Thursday, August 10, 2006

Revelation & Rapture Reading

If you are interested in doing some further reading on the topic of 'Second Coming' I would like to recommend two books. First, Barbara R. Rossings, The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. In this book Rossing does a number of things. First and foremost she debunks the entire 'Rapture' theory, showing that it simply does not exist in the Bible. It is never mentioned in Revelation (the best proponents can do is say that it is suggested) and the passage in Thessalonians that proponents quote is misinterpreted. Rossing goes on to offer a very thoughtful criticism of the 'Left Behind' series. Her main proposal is that the series glorifies violence and destruction of humanity and of all creation, which according to her interpretation of Revelation goes against all that Revelation is really about. Finally Rossing goes on to explain her interpretation of Revelation, one that does offer hope. Rossing obviously reads Revelation not only in the Apocalyptic genre, which it of course is a part of, but Rossing also sees a great deal of Covenental theology in Revelation. Throughout the prophets God is described as acting to re-establish a covenant with the people who broke it. Rossing correctly read Revelation as a whole instead of in disjointed bits and pieces which so many popular televangelists do (Jack van Impe and the like). Most important for this reading, Rossing begins with the ending. At the end of Revelation we are given images of the new Heaven and the new Earth. We here the words that are often recited at funerals Rev 21:4, There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." NIV Rossing suggests that we read all that precedes these passages in the light of the end result. This is a story of God restoring relationship, not destroying relationship. Her scholarship is excellent and her writing engaging.

Another book I would like to recommend is Eugene Peterson's 'Reversed Thunder'. Peterson's work is a beautifully written commentary on the book of Revelation, the very best I have ever read when it comes to explaining Revelation to the lay person. Peterson does not read Revelation as a prophecy text book like so many popular TV preachers. He reads it as poetry, a theory is explains in the book. Unlike Rossing, Peterson is not trying to debunk anything, he is simply trying to explain Revelation to the everday person. So he talks about Christ and the Church and Heaven. But he does not shy away from what makes Revelation most challenging, which isn't discerning who the anti-christ is. He talks about what Revelation says about politics and economics. Peterson is a fine scholar, an artistic writer and probably the best translator of the Bible that I have ever read.

I recommend both of the these books because they explain the purpose of Revelation in a day and time in which Revelation is more misunderstood and misapplied than ever. Both authors acknowledge that Revelation is meant to challenge the disciple to greater faithfulness, but deny the fear that so many find in it. They explain how Revelation helps us to find the word of truth in today's world, but deny that it's purpose to tell the future.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

End of the world; further thoughts

Monday Mark 13:26-27
"At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens
To fully understand Mark's rendering of the second coming you must read chapter 13 in its entirety. If you read this chapter closely you will see that all the preachers on TV for the past couple of weeks citing the violence between Israel and Hezbullah as evidence of the second coming are completely undermined. War, natural disaster, persecution of believers... the things which so many interpret as signs of Christ's return... do not mean that Jesus is returning, (see v. 7 'the end is still to come.) Mark is sure that Christ will return, and equally sure that his return will bring a whole new heaven and earth into existence (which is the symbolic meaning of the destructive imagery in vv. 24-25) But apart from Christ's return all that Mark is sure of is the believer's posture. We are to be waiting expectantly. In v. 32 Jesus exhorts us to be alert. In other word's time spent reading tea leaves, checking the stars and reading the bible for secret codes is time wasted. But how should our time be spent?

Matt 25:34-36
'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me...
What is the expectant and alert believer to do while waiting for the second coming of Christ? This section of Matt 25 tells us. If you read the beginning of the parable (VV. 31-33) this ethical imperative is placed in the context of the second coming. When Jesus returns to judge the just and unjust, Jesus will look at their ethics; how did they treat the poor and the sick, the abused and the imprisoned.
Matt and Mark together give a good hint at what it is the Christian is meant to believe about this second coming. While so much 'Second Coming' talk in popular American Christianity abandons this world and banishes it to destruction, and completely ignores the poor and impoverished, only focusing on personal piety, Matt and Mark show us what Second Coming is all about. Mark makes plain the notion that Christ's return is not about the sweet by and by, some magical realm 'beyond the sunset.' Jesus is returning to recreate this world. Jesus is not abandoning creation, but re-making it, so there must be something of value about this world. Matt shows us how to wait expectantly. By working to re-make this world here and now by serving, helping, caring, and giving, we are waiting expectantly. The second coming is all about finally making the world a place of comfort, compassion and peace, a world Christ will bring as we live these values while waiting.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Just War II

As I said in my first 'Just War' blog, I reserve the right to re-think. Given two weeks or so to consider my thoughts on the violence between Israel and Hezbollah I think I have missed a major point. I am still concerned with the response by Israel, but I did not give enough credence to the point that this is a response. I am still concerned about the loss of innocent life due to Israeli bombing strategy, but it is important to note that Hezbollah strategy is primarily attack of innocents, and while Israel's bombing may be stepping into a gray area in just war theory, the outright attack of innocents by Hezbollah is stepping over a clearly marked line. Not only that but engaging in violence for the purpose of destroying another sovereign nation does not keep with just war theory. I am slightly embarrassed that these points did not occur to me sooner.
As I have stated in other blocs, that which is central to my Christian faith, the crucifixion leads me to pacifism. But how can one defend pacifism absolutely given the history of the nation of Israel, especially WWII. Who am I to say that pacifism is the answer? It certainly would not have been the answer for Jews at that time. And although the crucifixion is the central lens through which I interpret the rest of the Bible, there is certainly plenty of material (esp. In the OT) in which Israel needed to defend itself from attack.
So I suppose that I am drawing a very thin line of thought. I do think that one point of the crucifixion was to draw attention to the evil and futility of violence as a social method, a call by God for a cessation in violence in humanity. But there are times practically when one's life, family, nation must be defended.
still violence must be always be a necessary evil. It mustn't be glorified, as it seems to be among radical religious groups. It may be the best we can do but it is certainly not the ideal and not what God ever wants or plans. And so the invocation of God in these conflicts by any side is inappropriate. Prayers for peace, yes, but claiming God on any side in armed conflict is wrong. God is always on the side of the innocent, the abused and the oppressed. Therefore God is not on the side of the U.S., Lebanon, Hezbollah or Israel. God is on the side of any and all who loose their lives as 'collateral.' But that seems cold comfort.

