Book Review

Without Roots

Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam, by Joseph Ratzinger and Marcello Pera ★★★★

This book consists of simultaneous lectures given in Rome by Joseph Ratzinger (soon after changing his name to Pope Benedict XVI) and Marcello Pera, president of the senate of Italy and philosophy professor. This is followed by a commentary letter from Pera to Ratzinger and a return letter from Ratzinger to Pera.

Pera’s speech is given first. In it, he comments on the identity crisis of the west, being faced with relativism from Islam, contextualists, deconstructionists, and even within the church. With the loss of identity and ability to value older Christian tradition, and with the loss of belief in truth, the west has been left without a legitimization for its own existence.

Ratzinger follows. Europe, according to Ratzinger, is entirely a product of Christian civilization, and for which they were intimately intertwined. Christianity essentially defined Europe and its culture, that is, until quite recently.

Pera responds with a letter addressing Ratzinger’s talk, and Ratzinger responds in kind with a letter. Both letters were complementary, and relates to Europe’s abandonment of its Christian roots. Pera focuses on political aspects of Europe, debating why Europe is unable to construct a unified constitution, and exploring the relationship between the secular and Christian Europe. Indeed, as Europe sees Christianity as an expired and judgmental notion, Europe also enters into what Pera terms self-hate, but I think that self-loathing is probably a better description of what is going on in Europe. Pera’s discussion becomes muddied. He describes the continual state of war in Europe (and the world) as normative, and thus to not think of war as intrinsically evil. This is misguided, since many evils are normative in this world. The Catholics do have the doctrine of original sin! Pera advocates for a non-denominational Christian religion. Ratzinger takes the discussion from here, agonizing over the division of Christianity in Europe following the Reformation. He suggested (in 2004 when the book was written) that America was doing a much better job with maintaining Christianity in the public square. If Ratzinger were alive today, I think he would take back most of his remarks. Ratzinger astutely notes “Statistics tell us that the more churches adapt themselves to the standards of secularization, the more followers they lose”. Ratzinger offers reflections on how Christianity could be in a non-denominational manner more present in the public square. This is an issue that will foster debate and discussion in both Europe as well as the now deeply secular United States of America.

I always appreciate reading Ratzinger/Benedict. He had a strong conservative Christian mindset, and displays how the Roman Catholic church still has elements of conservatism, and still has the same battles as the Protestants in fighting against secularism, relativism, invasion of other cultures (esp. Islam), and abandonment of the concept of truth. This exchange between Pera and Ratzinger supports JI Packer’s thesis of the value of maintaining rapport between conservative Catholics and Protestants. Both sides have great thinkers who would serve better if they would engage in talk with each other.

I have only one objection to Ratzinger, which probably is more of a misconception on my part of his thinking. After reading his book describing the lives of the patristic fathers, he comments fairly harshly on Tertullian for his separatist behavior, yet is kind to Origin in spite of his wild speculative theology. This attitude probably affected his thinking of modern separatists (the Reformation Protestant movement) who, like Tertullian, sought to bring corrective measures to the church. Ratzinger ignores the huge influence Tertullian has had on the Roman Catholic (western) church. This sort of thinking will only do harm to his efforts to usher in a “non-denominational” Christianity in Europe, as it paints the Roman church in a hierarchically superior position to Protestantism. Perhaps that is true. Yet, Ratzinger in his writings assiduously avoids mentioning the sins and faults of the Roman church, including its current idolatries, heterogeneity, and secularism that pervades much of the church. This thinking does damage to the thesis of an otherwise quite remarkable person.

Without Roots can be read in several evenings. Protestants need to accept that many in the Catholic church are probably closer to their thinking than fellow liberal Protestants which promote the elevation of the self to god-like status. Without Roots was a worthwhile read, though I’d be selective with whom I’d also recommend the book.

The Christian View of Man

The Christian View of Man, by J. Gresham Machen ★★★★★

This book was published posthumously, representing a series of radio talks that JG Machen gave before his untimely death. It was originally published in 1937, and this is a Banner of Truth reprint obtained from Amazon.

