Book Review: The Message of Revelation – By Michael Wilcock

wilcock revelation
Letter MMichael Wilcock’s book The Message of Revelation is – as might be expected – a commentary on the book of Revelation. However, as the editors say in the preface ‘commentary’ is perhaps not the best word to describe the book. While it does offer a section-by-section analysis of the given book of the bible, the goal of this book is more to apply the text in a pastoral manner than to merely explain what it means. It’s goal is therefore to expound the text, relate it to contemporary life, and to do so in a readable, down-to-earth manner; to land somewhere between a commentary and a series of sermons.

It seeks above all to accessible to the average Christian and to apply the message of Revelation to the reader’s present needs. In this, I will say, it is successful.

As with most commentaries Wilcock begins with an introduction to the book of Revelation, discussing the style, context, interpretation, and use of the book. For Wilcock, Revelation is movement away from the more systematic theology of Paul into a the realm of what might for lack of a better word be called an educational picture-book designed to both refresh our spirit and educate our minds.

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Book Review: The Great Divorce – By C.S. Lewis

cslewis the great divorce.pngletter-hHere we have before us one of the monoliths of Christian literature in the 20th Century, C.S. Lewis, whose impact through his writings no doubt rivals those of individuals we would consider much ‘greater’ than him. He wrote prolifically over every subject both in fiction and nonfiction and this book is one which tows the line between the two. While written in for the form of a story this is simply a form by which Lewis conveys his arguments and ideas.

The Great Divorce begins during the dreary hours of twilight where our narrator boards a bus which will take him on an odd trip to a land which is more real than the one he left, perhaps even too real. This land is the outskirts of heaven, where the rainy town which he has left is perhaps what one might call purgatory. Both lands lay in twilight, one awaiting a dreaded dusk, the other a glorious dawn.

Taking a step back from the fictional aspect of the text and what we see is an outline of human misconceptions regarding salvation and heaven. The characters which the narrator encounters in his journey each display a different misconception. One displays the works righteousness of attempting to merit heaven, the character demanding that his ‘rights’ be given to him, all the while ignoring that his ‘rights’ would gain him nothing more than damnation. Another displays the idea that if we are simply honest and sincere in our beliefs that this is all which can be asked of us, ignoring the sincerity doesn’t necessarily entail innocence or any sort of goodness. Another asserts that intolerance and stagnation which must occur if any final truth is to be reached, opting for endless skepticism, all the while ignoring that the chief point of asking questions is to find answers.

Other characters, rather than demonstrating misconceptions, demonstrate mindsets which may keep the individual from accepting the truth. Such mindsets include that of shame, of selfish love, and of lust.

Each of these misconceptions and mindsets serve as minor arcs within the greater arc of the story. This greater arc may be summed up in the words of the narrator’s teacher: “But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this valley but all this earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell.”

Even more pointed may be the statement that “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.” It is not a matter of merit or of rights, for if we got our ‘rights’ we would have no hope: “I haven’t got my rights, or I should not be here [heaven]. You will not get yours either. You’ll get something far better. Never fear.”

This is the outline of a great divorce between heaven and hell. It is meant as a contrast, a demonstration of the dichotomy present before us. There is no compromise but rather two distinct options divorced from one another, the good and the bad, where man must choose the one or the other, heaven or hell, where to choose earth is also to choose hell.

The text is at once entertaining and moving, as is to be expected by one who wrote both The Chronicles of Narnia as well as Mere Christianity. It is a book which anybody will profit from reading and at a mere 125pgs there is no reason not to.

Memorable Quotes:

-“You have gone far wrong. Thirst was made for water; inquiry for truth. What you now call the free play of inquiry has neither more nor less to do with the ends for which intelligence was given you than masturbation has to do with marriage.”

-“There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God himself… as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist!”

-“The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that their should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.”

-“That thing is Freedom: the gift whereby ye most resemble your Maker and are yourselves parts of eternal reality. But ye can see it only through the lens of Time, in a little clear picture, through the inverted telescope… For every attempt to see the shape of eternity except through the lens of Time destroys your knowledge of Freedom.”

Specific Criticisms

Perhaps the only thing which I might bring against Lewis, in a book which revolves so heavily around man’s path to heaven, is the distinct lack of grace – that is, the distinct lack of Christ. Individuals in heaven come out to meet those visiting heaven’s shores in attempt to persuade them to stay and journey inward, seeking ways to convince them to enter. After one such attempt the narrator’s teacher states that “Ye will have divined that he meant to frighten her; not that fear itself could make her less a Ghost, but if it took her mind a moment off herself, there might, in that moment, be a chance. I have seen them saved so.”

