Posts Tagged ‘Ian Boxall’

I’m going to be honest: I don’t feel like I read as many good books this year as I did last year.  My guess is that’s due largely to having a baby in April; less time = fewer books, unless you count Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See.  When I did this list last year, I had to think about how to narrow down my number to 5.  This year, I’m pushing it to get to 5.  Anyway, here goes.  Like last year, books on this list may not have been published in 2009 (I don’t have time to keep that up-to-date), but that I first read it this year.  Here we are, in no particular order:

The Epic of Eden, by Sandra Richter

Okay, I lied about the whole “no particular order” thing.  This was my favorite new read of 2009.  Simply put, this is the best book that I’ve read geared towards lay people that clearly explains the often foreign world of the Old Testament.  As I said in my review, “One gets the sense that she’s explained these things in non-academic settings before.”  My biggest complaint now is trying to find a way to fit it into an already jammed packed training school curriculum.

Introducing Paul, by Michael Bird

This is another book written by a biblical scholar but can be read by non-scholars.  I mentioned Bird’s wit in my review, as well as in a video, and it helps liven up the book considerably.  There are a million books out there on Paul, but few that lay out the issues so clearly as this one.  Bird isn’t content to focus merely on academic debates, but can get practical as well.  I look forward to what this young scholar will be offering down the road, and I hope he continues writing books on this level as well as his more in-depth academic treatments.

The Revelation of Saint John, by Ian Boxall

After reading this book, I finally felt like I had found a commentary on Revelation I could recommend to people in my church.  Let me be clear, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.  By its very nature any commentary on Revelation will be a bit difficult to wade through.  But time and time again I felt like Boxall took a position and explained it clearly and concisely.  By the end of it I found myself wishing he had more space.  One of Boxall’s strength is the use of Ezekiel in Revelation, which has inspired me to study Ezekiel more in-depth than I ever had before (I’m actually following through on what I wrote in my review of this book).  At any rate, this is my favorite non-technical commentary on Revelation.

The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 1-24, by Daniel Block

Okay, I’m cheating a bit here.  One, I haven’t actually finished this book.  Two, it was published 12 years ago (hence my “not necessarily published in 2009” caveat above).  Block’s 2-volume commentary has been regarded by many evangelical scholars as the best commentary on Ezekiel since it came out.  As mentioned above, Boxall on Revelation inspired me to study Ezekiel more deeply, so I used some gift cards to get Block’s commentary.  I’m so thankful I did, as it has been a reliable (and enjoyable) guide to this often confusing OT prophet.

We Become What We Worship, by Gregory Beale

I think I have to include this one, since I did a 5-Part book review of it.  I had my disagreements with Beale’s exegesis at points, thinking that he stretched a bit to fit things under his thesis.  But still, I came away with a stronger sense of the Bible’s teaching on idolatry and how it destroys our worship of our God.  Tough reading at points, but worth the time and effort.

Honorable Mention

The Book of Basketball, by Bill Simmons

Okay, this is definitely cheating.  But, this is Boston Bible Geeks, and Bill Simmons is known as the Boston Sports Guy.  Maybe there aren’t that many people who would read a 700 page book on the NBA, and even fewer who would do it in a weekend, but I’m one of them.  The problems with Simmons: juvenile humor and an overload of soon-to-be-outdated pop culture references (which I’m sure will be his excuse to update this book every 5-10 years to sell more copies).  The upside: well, he writes about sports and entertains while he does it.  I’m a sucker for sports history- comparing eras, taking on longheld myths, arguing about which players are the best and who’s overrated.  Sure, Simmons is gimmicky and overplays his “I’m just an average fan” hand.  (He brags about how he pays for his season tickets instead of using a press pass- big deal when you make a ton of money and have the time to go to all those games.)  But, he does take the discussions that many of us “regular” fans have and turns them into columns and books, and manages to do it reasonably well.  He isn’t for everybody, but for the younger generation of  Boston sports fans, well, we’re obligated to read him.

How about you?  I’d love to hear some thoughts from our reader(s) regarding what new reads they’d recommend for us.

