Lamb Power and the Church

Perhaps the following excerpts from (1) a chapter of my forthcoming book on Revelation and (2) Udo Schnelle’s New Testament Theology might have something to say to the church, especially to the American church. (It is only coincidental that this appears on the day of the “State of the Union” address in the U.S.*):

It is critical that we not miss the paradoxical significance of this Lamb of God sharing in the identity and sovereignty of God. In his exaltation Jesus remains the Lamb, the crucified one. He participates in God’s identity and reign, making him worthy of worship, as the slaughtered Lamb, and only as such. This is the consistent witness of the New Testament: that the exalted Lord remains the crucified Jesus. When this witness is neglected or forgotten, trouble follows swiftly. Any reading of Revelation—and any doing of theology more generally—that forgets this central New Testament truth is theologically problematic, even dangerous, from its very inception. It is doomed, not to failure, but to success—and that is its inherent theological problem. Human beings, even apparently faithful Christians, too often want an almighty deity who will rule the universe with power, preferably on their terms, and with force when necessary. Such a concept of God and of sovereignty empowers its adherents to side with this kind of God in the execution of (allegedly) divine might in the quest for (allegedly) divine justice. The reality of the Lamb as Lord—and thus of Lamb power—is, or should be, the end of all such misperceptions of divine power and justice, and of their erroneous human corollaries. Of course, both historically and today, it is not.

Revelation is often misread as a demonstration precisely of this kind of divine power in human history, especially in interpreting the visions of judgment. We will need to return to this issue in a later [post]. For now, however, we need especially to say that only when chapters 4 and 5 are read as Revelation’s hermeneutical key to reality, divinity, history, and ethics will we be able to place the visions of judgment in proper perspective.

—M. Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly (Cascade, forthcoming)

[I]n worship, the community of faith realizes its new identity under the lordship of the Lamb and under the conscious, intentional rejection of the claims to lordship made by Babylon/Rome. As the place where the new being is repeatedly practiced, worship is also a locus of resistance against the anti-God powers, and, since the Apocalypse was read out in worship, also a place of hearing, seeing, learning, and understanding/insight.

—Udo Schnelle, New Testament Theology, 767

Does this sound like your experience of worship??

*Plus ça change, plus ça reste le même. (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)

9 Responses to “Lamb Power and the Church”

  1. Mike Cantley says:

    Wow! It has not always been, but we have an earnest bunch working on it ;)

    I’ve been recalling conversations I’ve been in on about mission, church growth, programs, even survival of struggling churches. It rings rather hollow to keep straining to pull something out of our hat (focusing on these terms)—or to even pray through all that jargon—without recognizing what you’re describing.

    So, I’m not only questioning my experience of worship, but also my understanding of church. Instead of all those programmatic “thrusts” aimed at “growth” (or whatever…), shouldn’t we rework all those conversations remembering that church is a way of life together? I had thought that this clarification alone would knock out some of the goose-chase, but, you help me realize, not all…

    As a first step, though, it might open the space for us as local groups to tackle the (what could be quite) unsettling issue of it—church—being this Way that you allude to!

    Thanks for your post, and I’m looking forward to your book!
    Mike C.

  2. An awesome taster Mike. When is the full course available?

  3. Josh Rowley says:

    In my DMin work, I’ve been arguing that Presbyterians have misunderstood the sovereignty of God in the fashion you’ve described (though I used Matthew rather than Revelation).

    How do you read the juxtaposed images of the Lion and the Lamb in Revelation 5:5-6?

  4. MJG says:

    Mike:

    In an earlier comment to an earlier post about Haiti, I noted that American Christianity is highly syncretistic. We just don’t recognize it. And the syncretism causes Christian faith—and worship—to devolve into the civil religion that worship of God and the Lamb is meant to undo. So the problem is VERY complex!

    Jason:

    Thanks much. God willing, it will be out this summer, or perhaps in the fall.

    Josh:

    Sounds interesting! As for the question, here’s another excerpt from the book:

    The problem that distresses John the seer is that no one in all creation is worthy to open this scroll, to set in motion the eschatological judgment and salvation of God. But one of the elders says that there is in fact one who is worthy, named as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David,” images of messianic power and rule. This one “has conquered.”

    Both John and we await the unveiling and identification of this powerful, conquering messianic Lion; perhaps he and we rightly suspect that the elder is directing our attention to Jesus, Son of David and Lion of Judah. But in “perhaps the most mind-wrenching ‘rebirth of images’ in literature” (Eugene Boring), the vision John receives and describes for us is not what anyone would expect. It is the vision of a slaughtered Lamb, not a ferocious Lion. “The shock of this reversal,” writes Richard Hays, “discloses the central mystery of the Apocalypse: God overcomes the world not through a show of force but through the suffering and death of Jesus, ‘the faithful witness [martys] (1:5).’”

  5. Josh Rowley says:

    Thanks for the additional excerpt, Michael. I asked my question because I have heard some Christians appeal to Revelation, including the image of Jesus as a lion, to argue that Jesus was not nonviolent. I’m hearing you argue that Jesus, like a lion, conquered, but that his way of doing so was like that of a lamb.

    I’ve also made use of Eugene Boring’s work on Revelation. Do you agree with his reading of the end of the book–specifically that creation will be restored rather than replaced?

  6. MJG says:

    Hi, Josh—

    Yes, definitely, nonviolent.

    I’ve not read Boring in toto for a while, but I do see renewal (my preferred term), not replacement, as the message of Revelation. My general hesitation with Boring is over universalism; it may be theo-logical to a degree, but the text is not there, in my view.

  7. Bruce Hamill says:

    Thanks for that Mike. I’ll be first in the queue for a copy.

  8. MJG says:

    Thanks, Bruce. It’s always good to have at least one guaranteed sale!

  9. Kinew says:

    Thanks a ton for your information, were looking quite a few nights just for this.

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