Archive for May, 2010

Come Out of Her (Rev 18:4) and Mission

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

In my forthcoming (fall 2010) Cascade book Reading Revelation Responsibly, I argue that Revelation has a missional spirituality. This may surprise some people, so here’s a foretaste of the argument:

The notion of a missional spirituality may seem odd at first, especially as a characterization of the NT book that says, “Come out of her [Babylon], my people” (18:4). That would seem to end any conversation about mission before it even begins. But it does not.

“Come out” is not a summons to escape, and the spirituality of Revelation is not an escapist spirituality. The withdrawal is not so much a physical exodus as a theopolitical one, an escape from civil religion and the idolatry of power-worship. It is a creative, self-imposed but Spirit-enabled departure from certain values and practices, which may entail, for some, a geographical move as well. (I am thinking here of the New Monasticism and its commitment to moving into places “abandoned by Empire.”) It is the necessary prerequisite to faithful living in the very Babylon from which one has escaped. That is, the church cannot be the church in Babylon until it is the church out of Babylon….

It is important therefore to stress that Revelation does not call for the wholesale rejection of culture and of engagement with the world; it calls for discernment. It is one thing, in other words, to live in an empire or superpower, to live in the shadow of the beast, trying to avoid participating in the evils of idolatry while bearing witness to another empire, the kingdom of God, and thereby working for the good of the world as salt and light. It is quite another to endorse that empire—or any culture—unconditionally, or to sacralize it. Yet that is what many Christians and churches have done; they have baptized their culture and/or country into the name of the triune god of political, economic, and military power, wrongly thinking that this is the power of God.

The eternal gospel of the slaughtered Lamb unveils the fallacious nature of this undiscerning baptism. But because civil religion in the West borrows heavily from the symbols and texts of Christian faith, it is nearly impossible for many Christians and churches to recognize the problem before us. Syncretism is a very powerful, very subtle device. (See previous post, too.)

Thus the vision needed for discernment does not make Christian faith anti-Rome, anti-American, or anti-culture in some general, all-encompassing sense. Rather, it calls us to rely on the discerning Spirit to distinguish the good (and the neutral) from the bad in order to remain in the world (Babylon) but not of it. Then the church’s mission can go forward in faith—and in faithfulness.

Lamb or Beast?

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

An excerpt from the draft of my forthcoming book:

In Revelation, faithfulness is portrayed positively as following the Lamb (14:4) and thus being marked with God’s seal of ownership and protection (7:3). It is also portrayed negatively as not following the beast or receiving the mark of the beast (13:16-17; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 20:4). Together, these two images of faithfulness demonstrate that we cannot have it both ways: beast and Lamb, imperial power with Lamb-power, civil religion mixed with worship of God and the Lamb. Those who follow the Lamb will enter the new Jerusalem; those who follow the beast are doomed. This is an either-or proposition with very serious consequences. There is no synthesis, no syncretism permitted here. The clarion call of Revelation is to forsake the idolatrous worship of secular power and to worship God alone.

But most of us do not like such either-or propositions when it comes to “religion.” We especially do not like having to choose between “God and country.” What makes the “both-and” approach so attractive is that it seems so right, so noble, so pious. Like adultery, it can feel very good (which is why followers of the Lamb are called virgins [14:4]). Why is the both-and option so seductive? Because it is the deliberate, deceitful work of the devil through the propaganda mechanisms of the idolatrous imperial powers (19:20). Nationalistic allegiance or devotion, especially when dressed in religious garb, may not feel like idolatry—but it is (13:4, 8, 12, 15; 14:9, 11; 16:2; 19:20). Once deceived, we are hooked, persuaded, and, sadly, doomed. If history is any clue, the unlearning of such deceit—perhaps we should say the liberation from such deceit—is nothing short of miraculous.

War is a Red Horse

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

The absence from blogging is due to my intense efforts to conclude the semester while also finishing some articles and my book on Revelation. Most posts in the immediate future will likely be related to those projects, especially the book.

One of my very favorite interpreters of Revelation is Eugene Peterson in his book Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination. If you have not read it, do so immediately. Commenting on the second horse in Revelation 6, the red horse, Peterson writes (p. 77):

For a time, writ large in the headlines, war is perceived as an evil, and there are prayers for peace. But not for long, for it is quickly glamorized as patriotic or rationalized as just. But war is a red horse, bloody and cruel, making life miserable and horrid…. The perennial ruse is to glorify war so that we accept it as a proper means of achieving goals. But it is evil. It is opposed by Christ. Christ does not sit on the red horse, ever.