The Spirituality of Revelation

This will likely be my last post for a while on Revelation, but it is an important one, from my perspective. If we read Revelation as a theopoetic and theopolitical writing focused on the reign of God and of the slaughtered Lamb, rather than as a script about the end of history (see previous posts), what kind of spirituality emerges from that reading? I suggest the following:

1.     Worship

2.     Realism

3.     Faithfulness and Prophetic Resistance

4.     Discernment and Vision

5.      Courageous Nonviolent Warfare

6.      Embodied Communal Witness and Mission

7.     Hope

 

  1.  A spirituality of worship. Revelation summons us to worship God the creator and redeemer, the Alpha and Omega, who reigns! It summons us to worship Jesus the redeemer, the slaughtered Lamb, the Alpha and Omega, who is Lord! The reign of God is not merely future or past but present. The summons to worship is therefore inseparable from allegiance. God in Christ both demands all and offers all
  2. A spirituality of realism. Revelation summons us to live cognizant of the realities of evil and empire. Evil is real. Empire is now—not merely future or past but present. Empire, by nature, makes seductive blasphemous and immoral claims and engages in corollary practices that bring disorder to both vertical (people-God) and horizontal (people-people) human relations, promising life but delivering death—both physical and spiritual.
  3.  A spirituality of faithfulness and prophetic resistance. The Christian church is easily seduced by Empire’s idolatry and immorality because these claims and practices are often invested with religious meaning and authority. In the context of “civil religion,” the church is called to “come out.” In the midst of Empire, the church is called to resistance in word and deed as the inevitable corollary of faithfulness to God, a call that requires prophetic spiritual discernment provided by God’s Spirit, and a vocation that may result in various kinds of suffering.
  4.  A spirituality of discernment and vision. The spiritual discernment required of the church, in turn, requires an alternative vision of God and of reality that unveils and challenges Empire, a vision in need of the Spirit’s wisdom to see and apply. This takes us back to the need for worship.
  5.  A spirituality of courageous nonviolent warfare. The resistance required of Christians can be likened to warfare in search of victory. But because this victory is only the victory of the victorious slaughtered lamb, Christian resistance to Empire conforms to the pattern of Jesus Christ and of his apostles and saints: faithful, true, courageous, just, and nonviolent.
  6.  A spirituality of embodied communal witness and mission. Christian resistance, like warfare, is not passive but active. It consists of the formation of communities and individuals who pledge allegiance to God alone; live in nonviolent love toward friends and enemies alike; leave vengeance to God but bear witness to God’s coming judgment and salvation; create, by God’s Spirit, mini-cultures of life as alternatives to Empire’s culture of death; and invite all who desire life with God to repent and worship God and the Lamb. The will of God is for all to follow the Lamb and participate in the present and coming life of God-with-us forever.
  7.  A spirituality of hope. God the creator and Christ the redeemer take evil and injustice seriously and are about both to judge humanity and to renew the cosmos. We hope and long for the healing of the nations

The last word would simply be Follow. Follow the Lamb. Follow him out of empire but also, paradoxically, into empire: into the dark corners of empire, into those places where the vision of God and the Lamb is most needed, where death needs to be replaced with life, where we can bear witness in word and life to the coming new creation, where there will be life-giving water for all, healing for the nations, a new heavens and new earth liberated from the effects of our sin, and the perpetual presence of the living God, in whom we can be both lost and found in eternal wonder, awe, and praise. Giving flesh to such a vision is no small challenge.

 

Perhaps it would not be too bold to suggest that if we are to be a faithful church in the 21st century, the book of Revelation, and especially its vision of the slaughtered, victorious, and coming Lamb, needs to become more central to our worship, our spirituality, our practices. Perhaps, in a profound way, the last book of the Bible needs to become the church’s first book.

 

 

9 Responses to “The Spirituality of Revelation”

  1. Thanks for these posts, Michael. As I was reading this entry I was struck by the paradox, the book in the NT with the largest reputation for violence and mayhem is also the book that, perhaps more than any other, calls for non-violent resistance.

    Looking forward to your book!

    Michael

  2. MJG says:

    Michael,

    Once again–said very well!

  3. [...] J. Gorman has one further post on Revelation: “The Spirituality of Revelation.” It is worth a [...]

  4. Thanks for these posts on Revelation. My own Bibles might as well have omitted Revelation for all the attention I’ve given it (although I did enjoy The Rapture Exposed as a useful counterpoint to Left Behind).

    Particularly, I appreciated your statement regarding REconstruction which must follow deconstruction. My own pastor at our progressive church calls it re-mythologizing. I’ve often noted the penchant for throwing the baby out with the bathwater among progressive religious folks. We have – rightly so – thrown out literalist and close-minded interpretations of scripture, but are still struggling with replacing those interpretations with something else while retaining the integrity of scripture seen through a sacramental lens.

    Your work on Revelation is necessary. Thanks much.

  5. MJG says:

    Karen,

    Thanks: I think we’re in sync, but I’m not particularly comfortable with phrases like “progressive” and “re-mythologizing.” What we are doing is re-capturing the theopolitical and theopoetic dimensions of Revelation that were there all along but were masked by the misguided process of correlating first-century images with later historical realities as the be-all and end-all of Revelation.

  6. vht nguyen says:

    MJG,

    A fine follow-up to your previous post. We often feel as though we have made progress by recapturing the message or theology of Revelation, but after doing so we forget to plow on and examine a spirituality of it. Many thanks for your reflections.

  7. MJG says:

    Henry–

    Thanks. I would be interested to hear your take on the book you are reviewing when you are finished. I’m currently working on an essay expressing a theological perspective on the reception history of Rev.

    Grace and peace,
    MJG

  8. vht nguyen says:

    MJG,

    I trust you have read through Judith Kovac and Christopher Rowland’s book, Revelation: The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ (Blackwell Bible Commentaries). I found it quite enjoyable, but of course more could be done on the subject. I hope in your essay you will include another doozy: “Revelation in one sentence”!!

    Seems like many scholars are turning to Revelation (e.g. http://www.interpretation.org/online_journal/pdfs/Jan2009.pdf). Perhaps I will join in the fun!

    If you are interested I will send you a copy of the review of the other book (if I ever get around to it!).

    By the way, today in class lecture I found myself stumbling to express myself, and DEFAULTED to the term “cruciformity!”

    Henry

  9. MJG says:

    Henry,

    Yes, I’ve read Judith’s and Chris’s book and even assigned it to students this term (mistake as a text, but a good resource). Mysterious Apocalypse by Arthur Wainwright is also good.

    I am on the editorial board of Interpretation and was the one who first proposed that issue a couple years back; there was lots of interest. (I assigned that issue to students, too; a better choice.)

    I guess the term cruciformity can prove useful!

    Mike

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