One of the benefits of utilizing public transportation is all the interesting people you encounter that you would not meet otherwise.  As a white male with head phones in and a cell phone in my pocket, I get asked for money from people quite a bit.  The vast majority of the time I have no cash to give, so I am just honest with people who ask and they generally move on their way.  On occasion, though, I have some people who stick around and want to talk, which I am always happy to do.  One day in the morning a guy came up to me asking me questions about where I am from and why I was out in the city, general stuff, then he started to talk about himself.  He came to Atlanta as a result of Hurricane Katrina, he was rescued from a rooftop and had some injuries to his legs that had been infected and took quite some time to recover.  When I asked him his name he said it was George.  I knew George wanted money, and I had none.  He needed $7 to get into a homeless shelter where he could stay for a week, shower, eat some food, and be given the opportunity to do some day labor to earn some money.  When I told him I had nothing to give he stood a while and talked but left to attempt to find money elsewhere.

A few days later I saw George again and called him over by name.  He approached me smiling and sat down on the ledge next to where I was standing.  “You remembered my name!” he said and smiled again (I had to remind him of mine, to which he replied he would not forget the name Cris now). I could not give him money, but I could at least give him the dignity he deserved by remembering his name.  After talking for a bit my shuttle came and I told him I would find him seven dollars, maybe not that week, but perhaps the next.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew’s discussion of eschatological judgment is dispersed throughout the book in both narrative and blocks of teaching.   The all familiar, “Lord, Lord” passage in Matthew 7:21-23 is the first of a few scenarios Matthew uses to depict what the judgment will be like and on what basis people will be judged.  It is significant that this comes near the close of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus says, “only those who have done the will of my Father in heaven” may enter the kingdom of heaven.  Those who are “good trees” produce “good fruit.”  In context, it is the fruit of Jesus’ teachings, his interpretation of Torah that he has just presented in the Sermon on the Mount, which marks one as a “good tree” that will enter the kingdom of heaven.  These teachings include alms giving and not serving money (as noted in chapter 6).

Of course this is just one aspect of Jesus’ teaching, but the next judgment scenario is upon cities in chapters 10 and 11.  Jesus sends out his disciples to do the work of the kingdom, but those towns that are not hospitable and receive the disciples will be worse off than Sodom and Gomorrah on the Day of Judgment.  The miraculous is done in these towns, but they do not receive the disciples and will be judged harsher than Sodom and Gomorrah.  This is significant, since the sin of Sodom-despite its popular understanding in our own time—was generally asserted as being non-hospitable and not caring for their needy.  We see this in Ezekiel 16, but also in other parts of the prophetic literature.  Hospitality and care for the poor are again emphasized.

The last scenario of judgment is Matthew 25:31-46, the separating of the sheep from the goats.  Interestingly enough, the language reflects that used in Matthew 7:21-23.  The use of the word “Lord,” the seated judgment setting as done by Jesus, the emphasis on doing, and the casting of the disobedient away from the kingdom.  Here again the basis for inheriting the kingdom of heaven is caring for those in need.  By heeding Jesus’ teachings and enacting them in the present, the followers of Jesus are receiving him in a hospitable and caring manner.  This final scene has been anticipated by each of the other scenarios I have mentioned (there is another scenario where the disciples are seated with Jesus to judge the twelve tribes of Israel that also anticipates this, but for the sake of space I have omitted it, but it follows the story of the rich young man and the difficulty of the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven).  This climatic eschatological scenario puts the spotlight on the reader, will you receive the least of these and thus receive Jesus, or will you pass them by and accept what is fitting?

So what happened to George?  I have no idea.  I have not seen him since.  But I want to make every effort to genuinely receive him.

I know, yet another “I’m terribly inconsistent at blogging” post.  It is simply true, but there are reasons behind it!

As you may know, I moved from Lakeland, Florida, where I did my undergraduate studies back to the Atlanta, Georgia, area in order to start my Master of Theological Studies at Candler School of Theology at Emory University.  I am already half way through my first semester (and, unfortunately, almost a quarter of the way through my degree) and it has already been an equally thrilling and frustrating experience.  

