Revelation as the Key to a Missional Hermeneutic

I ended my lectures on Revelation at Duke this past term, in both my own class on the book and in Susan Eastman’s NT Intro, where I was a guest lecturer, with the following paragraph:

Revelation concludes the canon; it completes God’s story. It is the last book of the Christian Bible. Perhaps it would not be too bold to suggest that if the church of Jesus Christ is to be faithful to its vocation in the 21st century, the book of Revelation—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.

What would it mean if Revelation were taken as the first book of Christian mission, as the key to a missional hermeneutic? As a working proposal, I think this makes a lot of sense. After all, as I suggest above, the book of Revelation is the telos of the Christian Bible, and it contains the telos of the divine story. In that sense, it is analogous in a way to Christ himself, who is the telos of the Law, according to Paul (Rom 10:4). In both cases, we should take telos to mean “end” in the sense of both conclusion and, more importantly, goal.

If Revelation reveals the goal of the divine, biblical narrative and thus the goal of human existence (salvation), then what we see at the end of the end–that is, in Rev 21:1-22:5 (and related texts)–gives us both a picture of the telos and the contours of Christian mission: bearing witness in the present to the future, the telos.

Revelation 7, one of my favorite NT texts, briefly depicts the

“great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ ”

This perpetual multicultural liturgy embodies the universal salvation brought in Christ: the reconciliation (one loud voice) of the peoples of the earth to one another and to their creator and redeemer.

In Rev 21:1-22:5 we find additional images of this salvation: the presence of God the absence of suffering and evil; the lush urban garden with beautiful walls and streets, and trees that have perpetual fruit and leaves for the healing of the nations.

What does it mean to bear witness, in advance, now, to this telos, this salvation? That is, it seems to me, the first, burning missional question that we must face. The answer will by necessity be both “vertical” and “horizontal.” That is, it will involve human-to-God and human-to-human relationships. And it will, I suggest, mean witnessing to the physicality and the beauty of the new creation, which has already begun (2 Cor 5).

12 Responses to “Revelation as the Key to a Missional Hermeneutic”

  1. Dr. Gorman,

    This is a fascinating thought. I hope you unpack this further. I am going to process this myself more.

    Additionally, I want to share a quick note of gratitude for your investment in my life through your recent books, Cruciformity and Inhabiting the Cruciform God. I’m a Southern Baptist pastor in Delaware and over the past 3 years have been exposed to a bigger theological universe through my doctoral work with Len Sweet at George Fox Seminary. I love what you have done in them. I love the metaphors and theology you present in both books. In my own blog I am working through your thoughts on Justification. I want to work through yours, NT Wright (whom I love) and then the traditional perspective that has dominated thought for several generations. I confess that I am hovering around your view and Wright’s view.

    Again, this post is a great launching pad for further processing.

  2. MJG says:

    David,

    Thanks for your kind words. I’m glad you are branching out! Where in Delaware are you?

    The three justification books out this year (NTW, Douglas Campbell, me) will make a lot of people think, I think.

    Oh–I will indeed have some more to say on Rev and mission.

    All the best in your doctoral work.

  3. Scott Savage says:

    Any chance those lectures are available to read or listen (or will become available soon)?

  4. T says:

    This working theory has been and continues to be a very significant influence for us as we plant a church in the inner-city of West Palm Beach. We’ve used many of the pictures from Revelation in answering the question, “What does God hope to have result from all this work, climaxing with Jesus?” We then try to structure our efforts with this “end in mind.”

    I echo David as well. I’ve almost finished your smaller work, Reading Paul, and am very grateful (which you recommended to me after Scot McKnight recommended your latest work). I’ve also enjoyed several snapshots from your larger works as well as some from NTW and Douglas Campbell. I like his PPME framework a great deal. I grew up Southern Baptist, but have been in the Vineyard for a while, where we have ‘enacted inaugurated eschatology’ as our chief theological grid, so looking at Paul and justification in the way you and these other authors have has helped the entire NT witness come together for me in encouraging and helpful ways.

    I occasionally post on how we are shaping our community practices as a result of these and other influences, and would welcome any critique or insight. Thanks again for your continued work.

  5. MJG says:

    Scott,
    I am currently writing a book called “Reading Revelation Responsibly” that will include much of the content from my course lectures; look for it next year. In the meantime, some of my thoughts on Rev are posted, and will continue to be posted, here.

    T,
    Thanks for your words, too. I’m very excited to hear about what you are doing, as I think others would be, and would like to see/hear more. Since you have actually adopted the model I propose, I might like to write that up a bit for the book. My own epiphany about this really came to fruition in Cameroon, just recently. I will post about that soon.

    As for Campbell, he does not repeart the PPME acronymn in the new book, unfortunately, but I agree that it is helpful.

    To both of you–can you tell us where you blog?

  6. T says:

    Dr. Gorman,

    You can find my personal blog here: (http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com). You can also click on my name or David’s name above our comments to go there directly. :)

    Your input even on our attempted translation of ideas to practices would be very welcome.

  7. T says:

    By the way,

    In fairness, we’ve focused on Jesus as the “King of kings, Lord of Lords” and some of the other kingly references and “Alpha and Omega” and a few other parts- the multi-cultural community, for example, and then gone back to the gospels for a more concrete picture of Jesus, as the Telos, which has launched us into discipleship as a central task (for which your thoughts on participation via co-crucifixion and resurrection through the Spirit are very helpful).

    But your central idea of looking ahead to what God hopes/intends to accomplish and thinking about what practices will get us from where we are to there is a common question for us, particularly me!

  8. MJG says:

    Thanks, T. Should have noted the links.

    Clearly we do not get a full picture of Jesus in Revelation, so your move to the gospels is of course necessary and wise, as the church has already known.

    As for the Christology of Revelation and its connection to discipleship, it is also important to focus on Jesus as faithful witness–faithful in his obedience to God and his resistance to imperial temptation and power. Most readers of Revelation focus only on the royal images or the slaughtered Lamb image, focusing on the shed blood (atonement). Faithful witness and Lamb power (Lamb as power-in-weakness rather than just sacrifice), which go closely together, need to be recovered.

  9. T says:

    Amen. I’m looking forward to your study. Nonviolence is going to be a big, practical issue for us in this church plant. We’re located in an area with one of the highest (if not the highest) murder rates in the country. We need to be an alternative to the gangs that isn’t peaceful out of fear or intimidation, but out of faith, hope and love.

    Thanks again.

  10. MJG says:

    Most people think a commitment to nonviolence is an ethereal goal for those who think about war and international politics. In our cities, and even in suburbia (we just had a murder of a kid–suburban gangs), it’s a matter of life and death–and faithfulness.

  11. Dr. Gorman,

    I’m in Middletown DE, about 30 minutes south of Newark/Wilmington…and thankfully, I finished my doctorate this past year! I integrated theology and emerging sciences to uncover how people learn and unlearn behavior.

    I really look forward to your revelation material and have pre-ordered Campbell’s book! Looking forward to the 1200 pages :-D

  12. MJG says:

    1400, but who’s counting at this point?!

    Congratulations, Dr. Phillips!

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