Archives for July 2013

Lectionary Reflection for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 12:13-21:

Luke BTCB

The story Jesus tells about the prudential “wisdom” of a rich man is as interesting for what is natural and legitimate in the action as for its stark denouement and judgment. For at first blush, the enviable farmer is responding to his bumper crop in what many would consider a sound, prudential fashion: he has more produce than his barns can store, so he will tear them down and build bigger ones (Luke 12:16-18). Many a farmer today would be advised by his agricultural agent to do just that—and then to hold on to his crop for higher prices.

But what follows indicates a major problem of attitude and a failure to act responsibly toward others, given his blessings.

Numerous passages in Isaiah and the Psalms reiterate an obligation toward the poor, especially of those who have been blessed with abundance, declaring that in God’s perspective this is a simple matter of justice. This farmer apparently has failed to take these texts to heart.

His crops safely stored in his tidy new barns, the wealthy man congratulates himself (literally his psychē, “soul”), saying effectively, “Well, I have it made. I shall now retire in comfort, eat, drink, and be merry” (12:19). His position is one with many parallels in our own culture.

When in the parable he is judged by God as a “fool” (aphrōn),the force of Jesus’s derisive term turns the man’s conventional wisdom upside down. There is ambiguity in the Greek phrase, which actually reads “this night they shall demand your soul from you” (12:2). Who are “they”? Perhaps thieves; perhaps, as some suggest, angelic servants of God; perhaps, as in previous texts, the “court of heaven” is being invoked as a witness against him. In any case, all that he has worked for will pass into other hands, for his treasure is not eternally portable (12:21). . . .

There is absolutely nothing to envy in the farmer’s filled barns but rather something pitiable. A proper response to a superabundant harvest, on a biblical view, would have been for the wealthy farmer to distribute the surplus to the poor and stick with the barns he already had

His success is not in itself the problem, and it is not his success that is condemned. What is condemned is his self-indulgence, his neglect of a great opportunity to provide for others less successful than himself, and on top of that his self-congratulatory belief that he had made adequate provision for his own future.

This farmer is no “Joseph the provider,” laying up grain to sustain a population in a time of famine to come; rather, he is laying up treasure for himself and himself alone.

 

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

“Seven Things Revelation Is Not” by Joseph L. Mangina

This is an original post by Joseph L. Mangina, author of Revelation (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible).

Joseph L. Mangina (PhD, Yale University) is professor of systematic theology at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto. He is the editor of Pro Ecclesia, serves on the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue commission for Canada, and is the author of two books on the thought of Karl Barth.

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Revelatoin

The book of Revelation (also known as the Apocalypse) is a constant source of both fascination and fear among Christians. In North America, the book is likely to be identified with the dispensationalism of Timothy LaHaye’s Left Behind series. It is therefore often treated as being off-limits in mainline churches.

This is unfortunate. To the extent that we distance ourselves from Revelation, we hand it over to eccentric uses; even worse, we miss out on its real glories. In the next two posts I will make some comments aimed at helping us overcome our aversion to the Apocalypse.

Today I will discuss “Seven Things Revelation Is Not”; next time I will turn to “Seven Things Revelation Is.” The division is a bit artificial, so don’t be surprised to find some affirmations in the midst of the negations and vice versa. I hope to whet the reader’s appetite for exploring Revelation on his or her own, perhaps in company with my Brazos commentary (Joseph Mangina, Revelation, Brazos 2010).

Seven Things Revelation Is Not

1. A code, cipher, or secret message. The tendency to read Revelation as an esoteric book—the ultimate insiders’ text—has a very long history. The book is filled with mysterious images and symbols. It is natural to want to know what these symbols “stand for.” With this approach to Revelation, interpretation will be a matter of wresting a discrete, consistent, and controllable meaning from each image. There is just enough of this reading strategy in the book itself to encourage us in this view; see for example 17:9-10.

