Book Review: Revelation: The Triumph of Christ

Stott, John. Revelation: The Triumph of Christ. John Stott Bible Studies. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Connect, 2008. Booklet, 64 pages.

(Review copy courtesy of InterVarsity Press.)

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Purchase: IVP | CBD | Amazon

ISBNs: 083082023X / 9780830820238

Bible Study, The Revelation

John R. W. Stott is known worldwide as a preacher, evangelist, and communicator of Scripture. For many years he served as rector of All Souls Church in London, where he carried out an effective urban pastoral ministry.

Revelation: The Triumph of Christ is a new addition to the reissued John Stott Bible Studies Series. It contains twelve lessons and is intended for individual or group studies.

Each booklet in this series begins with an introduction to the book (understandably sparse given the nature of the book) along with two sections of tips for using the book: one for using it in individual study and another with tips for using it in a group. At the back is a three-page section of helps for group leaders. These features are characteristic of each book in the series.

The books in Stott’s series are plain and without ornamentation, lacking even catchy section headings, though each study is named in accordance with the scriptural contents. Each individual study has four sections: Open, Study, Apply, and Pray. The “Open” section follows an introductory paragraph has a thought-provoking question intended to direct the reader’s attention toward the theme of the passage being studied. The “Study” section is numbered for each portion of the passage and has not only questions, but information and summaries. The “Apply” has, as one might suppose, application questions, followed by the “Pray” section, which concludes each study, with guidance for turning each section into prayer or for using the teaching of the passage to guide one in prayer.

Nothing has changed in the series other than the cover, which is not only updated, but has a more classy, more elegant look than before. The inside is laid out exactly as before. The message this sends is that this series is all about studying the text rather than entertaining the reader with visually stimulating but bite-sized pieces of information that may or may not be relevant.

In Stott’s study on Revelation, the first question most will ask is: What is Stott’s interpretive view? Stott makes clear on page 50 that he holds to a recapitulation view of the structure of Revelation, made popular by William Hendrickson in More than Conquerors. This view, which Hendrickson labeled “progressive recapitulation,” views the book of Revelation not as one long narrative, but rather as a sandwich with several sections, each conveying the same information as the others, only with a different emphasis and from a different perspective each time.

Stott makes no explicit statement regarding his millennial view but one can only conclude that he also espouses Hendrickson’s Amillennialism (although some historic Premillennialists also hold to this recapitulative structure). Stott points out on page 51 that the expression “a thousand years” is used four times in Revelation, each with a different reference, though one is left to wonder what exactly that means or what the significance is of pointing that out. Stott also sates several times that various events are not literal (pp. 23, 27, 28, and 44). It is also worth noting that Stott identifies the first rider of Revelation 6 as Christ rather than Antichrist as some interpreters do.

It is almost impossible to do a fruitful study of Revelation without at least noting the different interpretive views, and it seems that a brief introduction of the views could have been included without too much difficulty. It almost seems as if the publisher wanted to make its audience as wide as possible and so left out any mention of the various views. This decision actually makes the book less helpful rather than more helpful and limits the audience because of it.

These interpretive issues and Stott’s positions on them will be hard to skirt in a group study. Because of this, dispensational premillennialists will have difficulty using this guide since there will be much to correct. A historical premillennialist might not have as much difficulty depending on where they fall on the continuum between amillennialism and dispensationalism.

Other drawbacks are not quite so evident and can be worked around, most of which are simply due to the limitations of the Bible study format. For example, the “Open” question on page 22 deals with one’s thoughts on God’s sovereignty and natural catastrophes. A good Bible study leader will be prepared to deal with the question, but one using this for individual Bible study will have to seek out help to understand the relevant issues (and this is no small issue).

Along this same line, a brief list of books for further study would be helpful. Such a list would not have to be long and could even be divided among interpretive views without taking up too much room. A Bible study leader using this guide could provide such a list for those in their group with little difficulty. All in all, the booklets in this series seem better suited for individual study, though an enterprising small church pastor could use any of the booklets in this series to develop a series for midweek service or for a Sunday school class with little difficulty.

There are some good features of this study series and of this study on Revelation in particular. There are good application questions throughout. A pastor of almost any interpretive view could use these questions in his sermon or lesson preparation. The “Pray” sections also are helpful not only in focusing the application but also in encouraging the reader to meditate on the Scriptures.

Stott reminds us of the relevance of the teaching of Revelation in every age. Sometimes he is explicit, such as his teaching on Babylon (p. 46). In the first century, “Babylon” was Rome, but Babylon is present in every age. Stott even lists six characteristics of Babylon to help the reader identify her so that the modern reader of Revelation, too, can heed the call to come out.

Stott also reminds the reader that the book is God-centered and Christ-centered rather than focused on the spectacular events and signs.

Along these lines, I especially liked the summary on page 19 that reminds us that we focus on the absence of the things that exemplify or give us pain in this world—death, tears, pain, and sorrow—when we should focus on the reason these things will have passed away: the sovereign care of the One who sits on the throne.

The format of this series—understated and not flashy or showy—exemplifies this concern. Don’t focus on the study or the question. Let it lead you to the Scriptures and beyond that to the God of the Scriptures.

JonesMichael R. Jones is a native of Jacksonville, Florida, and is pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Taylor, Michigan. He is a graduate of William Tyndale College and Michigan Theological Seminary, where he is currently working on his MDiv. Michael is married to his beautiful wife, Tondra, and has two wonderful children, Spencer and Sophia. He blogs at www.soberdiscourse.blogspot.com.
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