Review of Mickelsen’s Daniel & Revelation: Riddles or Realities?

by Vern S. Poythress

[Published in Westminster Theological Journal 47 (1985): 350-51. Used with permission.]

A. Berkeley Mickelsen: Daniel & Revelation: Riddles or Realities?  Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1984.  xi, 266.  $14.95.

A. Berkeley Mickelsen has written for laypeople an elementary thematic study of Daniel and Revelation.  After an opening chapter on interpretive questions, Mickelsen devotes a chapter each to the themes of God and his rule, the revelation of God, moral evil, human government, the people of God, and the outcome of human history.

Mickelsen gets off on the right foot by emphasizing that Daniel and Revelation are first of all God-centered, not “event-centered.”  Hence, appealing to Acts 1:7, he steers people away from a calculating, decoding mentality, and concentrates on major teachings which everyone must admit are important and profitable.  Mickelsen sees Daniel and Revelation as concerned with patterns which repeat themselves in principle through this age, but will have climactic form in the final crisis involving the Antichrist.  He is a flexible classic premillennialist not easily categorized into a “school.”  The 1000 years of Revelation 20, the 70 weeks of Daniel 9, and many other time periods are symbolic “apocalyptic arithmetic,” and do not lend themselves to precise calculation.

I find myself sympathetic with Mickelsen’s outlook, and I heartily wish the book success.  Yet I was bored reading it.  Mickelsen seems to have tried so hard to simplify things for his lay readership that he seldom gets beyond platitudes in the area of application.  Moreover, the thematic arrangement leads to tiring repetition.  I do not know whether there is a way around this.  Daniel and Revelation are hermeneutically complex books, and that means that some explanation may be necessary every time one refers to a key passage.  The choice of a thematic arrangement is asking for trouble, because the same passages have to be referred to under several different topics.  Maybe no one book can do all that Mickelsen was hoping.

Mickelsen’s approach is evangelical and sound, but in a few places one could find problems with simplifications which needlessly border on theological sloppiness.  Mickelsen speaks several times of the “inadequacy” of human language to describe God and heavenly reality (pp. 29, 69, 215, 228).  But the human language in the Bible is perfectly “adequate” to tell us all that God does tell us.  To be sure, the context of Mickelsen’s statements does help to qualify his meaning.  But in a day when so much neo-orthodoxy talks about “inadequacy,” Mickelsen could have said quite easily (and much more clearly) that biblical language is adequate but not exhaustive.  Imagistic language in particular has true propositional content, but does not give us a basis for narrow calculation or scientific mastery of God or heaven.

One could likewise quarrel with early statements that appear to qualify God’s control of all things (e.g., pp. 32, 42, 46).  Later on Mickelsen has some commendably strong affirmations (pp. 203-4), so I assume that this is again the result of the desire to be simple.

These problems need to be balanced against the obvious need for a lay-level guide to the practical use of biblical apocalyptic.

Vern S. Poythress
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania