The Revelation: Approach to Interpretation

lion-dove-lamb-yeshuaGorman suggests that we read the Revelation through a combination of three schools of thought.

This pastoral-prophetic approach is bound to be closely related to the [poetic and political]. If we read Revelation poetically, concluding that Babylon is not merely Rome, as the preterists might, and is definitely not some future reconfiguration of the Roman Empire in modern Europe, as some futurists would say, then its seductive and oppressive power can be felt—and must be both named and resisted—in the political realities of our own day. These … three approaches are similar to one another in that they both go beyond mere correspondence to more timeless concerns about God, evil, empire, civil religion, and the like, responding to new situations.

Without ignoring the past or the future (in a general sense), the focus of this book is on Revelation as a word to the church in the present. We will therefore combine the (theo-)poetic, the (theo-)political, and the pastoral-prophetic approaches. We will do so by grounding our contemporary interpretation of Revelation in its message for the first-century church, looking for contemporary analogies to first-century realities … , while always keeping an eye on the promises for the future of God’s creation contained especially in Revelation 21–22. Unlike many traditional commentaries on Revelation, the focus of this book is on the big picture, not the details.

Gorman, Michael J. (2011-01-01). Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Kindle Locations 1783-1792). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Gorman argues for a blending of these points of view: poetic, political, and pastoral-prophetic; and it’s hard to deny the poetic, political, pastoral, and prophetic aspects of the book. Moreover, it really is hard to take seriously those who see the formation of the European Union in the Revelation or who find in chapters 21 and 22 “heaven on earth” in the destruction of Jerusalem — which killed millions of Jews and left many tens of thousands of Christians homeless and seeking refuge. So Gorman has a point.

Therefore, Gorman is no fan of the “Left Behind” series. Neither am I. In particular —

  1. The series misunderstands the NT references to the “end times.” For the NT, the “end times” is the period between the first and second coming of Jesus.
  2. It reduces the gospel to “God and Jesus and the Rapture and the Glorious Appearing,” amounting to an unhealthy preoccupation with the details about events surrounding Christ’s second coming.
  3. It reduces the primary reason for conversion to fear.
  4. It reduces discipleship to (a) faith in Jesus’ death in order to avoid being left behind or destroyed; (b) evangelizing others so they won’t be left behind or destroyed; (c) correlating “Bible prophecy” with current events; and (d) preparing to die or kill for the gospel/kingdom.
  5. It is escapist and therefore has no ongoing ethic of life between the times, between the first and second comings. There is no compulsion to love one’s neighbor, practice deeds of mercy, work for peace and justice, etc. Contrast the hope of imminent return and the ethic in 1 Thessalonians, which actually has an ethic for life in the hope of the second coming.
  6. It is inherently militaristic. Anything resembling pacifism, international cooperation, or disarmament is satanic, and believers are called to participate in a literal war that is guaranteed victory by the return of a conquering Jesus. Christian heroes join this Jesus, carrying and using Uzis and the like.
  7. It is inherently anti-Catholic. The only good, saved Catholics are those who are basically Protestant.
  8. It fails to see the church as a peaceful alternative to empire rather than its chaplain or its warmaking opponent.

Political Problems with the “Left Behind” Approach

  1. It is uncritically pro-American.
  2. It privileges the modern state of Israel in an uncritical way.
  3. It is suspicious of anything to do with the work of the United Nations or international organizations.
  4. It sees wars in the Middle East as part of God’s plan, in effect, therefore, as desiderata [something to be desired] or a good.
  5. It inculcates a survivalist and crusader mentality into the minds of its readers.

Overall assessment: This is a thoroughly misguided approach to the Bible, theology, and the Christian life.

(Kindle Locations 1834-1858).

That’s pretty stout criticism, and I think richly deserved. I’m no enemy of the state of Israel, and I have great sympathy for its plight. But I don’t believe it’s established in fulfillment of prophecy found in Revelation, nor do I believe its leaders are above criticism.

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  1. Revelation appears to me to express what I understood that it did for those early Christians, Hope and victory in the future regardless of the present state of our existence or what we could envision the future to behold for us in this world. It could not have been a game plan for those early Christians, and it cannot be that for us either.

  2. Good insight on “Left Behind” — I just don’t want to be “left out” 🙂 Is there any room for a partial preterist amillenialist in these discussions? Looking forward to them

  3. Dwayne wrote,

    the “Left Behind” series. Who cares about that series of books?

    I care little at all, but it’s an issue that many readers are very interested in. You’ll be pleased to know that we’ll soon be leaving Left Behind behind.