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Michael Brown and Craig Keener: Not Afraid of the Antichrist

Michael L. Brown and Craig S. Keener, Not Afraid of the Antichrist: Why We Don’t Believe in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture (Chosen, 2019), 238 pages, ISBN 9780800799168.

Eschatology—the study of the end times—seems to be a perennial topic of interest among Christian readers (and Christian publishers who seek to supply what the reading public wants). Sadly, many books that get published and rise to popularity seem to fall into one of two categories: authors who believe they have uncovered some great new insight into how biblical prophecy relates to today’s headlines (often relying on the most tenuous of speculation to link things together), and authors who know eschatology sells and jump on the bandwagon to get their slice of the revenue pie.

Biblical scholars Michael L. Brown (Old Testament) and Craig S. Keener (New Testament) break that mold. In Not Afraid of the Antichrist, the authors build their case against the dispensational, pre-Tribulation view of Christ’s second coming through careful exegesis of the relevant biblical texts, making a strong argument that Christ’s promised return will occur in one appearing that will take place after a period of great tribulation.

Brown and Keener make it clear in the book’s preface they understand the dilemma many readers will face when approaching this work: “What if the map of the end times I was taught for years earlier in my life gets challenged? What if I’ve been wrong all this time?” Such fears frequently hinder people from being willing to read views that may contradict what they have always believed (sometimes because they were taught that a certain system was “what the Bible clearly teaches,” and they see no point in reading something that “contradicts the Bible”). The authors write, “Holding the ‘right view’ does not put us in a position spiritually superior to those who differ, nor does it give us a license to put them down.” This irenic tone continues throughout the book, as the authors do not try to score “gotcha points,” but simply invite readers to examine the Scriptures on their own terms, without forcing things into a preconceived schema of how the end times will play out.

The authors observe how the prosperous West has bought into the idea that because God loves His children, He would never allow them to go through extreme tribulation, despite the fact that Jesus promised His disciples things would not be easy for them. Concerning whether believers will be taken out of the world before the terrible events described in the book of Revelation, “the issues should be whether the Bible actually teaches that we will escape it, and if not, how we should live. Such readiness is important for any kind of suffering we may face” (p. 24).

Not Afraid of the Antichrist is divided into three parts after the preface and introduction: (1) a survey of reasons many people doubt or question the popular “Left Behind” model of the end times; (2) an analysis of what the Scriptures actually say about the last things and Christ’s second coming; and (3) what the implications of the previous two sections suggest for how Christians should live their lives in light of these facts.

In Part One, Drs. Brown and Keener point out that the dispensational pre-Trib view unnecessarily complicates Bible prophecy, arguing that the simplest solution is usually more likely true. They demonstrate how various biblical passages that talk about the resurrection, death being the last enemy defeated, the time of Christ’s appearing in relation to the Tribulation, and other end-times events, end up being forced to contradict one another (or require elaborate, roundabout arguments to eliminate contradictions) when forced into the dispensational roadmap.

Both authors were initially taught dispensational pre-Tribulational eschatology when they became Christians. In chapter two, they discuss how they came to leave behind their “Left Behind” ideas. Brown relates how he began to wonder how it came to be that, “after reading the Bible day and night for two years, also memorizing thousands of verses, I could back up everything I believed with Scripture, but when it came to the Second Coming, I had to read other books? Why did I not just get this from the Word?” (p. 45). Keener relates how, when he converted to Christianity from atheism, he started out disposed to accept the teachings of his new church, which held to a pre-Tribulation view of the Rapture. But as a new convert called into ministry and attending Bible college, he felt the need to “catch up” with the other students who had grown up in church, so he started reading forty chapters of the Bible every day. Such sustained reading of large chunks of the biblical text led him to see the verses people used to support the dispensational view in their larger contexts, which did not support the way dispensationalists made use of them. When he then discovered that the pre-Trib view was not what all Christians everywhere had always believed, but was developed as recently as 1830[1], and that nearly all of the biblical scholars he respected held to a post-Trib view (although not all in the same exact way), he decided that he should follow the evidence of Scripture over denominational traditions.

Chapter three gives an overview of church history, discussing which views of the end times developed and dominated in different periods (often in relation to the Church’s social situation in relation to the rest of society). Chapter four discusses some of the major issues with the broader dispensational framework, such as arbitrary starting and ending points for the various dispensations that are not clearly marked in Scripture, the relationship of Israel and the Church as the people of God, and serious interpretive gaps introduced by the dispensational schema.

After discussing the issues that cause believers to question the dispensational framework, the second part of the book then dives into what the Bible itself teaches. In chapter five, Dr. Brown looks at the question of whether the Old Testament teaches a pre-Tribulation Rapture. He points out how time and again in the Hebrew Scriptures, even when God was pouring out His wrath on the wicked (whether pagan kingdoms or disobedient Israelites), the faithful, righteous remnant was preserved, and proposes that this could well be the pattern that will be repeated at the end of the age.

