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Not what it says on the tin, but enjoyable, readable and edifying
on 23 November 2013
If you have listened to Hank Hanegraaff's radio show (via the internet in the UK), you will probably have formed an opinion about him already. Personally, I find him endearing, for a several reasons. Firstly, he is committed to truth and to faithful exegesis. Secondly, he has a heart for making that truth accessible to those who don't necessarily have the time or intellectual capacity to do the groundwork themselves. And thirdly, while he is patient and gracious with people, there is a slightly firm and also sarcastic side to his personality!
This book confirms all of those impressions. It was not what I was expecting (which was I suppose almost a commentary on Revelation, offering an educated understanding of each verse). Instead, it is two things: a framework for interpreting difficult passages of apocalyptic scripture (which Hank brands "Exegetical Eschatology", or "E2") which is then demonstrated by unpacking a selection of such verses. Secondly, it is a fairly direct and accusative rebuttal to the works of dispensationalists, particularly Tim LaHaye.
If you are a UK reader, this may surprise you and somewhat disappoint you. There simply isn't the theological war rampaging here in regard to the various schools of dispensationalism, nor the fervour surrounding the predicted rapture. We don't have people stockpiling food and weapons. So some of this will seem irrelevant, but you learn throughout the book to look past the specific arguments directed towards Tim LaHaye and lay hold of the actual theological truths that are clarified. I think it's also fair to say that the slightly combative nature of this book - having an opposition to rally against - probably makes it more interesting rather than less, as you can see the argument being played out, rather than reading a statement and being left to wonder how one might see a different point of view.
There is no brand new, radical theology here. Hank is a partial preterist, and is very much in line with the views that, for instance, NT Wright would take - which is all for the better, in my opinion. You may disagree! As I mentioned, he unpacks this in an easy way so as to make it accessible for the common man, which occasionally means there is unnecessary repetition as he tries to get his point home, and it is also lacking on detail in a number of places.
Hank doesn't start with Revelation, he starts by introducing the system of exegesis he will use throughout the book. He then turns this to look at earlier prophecies in the New Testament, before ending up at Revelation (although it has previously been referenced) in what was certainly the best chapter for me, "The Historical Principle." He then goes on to talk a bit about the misguided basis for Zionism and Christian support for Zionism, before finishing with a brief summary.
Criticisms? Well, it sticks to the traditional sermon pattern - tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em, then tell 'em, then tell 'em what you told 'em. Much as I don't consider myself a highbrow scholar or academic, even I started to tire of the repetition, and wish he would have spent that time going into more detail around some of the OT links hinted at.
I also think that more about Revelation would have been nice. Sure, he does a good job of undermining the dispensational interpretations of Revelation, but a book claiming to "reveal the code to Revelation" I think should look at more than a few highlighted verses. I think it should at least briefly address most if not all of the symbolism. For instance, he looks at the beast, and at the whore of Babylon, but he doesn't address the other weird creatures, the woman and the dragon, the angel and the little scroll and so on. This is probably because it isn't relevant to his argument against dispensational theology, but if like me you bought this book not realising it was a specific rebuttal of such, you might be disappointed by the absence of such information.
Finally, and this is not a criticism, Hank does deal some of his dispensational opponents a rough hand sometimes, and also use the odd quip to have a dig at them, as per his radio show. If you are without a sense of humour/don't appreciate vigorous debate or banter, you may find this rude. I found it very mild and quite amusing. For instance, having ridiculed LaHaye's inference that prophecies made directly to New Testament characters were meant for those in the 21st century, Hank ends a paragraph with "Armed with the grammatical principle of Exegetical Eschatology, you (and I mean YOU, not a future generation) will be an effective judge."
Overall, I feel this book is somewhat mis-sold, but is easy to read, enjoyable and is a great introduction for those delving into the world of eschatology. What it lacks in comprehensiveness with regard to Revelation, it nearly makes up for in equipping beginners with effective tools for further study. I am going to immediately re-read it and make a crib sheet of the exegetical framework he uses to do just that.