This new entry in the New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) series on death and what follows by Paul R. Williamson is a sane voice on one of the more explosive theological issues of our day. It lives up to the standards set by previous volumes in this series edited by D. A. Carson. It’s obvious that the author expended the necessary energy to make this volume a meaningful contribution. In fact, I suspect for most of us this will be the first book we will reach for what we are considering “biblical perspectives on ultimate questions”.
The first chapter surveys the issue both in the present with all the requisite statistics and ancient viewpoints of various peoples in the ANE. The chapter concludes with the viewpoint of Christianity and on page 22 formulates five key concepts on what he calls “the personal eschatology of Scripture”. While we Christians might debate certain elements of those five key concepts, there’s no doubt he has set the parameters of this issue correctly.
The next chapter discusses death itself. That requires a deep look into biblical anthropology as well as defining the soul. You will start seeing in this chapter what you will enjoy throughout the whole book: he masterfully marshals the appropriate Scriptures, exegetes them carefully, and draws out appropriate theology. He dodges nothing. Even tough subjects like Saul consulting a witch to bring up Samuel is analyzed. Chapter 3 looks into the resurrection. As that doctrine is key to Christianity itself, he is thorough in looking at it from every vantage point.
Chapter 4 considers judgment. It was in this chapter that I had some disagreement with him because I hold to a pre-millennial viewpoint of prophecy. At times I thought the pre-millennial system would easily remove a few jams he became entangled in with Scripture exegesis. Still, I appreciated the spirit with which he would often mention how premillennialists would look at the situation, and how he was gracious when he disagreed.
Chapter 5 looks at the widely debated subject of Hell. He did a great job discussing the debate as it stands today, what had been believed in the past, and how to think about the issue today. While I might take a few things mentioned in Scripture more literally than he does, he doesn’t dodge that the Bible says a great deal about that unpleasant subject. The final chapter looks at Heaven. Heaven has been recast in modern days as this wonderful place that everyone is going to, so he takes this past our self-produced fictions of heaven to see what the Bible actually has to say. Again, he helps us look at all the appropriate Scriptures.
This book is at once helpful and important. It’s the perfect book to get your bearings straight on a theological subject that usually has more heat than light applied to it.
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