The layout of Book of the Revelation is creative—using the letters to the seven churches of Revelation chapters two and three as the rubric for a study of church history. Each of the letters is related chronologically to a period of church history and theological comparisons are made; there is also a section of short missionary biographies. Unfortunately, the content fails to live up to the ambition of the concept, and students (grades 11-12) who study this text will be given a very incomplete, one-sided understanding of the story of the Church, as well as of Biblical prophecy.
Some claims made by the author verge on the absurd. Her categorical dismissal of everything not approved by a narrow branch of Anabaptist evangelicalism resembles fanaticism, is irrational and hyperbolic, and utilizes polemical arguments in place of measured criticism. Roman Catholicism, Karl Barth, and Christians who listen to rock music—even Christian rock music—are all demonized.
Moral differences aren't the only difficulty we have with this text. Doctrinal views held by only a portion of the Church—eschatological positions, for the most part—are presented as the only option; alternative views are not presented or discussed. If you happen to agree with the author on all issues, this is fine, though even if this is the case you may find yourself frustrated by the lack of support offered for most claims.
Below is an itemized list of some of the most obvious problems with the text:
- Page 1: From the outset it is assumed large parts of Revelation are still unfulfilled prophecies. While this is perfectly in line with the author's Dispensational premillennialism, adherents of amillennialism or postmillennialism will hold exception with the chronology presented.
- Page 3: "From what we know about John's life, this vision took place around A.D. 95." While it can't be proved either way, this dating of John's book runs contrary to the traditional understanding of a large portion of Christendom which dates it around 68 or 69 A.D. The author states the later date as a fact, when it is in fact a hotly contested issue.
- Page 4: "His hair was pure white, symbolizing that He is the Ancient of days." While this maybe anaccurate interpretation, no explanation of why this is so, who determined this is so, etc., is provided.
- Page 28: "The term priest began to be used in the Pergamos period [A.D. 500-1500], though this term was never used in the New Testament when referring to pastors or preachers." Actually, the term reached widespread use as early as the second century A.D., and tradition cites its origins as even earlier.
- Page 33: Catholic Christianity is described here as "degraded, idolatrous, distorted Christianity."
- Page 45: "The Anabaptists did not recognize ‘infant baptism,' the doctrine and practice of the Roman church and Reformation churches." Whatever your views on this doctrine, this is the only mention of infant baptism in the whole book. To relegate such an important aspect of Church history to a meager line is irresponsible at best.
- Page 49: "Of the several Catholic organizations that took the lead in using the sword and underhanded tactics to regain power and influence for the Catholic church, the Jesuits, an order of priests, were probably the most cruel and fierce in their tactics. They were both feared and hated for their philosophy—‘the end justifies the means,' known as Jesuit philosophy. In practice, it meant ‘to kill or torture is justifiable, if it is done for the cause of the church,' or ‘any scheme or crime, if done for the church, is acceptable and honorable.'" This sounds like a description of Machiavellian political ethics rather than Jesuit philosophy. The list of Jesuit priests martyred for their missionary work is long. That isn't to say a number of Jesuit priests haven't been involved with atrocity at different times, but to say this represents the Order as a whole is a vicious misrepresentation.
- Page 58: "Jonathan Edwards: America's Greatest Thinker." Categorical claims like this presented without support and representing the author's opinion are out of place in a textbook purporting to convey facts.
- Page 78: "By the end of the nineteenth century, the Christian impact on world civilization was so dominate [sic] that some theologians began to teach that the church would eventually Christianize all the nations of the world to such an extent that it would usher in the millennial reign of Christ. Of course, World War I (1918) dispelled the popularity of that postmillennial theology." This dismissive reference is the only mention of postmillennialism in the book, a view which did not, as the text implies, originate in the Victorian era but among the Church Fathers in the early centuries of the Church (well before, one might add, Dispensationalism was invented by J.N. Darby and his daughter). On this same page, the author claims that during the reign of Victoria "England took the lead in promoting stable governments through law and order, morality, sense of duty and responsibility, manners, kindness, etc." This Anglocentrism is an odd line to take after the aspersions cast on the Jesuits—try telling the Boer victims of British concentration camps or the suppressed peoples of India forced to Europeanize that England spread kindness to the world.
- Page 153: Karl Barth is represented as an agent of Satan, and Neo-Orthodoxy portrayed as a liberal wolf in conservative sheep's clothing. In fact, Barth rejected the term ‘Neo-Orthodoxy.' The author says Barth claimed the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection of Christ were of no importance, thus displaying her own ignorance concerning the thought and teaching of one of the 20th century's most important theologians responsible for nearly single-handedly rescuing Christian academics from the grip of liberalism.
- Pages 155-162: The author launches into an attack of the so-called "New Evangelicals" and places Billy Graham squarely in their midst. The New Evangelicals were guilty of giving in to worldliness, adopting a policy of toleration, and committing the apparently unforgiveable sin of ecumenicalism.
