The Bible and Other Texts
When discussing anything that has to do with Christianity, I believe that by using only one text, especially a post liberal theology text, and not comparing it side by side with the main source of biblical theology, the Bible, that you get a very skewed view and an out of context interpretation of what is being presented. The topic of the Second Coming of Christ is a prime example.
William C. Placher's book "A History of Christian Theology: An Introduction" is a good book, do not misunderstand me, however, it is also an example of a book that presents the view of one scholar and when used as a scholastic textbook becomes what is considered the "truth" when in fact it presents many aspects when weighed alongside the Bible that completely fall apart. An example is that he relates in that the people of Christ's time the people did not understand who Christ was or that Christs teachings in parables confused them and that His return could was not the fulfillment of scripture, but an internal desire to see His Kingdom on earth.
However, I again have to defer back to the bible as a rebuttal to this thought. Jesus, as He came closer to His imminent death, plainly spoke to His disciples and told them what was going to happen to Him and that He indeed would come again and that, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Mark 13:32)
Then you have John 14:2-4 which could not be any plainer about what He was going to do and that He would come back,
"In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know."
Verses that lead to belief that Jesus was "wrong" about His second coming, most notably, Luke 21:32-33, are lost in translation. The word used for "generation" that is normally translated is the greek word γενεά or 'genea' which has a variety meanings, including generation, but also "race".
"Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away."
This verse can also be interpreted as assurance that the Jewish race (nation) will not pass away before He comes back. It could also mean that "generation" refers to the generation of wicked humanity, at which point He would return.
This once again leads us back to the state of the human condition and the era that Christ came back to. The religious leaders who practiced legalistic religion were not able to grasp the words of Christ. The people were in turmoil and were desperately looking for not a religious Messiah that Christ was, but a military Messiah that would free them from oppression by the Romans.
Then you have to look at the faith of the Apostles who went out spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. These were ordinary men who most assuredly were frightened when their leader apparently died. But you once again have to look past the humanistic view portrayed by post-liberal theologians and look at what those men did. They died, horrible, excruciating deaths. They went against a system they knew would kill them the same as it did their master. Yet these men boldly and continually went out preaching in the name of Christ even when it meant their heads. Is that something that people would do without faith? Without a belief that what was in store for them, promised by the Messiah, was a lie? I don't think so.
Jesus said He was coming back. He said no one, not even Him, knew the time. He stated this plainly and without confusion. Human nature gripped those who followed Him and they buckled - for a moment - and then once the Holy Spirit came upon them (again as promised by Christ) they went out boldly and told the world that indeed, the Lord had come and would come again.
Reading text books is a great way to learn history of the Christian faith. But no textbook should ever outweigh the truths that God put into His Holy Word. They should always be stood up next to the Bible to see if they stand or fall.