Tackling anything remotely theological these days is no small task. From Mark Driscoll's "Real Marriage" to Rob Bell's "Love Wins," there is always something currently charged in the air within Christendom. And the nature of prophecy as it applies to the future is no less controversial. It deals with the creation of a new interpretive lens and collapses in a culmination at the very gates of Revelation.
Simply put, "Conditional Futurism" is the lens of which prophecy is conditional. Or, rather, that while the word and purpose of the Lord never alters, the outcome of the word of the Lord can vary. Prophecy, according to author James Goetz, is often if not always conditional, and based upon cause and effect.
"If this, then this."
He cites abundant Scriptures, and often it seems his case is simply to let Scripture stand on it's own. At the very beginning of the book, Goetz simply quotes God's words in Jeremiah 18:7-8 which state, "If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned." See also the story of Jonah and Ninevah for another example.
James realizes that this theme of conditional prophecy is not limited to a few isolated texts. Rather, James begins with Genesis and the Mosaic Covenant and works through the Davidic Dynasty to the Gospels and finally ends up at the always open gates of Revelation. The work is consistently engaging and offers quite a bit of support, always deferring to Scripture and often allowing Scripture to speak on it's own.
There are some elements that I do think James could've engaged with in a stronger fashion. There are several different types of prophecy used throughout Scripture, and for the layman who knows little of the finer points, it would've been helpful to include a chapter or section exploring the various methods. Very easily, this could lead to a flattening of typology in various prophetic methods. I am not certain James does indeed flatten said typology, but I do think this is an area that could've used greater explanation.
"If I say to a wicked person, `You will surely die,' but they then turn away from their sin and do what is just and right -- if they give back what they took in pledge for a loan, returns what they have stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and do no evil -- that person will surely life; they shall not die." Ezekiel 33:14-15
The single strongest part of the entire book comes in two chapters near the end. The first chapter is an exegetical study on the letters of 1 and 2 Peter, with specific preference placed on the harrowing of hell, or Christ's descent into hell. Here. James offers multiple interpretive methods, pulling from Aquinas, Gregory of Nyssa, Origen and Augustine. After showing several interpretations, James delves into his perspective on why these passages support postmortem salvation. Not only was postmortem salvation considered a valid option, it was indeed a dominant option within the early church fathers as the Apostles. Sees the Apostles Creed. James concludes this strong section with his belief that Jesus's descent included the gospel being proclaimed and salvation being offered to all who dwelt in hell. This is the most controversial part of the entire book, and also the most interesting. Though I already had a fairly strong belief in the possibility of postmortem salvation based on my own research, James' exegesis has swayed me even closer to embracing the view. For modern theologians who propose the harrowing of hell belief, see Jurgen Moltmann's "Descent into Hell" and Hans Urs von Balthasar's "Mysterium Paschale."
Within this chapter includes several far more speculative elements. James touches on the nephilim in Genesis 6:1-8, and his findings are fascinating. James draws from the Book of Enoch and and Scripture, concluding that indeed some fallen angels who disregarded their charge to guard humans and instead married women. He makes this claim that these spirits within Peter were human angelophanies based on the following evidence:
It is consistent with modern and ancient understandings of mammalians reproduction. It is consistent with Numbers 13:31-33, which says that the sons of Anak descended from the nephilim. Their appearance, according to Numbers, was like grasshoppers. This also includes Genesis 6 and the judgments that befell the human race, which makes sense if these beings are indeed human of some sort. This includes the wickedness of both pure human and the offspring. All of the wickedness could include these "spirits." You also have Hebrews 13:2 which says that some people showed kindness to angels while thinking those angels were human. This seems to be a possibility for the spirits imprisoned and that Christ's appearance offers conditional salvation. Simply put, I'm not convinced by this, but I do find it compelling enough to do my own research. In fact, I would argue that I am indeed excited to further explore the idea.
"Therefore, your majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue." Daniel 4:27.
The final chapter deals with judgment and the book of Revelation. This is by far the most complex chapter in the entire book. James begins with his research into the "kings of the earth," showing the complexity of the phrase throughout. It is used 14 times in the book of Revelation, and it offers multiple perspectives on their meaning. Revelation 1:5 tells use that Christ rules the kings, while Revelation 17:8 tells use that the prostitute instead is their ruler. I'm not of the opinion that Scripture contradicts itself, so we have to be very careful how to interpret everything within this incredibly symbolic book. It is this research that leads James to conclude that the gates of Revelation never close and the kings of the earth are shown entering, and this is consistent with postmortem salvation for those who choose it. I'm not convinced that Revelation teaches the potential postmortem salvation of those outside the gates because of various factors (the second death being one), but it does not strike me as outlandish to believe what James proposes. And his conclusions is gracious enough to allow for future distinction.
Conditional Futurism doesn't demand postmortem conversion, but it is consistent with it and I believe that James, whether or not he is ultimately successful in his writings, has indeed made it a priority to respect Scripture and maintain a biblically systematic consistency. For a wider case, I recommend Gregory MacDonald's "The Evangelical Universalist."
James has kept his personal life uninvolved from the scholarship shown, and for mostly good reason. It is very easy to write off an individual if they proclaim passionately a biblical view one disagrees with. Though this can make for a dry read given how much data is being presented, it does allow the reader to simply wrestle with the data itself and not the passion of the writer. This is entirely subjective, and I believe it worked in a positive manner.
However, in the final chapter after James has worked through objections to postmortem salvation and the kings of the earth, he delves into some brief personal revelations about his past resignation from his ministry due to his belief in postmortem conversions. He gives examples of Carlton Pearson who became an inclusive universalist, which James believes is incapable with conditional futurism as conditional futurism depends solely on Christ for salvation. James also touches on Rob Bell's "Love Wins," which he believes is feasible with conditional futurism. James is an exclusivist it seems, and everything from postmortem salvation to universalism must be filtered solely and exclusively through Jesus Christ. Opponents will and should appreciate this exclusive emphasis.
"Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?" Ezekiel 18:23.
Overall, this book was refreshing. It lacks emotional manipulation and offers countless Scriptures to wrestle with. It offers a unique perspective on the "spirits" in prison, and makes a compelling case for the nature of angelic beings. James' case for postmortem salvation is strong and I am now confident in openly expressing my support of his conclusions on that topic. I'm not entirely convinced of "conditional futurism" as the lacking elements above show, but I do believe this is a reasonable approach to Scripture and I believe there is room for further dialogue on this topic.
To the conversation here, and to the conversation in the beyond.
(resource publications an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers.)