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Friday, May 13, 2016

"Making All Things New" (Benjamin L. Gladd and Matthew S. Harmon)

TITLE: Making All Things New: Inaugurated Eschatology for the Life of the Church
AUTHOR: Benjamin L. Gladd and Matthew S. Harmon
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (224 pages).

At the onset, the authors make it clear that this is no conventional book on eschatology, or theology of the last days. Rather than to reserve the end times to the short period leading to the second coming of Christ, Benjamin Gladd and Matthew Harmon believe that eschatology is about the entire time period between the first and the second coming of Christ. This is also known as "inaugurated eschatology." The key idea in this book is that a good understanding of the already-not yet theological framework will inform how we live and minister in Church. Recognizing the divisions that often ensue when people talk about eschatology, such as between covenant theology and the dispensationalism, the authors seek a middle ground, which is one reason why this book is written by a professors teaching in seminaries of both persuasions. Gladd teaches at Reformed Theological Seminary (Covena Theology) while Harmon teaches at Grace Theological Seminary (Dispensationalist). Together, they hope to demonstrate that there is a way forward even when eschatological views differ sharply. What better way than to invite their esteemed professor, G.K. Beale to articulate the general landscape of the already-not yet theological truths.

Part One begins with the Theological Foundations, to help us understand the beginnings, the ends, and the in-betweens of the theological concept of "the Already-Not Yet." Beale kicks off the book with a broad overview of "The End Starts at the Beginning." He believes that every salvation aspect needs to have the end in mind. That is why whatever theology we are doing, we must always have the eschatological angle. The Old Testament can best be understood with the big story of God's final summation. The creating, the calling, and the commissioning, are all part of the big narrative of God coming to us, desiring to draw us back to Him. He lists ten eschatological conditions of the period between the two comings of Christ, also known as the "latter days."  He recognizes the tensions in trying to understand the "latter days" and the "last days" by saying that while we live in the end times, we also know that the end is still to come. How to integrate this into faith and daily life is something that pastors and Christian leaders ought to do more, not less. More importantly, we recognize the early apostles see eschatology more as a "mindset" rather than some futuristic events.  Chapter Two launches into the "nature of the end-time church" in which the authors look at why the people of God not only fail, but fail repeatedly. Rather than to leave it in such perpetual negativity, with "inaugurated eschatology," the Church can remember that God has given them a promise. There is hope. There is God's Plan. There is Jesus. In fact, the Church herself is the eschatological People of God. Chapter Three talks about "Life in the Overlap of the Ages" which focuses on the "latter days," the present time on how we are to live. We do not just live without purpose but live in anticipation of God's coming kingdom.  This is done through love, kingdom service to the poor, living renewed lives each day of the reality of Christ's resurrection, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and so on. The idea of Kingdom and Spirit are particularly emphasized her.

Part Two continues with Pastoral Leadership with regards to how pastors and leaders can feed, guard, and guide the flock entrusted to them. In fact, this is the key motivation for the writing of this book, which focuses on pastors and those preparing for ministry in the Church. So important is the Word that the authors believe in the "Feeding of the Flock." The authors note in Acts about how the Spirit of God empowered the disciples in the Apostolic Preaching of the Word through the already-not yet dynamic. They examine Paul's preaching that addresses the problems of the churches not only with persuasive words but with the Word of the Cross, of focusing on the mystery of Christ, and reliance on the Holy Spirit for teaching.  Preaching involves explaining, applying, and warning. We learn of the "indicative" where we make an assertion which is often how preachers use to explain the Bible. We also learn of the "imperative" where preachers call upon people toward action. Thus, preaching needs to be centered on what Christ had already done (indicative) and to pursue after God's promise (imperative). With prayer, understanding of God's redemptive plan, and the connecting of the indicative and the imperative, we are better able to preach with eschatology in mind. We also need to guard the flock against false teachers and wrong teachings. We learn to persevere even in the midst of persecutions. This is done through the study of the false teachings as mentioned in the Bible; through discernment of teachings out there in the Internet, social media, technology, and podcasts; and through the awareness of the state of the persecuted Church. Then there is the guiding of the flock, through leading by example, in discipleship, in learning about biblical overcoming, in counseling, etc.

Part Three extends the concepts to End-Time Ministry. In particular, the authors cover the ministries of worship, prayer, and missions. In worship, we remember that the starting point is the celebration of the covenantal relationship between God and His people. We worship God in adoration; in commitment in faith, trust, and obedience; and in ritual acts. It's exciting to be able to patten earthly worship after heavenly worship. Thus, our corporate worship ought to be able to have moments of focusing on both the already and the not yet. Learn from the biblical examples. In Prayer, we can learn of Jesus' teaching; patterning our prayer according to the Sermon on the Mount; Paul's teachings; and so on. In Missions, we extend God's grace as far as possible, to the vision of new heavens and new earth as in Revelation 21-22. We ask God to help us evaluate our existing ministries and how they are connected to missions. We learn about mission of proclaiming the kingdom. We preach and teach ways to mobilize the whole Church for mission. We ask God to raise up labourers.

Both authors have studied under Dr GK Beale for their doctoral degrees while at Wheaton College. Passionate about pastoral ministry and leadership, they believe wholeheartedly that inaugurated eschatology is not only foundational but informs the way we do ministry in the Church and Christian living for the people of God. Let me give three thoughts.

So What?
First, this is one of the best applications of the Already-Not Yet theological concept. It is aware of the existence of tricky eschatological tensions that often arise when various theological schools of thought clash over the topic of the future. Gladd and Harmon do a good job by not doing away with the tensions but in providing a way forward. No point trying to argue over the merits and demerits of each theological school when laypeople do not know how to make sense of how then they are to live! That is why I say that this book's many applications toward the end of each chapter provide a practical way forward for people, not just pastors and leaders.

Second, for a book that claims to focus on pastoral ministry, I am disappointed that there is not much emphasis on pastoral care. There is some brief mention on counseling and discipleship. What about soul care? What about caregiving? What about the demanding duties of addressing pain and suffering of people who cannot seem to see hope? It is one thing to talk about hope and the future. It is yet another to be able to bridge the present and the future.

Third, I applaud the authors for highlighting the need to have "inaugural eschatology" to be foundational to all Christian ministry. If I may suggest, offer some simpler terms so that readers can communicate more clearly and simply to laypeople. Perhaps, we can think of words such as "Good Ending," or "Living Well in Anticipation of a Glorious Future." I'm sure a simple vocabulary can be offered at the Appendix part of the book to aid the communication challenges of pastors and preachers.

Anyway, I am quite pleased with this book and warmly recommend this to all pastors, preachers, teachers, and Christian leaders wanting to energize or reinvigorate their ministries' passion for the Kingdom.

Rating: 4.755 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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