What is happening here?!?!
A few years ago I was given the opportunity to teach an undergraduate course for non-Bible majors which centered on any topic or book of my choosing. After some thought I chose Revelation, partly because I thought it would be an eye-catcher for such students. It was. But it was also an opportunity to help direct others through the same journey I had once experienced - that Revelation is not relegated to the freaks and the kooks who want nothing more than the immediate and decisive destruction of the earth, preluded by events which are foretold in our Bibles and played out in our headlines. Rather, Revelation is the culmination and synthesis of the biblical story of hope and resurrection, covenant and life, renewal and restoration. It is, without qualification, one of the greatest literary pieces ever put down by human hand.
Of course, many of us have only experienced the Sunday School experts who can command small group discussions regarding long-and-drawn-out words and biblical-sounding concepts, but who cannot work their way out of a philosophical wet paper sack in any other situation. They have for years told many of us that Revelation is God's predicting of modern events and can foresee the end-times with the certainty of a Hal Lindsay pocket calculator. This was a large part of my experience growing up, until I was able to read R. Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Cambridge: CUP, 1993) and hear my graduate mentor, Craig Blomberg explain how to properly approach the book. (The premise: you have to know how to read it.)
And therein lies the problem. The book of Revelation needs to be read as an apocalyptic work which stands on its own before it can speak beyond the borders of its own text. Further, it must be read in light of its own historical circumstances prior to pushing our headlines into its space. This is basic hermeneutic . . . so, then, why are so many church leaders running from it?
First, it is a charged situation - emotions run high. And when you deal with emotions you cannot use reason, so there will always be a segment of the population which have emotionally grabbed hold to Left Behind-ism and will never consider another option. Thus, it is perceived by many in the church and academy as a losing enterprise. Second, it is hard - there is a lot of legwork involved in understanding a socio-political and spiritual message from first century Asia minor when you are standing in 21st century America. Work and time are entities which immediately push something away in our world. Third, the genre scares the beJesus out of us - we have no idea what to do with apocalyptic themes from the Jewish world, so we try to make them apocalyptic themes from our world and then become frustrated when they don't inspire us.
This third point really is the main focus here - we have let the hijacking of this text and the constant misrepresentation of Revelation's message (along with the fact that it is 'hard' to understand [I actually don't accept the premise that it is hard]) to scare the beJesus out of us when it should, in fact, be pushing the beHell out of us!
Frankly, I do not care if Revelation is a frightening enterprise! It does not matter! Because we are called (all of us, not just the pastors and the academics) to be responsible stewards of the Word, proclaiming the full message of faith into the world. Is it coincidence that the final warning in Revelation (and the Bible) is fittingly: "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If any one of you adds anything to them, God will add to you the plagues described in this scroll. And if any one of you takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from you your share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll" (22:18-19).
We will fail in the work of the kingdom by our silence and ineptitude. It is as simple as that. This rant is the boiling over of a lack of conviction regarding the whole Word of God - much of which is directly and immediately relevant to the current state of the world. And I further believe that God can still work through our fumbling and bumbling of what we think we know, but cannot do anything through our silence. I hope and pray for this to change.