The wonderful thing about it is I LOVE Emory, it’s beautiful, and I am gaining a familiarity with the city that I have not had before.  My classes are wonderful…well most days.  My professors are brilliant.  I have already learned so much, and on top of that I am really starting to see how I can use this two year period to really improve on extremely integral parts of scholarship, such as writing, languages, exegesis, and time management…an on going struggle it seems.

Now about that bit about it being frustrating…commuting is horrible.  I wake up at 4 AM four days a week, which is rough but not the worst part, I do not get to the university until around 7 AM, go to classes, work on some work, get on a shuttle usually around 2:30, get on another bus, then make it home around 4:40 to 5 PM.  Notice what is missing there:  anything to do with the Candler community.  In my days at Southeastern, I was so involved in everything I ended up stretching myself a little too thin, and I took as much advantage that I could of all the opportunities to take part in intentional community and spiritual formation.  I was also deeply involved with Access Church, which was wonderful.  Both these pieces are largely absent from my life, which has really set me back as far as getting my legs back under me and steady.  I am really having to adjust to being alone a lot.  I am also still trying to figure out how to develop deep relationships with people because of time.  One friend I made during orientation I have only seen once since the semester started because our schedules conflict!  

Overall though, I am very happy I am where I am.  My mind is being stretched in ways it never has before.  Some of these aspects may end up as blog posts (like how the sacrificial system undermines our western ideas about wealth distribution,  “The Parable of the Sower” from a polemical angle, and the trouble of violent eschatological language and imagery in the same literature that largely presents the kingdom of God and those who inherit it as the exact opposite of violent), so I say keep an eye out, but we will see what happens as papers come due.  

Another note before I forget–during my interim period from leaving Florida to moving back to Georgia I read George R. R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire, commonly known as “The Game of Thrones series.”  I have to say, never has a world or a story captivated my mind (and gut) like this series!  If you need something to read, then I highly recommend you read A Song of Ice and Fire so you can love and hate your life as much as I do because of it.  Forget that all the books are insanely long, you will fly through them faster than you ever expected.  I will stop now before I go on forever about these books.

At any rate, I will do my best to begin producing quality blog posts again.  Until then!

When I heard Jonathan Martin was releasing a book I knew I had to get my hands on it and review it.  Thankfully, the people at Tyndale House Publishers were gracious enough to send me a complimentary review copy of Prototype.  Though I have already posted them I am including the foreword by Steven Furtick and the first chapter of Prototype, as well as the Q & A Session with Jonathan Martin, at Tyndale’s request.

Foreword and First Chapter    
Q & A with Jonathan Martin

I do not often read “pastoral” books, by that I mean books by popular pastors, but when I do the book is either controversial, or something I believe will actually impact my spiritual life.  I have been told for years by friends and others to read this or that book by a particular popular pastor because of its impact on their life.  I can not even count on my two hands how many times I was told to read Radical by David Platt, Crazy Love by Francis Chan, Desiring God by John Piper, Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll, and others.  This was never a surprise since I am an avid student of Christian theology, spirituality, and biblical studies.  However, I never read any of them as excited as some were about them.  I am sure I would agree with a good portion of what many of them say, regardless of my thoughts on some of the authors, and I am sure I somewhat already know what they are getting at, but I never found a deep urge to read what they had to say.

The same cannot be said of Jonathan Martin’s Prototype.  In my prior post about Jonathan, I explained how both exciting and inspiring he and his work is, so I jumped at the opportunity to review Prototype.

Before I even talk about the content, the title by itself is reason enough to be curious about it.  “Prototype:  What Happens When You Discover You’re More Like Jesus Than You Think?”  What I love about this is what it is not saying:  “this is a book that will teach you how to be more like Jesus,” or “This is ten principles from the Bible that will improve your life,” but instead it’s saying “You are already more like Jesus than you think you are.”