Of course it would be rather absurd to pick apart the theological ramifications of it being up to the efforts of heavenly individuals to save souls, but there is a bigger issue at hand. This issue is simply the idea that the narrator has “seen them saved so.” No word is said concerning the fact that is Christ who saves, and Christ alone, yet these individuals are said to be ‘saved’ by the efforts of these individuals. One might be able to write this off as the individuals simply acting as the means by which Christ is saving them but such a view is presented nowhere in the book (and given Lewis’ denominational background it is unlikely that this was his intention).

Book Review: Why The End Is Not Near – By Duane Garner

whytheendisnotnearLetter IIn the realm of Christian eschatology there are three primary schools of thought: premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism (with dispensational premillennialism serving as a sort of fourth). In this short pamphlet (at ~56 pgs I hesitate to call it more than that) author Duane Garner makes his case regarding the issue.

The argument being presented in Why The End Is Not Near is almost a given by the title. It is an argument against premillennialism (specifically dispensationalism) in favor of postmillennialism.

As defined by Garner, the opposing view can be seen as such “…the double nature of the second coming is one of the primary points of departure of dispensational premillennialism from historical premillennialism. In dispensationalism, Christ comes first to rapture his church and then comes again with his church to establish his millennial kingdom.”

Because of the way in which this system interprets Scripture (that is the success of the antichrist, the tribulation and taking an extremely literalistic view of certain prophecy) Garner goes on to state that “… dispensationalism reflects a depressingly pessimistic view of the success of the church and the gospel. It teaches that everything continues to get worse and worse until one day Jesus comes back to rescue his people before they are overcome by the enemy. The church does not get the chance to complete her mission and the gospel falls largely on deaf ears throughout history.”

As can be seen Garner’s chief issue with dispensational premillennialism is both it’s idea of two second comings of Christ and it’s perceived pessimism in regards to the success of the kingdom here on earth. In opposition to this Garner pushes for a much more optimistic form of postmillennialism. Instead of the literalistic interpretation of the dispensationalists Garner argues that we “put all the passages about the end of the world in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem” such that we “will find that there need not be any fanciful speculation about certain events or characters, but that everything therein fits neatly into what has already happened two thousand years ago.”

Garner argues that when Christ came to earth he came to inaugurate his kingdom successfully. He bases this optimism on Christ’s prayer that “His kingdom come” along with an assertion that the Great Commission is meant to be taken to fruition. Since according to Garner the world must first see the completion of the Great Commission and a literal age of true Christendom before the Second Coming, he can state with assurance that the end is not near (given that our current state is nowhere near this golden age which must come first).

All in all this is an informative little book, although due to its watered-down nature one cannot accept everything at face value as being truly representative of either eschatology. It is a helpful read in wetting one’s feet in the debates regarding Christian eschatology, but should be no means be the deciding factor in that debate.

Memorable Quotes:

-“This is the work that Jesus commissioned the church to do when he commanded them to make disciples of all the nations. In promising her that he would be with her throughout all ages, he affirmed that he would not allow his church to fail in the task to which he has assigned her.”

-“The last days of Jerusalem have come and are over. God ended that world, and in Christ he ushered in a new world – our world. He has bound Satan, and we are now reigning with Christ as his brethren and co-heirs, working to bring the nations under his rule.”

-“As [dispensationalists] consistently apply their theology to their missions and lives, they find it foolish to take on any effort that may take several years, even several generations to finish. Thus this past century has not been an age of cathedrals, but of pre-fabricated metal buildings.”

Specific Criticisms

One minor critique of this text is that not every dispensationalist is necessarily as pessimistic and short-sighted as Garner makes them out to be, nor is every postmillennialist as optimistic. Garner makes a strong case for the logical pessimism of dispensationalism (and also does well in demonstrating the misreadings which result in it’s two second comings), but doesn’t necessarily form a strong argument that this pessimism is incorrect.

For instance there is little to suggest to Christ’s prayer about the coming kingdom necessarily denotes a postmillennial kingdom or that the Great Commission would result in a golden age. The strongest argument for his case comes in Christ’s admonition that his kingdom was at hand, that they were living in the last days and that many alive would live to see that kingdom. Yet these same arguments can be used in support of amillennialism as well.

Another pointed criticism one might make is of Garner’s idea that much of what is wrong with the church today is seemingly the result of this end times hysteria. This can be seen when he states that: “Christians accepted the hype [of the hysteria] and retreated into their homes and their splintered churches while the world went to hell… After thirty years of this end-times hysteria, the church has fallen from her influential position in society. Without any plan for the future, and hardly a plan for the present, the church has lost every single significant cultural battle that has faced our generation.” This itself seems almost a relapse into the pessimism that the author rails against.

While the effects of dispensationalism may have been broad, I hardly think they had quite the effect Garner gives them (unless he is speaking of specific churches, or only of battles which the dispensational churches have fought, though his diction doesn’t indicate that this is the case).