Archive for June, 2012

Reprise: This is NOT Independence Sunday

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Reprinted (with minor changes) from 2009:

In some U.S. churches, at least some Methodist churches (and I suspect others), this Sunday’s bulletin will announce that it is Independence Sunday—perhaps along with something else (like the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost), or perhaps not.

But it is not Independence Sunday, because that liturgical day does not exist, or at least should not exist. “Independence Sunday” is an American invention, an example of American civil religion: the inappropriate Americanizing of Christianity and Christianizing (in some vague, superficial sense) of America.

The misnaming of the Sunday nearest July 4 is a theological mistake in at least three specific ways. First, it nationalizes a calendar (the liturgical or church calendar) and a day that belong to the entire Christian church. “The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost” or “The 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time” or simply “The Lord’s Day, July 1, 2012? is theologically appropriate because each of these is inclusive, universal, catholic. But “Independence Sunday” is exclusive and parochial. When we come as Christians to worship God, even on the Fourth of July weekend, we come to celebrate our oneness with people from every nation, tribe, and race, and to recommit to a divine mission that includes all peoples. There may be appropriate ways for Christian individuals and churches to acknowledge their particularity as Americans or Iraquis or Koreans, but hijacking the Christian calendar and liturgy is not one of them.

Second, “Independence Sunday” robs not only the Christian church, but also, and far more importantly, the Lord of the church. It takes the focus of worship off the Triune God who liberated Israel in the Exodus and then came to rescue wayward humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, substituting—however subtly (or not!)—a national deity who is usually thought to have chosen America and poured special blessings on the American people as Americans. Sunday—every Sunday, no exceptions—is the Lord’s day, the day devoted to the adoration of Jesus as Lord and to communion with him. Centering on anything or anyone else negates the very reason for the gathering and transforms it into something else, something alien.

Third, the language of “Independence Sunday” misleads both Christians and non-Christians into thinking that one’s true identity and freedom are given to them by one’s nation state. It will not suffice to say something like “We celebrate our freedom as Americans but also, and more importantly, our freedom from sin because of Jesus.” Why is this insufficient? Because comparing the two trivializes the latter, the one that really matters. Why do these words not make “Independence Day” language in church appropriate? Because the use of “we” in “we celebrate” erroneously suggests that there is something as significant, or almost as significant, about the assembled group’s identity as Americans as there is about its identity as Christians.

The custom of singing songs and offering prayers about peace, justice and similar topics on the Sunday nearest July 4 may be a good thing—if they are appropriately interpreted by the pastor in non-nationalistic and non-militaristic ways. In my experience this is seldom done. (But at least it’s better than blatant nationalism.) A church can do this without either misnaming the Sunday or misfocusing the worship service.

A New Essay in a New Book on Revelation

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

In September 2010 I was part of an international symposium on the book of Revelation held at Duke University. The papers from that very stimulating event are about to be published (July 15) in a volume from Baylor University Press entitled Revelation and the Politics of Apocalyptic Interpretation, edited by Richard B. Hays and Stefan Alkier.

The table of contents follows:

1 What Has the Spirit Been Saying? Theological and Hermeneutical Reflections on the Reception/Impact History of the Book of Revelation (me)

2 Models for Intertextual Interpretation of Revelation (Steve Moyise)

3 The Reception of Daniel 7 in the Revelation of John (Thomas Hieke)

4 Faithful Witness, Alpha and Omega: The Identity of Jesus in the Apocalypse of John (Richard Hays)

5 God, Israel, and Ecclesia in the Apocalypse (Joseph Mangina)

6 Revelation and Christian Hope: Political Implications of the Revelation to John (N. T. Wright)

7 Witness or Warrior? How the Book of Revelation Can Help Christians Live Their Political Lives (Stefan Alkier)

8 The Apocalypse in the Framework of the Canon (Tobias Nicklas)

9 Reading What Is Written in the Book of Life: Theological Interpretation of the Book of Revelation Today (Marianne Meye Thompson)

The book blurbs follow:

“For many Revelation has effectively been decanonized—mostly little read and even less understood. This fine collection ventures into intertextual, canonical, theological, and political readings of the book that advance theological reflection on the significance of Revelation for today.”

—Joel B. Green, Professor of New Testament Interpretation & Associate Dean for the Center for Advanced Theological Studies, Fuller Theological Seminary

“A splendid collection. This volume will help both the seasoned and the skittish interpret Revelation within its canonical context, and thereby move the academy and the church within hearing distance of apocalyptic texts in the gospels and epistles.”

—Eugene Boring, I. Wylie Briscoe Professor of New Testament, Emeritus, Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University

If you are interested in Revelation, you will want to get this book, along (I would suggest) with Reading Revelation Responsibly (a bit lighter reading!).


google