I cannot stress too strongly, however, that as an overall reading strategy this form of interpretation misfires and will cause us to miss almost everything that is important about the book. The Apocalypse is visionary literature. Its symbols are polyvalent, pointing in many different directions at once. To take the most famous example, it is tempting to believe that when John wrote 666—the infamous “number of the beast”—he intended the emperor Nero. Historically speaking that is extremely likely. But as any postmodern literary critic will tell you, texts are simply not that stable—much less so a text of which God or the Spirit is the author! Revelation is less interested in information than in transformation. Rather than looking for a meaning “behind” the text, we should let it draw us into its powerful vision of a world created, judged, and redeemed by God.

2. A book exclusively about the future. This point follows from the previous one. While Revelation does, indeed, offer a glimpse of God’s final consummation of all things, it would not have us speculating about the future. John wants us to “remember the End”—Travis Kroeker’s evocative term for apocalyptic vision in the works of Dostoevsky—precisely so that the church may live more faithfully and courageously in the present. This is true whether that “present” is in AD 113 or 2013.

3. Chiefly a response to persecution. We know that there has been at least one martyr in the churches John is addressing (Rev. 2:13), and he clearly expects that there will be more (2:10; 7:14). It is therefore easy to assume that the purpose of the book is to offer comfort and reassurance to communities subject to Roman persecution. This fits a common view of apocalyptic writing as a literature of the dispossessed.

My advice to the reader is to take all this with a large grain of salt. On the one hand, notice that John writes to seven churches marked by notable differences: if Smyrna is under pressure, Laodicea is all too pleased with itself (“you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered,’” Rev. 3:17 NRSV). Like churches today, John’s communities inhabit a wide range of social locations and strategies of resistance/negotiation/accommodation to their host culture.

But even more crucial is the question of agency. While the “kings of the earth” (a recurrent image in the Apocalypse) exercise real and terrible forms of power, there is never any question that God is the ultimate Power with whom humans have to reckon. This is what John wants his readers to grasp. It is God—the LORD of Israel—who determines history, not the Romans.

4. A simple temporal sequence. Already in the early history of the church, attentive readers of Revelation noticed an odd thing: the book repeats itself. The seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls are less a linear sequence of events than a dizzying spiral, a vision of the (singular) End narrated from a variety of perspectives. The technical name for this is “recapitulation.”

This is not to say there is no drama, no “story,” in the Apocalypse. But the drama must be taken on its own terms. It is must not be assimilated to earthly, empirical history. Again recall that John’s intention—or the Spirit’s intention through John—is less to inform than to transform.

5. A warrant for violence. It is well to be honest: many of the events described in Revelation are terrifying. Many readers struggle to reconcile the awful imagery of death, mayhem, and destruction with the God of love. I will have more to say about this in my next post.

Nevertheless, while terrible things happen in Revelation, the author never says, “Go out and do terrible things.” The question of agency again looms large. It is God’s love, God’s judgment, God’s vindication that stand at the center of attention. If there is a consistent command given to the church, it is simply to practice “patient endurance,” a kind of creative waiting and suffering in trust that God will set things right (cf. Rev. 1:9; 2:2; 13:10; 14:12). To read the book as a warrant for any human exacting of vengeance on enemies is simply false.

6. An outlier in the canon of Scripture. We are prone to draw a distinction between the teaching of Jesus, say, or Pauline soteriology (theological comfort food for Protestants), and the “weird apocalyptic stuff” in writings like Daniel and Revelation. But there is far more slippage than we like to think. Mark’s Jesus is a clearly apocalyptic figure, while Paul writes of cosmic transformation and speaks of Christ as the “man from heaven” (Rom. 8; 1 Cor. 15). Nor are these convergences accidental: Mark, Paul, and John the Seer are all rooted in the apocalyptic soil of Israel’s faith. It is for this reason that the great Anglican theologian Austin Farrer called Revelation “a rebirth of images,” referring to the way in which John takes up themes and symbols from the Old Testament. What he sees is new but at the same time very old.

