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Hear Ye, Hear Ye!
A Review of the Joy of Hearing by Tom Schreiner & the new episode of Consider the Ravens
Before I start my review, don’t forget to check out the latest episode of Consider the Ravens. We’re looking this week at the life, theology, and times of Abraham Kuyper with scholar and friend Tim Jones.
Sidenote: One last note before I begin my review. I have been purposefully critical of this book, but I believe for a good reason—stick around until the end to find out why. I will say at the outset that I do wholeheartedly recommend this book. I’m not just saying this, I originally had another book I had intended to review this week, which I ended up changing before I released my article on Sunday. I didn’t review that book because I couldn’t with good conscience recommend it. This isn’t to say that I won’t ever review a book and conclude that I would not recommend it, but this is to say that “The Joy of Hearing” is not one of them. Please do add this book to your reading lists.
Hear Ye, Hear Ye!
A few weeks ago I reviewed another volume in this series, “The Mission of the Triune God” with a similar cover and by a different Schreiner, Patrick, not Tom (I know! What are the chances?) I thought I would quickly say that now before you think hang on, haven’t I read this before?
Patrick’s book was on the book of Acts, Tom’s is on the book of Revelation, both emphasise hearing as part of their theological frameworks. Whilst the Mission of the Triune God spoke of Acts like an Orchestra, the Joy of Hearing is closer to a town crier or a herald, that the author John, empowered by the inspiration of the holy spirit is bringing messages to the people of God not just to hear, but to pay attention to, to listen. It’s hard not to take the comparison further if I’m being honest, the two Schreiners are similar in heart and in mission, but from that point on they could not be more different. This isn’t a positive or a negative distinction, but I do think it’s important. As a new series that promises to be covering some significant ground in the foreseeable future, it’s worth noting at this stage that we can expect to see each author bring their own unique style and voice to the project, this won’t be a cookie-cutter series, the covers may all be much the same and maybe all the authors will share surnames. Beyond that, expect variety.
With that said, as always, I have some pointers for you if you decide to pick up this book.
It’s a Colouring Book
A few years ago now, the world was suddenly flooded with “Adult Colouring Books.” I don’t know how it happened, but it happened and it doesn’t look like it’ll stop any time soon. This book, while thorough and concise, is a little bit like those books, its illustrations lack colour. By that, I mean that more often than not the illustrations are over so quick that they simply aren’t memorable, they require some leg work on your part to bring them to life. I can only imagine that this is for pragmatic reasons, the book of Revelation is in the running for the most misused book of the Bible and there’s likely also some reticence around bringing illustration, especially fictional illustration, to a book about Revelation given the history of bad novels, series, and film adaptations of themes and verses taken wildly out of context.
My suggestion is that when you come across something which is important, yet hard to understand, you highlight it, finish the chapter, and then come back and make it memorable at the end. This isn’t a bad tip for theological works in general, turning theology into worship for instance (prayer, songs, poems) is one of the most wonderful things you can aim to do when reading theology. As it’s often remarked, Theology should lead us to Doxology.
Schreiner “is British”
He’s not, to be clear. He could have fooled me though. I am British and often whilst reading this I found myself chuckling because of how well he’d fit in over here. Schreiner is an incredibly gracious writer and an irenic one, I’ve written in the past about his book on the Spiritual Gifts, a book I hold up as one of the best books on the subject, although I disagree with aspects of it. I found in that book, as well as this one, that Schreiner goes out of his way in order to speak well of those who would oppose his views. What I don’t think he did as well in this book, however, was make clear when he was being genuinely critical. I found his criticism of my view very welcome and formative in his book on the Spiritual Gifts, in this book (though I would freely admit that I align more with his views here,) I found that he was somewhat slow to the draw. I would encourage you to assume that when he is being most peaceful, he is likely being polemic. If your view differs from his, let him criticise you, whether or not you end up agreeing with him, I can say from experience that you’ll end up more robust following the challenge.
If in doubt, pretend he’s British. That ought to do the trick.
Be Critical of This Book
I’ve already admitted that I would align quite nicely with Schreiner’s conclusions here, however, if you’re going to read this—or indeed any book on Revelation—This is my advice, be critical, as I’ve already mentioned, Revelation is misused all over the shop, left, right, centre, up, down, and back again. We ought to be careful of what we accept, not to the point of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but especially given the constant barrage of political posturing over the past two years, it’d do us good to tackle this well.
Again, don’t hear what I’m not saying, this is a good book and I have incredibly high opinions of the author, I will be using his commentary a lot this year whilst working on my series on the book of Jude, however, it shouldn’t matter to us that this book is written by him, this book is handling scripture with fire rolling off of its pages, it’s dangerous goods and we should treat it like that.
For this reason, this is the most critical review I’ve ever written, not because you shouldn’t read this book, but because you should. You should read it carefully, concisely, and critically. Hopefully, I have primed you to do so in small ways—finding your own illustrations, looking for polemic points, and checking and double-checking what you’re unsure of—so that you’ll be more willing to do so in more serious ones.
Conclusion - an Open Letter to the Author
If you’re reading this Dr Schreiner, please forgive me if it feels like I’ve been harsh, I promise you that is not my intention. I could not hope to ever write anything on par with this work and I would not pretend to be capable of anything close, however, the stakes are high.
You said in the opening of the second chapter:
“How are the saints to respond to the cosmic conflict, to the battle in which they are engaged? John tells them at the outset that they must hear and heed his message, they must listen and obey, they must pay attention and persevere”
Thomas R. Schreiner, The Joy of Hearing: A Theology of the Book of Revelation
Given the reality of this cosmic conflict, the battle we are engaged in, I believe that it’s of paramount importance that we deal with this subject as carefully and as critically as possible. I loved this book and learned a lot, but I would have been a fool to have accepted any of what you had to say at face value and though I would say the same about other works, there are very few theologically rich, easily accessible works on this book of the Bible, so this may well be people’s first foray into wrestling with Revelation properly.
Thank you for writing this and indeed for editing this series.
Grace and Peace,
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