JG Machen is a true giant of the faith. As a scholar, he studied in Germany under the liberal theologians of the time, later leading the charge against the liberalism that was destroying the Presbyterian church. The warnings and cautions issued by Machen in this text are certainly more relevant today than when he gave his talks. He anticipated the degeneration of society and labeled the root cause as that of the public losing faith in God. He anticipated the development of nuclear energy and the destructive uses that might be forthcoming from that. Machen was very prophetic in anticipating the results of casting God out of the schools and out of government.

This text might better be titled Anthropology 101. In this set of 20 radio talks, Machen explores the theology of who man is, God’s providence over man, the creation and fall of man, our response to God as fallen sinners, original sin, and how God saves us. Machen speaks (writes) in a very simple fashion that almost anybody could understand, yet covers some very complex deep topics that could open a wealth of discussion and reflection. This is truly solid, hard-core theology delivered with the intention of having academic theology affect the practical aspects of life. In this, Machen is completely successful.

The book is highly recommended by me for any Christian serious about his faith. This might have been perhaps my second time through the book, having read it 20-30 years ago. I don’t really remember, but then, it’s a book worth reading twice. It can be easily read over the course of 2 or 3 evenings.

Non-Computable You

Non-Computable You: What you do that artificial intelligence never will, by Robert J. Marks ★★★★

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a hot topic in the news and on the internet. This has been true for at least the last 50 years. Now, with more powerful computer systems and the development of more sophisticated algorithms that allow for incrementally more powerful programs which feign the appearance of being a sentient machine, the question about the capabilities of AI has become a more serious consideration. As a leading developer of “intelligent” systems, Robert Marks quickly puts to rest any notion that machines could actually think. Simply stated, machines will only be able to process algorithmic instructions, which thus excludes the ability of the machine to show creativity, ingenuity, or thinking “outside of the box”. Thus, the sci-fi fears of Terminator-style robots taking rule over humans should remain within the realm of fiction.

Marks does a masterful job of showing how computers will never be able to compete with humans on the thinking tasks that matter most. After quickly putting to rest notions that AI will someday become creative, he offers 12 filters to quell the hype of the AI movement; actually, these 12 filters apply to much of life and to discerning truth from fiction. There follows a section where he discusses the history of AI, which was both informative as well as enjoyable to read. Next, a section follows that explores the thinking of Gödel, Turing, and Chaitin, which is relevant in grasping the more theoretical aspects of thinking through AI, though sometimes a bit muddy. The discussion of the Halting Oracle, or of elegant systems was intriguing but not something I would challenge my mind with, even on a rainy day. I felt that the Marks Tax Collector example had faulty logic that produced an impossible answer.

The ethics of AI was most intriguing to me, and I’m thankful that there are those that are asking these questions. If an AI machine makes an “error” (such as an automatic guidance automobile that hits and kills a pedestrian), who is to blame? The human mind shows a vastly greater ability to manage ambiguous situations than any algorithmic device would ever possess. Thus, caution in the excess use of AI must be exercised. We probably won’t be seeing robots taking over the world and achieving independence from man, but it would be expected that other sorts of challenges will arise when AI becomes more commonplace in society.

This text has brought back to mind a book I read many years ago, and which I hope Marks has read, called Technopoly by Neal Postman. Postman describes how technology is used to solve problems that man has asked, such as, how can I travel somewhere faster than present, or, how could I communicate with someone on the other side of the planet. With technopoly, technology is now used to create solutions where there is no problem. Postman offers multiple examples in his book. Perhaps AI has migrated from simply being a technological tool to a technopoly issue that provides solutions to issues that are not a problem. Perhaps.

This book was a delightful read, and very thought-provoking. For those curious about where AI might be headed, this would be the book of choice for exploring those curiosities.

Return of the God Hypothesis

Return of the God Hypothesis: Three scientific discoveries that reveal the mind behind the universe, by Stephen C. Meyer ★★★★★

I had this book sitting on my bookshelf for two years before I was finally able to read it. And, I’m glad I did. This book was hard to put down and was successful in generating much thought and reflection. This review will note only a few thoughts generated by Meyer’s writing.

