Robert G. Clouse, Robert N. Hosack and Richard V. Pierard, The New Millennium Manual: A Once and Future Guide. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999. ISBN 0-8010-5848-1. Paper. Pp. 222.
The publishers of The New Millennium Manual describe it as a popular guide to the issues, people, and movements relevant to the coming millennium. The book consists of approximately 190 pages of text, heavily illustrated with photographs and charts, and liberally sprinkled with journal-style sidebars. Its six chapters are intended to provide the intelligent lay person with some explanation as to why millennial fever is currently so prevalent.
The opening chapter sets the stage by explaining why a simple change of date has proven so fascinating. The phenomenon, the authors suggest, is largely a Western and modern one, for the concept of century is comparatively recent, and there are many other calendar systems in which Anno Domini 2000 has no numerical significance. Extensiveperhaps excessivediscussion in this chapter of the Branch Davidian, Christian Identity and New Age movements can be explained by their likely interest to a popular audience.
Chapter two focuses on eschatology, expounding its major variants (pre-, post- and a-millennialism) in some detail. Dispensational pre-millennialism is introduced as a separate category, its salient features elucidated at length. The third chapter adds an historical overview of these types as they appear throughout the history of the church. The authors argue that for the first three or four centuries, pre-millennialism was the dominant eschatology, and that this idea reappears with great regularity throughout ensuing eras.
Without undertaking a major review of early church eschatology, a few concerns may be noted at this point. The authors description of Papias theology is inconclusive, even suggesting that it may have been post- rather than pre-millennial. They lionize Tertullian (p.74), but fail to link his later thinking to Montanism (p.78), which the authors characterize as an alternate [sic] vision. Although this is a popular volume, in which one would not expect extensive footnotes, the inconsistent citation of primary sources is frustrating. In their current form, the footnotes enable a reader to follow up those writers who clearly support the authors viewpoint, yet make it more difficult to track down sources that are potentially damaging to their argument.
The chapter provides an overview of the development of Dispensationalism over the past 170 years, drawing attention in particular to the aura of canonicity accorded Cyrus Scofields notes by their inclusion in the margins of the biblical text. Yet the chapter concludes on an irenic note, suggesting that there are a variety of ways in which the faithful Christian may express millennial hope. This suggests a two-fold intent: to avoid alienating dispensationalist readers, while simultaneously exposing them to a broader range of evangelical eschatology.
The fourth chapter promises to deal with the ontological aspects of millennialism, but at a mere thirty pages, some of which are taken up by the introduction of further historical material, the explanation suffers. Several flaws loom large in this chapter. Most notable is the shallowness of the discussion, which rarely moves beyond the what of historical fact to the why of present significance. Even in a popular work, one would expect the usual catalogue of theological errors to be supplemented by an explanation of how such disparate movements as the Flagellants, the Millerites and the Jehovahs Witnesses managed to get from orthodoxy to heterodoxy. More irksome is the drift toward ad hominem argumentation, beginning on pages 118-119 with the discussion of Judge Rutherford. Similarly, the lengthy discussion of Hal Lindsey subjects both his lifestyle (p.126) and his theology (p.135) to subjective criticism. It is one thing to highlight interpretative inconsistencies (cf. pp.129-130, 136-137), but quite another to mount a personal attack. One can only speculate regarding underlying motives when discussions of Lindsey and televangelist Pat Robertson together make up between five and ten percent of the entire text.
The reader is treated to a change of pace in the fifth chapter, with its insightful and generally concise review of alternative millennialisms. The discussion of civil millennialism in the United States is, in essence, a call for more critical thinking about quasi-religious utterances on the part of various politicians. The comparatively lengthy discussion of Nazism is a good popular introduction, but one wonders why the German Christian movement (with its terrible bending of the events of 1914-1933 to an apocalyptic scheme) is not touched, particularly as it exemplifies how easily religious faith becomes politicized. Claims that Communism is in demise are perhaps premature, given the fact that roughly one-fifth of the worlds population remains under Communist rule, but the authors careful linkage of Liberation theology to Marxism is helpful. On the other hand, discussion of the eschatological implications of Marian devotion (however unpalatable they might seem to Protestant evangelicals) are relegated to the section dealing with unusual manifestations of millennialism: wedged between Rastafarians, Maoists and cargo-cultists on one side and Nostradamus and astrology on the other. Equally unfortunate is the authors conjecture that Pope John Paul II...may be about to declare Mary co-redemptrix with Christ (p.163), which has the effect of casting a conspiratorial pall over the content of all Catholic eschatologies.
The tone of the closing chapter befits the books popular aim. An extended homily on why the idea of millennium attracts so much attention, this section provides a needed counterbalance to some evangelical excesses. By laying out a variety of Christian positions from an international perspective, the authors undermine the narrow North American outlook which blinkers some contemporary proponents of disaster. Clouse, Hosack and Pierards basic point is that eschatology should sharpen ones focus upon holiness. They invest much ink and effort in issuing a call, based on their own eschatological insights, for evangelical Christians to promote justice, peace, equality and stewardship.
On the whole, this is an interesting and useful book. The quality of writing varies greatly from chapter to chapter, suggesting different primary authors for each. In the last analysis, their thesis as to the general dominance of pre-millennial thought is weak, not simply because the argument can be refuted, but also because it minimizes some of the profound differences between traditional pre-millennialism and dispensationalist pre-millennialism. The book could still prove useful, if its limitations are borne in mind, for an advanced adult study group in a church, or as additional (light) reading for an introductory Church History course.
Dr. Mark Steinacher, Th.D., works in the Canadian Baptist Archives in the McMaster University Collection. He is an occasional lecturer in the area of history at Tyndale College and McMaster Divinity College.