Unveiling Revelation: ‘The Road to New Creation’

We’ve been spending time here most Fridays looking at the execrable theology of the Left Behind series. Those books are based on a supposed “Bible prophecy” scheme that takes the tribalism and prejudices of one kind of Christians, encodes them in the tropes of legends and popular culture, and then imposes them back on the Bible, claiming all the while that this is based on a “literal reading of the book of Revelation.”

So I’m thinking it might be good to also take some time on Fridays to remind ourselves of what Revelation — and other apocalyptic literature in the Bible — is really all about.

This week’s reminder comes from N.T. Wright, former Anglican bishop of Durham, prolific popular author, formidable theologian, and capable guitar player. This is taken from a sermon Wright preached in 2006, “The Road to New Creation.”

These paragraphs get at the core of Wright’s main theme in all of his writing — and at the core of what the book of Revelation has to say.

Religion in the western world has been less and less about the renewal of creation and more and more about escaping from this wicked world and going to a better place, called “heaven” – going there ultimately when we die, but going there by anticipation in the present through prayer and meditation. This essentially other-worldly hope and spirituality has fought its corner robustly against the materialism which has insisted that the only things that exist are things you can touch and see and money you can put in your pocket.

But if you turn Christian faith into simply the hope for pie in the sky when you die, and an escapist spirituality in the present, you turn your back on the theme which makes sense of the whole Bible, which bursts upon us in everything that Jesus the Messiah did and said, which is highlighted particularly by his resurrection from the dead. A religion that forgets about new creation may feel some sympathy for the battered and bedraggled figure in the ditch, but its message to him will always be that though we can help him a bit, ultimately it doesn’t matter because the main thing is to escape this wicked world altogether. And that represents a tragic diminishing and distortion of what Christian faith is all about.

The God in whom we believe is the creator of the world, and he will one day put this world to rights. That solid belief is the bedrock of all Christian faith. God is not going to abolish the universe of space, time and matter; he is going to renew it, to restore it, to fill it with new joy and purpose and delight, to take from it all that has corrupted it. “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom, and rejoice with joy and singing; the desert shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.” The last book of the Bible ends, not with the company of the saved being taken up into heaven, but with the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, resulting in God’s new creation, new heavens and new earth, in which everything that has been true, lovely, and of good report will be vindicated, enhanced, set free from all pain and sorrow. God himself, it says, will wipe away all tears from all eyes. One of the great difficulties in preaching the gospel in our days is that everyone assumes that the name of the game is, ultimately, to “go to heaven when you die,” as though that were the last act in the drama. The hymn we’re about to sing ends like that, because that’s how most people have thought. But that’s wrong! Heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world; God will make new heavens and new earth, and give us new bodies to live and work and take delight in his new creation. And the “good news” of the Christian gospel is that this new world, this new creation, has already begun: it began when Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead on Easter morning, having faced and beaten the double enemy, sin and death, that has corrupted and defaced God’s lovely creation.

Stay in touch with the Slacktivist on Facebook:

Bowling with Jesus
'Game of Thrones' and the Bible
The sins of the fathers
Clobber-texting isn't a principled hermeneutic: A horrifying case study
  • pharoute

    “That’s what Revelations is all about, Charlie Brown.”

  • Nick Gotts

    The God in whom we believe is the creator of the world, and he will one day put this world to rights.

    So why, being omnipotent and all that, hasn’t he done it already? This claim is just as much “pie in the sky” as the afterlife.

  • http://redmarkedward.com/ Mark Edward

    A lot of popular culture’s perception of ‘God’ is in those omni-words. Like the ‘If God is omnipotent, can he make a rock so big…’ Such definitions (omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent), as they are often pushed to their illogical extremes, are self-contradictory, and not ‘Biblical’ anyway. That doesn’t stop Christians from also relying on them, but it all presents an inaccurate picture of a God who can literally do anything, but doesn’t do much.

    The ‘Biblical’ response to your question is more or less encapsulated in 2 Peter 3. Whether that answer is satisfactory is one thing, but it’s at least some kind of reason for why God would ‘delay’.

  • Nick Gotts

    Excuses, excuses… It’s (doctrinally orthodox) Christianity that insists on omnipotence (incidentally, the “can he make a rock so big” stuff can be dealt with quite easily – omnipotence does not require the ability to do the logically impossible, because no coherent thing-to-be-done has been specified), then makes up reasons why God allows evil and suffering to persist, none of which are remotely adequate.

  • http://redmarkedward.com/ Mark Edward

    There’s no such thing as ‘doctrinally orthodox Christianity’, just a bunch of divided factions, each insisting they have it right and the others are wrong.

  • Nick Gotts

    I’m referring to the doctrinal system constructed in the 4th-6th centuries, common to the official doctrines of the Orthodox, Catholic, and most of the Protestant churches.

  • Mark Z.

    Okay, where is “omnipotence” in the Nicene Creed?

  • reynard61

    Which one? There were apparently two.

