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Posts Tagged ‘Vern Poythress’


Talking about Revelation is fraught with danger. People often have very strong opinions. Some try to be clear where Scripture is clear, and hold opinions loosely where it isn’t.

In the last year and a half I have read far too many commentaries on Revelation. Here are my thoughts on them.

The Book of Revelation (NIGTC) G.K. Beale.  I bought this on the recommendation of another pastor. This is one expensive volume. This is worth the money you will spend. This is over 1,000 pages of commentary on Revelation. Beale exhaustively chases down all the OT allusions, background and quotes in the Revelation. In other word, he puts the last book of the Bible into the context of the rest of the Bible. There are parts of the commentary that are quite technical, but you don’t have to know the original languages.

Revelation: A Mentor Expository Commentary by Douglas Kelly. I saw this last summer, and was excited to see that Dr. Kelly took a partial-preterist, amillennial approach to Revelation. This is essentially my current understanding of Revelation. Instead of being an academic commentary like Beale’s it is an expository commentary. This means it was adapted from sermons that Dr. Kelly preached years ago. As a result this volume has a number of great illustrations that I have used in teaching a SS class on Revelation. One downside of those illustrations is that many concerned the Civil War. His appreciation for some key figures in the South could be a stumbling block for some people. While I do not doubt their piety, I do know they sinned in certain matters. Some people will struggle (rightfully) with them being used as role models (so to speak) in other areas. All our “heroes” are sinners and have feet of clay. But I completely understand if someone struggles with this aspect of the commentary. There were also a few sections of Revelation that were not covered in the sermons. Just a few. Some passages are covered more than once to draw out different aspects. Since this is an expository commentary, there is a healthy emphasis on application that you don’t often find in more academic commentaries.

The Returning King by Vern Poythress. This short book is one of my favorites. I found it be to quite helpful in observing the larger patterns of the book: recapitulation, counterfeiting etc. Poythress also takes an amillennial position, and advocates for the idealist or “spiritual” (I hate this term since it is grossly misleading) interpretation. It is quite readable, and immensely helpful. This is not the book for you if you want verse by verse commentary, but it does help you see how those verses fit into the whole.

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I know, I’ve been derelict in my duty. I have more important matters to attend to. But I have some spare time, so it is time to look at the second approach in Four Views on the Book of Revelation: idealism. Often this is called the Spiritual view. I’m not wild about that term since it wrongly implies spiritualization, which is a problematic way of interpreting the Scriptures.  Spiritualization treats the Scriptures as if they have special meaning that isn’t on the surface of the text. Typology, for instance, recognizes the historical events of the text, but says they also point to Christ and His work. Spiritualization does not recognize the historical events. I hope that makes sense. This view is NOT spiritualization.

The idealist view does a few things. First, it recognizes that The Revelation is filled with symbolism. To interpret it literally means to recognize the symbolism. Second, idealism recognizes progressive parallelism throughout the text in keeping with apocalyptic writings like we find in the prophets. The Revelation contains a series of visions about the same events from different angles, with increasing intensity. Therefore, the Book is not to be read chronologically (again, try to do that with the prophets and you’ll become very confused). Often, these different visions are indicated by “I saw heaven opened” (this is the title of Michael Wilcock’s commentary.) The third main feature of the position is that these visions represent patterns throughout history that culminate in the consummation at Christ’s return.

Most idealists hold to the amillennial position. This means that chapter 20 is a symbol representing the present age instead of chronologically following this age. This means that the battle at the end of chapter 20 is the same battle as we find in chapter 19. Christ returns at this end of this age to defeat His enemies, deliver His saints and restore creation. The amillennialist says that we are currently in the millennium. It is technically a post-millennial position.

As an idealist with some preterist leanings, I was not impressed with Sam Hamstra Jr.’s presentation. Commentaries that hold to this view, that are quite good, include Hendriksen’s More than Conquerors, Poythress’ The Returning King, Dennis Johson’s The Triumph of the Lamb and Derek Thomas’ Let’s Study Revelation. One thing that I found troublesome in Hamstra’s presentation, as opposed to the others, is that Revelation essentially becomes a book without a historical context (“They may have no historic connection with any particular event”). The book was intended to provide comfort to the original audience, and to us when we suffer in similar ways. We are not the original audience, but it applies to us too.

The letters to the seven churches are to the whole church, at that time. Here he recognizes the historical context. John is addressing their needs and trials. They do not represent 7 successive periods in the life of the church, as some people teach.

The big picture is the prominence of the throne of God. What plays out is a result of God’s plan and purposes for the world. History is under the direction of God, and the preservation of the saints and destruction of his enemies are a part of that. But we see rivals to God arising. The dragon, Beast and False Prophet comprise a counterfeit trinity and the Harlot is a counterfeit church (Poythress in particular is very helpful here). While they may prevail in the short-term, Jesus wins long-term, and His people preserve through the blood of the Lamb. He is a Lamb to us, and a Lion to His enemies. The Revelation is a revelation from Christ about Christ.

