Monday, February 20, 2012

Book Review – Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches

     How many times have we been told not to judge a book by its cover? This sage advice applies to everything from automobiles to Zambonis and from airplanes to zeppelins. And it also happens to be true for the popular vehicle of written words; books. This saying applies to more than books; that is clear. But it also applies to books. Such is the case for Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches. On the back of the dust jacket appears the following: "BY PASTORS FOR PASTORS". This might lead the average layperson to determine that this book is not for them. However, judging this book by these words on its cover would be a mistake. One needs to read the small print. The complete sentence on the dust jacket reads: "The Preaching the Word series is written BY PASTORS FOR PASTORS and their churches." This book is indeed for the churches, and the people in them, as well as the clergy. In Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches, Dr. Jim Hamilton Jr. has written a book, comprised of a collection of sermons, that exposits the canonical Revelation in a manner that is thorough, engaging, and practical. The format of this book and the structure of its chapters ensure a comprehensive account of this intriguing apocalyptic prophetic epistle.

    As mentioned, this book is a collection of sermons. These 37 sermons were preached at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky and the thoroughness of this work is largely due to the fact that it is a compilation of preached homilies. The sections of Scripture considered in each chapter, which corresponds with a sermon on the passage selected, are successfully initiated in an introduction which includes several components. The sermons begin with an attention-grabber, often allusions to historical events and other works of literature or perhaps personal anecdotes from the author's life. I found these "hooks" very well done. They accomplished the goal they were intended for. I found myself immediately intrigued in the Scripture passage under consideration while wanting to continue reading through the sermon. The sermon introductions indicate the main point of the verses as well as making the readers aware of the need that the text addresses. Finally, the opening places the particular passage into its context in the larger book of Revelation. The repetition of this process throughout the 37 sermons was very helpful. I found that my overall understanding of the book of Revelation increased as I read the main idea of each section and was taught where it fit into the larger scheme of this last book of the Bible. The comprehensiveness of Hamilton's teaching was aided the body of the sermon which not only includes a thorough explanation of what the passage actually said, but also offers an abundance of application to people in all walks of life. A conclusion with a restatement of concepts already covered along with many memorable illustrations filled out this already extensive treatment. The thoroughness of Hamilton's expositions of this New Testament writing might have been overwhelming were it not for the engaging style in which the book was written.

    Stylistically I found this book to have a conversational feel to it. I suppose that should not be unexpected as these were oral presentations in their original form. Nevertheless, it seemed as though I had sat down for a coffee, on my dime of course, with the theologian and enjoyed the ensuing discussion centered on the last book of our Bible. It was a one-way conversation mind you, but imagine sitting at a table with a dark roast in hand and inquiring of Hamilton, "What do you think of this portion of chapter 3?" This would immediately be followed by a 10 or 15 minute explanation in which the doctor's passion and exuberance for the topic was clearly evident. That is something like the experience I seemed to have as I read this book. The aforementioned passion of the author for this topic is impossible to miss and adds to the inviting impression that this book elicits. Adding to the engaging quality of this book was its irenic tone. Considering this topic is one of great controversy, Hamilton does an admirable job of clearly and unapologetically offering his interpretation of passages while doing so in a conciliatory manner. While approaching the text from a historic premillennial position, Hamilton never writes disparagingly of other eschatological views and on several occasions produces a perspective which could be appreciated by all interested parties. The conversational style of the writing and the gracious tone of the author, mixed with a strong sense of passion, is one of the books endearing qualities. Its practical suggestions of application are the final qualities we will consider.

     Hamilton does an excellent job of demonstrating how the Biblical book of Revelation can be a very practical book. Revelation soars to inestimable heights when it talks about such things as the throne room of God. It plunges to incalculable depths when it speaks of the bottomless pit. It would be understandable if one thought that this writing of the Apostle John was an impractical flight of fancy in the dreamscape of this disciple. But Hamilton grounds the apocalyptic letter with a solid sense of its applicability to everyday life. Hamilton does this effectively in two ways that I found compelling. The first is his desire to draw out a gospel call from the passage he is dealing with. Whether it be a cry for repentance based on terribleness of the tribulations ahead or a presentation of the beauty of the world to come, Hamilton shows the reader how Scripture, even seemingly fanciful passages, can apply to the unbeliever in a real and tangible way. I appreciate how Hamilton responsibly brings God's Word to bear on the heart and soul of the unregenerate. This was far more nuanced and thoughtful than a "turn or burn" slogan-esque approach. It reads as a sincere appeal to those who do not know the Lord. Similarly, Hamilton determinedly demonstrates to believers the practical import of this book and its various sections. It could be a very straightforward application such as taking Jesus' appeal for repentance from one of the seven churches and employing that as a similar request for all of us to repent. It might be something less obvious like a call to worship the greatness of God based on Yahweh's superiority when compared to an already incredibly impressive archangel. Hamilton finds creative and stirring ways of applying the Scripture to our lives which is no small feat considering the topic at hand. Hamilton walks us through, or perhaps talks us through, the head-heart-hand paradigm taking the theoretical into the practical.

     Covering the content of the biblical book of Revelation thoroughly, engagingly, and practically, Hamilton's contribution to the Preaching the Word series is well worth reading. Though this would surely be a valuable resource for the preachers and pastors of Christian churches, it is no less valuable to all students of God's Word. God sovereignly delivered the wonderful prophetic book of Revelation to us in the Bible, and in Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches Hamilton has helped us all in our understanding about, rejoicing in, and applying of the "revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place" (Revelation 1:1 ESV). I highly recommend this book.

Before you read the book being reviewed here, allow me to make a suggestion. There is something you can do, a pre-reading exercise if you will, that I think will heighten your enjoyment while reading this book and simultaneously enrich your edification having finished the book. You should watch a particular video of the author discussing the end times with some other theologians. The first time I encountered Dr. Jim Hamilton was when I viewed a Desiring God video in which he was on a panel discussing eschatology with John Piper, Doug Wilson, and Sam Storms. This video gives you an indication of the infectious passion that Hamilton has for this topic and I think that will have a beneficial effect as you read the book. The video is called An Evening of Eschatology and you can view it here: An Evening of Eschatology.

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