Four Types of End Times Books & the Order in which to Read Them!
At Substance, we’ve been doing an End Times sermon series called: “BRB: Tough Questions about the Second Return of Christ.” And in case you didn’t know, the academic word for this is called: Eschatology (pronounced, Es-ka’TOL-ogy). Thus, if someone writes a book about the end of the world, the book of Revelation, or God’s final plan for modern Israel, it’s generally considered to belong to this category.
So, naturally, I’ve been getting a lot of requests for various book recommendations. And if you browse for them, you’ll quickly see, there are a LOT! And part of this is because, most people feel like we’re living in the last days of planet earth.
But the other reason why there are so many books about the end times is because, well… They sell well and appeal to people who want a sense of control over the chaos! The only problem is that, many of these books are total trash and they often use End Times topics to scare people into heaven. So, it’s not uncommon for people to ask me: What books should I be reading? And what books should I avoid?
Keep in mind, if you’re trying to determine your theology of the End Times, you can’t do it over-night. Think of it like building a big tower on your own: You need to focus on the foundation as well as the pillars. And here’s how you know you’ve built the foundation right: If you can’t make a good argument for every major eschatological approach, then you probably haven’t done enough homework to have a strong opinion. So, don’t build your house (or tower) on the sand! And the opposite extreme: Don’t avoid the topic either!
So, before I list the four categories of books about the End Times, I’m assuming you’re reading “THE” book, the Bible! And I outline a basic Bible reading plan of the most hotly debated chapters in my blog on How to Decide Your View of the End Times – A Five Step Study Process
But, with all that said: Instead of just telling you what books to read (and giving you my pre-digested theology), I’ve created a list outlining four types of eschatology books and the order in which you should read them. And then below all of this, I give a few recommendations!
THE FOUR TYPES OF END TIMES BOOKS:
In these types of books, the author has already picked a very specific approach to the end times and they want to teach it to you. In some ways, it’s good to have at least one of these for each of the historical approaches. After all, each approach can get very confusing; so, it helps to have a book that gives you a good overview.
But keep in mind: Dispensational Pre-Trib Pre-Millennialism tends to dominate the end times book market. (And part of it is because it’s the approach to the end times that’s so dramatic: the anti-Christ, the Mark, etc). But I’m telling you this because, if you bought 10 books on the end times, probably 8 would all be the same Dispensational Pre-Trib approach. So, if you want to make sure you’re getting some diverse viewpoints, be sure to read some of the reviews.
But here’s the problem with predigested theology books: Many of these authors don’t allow you to peek into the hundreds of decisions that brought them to these conclusions – nor the dozens of giant assumptions that other scholars disagree with.
Thus, before you purchase these (listed below), I usually recommend people to start with the second category of end times Books:
(2) SEMI-ACADEMIC COMPARISON BOOKS:
Many books survey several theological views, then give a point / counter-point debate about their key scriptures and assumptions. The good news is that there’s a decent number of them that will help you get a good overview of each positions (as well as the scriptures that back them up).
Also keep in mind, if you really want a solid foundation, you aren’t merely studying the differences between Premillennialism and Amillennialism, etc; rather, you’re also going to need a strong understanding between Dispensationalism and Covenentalism (a.k.a., what does the Bible teach about Israel verses the church? Does the church fulfill the Old Testament (Covenentalism). Or was it God’s backup plan (Dispensationalism)? You see, theologies like these have a tendency to impact the End Times. So, be sure to get a few comparison books on this topic as well.
Rose Guide to End-Times Prophecy: by Timothy Paul Jones
My new favorite! Imagine if someone merged a high-school history book with a DK travel book (you know, those books with glossy pictures on every page). The first few chapters felt a bit basic to me. Yet, by the end, I was like: “This book is perfect for newbies!” I was surprised by how well-written and fair it was to each view-point. In fact, I now recommend it to be one of your first five eschatology books.
A Basic Guide to Eschatology: Making Sense of the Millennium by Millard J. Erickson – This book is, by far, my favorite survey book. You can skip the first couple chapters on Schweitzer and Bultmann and dive right into the Millennial views : ) But, it is SO helpful for getting all the basic arguments. This book also led me to a lot of other substantial treatises on the subject! Another one to add to your “first five End Times books.”
The Last Days Handbook: Robert P. Lightner – After I first became a teaching pastor, this was the first comparison book I could find on the subject. And honestly, it was the first book that helped me get a grasp of the big picture. So, even though it’s not my top pick anymore, I’ll always be fond of it. But, it’s been updated since I read it; so, it just might be your fav!