Intelligent Design and Las Vegas

Also creating some static both on the media air-waves and on Christian blog sites is the debate about intelligent design. The state of Kansas for instance is embroiled in a debate about teaching evolution in public schools. Recently they voted to add Intelligent Design to the school curriculum. I have studied some intelligent design although I do not propose to be an expert. My reading of Dembski's work with intelligent design is that he is attempting to address certain failings in traditional evolutionary theory. In my reading Dembski is not a creationist. I have never read any of his work that espoused the idea that the universe was created in six literal days, that called into question the fossil record, or any of the other creationist arguments against evolutionary theory. I still remain a bit puzzled as to why the evangelical church is so excited by dembski since he does not appear to be a biblical literalist. I am also puzzled by scientists who seem so bothered by the idea of intelligent design since I do not find Dembski's work to be a rejection of evolutionary theory, but a reworking of legitimate issues.

In a recent radio program (that I cannot now recall the name of) a doctor was asked about his view of the creation v. Evolution debate in Georgia. His response was that Intelligent Design needed to be included in school curriculum because if God is taken completely out of society, we will have nothing but chaos. Now this is an interesting argument. He does not support Intelligent Design on the merits of its own arguments, but instead as a symbol of national piety. God will bless us with peace if we utter God's name in school. That is what I heard. I was reminded of Isaiah chapter 1 where God rejects the prayers (God-talk) of the people because the words are not backed up by actions. It seems to me that all this God-talk that the evangelical church is involved in with Intelligent Design is equally empty. Why would God care that God is mentioned in science class, (or a school prayer) when the actions of the people (greed, violence, racism) do not reflect God's way of being or acting in this world.
For instance, take recent legislation in Las Vegas that makes it illegal to feed the hungry homeless. Apparently local leaders feel that feeding the hungry causes the homeless to congregate in public areas, like parks. This is not good for tourism. People might have to deal with the moral qualms of wasting thousands of dollars in casinos while people go hungry across the street. Not only do we live in a culture that is so enamored of pleasure at any cost to the point where we waste millions of dollars in casinos, in strip clubs, and on cars, boats, homes, that we really do not need; we create legislation that punishes the poorest of the poor so that we can continue to waste millions of dollars 'for fun.'
Matt 19:21-24; Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
Personally I do hope that God is assuaged by something as pointless and empty as a mention is Science class. That is a lot easier to fight for than to engage in the painful personal battle of spending less, giving more, and getting close to the sick, hungry, mentally ill and homeless. And it is a lot easier to rail against the godless atheistic evolutionists than to rail against $500,000 dollar homes, $65,000 SUVs, and all the other expensive stuff that keeps us happy.

Its the end of the World

This past Sunday's sermon was a response to all of the second coming noise on the TV news since the violence between Israel and Hezbollah erupted. It seems everyone from Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, to Paula Zaun have been courting the 'Left Behind' demographic which caused me to look again at the second coming, something I rarely preach on.
Popular Christian 'Second Coming' talk is troubling and dangerous for a variety of reason, most notably the violence that is assumed. Pat Robertson actually stated on his program that Iran, Syria, etc. Would be destroyed by God and that God would glorify himself. This notion that God is glorified by destruction is perverse and dangerous. How far removed from glorifying ourselves with destruction if the primary image of God's glory is destruction.
Having said that I am troubled by the destructive rhetoric of popular second coming talk, how does one deal with all of the destructive imagery in Revelation? First, sociologically, I think it is helpful to remember that much of early Christianity lived in a Roman culture in which they were not respected as a religious group, many (although not all) had lived under Roman oppression, and if the work of William Herzog is accurate, many were living in poverty because of this oppression. It is open to debate as to whether Christians at this time were attacked by the government, but many converted Jews would have lived through the destruction of the temple. In short, I can understand the violent imagery in Revelation as a longing for justice. I do not understand the plagues, fire, and blood of Revelation to be the revealing of God actual plan for remaking a new heaven and earth. I do think that the early Christians believed that a new heaven and earth were a part of God's plan and because of their own social location, they chose battle as the over-arching metaphor.
What seals my own non-violent interpretation of revelation is the crucifixion. On the Cross God began the redemption of creation. 1 Cor 15:20-22 'But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.' In the Christ event both justice and mercy were shown and the beginning of a new world was revealed. And in that event Jesus rejected violence 'put away your swords.' Viewing the second coming through the event of the cross suggests to me that God's way of recreating will not involve wanton destruction. WE may cause wanton destruction and from that God may rebuild, but I do not believe that destruction is God's way of working in the world.
Is this the time? who knows? Jesus said 'no one knows,' but televangelists who LOVE to quote scripture always seem to forget that one. In Matt chapter 25 Jesus instructs the disciples that what is important about the second coming is not to spend (waste) time looking for it, but instead to use our time to live into that second coming. If Jesus return means justice, peace and plenty for all humanity, we should spend our time seeking justice, making peace and providing plenty.