BOOK REVIEW: 15 of the Best Books on Biblical Eschatology
by Michael J. Penfold
Here is a list and a brief review of each of 15 highly recommended titles on biblical eschatology – the study of “last things”:
1. Charts of Bible Prophecy
As you study eschatology, a book of charts can be a great help. H. Wayne House and Randall Price have done a great job in their “Charts of Bible Prophecy” book (ISBN 9780310218968). Well over 100 charts are included, outlining all the major views on prophecy and giving the pros and cons of each. Included are charts on the Kingdom, the Covenants, the Millennium, key chapters in Daniel, the Dispensations, the Rapture, the Tribulation, the Antichrist, the 70 Weeks, the Judgments and the Resurrections. Seeing these complicated issues laid out in charts and tables is so very helpful. The 119 charts are arranged into 13 chapters. Some chapter headings are: ‘Hermeneutics and Prophecy’, ‘Systems of Eschatology’, ‘the Rapture and the Second Coming’, ‘the Nation of Israel’, ‘the Olivet Discourse’, ‘Daniel and Revelation’ and ‘Comparative Eschatology’.
2. There Really is a Difference
“There Really is a Difference” by Renald Showers, is a 225-page work outlining the key differences between Covenant and Dispensational theology. To enable the reader to distinguish and choose between these two major frameworks of interpretation of future events, Renald Showers does a great job explaining what is at stake as he looks at all the key issues chapter after chapter. Mr Showers has spend decades in the study of eschatology and has written more than one volume on such matters. He writes clearly and cogently, making this a vital volume. ISBN 9780915540501.
3. Things to Come
If you want to secure the magnum opus of dispensational theology, look no further than J. Dwight Pentecosts’s “Things to Come” (9780310308904). This is a monumental 632 page work that synthesizes the whole field of prophecy into one unified volume, giving a “systematic and complete Biblical eschatology”. With a 23 page scripture index, you can look up pretty much every verse you’ll ever need in your study of future events. In his first 64 pages, Pentecost lays down the methods and principles of Bible interpretation (hermeneutics) that are a prerequisite for the understanding of Bible prophecy. The next 60 or so pages are taken up with a study of “the Covenants”, a much neglected but absolutely vital part of the picture. Included in the rest of the book are sections dealing with the parables of the Kingdom (Matt 13), the rapture, the tribulation, the millennium, the judgments and the resurrections. No serious Bible student should be without “Things to Come” (over 215,000 copies sold).
4. The Greatness of the Kingdom
While on the subject of classics, there is no better work on the subject of “the Kingdom” than Alva McClean’s work “The Greatness of the Kingdom” (9780884690115). What exactly is “the Kingdom”? Who is in it? When did it start? Will it ever end? Is it different to “the church”? No one could consider themselves well-read on this subject without having read McClean’s 556 page tour de force. When dispensationalists posit a future “kingdom age” and speak of Christ being “the head of the Church” but “the King of Israel”, Reformed critics will sometimes accuse them of not believing in the reign of “the King eternal”. Alva McClean clears up this misunderstanding as he draws out the Biblical difference between the “universal kingdom of God” (Psa 103:19, 1 Chron 29:11-12, Jer 10:7, Dan 4:17, 25, 32) and the “mediatorial Kingdom” which began at creation under Adam (Psa 8:5-8) and will be seen as fully restored and headed up in Christ in the Millennium (Eph 1:9-10), after which it will be “delivered up to the Father” (1 Cor 15:25-26). At that point McClean explains, “…the Mediatorial Kingdom of our Lord ends, not by abolition, but by its mergence into the Universal Kindgom of God. Thus it is perpetuated forever, no longer as a separate entity, but in indissoluble union with the original Kingdom of God from which it sprang…This does not mean the end of our Lord’s regal activity, but rather that from here onward in the unity of the Godhead, He reigns with the Father as the eternal Son. There are no longer two thrones: one His Messianic throne and the other the Father’s throne, as our Lord indicated in Rev 3:21. In the final Kingdom there is but one throne, and it is “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (22:3).