7. A book with a clear, easily summarized message. This goes back to what I said earlier about reading Revelation as a coded text. If the book is a cipher, we can figure it out, determine its “meaning” once for all, and be done with it. In this approach the text itself ironically becomes dispensable. Fortunately Revelation doesn’t work like that. It is an act of testimony, an act of witness by one who claims to speak the very Word of God—in short, a prophet.

The proper understanding of Revelation, then, begins with listening to this Word. This is a theme I will take up in my next post, on the “Seven Things Revelation Is.”

Ebook Special for God Hides in Plain Sight by Dean Nelson

Now through August 3, the ebook for God Hides in Plain Sight: How to See the Sacred in a Chaotic World by Dean Nelson is only $3.99—77% off! 

More information and a list of participating retailers is available here.

 

A Crossings Book Club Selection

2010 San Diego Book Award Winner

“This book has wonderful and valuable things to say. I won’t soon forget them.”Frederick Buechner

Have you ever had a conversation that went far deeper than the words spoken or an experience where you felt you had participated in something sacredthat you had been part of the unbidden activity of God? Although these situations may seem rare and unexplainable, they are reminders that God’s grace surrounds us constantly and shows up in manifold ways to those who have eyes to see the sacred in everyday life.

“These sacramental moments are the bursts of revelation that give spiritual order to our otherwise disordered lives,” says veteran journalist Dean Nelson. In this colorful, story-driven introduction to sacramental living, Nelson offers all Christians a way to see the presence of God amid the chaos and monotony of daily life. Each chapter emphasizes a different kind of sacramental moment, showing how it can be a lens through which we can see more of God.

Dean Nelson (PhD, Ohio University) is founder and director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California, where he serves as professor of journalism. He has written extensively for dozens of newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, Boston Globe, and Christianity Today, and is the author or coauthor of several books.

 

The Weekly Hit List: July 26, 2013

Life Observed

A Life Observed by Devin Brown was reviewed by David Downing for the C. S. Lewis Blog.

“A welcome recent addition to the spate of Lewis biographies is Devin Brown’s A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis (Brazos, 2013). As its title suggests, Brown does not attempt an exhaustive or definitive biography, but rather an account of Lewis’s spiritual journey. . . .

“Brown offers a concise summary of Lewis’s external life, but the focus is upon what was happening in Lewis’s mind and heart.  There is the fragile childhood faith, the death of his mother, the loss of faith in his teens and its recovery in his early thirties.

As Lewis himself does in The Pilgrim’s Regress and Surprised by Joy, Brown organizes Lewis’s spiritual pilgrimage around his experiences of ‘Joy,’ those intense and fleeting experiences of nameless longing that are both an ache and an ecstasy.”

Read the rest of the review here.

 

Quick Hits:

Jim Wallis, author of On God’s Side, will appear on Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO tonight.

Jim Wallis is touring in the United Kingdom and Ireland August 23 through September 5. Visit Lion Hudson’s web site for information on Jim’s appearances.

Phillip Cary, author of Jonah (BTCB), wrote “Gentiles in the Hands of a Genocidal God” for Christianity Today.

 

Ebook Specials:

Monk Habits for Everyday People by Dennis Okholm is $3.99 (75% off) through July 27.

Lectionary Reflection for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 11:1-13:

Luke BTCBIn all respects, the Lord’s Prayer as found in both Luke and Matthew is a “concise direction for the Godward life of the soul,” as Evelyn Underhill puts it. In this prayer, she continues, “the soul opens its eyes upon Reality and discovers itself to be a child of the Eternal Perfect; and [that] the essence of worship is to be a total devotion to his interests, hallowing his name and cooperating in the action of his will.”

The Lord’s Prayer clearly invites, as Jan van Ruysbroeck wrote in the fifteenth century, “a turning of all things of the self into the freedom of the Will of God.”