    (It’s the kind of thing that gets people pushed off of bridges…)

  • Nick Gotts

    The word used there in the English translation is “Almighty”, which is a pretty close synonym, but the Nicene Creed, developed in the 4th century, is by no means all that the orthodoxy I refer to consists of: whatever is common between the Catholic, Orthodox and most of the Protestant churches can be regarded as part of it, and all these do indeed regard God as omnipotent (as, I think, do the Coptic and Nestorian churches, which differ with what I have called orthodox Christianity over the nature(s) of Jesus). Consider also:

    Jeremiah 32:27: Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?

    The implied answer is surely: “No.”

    While there was controversy about the exact meaning of “omnipotence” in pre-modern Christian theology, I don’t know of any denials of it within the Christian tradition before the 20th century, but I’d be interested to hear of them.

  • christopher_y

    Credo in unum deum, Patrem omnipotentem

  • Jurgan

    I don’t know what the Calvinists would say, but it makes sense to me if you allow for free will. God does want to take over and dictate to us, he wants us to create this new world ourselves. He’s guiding us and helping us build it, but he won’t simply impose it by force.

  • Nick Gotts

    As far as I’m aware, no coherent account of libertarian freewill has ever been formulated. And as for those who suffer excruciating agonies in the meantime – bone cancer, watching their loved ones decline into dementia, slow starvation, rape, torture, – well, that’s just their bad luck, eh?

  • reynard61

    The best most accurate account of “libertarian freewill” these days seems to come down to “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine; and that’s just how it is, baby.” — which, of course, justifies (in their minds at least) the attitude displayed in the second sentence of your post.

  • Nick Gotts

    :-)

  • J_Enigma32

    That’s likely because libertarian free will doesn’t exist. Before you do something – anything – a second or few seconds before your brain activates that particular region, and you do it. It makes sense, after all; you can’t well do something without your brain being there to control it. But the consequences of this suggest that absolute free will is non-existent and you’re a slave to your genetic make up and biological drives.

    At the same time, though, something had to dictate to the brain this is what you needed to do. It’s likely a combination of environmental factors, genetic elements, sensory input, and a very limited consciousness-feedback type of free will. Libertarian free will simply cannot be true. I lean compatibilism simply because there’s a consciousness-feedback that I believe is part of it, but without formal training, my opinion really doesn’t mean anything in the matter.

  • Nick Gotts

    I don’t think you’re “a slave to your genetic make up and biological drives”. My genetic make up dictates that I am now long-sighted, but my reading glasses mean I can still read small print; and I am actually capable of not eating the last piece of cake, either out of politeness, or to avoid gaining weight. Otherwise I more or less agree with you, but I think the problem is more fundamental. The idea of libertarian freewill depends on there being some kind of soul or homunculus within a person, usually conceived of as immaterial, that makes decisions that are neither determined, nor simply a matter of chance – but then:
    a) How are these decisions made?
    and
    b) How does this inner entity interact with the body (including the brain)?
    That’s what I’m referring to when I say no coherent account of libertarian freewill has been given, AFAIK.

  • SkyknightXi

    Then…any ideas on what a place where neither Fate nor Chance exists would be like? (Although, depending on how you view this place, you might have to twist the physical and metaphysical laws to the point that it’s the working definition of an Eldritch Location.) I don’t see all that much reason to believe that existence IMPLIES fate.

  • Daniel

    “He’s guiding us and helping us build it, but he won’t simply impose it by force.”
    How exactly is he helping us build it? For the best part of the last two thousand years a lot of intellectual energy has been expended explaining why the things that would make the world better- no slavery, women’s rights, not killing gays, not killing people because they don’t share your beliefs, vaccinations and public education- are in direct contradiction of what god wants. It wouldn’t be a huge ask for God to explicitly show us which of the numerous texts he supposedly authored actually are by him so we can carry on from there. I don’t see that it would be a violation of our free will for him to give a clear and unambiguous endorsement of one of the religions or cults that purport to represent him. At the moment his alternative to “simply imposing” his will is to make us guess what he wants, and we’ll only find out if we were right or wrong after we’re dead. All in all God’s hardly helpful.

  • The_L1985

    “For the best part of the last two thousand years a lot of intellectual energy has been expended explaining why the things that would make the world better- no slavery, women’s rights, not killing gays, not killing people because they don’t share your beliefs, vaccinations and public education- are in direct contradiction of what god wants.”

    And that sort of thing is the original meaning of “Don’t take the name of YHWH in vain.” It doesn’t mean not to say things like “Oh my God!” or “God damn it!” but rather, not to put your own words and prejudices into a deity’s mouth.

  • J_Enigma32

    Well, you do have some evidence to support that claim in the Bible. The second story of Genesis, I believe, has God creating new life forms and then asking Adam to name them, implying that Adam’s input is just as valid as his own, because while Adam can’t create life, he can name it. Which raises a lot of interesting questions about God, actually.

    What this means is that God wasn’t dominating the whole affair of creation. He was letting Adam take a part in it. If you come at it from this perspective, knowing God has done this before, why wouldn’t he allow us to function with more autonomy now that we have a better understanding of how the universe and the world work?

