August 15, 2013

Review: Unseen by Jack Graham

Graham, Jack. Unseen: What You Need to Know about Angels, Demons, Heaven, and Hell. (Bethany House, 2013), 288 pp.

Angels. Demons. Heaven. Hell. These are topics which tempt many believers to go to extremes. It seems they are either given little or no attention at all or, instead, they become the focus of an unhealthy over-emphasis. Though written mostly with those in the former camp in mind (see pp. 22-30), Unseen is author Jack Graham's attempt to ameliorate this dilemma by offering a balanced, biblical take on the reality and nature of the unseen spiritual forces at work in our lives and all around us.

Graham starts out with an explanation of the practical importance of understanding the spiritual realm, relating several biographical illustrations along the way (Introduction, Chapter 1). From there, Graham then spends one chapter each on Satan, angels, the existence of the soul, the nature and inevitability of death and judgment, Hell, Heaven, and the new creation. He also devotes four chapters in the middle of the book to prayer and spiritual warfare. His treatment of each topic covers the basics well without getting bogged down in the extra-biblical flights of fancy that, unfortunately, seem to characterize discussions of these topics more often than not.

Although, Unseen was written mainly for those who tend to under-emphasize or even ignore the supernatural aspects of the Christian faith, it will probably be even more helpful for those who have been taken in by the glut of unbiblical foolishness that has been propagated in the literature on these subjects. This is because Graham's treatment of each topic is grounded in Scripture. Rather than exegeting anecdotes he simply explains the relevant biblical passages on each topic. Nothing groundbreaking here, but it is very needed in a time when Evangelicals tend to prize feeling and experience over the clear teachings of God's Word.

Graham keeps the focus where Scripture does. He understands that the purpose of Scripture's teachings on angels, demons, and the afterlife is not to cause speculation, fear, or morbid fascination. Instead, the point is to help believers reorient their lives in light of the eternal rather than the temporal (pp. 14-15, 288-290).

While there is much to commend about Unseen, there are, unfortunately, some problems as well. First of all, Graham unnecessarily gives credence to the heretical accounts of return trips to Heaven and Hell that have (quite unfortunately) captivated Christian audiences. It's not that he endorses these ridiculously unbiblical accounts, the problem is that he mentions them without coming down against them (pp. 216-217, 251). Books like Heaven is For Real and  23 Minutes in Hell are, frankly, dangerous and heretical, and no responsible Christian leader should be mentioning them in anything other than a negative light or doing anything to lend them credibility.

Another problem is Graham's penchant for shallow exegesis and irresponsible proof-texting. There were several times during the course of the book when, though the overall teaching was mostly sound, I questioned whether a certain Scripture was being handled properly or misused in order to make a point (Graham's misuse of John 14:6 on p. 235 is particularly egregious, but see also the exegetical fallacy on p. 134 as well as his questionable take on 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 on p. 116) His exegesis of certain texts also seemed to be influenced more by tradition than anything inherent in the text itself (see especially his treatment of Ezekiel 28 on pp. 41-43).

Overall, Unseen offers a decent take on the subjects it treats. It is certainly not the best (see Tough Topics by Sam Storms for a superior take on nearly every subject covered in Unseen), but one could also do far worse. Despite its shortcomings, I believe this book could prove genuinely helpful for some readers. Recommended, but not without reservations.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Unseen is available here:

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