This reviewer writes quite often about the importance of internal theological discussions to apologists. Eschatology (end times) tends to be one of the most fascinating, heated, and damaging debates within the Church. As prophecy enthusiasts keep attempting to predict the date of Christ’s return (and fail), it makes the Christian worldview appear to be falsified from the perspective of unbelievers. In order to address these challenges, it is important that Christians think carefully about eschatology. Kenneth Samples (Reasons to Believe) attempts to provide a starting point for responsible thought and discussion in his most recent book, “Christian Endgame: Careful Thinking About The End Times.”
This is a short book of only 59 pages divided into eight chapters, plus three appendices. This review will provide an abbreviated chapter-by-chapter summary in an effort to not give away all the content of the book.
Chapter 1: Christ’s Kingdom: Already- Not Yet
Samples begins by explaining the two parts to Christ coming to earth: his first appearance when He died and resurrected, which marked the beginning of His Kingdom; and his second appearance (still future) that will consummate His Kingdom. Samples concludes by listing three works of God begun in both the Old and New Testament that will see completion in Christ’s Second Coming.
Chapter 2: End Times Speculation and Theological Accountability
The second chapter focuses on the disasters of being irresponsible with eschatological study. Samples gives two regarding date setting of Christ’s return and numerous examples of falsely identifying the Antichrist. He provides six points to keep in mind anytime the urge to engage in these activities strikes.
Chapter 3: Mere Christian Eschatology
Samples now moves into eschatological doctrine. However, before getting into differences, he begins by emphasizing agreement among the different views. It is already perceived as a vice (from inside and outside the Church) that so much differences appear in the Church, so emphasis on common ground is essential. It also helps to ease tension in these heated discussions. Sample lists and expands on five explicit areas of agreement regarding the last things.
Chapter 4: Three Key Eschatological Differences
Before he goes into the content of the differences in the eschatological views, Samples explains three sources of differences in the views: interpretation of prophetic literature, relationship between Israel and the Church, and the understanding of the Millennium. He gives an explanation of the different approaches to each and the source material for them.
Chapter 5: Millennium Models
Next Samples compares and contrasts the four different views regarding the Millennium. He shows where each agree and differ, and he provides the primary strongest support for each view alongside the (arguably) most challenging aspect. He completes his comparison by reminding the reader that scripture actually does not say very much about the Millennium, so it is wise to be careful and humble in asserting that a particular view is the correct one.
Chapter 6: Heaven and Hell
Samples now turns to eschatology regarding individuals: eternal bliss (heaven) and eternal punishment (hell). Though he grants that scripture is not comprehensive about heaven, he does list and describe six characteristics of the believers’ eternal state. Samples then discusses the doctrine of eternal punishment. He explains that the uneasiness of this doctrine by both believers and unbelievers has given rise to four alternative views. He describes them and provides points of refutation for each one.
Chapter 7: The Believer’s Blessed Hope
In this chapter Samples focuses on important day-to-day application of eschatological study for the Christian. Rather than being consumed with the theoretical, Christians should be rejuvenated to devotion to God, a life of holiness, comfort in death, and contributing the the completion of the Great Commission (among others).
Chapter 8: Faithful Citizenship in Two Kingdoms
Finally, Samples emphasizes the importance of not focusing so much on the future that we neglect our responsibilities of the present. While it is important to anticipate the future, we cannot stay there. We must derive motivation for the present from the anticipation of the future. But we must also not focus only on the present, for without the blessed hope of the future, our present life’s demands seem purposeless and meaningless.
In the introduction Samples states that the purpose of this book is not to resolve the debate about eschatology, but rather provide a grounding for thinking through end times events carefully and responsibly. This reviewer feels that he was quite successful in reaching that goal. The book is short, so it is one that could be handed out often with the reasonable expectation that the recipient would read it. Samples included an appendix of discussion questions for each chapter, so it makes the book ideal to begin small group studies of eschatological views. He ends each chapter with a short bibliography of resources for continued study to help guide the reader who wishes to continue their investigation. Beyond the explicit apologetic application of addressing failed date-setters, Samples lays a great foundation for members of the Church to form a more thoughtful worldview consisting of future events and do so in a way that reduces the internal tension that drives so many unbelievers away from Christ.