Then there is the idea of Jesus as the “prototype,” the truest of humans, the first of a new humanity that we can be a part of.  If you are a student of New Testament studies, this idea of Jesus as the “blue print” for a new humanity is not new, but Jonathan Martin has put a twist on it that includes not just doing what Jesus did and taught, but seeing how much we are like Jesus already.

In the first chapter, Jonathan tells a story about how when he was younger he used to ride around in a circle on his bike over and over again making up stories, traveling in time and to distant worlds all in his imagination, and years later he discovered that is the place he felt God the most, without necessarily “knowing” it was God or having a familiar spiritual experience.  There was a sense of creativity and wonder that came on his bike ride that was not realized anywhere else.  When I was reading the first chapter I found myself in a university café, crying as I read these words,

We have more than enough reasons to settle for being older and wiser and weathered and seasoned and smarter—reasons to know better.  But isn’t there something truthful about those experiences that you can’t quite shake?  What if when you were younger and less encumbered by the expectations and identities that have been assigned to you by so many other voices, you understood the deeper things about life and God and the world than you do now?  Wouldn’t that be worth going back for?…That sense of being known and delighted in stalks human beings the world over, even when we do everything in our power to act as if we do not know love (14-15).

For me, my “boy on the bike experience” was found when I would play video games with incredible stories and afterward would take the stories in a new direction in my mind.  I would place myself in the story, I would make myself look differently, I would add new characters, and of course I would go out back with a sword (pole) in hand, and fight evil (imaginary enemies and physical trees) in the name of love, justice, and perseverance.  When I grew older and looked back on those experiences they seemed silly—little immature me swinging a pole around, talking to myself as the neighbors could see me in full view, but I did not care, I loved the creativity that seemed to pour effortlessly out of me.  Now when I think about it, maybe that was the place where I felt God the most without even realizing.

Jesus was so sure of his identity, as the beloved Son of God, he was always aware of the Father’s presence, and he never needed assurance from others.  We seek so much assurance about who we were, what our talents are, and what we should do with our lives that we forget we are truly loved by God.

Now, the great thing is Jonathan does not leave it at that.  He is fully aware that life takes us in directions we never foresaw, which is why the third chapter is titled “obscurity.”  He speaks of the wilderness experience many of us are so familiar with, we seem so distant from God and so close to the words of the enemy, but Jesus himself had that same experience in the wilderness.  The wilderness is not a bad thing, though that is how perceive it, it is the place where God takes us to face ourselves and find out who we really are, “Obscurity is not punishment.  The wilderness is the place where our identity is solidified.  The wilderness has its perils, to be sure; yet in a sense there is no safer place.  In the wilderness we find out who we really are.  We find out what we’re afraid of.  We find out who our enemies are…It is a remarkable thing to simultaneously have our brokenness and belovedness revealed in equal measure” (61-63).

The wilderness leads us to our calling out into the world.  Mostly, this is subversive work that undermines the systems of the world and the enemy.  Jonathan puts it well, “We are called to bring the future acceptance of God’s good and imminent reign back into the world, which still operates on antiquated definitions of success and worth” (67).  Another significant aspect of our calling is how terribly unfit we are for it.  Jesus called together a group of young men who, by our “enlightened” standards, are sub-par at best.  This is common throughout the Bible.  Jonathan makes note of Moses, who was a murderer and couldn’t speak well, and David, a murderer and an adulterer.  Further, when David looks to build an army, he gathered men who were in debt, disgruntled, and hardly a satisfactory kingly army, yet they are titled, comically at that, David’s “mighty men.”

Jonathan tells story after story of people in his church who are misfits, yet used by God in fantastic ways.  Mostly these people have been incredibly hurt and wounded, as many of us have, but God wants to use our scars to heal the world.  Instead of putting on masks and trying to show the world they can be perfect and happy like we act we are, authenticity and humanness shows we are human just like the Jesus we serve.

The path to human power and influence, then and now, has always required that we conceal our scars, cover our wounds, and overcome the power of violence with greater violence.  Yet the strange story of how Jesus became King inverts that entire order—by revealing His scars, exposing His wounds, and overcoming the power of violence by allowing the violent to overcome him (94).