5, 6 & 7. Books on Dispensations
For some specific books dealing with the topic of Dispensationalism from a robust Biblical position look no further than Mark Sweetnam’s 246 page work “The Dispensations” (9781909789005), David Dunlap’s 255 page work “The Glory of the Ages” (9781897117705) and Charles Ryrie’s 223 page work “Dispensationalism” (9780802421890). Sweetnam’s book begins with J.N. Darby’s translation of 1 Tim 1:17 – “Now to the King of the ages, the incorruptible, invisible, only God, honour and glory to the ages of ages. Amen.” Sweetnam sets out the character of each of the 7 dispensations in detail – their purpose, continuity and course. He expounds from Scripture that each of the 7 dispensations in prophetic history, from the beginning of creation to the end of the Millennium, is marked by 4 clear stages, which he helpfully alliterates as: revelation, responsibility, rebellion and retribution. If you only own one book on dispensationalism, make sure it is this one! Dunlap’s work spends 198 pages looking at the history, advantages, definition of and positions of dispensationalism. The rest of the book is taken up with several ‘short papers’ on topics such as ‘the Sermon on the Mount’, preterism, progressive dispensationalism, Reformed theology and an interesting look at the origin and impact of the Scofield Study Bible. Ryrie’s book is a classic that has withstood the test of time! First published by Moody in 1966, this is still a textbook on the subject. In Chapter 6, entitled “Salvation in Dispensationalism”, Ryrie refutes the charge often laid at dispensationalists’ doors that dispensationalism of necessity teaches different means of salvation in different ages. No so. In the words of Ryrie, “The basis of salvation is always the death of Christ; the means is always faith; the object is always God…but the content of faith depends on the particular revelation God was pleased to give at a certain time.”
8. The Coming Prince
A critical piece of the prophetic jigsaw is what is known as “Daniel’s 70 weeks” from Daniel Ch 9. Go wrong here…and the rest of the puzzle will be impossible to piece together correctly. The classic work on Daniel’s 70 weeks is “The Coming Prince” by Sir Robert Anderson (9780825425752). Wikipedia informs us that “Sir Robert Anderson, KCB (1841-1918), was the second Assistant Commissioner (Crime) of the London Metropolitan Police, from 1888 to 1901. He was also an intelligence officer, theologian and writer.” Of his two dozen or so books, “The Coming Prince” is possibly his most famous, second only to “The Gospel and Its Ministry”. With a spiritual mind, a dispensational framework and the investigative dedication of an intelligence officer, Anderson set out to calculate the exact beginning date of the 490 years represented in the 70 weeks. The first 69 of the 70 weeks – totalling exactly 173,880 days – terminated exactly on the day the Lord rode into Jerusalem. Messiah was cut off at that point – rejected by Israel. That left one week – 7 years – remaining to be fulfilled, which will be split into two even halves of 3.5 years (1,260 days each). This matches the data in the book of Revelation and points to a future ‘tribulation’ period, the “time of Jacob’s trouble”, that occurs between the imminent rapture of the Church and the return of Christ to earth at the end of the 7-year-week. This is an astounding 309 page work that has been continuously in print for over 100 years.
9 & 10. Books on the Rapture
The imminent rapture of the church, before the tribulation, is a doctrine expounded and defended in many publications. For a couple of full length books setting out the Biblical doctrine of the pre-tribulation rapture, look no further than “Kept from the Hour” (423 pages) by Gerald B. Stanton (9781564530905) and “Maranatha – Our Lord Come!” (288 pages) by Renald Showers (9780915540228). Stanton’s book is thorough, scholarly and lucid. After answering conclusively “Who is the Restrainer?” in Chapter 5, he makes a powerful case for the imminency of the Rapture in Chapter 6. He also answers all the points raised by those who believe a partial rapture, a mid-tribulation rapture and a post-tribulation rapture before closing his book by looking at around 20 other titles on the pre-tribulation rapture, including some by those who disagree with it. Showers’s book places particular emphasis on the various ‘days’ of prophecy, another subject vital to understanding eschatology aright. His chapter on imminency is worth the price of the whole book.
