amillennialism.”

What is it about Revelation 20:1–6 that makes it such a point of controversy? Ladd states it simply: “The passage makes perfectly good sense when interpreted literally.” Inasmuch as amillennialists and postmillennialists both prefer to spiritualize the passage and reject this literal interpretation, while dispensational premillennialists accept it, it would seem that this would be a uniting factor between historic and dispensational premillennialists. Yet, it is precisely this principle that divides them when applied to other prophetic passages. Ladd states: “Dispensational theory insists that many of the Old Testament prophecies predict the millennium and must be drawn in to construct the picture of Messiah’s millennial reign. This view is based upon the hermeneutic that the Old Testament prophecies must be interpreted literally.” In other words, the major criticism that Hoekema and Boettner use on Ladd’s interpretation of Revelation 20 is the criticism that Ladd uses on Hoyt and dispensational premillennialists. Furthermore, Boettner confirms that “It is generally agreed that if the prophecies are taken literally, they do foretell a restoration of the nation of Israel in the land of Palestine with the Jews having a prominent place in the kingdom.”

Article continues below

The crux of the problem then is literal interpretation (given the proper understanding of figurative language as a legitimate literary genre) as an exclusive or single hermeneutic as over against using literal interpretation normally but spiritualizing at times. It is this latter approach that brings Ladd into conflict with Hoekema and Boettner in Revelation 20 and with Hoyt in the Old Testament. One wonders on what basis the tested and tried control of literal interpretation is set aside. Ladd responds that “a millennial doctrine cannot be based on Old Testament prophecies but should be based on the New Testament alone” (italics mine).

Undoubtedly, many people will agree with Ladd, but Hoyt’s quotation of John Bright may cause others to reevaluate the legitimacy of building one’s doctrine of the millennium on the New Testament alone. Bright writes: “For the concept of the Kingdom of God involves, in a real sense, the total message of the Bible. Not only does it loom large in the teachings of Jesus; it is to be found in one form or another, through the length and breadth of the Bible.… Old Testament and New Testament thus stand together as the two acts of a single drama. Act I points to its conclusion in Act II, and without it the play is an incomplete, unsatisfying thing. But Act II must be read in the light of Act I, else its meaning will be missed. For the play is organically one. The Bible is one book. Had we to give that book a title, we might with justice call it ‘the Book of the Coming Kingdom of God’.”

I personally profited from reading these four authors. After reading all three books, I wanted to pick up a book that would consistently weave together the prophetic story from Genesis to Revelation. For me Stanley Ellisen’s Biography of a Great Planet (Tyndale, 1975) is such a book.

The Offense Of The Cross

Crucifixion, by Martin Hengel (Fortress, 1977, 99 pp., $4.50 pb), is reviewed by Streeter S. Stuart, professor of Greek and New Testament, United Wesleyan College, Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Martin Hengel, professor of New Testament theology and early Judaism at the University of Tübingen, has already shown that he is a master of historiography and descriptive biblical study; see especially his Judaism and Hellenism. This short volume on crucifixion is a translation and enlargement of an article published previously in a Festschrift for Ernst Käsemann. In twelve brief chapters Hengel takes the reader on a captivating journey through familiar and obscure Latin and Greek sources to show that crucifixion was nothing but contemptible in the ancient world and that the preaching of the cross of Christ was in effect the preaching of a most vile and despicable act, one that hardly befit a divine being. “A crucified messiah, son of God or God, must have seemed a contradiction in terms to anyone, Jew, Greek, Roman, or barbarian, asked to believe such a claim,” he says.

Article continues below

Hengel does not attempt to write a theology of the cross, nor does he need to His sources reveal crucifixion as an act of punishment reserved for slaves, social outcasts, political enemies, anarchists, foreigners, criminals, and robbers. The reason why we don’t know more about crucifixion in the ancient world, why we must piece the picture together as Hengel has done, is that it was so extreme a punishment and so repugnant that even the historians did not treat it in detail. Put that picture together with Paul’s preaching of the cross and you have all the cross theology you need.

