Book Review

"From Age to Age" by Keith Mathison

Bryan D. Estelle
Keith A. Mathison
Tuesday, September 1st 2009
Sep/Oct 2009

Some years back, the late E. J. Young was speaking in a church and responded to a question asking for an overview of the Bible. Dr. Young's response was full, yet simple and edifying. In From Age to Age, Mathison has written a similar overview of the Bible with a focus on eschatology. The format is simple: survey various books in the Protestant canonical order and then summarize the findings at the end of each section. He seems aware of and sensitive to various trends in philosophy and culture in his helpful introduction, where he orients the reader to his biblical theological approach. Approximately the first half of the book is given to the Old Testament and the second half treats the New Testament with an intervening excursus on the intertestamental period. Mathison repeatedly shows us how the text of Scripture invites us to look to the future with an eye to Christ. Some examples will illustrate this. In Part 1, the Old Testament, he sees the historical books in the Old Testament as theological history that is history pointing toward its intended goal: to showcase the kingship of the Messiah. In Part 2, he writes of Luke's Gospel as history with a view toward "providing Theophilus with a certain historical foundation for his Christian faith."

The strengths of Mathison's book are many. First, it is an excellent contribution to surveys of biblical literature and redemptive history. If someone should desire to read a helpful overview of the ebb and flow of biblical revelation, then that person would do well to turn to Mathison's book.

Second, to his credit, Mathison has read widely and interacts with a range of scholarship, and he often respectfully represents many different views on an issue or a passage even while not shrinking from giving his own opinion; however, it was apparent to this reviewer that he mostly engages and leans upon conservative secondary literature.

Third, Mathison is aware of the importance of the New Testament for rightly interpreting the Old, and he seems favorably disposed toward apostolic hermeneutics. See, for example, his treatment of Psalm 16 or his treatment of Matthew 5:17. He is aware of recent literature pointing to the significance of Exodus and second Exodus motifs peppered throughout the Scripture, and insights demonstrating that Jesus' ministry is the fulfillment of the New Exodus. Indeed, he sees the intimate connection of the New Testament books with what has preceded them in the Old Testament.

Fourth, the real goal of Mathison's book is to set forth what the Scriptures teach about eschatology. For him, this is not merely the Scripture's teaching about the end times or "a study of the consummation of God's purposes at the end of history" as he states it; rather, it also includes "a study of the stages in the unfolding of those purposes." To this end, he is following in the venerable footsteps of Geerhardus Vos and other like-minded biblical theologians. Indeed, throughout the book, he tries to describe the distinctive eschatological contribution of each biblical book or section of Scripture with which he is interacting.

Fifth, he is sensitive to and tries to bring the reader into the various genres in which the Holy Scriptures have been written.

Sixth, Mathison and the editors at P & R did a good job producing a clean and readable book that is free from errors as far as this reviewer could see.

Finally, and most importantly, there is hardly a section of the book that does not take pains to show Scripture's constant preoccupation with fulfillment in the work and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Although there are numerous strengths in Mathison's book, there are some areas in which this reviewer was somewhat disappointed. First, even though two chapters are given to Genesis in the beginning of the book, there is very little development of the doctrine of common grace as clearly taught and emphasized in that portion of Scripture. Second, the discussion on Hebrew poetry is overly facile. In a work of this size and considering the importance of Hebrew poetry, more could have been done in this area. Third, his discussion on the overall structure of the Psalter could have been developed more and should have reflected engagement with some of the significant work that has taken place on that subject. Fourth, although Mathison argues appropriately that eschatology is about more than merely end times as stated above, nevertheless his own eschatological (end-times) millennial commitments come through in the book. He is sympathetic with postmillennialism. This becomes apparent in a number of areas.

For example, readers should be aware of Mathison's views of Daniel 7, which influence many of his interpretations in the Gospels, especially of the Olivet Discourse, the Book of Acts, and so forth. Mathison recognizes the frequency with which our Lord and the biblical writers referred to Daniel 7; however, instead of interpreting that Old Testament chapter as having primary reference to the second coming of Christ, he views Daniel 7 as a prophecy of the inauguration of the messianic kingdom, since Christ receives there his kingdom from the Ancient of Days. This suggestion, in the opinion of this reviewer, is inexact, and it leads Mathison to misinterpret a number of biblical passages that allude to or cite Daniel 7.

Indeed, I would suggest that there is nothing in Daniel 7 (or Daniel 2) that would suggest that there is an appearance of the kingdom in power (or especially a kingdom in power as a realm as some postmillennialists suggest) before the consummation; that is, the second coming of Christ. This is not meant to suggest that Christ's present spiritual kingdom is not powerful in the sense that the church is advancing and growing here on earth. Nor does it deny the fact that as we recite the Lord's Prayer, "we pray," along with the Westminster Larger Catechism #191,

that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in…that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends.

Mathison does recognize the already/not-yet dynamic of the kingdom of God, which he states explicitly in various places throughout the book, including an illustration of Vos's two-age diagram on page 496. Along these lines, he acknowledges that the inauguration of the kingdom does not mean the end of suffering. However, his postmillennialism leads to an overemphasis on the victorious conquest of Christ's kingdom over all cultures and nations. Let the reader understand, this reviewer is merely drawing attention to one area’a very important one’of which readers should be fully aware if they are to take up this book. After all, one's eschatology ("view of last things") will greatly influence how one understands the Scripture's unfolding stages of God's purposes.

Finally, and related to the last point, a partial preterist hermeneutic leads Mathison to interpret passages, which are usually understood as having association with the final judgment and the second coming of Christ, instead as referring to events that have already occurred (this is not to imply that Mathison is any friend of full or hyper-preterism). This move makes a goulash of some passages he treats, especially in the Book of Revelation.

In spite of the previous criticisms, Mathison's book is an excellent introduction to the Bible for any new or mature Christian who wants an overview of the Scriptures. He writes clearly and at a level that will be accessible to many.

Tuesday, September 1st 2009

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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