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Special thanks to Kathy of Hendrickson Publishers for a review copy of this book.  I should note that paperback volumes of the Black’s series will be released in the relatively near future.  I have a hardcover copy.

boxall-revelationI have a confession to make.  When I first saw this commentary a couple years back, I asked two questions: who is Ian Boxall and why is he replacing George Caird’s Revelation commentary in the Black’s series?  To address the second question, it’s not that Caird’s commentary is particularly outstanding.  But it was somewhat groundbreaking in its time (so I’m told, since I didn’t exist yet when it came out) and holds a rightful place as one of those older commentaries you ought to check out (of course, referring to it as “older” betrays a certain limited historical vantage point on my part).

As for Ian Boxall, a quick Google search lets you know that he’s a young Oxford scholar who has previously published on Revelation (or a personal fitness trainer, but I’m guessing it wasn’t him that wrote this book).  It wasn’t until relatively recently when I read a positive review of this commentary that I decided I’d check it out.  I’ve searched for a commentary to recommend to students without the requisite Greek knowledge to keep up with Beale and the like.  I own Ben Witherington’s commentary, which fits this category, but am not in love with it.

I have a second confession to make.  I was an idiot for passing over this a couple years ago.  Throughout the commentary I found myself impressed with Boxall’s interpretations (even when I disagreed) and thankful for his, at times unique, insights.

For instance, in the introduction alone I encountered three things I had not fully considered previously.  First, is the importance of Revelation as a visionary text.  Boxall does not deny “that the Apocalypse is also a carefully crafted document” (p4), but he does suggest that perhaps John’s “conscious intention cannot be the determining factor at every points” (p5).  A provocative suggestion, indeed.  I actually felt that Boxall could have explored the importance of the visionary experience in more depth.  What about the majesty of the throne room vision in chapter 4?  How ought this impact the reader?  I can’t help but wonder if, in the search for the meaning of little details, we lose sight of the sheer force of the imagery and its intended effect on the reader/listener.

Second, Boxall attempts to illustrate the importance of the John’s location: Patmos.  True, most interpreters note the importance of his exile (Bauckham being a notable exception) and the location of his readers, but Boxall is just as concerned with Patmos as the location of that exile.  He argues that the visual pagan imagery of Patmos may show up periodically in Revelation (specifically Artemis and Apollo).

Third is the importance of the call not to compromise in Revelation.  Boxall doesn’t discount the threat of persecution for John’s readers, but argues that not enough attention has been given to the threat of compromise.  I’ve already written about this here, so I won’t go any further down that road.

There are, to be sure, some things I disagreed with here and there.  I don’t agree with the contention that the 7 Spirits of 1:4 are angels rather than the Holy Spirit.  I’m confused why he thinks this view “may too readily assume a developed trinitarianism” (p31), yet he can frequently refer to the “Eucharistic” setting of Revelation.  It seems to me that assuming a Eucharistic liturgy is more anachronistic than a developed trinitarian theology.  I’m not at all convinced that the scroll John ingests in chapter 10 is the same scroll from chapter 5.  And so on.

I found myself nodding in agreement more often than not.  The 144,000 of chapter 7 are not only ethnic Jews, but to be understood by the vision of the multi-ethnic multitude.  The angel of chapter 10 is  not to be identified with Jesus.  The 2 witnesses of chapter 11 are “representative figures of the prophetic ministry of the Church” (p164).  Throughout the commentary I was grateful for his demonstation of the importance of Ezekiel for John’s vision, especially in the final two chapters.  Boxall even includes a helpful chart on page 255.  In fact, Boxall has convinced me of my need to beef up the Ezekiel portion of my library.  When you combine this with Beale’s emphasis on Daniel, I begin to wonder how I can understand Revelation without some working knowledge of these two OT books.

(Note: I’m intentionally leaving out reference to his interpretation of the millennium in this review, because in my experience this is the first place students look in determining the worth of a Revelation commentary.  Believe it or not, there is more to the book than 20:1-6)

This is one of the better non-technical commentaries on Revelation, alongside Witherington and Keener.  For those who have a long interest in Revelation, there is enough insight in here to be of great help- he packs a lot into a short space.  For those looking for a reliable guide as they learn the book, Boxall will prove to play the role well.  In my opinion, what the church needs in its books on Revelation is clarity, not cleverness.  Boxall’s commentary is remarkably clear and penetrating without trying to force anything.  And let us remember that there are excellent commentaries out there not written by men with names like Fee, Moo, Carson, Beale etc.  I hope to read more of Boxall’s work in the years to come.

