Book review: Apocalyptic Tremors

by C. R. Chapman

★★★★

Let me start by saying Chapman reads Revelation the traditional way: as a promise of our future. She also firmly believes in the inerrancy of scripture. Therefore, she and I will certainly differ in opinion. It’s hard for me to grasp how any serious scholar of Revelation can still read the Bible as inerrant scripture, but  Chapman gives herself two outs: She emphasizes that her foundation is scripture alone, and she admits that John did not fully understand the vision himself. Whereas I read the book from the understanding that John knew full well the things he was watching happen with his own eyes, and the things he anticipated in his near future.

That said, Chapman’s writing is logical, simple, and well-organized. It’s a nicely written book, and will be appreciated especially by conservative Christians. It’s also true to the flavor of Revelation, which made it enjoyable for me as well. She remains true to the Scripture, varying only occasionally for embellishment, and does not dampen the spirit of revelation by pulling punches. She reveals revelation to be a song of wrath and vengeance. She highlights the dichotomy of Revelation, its us-versus-them plea. For example, she wonders if the sword of the red horseman represents the sword of Islam. “Islam is already murdering Christians because they don’t follow the laws of Islam.”

Scholars will protest, of course, knowing that John’s intended meaning couldn’t possibly have been a nation or religious movement he had never heard of. But Chapman’s book shouldn’t be read in that manner. Chapman makes Revelation contemporary, as if it were written by a minister of today. She modernizes the message by substituting Muslims for the hated Rome, and the apostate church for the wayward Jerusalem, and maintains precisely the right tone of vitriol for both.  As Revelation’s Babylon became a dwelling place for demons, so has the Vatican today (the Vatican’s chief exorcist says he has dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession in his life). Chapman brings to life the apocalyptic, leave-it-to-Jesus atmosphere of John’s day by suggesting that the plagues of Revelation will mock the attempts of environmentalists to save the earth and the seas from pollution. This treatment actually brought Revelation alive for me, by forcing me to imagine how its fiery message was first received by the Christians John was writing to. I imagine with much the same disparate feelings as fundamentalist Christians today would read Chapman’s book. (I confess, that worries me.)

Two-thirds of the way through the book, the coverage of Revelation dwindles and Chapman begins discussing the rapture and the argument for a post-tribulation timing. Rapture is, of course, a Pauline idea, and most of Chapman’s treatment the rest of the way concerns the writings of other Biblical authors. I merely scanned from this point forward as my interest waned once the topic moved away from Revelation. But back to Revelation and a few of the discussions I found interesting:

Chapman believes in a post-tribulation rapture. She understands the two periods of tribulation to be periods of trial for the Christians. She welcomes this time with joy and anticipation, knowing what is to follow.

She and I agree a great deal on how to interpret Revelation’s bizarre imagery. For example, we agree that the rider of the white horse is an apostate force. We agree that the seals, trumpets, and vials are unique sequences. She proposes that we have entered the seal period, just as I surmise that John of Patmos felt he was living in the seal period as he wrote. Yet Chapman surprised me at times with new ideas, such as her comparison of the four beasts around the throne with the four horsemen.

A large part of Chapman’s theology is the rebuilding of the Temple. She anticipates this during the era of the two witnesses. This puzzled me at first, because Revelation says absolutely nothing about rebuilding the Temple; one of John’s most striking contributions is his direct contradiction of the prophets (primarily Ezekiel) who promised a new Temple. Instead, Revelation says just that opposite, that there will be no Temple in the New Jerusalem. Jesus, says both Revelation and John’s Gospel, is the new Temple. But as I continued reading, I began to recognize the reason for Chapman’s emphasis on a rebuilt Temple. If she is translating Revelation to the current day, the Abomination of Desolation has to go somewhere! From the point of view of my own book, the AofD came and went back in the first century while there was still a Temple, of course, but we must somehow make Revelation current to our time for Chapman’s treatment, and we don’t have a Temple today! Ergo, it apparently has to be rebuilt!

That led to the next confusing part for me. She apparently interprets Revelation’s “new heaven and new earth” to coincide with the arrive of a NEW New Jerusalem…this second New Jerusalem residing up in heaven and having no Temple…presumably replacing the first New Jerusalem. “The millennial city has no walls, but the eternal city has walls.” I hope I haven’t misinterpreted her meaning.

Conclusion: I enjoyed reading and enjoyed the atmosphere of the book. None of it is relevant to me as a historian except that fitting the story into contemporary surroundings, fearing the Muslims and dreaming of living in heaven, helped me share in Revelation’s original flavor. Yet I cannot give it five stars because, should it be read by the wrong audience, it would stimulate distrust rather than understanding between religions and nations.

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5 Comments

  1. I appreciated your fairness on this review. Even in your points of obvious disagreement you were kind and that is noteworthy. Thanks for what I thought was a good review.

  2. Thanks, Pastor Jeff! It astounds me how many ways there are to read Revelation.

  3. I enjoyed your review–very fair and informative. But distrust seems a sad seed to sow and, like you, I would probably disagree with some of the author’s points.

  4. Isn’t “the wrong audience” kind of the target demographic for a book like this? lol

    Seems to me that an author who is keen to find Islamophobia in places it was never intended to be found is itching to see Islamophobia not as a problem, but as a solution. In which case one assumes that she’s basically trying to reach either Islamophobes who are looking for a halo to place upon their bigotry, or else fence-sitters who are a mere gentle prod away from becoming Islamophobes themselves.

    As pastorjeffcma pointed out, the graciousness and level-headedness of your reviews is very much praise-worthy. You certainly do better than I ever could.

  5. lol…big words of praise make me giggle and sneeze. Thanks, guys.

    My overemphasis on Islam is not really warranted, so I’m sure my crankiness in that respect does peek through. Can’t help it. Yet there was a lot of good research in Chapman’s treatment.

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