Using our wounds to heal the world is a part of God’s futuristic work, which began in the resurrection of Jesus.  I was pleased to see that Jonathan had read and researched the resurrection as a historical event, as I have done, but did not need apologists or historians to realize what the resurrection is already doing in the world, and that it does not come without doubt (though, he notes, it comes without cynicism)

The claim is not just that the resurrection of Jesus changes people—but that His resurrection power has already changed the world.  The problem, of course, is that there are so many ways in which the world is still living in protest to its deepest calling…people who live their lives in the power of the Resurrection—that is, living as people from the future—in a real sense begin to take responsibility for God in the world (129).

The resurrection is doing something real in the world, and we are signs of it.  We are people of the future who are not without doubt, but “we take our fears and our doubts and our dreams, and we toss them in the general direction of Jesus to do with as He sees fit (139).

It is in community that we feel, touch, smell, and taste this future we are already a part of.  We do this through the sacraments, which in the church traditions I have been a part of have mostly been ignored.  We celebrate baptism, and we take communion once a quarter if we’re lucky, but we do not act in solidarity with the Church at large by diving into the depths of the sacraments.  Jesus is mysteriously present in the sacraments, but also in his people who are messy, sinful, and fractured.  If you haven’t realized this by now, you either have not been paying attention or you are too busy criticizing everyone outside of your bubble.  There are, of course, some truly negative and unappealing parts of this messiness, but we cannot simply cut ourselves off from tradition and Church history.  I really like how Jonathan puts this,

The desire to cut ourselves off from those who came before us is no virtue.  Even when we are flatly, and perhaps rightly, embarrassed by the behavior or the history of our churches on some level, we still exist in continuity with them.  We are forever tethered to our grandmother’s church, and this is as it should be.  Our grandmother’s church has given us many good gifts.  But even when it has been very wrong, it still belongs to us (191).

All this comes to a head in the last chapter “Witness.”  As people of the future who have identified with Christ and have discovered we are truly loved by God, though find ourselves in a world of obscurity where we are covered in scars but somehow empowered by what the resurrection of Jesus has done in our lives and in the world, we are to be witnesses to what Jesus has done.

What the world needs now are signposts of what’s ahead, markers for the new world just around the corner.  The world does not need heroes; the world does not need more messiah complexes.  The world does not need Christians who want to ride in on a white horse to save the day.  What the world needs are witnesses.  Nothing more and nothing less.  The earth needs people who can bear witness to the ways in which the world has already changed through the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (197).

All in all, I was very impressed and touched by this book and would HIGHLY recommend it.  I had to stop myself from including more than I already have in this review because there is so much to say about it.  There is plenty more, including a concluding “Letter to a Ravaged Bride,” which is very powerful, but I will leave that to you to read when you pick up this book and discover you are more like Jesus than you already think.

I first heard about Jonathan Martin last summer by way of several tweets of his a friend of mine had retweeted, and I was surprisingly both moved and excited by the things he had to say.  As an aspiring biblical scholar I was appreciative of Jonathan’s tweets and blogs, it also made me excited to see he was a fellow Pentecostal and held a Th.M. from Duke.  For those who know me, you know I rarely listen to podcasts, especially sermons, but I listened to quite a few sermons that Jonathan preached at his church, Renovatus located in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Jonathan’s style was refreshing, but also “homey” for me since he was a little long-winded like any good Pentecostal preacher.  The church seemed to hold a healthy nostalgia to it that I had not seen in a Pentecostal church; I have been involved in two churches for the majority of my life at this point, one was a southern Pentecostal church that was unapologetically expressive in their passionate worship including use of spiritual gifts, but they were also extremely critical of anyone who was not just like them, the other is a more modern church with charismatic elements such as expressive worship, but with a heavy emphasis on service to others.  Renovatus seems to be fairly explicit about their Pentecostalism, but not in a way that demeans others, and is not so tied to a way of doing church that they have not reinvented themselves as the more modern expressions of church like the Association of Related Churches have.  The church also takes communion every week, which is not common in Pentecostal churches, and emphasizes continuity with church history by doing so.

