Jul 27, 2011

Interview with Dr. Steve Lemke on The Return of Christ

Recently I posted on a new book entitled The Return of Christ. One of the editors of this work, Dr. Steve Lemke, has graciously agreed to be interviewed for this blog. 

Steve Lemke is Provost, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics, and the McFarland Chair of Theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, a co-sponsor of the Acts 1:11 Conference.  He also serves as Director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry, and as Editor of the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry.  Dr. Lemke’s publications include co-editing Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Introduction to Interpreting Scripture and Whosoever Will:  A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five Point Calvinism, as well as contributing articles to A Harmony of the Gospels, The Holman Bible Dictionary, The Baptist Faith and Message 2000:  Critical Issues in America’s Largest Protestant Denomination, and The Apologetics Study Bible.  He has taught at several theological institutions, and has served as a pastor, interim pastor, and staff member of a number of churches.

Question: How did you first become involved in this project? 
The Return of Christ is the second book that I have co-edited with Dr. David Allen, Dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Both of these books originated with the desire to publish and expand the material presented at two conferences sponsored by Jerry Vines Ministries and co-sponsored by a number of theological institutions. The first book was Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five Point Calvinism, which arose from the John 3:16 Conference at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, GA in 2008.  Likewise, The Return of Christ: A Premillennial Perspective arose from the Acts 1:11 Conference at Metro First Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, GA in 2009.  Both books address key issues and offer perspectives that we feel are very important in the lives of contemporary Christians and in conservative evangelical churches.

Question: What do you see as the overall thesis of the book?
The Return of Christ attempts unapologetically to present a positive case for and defense of a pretribulational, premillennial perspective on eschatology – that is, that the rapture will occur before a seven year period of tribulation, followed by the return of Christ to the earth to reign for 1,000 years. Each contributor shares that theological perspective, and argues for it in his own particular area of expertise.  Our intent is to provide Christians a scholarly yet readable book on this crucial subject to use as a guide in their own study of the Bible.

Question: How did this book most impact your own life and ministry?

When I was a seminary student and a young pastor, eschatology was one of the most burning issues in discussions among both ministers and laypeople. The surest way to draw interest in a church Bible study was to announce that you were going to speak on end times. It seems to me that this interest has diminished in some ways, at least among many young seminarians, but I believe that the interest in the church remains strong, as indicated by the amazing popularity of the “Left Behind” series.  Even the public attention given to Harold Camping’s misguided predictions about the return of Christ this year, or President Obama’s use of the word “Armageddon” when speaking of our national budget crisis, underscores the fascination that believers and even unbelievers have with end times.  As humans, we can’t live without hope, and without the firm assurance in the return of Christ, there is no hope for our lives or for our world.

Question: Who do you think should read this book?

We wrote this book for the church. This is a book written at a level that is readable for both laypersons but also scholarly enough for pastors and other church staff members, as well as ministerial students. While the book deals with some challenging concepts, any serious Bible student can understand it.  The Return of Christ is going to be used as a text in some Christian colleges or seminaries, but we believe that its greatest market may be among lay believers.

Question: What do you hope to accomplish through this book?

We hope through The Return of Christ to reassert the case for a pretribulational, premillennial eschatology.  While a premillennial eschatology was held by the majority of evangelical scholars at one point, there is greater diversity today among evangelicals in their eschatological beliefs. While in no way would we break fellowship with believers who affirm other eschatological positions, we believe that the Bible most clearly affirms a premillennial perspective.

The first section of the book has printed versions of all the major presentations at the Acts 1:11 Conference, including sermons by well-known preachers Jerry Vines and Junior Hill, and presentations about different aspects of premillennial eschatology by Ergun Caner, Provost of Arlington Bible College; Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Paige Patterson,  President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; David Allen, Dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Richard Land, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.  The second half of the book is made up of additional articles contributed by Stanton R. Norman, Provost of Oklahoma Baptist University; Craig Blaising, Provost of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Lamar Cooper, Provost of the Criswell College; Steven Cox, Research Professor of New Testament at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary; and Michael Vlach, Professor of Theology at the Master’s Seminary.

Our larger goal, of course, is not just to present and argue the case for a particular eschatological position, but to strengthen people’s faith and hope in the return of Christ.  We hope our readers feel a greater sense of assurance about the Lord’s return, and that through that affirmation that they experience greater hope in their own lives.

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