The book is written in five parts. First, Meyer begins by giving us a history of our current problem. Science was grounded in a theistic setting. Many would argue the necessity for a theistic origin to science, as Christian theism posits an infinite-personal God who designed, created, and then maintains all things in our universe. Thus, it is a reliable and not capricious system that could be described by various “laws” and cataloged with systems of knowledge. During the 19th century, the theistic belief system was challenged by those who opted for a materialistic explanation for the world that did not require another intelligent being to make our world fall into place.

In part II, Meyer then discusses the fine-tuning of the universe, beginning with the initial parameters of the “big bang”, down to the information code of DNA. Six or more fine-tuning parameters have (so far) been identified as being the constrains that allows the physics of the universe to be stable as it is. Even minimal alterations of those parameters would create a high unstable system that could not support the assemblage of atoms, let alone that of a universe with life. These parameters were (supposedly) brought into existence as random quantities in the first few “Planck moments” at the start of the universe, yet happened to create a highly stable universe with surprising characteristics. The improbability of this happening becomes vastly less than than of selecting out a single subatomic particle within the entire breadth of the created universe. If one had an infinite amount of time for this to happen, one could posit that the random chance of any universe coming into existence during that infinity. Or, is that really true? Meyer hesitates to identify certain exceedingly improbably events as simply impossible.

In Part III, Meyer offers the logical argument in defense that an intelligent design creating the universe is far more probable than random events generating our world. Meyer probes into issues related to the beginning of the universe, the design of the universe and the design of life on earth. In all of these situations, the extreme improbability of a naturalistic explanation for the existence of the the world as we see it is seriously trumped by the intelligent design argument. Yet, ultimately, the leaning toward ID vs Random Events (RE) trickles down to presuppositional considerations. If a person were to adamantly maintain that the probability of an intelligent designer (God) is necessarily zero (how they would legitimately argue this claim I don’t have a clue), then naturalistic explanations would always win. Indeed, that is what the atheistic philosophers of science are doing. Meyer frequently quotes Carl Sagan as stating that the universe is exactly what one would expect given a naturalist basis for the universe. Yet, this saying is entirely non-sensical and an argument from a posteriori considerations. Which is to say, if the existence and activity of an intelligent designer is out of the question then there is no argument to be maintained and clearly our universe of necessity must be explained naturalistically. Also emphasized is that Sagan feels that the world only appears to be intelligently designed. Appearances most often are not deceptive, and the possibility that the appearances are pointing most overtly to the truth remains to be explained by Sagan.

Part IV is a discussion of a potpourri of various other hypotheses regarding the origin of the universe. Prevalent are some of the latest theories of origination, such as the multiverse hypothesis, string theory, etc. The multiverse theory suggests that an infinite number of universes have been generated out of the big bang. How and why that could have happened is not explained. Indeed, the theory loses its punch because it explains too much; If an infinite number of random universes have been generated, then there must (of necessity) be an infinite number of absolutely identical universes to the one we are currently experiencing. Many of those universes would have been generated with age and complexity as great or greater than our universe. With an infinite chance of anything happening, there is no reason to not believe that our existence started only seconds ago, with the world and our current consciousness possessing false memories of the past. Thus, we end up in an epistemological crisis with no solution, as there would be no way to trust our current thoughts or memories.

Physicists argue about the nature of the earliest moments of the big bang with some trepidation. At the earliest Planck moments of the big bang, the world would still be small enough to need description with solely quantum formulae. Assembling the wave equations of quantum mechanics with the wave formulae of general relativity, and then placing (arbitrary) boundary values and conditions, we generate approximations to the solutions of these formulae. Tweeking all of the boundary values and constants of physics, we learn that there is an infinite number of solutions, even though we pick the solution that best resembles our world. This leaves one with an uncomfortable question. Traditionally, the laws (equations) of physics were considered to be descriptors of how we perceive reality. F=M*A may be observationally true, yet there are possibilities (such as in the quantum world) where such a formula would need to be modified. To hold that the formulae of physics are the reality would be a mistake. Thus, the concept that all the universe needed was the proper wave equations in order to come into existence would be a grevious error. Yet, physicists falsely continue to seek solutions to the basic equations of physics and then imply that these solutions offer a true glimpse at the creation of the world. At the end of this section, Meyer introduces the idea of the Boltzmann Brain which offers not a solution to the creation of the world, but rather a suggestion of issues of epistemology.