  • Nick Gotts

    That better understanding has made possible larger-scale crimes and screw-ups – so care for the victims of these would have led a God that actually cared about human suffering to intervene. Nothing in the Bible, incidentally, supports any claim at all about any god, including its existence, unless you have good evidence of divine authorship, or dictation to its human authors. Which I don’t believe you or anyone else does.

  • J_Enigma32

    Of course I don’t. I’m an atheist.

    I just fine interpretive reading to be fun and interesting.

  • Nick Gotts

    Well, there’s no accounting for taste!

  • Tony Prost

    ” why wouldn’t he allow us to function with more autonomy now that we
    have a better understanding of how the universe and the world work?”

    We have a better understanding because we ate the apple. We are being punished for that, not rewarded! God preferred that we have no understanding of the real world, but we put paid to that!

  • J_Enigma32

    Of course, dragging that wonderful little misogynistic gem of a story into the equation leads you to ask: what kind of a monster punishes the great-great-great-great-great(x10) grand children and beyond of parents for mistakes that the parents made?

    We *had* to have had some knowledge before it, though, otherwise God would never have allowed us to name his creation.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    Ah, well…

    You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your
    God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me

    The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.

  • Baby_Raptor

    He was perfectly happy to impose free will on us by force–Which ultimately is the thing blamed for why humanity can’t live up to God’s standards and has to be punished for it (if you believe in hell) or whatever else happens to us when we die if you don’t.

    God is really selective about what he cares about, apparently.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    My cat: “Mummy, you have the power to make me clean and non-smelly.”
    Me: “Yep. I really do.”
    My cat: “So why don’t you do that, instead of giving me a bath???”
    Me: “Um… hate to break it to you…”

    God having the power to put the world to rights doesn’t mean that it gets done by waving his hands and *poof* the world is righted. From a Christian perspective, the world is being slowly put to rights, the only way that world-righting can happen.

  • Marcion

    So god’s repairing of the world consists of humans doing all the work, and then god taking all the credit when they improve things? What about the way Jesus healed the sick and fed the hungry? Why didn’t Jesus stay on earth and keep doing that? Do those tricks only work once?

  • malpollyon

    I don’t really see a role for God in the way the world is being slowly put to rights then. All I see is humans.

  • christopher_y

    Indeed. This is the story that ends, “Look, I sent you two boats and a helicopter. What more do you want?”

  • Nick Gotts

    That’s one of the most hackneyed stories around, and aimed entirely at distracting attention from the real issue. How about preventing the flood in the first place?

  • christopher_y

    That’s one of the most hackneyed stories around

    Which is why I just referred to the punchline on the assumption that everybody knew it. But if I were a theologian, or even a believer, I might suggest that the answer to why God didn’t prevent the flood in the first place was that it served some other, unrelated purpose.

  • Nick Gotts

    To repeat myself: excuses, excuses!

  • The_L1985

    As a Pagan I don’t believe that any deity is responsible for deadly natural disasters. As it turns out, things like floods, volcanic eruptions, etc. are necessary for the earth to continue to support life. The most fertile soil in Italy is on and around Vesuvius. People settled in LA and other fault-line locations because the makings of a good life were so abundant there–clean water, wildlife, good fertile soil for growing food in.

    Without these forms of upheaval, there would be nothing to encourage life to continue to evolve. Life would stagnate somewhat, or even start dying off. Look how barren Australia, with its lack of volcanoes and tectonic activity, is in comparison to Italy or Japan*, where earthquakes and volcanoes are part of life. There aren’t active volcanoes in deserts as a general rule.

    ————————————-

    * Mt. Fuji, considered a sacred site to many Shinto, is an extinct volcano. Many early cultures in the Pacific “Ring of Fire” worshiped volcanoes as gods, because of their awesome destructive power and the fertility they brought to the land.

  • Nick Gotts

    A lot of pagans surely have believed that deities were responsible for natural disasters, e.g. the ancient Greek pagans attributed earthquakes to the anger of Poseidon. But if deities don’t get the blame for natural disasters, can they consistently get the credit for natural fertility?

  • The_L1985

    Different Pagans are different. ;) just because I worship Diana, doesn’t mean I have to abandon belief in a heliocentric universe or 100-odd elements of matter.

  • Marcion

    The American midwest is fertile too, despite a lack of volcanic activity. And large parts of Australia are ecologically vibrant as well. The barren parts are barren due to lack of precipitation, not a lack of volcanic activity.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    The American midwest is fertile too, despite a lack of volcanic activity.

    Tell that to Yellowstone.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    That would seem to be the exception, not the rule.

  • AnonaMiss

    Yellowstone is not in the midwest, and the area around Yellowstone is mountainous/not especially fertile.

    The correct natural disaster responsible for the fertility of the midwest was the descent of the glaciers a few million years ago

  • Dragoness Eclectic

    * Mt. Fuji, considered a sacred site to many Shinto, is an extinct volcano.

    I do not think you are using the right word there… Mt Fuji is about as “extinct” as Mt. Vesuvius.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historic_eruptions_of_Mount_Fuji#New_Fuji

  • Amaryllis

    things like floods, volcanic eruptions, etc. are necessary for the earth to continue to support life.

    Or, at least, part of the physical system which, as a system, supports life. Start messing around with the laws of physics, and where are we all then?

