Books on Revelation (5)

My fifth and final recommendation for reader-friendly books on Revelation is Michael Wilcock’s The Message of Revelation (IVP, 1991) originally published under the title I Saw Heaven Opened, 1975. wilcockI have the ’75 edition and do not know whether the ’91 edition is revised in any way. My comments here relate to the ’75 edition.

This book is now dated. It is written so obviously for  Evangelical Anglicans that if you are not one you feel a bit like you are eavesdropping. Its gender specific language is annoying. (“Nor does the scheme of divine truth, embracing time and eternity and announcing itself to men, fail of its effect . . .” [218]). Nevertheless, this is probably the most accessible commentary on the book of Revelation. It clearly influenced Peterson’s book (recommended below). It was the first, sensible, non-technical book on Revelation I ever read and it remains unsurpassed for clarity and simplicity. If you are lost with Revelation but would like to give it a chance, try reading through Revelation with Wilcock as your guide. I certainly would not have described Revelation as a “gorgeous picture book” and I don’t like the suggestion that it is the one biblical book we could do without. Yet, Wilcock’s exposition of Revelation as a drama in eight scenes is full of insight and good sense. This is still a great place to begin a study of the Bible’s final book.

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Books on the Book of Revelation (part 4)

Towering behind the work of both Woodman and McKelvey is the influence of Richard Bauckham. Written for an academic audience, his books may be less accessible to the general reader. bauckamtheologyEven so, his The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge University Press, 1993, 169 pages) is a brilliant introduction to the themes and issues and to the overall theology of the book of Revelation. Bauckham sees Revelation as a Christian prophecy, an apocalypse and a circular letter. It “does not predict a sequence of events, as though it were history written in advance” (150). Rather it is interested in the nature and meaning of history in the time before the end. It is a call to the church to live a counter-cultural life in imitation of Christ.

Worship, which is so prominent in the theocentric vision of Revelation, has nothing to do with pietistic retreat from the public world. It is the source of resistance to the idolatries of the public world. It points representatively to the acknowledgement of the true God by all the nations, in the universal worship for which the whole creation is destined (161).

The only problem with this book is that it is almost better than the real thing. If it is difficult to understand, it reads more easily than the book of Revelation itself! It transformed my understanding of the millennium and restored my appreciation of Revelation as not only palatable but vital for the church’s witness in the world today. This book is brimming with insight and understanding.

Revelation (3)

For me, the best, new, accessible and comprehensive treatment of the Book of Revelation is Simon Woodman’s The Book of Revelation in the SCM Core Text series (SCM, 2008, 259 pages).

woodmanrev02Written to bridge the gap between the scholarly and the populist, this book is written with the second and third year university student in mind. I think it is more accessible than that but it is a serious book that rewards careful reading. It is perfect for ministers and local church leaders preparing sermons or studies on Revelation. It is written by a Baptist whose blog can be found at baptistbookworm.blogspot.com.

Favorite aspects of this book for me are  its thumbnail sketches of all the major ‘characters’ of revelation and its excellent use of tables. Its treatment of ‘the beast’ and 666 (slightly marred by a couple of unfortunate typos) is worth the price of the book alone.  It also takes seriously the objections leveled against the book of Revelation and interacts with them helpfully and sensitively. I will be buying a copy of this for the church library and recommending it to anyone who wants to begin a serious study of the book of Revelation.

Revelation (continued)

MCKelvey coverMy second Revelation book plug is The Millennium and the Book of Revelation by R. J. McKelvey (Lutterworth, 1999, 109 pages). Written in preparation for the dawning of the year 2000, it is, in that sense, already dated. However, its approach and message continues to be relevant and I think the book deserves to be better known. It is a brief, sensible and well-considered introduction to the book of Revelation and its concept of the millennium.

The author, Jack McKelvey, is a former principal of Northern College, Manchester and is well-known among the churches of Didsbury. I thoroughly enjoyed his book on Revelation and I recommend it heartily.

McKelvey’s book is very accessible provided you are prepared to handle a few technical terms like ‘eschatology’, and ‘apocalypticism’. Such terms are usually explained when they first appear in the book but I suspect some readers will still find their use off-putting.  (One of the reasons why wild and wacky treatments of Revelation tend to be the most popular is because they peddle their nonsense in language everybody understands. It seems that good books on Revelation require a basic theological vocabulary).

McKelvey thinks the  concept of the millennium is essential to the book of Revelation and that it provides a way for Christian believers to hold together a heavenly hope and life-affirming social engagement in the here and now. He shows the book of Revelation to be a subversive critique of the culture of its day that provokes us to think and act Christianly in relation to our world today. Here’s a taster:

What was true of John’s time is also true of ours. In its mission to the world the church has to develop a critical edge on culture. . . John’s vision offers us an alternative to the prevailing ideology. . . A world like ours, which is in danger of being worn down by evil or opting out of programmes and movements of reform, is thus offered the one thing which it needs more than anything else – hope. . .

The Book of Revelation is an essential part of the New Testament. Without it we would be less prepared and equipped for Christian life and discipleship today. Of all the New Testament writings it is the most systematic exposé of evil and its power to deceive and enslave . . . If John seems to overdo the danger facing his readers this is only because he aims to help them appreciate more fully the nature and scope of God’s triumph and the important role which they themselves are called to play in it. (52)

Hmmmmm., this taking longer than I anticipated. The rest of my top five will have to continue tomorrow.

The Book of Revelation

Back in July our house-group completed a seven-week study of the book of Revelation.  It was more of an introduction than an exhaustive study (we always spend some of the time talking, laughing and praying together) and we left plenty of unanswered questions. Even so, I think we all found it enlightening and engaging. It helps when one of the group is a university lecturer in New Testament studies but also when others  have not read Revelation any time recently and at least one expresses dislike for the book to begin with. Over the course of the seven weeks we read the entire book out loud and if we had done nothing else this would have been a worthwhile exercise in itself.

Anyway, someone asked me what I thought were the best, accessible books on Revelation so here is my top five (in no particular order):

Reversed Thunder 02Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination by Eugene H. Peterson (Harper Collins, 1988). This is not a commentary but a beautifully written meditation on the book of Revelation. This is Peterson at his best. Through the lense of Revelation, he reflects on scripture, Christ, church, worship, evil, prayer, witness, politics, judgement, salvation and heaven.

The book of  Revelation is complex and draws heavily on the rest of scripture, especially the Old Testament.  If we don’t know the Old Testament we will have difficulty in even beginning to understand the book of Revelation. Peterson reintroduce us to the Old Testament in the light of Christian spirituality. He sparks a desire in our souls to read scripture, to pray and to deepen our lives. He has this to say about Revelation’s view of heaven and our response to it:

To the person who simply wants more, who is impatient of limits, who is bored with what he or she has and wants diversion from it, St John’s vision of heaven will not serve well. This is not a paradise for consumers. St John’s heaven is not an extension of cupidity upwards but an invasion of God’s rule and presence downwards. Heaven in the vision, remember, descends . . . If we don’t want God, or don’t want him very near, we can hardly be expected to be very interested in heaven (184–5).

I don’t go along with everything Peterson says but if I could keep only one book on Revelation this would be it.

The rest of my top five will continue tomorrow.

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