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Most of us understand that the book of Revelation predicts and expects persecution for its readers.  The assumption is that John’s readers were under the constant threat of death for their testimony of Jesus Christ.  Basically, this viewpoint goes something like this: if you don’t worship the emperor, you will be killed.

Ian Boxall, in his commentary on Revelation, takes a slightly different route.  He doesn’t deny that there is some persecution going on, but he sees it strictly as local and not really involving Roman authorities.  “The internal evidence of the messages to the seven congregations (Revelation 2-3) suggests a rather mixed picture.  …actual or impending hostility is referred to for some (e.g. 2:9, 13; 3:9)… there is no clear indication that suffering is at the hands of Roman authorities, or involves formal legal precedings” (p12).

Instead, Boxall, and many others, note that the call not to compromise is just as strong in Revelation.  Within the messages to the seven churches, we see condemnations of “Balaam” and “Jezebel”- OT figures who caused God’s people to stray.  In other words, John’s message is for them not to fall into the trap that these false teachers are laying.

This, of course, has implications for persecution:  “If Revelation is not primarily written to comfort the persecuted, it nevertheless represents a rallying cry to Christians to place themselves in a position in which they might find themselves being persecuted” (p13, Boxall).  If John’s readers are able not to stray, they should expect persecution.

I appreciate Boxall’s attempt to balance, though I have to wonder if he’s overstated his case.  I’m not sure what the Beast of chapter 13 represents if not the powerful oppressor standing against God’s people- making war and conquering them, according to 13:7.  Even the harlot of chapter 17, the seductive power of the comfort the Roman Empire provides, drinks the blood of the saints (17:6). And when Rome is judged, she is judged “with the judgment she imposed on you [the saints]” (18:20).

But the connection with bearing testimony for God and the threat of death is undeniable in Revelation.  Jesus himself is the faithful witness who was put to death (1:5).  Keeping in mind that “testimony” and “witness” are from the same root in Greek, we see how Jesus sets the stage for God’s people in this way.  Read 2:13, 6:9, 11:7, 12:11, 12:17, 17:6 and 20:4- all of them combine the notions of faithful and enduring testimony and the reality of death for that testimony.

John’s original readers dealt with the reality that they were called to compromise their testimony (side note: I’ve noticed that we always word it “compromise our faith,” which indicates to me that we’ve internalized something that was intended to be a public evidence, but that’s another post for another day).  For many, if they did not denounce their exclusive devotion to Jesus Christ, they could lose work, be imprisoned or end up in a colosseum face-to-face with a lion.

But they were also tempted to compromise by enjoying the pleasures that Rome offered- this is especially strong in chapters 17-18.  Why “rock the boat” and cause problems?  Why not keep your mouth shut and enjoy a peaceful and prosperous life like everyone else in the Roman Empire?  When she is destroyed, “the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury… will weep and mourn over her” (18:9).  Would John’s readers be among those who mourn her destruction and the comfort that came with her, or would they rejoice in God’s judgment of her wickedness (18:20)?

So both of these realities- persecution and compromise- are undeniably present in Revelation; Boxall states their connection well.  If one chooses not to compromise, they may face brutal persecution.  John is calling his readers to remain faithful in their witness, even if it means death, in the face of these twin realities.

Does this have anything to do with us?  I think it does.  I mentioned this in teaching the other night, and I keep coming back to it.  I have to wonder if we (by “we” I mean American Christians, since that’s where the vast majority of my experience comes in) focus on the persecution apparent in Revelation because it enables us not to face the compromising aspect of Revelation.  The fact is that we are inundated with temptations to compromise in our culture.  We live in an affluent society where you can pretty much have what you want when you want it. We tend not to notice these temptations (do we not have ears to hear and eyes to see?).

There’s a certain wicked wisdom in using pleasurable temptation rather than persecution to make God’s people ineffective.  It is a powerful tool.  The truth is that you can put a gun to my head and threaten to take my life if I don’t deny Jesus, and I will stand firm, I’m sure of it.  But if you parade by me, day after day after day, the siren call of comfort- power, acceptance, money, home, sex, cars, etc- I am much more likely to compromise my witness.

Perhaps the American church isn’t facing the beast, but we are facing the harlot.  The question remains, will we be a faithful witness?  May we hear the message of Revelation and overcome.

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