    A more-or-less Christian meditation during a rainy night:

    Winter, that coils in the thickets now,
    Will glide from the fields; the swinging rain
    Be knotted with flowers; on every bough
    A bird will meditate again.

    Lord, in the night if I should die,
    Who entertained your thrilling worm,
    Corruption wastes more than the eye
    Can pick from this imperfect form.

    I lie awake, hearing the drip
    Upon my sill; thinking, the sun
    Has not been promised; we who strip
    Summer to seed shall be undone.

    Now, while the antler of the eaves
    Liquifies, drop by drop, I brood
    On a Christian thing: unless the leaves
    Perish, the tree is not renewed.

    If all our perishable stuff
    Be nourished to its rot, we clean
    Our trunk of death, and in our tough
    And final growth are evergreen.

    – Stanley Kunitz, “Deciduous Branch”

    .. which is maybe not much comfort during the flood. During the flood, all you can do is bow your head and listen to the Backwater Blues.

  • SkyknightXi

    Could be a case of God genuinely thinking he’s omnipotent, but sincerely mistaken in that belief. (Although I do wonder if omnipotence and omnibenevolence are even capable of coexisting…How DO you prove your omnipotence in a way that DOESN’T harm anyone, since the “harm” is part of it? And let’s not get into how proving you can do something doesn’t prove you can abjure it, and vice versa…) To think of it another way, consider the Butterfly Wing effect idea. Allowing the flood might have been an inevitable side-effect of a bunch of boons set into effect 30,000 years ago (unless God was willing to change the physical and metaphysical laws of reality on the fly and many times, and I’m having a hard time imagining a more dread-evoking world; how do you TRUST that sort of God?), or teleporting the victim would have caused even worse woes, even just from how air would suddenly rush in.

    Nonetheless, there’s one very important thing to consider. Namely, the original Hebrews weren’t monotheists. Rather, they were henotheists. They believed multiple gods existed, but that only Yhwh really deserved their praise. The other gods (and, by extension, the peoples who existed for THEIR glory) could go rot, for all they cared. Omnibenevolence would have made no logical sense to them. Omnipotence (or at least suprapotence) was mostly in the sense of Yhwh being stronger (in the sense of muscle et al.) than all the other gods combined. That’s where the claim of Josue making the sun and moon stand still seems to come from. He wasn’t actually stilling the world’s rotation; rather, he was sending an injunction to the enemy city’s sun and moon deities. Namely, don’t come out of your temples and intervene on your people’s behalf, or Yhwh will turn you into paste. Stay there, and you have a chance of Yhwh letting you keep SOME servants.

    It doesn’t help that to most ancient peoples, the gods (Yhwh included) were mostly human kings taken Up to Eleven. Peevishness and pettiness included. They’re not here for you; YOU’RE here for THEM, and they have every right (and maybe duty…) to indulge their every whim the moment each one manifests. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ancient Mesopotamians/Hebrews/etc. thought self-centeredness was innate to life. I’m thinking here of a part of the Enuma Elish, where Marduk only creates humans to get the rest of the Anunnaki to stop whining about having trouble fulfilling all their tasks–and he does it with the blood of Qingu, the malevolent son and consort of Tiamat, as the material. That was probably a Just So Story about why humans could be so baleful to each other–their soul, essentially, was the soul of Qingu. But the other divinities weren’t all that much better (Abzu wanting to extinguish the Anunnaki because they were too noisy, a similar situation for Enlil sending the Deluge, Marduk only taking on Tiamat and Qingu once he was promised the right of absolute authority, etc.). I think the assumption, probably stemming from the kings’ tendencies, was that EVERYTHING tended to pursue its own interests, with no real thought of others, EXCEPT where it could draw punishment from someone bigger than you. And who’s going to punish Marduk (or Yhwh, or Baal-Hadad, or…) without risk of getting crushed in self-defense? Interestingly, this sort of thing was why Hammurabi’s Code, even with all its classism, was such a Good Thing for Babylon; it ensured that nobles couldn’t kill someone just for genuinely stumbling into them and the like.

    Come to think of it, if an omnipotent entity DOES bind itself to something like Hammurabi’s Code, or anything else, does that necessarily mean it has abjured its own omnipotence? This is part of why I’m not sure omnibenevolence and (fully implemented, at least) omnipotence can coexist–the benevolence effectively is a code of laws on the entity in question, yet the laws utterly preclude doing certain things.

    But back to the point, the idea of omnibenevolence is probably a newcomer for the Biblical tradition. Namely, perhaps not until the Hebrews’ contact with the Persians and Zoroastrianism. Of course, Zoroastrianism posited that the omnibenevolent Ahura Mazda had always been struggling to further contain the influence of the omniMALevolent Angra Mainyu. So, not QUITE monotheistic. Even the one sect that COULD be called monotheistic was that way just on account of positing a single parent for those two, Zurvan, who only let Angra Mainyu have influence because he’d made an oath that the one who emerged first would get jurisdiction (never mind that Angra Mainyu effectively cheated…). Ahura Mazda was still THE hero, even if he wasn’t omnipotent (yet).

