Friday, October 21, 2011

Re-Reading Revelation: Statement of Purpose

There is perhaps no more contentious issue in biblical studies than how to interpret Revelation. There are certainly more important issues, more uplifting issues, more fruitful issues for our examination, but for whatever reason--most likely because the cryptic nature of the book allows for such a breadth of interpretation--nothing inspires the kind of doctrinal knockdown-dragout fights that Revelation does. Today, of all days, is the perfect day to illustrate this, as I assume that once again Harold Camping's predictions will have fallen short of expectations. No matter if you are a radio evangelist, a theologian, an exegete, a minister, a layman, or (as I am) a historian, one can easily weary by looking at contemporary and historical disputes over premillennialism versus postmillennialism versus amillennialism versus millennialism and more. At a more basic level, there are preterists and historicists and idealists and futurists and probably -ists so remote in their thinking that they have yet to find a label. A thousand issues which ultimately transcend Revelation inevitably get bogged down in its enigmatic imagery.

In a recent discussion with someone about a thoroughgoing preterist approach to the text, I made the suggestion that we might all be better off if we could just set aside the eschatological questions we bring to the text and read Revelation for the many truths it reveals about God: who He is, what He does, and how we ought to respond to Him. In reflecting on that conversation, I realized that it had not been since my early youth--ignorant as I was of the complex of controversial questions which the book generated--that I had read through Revelation for anything other than polemical purposes.

I propose to remedy that now and in the process to share what I believe are some of the eternal (and incontestable) truths which Revelation has to offer readers that have little or nothing to do with the what, the when, or the how of the end of the world. As a disclaimer, I should clarify that I do not think that Revelation is totally without anything to say on these matters. Clearly, the text raises important questions about God's ultimate plan for the world, questions that require serious thought. I am by no means a full-fledged idealist (or really a full-fledged anything). I do believe, however, that there are ideals which the author of Revelation, assumed to be John, embeds in the text, those that he wants to teach to his audience and those which are implicit by virtue of their common faith in a single God. It should not be forgotten that while the eschatological questions which dominate the study of Revelation are certainly valid, they are probably not primary. John was, after all, writing to comfort and strengthen an audience in a time of intense trial. He was not writing an academic treatise on the end times. The approach that will be taken here will be to look at Revelation as a spiritual text from an apostle to the languishing churches. The truths which will be the focus will be those that resonated with the foremost desire of the audience for salvation, for vindication, and for a glimpse (a revelation, if you will) of the God whom they served. In re-reading Revelation with these specific principles in mind, Christians can be enriched and find strength and solidarity in a text which has been the source of so much divisiveness.

List of Entries:

Encountering Jesus (Ch. 1)
Letters (Chs. 2-3)
Throne Room (Chs. 4-5)
Seals and Trumpets (Chs. 6-8)
Two Woes (Ch. 9)
Kingdom Come (Chs. 10-11)
Great Battle (Chs. 12-16)
Fall of Babylon (Chs. 17-18)
Joy and Judgment (Chs. 19-20)All Things New (Chs. 21-22)
An Invitation (Ch. 22)

Songs of the Church (Excursus 1)
Three Angels (Excursus 2)

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