It is in this respect a summary of all that Jesus has been teaching, by his words and by his example, so that once again the disciples are invited by the very form of this prayer into an action of imitatio Christi, imitation of their Lord. As he prays to the Father, so also should we.

With Underhill, we should recognize that “the Lord’s prayer looks towards a goal in which every action shall be an act of worship; an utterance of the Name.” Indeed, given the double sense of the Hebrew word ‘ăbōdâ to signify both “work” and “worship,” Underhill’s comment is an excellent summary.

The short illustrative narrative with which Jesus then continues his discourse on prayer underscores the desire of the heavenly Father to be generous toward his children. Jesus makes use of analogies. A friend will not refuse a friend who has an unexpected visitor and finds himself with an empty larder; even if he is asleep and the request is a nuisance, such a friend will certainly answer need, especially if the petitioner is persistent (11:5-8).

The disciples are accordingly encouraged to beseech the heavenly Father with confidence in their own time of need: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (11:9).

The parallel assurance of the next verse is explicit; the point, as Augustine says, is that “he would not so encourage us to ask were he not willing to give” (Sermon 108). In the rhetorical example that follows, Origen has seen an echo of the temptation of Jesus in Luke 4: “God does not in the place of bread offer a stone, which the devil wishes Christ to eat” (On Prayer 28.10).

In his conclusion, Jesus shows that the function of the analogy is in part to show how much more generous and ready to give is God than we are, yet suddenly that which God is said to provide is not material needs or even forgiveness but something more: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (11:13).

 

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Behind the Book: Thomas Jay Oord on Defining Love

Today Thomas Jay Oord shares why he wrote Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement.

For the past decade or more, I have been thinking about the love, science, and theology interface. The questions about how these three major domains of inquiry might relate to one another are complex, and these questions require complex but understandable answers.

One of the central issues in this kind of interdisciplinary love research is how one defines love itself. Many go about assuming they know what love is. But most people—including scholars—have not done the careful work of composing a love definition.

To some people, the idea of defining is sheer foolishness. Love escapes any defining, they say. Pressing them to identify how they know which actions are loving and which are not, however, reveals quickly that they do adopt some definition of love. These adopted definitions are often tacit, intuitive, or largely unconscious.

Part of the love scholar’s task is to make explicit and conceptually coherent love assumptions that may currently remain implicit and incoherent. In my book Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement, I explore various facets of love in various disciplines. I do the work of making the implicit explicit and the incoherent coherent.

Perhaps the most important contribution of the book is my proposed love definition. I define love in this way:

To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to others (including God), to promote overall well-being.

I explore each phrase of my proposed definition in the book. When it comes down to the basics, love has three essential elements:

(1) intent/motives
(2) relationality/embodiment/environment
(3) consequences/outcomes

Defining Love begins with philosophy and asks various questions about these three elements. Along the way, the book addresses forms of love such as agape, eros, and philia.

The heart of the book explores recent research and theory in science. I focus on the social sciences in one chapter, the biological sciences in another, and cosmology in a third.

I have had the great privilege of having access to some of the most influential scientists of our time. The chapters on science and love in the book draw from their work, some of which I heard them present personally, others which they detail in their published works.

Readers likely will be surprised at the vast amount of research and theory pertaining to love, altruism, well-being, prosocial behavior, agape, benevolence, and related issues in science. Reviewers and readers often report being unaware of so much interesting research being done on these subjects.

Defining Love concludes with a chapter exploring God’s love. It quickly surveys the general approaches to how science and theology might most effectively relate. Rejected are the views that say or imply that theology always trumps science or science always trumps theology.

One of the more creative proposals in this final chapter emerges from the theological issue most worrisome to those who believe God loves perfectly: the problem of evil. I call my response to the problem of evil “essential kenosis.”

Essential kenosis says God acts as a loving causal agent in every agent or event. But God never entirely determines anyone or anything. To put it another way, God never totally controls others. Because of this love-grounded power, God should not be thought the cause of evil nor be thought culpable of failing to prevent it.

