Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Review of Three Months with Revelation

Justo L. González, Three Months with Revelation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004. 184 pp. Paperback, $11.00. ISBN 0-687-08868-2

Unlike many of the current popular writings on Revelation, this new devotional guide is not just another outline of end-times events. Instead, Justo González--a Cuban American theologian--approaches Revelation in light of the oppressive context of the Roman Empire in which it was written, arguing that it sought to comfort and bring hope to persecuted churches in Asia Minor. Consequently, its primary significance for today is that it serves as a call to obedience amidst hardship and persecution. Though, it is often misread as a message of terror by those who enjoy economic privilege while living in spiritual complacency.

First published as Tres Meses en la Escuela de Patmos (Abingdon, 1997), this translation now makes an important perspective from Latino/a biblical interpretation accessible to English-speaking readers. Having previously authored two other books on Revelation (see here and here) as well as several additional devotional titles in his Three Months series, González is eminently qualified to share his expertise on Revelation in an easy-to-read devotional format that is appropriate for either individual or group study.

Three Months proceeds through the book of Revelation sequentially, dividing the book into thirteen separate weeks that are in turn subdivided into seven daily readings. Each reading offers an analysis of the daily text that is organized according to the inductive approach (see-judge-act) typical of liberation theology. In order to facilitate the book’s use by study groups, the final reading for each week is double in length and includes a section on recommended group activities.

Typical of González’ previous work in biblical interpretation, Three Months’ strength lies in its sensitivity to the context of empire that shaped the life of the early church as well as its ability to draw lessons from that context for today’s churches. This becomes especially apparent by the second week of the study which discusses the seven letters to the churches (Rev. 2-3). Two of these churches—Philadelphia and Laodicea—are at opposite ends of the spiritual and economic continuums. Philadelphia was economically poor and spiritually rich in contrast to Laodicea, which was economically rich and spiritually poor. Noting that this reflects a general tendency for poor, persecuted churches to be faithful to God and wealthy, unpersecuted churches to be unfaithful, González challenges his readers to consider how their own comfort and complacency keeps them from faithfulness and what they might do to more closely follow the example of Philadelphia rather than Laodicea. In subsequent weeks, González develops this emphasis on faithfulness further, showing how it goes beyond mere personal morality to include one’s social responsibility and political commitments as well. Needless to say, such analysis will probably be uncomfortable for readers whose interests are closely aligned with those of today’s empire.

A weakness of Three Months is that, in order to spread the material out evenly over a three month period, the daily studies often use artificially short snippets of text where two or three days worth of reading might more comfortably be combined into one. This results in a pace of study that sometimes creeps along much too slowly, making it difficult for readers to keep the big picture in mind. While such a problem is not unexpected in a devotional guide, it is a nuisance that detracts from an otherwise high quality work.

I normally tend to avoid using devotional guides, finding most to be superficial and unchallenging. But González was different, offering a deep theological analysis of scripture while simultaneously sharing it in a way that can be easily understood and applied. More importantly, his words are a challenge to all Christian believers who wish to heed Revelation’s call to obedience amidst the oppression of empire.

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At Monday, March 5, 2007 at 3:21:00 PM EST , Blogger espíritu paz said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I'll pick up the Spanish version. From Justo, I suppose I would expect the Roman history emphasis.

At Wednesday, March 7, 2007 at 10:52:00 AM EST , Blogger haitianministries said...

Thanks for stopping by! Glad to hear that you found the review helpful.


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