In short, I think all the things Jonathan Martin is doing at Renovatus, on the internet, and now in writing is something to be emulated and praised.   He has just recently come out with his book Prototype:  What Happens When You Discover You’re More like Jesus Than You Think?, which I will be posting my review of next week.  Tyndale House has asked me to include a link to the foreword and first chapter of the book, as well as a Q & A session with Jonathan Martin, in my review.  I wanted to go ahead and share those with you today so you can get a feel for the book before reading my review.  I will include these again in the actual review.

Foreword and Chapter One

Q & A with Jonathan Martin

Be on the look out for my review next week.

As my “about” section indicates, I am terribly inconsistent in my blogging habits.  After beating my previous record in most views in one day, I simply put blogging in the back of my mind instead of having it consistently on my mind.  For that I apologize.

 

I have some good news though!  I am currently working through two books for review:  Jonathan Martin’s Prototype and David Neville’s A Peaceable Hope:  Contesting Violent Eschatology in New Testament Narratives.  So those will be coming in the near future, as well as a couple treats about Prototype that Tyndale has sent me to share with you all in my review.

 

Also, if you have not heard, following a period of a lot of prayer and consideration I have decided to attend Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.  I will be moving back home to live with my family in Douglasville, which is in the metro-Atlanta area, and will be pursuing my Master of Theological Studies degree there.  I am very excited to get back into full-time schooling!  I have been in love with the campus of Emory University ever since I visited it on a field trip my senior year of high school for my AP World History class, so needless to say I am ecstatic!  

Well, be on the look out for those book reviews, as well as other posts I have been considering.

 

-Cris

CTSL2I seem to be “at risk” when it comes to writing too long of blog posts, especially my book reviews.  With that being said I am going to do my best to summarize the contents of Roger Stronstad’s The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke.  If you want to know what is different about the second edition you can find that information in Part 1 and Part 2.

Stronstad begins by challenging the prevailing methodologies of his day in Lucan studies that tended to neglect Luke as a theologian in his own right who had a particular interest in the Holy Spirit.  This interest is what makes Luke a “charismatic theologian” and ties the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles together as a whole unit.  Stronstad’s main argument about Luke’s pneumatology is the prophetic-vocational role of the Holy Spirit found in Luke-Acts.  The Spirit empowers those chosen by God for particular tasks or missions and are usually called prophets.

Luke’s pneumatology has its roots in the Old Testament, particularly the in the tradition of the Septuagint.  Stronstad looks at the work of the Spirit in the prophetic ministries of Moses, Elijah and Elisha, Saul and David, and Isaiah.  He also discusses the apparent cessation of prophecy addressed in some rabbinic literature in the intertestamental period, though this has been contested (see John R. Levison’s Filled with the Spirit).

The next move, naturally, is Luke’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus; Stronstad calls this “the Charismatic Christ.”  There is a myriad of Spirit-inspired activity in the Infancy narrative:  Jesus in conceived by the Spirit, John the Baptist is said to be filled with the Spirit in the womb (marked for prophetic vocation), Elizabeth and Zechariah are said to be filled with the Spirit and prophesy, Mary prophesies, a man named Simion is said to have the Holy Spirit upon him and he prophesies, and an old widow named Anna is called a prophet.

Following in Luke 3, Jesus is baptized and the Spirit descends on him in the form of a dove, which Jesus interprets as his prophetic anointing in fulfillment of a redaction of Isaiah 61 in Luke 4 in the synagogue at Nazareth.  The Spirit has empowered him to preach good news to the poor, to perform miracles, and to proclaim the kingdom of God, which he does throughout his spirit-empowered ministry throughout the gospel.  After his death and resurrection, Jesus ascends into heaven with the promise of pouring out the Holy Spirit on his disciples.