Hengel corrects a number of misconceptions about crucifixion and takes several previous writers (particularly H. W. Kuhn) to task for either misrepresenting the sources or drawing conclusions from insufficient evidence. He is adamant in his claim that crucifixion was practiced widely but nonetheless abhorred in both the Roman and the Greek world. In his comments upon the docetic attempt to remove the “folly” of the cross, Hengel adds this note:

“It is time to stop talking about ‘gnosticism in Corinth.’ What happened in the community does not need to be explained in terms of the utterly misleading presupposition of a competing gnostic mission. This never existed, except in the mind of some interpreters. What happened in Corinth can easily be explained in terms of the Hellenistic (and Jewish) milieu of this Greek port and metropolis” (p. 18).

Moreover, Hengel accuses modern theologians of attempting to water down or blunt the offense caused by the preaching of the cross. He says, for instance:

“Separated from the particular death of Jesus on the cross the Pauline ‘word of the cross’ would become vague and incomprehensible speculation.… We must challenge the assertion made in the most recent investigation of the subject that ‘there is no direct route from the historical cross to theological talk of the “cross” ’ [so H. W. Kuhn], The one thing which made Paul’s preaching the offensive ‘word of the cross’ was the fact that in it the apostle interpreted the death of Jesus of Nazareth, i.e. of a specific man, on the cross, as the death of the incarnate Son of God and Kyrios.… For Paul, therefore, the word has certainly not faded to the point of becoming a mere ‘theological cipher.’ Any assertion to this effect merely demonstrates the tenuous link of contemporary exegesis with reality and its insipid and unhistorical character. In other words, the utter offensiveness of the ‘instrument for the execution of Jesus’ is still to be found in the preaching of Paul” (pp. 20f.).

Article continues below

One can probably find more about crucifixion in this book than anywhere else. It should be of special value to evangelicals, who particularly value the historical background of the Gospel records. I plan to make it required reading in my course on the life and ministry of Jesus. Teachers and ministers will not want to deal with the crucifixion of Christ again without first reading Hengel.

What Is Moon Up To?

Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church, by Frederick Sontag (Abingdon, 1977, 224 pp., $8.95), The Puppet Master, by J. Isamu Yamamoto (InterVarsity, 136 pp., $3.95 pb), The Moon Is Not the Son, by James Bjornstad (Bethany Fellowship, 1976, 125 pp., $1.25 pb), and The Spirit of Sun Myung Moon, by Zola Levitt (Harvest House, 1976, 127 pp., $1.75 pb), are reviewed by J. Gordon Melton, director, Institute for the Study of American Religion, Evanston, Illinois.

What is it about a religious group with a mere 30,000 members that can inspire so much loyalty and so much hatred? What is it about a leader that keeps him on the front page of newspapers across the country week after week? Other would-be messiahs are having trouble getting a feature article in their local weekly. Does he “brainwash” or “hypnotize” his followers? Is the Unification Church a plot to subvert the American government, a genuine burst of new spirituality, a con game, or just another new religious group that is having its day in the sun and will soon settle down on the fringe of the religious establishment?

Philosopher Frederick Sontag set out to answer those questions. As with any book tossed out in the midst of controversy, Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church will not make everyone happy. In Sontag’s case, he will make very few happy, because he doesn’t condemn the group and its leader as obvious agents of Satan, nor does he endorse claims that Moon is God’s latest messenger.

Article continues below

Sontag assembles the most complete picture of the Unification Church, its history, its belief structure, its life in both America and abroad, and the controversy that surrounds it. He also treats the anti-Moonies, the committed opponents of the Unification Church. One by one he explores the numerous accusations against the Unification Church. In the process he produces a book that is essential reading for anyone interested in the group.

Frankly, I began reading his book with a negative attitude, for rumors had preceded it. “It’s a whitewash,” people said. But the rumors were false. Sontag thoroughly investigated his subject and he discusses every major issue with a considerable degree of objectivity. He went to Korea and Japan, and though he talked to both early members and non-members who were there in the beginning, he failed to uncover any evidence of immorality or of Moon running a sex cult. He investigated the recruitment process and found no evidence of hypnotism or brainwashing; it’s merely competent.

