This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on August 21st, 2015.
TITLE: Understanding Prophecy: A Biblical-Theological Approach
AUTHOR: Alan S. Bandy and Benjamin L. Merkle
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015, (272 pages).
Arranged in three parts, the book covers the basics and keys of understanding biblical prophecy (Part 1); followed by an application on Old Testament prophecies (Part 2); and the same for the New Testament (Part 3). Closely related to prophecy is the word "eschatology" which is often perceived as foretelling the future. Readers will learn how the word can be nuanced in at least seven ways: Individual; Historical; Consistent; Realized; Existential; Comprehensive; and Teleological. For the authors, they use "eschatology" as an all-encompassing term to denote the "cosmic, spiritual, and historical realities" fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ. Prophecy needs to be understood within the confines of the Bible and the redemptive narrative. It is to be understood in terms of Gospel-Centric and Christo-Centric. Most important is the need to read prophecy with "contextual sensitivity to the history, literature, and theology of an individual writer, book, and passage." This is then interpreted in line with the larger biblical narrative. Prophecy is also understood as "progressive revelation" where certain things were partially revealed to the people in the old Testament, and fully realized in the future. One use is to see the New Testament as fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. Readers are cautioned not to use the Bible as proof texts of some precise prediction, just like the Left Behind series of books and film. Others avoid prophecy totally and lose sight of the role of prophecy altogether. With a biblical, theological, and christological approach, we will be able to approach biblical prophecies with expectancy and much encouragement of God's purpose for us.
Written with the interested layperson in mind, Bandy and Merkle works through what biblical prophecy is. It is primarily "forthtelling" which means speaking a word from God to address existing situations. It is also "foretelling" which talks about a future fulfillment. Readers are introduced to the role of the prophets and their unique ministries. They reveal God to the people. Their messages are not mere predictions but God's counsel to the existing climate, speaking for God in a particular context and time. They are less of fortune telling but more of reformers speaking specifically God's instructions to a people in need of the Word. Broadly speaking, prophets focus on one or more of the following prophecies: Of Repentance; of Judgment; and of Restoration. Prophecy can also be described in terms of prose and poetry. They do not just communicate information. They encapsulate the beauty of God and His love to a people through literary art, symbolism, and imagery. Not to be sidelined, prophecy is also about apocalyptic literature and symbolism.
In order to help understand prophecy from a biblical standpoint, one needs to understand biblical theology as well. With this, readers can appreciate how prophecy plays a part in the overall biblical story. There is a unified message. The Bible is God's Word. Learning to understand prophecy also means distinguishing the genres of literalism, allegory, and typology. The climax of all revelation and prophecy is the Person of Jesus Christ and God's overall redemptive narrative.
Having laid down the foundations of understanding prophecies, readers are treated to a wide variety of Old Testament and New Testament prophecies, and how the interpretive framework can be applied. On the Old Testament, we learn of prophecies that are fulfilled, partially fulfilled, and future fulfillment. Closely tied to this interpretation is the place of conditional and unconditional covenants. Restoration prophecies apply mostly to the state of Israel while Messianic prophecies refer to the fulfillment of prophecies in Jesus Christ. Another useful way to interpret prophecies in the Old Testament is to learn how the New Testament uses them. Jesus's words are often very instructive. For those of us who tend toward literalistic interpretations, it is important to recognize the contexts and languages used by the prophets to the people at that time. In other words, do not adopt a modern mindset when mining the truths of the prophecies. In those days, people don't have cars, airplanes, modern conveniences, the Internet, or the ease of Google! New Testament prophecies reveal much more about Jesus and the way the Kingdom will be fulfilled in God's timing. We have John the Baptist announcing the coming of the Messiah. We have the birth, the message, and the ministry of the Messiah. As much as Jesus fulfills the prophecies of the Old Testament, He too proclaims the coming of the Kingdom now and not yet. The Gospels and Acts record the redemptive history in Jesus. A bulk of it is recorded in Matthew 24. Two major prophecies include the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in AD 70 and the second coming of Christ. The authors even give their own versions of the who and what of "Left Behind." The epistles showcase the prophecies of the Second Coming of Christ. There is ample last days language. Revelation talks more specifically about the return of Christ through symbolism and imagery. Many of them are self-interpretive, like the seven churches. The authors conclude by asserting the critical place of prophecy in biblical revelation.
Well written and thoroughly biblically based, this book sure offers a lot for the lay reader. The authors leave no testament unturned as they go through both testaments to understand the many prophecies recorded from Genesis to Revelation. The first three chapters form the foundation of the whole book and must be read first. Only then can readers appreciate the approach taken by the author. Far too often, Christians are afraid to tackle the interpretation of prophecies is because of a faulty understanding of prophets and prophecies. Even church leaders are ill equipped to offer interpretive guidance. With this book, the basics are covered and the examples are provided. By categorizing the different forms of prophecies, readers learn to nuance the unique place of prophecies and ancient contexts. At the same time, we recognize the key role of Jesus Christ, for all prophecies will eventually point back to Him, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Use this book as a reference rather than a crystal ball to search for proof texts. Use it for framing our teaching of prophecy. For the lay persons, if you can even get through chapter 1, you would have learned quite a lot already.
Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.
This book is provided to me courtesy of Kregel Academic in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.