“The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy” by Tim LaHaye & Ed Hindson – This should probably be another one of your first five books based on simple helpfulness. It’s definitely written with a Dispensational Premillennialist bias — which can be quite irritating in certain articles. Yet, even if you aren’t a Pre-trib Dispensationalist, the essays can be a lot more helpful than the articles you’ll find on the web – which are far less fair to opposition view-points. (And the irony of you reading this on the web right now isn’t lost to me haha). But an encyclopedia like this is going to be essential as you sort through the topics. After all, there’s a lot of lingo and weird debates that can get confusing, like Gog & Magog, The Restrainer Debate, Ezekiel’s War vs. Armageddon, Preterism, Parousia, etc. A lot of nerdy writers tend to throw these terms around like they’re everyday words. So, it helps to have some non-website based scholarship – (as it tends to have better citations that enable more research) as well as more scriptures.
For Sorting out Dispensationalism vs. Covenentalism (views of Israel vs. the church), try: “Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views” by Chad O. Brand – It’s a bit academic but, it’ll help you discover the more nuanced views of Progressive Dispensationalism and Progressive Covenentalism. Or try “Three Views on Israel and the Church: Perspectives on Roman 9-11” by Jared Compton
And this leads us to the third category:
(3). BIBLE COMMENTARIES ON SPECIFIC ESCHATOLOGICAL BOOKS:
(eg. An entire book that goes line-by line through Revelation; Daniel or Ezekiel, etc).
At the risk of sounding obvious, it also helps to read the key eschatological books. And even more important, it helps to read them in the order in which they were written. It’s amazing to me how many people start with Revelation. But many scholars argue that the prophetic books (esp. Daniel) form the backbone. So, study it before the Olivet Discourse and Revelation. Make sense? Otherwise, you may end up missing some of the assumptions and key context that accompany each new book of the Bible.
But, some of these books can be rather tough. Thus, grab a good commentary that can cover the chapters, verse by verse. (And keep in mind: there are academic commentaries that specialize on the Greek & Hebrew as well as “lay-person” commentaries that stay pretty basic). But once again, it’s critical for you to know if you’re reading a commentary by a Premillenialist or Amillennialist before you buy it. And it’s helpful to have both.
A Commentary on the Revelation of John – George Eldon Ladd – This is, by far, my favorite commentary on Revelation. In fact, Ladd is one of my fav’s when it comes to anything about theology.
Daniel – New American Commentary 18 – Stephen Miller
The Book of Revelation – Robert H. Mounce – This 1977 commentary is still a classic. I like this because: (1). It’s an academic commentary yet is accessible to normal folks. (2). He has a cautious premillennial hermeneutic – which is increasingly rare now adays; and (3). He has a solid understanding of the apocalyptic genre.
For additional commentaries, try out “Revelation” by Grant R. Osborne. He also gives a tolerant survey of various views.
And if you want an Amillennial commentary that’s reliable and technical, consider G.K. Beale’s “The Book of Revelation” from NIGTC (get the shorter one). And a lot of people enjoy, Revelation for Everyone: N.T. Wright
(4). TABLOID END TIMES BOOKS:
This final category often crowds the top selling ranks at the bookstore. These are books that are partially about the end times but are equally about conspiracies and current events. They usually have a little pre-digested theology (usually Dispensational Pre-trib); but, instead of sharing a lot of “foundation scriptures” that actually help you figure out your doctrine, instead, most of these authors assume you agree (perhaps throwing a little shade at anyone who’d dare to disagree). And then they obsess over Blood Moons, Bible codes or the geo-political politics of modern Israel – as if it were “evidence” of what the Bible teaches. And perhaps they’re right!? (And perhaps I’m cynical).
But here’s a little piece of advice: If you can’t give a solid scriptural argument for all the historical approaches to the end times, then, you probably shouldn’t be reading these types of books yet (Aunt Linda, I’m talking to you). But seriously, it truly makes me sad when Christians know more about blood moons and rabbinical traditions than they do the actual words of Christ from the Olivet Discourse. And I realize that these types of books are exciting. But they are often filled with religiously transmitted diseases too.
Recommendations: Uhm. I’m sure my Aunt Linda has already given you one of these — along with her favorite book: “Essential Oils for Cats” (that’s not a real book, hopefully).
For my top picks on “PRE-DIGESTED End Times Theology”
Dispensational Pre-millennialism: “The End Times in Chronological Order” by Ron Rhodes – If you want a clear and concise idea about the complicated order of a pre-tribulation rapture, this is an interesting read. It may not give you a deep understanding of the scriptural arguments behind it all. But, the goal is to give you a basic understanding of all crazy terms from a Dispensational Pre-mil view.
Historical Pre-millennialism: “The Blessed Hope” by George Eldon Ladd is my favorite. Ladd has had a huge impact on my eschatology. But, if you wanted a more modern and imaginative take, also try “End Times Made Easy” by Gary Wentz. The graphic designing and dressing is terrible. But he seems to have a good spirit about him.
Post-Millennialism: Try “The Millennium” by Loraine Boettner
As you’d imagine, there are a million other books I could have mentioned. And if you have any recommendations, let me know. I probably rip through a book each week so, I’d love any suggestions. And be sure to watch the sermon series and read my other blogs on this subject!