My friend (well I've never actually met him or spoken to him. But, he's a Buckeye fan and I read his blog) Kevin Beck recently wrote a book humbly titled "This Book Will Change Your World". It's always a little awkward when someone I know asks me for a book review or when someone gives me a copy of a book to review. I want to be honest with the people I'm sharing the book with. But, there's always that little bit of obligation to give the author a good review. In this case, it's nice to be able to say I would suggest this book even if I didn't know Kevin.
The book is about a way of reading the Bible that is called "fulfilled Eschatology". Eschatology is a fancy word for what I call the study of "end times". The Bible talks a lot about judgment and the end (the end of the world, the end of the age, interestingly never using the phrase the "end of time"). An entire industry has come about in Christian circles. An industry built on reading the tea leaves of the current times and trying to match them up with the New Testament prophecies. Not to steal any thunder from Kevin's book. But, this book is about how to read the Bible as if when Jesus and Paul used the words "quickly", "soon", "in this generation", "before some of you have tasted death", they actually meant those words. I've seen so many mental gymnastics done with the texts to try to make Jesus' (and Paul's) words meant for their generation try to apply to our generation 2,000 years later. But, let's face it. Either you can't take their words literally or they were just flat out wrong. Taking their words literally, looking for Jesus to return from the sky in a cloud or on a horse, is a stumbling block to many. And, if you take that literally, don't you have to take "soon" or "in this generation" literally also?
"This Book Will Change Your World" is about a way of reading the Bible that will be new to many people. For those of us raised to look to the sky to find Jesus returning at any moment, this book might be a shocker. I was raised by people looking for the rapture to take them away from all of this at any moment. As a child, I had no concept it had been almost 2,000 years since the texts were written. I was told Jesus was coming back soon. I really thought I'd never see adulthood. I've had a lot of scary moments in my life. But, one of the scariest and one of my earliest memories of childhood was sitting in church one Sunday while a visiting pastor spoke about the rapture. He decided to have someone sneak into the back of the church and blow a trumpet (like the angel will do when Jesus returns) during his sermon. If six year olds (or whatever age I was at the the time) could have heart attacks from fright, I would have met Jesus that Sunday morning for sure. For some, the rapture is a hope of a future where Jesus will come and snatch them away from this awful physical existence. Never-mind the fact that most people who believe in it also believe Jesus will first punish His enemies in the flesh on Earth with unpseakable horrors before casting them into Eternal punishment. For me, the rapture was a constant reminder that G-d was watching and could sneak back at any moment. If He caught me off-guard or if I had any "unconfessed" sin, BAM! All my hard work would have been undone and I would be Left Behind. I literally had moments in the house where I couldn't find anyone for a minute or two and would think that Jesus had come back and taken everyone but me. I would go to bed at night hoping I had confessed every sinful thought or deed (and done so sincerely), so that G-d would forgive me before Jesus came roaring back through the clouds.
Kevin's style of writing is easy to read and humorous. But, it's serious enough. He gives more than ample footnotes and lays out a great introductory case as to why you should take fulfilled eschatology seriously and, more importantly, why it's important that you consider it. If you read the Bible with the wrong expectations, it not only distorts your perception of the future, it distorts your perception of the now. For me, it gave me a whole new respect for the prophecies of Jesus and Paul and John to know that they were right about what was coming. It gave me a whole new respect for G-d to know that He wasn't planning to burn up His planet in fire and anger and start all over (for the third time- why can't He get it right? He needs three tries?).
I don't know how the fulfilled eschatology view isnow. My guess is there are a lot of people out there still being taught the fear that I was taught. And I think there are probably just a lot of people who throw their hands up and skip over chapters like Mattthew 24, the entire book of Revelation and other "uncomfortable" parts of the Bible. "This Book Will Change Your World" (click the link to go to the site where you can download it for free) is a great way to recover large sections of the Bible and learn to take them seriously if not literally. The book is available in ereader (PDF) format. I recommend Stanza to read it. Stanza is available for your iPhone, iPod Touch, PC or Mac. The book is also available in hard copy (soft cover) at Amazon.com or at Presence International.