Sunday, 27 March 2016

Armageddon and the Peaceable Kingdom, by Walter Klaassen

I bought Wyngaarden's Future of the Kingdom thinking its author was a Mennonite Amillennialist. Unsurprisingly given his Dutch name, Martin Wyngaarden was a Calvinist Amillennialist. However, Armageddon and the Peaceable Kingdom, by Walter Klaasen, is a defense of Amillennialism from a Mennonite perspective. It is also a polemic against the popular writers of Premillennial end-times literature.

Klaassen is devastating in his critique of popular eschatological literature and spares no (metaphorical- he's a pacifist!) punches. I suspect a Premillennialist or enthusiast of such literature reading his book is likely to be offended or upset by his confrontational approach. I don't think he has ever been a Premillennialist, Dispensational or Historic, and he shows no understanding or empathy with the appeal of apocalyptic literature and preaching. When I was a Premillennialist, I felt such excitement when I read books or heard speakers pointing to contemporary events as signs of the nearness of Christ's Second Coming. While that eschatological approach might have been wrong, I don't think the spiritual effect it had on me was necessarily unhealthy. I think it increased my longing for Christ's coming, it made me see the temporality of worldly things and gave me greater zeal to see the Gospel preached. I would have liked to have seen Klaassen show some acknowledgement of these more positive aspects of Premillennialism.

As a member of one of the historic peace churches, our author shows great discomfort at the apparent tendency of Premillennialists to delight in the violent judgement of God on the nations at Christ's Second Coming. He argues that this is utterly incompatible with the peaceful Jesus we see in the Gospels. The problem is that it is very much in harmony with the Old Testament, with such judgements as the Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. What are we to make of the calls for God's judgement in the Psalms and the cries for vengeance of the martyred souls in the Apocalypse? Klaassen does offer his own explanation and model of divine judgment, but I do not think he adequately deals with the Old Testament material. He may have some liberal tendencies in this area; he denies that the book of Daniel predicts the Roman Empire (sadly many Catholic scholars do the same), which is a sure sign of giving too much of a pass to higher criticism. Like it or not, many Christians do see no contradiction between a peaceful ethic of love in the Gospels with acknowledging God's prerogative to execute violent judgment on the nations who reject Him.

Articulating his own view of eschatology, Klaassen argues that the Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom that was established through Christ's first coming. I agree with him on this, however, as a Postmillennialist, I would have liked to see some optimism about the cosmic implications of the Kingdom of God. Klaassen would be unsurprised to see the Kingdom limited, even at Christ's Second Coming to a few faithful believers scattered here and there. Yet many prophetic passages speak about the nations coming to worship God and serving Him. What are we to make of these promises of triumph and victory? Many Amillennialists would see these fulfilled in the eternal state after Christ's Parousia. Yet this move minimizes the impact of Christ's first coming and His present victory over Satan. I found it unsurprising that Klaassen does not say an awful lot about the Ascension and enthronement of Christ.

This is a book that makes some good points, but has some definite weaknesses.

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