Archive for the ‘Revelation’ Category

What I am Teaching in Spring 2010

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Classes begin for me today, with the following lineup:

Pauline Spirituality for Church and Ministry, a course I first taught at Duke last spring. We will read some recent works on Paul’s spirituality, pastoral vision, ecclesiology, and counter-imperial theology:
—Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross
—Kent E. Brower and Andy Johnson, eds. Holiness and Ecclesiology in the New Testament
—James W. Thompson, Pastoral Ministry According to Paul: A Biblical Vision
—Richard A. Horsley, Paul and the Roman Imperial Order
—some articles by Kathy Grieb, Morna Hooker, and Beverly Gaventa

In addition, students will be doing some practical case studies and panel presentations on the intersection of these topics in Paul and in the life of the church.

The Book of Revelation and its Interpreters, which I have taught numerous times here and also taught at Duke last year. I only have three students, so it will be a small seminar, but very interesting: two of them are advanced students from Africa. Focusing on the text with them will help me finalize by little book on Revelation. The students will read the fantastic commentary by Mitchell Reddish and the fine theology of Revelation by Richard Bauckham.

The Cities of Paul and John, my bi-annual study tour to Turkey and Greece. We have 24 people going in February, and it is always a wonderful experience. (See the link to the right.) Reading includes parts of my Apostle of the Crucified Lord, the little commentary on Revelation by Gonzalez and Gonzalez, and the superb guide to biblical sites in Greece and Turkey by Mitch Reddish and Clyde Fant.

Parousia Date Announced: May 21, 2011

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Fundamentalist radio commentator Harold Camping is at it again. He has announced the correct date of Jesus’s second coming, etc. as May 21, 2011—just 16 months away! (Yeah!!)

Camping got it wrong last time—September 6, 1994. Maybe he and those of his persuasion should listen to James Kreuger, author of Secrets of the Apocalypse – Revealed (not to be confused with my forthcoming Reading Revelation Responsibly), who says this about Camping, after 40 years of studying the “end times”:

“For all his learning, Camping makes a classic beginner’s mistake when he sets a date for Christ’s return. Jesus himself said in Matthew 24:36, ‘Of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my father only.’ ” (quoted by Justin Berton, San Francisco Chronicle, January 1, 2010)

Seven Deadly Spirits in Revelation 2-3

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

I first read Revelation seriously (or at least responsibly) with Dr. Bruce Metzger at Princeton Seminary, first as his student and then as his teaching fellow. I’ve been fascinated with the book, and the seven messages in chapters 2-3, ever since. And I am now finishing a little book called Reading Revelation Responsibly, which should come out from Cascade in the spring.

Meanwhile… in a recent book, Seven Deadly Spirits: The Message of Revelation’s Letters for Today’s Church, T. Scott Daniels suggests that five of the seven churches addressed in Rev 2-3 have a dominant, deadly sin—and hence a message for us about avoiding those corporate sins in our own context. The other two (Smyrna and Philadelphia), which are commended and not at all censured, could have developed a spirit opposite that for which they are praised. Daniels contends that each of the churches has, or could have, such a specific deadly sin because it has developed an ethos, a kind of corporate personality, and that every church in every age has such a distinctive collective spirit. These “unholy spirits” (my term) are:

• Ephesus: the spirit of boundary keeping, or ungenerous orthodoxy
• Smyrna: the spirit of consumerism
• Pergamum: the spirit of accommodation, or failed witness
• Thyatira: the spirit of privatized faith, or dividing body and soul
• Sardis: the spirit of apathetic faith
• Philadelphia: the spirit of fear
• Laodicea: the spirit of self-sufficiency

The point of Rev 2-3, when heard faithfully today, is to listen for the Spirit of God identifying our own church’s peculiar unholy spirit and offering us the presence and grace of Christ to transform us into a more faithful people of God.

The book is not cutting-edge scholarship, but it is excellent biblical interpretation grounded in good exegesis.

I am wondering which church I belong to… Are you?

Rick Steeves and I in the Footsteps of Paul

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Not together, unfortunately.

I will be leading my fifth trip to Greece and Turkey, “The Cities of Paul and John,” February 11-21, 2010. It’s a great trip, and I am always eager to share my experiences (and Illume, the company I work with/for) with others. I am also usually able to take students from other institutions with me.

What about Rick Steeves?

Rick Steeves is a wonderful travel writer and travel documentary producer. He is also an active Lutheran. The following 40-minute video features Steeves following in Paul’s footsteps. Though not an academic resource, it includes commentary by biblical scholars, including Craig Koester, whose own web sites of his travels (here [Paul] and here [Revelation]) have great photos.

Source: ELCA Book of Faith web site.

Crux probat omnia (The cross probes everything)

Monday, July 20th, 2009

The Latin verb probare means to test, examine, evaluate, probe, prove, approve. Luther wrote, “crux probat omnia,” usually translated “the cross tests everything” or “the cross puts everything to the test.” I like to use the cognate verb “probe,” as in “scrutinize.”

On this blog and elsewhere, especially over at Daniel Kirk’s Sibboleth, people have been wondering how the so-called violence of God in Judges and elsewhere, including Revelation, squares with the kenotic, cruciform, restorative love and justice of God revealed in Christ, especially in his cross.