In the present, we see the power of the Beast in persecution, the False Prophet in deception (cults), and the Harlot in seduction. All three work in the power of the dragon, who is Satan as John tells us in Revelation 12. At any particular point in time, a church will experience one or two of those strategies. Here in America we are subject to seduction (consumerism) and deception (cults and secular humanism). At some point, we may experience persecution like many Christians around the world currently do.

This frees us from thinking the book is for our generation, though it applies to our generation. It frees us from thinking the books it for some far off generation, because it applies to our generation. This frees us from all the erroneous speculation that we see in dispensational teaching (Walvoord, Lindsey, LeHaye etc.). The point is not to generate fear- but for us to trust (rely upon) Christ who will prevail. We need to be vigilant about our lives, not obsessing about the European Union and bar codes.

The idealist position functions more as a theology of history than a chronology for the end of the world. As Hamstra notes, it is idea rather than event oriented. As a result, it helps us to apply the Revelation to any generation awaiting the return of Christ.

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Last week I began a new series in the Letter of James to examine the Community of Faith.  My plan is to move quickly through the letter.  As a result, I’ll be using larger chunks of text than I am used to for a letter.  I should have anticipated what followed, but didn’t.

I had 4 commentaries on my shelf (5 if you include Calvin).  I started with my new commentary by Doug Moo from the Pillar Commentary Series.  I also had Alec Motyer’s Bible Speaks Today volume The Message of James, as well as John Blanchard and Thomas Manton.  Since I was covering some of the introductory matters as well as the text, there was a whole lot of reading to be doing IF I was to use all 4 commentaries.

I had to remind myself why we read commentaries in the first place.  There is a fine line that needs to be walked by the pastor.  We can become too dependent on commentaries.  We can also begin to think we don’t need to use commentaries.  We should walk in the tension regarding commentaries.

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Hermeneutics is one of those words that people shut down upon hearing.  It is just the science of interpretation.

Here are some of the best books I’ve read about how to interpret the Bible:

  • Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation by Graeme Goldsworthy.  I’m just about done with Part 2 of the book.  The second section is very technical.  But the book is great in explaining why and how we are to look at every text through the lens of the gospel.
  • He Gave Us Stories by Richard Pratt.  One of my seminary professors wrote this, and made us read it.  It was great.  It takes a literary approach that balances author, text and audience.  Too bad more people haven’t read this- it is great.  I still utilize his approach.
  • Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul.  Another of my professors wrote this laymen’s guide to interpreting Scripture.  In typical Sproul style, he’s able to put the cookies on the counter for all to enjoy.  Not long either, so it’s manageable for a SS class.
  • Paying by the Rules by Robert Stein is similar to Sproul’s book in that it is geared for lay people, not scholars.  I don’t agree with everything he says, but it is a very good book.  Also easily adaptable to SS.
  • God-Centered Biblicial Interpretation by Vern Poythress.  Not for the intellectually queasy.  It is a great book, but slow reading to digest what he’s saying.  It is not overly technical, but some of the subject matter is quite heady.  He does a good job addressing our subjectivism in approaching Scripture such that he opens us up to the fuller meaning of the text.

Here are some titles I might read some day:

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I’m wrapping up my unusual Advent series called The Cosmic Christmas which focused on Revelation 12 to address the cosmic implications of the Incarnation.  Here are some of the resources I found helpful:

Steve Gregg’s Parallel Commentary on Revelation seen to the left.  It is helpful for summarizing the historicist, preterist, futurist and spiritual viewpoints on the Revelation.  When he gets to Revelation 20, he breaks it into millennial views.

I Saw Heaven Opened by Michael Wilcock from the Bible Speaks Today commentary series published by IVPress.  I really appreciated the opportunity to read some of this, since it had been on my shelf for awhile.  The title comes from the literary device used to begin new visions, or changes of ‘camera angles’ within Revelation.  I really found it a helpful, accessible volume.

The Returning King by Vern Poythress.  I had read this a few years ago.  It is not very long, but Poythress provides a good lay of the land to help you understand the overall flow of Revelation.  He then has a brief commentary.  Particularly helpful is the idea of counterfeits operating in the visions.  In 12-13 a counterfeit Trinity emerges (Dragon, Beast of the Sea & Beast of the Earth) to deceive the masses and persecute God’s people and the counterfeit Church (the harlot) which seeks to seduce God’s people.  As such Revelation provides a summary of Satan’s strategy of deception, persecution & seduction.

But Jesus is Faithful (Reliable) and True (Genuine) as revealed in Revelation 19.  He is the One we are to worship, serve and delight in.  The unholy counterfeits are no match for Him as the Warrior-King.  The emphasis, despite how fearsome the Dragon & beasts are, is that Jesus is greater, …. and good!

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