In investigating the opponents of the Unification Church, Sontag discovered the perpetuation of numerous fabrications, unfounded rumors, and baseless charges. He cleared up a number of questions that I had about the group. For example, why would those Korean “church” leaders whose names had appeared on documents denouncing Moon never answer letters? Or why, with all of the charges of a seedy background, had no single person ever come forth to say, “I was there and Moon did those things that he has been accused of?” Also, why, if the Moonies are brainwashed, do they seem so normal when I have met them? And why are they doing such a competent job of fundraising and recruitment?

The basic answer: Moon is not plotting against America, motherhood, apple pie, family life, morality, or freedom. Instead, he represents a new religious movement that offers a distinctly new theology complete with the claim of a new revelatory contact with God. Moon seems to be a “sincere” leader and his followers are attracted for the kinds of reasons that members are attracted to thousands of other religious groups.

However, there is one point at which I am in sharp disagreement with Sontag. He treats Moon’s thought as basically “heresy.” But Moon’s thought is not heresy. It is much too deviant for that. I understand heresies to be the distortion of a theological truth. Nevertheless, with heretics one has a common realm of discourse, usually because there is a commonly acknowledged authority.

Article continues below

Moon’s theology is, on the other hand, not heresy, but a new form of religion. Like such other new forms as Theosophy or Spiritualism, it uses Christian symbols, but in a manner quite foreign to the Christian faith. We can not argue with the Moonies as we do with liberals, conservatives, Methodists, Baptists, or radicals. Rather, we must confront them as we do Hindus or Buddhists, or, more pertinently, the Bahai’s.

Well, then, how does a Christian respond? One of the most mature answers to that question is given by J. Isamu Yamamoto, a research worker for the Berkeley Christian Coalition’s Spiritual Counterfeits Project. In The Puppet Master he suggests two ways to respond to the Moonies—be aware of the facts, and offer to individual Moonies a loving witness. But first, get the facts straight (and Yamamoto valiantly strives to separate fact from accusation). He also perceptively draws the line between Christian theology and Unification theology.

On the tough question of deprogramming, Yamamoto takes a position that deprogramming does not constitute a Christian attack upon cults. It is not even basically anti-Moon; it is anti-religion. Deprogrammers will and have deprogrammed Episcopalians, Pentecostals, Jesus People, Baptists, Roman Catholics, and Greek Orthodox, just as it has done members of the new religions.

People join Moon because they are empty. The basic religious problem of the individual can’t be dealt with by the deprogramming process but by the inflowing of God into one’s life. James Bjornstad in The Moon Is Not the Son picks up Yamamoto’s position and, though approving deprogramming, points out that “Deprogramming is not Christian conversion.” Unfortunately, Bjornstad is naïve in his attempt to place at polar opposites conversion to Moon (i.e., brainwashing by a system of indoctrination and manipulation) versus Christian conversion (which relies on personal choices and decision). Doesn’t Bjornstad realize that church architecture, the order of worship, and even spirited hymns and the methods of evangelists can be seen as manipulative? A Christian “loving witness” promotes if not causes Christian conversion. Is there any substantial difference between a person who becomes a Moonie because of the logic of their teachings, the spiritual atmosphere, the warm friendliness, and their sincerity, and someone who becomes a Christian because of the forcefulness of biblical ideals, the life of prayer, the love of a congregation, and the commitment of individual believers?

Article continues below

The attempts to polarize the techniques of Christian and Unification Church recruitment aside, Bjornstad does a good job in lucidly presenting the crucial ideas of Moon’s theology. He clearly demonstrates that Moon offers a thorough-going alternative to what he designates the broad doctrinal agreement that has continued throughout history.

The final book on Moon, Zola Levitt’s The Spirit of Sun Myung Moon, lightly recounts the author’s adventures in researching the Unification Church. The volume is anecdotal and written in the tongue-in-cheek style so popular today in feature journalism. In the end you learn more about how Levitt feels about the Unification Church and about the often humorous experiences he had with them than about Moon himself.