Part V is two brief chapters summarizing the arguments of the book. It is also a personal history of Stephen Meyer and how he came to be the avid defender of intelligent design. All said, this was a wonderful book to read, well written, and fairly convincing argument for the compatibility of (real) science and that of intelligent design. I enjoyed every moment of the book, and found it to be quite capable of generating inquisitive questions for the author. Perhaps some day I’ll be able to hash it out with Dr. Steve????

Church Fathers

Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine, by Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger)★★★★

This book is a series of homilies that Benedict gave (mostly) in St. Peters’ Square every Wednesday in late 2007. Each homily (chapter) is a short vignette of an early church saint, with a few saints receiving two chapters, and Augustine five. Benedict is salutatory toward each of these saints, save for perhaps a few comments regarding the separatist nature of Tertullian. Benedict skillfully brings out the significance of these people to our current lives. He instructs as to the holiness and wisdom of these church fathers, traits that call all of us to adapt. A few of the saints were from the eastern desert of Syria, saints that I was unfamiliar with.

My only criticism of this work is Benedict’s inability to also instruct us as to the flaws of these fathers. Cyril of Alexandria was a most belligerent and unkind character; Origin’s speculative theology caused many including his contemporaries to accuse him of heresy, Jerome was a mean, surly character, and so on. To have flaws does not diminish one’s importance as an early church father, which must be remembered.

My criticism aside, this text has charm, and will help the Christian toward gaining a better understanding of a few of the saints who went before us. Their holiness, their steadfastness in spite of persecution and death, give us all a reminder that our faith is not a cheap faith, but rather was purchased by the blood of many of our forefathers.

Triumph of the Lamb

Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, by Dennis E. Johnson ★★★★

This is about the fourth in a series of commentaries that I have read on Revelation in the recent past. The first was by Hendrickson titled More Than Conquerors. The second was by Doug Wilson, When the Man Comes Around, the third by Vern Poythress The Returning King, and now this text. Hendrickson’s text was my favorite for providing an overall means of interpreting the book. Vern Poythress’ text really didn’t delve into hardcore analysis of the text. Wilson’s text was a joke. And now, this text. Johnson admits that many of us in America were weaned on Dispensational Premillennialism, and certainly my exposure to Hal Lindsey and all of his writings were in my youth taken with a deep degree of seriousness. I didn’t know better back then. I still have a reduced version of Beale’s text on Revelation to work through.

Johnson does a reasonable assessment of the text, and I appreciate his approach of not being militantly in favor of a particular school of prophetic interpretation. Indeed, he leaves the discussion of the scholarly approaches to Revelation to an appendix; I certainly can understand why he did that, yet, I think the book would have been better served with such a discussion given in the early section of the text. I, like Johnson, lean heavily towards an idealistic interpretation, which means, we approach the book from the viewpoint that it provides multiple recurring glimpses of the Christian era (from the birth of Christ until he comes again), with the “millennium” from Rev. 20:6 referring to the Christian era of the church. Even with its problems, I think that Hendrickson provides a bit better sense as to the seven-fold recurring history of the church, each from a differing though advancing perspective.

The strength of this text is Johnson’s ability to show the relevance of Revelation to everyday life. Each chapter started with some discussion from everyday life, and then morphs into the text of Revelation, showing its practical meaning. It is too easy to assume that Revelation is an obscure book, requiring smoking a hallucinogen before reading in order to best grasp textual meaning, something best left to Hal Lindsey and Doug Wilson. That is precisely what the book of Revelation is not! Christ’s return will be imminent, yet when least expected. Until then, Revelation paints out exactly what the Christian will be facing, a world hell-bent on destroying the Christian faith. Between the dragon (the devil), the beast (world government system), the false prophet (the lying press) and the prostitute (the pleasures of life, personal peace and prosperity), we can expect that Christians may see suffering and persecution. Yet, ultimately the lamb will triumph. Our vision must look for Christ’s ultimate victory, and not our immediate circumstances.

Maranatha, come quickly Jesus.

