The Unseen Realm

This is a big book tackling some big ideas. The author aims at nothing short of a paradigm shift in the reader, who is assumed to be a modern 21st-century Christian. In this goal, I think Heiser is largely successful. The book, despite some issues, is a serious contribution to any thinking Christian’s worldview.

When I was in Bible College, one of the paradigm shifts I had was as a result of missiology courses. It was in studying different cultures that I gained some perspective on my own; it was in realizing that developing-world cultures had thoroughly supernatural worldviews that I understood how thoroughly secular my own worldview was. This book continued that process and shored it up with serious scholarship and Biblical evidence. The fact is that modern western Christians have absorbed the naturalistic cosmology of the surrounding culture. This book seeks to awaken the believer to the Bible’s thoroughly supernatural worldview.

In order to do that, the author takes the reader on a journey from one end of the Bible’s storyline to the other, developing the concepts of the divine council (see Psalm 82 for a start) and all its entailments. In this regard, I found the first half of the book, focusing on the OT, to contain the bulk of the insights. There were some good chapters in the NT sections but in general they were less compelling and convincing. At times Heiser proposes significant departures from mainstream scholarship in translation and interpretation concerning key verses. I will have to do some further study and reading on such matters before buying into them – Heiser is clearly ‘all-in’ on this paradigm and sees evidence for it everywhere, even when such evidence is a bit of a stretch.

In terms of criticisms I have of the book, there are a couple. First, in chapter 7 Heiser awkwardly inserts his understanding of free will as somehow necessary for the Bible’s storyline to make sense. It felt forced. Full disclosure: I am comfortably Reformed in my soteriology and I take the Bible to present both absolute divine sovereignty and mankind’s moral responsibility in a kind of tension best represented by compatibilism. So I shrugged and moved on.

Second, in my recent reading of Craig Carter’s work, I have become sensitized to the danger of reading and interpreting Scripture from outside an ecclesiastical tradition. This is a modern evangelical temptation, and it leads to the re-emergence of historic distortions and heresies. I saw this at work somewhat in The Unseen Realm, although time does not permit me to go into detail. Suffice it to say that the helpful correctives this book aims to bring need to be made within the structures of the historic orthodox Christian church and its teaching.

Lastly, I don’t think that what Heiser has put forth here merits a central place in the Christian’s life and theology. And yet the book is presented almost as if this should radically re-orient everything in the Christian’s life and mind. No. The fact remains that Heiser is drawing on a small percentage of carefully selected texts; the main sweep of the Bible’s storyline, while informed by this supernatural worldview and this understanding of the role of the divine council, lies elsewhere: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ the long-promised Messiah. Heiser’s contribution is to fill in some wonderful detail in the backdrop of that central drama. The gospel must remain central. And for that reason, while I would gladly recommend this book to thoughtful mature Christians, I would not hand it to a new believer.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s