Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Book Write-Up: The Thrill of Hope, by Bruce Green

Bruce Green.  The Thrill of Hope: A Commentary on Revelation.  Bowie, Texas: Start2Finish Books, 2014. ISBN-10: 1941972179. ISBN-13: 978-1941972175.  See here to purchase the book.

The Thrill of Hope is a thought-provoking book about the Book of Revelation.  Its author, Bruce Green, is part of the Tenth Street Church of Christ in Opelika, Alabama.  I do not know much about the Tenth Street Church of Christ, but I am vaguely familiar with the Churches of Christ’s teachings about prophecy, on account of friends and acquaintances who are part of the Church of Christ, and also books that I have read, such as a book of Guy Woods’ answers to questions about the Bible.  I was curious to learn more about how a Church of Christ devotee would approach specific passages in the Book of Revelation.

My understanding is that the Church of Christ maintains that Revelation primarily concerns the first century C.E., even though they acknowledge that it has lessons that are relevant to subsequent generations of Christians.  My understanding is also that the Church of Christ does not interpret the millennial reign of Christ literally.  I do not know if Churches of Christ would accept the labels of preterist (or at least partial preterist) and amillennial, but my impression is that they fit these categories.  I wanted to read Green’s book, not only to see how a Church of Christ person would interpret specific passages in Revelation, but also to read ideas about how I can approach Revelation as a Christian.  I have not known what to do about passages in Revelation that seem to suggest that Christ is coming soon, or quickly, now that we are about two-thousand years after the Book of Revelation was written.  Did the Book of Revelation make a prediction that did not come to pass—-that Christ would return in the first century?  I am aware that Church of Christ people tend to interpret “soon” in the Book of Revelation literally, so I was interested in learning more about such a position.

Bruce Green’s book did not disappoint.  His argument is that the Book of Revelation is about God’s historical judgment of the Roman Empire.  According to Green, Christ’s coming in Revelation is not how a number of Christians interpret it.  Rather, Christ’s coming in that book is about Christ coming in judgment against Rome, since coming in Scripture can refer to God coming in judgment (at various points in history).  Moreover, for Green, the kingdoms of the world becoming the kingdoms of Christ in Revelation 11:15 is not about Christ coming to earth to rule and create an earthly paradise, but rather is the manifestation of Christ’s already reigning kingdom.  Green refers to passages in Revelation that appear to suggest that Christ is already reigning (1:5; 2:26-27; 3:21), and he contends that Christ manifested this kingdom—-or brought it near in proximity—-by justly punishing Rome.  Green likens Christ’s kingdom to a submarine, which is underwater but sometimes manifests itself by coming above water: Christ’s kingdom already existed in the first century, but it came near when Christ exacted judgment against Rome.  What about the rewards of the righteous and the punishments of the wicked that are promised in Revelation?  Green affirms that the righteous who resisted Rome will receive everlasting bliss and that the wicked who sided with Rome will go to the lake of fire.  But Green also maintains that Revelation was promising temporal blessings to the faithful Christians.  Things historically got better for Christians after the death of Domitian, Green notes.  Green also interprets the new heavens and the new earth in light of the Great Commission to spread the Gospel.

I should add that Green interprets a significant amount of Revelation symbolically, as representing such things as Rome, the church’s witness against it, and Christ’s judgment of it.  Green notes that the Greek word esamenen in Revelation 1:1 relates to the Greek word for symbol, and so he concludes that Revelation is a book of symbols of what would soon occur.  Let me also say that I was impressed that Green addressed questions one might ask regarding his position.  For example, did Christ truly judge Rome in the first century, when the Roman Empire continued to exist for a few centuries longer?  That is an excellent question, and I admire Green for addressing it.

I am not entirely convinced by Green’s arguments.  First of all, Revelation seems to me to be part of the apocalyptic tradition, and my impression is that apocalyptic literature often forecasts a near end, followed by paradise.  Why would Revelation be any different?  Second, the statement in Revelation 11:15 that the kingdoms of the world have become the kingdoms of Christ seems to me to concern more than people seeing Christ’s justice against Rome: they appear to describe a transfer of authority over the world’s kingdoms from the world to Christ.  While Revelation may acknowledge that there is a sense in which Christ rules now, that does not preclude that it was also hoping for a time when Christ would rule more fully, over earth.  And, third, looking at other uses of the Greek verb semaino in the New Testament, it does not necessarily concern using symbols, but communication, or indicating something (see John 12:33; 18:32; 21:19; Acts 11:28; 25:27).  I acknowledge that Revelation has its share of symbols, though.

Green’s book is still thought-provoking, and it draws from respected scholars (e.g., N.T. Wright, Richard Bauckham, etc.).  I appreciated Green’s insights, particularly his story about how he used to judge certain Christians as lukewarm but came to view them sympathetically with maturity.  Green also made a lot of references to movies, television shows, music, and literature, and that enhanced the book.  His story at the end about Aretha Franklin appearing to comfort Billy Preston while they were rendering “O Holy Night” was moving, and Green told the story in an obviously heart-felt way.

The publisher sent me a review copy of this book through Bookcrash, in exchange for an honest review.

2 comments:

  1. In his recent major commentary on Revelation, Craig Koester has a useful analysis of the "coming soon" language, which I've transcribed in the second part of this post:

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2014/09/time-dilation.html

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Steve. I'll take a look at it. I may have already because I looked at those other posts you recommended to me a while back. I'll take a fresh look at it, though.

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