|Restoring “The Revelation” to the Church
A Brief Review of
Reading Revelation Responsibly.
Reviewed by Michael J. Bowling.
As I spend this year preaching through the Revelation, it has been my pleasure to read many specialty studies on this hotly debated, often misunderstood and sadly neglected part of Scripture. However, specialty studies do not address the present-day misunderstandings which have become a publishing and cinema phenomenon. The Left Behind Series of this generation and the works of Hal Lindsey, Salem Kirban and Tim LaHaye of the previous generation have created an environment which has reduced this grand book to entertainment or the dustbin of irrelevance. Eugene Peterson provided an alternative almost twenty-five years ago with his excellent book Reversed Thunder, but it made no attempt to respond to more popularized works. Ten years ago, Craig Koester brought thoughtful scholarship to bear on the reckless uses of the Revelation in his Revelation and the End of All Things. Last year, Nelson Kraybill’s theopolitical treatment of the Revelation, Apocalypse and Allegiance, simply dismisses the interpretations of Lindsey and LaHaye as “sadistic and escapist”. If only there was a guide that engages the popular works in a substantive way, while at the same time provide the reader with a link to the best in good scholarship; well, now we have it in Michael Gorman’s Reading Revelation Responsibly (released this year by Cascade Books/Wipf and Stock Publishers).
This is a book a church leader could recommend to anyone. The first half of the book (the first four chapters) serves the twin purposes of confronting directly the tragic misuse of the Revelation today and providing a thoughtful foundation for responsible study. The remainder of the book (the final six chapters) is a brief resource guide for reading and studying with others. Each chapter concludes with three or four questions for reflection or discussion. Not only does Gorman contribute his scholarship, he also displays his gifts in photography through numerous pictures peppered throughout the book. Also included are numerous charts which attempt to bring order to the complexity of the Revelation’s peculiar literary genre.
Besides the polemic against the likes of Lindsey and LaHaye, the strength of Gorman’s work is his ability to sort and summarize the work of other scholars, and then offer the resulting message in service to the church. Throughout the book, he demonstrates awareness of how the Revelation engages the social, cultural and political issues of our day without allowing any single issue to dominate his treatment of the text. The weaknesses in the book, of which there are few, are the occasional awkward placement of a chart interrupting the text and the painfully brief (twenty-one pages) chapter covering over two-thirds of the Revelation (Revelation 6-20).
Michael Gorman has gifted to the church a book which could restore the Revelation to regular use within the life and work of the Body of Christ. In this day of political and economic upheaval, we sure can use these hopeful words from Scripture.
Michael Bowling is a member of the Englewood Church Community on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis, where he serves in a number of official and unofficial roles, including pastor.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com