11. The Millennial Kingdom
John F. Walvoord (1910–2002) authored over 30 books in his lifetime and specialised in the study of eschatology. His Millennial Kingdom (9780310340911) is a definitive 370 page work on the subject of the 1,000 year reign of Christ spoken of in Revelation Ch 20. Walvoord outlines the differences between post-millennialism, a-millennialism and pre-millennialism in meticulous detail and sets out a powerful case for pre-millennialism being the correct Biblical view. Here are some of his chapter headings: ‘Amillennialism from Augustine to Modern Times’, ‘Interpretation of the Abrahamic Covenant’, ‘Will Israel Possess the Promised Land?’, ‘Will Israel be restored as a nation?’, ‘Premillennialism and the Rapture’ and ‘The Great Tribulation’. A person’s view of the Millennium affects their understanding of the entire spectrum of eschatology so there’s no better place to start than The Millennial Kingdom as you grapple with this vital issue.
12 & 13. Daniel and Revelation Commentaries
The most critical Bible books dealing with future events are the Old Testament book of Daniel on the one hand and the New Testament book of Revelation on the other. These two Bible books cannot be understood in isolation. Aside from a grasp of other critical prophetic chapters in Scripture (Jer 30-31, Eze 34-48, Joel 1-3, Zech 12-14, Matt 24-25, Rom 9-11, 1 Cor 15, 1 Thess 4-5, 2 Thess 2, 2 Pet 3), no adequate working knowledge of God’s prophetic programme can be attained without a thorough grasp of the contents of both Daniel and Revelation. There are dozens of excellent dispensational commentaries on these two Bible books, but none will prove more useful that John F. Walvoord’s. Walvood wrote a 320 page commentary on Daniel (9780802417534) and a 350 page commentary on Revelation (9780802473097). These are thorough verse by verse commentaries which take a pre-tribulational, pre-millennial view of eachatology. Both works are highly recommended as vital additions to the libraries of all Bible students.
14. The Coming Apocalypse
“The Coming Apocalypse” by Renald Showers (9780915540075) is a 118 page book examining ‘Replacement Theology”, which is the teaching that the Christian church has replaced national Israel in the plan and purposes of God. Reformed teachers tell us that many of the promises that God made to Israel must be ‘spiritualised’. When the Bible speaks of Israel being “restored to the land”, this really means that the Church will be blessed by God with enlargement and expansion. Likewise the promises made with ‘Israel’ are actually fulfilled in the Church today. Showers tackles this issue, giving a historical review of the teachings of church leaders of past generations such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, Dionysius, Cyprian, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine and Martin Luther. He explains how Replacement Theology affected both Biblical ecclesiology and eschatology in powerful and deleterious ways after the pre-millennialism of the first three centuries was discarded in favour of a-millennialism. Showers rightly contends that if God cannot be trusted to keep His promises to Israel, then how can Christians trust Him to keep His promises to them? This is brought out by Paul in Romans 9-11. “The Coming Apocalypse” is a book to be read and reread.
15. The Dangers of Reformed Theology
One of the best dispensational writers of the 20th Century was George Zeller from New Jersey, USA. Zeller wrote extensively on the topic of eschatology and produced numerous study guides and topical articles on issues relating to dispensationalism. He wrote a powerful book called “The Dangers of Reformed Theology” in which he presents 14 issues of doctrinal significance about which Reformed Bible teachers are out of step with Biblical truth. Several of Zeller’s chapters touch on eschatological themes. Reformed and/or Covenant theology is an interwoven system – as is Dispensationalism – and Zeller does a useful service in collating the various threads together. His work highlights the fact that between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism lies a vast chasm that leaves the believer with a clear and definite choice to make. Zeller’s book is available online, so there’s no need to look up an ISBN.