Essential kenosis does say, however, that God’s love varies. God’s persuasive influence oscillates as creatures respond appropriately or inappropriately. And God expresses diverse forms of love. Divine love is not an amorphous “steady state” or “blind force,” because God is personal.

Some reviewers of Defining Love have praised the general structure and substance of the book. But many theologically informed readers find the final chapter too brief.

Anticipating this, I published simultaneous with Defining Love a thoroughly theological exploration of love called The Nature of Love. In it, I wrestle with classic love theologians like Augustine and Anders Nygren. And I propose a series of ideas pertaining to essential kenosis that should satisfy readers of Defining Love who had hoped for more theological reflection.

My hope is that Defining Love becomes a tool for both academics and laity as they wrestle with love’s meaning and expression in the world. The research will likely surprise many. And I trust that my own proposals will prove fruitful in the ongoing work to gain a better understanding of God and creation.

To read more about love, science, and theology, I invite you to visit my blog, www.thomasjayoord.com.

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Thomas Jay Oord (PhD, Claremont Graduate University) is professor of theology and philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, and is ordained in the Church of the Nazarene. He is the author of Science of Love and the editor of The Altruism Reader.

For more information on Defining Love, click here.

Ebook special for Monk Habits for Everyday People by Dennis Okholm

Now through July 27, the ebook for Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants by Dennis Okholm is only $3.99—75% off!

More information and a list of participating retailers is available here.

 

“As a knowledgeable pastor and theologian, Dennis Okholm . . . offers a fresh perspective on what attracts Protestants to monasteries. . . . This memoir, gentle in tone and often humorous, is nonetheless full of challenges to Protestant comfort zones.”
—Kathleen Norris, author of The Cloister Walk (from the foreword)

When Dennis Okholm began exploring the roots of contemporary Benedictine monasticism, he quickly found that St. Benedict has as much to offer Protestants as he does Roman Catholics. In Monk Habits for Everyday People, Okholm—a professor who was raised as a Pentecostal and a Baptist—uses his profound experience with Benedictine spirituality to show how it can enrich the lives and prayer practices of Protestants.

Okholm unpacks the Rule of St. Benedict—a practical guide for living the Christian faith and cultivating Christian virtue—by reflecting on aspects of spirituality such as listening, poverty, obedience, humility, hospitality, stability, and balance. His insights are invaluable to contemporary Christians, who, Okholm observes, have become consumers of religion rather than cultivators of a spiritual life. Readers will emerge not only with the desire to use the habits of monks to enhance their discipleship but also with the tools to start them on the journey.

Candid and engaging, Monk Habits for Everyday People is a valuable guide for Protestants seeking an accessible introduction to this classical resource for spiritual growth.

Dennis L. Okholm (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) is professor of theology at Azusa Pacific University and coauthor of A Family of Faith: An Introduction to Evangelical Christianity.

The Weekly Hit List: July 19, 2013

Educating All God's ChildrenEducating All God’s Children by Nicole Baker Fulgham was reviewed by David Swanson for The Englewood Review of Books.

If there is any doubt that public education is in crisis then Nicole Baker Fulgham’s book, Educating All God’s Children, should convince the most dubious skeptic.

“Early on she outlines the inequities most of us have become accustomed to: far greater percentages of Asian American and White students gradate high school in four years than do African American and Hispanic/Latino students; noticeably fewer African American forth-graders preform basic math skills compared with White students.

“Many of us have heard these sorts of statistics often enough that we no longer really hear them; Educating All God’s Children makes sure we listen closely while beginning to imagine a different future.”

Read the rest of the review here.

 

Quick Hits:

Jim Wallis, author of On God’s Side, spoke with Dan Koh of The Huffington Post on “Religion, Politics And Finding Common Ground.”

The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith was referenced by Jack Heppner.