At root, this is at least as much a hermeneutical issue as it is a theo-logical (doctrine of God) one. That is, what will determine our reading of such difficult texts? The answer, it seems to me, is crux probat omnia.

Though we have no right to dispense with certain parts of the canon, we do have the right (and the obligation, as Christians) to read such texts through, and in light of, the cross. The cross does not delete them, but the cross provides the lens through which we consider them, the framework within which we understand them. That is, if we believe in the incarnation and if we believe Paul’s claim that the cross is the definitive theophany, the self-revelation of divine love, wisdom,power, justice, etc. (1 Cor 1-2, etc.)

In reference to Revelation, this problem of problematic images seems particularly acute. But some interesting things happen, especially an ordering of the images. That is, not all apocalyptic images in Revelation are created equal. As Christian readers of this ( I believe) Christian text, we have to order our images Christianly or, better, align our ordering of them with the ordering of the book of Revelation itself. That is to say, images of God as liberator, warrior, judge, etc. have all been re-imaged and reconstituted by the coming, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The slaughtered Lamb is the central and centering image of the book, and through it we see God’s liberation, warfaring, and judgment quite differently, to put it mildly, than we would without it. Similar controlling images appear elsewhere in the NT.

In Revelation, this means that the conquering Jesus is a warrior who sheds his own blood, not that of others. He conquers with words, not literal swords. And his disciples are expected to follow suit on both counts.

Thus as Christians we affirm God as liberator, warrior, and judge, but only as those images are scrutinized by the cross. That is because we believe with Paul that the cross is in fact the ultimate theophany and, with the early church, that crux est mundi medicina: the cross is the medicine of the world—and of the church. Which is why the church’s mission and its cruciform existence—or its misguided belligerent crusading—always go hand in hand.

Revelation as the Key to a Missional Hermeneutic

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

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).

A Blog on Revelation/Scofield Centenary

Friday, April 24th, 2009

One of  my post-master’s students at the Ecumenical Institute of Theology, a pastor in the churches of Christ and a graduate of Lincoln Seminary in Illinois, has referred me to his former professor’s blog. Professor Robert Lowery’s posts include notes on the first of his planned three-volume treatment of Revelation, called Revelation’s Rhapsody: Listening to the Lyrics of the Lamb (How to Read the Book of Revelation). They also include a great post commemorating the centenary anniversary of the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible, which he rightly calls responsible for “a century of damage.” He concludes his post on the Scofield Bible as follows:

  • “There is little doubt that without the Scofield Reference Bible the theological and eschatological landscape of the United States would look quite different today. Indeed, it would look better, I believe.”


Revelation and Empire

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

On the subject of Revelation and empire, which came up in a comment on yesterday’s post, let me mention that the January 2009 issue of the journal Interpretation is entitled “Revelation as a Critique of Empire.” It includes articles by Craig Koester (excellent), David Barr (another excellent piece), Warren Carter, and Allen Dwight Callahan, plus some related homiletical reflections. The pieces overlap a bit and sometimes are provocative without being concrete (especially Carter and Callahan), but this is a good starting place. (A short trial online subscription is available–then get it!) (Full disclosure: I am on the editorial board of Interpretation and helped plan this issue.)

Commentaries on Revelation

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

I guess I lied; I’m back posting on Revelation. Having just finished a course on the book, I have a few recommendations for commentary reading:

1. For excellent historical and literary analysis mixed with equally excellent theological reflection, the winner by far is Mitchell Reddish’s commentary in the Smyth and Helwys series. Reddish is especially good at showing parallels in biblical and other ancient texts. A real bonus (and for me, a necessity in the study of Revelation) is his collection of sidebars and graphics (including art images) that highlight both historical and contemporary approaches to the interpretation of Revelation. A goldmine; I told Reddish it was a near-perfect commentary.

2. Also quite excellent–though more concise and without the graphics–is the new commentary by Ian Boxall in the Black’s series. Boxall has previously written on Revelation, and the commentary continues his very good work in combining historical, literary, and theological analysis. Very highly recommended.

3. David Aune’s three-volume, ultra-detailed, historical-critical commentary in the Word series (volume one here) has proven to be a very worthwhile read this term, though it takes patience to work through all the detail without much theological payoff.

4. Eugene Peterson’s theopoetic interpretation, Reversed Thunder, has been worth reading again (for about the tenth time) because he really allows Revelation to do what it’s intended to do: provoke the imagination and inspire worship.

5. Ben Witherington’s commentary in the New Cambridge series has some of the strengths of Reddish’s work but without the graphics and with less material on reception history. At times this commentary is hard to read because it does not deal with everything in the text sequentially, but his treatment of the social context (imperial cult, etc.) is very strong.

6. There are lots of other good commentaries (not to mention more general introductions), but these are currently my favorite. Finally, however, I note the commentary by Tim LaHaye, Revelation Unveiled, the commentary version of the “Left Behind” series. It’s worth reading just for that reason.

7. One last resource to mention: a very helpful set of tables on dozens of facets of Revelation can be found in Mark Wilson’s Charts on the Book of Revelation.

What volumes would you add to my list?

The Spirituality of Revelation

Monday, April 20th, 2009

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.