    I’d say the problem, in the end, is the paradox of something being both omnipotent and omnibenevolent. How do you trust something that claims to be answerable to none to do the right thing consistently?

    {could probably have written this better}

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The difference is, you can’t snap your fingers and instantly get your cat clean. According to some of the things allegedly done by God, he/she/it/they have pretty much got that power (considering that the Great Flood pretty much breaks all the known rules regarding rainfall, etc, but what are the laws of physics to a being who made the universe and the laws in the first place?)

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    …and what I’m saying is, I don’t think God has that power either. Being able to do lots of things isn’t the same as being able to do lots of things instantly and with no effort.

    (The whole Great Flood thing is, in my opinion, a myth – as I’m sure you’re aware.)

  • Nick Gotts

    Quite, the Great Flood is a myth – but so is God.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    One does not necessarily follow from the other.

  • http://kingdomofsharks.wordpress.com/ D Johnston

    I’ve been reading a bit about the history of Revelation. The author of the book I picked up makes a case for Revelation being the product of internal politics in the early church. Right before he fled to Greece, John – a Messianic Jew who still hewed tightly to Jewish traditions – had been in conflict with Paul of Tarsus, who was much more liberal with regard to the old purity laws. Ultimately, Paul’s side won out, which led to the easing of dietary and sexual standards among Christians. Apparently, if you know what you’re looking for, you can see John denouncing the Gentile prophets in Revelation (the “Whore of Babylon” may be a reference to this).

    Interesting stuff. The early church leaders did not get along as well as you might think.

  • FearlessSon

    Interesting stuff. The early church leaders did not get along as well as you might think.

    And yet certain American Christians hold them to be infallible, unquestionable, and in perfect harmony. Small wonder they hold the Founding Fathers in similar regard, despite them too also being a divided group bound together by a set of loose compromises.

  • http://checkpoint-telstar.blogspot.com/ Tim Lehnerer

    And–and this probably really important too–in total lockstep with these certain people’s existing political opinions.

  • FearlessSon

    Anything supporting their existing position will be lifted out of its context and banged on repeatedly. Anything challenging their existing position will be downplayed, denied, re-contextualized, or ignored.

  • ReverendRef

    And yet certain American Christians hold them to be infallible, unquestionable, and in perfect harmony.

    Although I have a feeling that those “certain American Christians” think about the early church leaders as Jesus, Paul, King James (the book, that is), John Robinson (on the Mayflower), Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley.

  • reynard61

    I’m not sure that they even go *that* far back. My guess is that if you could corner some at a Teabagger rally or the next Town Hall, they’d tell you that the “founding fathers” of the “early church” are Billy Graham (or, should I say, the *Myth* of Billy Graham that his hell-spawn Franklin has been creating for the past decade or so), Pat Robertson, D. James Kennedy, Tim LaHaye, John Hagee and others of that Hellfire-and-brimstone-spewing ilk. Remember; these are people for whom Political history *begins* with the election of Barack Obama, as if nothing bad came before.

  • http://talkingtocrows.tumblr.com/ VMtheCoyote

    A lot of them do, actually. It’s a very complicated and twisted tale, and it does basically skip from Paul to the men who wrote the King James to John Calvin, and then Billy Graham (though honestly he’s a bit too liberal; our church went with Billy Sunday instead). Even the more… strident American RTCs don’t consider Robertson or LaHaye church founders.

  • reynard61

    What makes you think that they would think that you were referring to the historical Founding Fathers of the Early Church? Remember, I’m talking about people who have pretty much divorced themselves from Reality. (At least what you and I would define as “Reality”.) I’m pretty sure that *their* definition of the “early church” is shaped more by ideology and Tribal Identity than anything else.

  • http://talkingtocrows.tumblr.com/ VMtheCoyote

    Among other things, because I was raised in such a sect. And Fox’s Book of Martyrs was as much a part of my childhood as Chick Tracts. But not Left Behind, partly because that’s about the time they were published, and partly because they were too secular and Ellenjay’s version of the Rapture didn’t match exactly the one our pastor had.

    I know their definition of the early church is shaped by ideology and Tribal Identity – I just think they’ve got longer memories and more history than you’re implying.

  • reynard61

    Well, I am certainly willing to concede that  *some* of the Christians that Revrend Ref was alluding to might have the institutional memory that your flock had/has (and my apologies for implying otherwise); but I’d be *very* surprised if the more politicized among them (i.e. those who watch nothing *but* FauxNoise, think that Rush Limbaugh is The Voice of God, that Ted Cruz is a shoo-in to be the next President and bleed Republican Red) could — if pressed — remember that 9/11, the Invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq, Katrina and it’s aftermath, and the Mortgage and Economic meltdowns happened on Dubya’s watch; while it was under President Obama’s watch that Osama Bin Laden was knocked off. (Contrary to what some historical revisionists would have us believe…)

    As I said above; for that bunch, history (or at least what they perceive as history) did not begin until Inauguration Day 2009 — and, at least in their minds, it’s only gotten worse since.

  • reynard61

    *Reverend, darn it! (Bad Disqus! Not letting me edit. You’ll go straight to bed without supper!)

