Saturday, 28 April 2012

Approaches to the Book of the Revelation

Have recently started meandering through a sermon series on Revelation that is 204 sermons long.  At current rate, I will finish the last sermon about three tears (tears? I mean years!) from now.  One of the introductory sermons was on different (European) approaches to the book. Here follows a brief summary:

1. Thematic
Sees Revelation as a handbook of interweaving symbols (like music) that the church should interpret in order to give her principles for living in the in between time of Christ's two great appearings. e.g. persecution, martyrdom, deliverance, victory, vindication etc.

2. Historic
Sees Revelation as a roadmap of history and tries to lay the events of the book over particular historical events. This interpretation was overwhelmingly popular with the Reformation movement (although apparently Calvin did not hold this view). For example, many tied the fall of papal domination in Europe with the defeat of the beast etc. and said that protestant expansion over the face of the earth was the beginning of the "Millenium."

3. Preterist
Sees Revelation as a book of near prophecy that tells of the imminent transition from Old Creation to New Creation. In other words, it foretells the destruction of Jerusalem and later Rome and in so doing, heralds the final dismantling of the Old Covenant.

Political Israel, who had been set apart and above the nations in order to shine to them and serve them would be no more. God would weave together a new people made up of Jew and non Jew alike, and lead them out to conquer this brave new world.

4. Futurist
Sees all the events of Revelation as happening just before the great second coming of Christ and therefore make it irrelevant to the rest of us who live in the intervening period between the first and second coming.
I find myself lining more and more with a gentle Preterist reading of Revelation - not that other interpretations don't have anything to say, but it seems clearer and clearer to me that:
  1. The Bible is a supernatural book - but one that is firmly grounded in human history. To say Revelation is all about principles only, feels too wooly.
  2. Some of the other views are (albeit unintentionally) racist and assume that God is only interested in the civilizations of white Western Europe and North America and that He has no interest in raising up (parts of) Africa, Asia or Latin America as a new powerhouse of Gospel expansion and 
  3. I see all kinds of connections between the events of AD30 -70 when God took his people out from under the oppression of the Jews and the Judaisers, and thousands of years before when God took his people out from under the oppressive hand of the Egyptians and made them a light to the whole world. 
We'll see how we go from here! :-)


Mark Amos said...

I think i'm with you on mild preterism. Helpful summary

Dove of Creation said...

Hi Richard,

Very brief summary but I like it! I too have been led more and more into preterism through reading JBJ and Leithart. I started out as a kind of thematic/idealistic reader of Revelation, but began to realise that it didn't make sense of many of the particularities of the book (or of any of the other prophecies in the bible).

What do you mean by "mild" preterist?

Richard Walker said...

I insert "mild" for 3 reasons.

1. I am not a "hyper" or "full" preterist and don't want to be thought of as such.
2. I think the other positions have something to contribute to the discussion, especially the thematic one.
3. Many of the readers of this blog, including me up until recently, have never heard of preterism as a possible grid of interpretation and when you start advocating something that Christians (especially Evangelicals) have never heard of they get suspicious, because, being God's "favourites," we find it hard to believe we could have missed it / not known about it.

Dove of Creation said...

Thanks for the clarification!

I would say that hyperpreterism is not really preterism at all, since preterism is an orthodox view (as are the other 3 you mentioned). I certainly agree with the second point, in fact I started out as a 'thematic' (or idealist) and eventually discovered that preterism of the James Jordan variety was more thematically musical than most of what passed as idealism.

Having said that, I appreciate that you want to send out the right impression to other evangelicals. Have a look at my new blog if you fancy it:

Richard Walker said...

Where did you come across the leithart / Jordan / bull posse?

Dove of Creation said...

Dave Bish was my staff worker at uni and his blog was the first I ever started reading. Through him I discovered Glen Scrivener's blog, through his blogroll I stumbled across Leithart's blog and the rest is history. I now own 6 books by Leithart and 3 by JBJ. Funny thing, the internet.

I'm opening a real can of worms here, but I feel I have to ask... don't you find that preterism grates with your charismatic views?

Richard Walker said...

On the contrary, I find their cessationist approach refreshing in as much as it forces me to think through why I believe what I do and as they work the text harder and get more insight, i realise that i am often quite superficial in my reading of the Bible.

So no, it doesn't grate, in fact, I think I am more convinced that life in the Spirit is an incredible gift, but I do so from a more mature position. There is a LOT of guff and fluff in the charismatic movement, but until faith gives way to sight, there will still be a place for the gifts.

Dove of Creation said...

Well, it's just that once you've conceded that Revelation is generally preteristic in focus (up until the thousand years, which is now), the book of Acts begins to make much more sense read preteristically. This in turn affects how you read 1 Corinthians and hey presto, you're a cessationist! How have you managed to break the chain?

For me, realising that tongues was for the purpose of judging Israel and that NT prophecy had stronger links with OT prophecy than I had realised before naturally led me towards a more cessationistic view. For consistency's sake, I have to interpret 1 Corinthians with Acts in the background, because Acts is the history of how this tongues/prophecy thing became relevant to the Church.

Richard Walker said...

Having heard Jordan and read your recent post on apologetic starting points I don't think there can be such a thing as strong philosophical cessationism, although I agree that the context of Acts and 1 Cor means you can't just slap the signs and wonders ministry in Acts onto the 21 century church. Tongues was a sign to the Jews, but it was also a gift to the Gentiles.

If miracles are seen less today, it's more - in my opinion due to verses like Lk4:24ff than any theological grid of interpretation.

Dove of Creation said...

Well I hope we can all agree that strong philosophical cessationism is just plain silly. When the Church crosses a new frontier, signs and miracles tend to follow. I think what I am getting at is: in Acts the tongues are always real human languages, since they are in Acts 2 and all of the other instances of tongues use similar phraseology to describe the incident. The prophecy in Acts is infallible prophecy, Agabus's style being very much like that of the Old Testament prophets.

However, if I were to read 1 Corinthians in isolation, I probably wouldn't see the gifts it refers to as ceasing any time soon. They aren't "just settling in gifts", they are described as if they are crucial to the life of the Church. I am still not sure how to deal with this apparent inconsistency.

Richard Walker said...

I agree. :-)