Only three topics are really discussed, Moon’s beliefs about America, Jesus, and eschatology. But even these are treated with a shallowness that is far removed from the perceptive critiques of either Bjornstad or Yamamoto.

Moon raises for Christians two clear and separate issues, which become confused in the heat of emotion. One issue is theology. Moon presents a clear alternative to Christianity, not just a new theology. As such, we are consistent in approaching them not as Christian brothers and sisters but as religious people of a different faith.

The second issue has to do with whether the Unification Church should freely function as a religious body. On this issue, our perspective and course of action should be clear. We must not confuse theological differences with any right to bring cultural and governmental pressure to negatively bear on the Unification Church. As long as they operate within the law, however much we might oppose what they think and do, we should defend their right to exist.

Briefly Noted

CHURCH MINISTRY TO SINGLES: A Pew for One, Please: The Church and the Single Person (Seabury, 120 pp., $6.95), by William Lyons, describes three approaches to singles programs: the church-related, church-dominated, and church-integrated. Single Adults Want to Be the Church, Too (Broadman, 177 pp., $5.95) by Britton Woods is basically a how-to book on beginning a singles ministry. It includes an excellent bibliography. Robert Arthur Dow’s Ministry With Single Adults (Judson, 175 pp., $5.95 pb) reads like a psychology text complete with case studies and diagrams. This is definitely not for the average reader.

Article continues below

The Fraudulent Gospel by Bernard Smith, reviewed from Scotland by J. D. Douglas in the January 13 issue (p. 56), is published in the United States by the Church League of America (422 N. Prospect St., Wheaton, Ill. 60187). The cost is $2.50.

Catherine and Loren Broadus, Jr., write about the golf widows, in From Loneliness to Intimacy (John Knox, 94 pp., $5.95). Actually this is for all who are married and feel emotionally deserted by their spouses. It’s an excellent book including skills to improve the relationship and cope with emotions.

The Quinlan court battle is a landmark in medical and legal history—a family fighting for a daughter’s right to die. Karen Ann (Doubleday, 343 pp., $10) is the chronicle of that case. But more than that, it is the powerful, poignant story of parents coping with a tragic situation.

Persecuted But Not Forsaken by Pastor Nicoli (Judson, 172 pp., $3.95 pb) is the true story of the ministry of a national worker and his flock in an unnamed town behind the Iron Curtain. It gives a good picture of life on the local level for believers in Eastern Europe.

The role of women is hotly debated among Christians. A better understanding of merely cultural as distinguished from presumably divinely created distinctions requires comparative studies. Women: Roles and Status in Eight Countries, edited by Janet Z. Giele and Audrey C. Smock (John Wiley, 443 pp., n.p.), is a social-scientific study of the contemporary and historical roles of women in Egypt, Bangladesh, Mexico, Ghana, Japan, France, the United States, and Poland.

The Song (InterVarsity, 168 pp., $3.95 pb) is a welcome sequel to Calvin Miller’s The Singer. Characterized by the same delightful style, the poetic narrative roughly parallels the book of Acts as it continues the saga of Madman as he leaves the Great Walled City to travel to Urbis, the city of the Poet King.

A recent survey of 100.000 American women concludes that the stronger a woman’s religious convictions, the more likely she is to be satisfied with her sex life and marriage. This information is reported in about nine pages of The Redbook Report on Female Sexuality (Delacorte, 186 pp., $8.95) by Carol Travis and Susan Sadd. So much for the myth of religion being a killjoy.

Article continues below

Do Americans discriminate against Catholics? Andrew Greeley shouts yes. In An Ugly Little Secret (Sheed, 120 pp., $6.95) the Catholic journalist and sociologist attempts to prove his charge, though one wonders if he hasn’t oversimplified the whole matter.

James E. McReynolds, who works at an alcoholism treatment center, reminds us in America’s No. 1 Drug Problem (Broadman. 154 pp., $2.50 pb) that many more people have problems with drinking than with other drugs. The book serves as a worthwhile introduction for the Christian reader.

The Enemy Is Inhumanity

Between Doctor and Patient, by Donald M. Hayes (Judson, 1977, 176 pp., $4.95 pb), is reviewed by Patricia Gundry, Wheaton, Illinois.

