Converting our Imagination 1

In the next two years Americans will be bombarded by political rhetoric. I am not alone in decrying the politicization of our culture, and neither am I alone in urging followers of Jesus to refocus. Political rhetoric is not only filling our imaginations with hope, hope that can’t be delivered by a President, but it is reshaping Christian thinking so much so that intelligent studies show that the Church in the USA has been politicized. That’s a sad commentary on us.

I begin a series today on Converting our Imagination, and at the bottom of this is an examination of the Book of Revelation. The book is Resistance Literature pure and simple. It is theo-politics. It is anti-empire. It is for Christ, but the Christ who Reigns is the Lamb.

What does this book teach us to imagine? What movies are most like Revelation? What literature is most like Revelation? (I suggest Flannery O’Connor. What say you?)

To assist us in this study of Revelation, and I won’t be writing a mini-commentary but probing themes, I will be using Michael Gorman’s new book, Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation. The topics will be set by the order of Gorman’s chapters.

We begin today with polarization. To be blunt, some people think this book is awesome and inspiring — like Eugene Peterson and Michael Gorman and Richard Bauckham — while others think it is a disastrous piece of violence. Thus…John Dominic Crossan: the Book transforms “the nonviolent resistance of the slaughtered Jesus into the violent warfare of the slaughtering Jesus.” Nietzsche: “the most rabid outburst of vindictiveness in all recorded history.” Well, enter Martin Luther himself: “neither apostolic nor prophetic… I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it … Christ is neither taught nor known in it.”

But Michael Gorman points to the glorious language of Revelation that has been taken up on song — Holy, holy, holy! and Crown him with many crowns and Michael W. Smith’s Agnus Dei and the art of Joachim of Fiore, or the powerful commentary of Eugene Peterson and Bruce Metzger and Richard Bauckham.

On top of this, Revelation has inspired millions of Christians to resist evil empire and injustices and oppressors.

This book, Gorman says, is the “liturgical, poetic (or, better, theopoetic) conclusion to the Christian canon” and also has “a political (or, better, theopolitical) character. It can transform the imagination with respect to how we perceive and live in relation to God, others, and the world” (8).

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  • Luke

    Really excited about this new series, Scot. Revelation needs to be de-mythologized. I routinely hear comments like, “Sure, the Jesus of the Gospels says to turn the other cheek, but that’s only for a time. The Jesus of Revelation comes with a sword and takes a bath in blood!”

    Anything Gorman writes is like gold. He’s a scholar all need to be more exposed to. I consider him one of the best because of his in depth scholarship and profound love for Christ’s bride. May more scholars strive to be like him!

  • Diane

    I too look forward to this series. I’ve used Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza to study Revelation. I see in Revelation the powerful promise of redemption for all who suffer: God will wipe all tears away. Christ himself will walk among us. Heaven and earth will be united. Our story will have a happy ending. The HS breathes through that promise. Also, when I “tour” Revelation’s heaven as an onlooker, I see a heaven yearning towards and needed the robustness of earth to complete it–if the book truly is a vision, ALL of creation, including heaven, groans for that final union of heaven and earth, that marriage of the spiritual and the material. I do think Revelation has been clumsily literalized and misused by the Left Behind crowd.
    As for likening it to Flannery O’Connor–yes, they are alike if we can see God’s grace and forgiveness within the carnage and the grotesque.

  • I’m looking forward to your series. I love Bauckham’s commentary on Revelation…one of my favorite books ever.

  • Richard

    I’d also recommend Darrel Johnson’s Discipleship on the Edge.

    What does this book teach us to imagine? What movies are most like Revelation? What literature is most like Revelation? (I suggest Flannery O’Connor. What say you?)

    The book teaches us to imagine and hold true to the future Kingdom which has broken into the present through the person of Jesus in the life of his body.

    I would recommend To End All Wars as a movie that reveals Revelation:

  • MatthewS

    Sounds good! I like this perspective of transforming the imagination.

  • I don’t know if this quite fits, but the “Sixth Sense” always makes me think of Revelation. The Bruce Willis character goes through the entire movie, wrestling with his issues as best he can. Only at the end is it “unveiled” to him the true nature of his existence: He is one of the dead people the little boy has been helping. He sees what had been hidden from his eyes and everything now makes sense. I see it as a metaphor for what we might expect at the resurrection. Seems to me that Revelation is an unveiling of the truth behind the truth we experience.

  • JPL

    The danger of modern interpretation of Revelation. Mark Driscoll on what he actually termed “Ultimate Fighter Jesus”:

    “Some emergent types [want] to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”

  • JM

    In my DVD course on Revelation, I liken it (and Apocalyptic in general) to the Red Pill that Morpheus offers Neo in The Matrix. Through it we see the reality behind the illusion of the world…and it’s exhilarating.

    For the record, Craig Koester’s little commentary is my favorite non-technical one out there.

  • Nathan C

    You know, the Blessed Joachim of Fiore is an interesting character reference for the Revelation to John. Watching Jesus Creed transition from Anabaptism to the Brethren of the Free Spirit would be kind of exciting.

  • Great series! I’ve never really thought of Revelations in these terms. In fact, I’ve avoided Revelations, but I’m looking forward to seeing it through new eyes. I can’t wait to see how this can be taught to kids and get away from all the “Left Behind” junk that clouds this amazing book.

  • Jeremy

    “Left Behind” was just the logical conclusion of a reading of Revelation that’s been the norm for a very long time. I’m really looking forward to how these books reframe that and hope it sinks in!

  • Please tell me that this book leaves behind (geddit?) all the dodgy dispensationalist theology not just of LaHaye et al but of most pre-millenialist teaching. The most helpful book I’ve come across on Revelation was ‘More Than Conquerors’ by William Hendricksen. He places revelation in 7 sections each describing the present age and pointing to the hope that a redeemed and perfected creation will come. Hendricksen makes Revelation a very hopeful book for Christians, especially for those who suffer or are being persecuted.

    Looking forward to hearing what Gorman’s book is about.

  • Worked through the first 7 chapters of Rev (real brief) just last Sunday using Eugene Petersen. Political/poetic is spot on. I think the Robin Hood myth/movies ends up picturing the images. The King has left his homeland. Some like Hood are faithful to the true king, working for his priorities and awaiting his return.

  • Peter

    Sha-Zam! Michael Gorman’s book arrived in the mail yesterday and I get to read it along with the rest of you. Excellent timing. I am thankful.

  • I, for one, encourage Christians to fan into flame a desire for a political order that to date has allowed the church its freedom and refrained from an overt hostility to the church as traitorous. This is worth protecting and enhancing at great cost to us. While it is currency with evangelicals in the current climate to eschew political engagement at a very public level and to adopt a transformational subculture, I am not one of them. The rancorous debate is essential to our system of government. I want to see Christian whole-heartedly engage it. The Book of Revelation is a necessary corrective to any ultimate hope in the temporal and a warning that the state can be antiChrist. But Revelation provides no escape from the full engagement in the political order with its debating, judging, evaluating and choosing dynamics. I love Eugene Peterson’s Reversed Thunder and Wilcock’s commentary on Revelation. I am looking forward to your series.