  • J_Enigma32

    Have you taken a look at the homeschool history books put out by A Beka Books?

    They’re ideology driven in the same way that La dottrina del fascismo by Mussolini is ideology driven*.

    (*) Behold, the inverse of a Godwin. More people need to pay attention to Mussolini and remember he existed; as a militaristic braggart described by Cracked as “a living cartoon character”, he fits the description of the modern right far more than Hitler does

  • The_L1985

    I am eternally grateful that my indoctrination via ABB ended in middle school when the crazy started to hit. ABB’s high school curriculum scares me.

  • Madhabmatics

    Same. One day I need to pulp and recycle all the ones left over.

  • The_L1985

    First you should go through and scan all the weirder things for WTF Textbooks. It would be a good cause. :)

    I’d do it myself, if my old ABB textbooks weren’t long gone. (That, and probably scan some of the few really awesome stories from the readers. I don’t know why, but I rather miss the one about the fellow who saved the ants and bees, and the other story about the golden axe.

  • J_Enigma32

    That’s the best possible use for those books. Good for the environment AND good for the future.

  • J_Enigma32

    When I was writing my novel, I took a glance through the ABB curriculum to see what my main characters would be learning in a dystopia where part of the power belonged to a group of people who thought like that would require those taught in private schools.

    I ended up having to turn the absurdity down. I worried people would think I was straw-manning and I didn’t want those accusations. Hell, I could barely believe it myself, it would strain my willing suspension of disbelief, and I come from the same line of hard SF writers whose humans are more alien than anything found on Star Trek. :-/

  • reynard61

    I once read one of their study guides. (IIRC, it was in a box of books that my mom got from one of her friends that was going to the recyclers.) Pretty disturbing stuff. I also regularly read the aforementioned WTF Textbooks as well. So, yeah; I think that I have a pretty good idea of how their ideology, theology, and their need to maintain tribal-identity-über-alles has distorted their perception of how the world actually works.

  • http://talkingtocrows.tumblr.com/ VMtheCoyote

    (No worries – I doubt you intended to imply such, and I should’ve been less quick to infer it.)

    I think, in that case, there are two different sort of… sub-sects that we’re talking about. There’s the Republicans-who-support-a-Christian-Nation, and then there are the RTCs-who-believe-God-is-a-Republican. The end result is still terrible, whichever you look at.

    But the former, I’d say, are what you’re talking about. My grandmother comes to mind – love her though I do, she very much believes that Fox News is the absolute truth, Rush Limbaugh is the voice of God, and forwards e-mails about the descent of this country into awful terrible evil secularism, which is the kind of thing my mother believed, and Grandma was raised Episcopal and never got along with my mom’s religion. Fox News has brought her to that. That… is the Republican-Christian.

    The latter, though… they’re trickier. They have a grasp on history, they’re generally Biblical literalists, they’re the kind of folks who have a copy of Strong’s Concordance and bound letters of Luther and Calvin… but they very carefully divorce their two realities. It’s a cognitive dissonance that’s sorta mind-boggling. And that’s the Christian-Republican.

    I guess the distinction is important if you’re from one of the two sub-tribes, but probably not outside of that – the end result really is about the same.

  • FearlessSon

    But not Left Behind, partly because that’s about the time they were published, and partly because they were too secular and Ellenjay’s version of the Rapture didn’t match exactly the one our pastor had.

    I suspect that since then, the popularity of Left Behind has shaped a lot of other churches’ views on the Rapture, such that the religiously conservative churches have gotten a lot more homogenized since then.

  • http://talkingtocrows.tumblr.com/ VMtheCoyote

    That is deeply depressing, not least because it’s probably true.

  • Baby_Raptor

    You forgot Jefferson.

    I don’t think David Barton would spend so much time lying about the man if the powers-that-be didn’t at least want him to be important.

  • ohiolibrarian

    Wow. Just like the Founding Fathers (if you are an ‘originalist’).

  • flat

    well nothing new under the sun then.

  • Dash1

    Could you tell us the title of the book? Would you recommend it?

  • http://kingdomofsharks.wordpress.com/ D Johnston

    Revelations : visions, prophecy, and politics in the book of Revelation. It’s a relatively easy read, in that it doesn’t require a lot of esoteric knowledge. However, there are a lot of books on the subject – Fred actually highlighted one a year or two ago.

  • Dash1

    Thank you! Actually, it would be kind of interesting to collect a list of books about Revelation from reasonable theological and historical perspectives. (Why am I suddenly starting to think about a “Theologically Supportable and Relatively Sane View of Revelation Book Club”? Hmmm.)

  • reynard61

    “Why am I suddenly starting to think about a ‘Theologically Supportable and Relatively Sane View of Revelation Book Club’?”

    Because you’re sane in the first place?

    Also, can I join too?

  • The_L1985

    Ooh! I’d join.

    I remember reading the book of Revelation in its entirety to figure out what the fuss was about, and thinking, “But there’s nothing explicitly about an Antichrist or the end of the world in here! The Beast is so obviously the Roman Empire!”