Darwin Comes To Africa

Darwin Comes To Africa, by Olufemi Oluniyi ★★★★★

I received this book from the Discovery Institute and promptly put down all my other books to read it. My wife and I had worked as medical personnel in Maroua, Cameroon, located in the extreme north of Cameroon in the Sahel, adjacent to Northern Nigeria, which is the region of this book’s focus. It was the Fulani people with whom we interacted. During our time of service among the Fulani people (in 2009), we were oblivious to their history. What we observed were a very remarkable people, intelligent, innovative, musical, and pleasant to be around. In many ways, they had social structures of caring for each other that is superior to what is found in the west. Our experience confirms what the author Oluniyi describes as the nature of African people.

This book is in two sections, the longer describes British rule in Nigeria as representative of how the African people were treated by their overlords. The later section then offers a brief polemic against Darwinism and in support of intelligent design. Finally, a defense against the notion of Africa being nothing but bands of warring tribes is capably sustained.

The arrogance of the British was witness against the Christian faith, and the logical result of their Darwinist Weltanschauung. A look at European colonization behavior demonstrates the global behavior of holding different races as evolutionary inferiors to their European counterparts. The British treatment of the aboriginal tribes of Africa, China, India, Australia, the south Pacific islands, and the Americas would leave any observer disbelieving that Great Britain actually was a Christian nation. Oluniyi’s analysis of British behavior in Nigeria convinces me that the British were nothing but civilized savages with no concern for their Christian roots. British behavior in India and with China similarly can easily be attributed to the same Darwinist notions that Oluniyi writes about regarding British behavior in Nigeria that guided the Brits to oppress anybody that was not European in origin. An example gleaned from the cinema can be found in the movie The Bridge Over the River Kwai. The substance of the movie was that the Japanese captors were incapable of designing a reliable bridge and only the superior intellect of the captive British officers could accomplish the task. The Japanese are now getting the last laugh.

Oluniyi gives a historical perspective. The Brits viewed the less dark Fulani of the North to have a superior genetic structure than the darker southern Nigerians. Through the administration of Lord and Lady Lugard, the black populations were treated with an inferior human status, unworthy of receiving an education or promotion within the British system. Population control, world hegemony, and harvesting the African wealth was the British summum bonum. Oddly, these supposedly Christian Brits gave precedence to the Islamic populations of northern Nigeria. The British militia in northern Nigeria (just as William Carey experienced in India) erected formidable roadblocks for missionaries, preventing the gospel from being taught freely to the inhabitants. Imagine if St Patrick were prevented from preaching in England or St Boniface in Germany! History can be the Darwinist’s worst enemy—within 50 years of the first European missionaries to the savage illiterate Teutons, the Teutons had become Christianized and were establishing schools, monasteries and the civil structures which we commonly identify as defining “superior” western culture. The only reason to believe that such a phenomenon could not happen in Africa, India, China, among the Australian aborigines, and many many other people groups is Darwinian hubris. This is not an affliction of just Caucasian colonists; every civilization does this. But, as Oluniyi points out, what’s new is that the Darwinist Weltanschauung served as a methodological rationale for diminishing other races.

Part 2 of the book departs from a historical review of the British in Nigeria. He offers a very brief chapter defending intelligent design and follows with a chapter discussing how the genetic composition of all the various human families of earth are essentially the same. Science cannot defend the notion that genetic traits allow for superior intellect. Oluniyi ends with a chapter detailing how there is great evidence of advanced culture and education from the past even in the heart of Africa. What caused Africa to lose that intellectual advantage is probably the same events that are leading to the demise of Western culture.

The reader of this book would be disadvantaged if they were to leave thinking that the Europeans were alone to blame for the non-Christian travesties committed against peoples of the world. A reverse discrimination is happening in America where Black lives seem to matter, but white (or Asian) lives do not. Again, Darwin is to blame, but that is the topic of another book. Two sins do not correct a problem, and the Christian notion of forgiveness, identification of our own personal sin, and repentance for that sin has always been successful at advancing true civilization. Reverse discrimination doesn’t solve problems. Christianity and the eradication of a Darwinian worldview is our only hope.

