Books Read in 2012: No. 15 – Revelation: The Way it Happened

Title: Revelation: The Way It Happened
Author: Lee Harmon

When author Lee Harmon approached me on about reviewing this book I wondered if he knew what he was asking. My reservations were based on the knowledge that our doctrinal beliefs couldn’t be further apart. Harmon is a self-described follower of the “historical Jesus” which means “he appreciate(s) and attempt(s) to exercise the humanitarian teachings of Jesus without getting hung up on supernatural or religious beliefs” (taken from Harmon’s Goodreads page). My views are quite different. I am a member of a Southern Baptist Church, a student at a conservative Baptist graduate school, and a Calvinist with a dispensational understanding of God’s Word. I agree with C.S. Lewis’ argument that Christ simply doesn’t give us the option of respecting Him as a teacher without accepting His Deity. Christ is either God or insane. Considering all of this, I wondered if I was capable of actually giving this book a fair review.

I’m going to give it my best shot.

Revelation: The Way it Happened is a Preterist’s presentation of the Book of Revelation.   Simply put, Preterism is the belief that the prophetic books of the Bible (especially Daniel and Revelation) all concern events that have solely happened in the past. As such, Preterists argue that the Book of Revelation has very little to do with future eschatological events and more to do with the way in which Jews believed the end of the world would be ushered in almost 2,000 years ago. Quite often this assertion is coupled with the notion that the prophetic elements of the Bible were all written after the events they predict. This argument has the added benefit of robbing the Bible of any  “supernatural” elements that are hard for some to wrap their minds around. Preterists start with the assumption that it would be impossible for the writers of Scripture to predict the future and then shape their theology around that assumption (often ignoring any arguments to the contrary). Harmon is no exception to this and plays the part of the Preterist quite well.

While I disagree with his theology, I prefer to focus on those aspects of his book I enjoyed and agree with.

Harmon is spot on when he argues that the original audience of the Book of Revelation would have understood it differently than we do today. God’s plan throughout Scripture is presented as a progressive revelation. By that I mean that God slowly revealed His plan to us. Believers in the Old Testament had a far different level of understanding concerning the future arrival of their Messiah than we have of Jesus today. We must remember that those of us who live in the current age are blessed to have the complete revelation from God in the form of the Bible. This wasn’t always the case. While salvation in every age is found in Jesus Christ not every believer in every age had the same level of understanding concerning Christ that we have today. So I agree with Harmon that it is important to understand Scripture as it was originally intended. In fact, this step (exegesis) should always be addressed before trying to apply Scripture to our own lives (hermeneutics).

This book is suitable to this sort of exegesis. While he may take liberties at times and seems to exercise great effort in making the text fit into his Preterist assumptions, Harmon does offer an explanation of how early Christians may have interpreted the Book of Revelation. I also must congratulate Harmon on the method he used to accomplish this task. Revelation: The Way it Happened is part exegesis and part story. Harmon intermingles the two switching back and forth between his own commentary and a fictional story about an early Christian and his sons. For the most part, Harmon’s methods work. At times, things become a little confusing for the reader due to formatting issues, however, it is a method that I think he will perfect in future books.

I also completely agree with Harmon that not all of Revelation deals with future eschatological events. In fact, practically every conservative, Biblical scholar would agree with this statement. The author of Revelation even writes, “Therefore write what you have seen, what is, and what will take place after this” (Rev 1:19, HCSB). This single verse provides the student of the Bible with a road map to understand the Book of Revelation. The truth is that Revelation deals with things in the past, the author’s present, and the future. Responsible scholars recognize this and interpret Revelation accordingly. Herein lies my chief complaint with this book. Harmon seems content to interpret solely from his presuppositions. He has essentially re-written Revelation to fit into his own preconceived notions. Responsible Biblical scholarship does its best to suspend preconceptions and shapes its conclusions from the Scripture itself.

While this may sound like a harsh complaint, I still believe Revelation: The Way it Happened has a place on my bookshelf. As stated, I respect Harmon’s technique of blending fiction with exegesis and actually learned a little about the writing process by reading his book. I’m impressed by his attempts to use fiction to reveal Biblical truth. I also think his book would be valuable to anyone wishing to learn more about Preterism. I would, however, recommend that students approach this book along with other resources (perhaps a good commentary such as John F. Walvoord’s) if they desire to get a complete picture (and understanding) of the Book of Revelation.