A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Ross Harmon
The Joy of Hearing is the first volume in Crossway’s new series, New Testament Theology. Thomas Schreiner is the series editor, alongside Brian S. Rosner. The series’ purpose is to show readers “the main theological themes” of each New Testament book, what each theme teaches about God, and how they fit within “the overarching biblical narrative” (back cover). The series is designed for “students, preachers, and laypeople,” who may create sermons, prepare for Bible study, or take college courses (11-12).
Schreiner introduces the need for his book on Revelation: “There is a great conflict between good and evil in our world, and the Christian faith is under attack, as it was in the first century. John reminds us in this book that God rules, even in an evil day; that God has not forsaken his people; and that goodness will finally triumph and prevail” (18). Also, he writes because Revelation brings “hope and assurance” to believers (18).
Within the introduction, Schreiner presents the historical setting and genre. The background information of Revelation is more of a general overview in keeping with the book’s goal (i.e., a biblical-theology supplement, not a commentary). He considers Revelation to be written close to the end of the first century, while the book’s genre is both a letter and prophetic-apocalyptic (29). Following the introduction, there are seven chapters. Six chapters discuss a theological theme of Revelation. The final chapter and epilogue deviate from the chapters on themes to discuss end times and a summary.
Chapters one and two discuss the audience and main characters found in Revelation. Chapter one, “The Deafness of Those Living on Earth,” considers Revelation’s portrayal of the unresponsive and unrepented (31). Chapter two then examines the importance of John’s revelation to them. In “The Saints Hear and Heed,” Schreiner discusses believers’ proper response to John’s message (47). He highlights that John calls believers to “conquer and overcome” evil (47).
Chapters three through six discuss the themes associated with John’s revelation to the audience. In chapter three, “The Declaration That God Rules on His Throne,” Schreiner talks about the theme of God as ruler. Schreiner examines God’s sovereignty and judgment to describe God’s authority. Interrupting the chapter is the “Excursus on Richard Bauckham’s Understanding of the Seals and Judgement” (82-87). It is not necessary to read this, or the other, excurses. Moreover, Schreiner acknowledges that some readers may not appreciate the technical dive into the topic, telling those readers to “move to the next section of the book” (82).
Chapter four introduces the longest chapter of the book, “The Good News of the Lion and the Lamb,” which focuses on the hope of Jesus Christ (100). Where chapter two discusses God’s call for Christians to conquer, chapter four, “The Good News of the Lion and the Lamb,” provides the “ammunition” that enables believers to stay fast (103). The message to hold fast builds from God’s sovereignty and justice from the previous chapter and culminates in the hope of Jesus. Thus, Schreiner highlights the “message about Jesus Christ” throughout Revelation (103). In doing so, Schreiner also finds that John presents “one of the highest Christologies in the entire New Testament” (111). This chapter contains the second technical excursus, “The Excursus on the 144,000” (122-128).
The fifth chapter, “The Testimony of the Holy Spirit,” briefly discusses the Spirit in Revelation (141). The witness of the Spirit in Revelation is one of prophecy, revelation, and directional, pointing to Jesus (147). Chapter six, “The Promise of Blessing and the New Creation,” discusses “the final reward for believers” (149). Although all chapters three through six focus on the hope and promises of God, chapter six speaks of the new Jerusalem (the new temple) and the reuniting of Christ to His bride (i.e., the Church) (159).
In chapter seven, “Reigning with Christ for One Thousand Years,” Schreiner discusses the end times, which he acknowledges is not a theme (161). But the public’s interest in knowing about the end times forces a discussion of the topic (161). The book concludes with the epilogue that captures the heart of Revelation and its function in the believer’s life.
The Joy of Hearing is an excellent addition to the resources available in the book of Revelation. Nevertheless, three items must be discussed before the final recommendation: (1) The series objectives, (2) a critique of the method, and (3) praise of Schreiner’s apt and humble handling of the text.
With the series being new, a brief word is necessary regarding the book’s ability to accomplish the series’ goal. Truly, this book is a biblical theology (11) compared to literary analysis. The book hits the sweet spot or fills the lacuna (as was identified by the series) in resources available concerning NT Theology. First, the book focuses on the themes of Revelation. Second, the book is easier to read than technical commentaries. Third, the two excurses provided an in-depth analysis of content as needed to inform their surrounding chapter and theme.
Perhaps the greatest critique is the ambiguity concerning the research method. Schreiner does not review his approach to biblical theology. For instance, an in-depth comparison of Ezekiel 40-48 and Revelation 21-22 fails to define “allusion” or qualify how an allusion is identified (170-173). Schreiner notes that restriction of space limitations, however. The volume contains two technical excurses, and it would have been appropriate to discuss the methodology in the front matter or another excurses.
Thomas Schreiner humbly presents his understanding of Revelation. In several instances, Schreiner mentions the difficulty in interpreting a passage—acknowledging the alternate views—before submitting his conclusion. This presentation allows him to give a definitive answer for the reader, but the answer arrives like a suggestion. Schreiner’s handling of the eschaton best captures his humility and grace. Regarding scholars who find “the binding of Satan decisively counters an amillennial interpretation,” he writes, “[t]he argument is a good one, but it isn’t decisive” (176). Schreiner’s humble demeanor in discussing the eschaton may result from his perspective on the topic, “The issue of the millennium isn’t of central importance for the Christian faith or for interpreting Revelation” (161). Regardless, Schreiner’s sound conclusions are written with humility and respect for other scholars’ contributions to interpreting the book of Revelation.
The Joy of Hearing is recommended to students and pastors studying Revelation in light of the observations above. Schreiner’s quality analysis of Revelation’s theological themes accomplishes the goal of the series to provide a biblical theology that is absent in most commentaries while avoiding the arduous prose of such technical writing. In this sense, I would heartily recommend this book as a companion resource (i.e., alongside commentaries) for studying or preparing sermons on the book of Revelation.
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
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THE JOY OF HEARING: A THEOLOGY OF THE BOOK OF REVELATION, by Thomas R. Schreiner