  • flat

    I understand relevations better now thanks to Fred Clark.
    I had trouble understamding and accepting the meaning and purpose of the book.
    And Fred’s left behind posts helped me to clear things up.
    Besides I knew of left behind before I discovered slacktivist.
    and I already understood it was a lot of nonsense.

  • http://redmarkedward.com/ Mark Edward

    I can see how one might think Paul was loose with dietary laws (though, remember, he’s writing to Gentiles, who were never under those laws to begin with, so to them he’s actually being stricter?). But it doesn’t make any sense to say Paul was loose with sexual standards; he’s rather strict whenever the topic comes up.

  • Nick Gotts

    rather strict

    Into a bit of BDSM, was he?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I’ve commonly read that it is a critique of the Roman Empire.

  • The_L1985

    I’d be very surprised if it weren’t.

  • Carstonio

    Dumb question – how would someone like Wright determine the meaning of
    Revelation? Ellanjay’s alternative meaning is indeed repulsive, but that doesn’t mean that they are mistaken. The assertion that John was condemning the Roman tyrants appears to be based on contemporary sources, and I suspect that the book that D Johnston mentions uses the same approach. Wright seems to be interpreting Revelation based on what values he believes Christianity should have, just like Ellanjay, but that doesn’t mean that John had either set of values.

  • http://redmarkedward.com/ Mark Edward

    Let’s put it this way. L&J are to the Revelation what Ken Ham is to the origin of the universe.

    Reading any book is a science. L&J flatout ignore the existence of the entire apocalyptic genre that existed for centuries before John came along, including by-then-established common traits found in that genre. Others embrace that genre, learn as much as they can about what it was, how it functioned, the historical culture that caused such books to be written, etc. The question becomes, who do we trust on the issue: L&J, or the people who do the research?

    The biggest part that L&J reject that we know for a fact was a common trait in this genre was the high amounts of symbolism. L&J say the book must be read ‘literally’ (which they do a terrible job of doing), despite that the Revelation specifically opens up by saying it was ‘symbolized’.

  • http://redmarkedward.com/ Mark Edward

    If I may, I’d like to provide an example of how the two approaches are different. Revelation 9 describes a plague of locusts. But these locusts have fantastical traits, with lions’ teeth, the appearance of horses, the sound of chariots, women’s hair, and iron armor. We can understand each part of the description, but as a whole no one has seen any thing like this before.

    L&J look at these locusts and say, ‘The whole Bible is always literal, so John is describing demonic monsters.’ And that’s that.

    Or we could look at these locusts, and say, ‘Hm. This is the fifth trumpet event in the Revelation. All of the other trumpet events look like plagues from the exodus. But the combination of locusts and lion teeth and horses and chariots comes right out of Joel 1-2, where the writer was speaking metaphorically of an army sent by God to invade Jerusalem. Locusts are used as a metaphor for armies in the book of Jeremiah, too. So John has an army in mind, and their purpose is similar to a plague sent by God during the exodus.’

    We may never know what army John specifically had in mind. But if anyone has actually read the Hebrew Scriptures (including John and his contemporaries), they can deduce what the Revelation is pointing at. Rather than taking it at the most superficial level possible and causing more problems.

  • Carstonio

    So Revelation makes sense only if one is familiar with the rest of the Bible? And John’s original readers would have grasped much of the meaning immediately, almost like a fandom?

  • VMink

    That sounds much like what he’s saying, to me. These would be people who would be steeped in the symbology and lore.

    Alternatively, since upthread someone mentioned that John of Patmos was a Messianic Jew he may be writing solely for that audience who would get those symbols. Presumably the ‘Gentile Christians’ would not be as read in the Torah and would not get all the symbols that John was throwing out.

  • http://redmarkedward.com/ Mark Edward

    Yes and yes. The Revelation contains hundreds of references, allusions, and parallels to the Hebrew Scriptures. Based on the content of the Revelation, John seems to have been fluent in both the Hebrew and Greek versions of the Old Testament, and he undoubtedly expected his readers (probably Jews and Gentiles proselytes) to recognize most or all of the references he makes.

  • GeniusLemur

    By study, understanding of the place & time it was written, and reasonable deduction.

    There are elements of L&J’s approach that show they are incorrect, no matter how generous the reader may be. When the first horseman is provided with a bow and crown, then “he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest,” and L&J identify him with a figure that unites the world with false pacifism and Satanic charisma, then insist that this is the “literal” reading, we can say for sure that they’re full of it.

    At the other end of the spectrum, when the prostitute sits on seven hills and is specifically identified as “the great city that rules over the kings of the earth,” there can be little doubt it’s talking about Rome.

  • Carstonio

    While that make sense, the context of my question was the uncertainty of knowing whether the underlying theology is correct, the possibility that Wright and John are mistaken. I’m not asking a question by saying that, just describing my impression that theology seems to involve taking many things for granted.

  • The_L1985

    Life involves taking things for granted. Every time we set up dates with friends and lovers, go grocery shopping, or check out a library book, we are taking for granted that we will live to go on those outings and eat that food and read that book. We assume that we won’t be hit by the Proverbial Bus.