This leads to the Pentecost Narrative in Acts 2.  Jesus’ anointing by the Holy Spirit is used as paradigm for the baptism of the Holy Spirit experienced by the disciples at Pentecost, so we should expect they carry out a similar spirit-empowered mission throughout Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  Upon the reception of the Spirit, Peter preaches to the crowd outside and shares about the eschatological fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel 2 about the Holy Spirit being poured out on all flesh.  From this moment on the church is empowered for mission, one that is almost identical to that of Jesus’ ministry and is empowered by the eschatological spirit.  The gift of the Spirit for the purpose of mission is only given to the penitent.  Stronstad uses the examples of Cornelius’s household, the Samaritan believers, and the disciples of John the Baptist at Ephesus.

For Stronstad, the uniqueness of Luke’s pneumatology in the New Testament is the emphasis on empowerment for mission.  While Paul may have a more developed pneumatology that attributes the Spirit to the fullness of the Christian life, Luke brings something different to the table discussion.  This, I think, has been mistakenly misunderstood to mean that Lucan and Pauline pneumatology cannot be reconciled, but I think this is incorrect.  Paul and Luke both have something to say about the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers, and that of Jesus, but in order to have a more robust pneumatology we should be reminded not only how the Holy Spirit works in our lives when it comes to justification and sanctification, but also how the Spirit empowers us for the missio dei, the mission of God, to live under the reign of God and be signs of its presence in the world.

The Book of Revelation is a difficult text to approach.  What I mean by this is not so much that interpretation of symbols is impossible—many are clear (like the lion of Judah and the lamb that was slain but is now standing…clearly Jesus), but difficult because of all we bring to the text.  Most of us, if you have spent any time in the American Evangelical traditions, can not think of Revelation without thinking of massive wars, natural disasters, political savvy Satan Possessed Basil from Austin Powers, two witnesses yelling in the streets of Jerusalem, rapture(s), and the earth exploding to be replaced with a new and improved one.  On the other side, there are those pastors and churches that also cannot think of Revelation without thinking of all I have listed, whether agreeing or disagreeing with that particular interpretation, so they simply do not teach out of it (except, maybe, about the message to the Laodiceans).  I think this is really unfortunate; the Book of Revelation is a rich text that presents a serious challenge to its readers.

Before I talk about this challenge I want to address a few things.  First, Revelation is of the ancient genre known as apocalyptic literature.  “Apocalyptic” is a loaded term in our culture usually meaning end-of-the-world-type destruction and mass chaos, but, in context, “apocalypse” simply means “revealed,” hints why the book in our english translations is called “Revelation” also known as “The Apocalypse.”  Apocalyptic literature is a genre mostly unique to Judaism.  It uses grandiose language and symbolism to portray a particular message, which has been revealed to the narrator (usually addressed as the author, often by pseudonym) by God about certain truths, and usually includes visions of heaven.  Books that are considered in the apocalyptic genre—parts of Daniel, 1 and 2 Enoch, 4 Ezra, 2 and 3 Baruch, the Apocalypse of Abraham, and many others.  Revelation falls into this genre; John is given a revelation from God by way of an angel about the testimony of Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:1-2).

Second, Revelation is not written in a linear fashion.  In other words the events that happen in the narrative are not necessarily chronological, there is ample literary evidence to show that the larger narrative pauses and starts looking at smaller stories.  One of my professors whose specialty is in Revelation used the analogy of the Princess Bride:  the larger story is the grandfather reading a book to his sick grandson, the secondary story is the story called “The Princess Bride,” which is all about Princess Buttercup, her true love Wesley, Prince Humperdinck, Inigo Montoya, and all the others.  Throughout the movie there are pauses in the story of Buttercup and Wesley that remind us that this is a story within a story (“is this a kissing book?” “You’re not scared are you?”), Revelation works the same way.

Third, it is a mistake to assume that all Revelation has to say is about the future, and it is an even larger mistake to suppose everything described are actual events that will happen in history in chronological sequence and wonder where we are presently, in terms of history, on this map of prophetic events to come.  This approach is called Historicism.