 

Esther & Daniel Giveaway Winner:

Congratulations to Steven Smith, Doug Iverson, Kelly Hahn, Thomas Irby, and Nick Norelli!

They have each won a copy of Esther & Daniel (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible) by Samuel Wells and George Sumner.

Keep checking back for our next giveaway.

Lectionary Reflection for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 10:38-42:

Luke BTCBIf Luke 10 had ended with the parable of the good Samaritan, we might be justified in thinking that the proper end of the Christian life is generous services to others, exceeding in its abundance what the law alone might be thought to require. This brief pericope, however, balances our perspective in a crucial way.

This is one case where the sometimes artificial thirteenth-century chapter divisions of Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton have it just right: the true disciple of Jesus must surely love and serve his neighbors—even those not normally thought of as neighborsbut the Lord must be loved first and always. Communing with him, being in his presence and taking in his instruction, is accordingly fundamental nourishment for the balanced Christian life.

This episode is recorded only by Luke, and it may be yet another indication that the women who followed Jesus were among his most important informants. If Lightfoot is right in connecting this event to the days immediately preceding in this chapter, then the time of this visit to the house of Mary and Martha is during the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, and Martha is doubtless preparing a festive meal.

Much work in the kitchen would be involved, and we should not be entirely surprised that Martha was miffed that her sister, so far from helping with preparation of the meal to come, was sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to him.

The reflexive parakathestheisa (“she sat herself beside”) indicates that Mary’s gesture—and choice—was deliberate. It was also most unusual: women were not in Judaism permitted to sit at the feet of a rabbi, since discipleship in their context was reserved for men alone. Martha’s accusation, that Mary “has left” her to do all the work by herself, well enough suggests that she hopes that Jesus will send Mary back to the kitchen (10:40).

But Jesus, in a loving double enunciation of Martha’s name, commends and corrects her for being “trouble about many things” (10:41); what Martha is doing by way of service to the Lord is good, but what Mary is doing is actually better: “One thing is needful,” Jesus says, “and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (10:42 KJV).

The “good part” (tēn agathēn merida), the fathers suggest, is a figurative reference to a better meal, as Augustine puts it, the Bread of Life (Sermon 179.5). The point, Augustine says elsewhere (Sermon 108), is not that we should imagine a stern disapprobation of the service of Martha, for that would undercut all that has previously been taught, but rather that Jesus here distinguishes between two kinds of duties incumbent upon the faithful disciple. . . .

. . . Here, as an epilogue to the main narrative thrust of this and the previous chapter, it seems that Luke intends us to perceive a complementarity: while active service of the Lord coupled with love of one’s neighbor is a hallmark of the disciple’s life, none can long practice it rightly without sitting at the feet of the Lord. Another way of putting this would be to say that the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves is subsequent to and dependent upon our loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.

In the spirit of Ps. 119:57-64, drawing near to God and attending, undistracted, to his word is certainly essential to developing that kind of self-effacement: in the apt comment of twelfth-century Cistercian William of St. Thierry, amor ipse intellectus est (“love itself is understanding”).

 

©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Behind the Book: Joseph L. Mangina on Revelation

Today Joseph L. Mangina shares why he wrote Revelation in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series.

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“‘Write What You See in a Book’: How I Came to Write a Commentary on Revelation” by Joseph L. Mangina

I never intended to become a biblical scholar. When I received my doctorate in 1994, I expected to teach and write systematic theology and not engage in “exegesis”; exegesis was what the folks in the biblical department did. And this was at Yale, a supposed bastion of “postcritical” interpretation of Scripture.

Here’s how my plans changed. I was on sabbatical at the Center of Theological Inquiry (CTI) in 2002, facing a blank computer screen and a dearth of ideas. The project I was working on was going nowhere fast. So I dropped into Robert Jenson’s office one day to ask his advice; “Jens” was the chief theological advisor at CTI in those days.

After offering sympathy on the writer’s block, he said, “You keep going on about church practices—tell me a specific church practice you’d like to write about.”