This book is subtitled “A Christian Physician Talks About Hard Choices in Medical Care.” And that’s what it’s about. It includes case histories and the doctor’s difficult choices. Hayes had to decide whether to let patients make their own choices or to keep the truth from them “for their own good.”

This is a difficult book to read, not because of its style but because of its painful content. Casual readers, beware, only those people who are interested in knowing what to do in serious medical situations should open the book.

Hayes approaches his subject without glossing over either the seriousness of his patient’s situation or his own dilemma as a physician. His main concern is with the dehumanization of modern medicine. He says that “The enemy is not death. The enemy is inhumanity.” Obviously his desire to be a humane, caring, responsible person has produced pain and trauma for him at times. It made me see that being a good doctor means more than just good medical care.

The doctor discusses suicide, care for the terminally ill at home, unnecessary surgery and testing, prolongation of life, and resistance of the medical profession to patient-centered care. He also examines the subjects of medical and social ethics and discusses psychosurgery.

The decisions and concerns of the author are dealt with in the context of his Christian faith and responsibility. Because there is so little available in this area, the book will be welcomed by pastors, medical personnel, and all those who work with seriously and terminally ill patients.

A Very Unsecular City

Turning East: The Promise and Peril of New Orientalism, by Harvey Cox (Simon and Schuster, 1977, 192 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by Robert Brow, associate rector, Little Trinity Anglican Church, Toronto, Canada.

Article continues below

Who would have guessed that the author of The Secular City would twelve years later take us on a pilgrimage of very unsecular meditation with Zen masters, peyote-taking Huichole Indians, Tibetan Lamas, and Benedictine monks? Turning East is a fascinating story of open-minded entry into the disciplines of some exotic religions by a Harvard divinity professor who burst on the scene as an advocate of secularity.

Harvey Cox, though he is certainly not a good guide for every trail, is as effective and credible as any writer I know in picturing the total difference between Eastern religious detachment and the biblical view of religion as personal relationships, radical love, and sacrifice. He also pointed out for me the marriage of the modern psychological cult of self-realization with a perverted and totally consumerized adoption of what Eastern detachment seeks to attain. When “Oriental detachment is simply added to Western ego, then we have the worst of all possible worlds: people using each other but avoiding entangling alliances.”

One obviously does not look for rigorous exegesis in Cox. Nevertheless, his chapter on “Meditation and Sabbath” is stimulating. The proposition that “meditation is in essence a kind of miniature Sabbath” leads to the thought that the command of Exodus 20:8–11 requires us to create and rest the way God does. This is different from the idea of Sabbath observance as a bore.

Any return to orthodoxy for Cox is still very much in the future, even though he notes that in some ways he is more Christian than when he began. I read his book immediately after John Robinson’s Can We Trust the New Testament? There I found the author of Honest to God, who really sparked the whole God is Dead movement, now giving what I think is a mortal blow to liberal theories of dating the New Testament writings. Harvey Cox has also moved from extreme modernism to see that, after all, religions are different from one another and that Christianity in particular is the only option that offers the challenge and possibility of radical love and a genuine humanity in the image of God. From both Robinson and Cox I take courage to believe that in the long run we have nothing to fear from the pursuit of truth. An honest modernist is a better ally than a muddled thinker from our own camp.

Article continues below


A major new journal, which should be in all Bible college and seminary libraries and to which many individuals should subscribe, is Gospel in Context. Leaders in non-Western societies and missionary educators should appreciate the “focus on the critical problem of how the Church can avoid the kind of captivity to particular cultures or class interest … while allowing the Gospel to speak meaningfully within particular contexts.” Articles normally will have extended responses from a variety of locations and stances. The first issue (January, 1978) has an article by the editor, Charles Taber, who teaches at Milligan College and the Emmanuel School of Religion in Tennessee. He asks, “Is There More Than One Way to Do Theology?” and there is a report from a Lausanne Committee-sponsored consultation. Send $11 for a one-year subscription (four issues) to 1564 Edge Hill Rd., Abington, PA 19001.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.