The ancient Mayans could never have known that their stone calendar, which simply stops at a certain date, could have unleashed such global interest. The “2012” craze is simply the latest in a long line of dates given for the end of the world. Christian Bible prophecy teachers often get lambasted for failed predictions, but they have good company.

Now, a new book by Doug Woodward sorts out the various theories and presents a compelling look at end-of-the-world scenarios. “Decoding Doomsday” is a worthy addition to the library of anyone interested in such things (and, really, who isn’t?).

Woodward’s background is also quite impressive, especially when one considers his extensive research into doomsday scenarios. A minister in mainline churches and among the Reformed traditions, he is also an executive at Microsoft. Not exactly a wild-eyed radical.

The amount of research present in this book – and the detail given – makes it virtually an encyclopedia. For example, Woodward recounts the curious tale of a professor of Hebrew at New York State University, who in 1844 wrote that the Jews would one day physically return to Palestine and become a sovereign entity – a most decidedly “crazy” proposition in those days. The professor? None other than George Bush, ancestor of a couple future presidents that wouldn’t view such a reality in the same warm terms.

Then there are the numerous references to “doomsday” references from cultures all over the world. In Chapter 7, “Prophecies in the Americas,” for example, Woodward details the “future stories” of the Cherokee, who believe the Great White Brother, whom they also call the Feathered Rattlesnake will emerge in … 2012.

Something that separates Woodward from other writers of eschatology themes is that he presents so many diverse views. It broadens your understanding of eschatology immensely to be exposed to these views, and you needn’t be threatened by that.

An added bonus is Woodward’s clean writing style. This is no small quality to possess in an age of hyperbole and what I call the “Nathaniel Hawthorne Syndrome”: four pages to say what could have been conveyed in a paragraph. It is that simplicity of style that enables Woodward to pack a ton of information in “Decoding Doomsday.”

And lest the reader think Woodward only exposes the excesses of the more well-known prophecy enthusiasts, he unveils a knowledge of some truly outlandish theories.

In Chapter 5, “Science Predicts the End of the World,” the author describes the cosmic theories of a Sumerian expert, Zecharia Sitchin. This researcher’s view is that planetary sightings signal the time of the end, and Sitchin advocates for ancient astronauts, feeling that “those who argue for the existence of extraterrestrials (and their helping hand) to be more credible than apocalyptic prophets.” Well, the reader will have to decide whether he or she finds more credibility in the “chariots of the gods” view than the biblical ones.

Woodward also approaches this vast subject more as an investigator than a dogmatic advocate. He allows the reader to digest information presented and come to reasonable conclusions, which helps make “Decoding Doomsday” an accessible text for anyone, really.

Perhaps, though, the chief benefit of Woodward’s epic work here is his lucid insistence that quite apart from the ideas that prophecy proponents are unhinged, he believes studying the proposed end of all things is in fact healthy. He provides a robust intellectual approach to the subject. He insists that the subject is of profound importance to each member of the human race, and here’s one reader who agrees wholeheartedly.

Woodward is also not shy about tackling some of the hallmarks of Doomsday discussion: the Antichrist; where is America in Bible prophecy; and is World War III a plausible future scenario. Indeed, Woodward’s research into the identity of Antichrist and America’s role in the end is worth the price of the book.

In the end – warning: clever pun in your rear-view mirror! – “Decoding Doomsday” is an intellectual tour de force and at the same time, almost incredibly, so readable for the layman that it will surely be a topic of discussion all by itself. Get it; read it; think on it.

Heavily illustrated, “Decoding Doomsday” is a sensational and indispensable addition to the student’s library.

Discover how real and relevant Bible prophecy is to you with Jim Fletcher’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine): How to stop worrying and learn to love these end times”

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