  • Carstonio

    I meant the existence of objects and phenomena forever beyond human perception, and the idea of inherent meaning and purpose. It’s one thing to postulate the existence of those things, it’s another to use them as the basis for an ideology while effectively rejecting all other possibilities.

  • SkyknightXi

    {flat look} FOREVER beyond? Your presence of fatalism disturbs me…(/Palpatine)

  • Madhabmatics

    I agree, Life was an excellent show.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Well…I realize this isn’t in line with the discussion so far, but I’m gonna post it anyway. My reaction to Wright’s sermon boiled down to, “Lord, make it so (in the best Captain Picard style), and inspire us to do what we can to bring that repaired world closer for those who have least right now.”

    Also, Wright carries a tune a LOT better than Dylan.

  • TheBrett

    That seems like it would fit with ancient Jewish theology too. Didn’t they believe that the Messiah would establish his kingdom on the Earth, and generally hold a monistic view on the body-soul thing?

    It’s interesting that Christianity ended up with the whole idea of a heaven separate from the end-of-days resurrection-and-immortality apocalypse. Seems kind of redundant.

  • VMink

    When I was growing up, it was emphatically stressed to me that there was no heaven, as such. When you died, you didn’t ‘go to heaven.’ You waited, as if asleep; and then when Jesus came back, he would be all “Wakey wakey, eggs and baccy AND JUDGEMENT!”*

    In fact, I was told that believing in a heaven-after-death was not a proper Christian belief! That it was even blasphemous, and had no proof in the bible. So I find myself still kind of surprised when even clergy refer to ‘going to heaven after you die.’ Despite the priest giving one of the most tearjerkingly nicest metaphor for same at my mom’s funeral.

    * – “Really? Oh my. How long was I out?” “How’s your grasp of the Gregorian calendar?” “The what, now?” “Oh, dear.”

  • Baby_Raptor

    That would be the worst wake-up call ever.

  • Dragoness Eclectic

    Jehovah’s Witness? I know that’s one major sect that believes in temporary death until the resurrection & judgement, and no heaven until then.

  • VMink

    I was raised Episcopal but my grade school was Lutheran. But I get the feeling that the church the grade school was associated with was in the process of being steeplejacked, so I’m not quite sure where I got that belief from.

  • The_L1985

    My fiance has put it as, “Every time I hear about war or murder, I know the Messiah hasn’t come yet, because there is still violence on earth.”

  • flat

    I agree with your fiance.

  • David_Evans

    Unbelievable. Wright reads Revelation and takes away the message that “God himself…will wipe away all tears from all eyes”. Yes, for the 144,000 of the elect. He ignores the fate of everyone else, which is terrible suffering on Earth and then the lake of fire “for ever and ever”. That must count as the greatest quote-mine of all time.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Um, what about the “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation”, who get in too? They’re mentioned (Revelation chapter 7) immediately after the 144,000 elect.

  • The_L1985

    Talk about quote-mining. How do you ignore something from the very next sentence so blatantly? :(

    Not to mention that the only people I remember being cast into the lake of fire and the bottomless pit were the Beast and the Whore.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    And from what I’ve read, the Whore is a symbol of Rome / power / domination, not an actual human being.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    I always suspected the Whore was the corrupt priesthood.

  • David_Evans

    Yes, that was bad of me. It’s a common error, and I didn’t do it deliberately, but none the better for that. However:

    20:15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

    is enough to disprove the contention that God “will wipe away all tears from all eyes.” Which is, admittedly, Wright’s wording not Revelation’s.

  • http://redmarkedward.com/ Mark Edward

    Wright did not make up the ‘wipe away all tears’ thing. It’s in the exact same chapter (Revelation 7.17) as both the 144,000 (7.4) and the ‘great multitude’ (7.9). In fact, the ‘wipe away all tears’ is mentioned a second time in (Revelation 21.4), right after the lake of fire.

  • David_Evans

    There is a difference. Wright says “wipe away all tears from all eyes”, which is strictly incompatible with there being anyone left in the lake of fire. Revelation says “wipe away all tears from their eyes”, which is not.

  • http://redmarkedward.com/ Mark Edward

    The criticism you’re making relies on the same over-literalism and lack of context that everyone is objecting to in the first place. If Wright changed ‘their’ to ‘all’ (on accident or on purpose), at least give him the benefit of the doubt, because he has written and spoken about ‘the fate of everyone else’ on occasion. It’s not a topic he ‘ignores’.

  • David_Evans

    I don’t wish to attack Wright’s whole body of work. All that struck me and led me to write my ill-informed post was this: you would never know from Wright ‘s sermon that there is great suffering in Revelation, and that an unknown number of people are last heard of in the lake of fire. If that’s a happy ending it’s not an unalloyed one.

  • Nick Gotts

    Maybe their eyes are poked out before they’re cast into the lake of fire?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    There’s a book on Project Gutenberg that touches on Revelation. The author, who lived in the 17 or 18th century and so had no idea about premillennial anything, attributed the prophetic events within Revelation to a fracturing of the Roman Catholic Church and that there would be competing religions originating out of that schism, and so the foretellings of false religion, war, etc were thus all related to this foretold schism.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X