The New Testament's last book, Revelation (no "s" on the end, please) has inspired all sorts of sermons, tracts, even entire religious movements aimed at provoking fear and repentance, when, one author says, believers should take comfort from its words instead.
"The purpose of end-times teaching, at least in modern evangelicalism, is to scare the 'hell' out of people," said Bob Hostetler, whose book "How to Survive the End of the World," released in November, is encouraging, not hectoring. Mr. Hostetler, a former Salvation Army church pastor, went on to co-found an evangelical congregation in Oxford, Ohio, and has authored 30 books, including several with noted youth speaker Josh McDowell.
"The stated purpose of Revelation is to bless the church and to foster perseverance," Mr. Hostetler said in a telephone interview. "Anytime I preach on the Revelation, people will come up to me and say, 'It scared me,' or 'It's such a confusing book.' That always saddens me. I can't imagine that's what God had in mind when He gave the Revelation to the church."
That there is a lot of interest in what Revelation says is hard to deny. More than 65 million copies of the 16-volume "Left Behind" series of Revelation-based novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins are reported to have been sold, not to mention the movies and video games spun off from those books. Other authors, most notably evangelicals Hal Lindsey and the late Grant Jeffrey, published numerous best-sellers on themes linked to the Bible text.
Such interest supplants a general one in when and how the world might end, as witnessed by the fixation of many on things such as the predicted Mayan apocalypse of 2012 or radio Bible teacher Harold Camping's 20-year sequence of end-of-the-world predictions, first centered on 1994 and then two dates in 2011.
Setting dates, Mr. Hostetler asserted, misses the message he believes Christ was trying to convey: "Jesus was explicit during His earthly lifetime that no one knows the details of when the day, year or time [of the Apocalypse is to occur]. Christians and church folks make the same mistake over and over again of trying to nail down a time."
Instead, he said, "I would love to see the church get more attentive to the Revelation and to become more responsive to the message to the church in that book. However much time we have left, there's a reason the Lord tarries, there's a reason we're still here."
Mr. Hostetler said that reason is for the church to put into practice the 14 "imperatives" given by Jesus to the seven churches — local congregations — in what is now the southwestern corner of Turkey (John, following Greek usage of the time, calls it "Asia").
The imperatives include calls to be faithful, repent, persevere and reject false teachings. Ironically, few Christians live in those cities today, although ruins attributed to each of the churches remain tourist attractions.
"There are key imperatives for you and me and the whole church to be focused on for whatever time we have left. I don't want to diminish anyone's message, but there's a whole lot of ancillary stuff that a lot of Christians are focused on these days but it does grieve me that we sometimes neglect some of the imperatives that God laid down for us in black and white," he said.
Reaction to the book has been positive, Mr. Hostetler said, though some have tried to puzzle out the author's own stance on how the prophecies in Revelation are to unfold.
Doing that, he said, was "not the purpose of my book or the Revelation. The purpose is to be a blessing and to give some indication of what will come hereafter. The nature of apocalyptic literature in Jewish and Christian traditions is not to gratify the thrill seekers, but to give people hope."
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