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 2

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 2 (ANF2), edited by Philip Schaff ★★★★★

It has been a while since my last post, but that shouldn’t imply that I haven’t been busy. I’ve just finished the second of a 37-volume set of the Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene Fathers of the church. I certainly won’t read every volume, but am sticking with reading this in a serial fashion. As you will see later, volume 3 is the writings of Tertullian, who is most enjoyable to read. This volume was far less laborious than reading volume 1, though a few sections were rather obtuse. Volume 2 includes Christian writers of the middle to the late second century.

The first book was The Pastor of Hermas, but mostly known as The Shepherd of Hermas. The author was unknown. It was read by many Christians in the early church, and highly regarded for its devotional instruction. The book is broken up into three parts (books), the first recalling visions of Hermas, the second an elucidation of the 10 Commandments, and the third a collection of similitudes of mostly moral instructions. Its value is in gaining a sense of how early Christians were thinking. Tatian is the next author, with an address to the Greeks as a polemic arguing for the Christian faith, followed by fragments retained of his writings. Theophilus next is presented, with a book in three parts of a set of letters that he wrote to the pagan Autolycus arguing and defending the Christian faith, but also developing a primitive theology of the church. Athenogoras’s book is next, titled A Plea for the Christians, again arguing in defense of the Christian faith. A lengthy section by Clement of Alexandria closes this set and includes several of his writings, the first titled Exhortation to the Heathen, again, consisting of a defense of the Christian faith. The Instructor follows, consisting of three parts, all of which relate to moral instructions for fellow Christians. This was a fascinating read, advising against various things such as overeating or overdrinking, excess laughter, sleep, appropriate clothes and shoes to wear, and wearing jewelry. This is a wonderful book to read to have a sense of how Christians conducted themselves in the second century. Finally, the ANF2 volume ends with a lengthy collection of Clement’s writings called the Stromata, or Miscellanies. This was a slightly more tedious read though instructive, discussing pagan culture and countering with the superiority of Christian culture. It also includes a discussion of issues of what Christians believe. Clement chooses to identify Christians as the true Gnostics, which can be a bit confusing owing to him not referring to the heresy which goes by the title of the Gnostics. There is a segment that is untranslated in Greek, and Schaff feeling the inappropriateness of the content to be put into English. The remainder of the Stromata is a collection of refutations of pagan thinking and philosophical ponderings on the nature of knowledge and truth.

I would not recommend this volume to most people, but only to those who hold a fascination for church history and the patristic writers. It is charming and informative, though at times a little bit laborious to read. It can be challenging to try to connect with the Greek/Roman second-century mindset. The reward to the reader is enormous.

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 1

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 1, compiled with comments by Philip Schaff ★★★★

This is the first of a series of 37 volumes comprising the Ante-Nicene and Nicene/Post-Nicene Fathers, compiled by Philip Schaff. Each volume contains translations of writings of the early church fathers, and this volume has many of the first fathers of the church, including Ignatius, Polycarp, and Irenaeus.

It is a healthy exercise to read what our fathers in the faith had deemed important enough to put down in print. The thoughts and concerns of these early fathers related mostly to moral purity, and combating the enemies of the faith. Predominant in the writings of the earliest church fathers was opposition to Gnosticism, which was creeping insidiously into the church all the way up to the bishop of Rome (i.e., the Pope). It is fascinating how our church doctrines were formed as a response to the various heresies that arose. JI Packer once commented in Systematic Theology class that systematic theology was always written as a response to the ongoing heresies of the age, and historical studies of the fathers prove this to be quite true.

Most of this volume entailed the five books of Irenaeus titled Against Heresies. This was a lengthy segment and quite tedious to read; I’m not sure I grasped all of his points, and often because he tended to repeat simple truths of the faith without a specifically stated objective. It is fascinating how only a few hundred years and such greats as Augustine taught the church how to write in a more concise, organized, systematic style.

I am already blazing into volume 2 of this series, but not sure that I’ll make it through all 37 volumes. Eventually, I may end up skipping around a bit. Particular authors that I’ll be interested in are Tertullian, Athanasius, the Cappadocian Gregories, Chrysostom, Anselm, and Augustine.

