Michael Whitworth.  The Derision of Heaven: A Guide to Daniel. Bowie, Texas: Start2Finish Books, 2013. 194 pages.

In the early 1990s, I had the pleasure of getting acquainted with Michael Whitworth’s father, Daniel, when he was working with a nationwide evangelistic outreach ministry.  So, years later when I met Michael in the summer of 2008, I felt an immediate connection with him.  Michael impressed me greatly at that first meeting five years ago as a multi-talented, intelligent, and passionate disciple of Jesus Christ.  Little did I know then that he was also a very diligent researcher and an extremely gifted writer.

Michael sent me an advance copy of his latest book a few weeks ago and asked if would provide a brief review on my blog, a request to which I readily and happily agreed.  The Old Testament book of Daniel has long been a favorite of mine in preaching and teaching.  I’m always eager to explore new approaches and fresh insights into this challenging and faith-affirming prophetic text.

The Derision of Heaven is written in an engaging style that I would describe as “well-researched casual,” which makes for a very compelling read.  It is quite evident that Michael did his homework in preparing this guidebook to the study of Daniel.  His bibliography of sources includes a very generous supply of widely known and highly respected conservative, evangelical Biblical scholars.  A few of his sources will be familiar primarily to readers among Churches of Christ.

The body of the text is heavily footnoted, which is further evidence of the author’s thorough research.  Many of the footnotes do not merely provide source citations, but also include more detailed discussion and explanation, making them well worth the time to read and digest.  The text is also amply filled with parenthetical cross-references which invite deeper comparative study with other sections of Scripture.

Michael’s recommendations for dealing with the apocalyptic portions of Daniel (i.e., don’t force literalness, don’t be dogmatic, and don’t miss the forest for the trees) are admirably respected even in the historical narrative sections of the book.  He openly acknowledges points at which the interpretation of the text is seriously debated and where even conservative scholars find themselves in significant disagreement.  Michael humbly offers his most honest and studied insight into the passage without dogmatically demanding agreement on every detail as a test of one’s faith in God or confidence in the inspiration of Scripture.

Michael champions the message of the book of Daniel as one that, even after the passage of 2,500 years, is enduringly relevant to a church that is as much in exile in this world as the Jewish nation was in Babylon.  American Christians, in particular, are cautioned by the author against the idol of nationalism.  He references “Christians who seem prouder to be an American than a member of the church, God’s eternal kingdom, one that cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:28).  It’s not a sin to be a patriot unless patriotism becomes your idol.  I wonder if some Christians aren’t bigger fans of the Constitution than the gospel.”  Statements like this, along with his contention that “even the Constitution is imperfect,” will certainly challenge and unsettle many conservative Christians who have become too much a part of the political world in which we live.

Michael’s regular insertion of humor into his treatment of the text generally works in positive fashion to keep the discussion personal and contemporary.  However, it occasionally seems misplaced, which is an admittedly subjective evaluation.  Also, his understanding of God’s active work among the geo-political affairs of men (including a “chessboard” analogy) is much more explicit and “hands on” than my own thinking on the subject.  However, since the workings of the Almighty’s will and providence in this world transcend human scrutiny, he may well be right and I may be wrong about the matter.

Each chapter ends with a few “Talking Points” that are ideal for discussion-oriented Bible classes and small group studies, as well as for personal reflection and application.

Whether you are needing a fresh and insightful reminder of the power and contemporary relevance of the familiar stories contained in Daniel 1-6 or an introduction to the less frequently studied apocalyptic visions of Daniel 7-12, I highly recommend The Derision of Heaven for your reading and study.