Eugene Peterson notes that rarely do we read apocalyptic and pastor in the same sentence. The two words “grew up on different sides of the tracks.” EHP writes, “Apocalyptic has a wild sound to it: an end-of-the-world craziness, a catastrophic urgency…. The word is scary and unsettling. … Pastor is a comforting word…the word accumulates associations of security and blessing, solidity and peace.” EHP sees an urgent need for apocalyptic pastors. We are attempting to grasp Peterson’s vision of pastor from his book The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction.
Where do we find an apocalyptic pastor? EHP points us to John the Apostle-Pastor who wrote The Revelation, an apocalypse, to commend and correct seven local churches. “[John] is my candidate for patron saint for pastors.” With the resurrection of Jesus Christ a new age is breaking into this present era. It is the promised kingdom of God. The kingdom “is actually present but hidden from unbelieving eyes and inaudible to unbelieving ears.” Pastors teach about, seek to detect and report these kingdom realities against all appearances of the ordinary, often boring, and very messy world. “Apocalypse is arson—it secretly sets a fire in the imagination that boils out the fat of an obese culture-religion and renders a clear gospel love, a pure gospel hope, a purged gospel faith.” Gripping the apocalyptic urgency of the kingdom, EHP learns “that my life as pastor simplifies into prayer, poetry, and patience.”
“The apocalyptic pastor prays. … Prayer is the pivot action of the Christian community.” In The Revelation we discover John in prayer at the beginning (Rev. 1:9-10) and closing of the book: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” As an alert pastor, John is saturated with the Scriptures and acutely aware of Roman Empire events, yet “neither ancient Scripture nor current event is left the way it arrives on his doorstep; it is all turned into prayer.” Prayer has to do with God and that makes many people uncomfortable. Like God’s liberated people at the base of Mt. Sinai, people would rather hear a human voice than to hear God’s voice. People would rather talk to the pastor than talk to God. EHP warns that this is a dangerous flattery, i.e., to be treated in a god-like way. “A sense of the apocalypse blows the whistle on such messianic pastoring. … We must pray. The world has been invaded by God, and it is with God we have to do.”
“The apocalyptic pastor is a poet.” This doesn’t mean pastors speak in metrical rhythms with rhyming words. It does mean that pastors use words creatively “not primarily to convey information but to make a relationship, shape beauty, form truth.” Pastors “treat words with reverence, stand in awe before not only the Word, but words, and realize that language itself partakes of the sacred.” John the Apostle’s The Revelation is the school for poetic creation, the forging of ancient prophecy and current event for the sake of grounding the church in the unshakable, glorious, hope-filled realities of God’s kingdom. “Words create. God’s word creates; our words can participate in the creation.” EHP notes that language in our day is in terrible condition. It has degenerated to a tool of propaganda even in the church. A dose of the apocalyptic will jar us out of this degenerate use of language.
The apocalyptic pastor is patient. John identifies with the struggles his local churches faced. He, too, had to exhibit patient endurance as an exile to Patmos. There is a lot of what EHP calls “bastard apocalyptic”: the speculative, frenzied nonsense peddled as insider information about God’s secret plans for the world. It is apocalyptic that is not poetry, but silly propaganda reduced to bumper sticker slogans designed to whip up artificial urgency for a crisis of faith. This illegitimate apocalyptic with its noisy urgency is not even in the same universe as biblical apocalyptic. “St. John is terrifically urgent, but never in a hurry. … It takes a long time to read The Revelation. … Apocalypse ignites a sense of urgency, but quenches shortcuts and hurry, for the times are in God’s hands.” EHP notes that “the apocalyptic imagination gives us a facility in what geologists call ‘deep time’—a sense of the ‘ages’ that transcends the compulsions of time-management experts [I would add “and end-times experts who make money off of manufactured apocalyptic fears”] and at the same time dignifies the existence of the meanest fossil.” The phrase “kingdom of God” has energy to rearrange lives around King Jesus when spoken by praying, poetic, patient apocalyptic pastors.