and then the end will come

I recently received an early copy of Brandon Andress’ new book, AND THEN THE END WILL COME! (AuthorHouse, 2013, 171 pages) to review, and, yes, the title is intentionally all capitalized (p. 55). As the title suggests, it is a book that deals with eschatology, though Andress’ burden throughout is to avoid what he sees as the pedantic prattling that often characterizes “End Times” discussions and purports to simply ask instead: what “did Jesus have to say” about the matter? (p. 18) The entire work is, then, an exposition Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 24:1-14. It is here that we are given the ‘real’ model for how we are to live in light of the coming end.

He writes, “The underlying reality is that we all want to know about those things that are just out of our reach” (p. 5), and yet, “The truth of the matter is that all of this will happen when it happens and the theories are inconsequential and who gets it right is of no concern” (p. 18). The most important thing is to use Jesus’ teachings to answer the question, “Who are we becoming right now and who will we be if and when things become increasingly chaotic and out of control?” (p. 18, italics original). In short, Jesus’ whole intent was to reveal who and how we are to be now and not get bogged down with what will happen then.

I’d like to address the book briefly on three fronts: stylistically, conceptually, and theologically.

First, stylistically. Andress writes with a terse, abbreviated style that relies upon short, fragmented sentences, odd spacing, and the interjection of frequent questions and somewhat rhythmic repetitions. He’s not the only popular level Christian author to do so, and this quasi-poetic hyper-brevity can be effective in small doses, but to write an entire book in this format struck me as somewhat of a gimmick. This is entirely  a matter of personal preference, however, and for some it may be a strength of the book.

Second, conceptually. I agree with Andress that confusion abounds when it comes to matters of eschatology, and that an unhealthy polarization exists between those who never give any thought to this biblical topic and those who never think of anything else (pp. 14-15). He recounts his own journey along this spectrum before sharing how and why he has come to where he is now. There are few instances, however, where he seems to somewhat unfairly extrapolate his personal and communal experiences onto the larger Christianity community and import ideas and motives to the whole that may or may not be legitimate.

For example, Andress claims that “we are on the cusp of an even greater revolution” (p. 39), one that comes by helping “people to hear a different perspective” than “the culturally-developed idea of heaven that the Church has adopted” (p. 165). While it can be permissible to speak in generalities, it can also be disingenuous to speak of Christian thinking as if it were monolithic in this matter. You could argue, in fact, that many churches only preach and teach a social gospel that completely ignores the concepts of judgment, sin, and eternal life rather than the other way around. It’s hard to speak of any universal “idea” in the Church.

I was left with the impression that Andress was really offering a specific counter-view to the dispensational and premillenial crowd (i.e. the Left Behind approach), though it’s an implicit critique given that he dismisses these kinds of systematic approaches because “Jesus was a man for simple people. He didn’t make his messages incredibly complex” (pp. 16,158-9) and, therefore, neither should we.

I do agree that people can be turned off by pretentious-sounded debates about eschatological nuances and theological miscellany. But I also think we do people a disservice–and undersell the depths of God’s Word–by avoiding important topics just because we are averse to complex terminology. Our task to to prayerfully, faithfully, and studiously re-tell the things that God has revealed in a way that is understandable rather than to think that if it isn’t simple, it isn’t necessary.

Yet the conviction that we should disentangle ourselves from our obsessive headline-reading and “End Times charts” gazing and re-engage what Jesus had to say about these things is a good and valid endeavor. It can, however, be prone to some theological confusion. On the theological aspects of the book, I’ll observe three things.

First, it has become popular in Christian thinking to focus on “what Jesus said/did” and not get bogged down with all the excess baggage that may slow us down or distract us from the ‘pure’ teachings of Jesus. Our only concern should be “What Jesus had to say about it and what Jesus wants us to do about it” (p. 17). Studying books like Daniel or Revelation, biblical languages, or historical theology may be interesting, but they are not necessary and may, in fact, sidetrack you from what ‘really matters’ (p.17).

This isn’t a new trap, but it is a trap and a false dichotomy. Scripture itself not only tells us that Jesus Christ is the living Word who took on flesh (John 1:1-14), but that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). Jesus is the true and eternal prophet through whom the universe was made and by whose word it is upheld (Hebrews 1:1-3). Not only does all of Scripture speak of Jesus (Luke 24:44-47) but it is Jesus himself, by his Spirit, who is speaking in all of Scripture. I find the idea, implicit in this book, that there is a hierarchy of importance between ‘what Jesus said’ and ‘the other parts of Scripture’ to be unhelpful.

Second, on the relationship between ‘cross and crown’, so to speak. Andress affirms the necessary coherence between the message of Jesus Christ crucified and raised again and the message of the in-breaking and building of the Kingdom (pp. 66-68), which I appreciated. He says, “The Good News is MORE than just the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus!” (p. 61) Yes, but it is not less than that. The call to be those who are “preaching and embodying the the Good News of the kingdom” (p. 84) is exciting and important, though there is the sense here that this becomes our task and project rather than a work into which we are brought through our union with Jesus Christ by grace through faith. We do not–and cannot–build the Kingdom, rather we receive and participate in the Kingdom that Christ is building through Word and Spirit. Andress acknowledges this in passing (p. 77), though I wish it were explored more deeply.

This vision for the Kingdom should be prominent as we live the lives of discipleship to which Christ has called us, however Andress’ statement that Christians must “make a commitment in your life to ONLY know Jesus and his kingdom” (p.118) seems to perhaps unnecessarily rub against Paul’s resolution to “know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Both cross and crown are integral to the  Gospel message, though the kingdom does not exist apart from the King, and the King must be proclaimed as the one who was dead but now lives forevermore.

Third, the richest part of the book in terms of theology and exposition of, and engagement with, biblical texts is the chapter “A Little Extra!” (pp. 143-171). This is Andress’ best writing and work, and I appreciate his efforts to expound a biblical view of the consummation of the ages, the restoration of all creation, and the centrality of the bodily resurrection to the Christian message.

In fact, this chapter was so strong–and helped to provide the foundation and structure for what had come before–that I would suggest to others that they read it first. It puts meat on the bones of the ideas found earlier and gives Scriptural justification for many of his arguments. It clarifies exactly why this desire for ‘kingdom living’ should be so strong. I suppose, however, that there is a certain sense of irony that comes when the last chapter of a book dealing with eschatology helps to illuminate and strengthen all that came before. Indeed, in a sense, this is what the eschaton itself will do: give us a better understanding and deeper appreciation of all that came before because we can now look back on it with the intent that the Author had all along.

Andress is right to emphasize the physicality and reality of the resurrection and the eternal state over against a “disembodied future destination” (p. 148). Again, however, this is not something that the entire Church has completely “missed…for so long” (p. 146). On the contrary, it has always been central to most Christian confession and proclamation. In the Apostles’ Creed the Church throughout the ages and around the world has joyously confessed her belief in “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting”. We have, however ,de-emphasized this precious truth, and I am grateful to Andress for his efforts to highlight it.

If you’d like to be reminded (or, perhaps. hear for the first time) of the cosmic scope of God’s redeeming work in Christ and how we can be caught up in that as his ambassadors and envoys, then I recommend Andress’ latest book. It is a helpful corrective to the myopic view we often have of the Christian faith and an important call to relentlessly pursue the work of the One who has reconciled “to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:20).

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