The Returning King

The Returning King; A guide to the book of Revelation, by Vern Poythress ★★★★

The book of Revelation has a multiplicity of commentaries. If one were to read the commentaries without actually having read Revelation, one would think that they were reading commentaries on vastly different books. The interpretations among conservative Biblical scholars has great diversity, as well as a diversity of fanaticism. I recall well as a teenager when Hal Lindsey produced his dispensational premillennial spin on the book. Of course, his books (Late Great Planet Earth & Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth) required multiple revisions and updates during the 20-30 years that the Lindsey books remained popular. Conversely, I recently read a postmillennial preterist spin on Revelation by Doug Wilson titled When the Man Comes Around which was a bit of scholarly trash, in which I never even wasted my time to write a review. Both the dispensational premillennialists and postmillennialists have used their eschatology as a litmus test for orthodoxy, though they tend to have enough disagreements among themselves as to suggest that perhaps we should all have a little bit of humility with our opinions. Perhaps the best book I´ve read so far, and I´ve read it more than once, is William Hendrickson´s More Than Conquerors. He takes an amillennial approach and considers Revelation to be a 7-fold retelling of the history of the world from the time of Christ to the consummation. This book has been the most scholarly and convincing to me.

In The Returning King, Poythress suggests an eclectic approach to Revelation, using all 4 so-called interpretive schemes, the historicist, the futurist, the preterist, and the idealist. He would label Hendrickson as a perfect example of the idealist approach. It seems on reading Poythress’s volume that he tends to concur quite strongly with the Hendrickson approach, viewing Revelation as a seven-fold telling of Church history, progressing timewise from the first accounts of church history as focusing on early events and later accounts as focusing more on future events. Hendrickson would divide the 7-fold accounts a little differently from Poythress, yet ultimately the end interpretive result is quite similar. Poythress is soft on the millennial issue, but his discussion shows a very strong leaning toward the amillennial position.

Like most commentaries, the first few chapters of Poythress’s commentary discusses sundry issues such as the author, the date of writing, and technical aspects of how the book will be interpreted. This is followed by section-by-section interpretive suggestions. What do the various colors of things symbolize? What is the meaning of an animal with 7 heads or multiple eyes? Why does a last battle occur a number of times in Revelation—were there multiple last battles, or is the Apocalypse pointing us to a recurring retelling of the same story from various perspectives. Who or what is the beast? The prostitute? The dragon? What is the meaning of all the numbers given? Why is 7 so frequently used? What is 666? What is the meaning of the 144000? Why are precise measurements given to the new earth, something that would be an impossibility in the physics of our current world? Thankfully, much of the symbolism of Revelation has reference to Ezekiel, Daniel, other minor prophets, the prophetic speeches of Christ, and the prophetic discussions of Paul in his epistles. Dangers exist—the most popular danger is to read much of the book as figurative and yet to force literal interpretations on selective items, such as the 1000-year reign of Christ. Poythress is wise in not forcing interpretations that he might later regret, a trait most associated with Hal Lindsey. Poythress’s strength is that of bringing the necessity of reading and heeding the warnings of Revelation to everybody, young and old, in all generations. The book is an unveiling, not an encryption of the past, present, and future, and should be read as such. It is as much a story of the present as it is a story of the future.

Poythress does not offer us a thorough scholarly review of Revelation. There is no shame in that, and his little volume is quite effective at conveying an overall method for approaching what might be termed an obscure book. Poythress is no light-weight in the academic field, and this little tome on Revelation can be regarded as a decent summary of the book, releasing Revelation from either fatalistic obscurity or from livid and wild abstractions, as might be found in the premillennial dispensational approach of Hal Lindsey. Thus, I would commend it as a worthwhile summary of the book of Revelation.

We are currently starting through the book of Revelation in Sunday School, with the idea of completing the book within the span of several months. They are using a text written by a Southern Baptist individual J. Scott Duvall, The Heart of Revelation: Understanding the 10 Essential Themes of the Bible’s Final Book Reading the first pages of the book on Amazon, it is difficult to sort out its orientation, something Scott seems to try to avoid, focusing instead on the thematic material of the book, i.e., as Henrickson has stated, that we are more than conquerors. Duvall has written a commentary on Revelation, so this book attempts to serve not so much as a commentary as a discussion of the relevant themes in the book. I probably will not be reading that text, mostly because I feel that further insights into the book would not be gained by reading it. I’ll be most interested in the ensuing discussions at church.