January 19, 2011

Book Review: Plowshares and Pruning Hooks by D. Brent Sandy

The subtitle on this book pretty much sums up the scope of this book-"Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic". This is important to me since I have become quite weary of entrepreneurial types misappropriating Revelation to make a profit or making predictions that are no better than tabloid fodder. This is especially true since it leads a ton of people astray. Although I do not fully agree with all the hermeneutic principles outlined in this text there is enough here to have people rethink what they have often assumed to be "rock solid" interpretation of prophecy. Since a lot of the Old Testament prophecy has been fulfilled we know that in some cases we can interpret the prophets almost exactly, in some cases we need to view what they said and wrote through a "soft" or "fuzzy" lens. Complete literal interpretation of prophecy just doesn't fly and is pretty much a misreading of the prophecies in the Bible and this is where this book comes in handy. It runs through all the figures of speech and how you do not need to be an expert on all of them to be able to realize that some passages are nebulous and sometimes need to remain that way because in the much larger scope of things, analyzing explicit details takes away from the overall larger holistic picture. When the prophets attempt to describe the divine as in the case of Isaiah 6 human language and human words totally fall short. Mankind is limited to their ability to describe God and the limitation stems from our vocabulary and means of communication. How do you describe the infinite with a finite set of word symbols (i.e.:words)?

The section that is exceptionally impactful is "How Will Prophecies Be Fulfilled?", in particular pages 188-194. These six pages may make you rethink your presupposition and position on prophecy altogether. Am I condoning heresy or a heretical view point? Only to those that are probably misinterpreting unfulfilled prophecy already. I will leave you with a quote from the book that warrants close scrutiny.
"Tension naturally exists between the notions that the faithful should be ready for the end and that they cannot be ready. The end is expected at any moment, but will come at an unexpected moment. This dualism is due in part to the ethical dimension of the apocalyptic. The call to purity is strengthened if the end will occur imminently, and is strnegthened if the end may catch us off guard. Because we expect it soon, we live accordingly. Because we cannot expect it precisely, we live accordingly. It is expected to be unexpected. Just like the second coming presumably could've occurred in the first century--as many Christians expected--or in every century since. Was the Lord's return imminent across the span of two thousand years? What about the events of every generation that were identified as sure signs of His coming...Current events simply cannot be claimed as the sign of his coming, no matter how many wars and rumors of wars there are."
Another brilliant quote from the conclusion:
"It is often in retrospect or in the present that biblical prophecies achieve their greatest importance."
On the night of Jesus' betrayal He twice gave them [disciples] the important perspective on all that He was saying to them. He told them so, "that when it does happen you will believe that I am He" ~John 13:19. Knowing this we can then realize that it is not always the intent to reveal the future as much as to confirm and explain the past and illuminate the present conditions surrounding the reader.

Although some events could be interpreted as signs of the Lord's imminent return (and in a sense, they are) to draw definitive conclusions on metaphorical apocalyptic language that is not often meant to be taken literally is to do and injustice to the intent and real meaning of the prophecy.

This book may not follow my exact hermeneutucal grid or theology to the letter but it is well worth the few days to read through. It is a quick read. Take those few days and it will bless you the rest of your life.

Rating: 92 Pruning Hooks Out of 100

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