Chapter six addresses the question of whether there are one or two phases to Christ’s second coming, concluding that “there is only one second coming” (the title of the chapter). Exegetical work is done with reference to the Greek words for “coming,” “appearing,” and “revelation,” comparing the various passages where these words are employed, yet at a level of discussion that is accessible to readers who have not studied New Testament Greek. Chapter seven evaluates several arguments put forth by those who support a pre-Tribulation view, such as “We will not go through God’s wrath,” “Jesus can come at any moment,” and “Believers will be kept from the hour of testing,” among others. The authors demonstrate how some of these arguments are simply not sustainable from the text, and how others are not the “slam dunk” their proponents think them to be (by showing how the key passages in question can just as easily support a post-Tribulation view).

Chapter eight then presents several passages that the authors believe clearly argue for a post-Tribulation view of the single second coming of Christ. A helpful chart on pp. 151-152 shows how Jesus’ statements in the gospels align with Paul’s declarations in 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Dr. Keener concludes the chapter with an admonition to readers to be wiling to examine any system, eschatological or otherwise, from an outside viewpoint, so as to avoid the confirmation bias that comes from only looking at one’s theological framework from within.

“Tribulation is the normal experience of believers in this age. … We should always be ready to suffer for Christ and always be ready for Christ’s return.”

The third and final part of the book deals with the practical implications of the preceding analysis for Christian living. Chapter nine discusses the Tribulation as “an intensification of the satanic design that has corrupted the whole course of this age” (p. 161), rather than being something of another type entirely from what God’s people have always faced. The authors argue that Christians are better off if they prepare to face great trials and testings, rather than assuming they will be exempt from them. “In other words, tribulation is the normal experience of believers in this age. Not experiencing affliction is a blessed exception that we should enjoy when we have it, but we should not count on it as if it were our right in Christ. We should always be ready to suffer for Christ and always be ready for Christ’s return” (p. 166). Believers are to hold fast in allegiance to Christ and His ways, even in the midst of trials, lest at His coming they be found to be allied with the ways of the corrupt world systems.

Chapter ten discusses further how believers should live in light of a post-Tribulation view. Instead of speculating about the identity of the antichrist and looking for signs of his arrival, Christians should focus on living faithfully for Christ and anxiously await His appearing—not to whisk them off to heaven, but to judge the nations and reward His faithful followers. Christians should continue building for the Kingdom that is coming, including showing God’s love through the alleviation of human suffering, and not simply abandon this world to its present state because “Jesus is coming soon and the physical isn’t important.”

Chapter eleven, “A Practical Message,” points out that the passages in the Bible dealing with Jesus’ return are “less about relief from tribulation in this world than about being ready to stand before the Lord” (p. 201). The authors point out that our evangelism efforts must be more than offers of “fire insurance”—they should point out that there is a cost to discipleship, a cross to bear. Chapter twelve closes out the book, pointing out that the life Christ offers is worth any temporary pain or persecution we may face; that trials actually help to strengthen the church; that suffering can draw us closer to God because we can no longer rely on our own resources; and that, at the end of it all, God will restore paradise.

While this book may not convince everyone who holds to a dispensational, pre-Tribulational premillennialist view of eschatology, it should at least help people see that a post-Tribulation view has solid biblical support, and is not the “doom-and-gloom” scenario some pre-Tribulation supporters make it out to be. The biblical scholarship of the authors is top-notch, but presented in such a way as to be accessible to the average Christian reader with an interest in the end times.

Reviewed by Brain Roden

 

For further discussion by the book’s authors on this topic, check out the following video interviews:

Drs. Brown and Keener interviewed about this book in particular: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntFde3GQCBw

Dr. Brown explaining post-tribulation  end times theory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pw-kH0CG-xM

Dr. Keener discussing disproving the pre-tribulation rapture theory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzHZEyjihXk

 

Publisher’s page: http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/books/not-afraid-of-the-antichrist/390720

 

Preview Not Afraid of the Antichrist: https://www.google.com/books/edition/Not_Afraid_of_the_Antichrist/I6FkDwAAQBAJ

 

Notes

[1] Editor’s note: Proponents of Dispensationalism and pre-Tribulation Rapture dispute this late date as the emergence of this doctrine.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Spring 2022

About the Author: Brian P. Roden is a fourth-generation Pentecostal, raised in the Assemblies of God. He holds a BS in Computer and Information Science (1991) from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and an MA in Theological Studies (2017) from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. He received ordination with the Assemblies of God in 2014. Brian blogs at www.BrianRoden.com, and teaches in both English and Spanish at his home church in North Little Rock, Arkansas, where he resides with his wife Diana (a native of Mexico). They have two daughters.

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