Fourth, there are those who attempt to say a “literal” interpretation of scripture is the best interpretation, and they take Revelation “literally.”  I think what most people intend to say is they take Revelation, and the Bible, seriously, not literally.  No one that I have ever talked to interprets Revelation literally—no one has ever said to me, “I believe a giant beast will literally receive authority and power from a literal red dragon and people will worship him.”  That would be a literal interpretation.  To say that the beast stands for the “Anti-Christ” or a certain world system is to interpret it symbolically, not literally.

Revelation 1 describes John’s call narrative that is similar in many ways to the other major prophets.  In this narrative John describes Jesus with similar language to the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7, and in the right hand of Jesus are 7 stars, which are, essentially, the word of the Lord to the seven churches.  Christ then lays his right hand on John, the same right hand with the seven stars, and tells him to write what he has seen to these seven churches, which brings him to the messages to seven churches in Asia.

Following this in chapter 5, John describes the scroll with seven seals, the contents that he is to prophesy but does not receive until chapter 10.  John eats the scroll, reminiscent of Ezekiel’s call narrative, which is a way of saying he received the word of the Lord to prophecy the message that follows; it is kind of a second call narrative.

Skipping ahead to chapters 18-22, two pictures are painted:  one of the Prostitute and the city of Babylon, and the other of the New Jerusalem and the Bride of Christ.  The prostitute kind of morphs into the city of Babylon, which is marked by unfaithfulness, blasphemy, destruction, and greed, and is eventually destroyed.  On the other side is the image of the eternal city, the New Jerusalem, which morphs into a Bride, who is pure, faithful, clean, and new.  So we have two images of women and two images of cities that are juxtaposed.  The challenge is this:  you can be a citizen of one of these two cities and be like one of these two women.

Thinking about the grand narrative though, John is writing to the churches, so he is saying there are citizens of Babylon among the churches!  So the “mark of the beast” then in Revelation 13 makes sense in context when we understand this challenge:  some people are already acting (right hand) and thinking (forehead) beastly.  No computer chip or barcode tattoo needed!  It is all about actions and thinking IN THIS LIFE!

All joking aside, the point of this post is this:  this challenge is layered.  It is often said John is writing this to a church under persecution for the purpose of encouragement.  I think this is part of the challenge.  A reading that John is saying to the oppressed church, “be like this bride, faithful and pure, be citizens of the New Jerusalem now, don’t give into threats and become an unfaithful citizen of Babylon.  Stay strong”  However, just like today, there were areas in the world where the church was being actively persecuted, and there were others where it simply was not being persecuted.   In modern terms an area where it is easy to be a Christian due to a lack of persecution is America, no matter how much self-inflicted persecution projection we put on “those dirty liberals who want to end Christianity as we know it,” we are not being persecuted.   Areas where it would not have been difficult to be a Christian the challenge still stood; not in face of persecution, but assimilation!

There are those who had become citizens of Babylon, the unfaithful whore on the scarlet beast, by assimilating into culture and buying into the world systems.  I think the biggest system in mind was particular economic systems, the language used to describe Babylon’s sins are excessive luxury, wealth, greed, and business malpractice.  So John is challenging them not to buy into these world systems that make them forget their brothers and sisters in need and their other brothers and sisters in other parts of the world that are being persecuted.  Some of them are already acting and thinking beastly as citizens of Babylon.  This is not a permanent citizenship; there is a call in Revelation 18 for the people to come out of her and become a citizen of the New Jerusalem in chapter 21.

I write all this to point out, in America the call of encouragement in the face of persecution has been listened to, but the problem is Christians here are not persecuted.  So, through the understanding of Revelation only being about future events there has been the expectation of persecution of Christians in America, which says a lot about conservative Christian paranoia that leads to positions on guns, healthcare, war, etc.  I think they are reading the wrong layer of the challenge.  The challenge we face here is not persecution, but assimilation, and we have definitely in many ways assimilated.  We worry more about the quality of our clothes, cars, and 401k’s than we do about those in need.  I hope we hear the call to become citizens of the New Jerusalem, the faithful Bride, who does not buy into certain economic systems, storing up wealth for ourselves and excessive luxuries and forget about those in need, both immediately among us and throughout the world.

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