“The Eucharist,” I said, without thinking very much about it. He went on, “Now name a biblical book.” To this day I don’t know why, but I instantly responded, “The book of Revelation.

“All right,” Jens said. “Now all you have to do is write a paper on the Eucharist in Revelation.”

That became the paper I wrote and presented to my CTI colleagues that term. I discovered there was a surprising amount to write about, given the prevalence of liturgical and eucharistic imagery in the Apocalypse. This was fun, I thought. Before my term at CTI was over I had parlayed the paper into a full-fledged proposal for a book, not on simply the Eucharist but on the Church in the Apocalypse. I sent it to Rodney Clapp, who signed me up for a contract with Brazos. The book was to be called Followers of the Lamb, the title of a rousing nineteenth-century Shaker hymn.

But it was not to be. A curious thing happened as I worked on that book. When I approached the topic of the church in Revelation in a purely conceptual way, the material died in my hands; I was using Scripture rather than reading it. It was far more satisfying when I simply sat with the text, reading it—or, appropriately for Revelation, listening to it—chapter by chapter, verse by verse.

Then one day Ephraim Radner dropped by my office and mentioned that Rusty Reno was looking for someone to write on Revelation for the Brazos series. I offered the feeble excuse that “I don’t know how to write a commentary.” This lasted about a day and a half, as the realization sank in that I was already writing the commentary. Then I signed up.

As it turns out, probably none of us who have written Brazos commentaries knew in advance quite what we were doing. Everyone has come up with their own solution to the problem. If the series has done nothing else, it has helped to pose the fundamental questions, what is Holy Scripture, and what does it mean for us to interpret it?

Before sitting down to write, I sought advice and counsel from various quarters. Perhaps the most helpful advice was a passing remark by Telford Work (he probably doesn’t remember saying this). Telford was answering the criticism that theological commentary isn’t real exegesis, since it adds things that aren’t really there in the text of Scripture. His answer, as I recall, was something like, “Of course it’s not in the text. It’s a commentary; it’s what we say in response to what we hear in Scripture.” And this, of course, is true whether one is writing a standard historical-critical commentary—whatever that might be!—or a theological commentary à la Brazos, or for that matter any of the commentaries, sermons, and marginal notes on Scripture throughout the tradition.

I found Telford’s remark liberating. Of course, like all freedom under the gospel, the freedom of the Christian commentator has to take shape as obedience. Even if the words were my words, these were answerable to the Word of God in Holy Scripture. I couldn’t just say anything I like—couldn’t just “make it up,” as the saying goes.

The critics of theological interpretation of Scripture are right that eisegesis, like sin, is always lurking at the door. They are wrong if they imagine that there is a method that will save us by guaranteeing fidelity to was in der Schrift steht (“what stands in Scripture”).

For myself, I was genuinely grateful for the labors of modern Revelation scholars like Henry Swete, Paul Minear, G. B. Caird, Richard Bauckham, Christopher Rowland, Leonard Thompson, David Barr, Eugene Boring, and Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza, along with many others.

I will cheerfully admit to being an absolute junkie for historical information. I was happy to be instructed on the “year of three emperors” (AD 69), the rumors of Nero’s return (Rev. 13:3?), and the location—so archaeologists tell us—of the famously lukewarm church of Laodicea halfway between a hot and a cold spring (Rev. 3:16).

The commentators I gravitated toward, however, were the ones who were able to use this information to explicate the theme or subject matter of Revelation, its urgent message, which is….

But why should I tell you everything in the first blog post? In my next posting, I will talk about some common misconceptions concerning the Apocalypse—“seven things Revelation isn’t”—before going on to discuss some of the things it is.

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Joseph L. Mangina  (PhD, Yale University) is professor of systematic theology at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto. He is the editor of Pro Ecclesia, serves on the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue commission for Canada, and is the author of two books on the thought of Karl Barth.

For more information on Revelation, click here.