Monday, December 31, 2012

Two types of justice in film

As many know there is a new version of Les Miserables on film in the theaters. We, in Petersburg, will have to wait a while before we get to see it, but for the rest of you, based on what I’ve read, it sounds like a very worthwhile view.

I thought about writing something on the two types of justice portrayed in this story by Victor Hugo, but then came across one that articulates it better than I probably could have done.

Javert vs. Valjean: the two Christianities of Les Miserables

I include the link here because I think it illustrates what we have been discussing about Revelation and the kinds of justice and judgment that is described in that book.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fall of Babylon, Part 1

Outline: Fall of Babylon, Part 1
Passage: Revelation 18:1-8
Discussion audio (1h31m)

The next section will be discussed as a three part series. We discuss the first part this week. The first part reveals the reasons why Babylon must fall. It is because of her sins, but what exactly are they? Her sins are arrogance, pride, and self-reliance. She claims to have the power to provide security to all who would embrace her ways. She believes nothing can harm her, that she can even prevent negative consequences of her actions from falling upon her.

Throughout her history, the Church has been tempted by the seductions of worldly power and the appearances of security and influence attaching herself to the world can bring. The Church’s record on resisting the temptation has been dubious, at best. Revelation contains a sobering warning to the Church on the results of such a union. It is never the world that is influenced by the Church. It is always the Church that will fall, together with Babylon.

As we continue to work through Revelation, it is vital to keep in mind that John is not really addressing individual relationship to the State or to other worldly centers of power. John’s concern is with the Church as a whole. John’s concern is NOT with whether or not civil and secular authorities are necessary and what powers they can rightfully employ. John’s concern IS whether or not the Church can employ or accommodate the means of the world to gain respectability and approval from the world.

The means of the world ultimately comes down to the use of fear: the granting and withholding of rewards, and the imposing of punishment to control behaviors (punitive justice).

The ways of God are love, grace, and mercy – the way of restorative justice. God does not employ fear to try to change people’s behaviors. He allows natural consequences to follow negative actions, but that is not the same as imposing punishment.

The book of Revelation is a warning for the Church to avoid the former and a call to embrace the latter in her dealings within and without.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Great Prostitute and the Beast

Outline: The Great Prostitute and the Beast
Passage: Revelation 17
Discussion audio (1h18m)

There is God’s way, and then there is every other way. God’s way is love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, nonviolence, and restorative justice. The world’s way includes deceit, manipulation, coercion, force, vengeance, violence, and punitive justice. It too often seems like the world’s way “works” better and obtains results more noticeably and quickly.

The Christians to whom John wrote Revelation must have felt the same way. The Roman Empire was prospering. They could be a part of it too, by just going along and accepting the Roman way.

John’s message to the Christians was this: the way of the world will self-destruct; don’t be a part of it. Resist the temptation to mingle the world’s ways with God’s ways. Be patient. Endure. Keep faithful. Hold on to the assurances and exhortations in this book. God’s restorative justice will win. Evil eventually turns upon itself and destroys itself. Then all will see that God’s way is the only way to life.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Seven Bowls

Outline: Seven Bowls
Passage: Revelation 16
Discussion audio (1h21m)

The variety of interpretations of Revelation 16 may be as numerous as there are Christian denominations. What is found in Revelation is too often used as a fear motivator to bring people into the church, or keep them there. Our study shows the exact opposite: that fear never leads to repentance.

I began the session by reading a post on Provoketive, God in a Fear Factory. Any use of Revelation (or anything, for that matter) to raise fear, and then to capitalize on it to bring a decision is simply, abuse. It is a form of psychological control over another human being. It does not belong in the Christian church, or a believer’s life.

Revelation is a drama describing two entities, each claiming to be the source of power, authority, and deserving of worship. One is genuine; the other, a counterfeit. The genuine can only employ truthful persuasion. The counterfeit can employ whatever it wants: deception, injustice, manipulation, coercion, fear.

The message of Revelation is to the saints; it is not directed to those outside the church. The message of Revelation is for the saints to hang on, to endure, to remain faithful, because God is faithful and he will come through. It is not a message that was given to be used to scare unbelievers into the church.

Revelation describes a spiritual (not military) battle that has taken place, is taking place, and will continue to take place until sin implodes on itself, destroys itself, and all sees evil for what it is. The judgment is the ongoing and final revelation of what is true vs. what is false. Judgment is not some kind of punitive justice imposed upon the unrighteous.

“End of the World” Podcast

A good podcast in which a Baptist and a Presbyterian minister discuss the end of the world and apocalyptic thinking, influenced of course, by the Mayan 21-Dec-2012 thing.

It’s the Bourbon Talking Podcast – The End of the World
”Pull up a bar stool. And listen in. Join Zac and Mark as they take a progressive Christian look at what's happening in politics, spirituality and culture. Cheers!”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why Interpretation Matters

I came across the following post, “Why Are Right Wing Extremists So Anti-Islamic?” It demonstrates how something as esoteric and niche as biblical prophecy can have profound real-life implications to a broad swath of the global populace.

The post describes why so many Christians seem like they are pro-Israel (but not necessarily pro-Jew). They are pro-Israel because their particular interpretation of biblical prophecy demands it. Without the State of Israel Jesus’ return cannot happen. So all effort – political, religious, and economic – must be expended to guarantee that the State of Israel remains until Jesus returns.

One particular brand of Christian theology has infected the entire world.

For the record, anyone following this blog should know that I don’t subscribe to that particular worldview. My interpretation is that:

  • The term “Israel” in prophecy never refers to a literal region or a nation. It refers to God’s people, his servants. It refers to the universal (“catholic” with a little-“c”, if you like) church.
  • Prophecy is not primarily about fore-telling, but forth-telling. Fore-telling is about the future. Forth-telling is about God.
  • Prophecy is not given to provide us with a roadmap for the future. The purpose of prophecy is to assure God’s people that he can be trusted, whatever present circumstances might be.
  • In those rare instances where prophecy appears to be describing something in the future, it is so that we can look back upon the event, after the event, and see God’s hand in it.
  • To use prophecy and try to force a particular unfolding of it is idolatry; i.e., an attempt to control God and his actions.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Seven Angels and Plagues

Outline: Seven Angels and Plagues
Passage: Revelation 15
Discussion audio (1h36m)

Revelation 15 appears like a dramatic interlude (we’ve seen a few of these already). You might imagine a TV series where for the last few episodes the action and tension has been rising more and more. And then suddenly there is a dramatic pause: it’s not that everything stops, but the plot doesn’t really move forward. It is more a character piece than an action one. As the episode enters its final minutes, however, new elements are introduced that raise more questions and increase the tension. This kind of episode doesn’t answer any questions that the audience has, nor does it resolve any of the plot. It’s there for the audience to take a breather and to reflect on what has already transpired. I see Revelation 15 to serve a similar function.

The outline is quite short, but the discussion audio is rather long. There are two reasons for this:

  1. I found the readings for the first Sunday of Advent to bear some relevance to the whole idea of “Revelation” and the anticipation of the coming of Christ to right the wrongs of the world. I read the lectionary readings, and I also read a piece I found on the web – Pregnant Waiting: Reflections on Advent.
  2. I read nearly all of Isaiah 63-66. The images and languages found in Isaiah are found repeatedly in the last half of Revelation, and I thought it best for us to understand the context that John borrows to convey his message to his audience.