- Page 161: "The denominations, Bible colleges, seminaries, and Christian organizations that succumbed to New Evangelicalism eventually opened their doors to the worldliness of rock music, Hollywood movies, drinking wine, and other practices previously considered taboo. They ceased to practice or teach Biblical separation." Rock music and Hollywood movies are bad enough, but drinking wine?! Surely we wouldn't want to drink wine when Jesus so clearly condemned the practice at the wedding feast of Cana.
- Page 163: "A ‘hippie' lifestyle, which was characterized by old, dirty clothes and strange attire; no bathing; long, dirty, unkempt hair; unconventional behavior, such as sitting on floors rather than chairs; and sexual promiscuity, became popular. Communal living and LSD (hallucinatory drugs), the forerunner of America's drug problem, became fashionable." Bad style and sexual immorality are equally destructive to society; anyone who rejects the seating arrangement is clearly a suspicious character; and "LSD" is simply shorthand for generic "drugs." Apparently these are the lessons students are supposed to take from this passage. Also, it is unclear whether LSD or communal living is the forerunner of America's drug problem. Probably both. In any event the author was apparently unaware that there were more heroin addicts per capita in New York City immediately following the Civil War than any subsequent period, and that drug abuse (morphine, heroin, cocaine, etc.) were a serious problem long before the first hippies hit the Village or Haight-Ashbury.
- Page 164: David Wilkerson is favorably quoted on this page: "One of the reason's God's Spirit was lifted from the Jesus Movement of the last decade was their refusal to forsake their old music. They gave up pot, heroin, alcohol, promiscuous sex, and they even gave up perverted lifestyles. But they refused to give up their beloved rock. . . . its hold is stronger than drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. It is the biggest mass addiction in the world's history. . . . rock music, as used and performed in Christian circles, is of the same satanic seed as that which is called punk, heavy metal, and is performed in devilish rock concerts worldwide [sic]." We point this out not to defend rock music, but to point out the irrationality of the argument. The author is obviously so emotionally invested in his opinion that he cannot approach it objectively. Aren't drug and alcohol abuse and promiscuous sex the "perverted lifestyles" these people abandoned? And yet the author treats them as somehow different, that there is something deeper than simply living in sin that qualifies as perversion. Also, he claims Christian rock is just as bad as secular rock. Is he speaking on a lyrical level? If not, what's his point? And why does he say the Jesus People gave up their perverted lifestyles if what he clearly thinks was the most pernicious aspect of their lifestyle—their rock music—was the one element they still retained?
- Page 168: "The false philosophy of existentialism was born in the fervid imagination of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche." While he was instrumental in the formulation of philosophical doctrines eventually called existentialism, to call Nietzsche its father is wrong. Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish Christian philosopher, began to develop an existential philosophy well before Nietzsche was even on the scene. It was not formally known as such, however, until the 20th century with such thinkers as Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Martin Heidegger.
- Page 176: "American culture is characterized by affluence, advanced technology, increasing crime, violence, drugs, pornography, homosexuality, venereal disease, rape, abortion, illegitimate children, adultery, legalized gambling with highly publicized lotteries, alcoholism, white collar crime, corporate fraud, and the occult." This is a very confusing list. It seems the author has mistakenly included some results of sin with the sin itself. Illegitimate children and venereal disease aren't sins, they are the result of sin, and including them in a list of sins can be misleading to students. Furthermore, since when have affluence and advanced technology been inherently sinful? They can be used to sinful purpose, but may also be put to good use.
- Pages 180-243: The last section of the book presents a Dispensational premillennial view of eschatology, not only as if it were the only correct view, but as though it were the only view, period. Other views are not mentioned or discussed. This is a pretty huge oversight, especially since for most of the history of the church the view presented by the author has been the minority position.
This is another of those rare books we can't recommend. Not because we may disagree with the theological underpinnings, either—a lot of the information, even of a purely historical nature, is misleading and sometimes just plain wrong. Such academic carelessness has no place in any book, much less a textbook on Church history.
For a better understanding of Revelation there are several good options. Four Views on the Book of Revelation edited by C. Marvin Pate and Revelation, Four Views: A Parallel Commentary edited by Steve Gregg are presentations of the main interpretations of John's apocalyptic literature. Heaven Misplaced by Douglas Wilson presents a concise defense of postmillennialism. Kenneth Gentry's Before Jerusalem Fell is an investigation of the dating of the book of Revelation.
Sketches from Church History by S.M. Houghton and Christian History Made Easy by Dr. Timothy Paul Jones are excellent high school-oriented overviews of Church history. Ruth Tucker's From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya is a compendium of missionary stories from around the world. All of these books offer balanced, well-written material suited for high school study.
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Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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