End of the world in sight?

Published April 1, 1998

IF YOU ARE NOT convinced the world will end but cannot ignore the possibility, or if you believe the end of the world is coming and are seeking support for that conviction, you are part of the author’s target audience.

The End of the World?

A New Look at an Old Belief

by Reginald Stackhouse

Paulist Press

$17.95 (paper)

ISBN 0- 8091-3727-5

The book appears as many again interpret the confusion surrounding us as signs the world will end soon. Dr. Stackhouse patiently analyzes this kind of thinking and places it in a biblical, historical and theological framework. According to the Millennial Prophecy Report, there are 1,100 groups in the world who believe the end is imminent. (That does not include the people gathered at my barber shop last week!)

Dr. Stackhouse says: “An admirable religion with a workable ethic can be developed without thinking too much about this dimension of the Gospel, but it should not be called biblical Christianity. The Bible says too much about the end to allow us that option.”

This book makes real the term “systematic theology.” Each theory, thesis or supposition is supported by the classical Anglican appeal to Scripture, the tradition of the church, or reason. Mr. Stackhouse focuses on three interpretations in Christian thinking over the centuries.

Millennialism espouses the idea that God will bring the world to an end and Jesus Christ will return from heaven to judge everyone who has ever lived, and with his chosen ones will initiate a kingdom like Eden revisited.

The pastoral interpretation, favoured by most churches for more than 1,500 years, focuses on a church already here: “Rather than stressing a long-delayed return of Christ, it emphasizes the way Christ has already come to those who believe in him. Instead of preparing the world to end, it enables people to prepare for their own end.”

The social interpretation understands the end of the world to mean the end of society as we know it and the coming of order.

Dr. Stackhouse warns that churches often fail to help people think about end-times issues. Too comfortable with the past and present, they rarely welcome apocalyptic thinking.

If you have an accumulation of ideas from sporadic Sunday school attendance, television preachers and New Age, you will find this book very helpful. But you will not find a date for the end of the world or a description of how it will happen.

Dr. Stackhouse recommends doing what Christians have always done while waiting for the end of all things – prepare for what might come, but live in expectation and relationship: “To know Christ in the here and now (is) to enjoy a foretaste of something still ahead.”

Rodney Andrews is executive archdeacon of the Diocese of Algoma.


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