Saturday, December 20, 2008

Book Review: What in the world is going on?

"What in the world is going on?" is a summary of Dr. David Jeremiah's teaching on biblical prophecy and current events from a dispensational perspective. From all the alliteration and parallel construction, it is obvious that Dr. Jeremiah put together 10 sermons that he preached on this topic and compiled them in book form for this publication. To be completely transparent before I review his work, you need to know that I am a fellow graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and a committed dispensationalist in my view of Scripture and eschatology. With all that in mind, let's talk about Dr. Jeremiah's latest book...

First, let's review what really works in this book. Dr. Jeremiah, because he writes not just from an academic perspective, but a pastoral perspective, is conscious in each chapter to discuss the practical applications of his eschatological views. I agree with Dr. Jeremiah's conviction that biblical prophecy has huge implications for the daily life of the Christian believer, and he does a great job of taking time at the end of each chapter to discuss what his theological views mean for everyday life.

Another positive in this book is Dr. Jeremiah's faith in the truthfulness of Scripture. Even if you disagree with his hermeneutic or his interpretation of modern events in light of biblical prophecy, you leave the book with the strong sense that Dr. Jeremiah believe every word of the Bible to be trustworthy. His strong faith encourages the reader to have a higher view of the Word - always a good mark in my opinion.

With regards to the individual chapters, I felt like his discussion about Israel and his discussion about Islam were the most helpful. The unique place that dispensationalism holds in evangelical theology is related to its view that God is not done with the nation of Israel, but that He will completely fulfill his promises to them when Jesus returns to the earth. Dr. Jeremiah is definitely in that stream of teaching (a lot of the book feels like an updated version of Dr. Walvoord's writings), and he does a good job of helping the reader understand how the nation of Israel fits into end-time prophecies. After the chapter on Israel, the chapter on Islam was the most powerful in my mind - maybe because it contained the most new information to me. The startling detail about the nature of Islamic teaching always makes me pause and say a prayer for Muslims around the world.

Not everything about the book is a home-run, however. Though I agree with Dr. Jeremiah's theology, his book is a good reminder of the danger of getting too specific in identifying the players, the motives, and the dates of end-time prophecy. Every dispensationalist in the 1940's was sure that Hitler was the Antichrist and that the end was near. Every book about the end-times over the last 20 years has had a section about oil and the impact that the energy markets will have on the end times. Dr. Jeremiah devotes a whole chapter to this topic, and I'm sure when he wrote it in May-June and oil was $140 a barrel, it made total sense to him. Of course, oil is now back to $40 a barrel and his insights don't seem that prescient.

My point here is simply to say that our theological beliefs need to be informed by historical awareness. Every generation looks for signs of the times, as they should, but the point I think from Jesus' generalized teachings is that we should be ready all the time, knowing that His return could come at any point. When teachers attempt to identify the countries that will attack Israel and the place that the Antichrist comes from, I believe they are speaking more specifically than the Scriptures. Dr. Jeremiah uses prophecies from Ezekiel and Daniel to speak to end-time players and the sequences of events. The problem with doing that (in my humble opinion) is that we are reading our 21st century worldview into an ancient document (with a 6th century BC worldview). If the end comes tomorrow, Dr. Jeremiah may end up being a genius. But history is full of prophecy readers who were sure they were close to the end, proclaimed it boldly, yet were terribly wrong. Do we want to hang our credibility as Christians on our ability to predict the end-times?

I personally don't. I want to be very humble in my handling of biblical prophecy, and teach it and preach it in light of how many before me have been so wrong. This doesn't mean that we can't have a conviction about what Scripture is teaching; it just means we need to be extremely careful lest we speak with more specificity than the Bible itself.

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