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Revelation and mission

Michael Gorman has a good post up on the Book of Revelation and its view of mission. Here’s just part of it:

“Come out” is not a summons to escape, and the spirituality of Revelation is not an escapist spirituality. The withdrawal is not so much a physical exodus as a theopolitical one, an escape from civil religion and the idolatry of power-worship. It is a creative, self-imposed but Spirit-enabled departure from certain values and practices, which may entail, for some, a geographical move as well. (I am thinking here of the New Monasticism and its commitment to moving into places “abandoned by Empire.”) It is the necessary prerequisite to faithful living in the very Babylon from which one has escaped. That is, the church cannot be the church in Babylon until it is the church out of Babylon….

It is important therefore to stress that Revelation does not call for the wholesale rejection of culture and of engagement with the world; it calls for discernment. It is one thing, in other words, to live in an empire or superpower, to live in the shadow of the beast, trying to avoid participating in the evils of idolatry while bearing witness to another empire, the kingdom of God, and thereby working for the good of the world as salt and light. It is quite another to endorse that empire—or any culture—unconditionally, or to sacralize it. Yet that is what many Christians and churches have done; they have baptized their culture and/or country into the name of the triune god of political, economic, and military power, wrongly thinking that this is the power of God.

If this is a taste of what’s to come in Gorman’s forthcoming book Reading Revelation Responsibly (Cascade) we’re in for a solid book.


  1. On the issue of ‘coming out’ is there any conversation on this as some sort of reversal (even if not literal) of Jeremiah’s call to the city. Or is this its repetition in another form? Or is Jeremiah irrelevant here. It is something that has come to my mind from my own recent reading of Rev.

    Thursday, May 20, 2010 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  2. kim fabricius wrote:

    Jeremiah is certainly relevant here, though with John (as you put it, David) as “repetition in another form”. Jeremiah (51:45) was addressing the Jewish exiles, urging them to flee Babylon 1 before the chaos of judgement-invasion. John is addressing the Christian diaspora, urging them to turn, not from Babylon 2, but from their complicity in the sins of Babylon 2, before the catastrophe of judgement-plagues. Michael Gorman is certainly right, contra the conventional apocalyptic mindset, that John calls not for withdrawal but for public witness to the truth, not for retreat but for radical resistance to ideologies of power and wealth. I only hope Gorman’s book is as good as Richard Bauckham’s splendid The Theology of the Book of Revelation (1993).

    Thursday, May 20, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Permalink
  3. Mike W wrote:

    messing with all this is the command of Zechariah 2 to come out of Babylon and avoid her practices. given the post exilic context, this seems to be a call to avoid the rebellion of Babylon against Persia. Which leads toa reading that leaves the Empire and its subversion to YHWH.

    Thursday, May 20, 2010 at 6:57 pm | Permalink
  4. Bacho wrote:

    I have posted few comments on Gorman’s site…Who/What is the modern day Babylon? I would like a bit more direction from him on what that means otherwise “coming out” becomes hard. One needs to know what they are leaving before planning a departure party.
    Note: Eugene Peterson’s small book on Jeremiah called “Run with the Horses” does explore some of these themes as well as his book on Revelation called “Reversed Thunder.”

    Friday, May 21, 2010 at 4:38 am | Permalink
  5. I definitely agree that we are not talking about an ‘escapist’ approach but I wonder to what extent it was necessary to physically ‘come out’ in order to discard the idolatry that was present. I am torn between a position I would like with someone like Rowan Williams who remains present in the conviction that the Gospel must remained engaged in the world in all its complexities and a position in which the system is so corrupt (the smoke is already rising) that simply to be present is to burn. I don’t want to reduce it quite that far and I am very critical of new movements committed to ‘getting it right this time’ but to what extent are believers called to extricate themselves from the web of idolatry.
    I have needed to be careful as I am reading a great deal of Kierkegaard these days and he is adamantly unconcerned about whether or not the external and finite changes but that there is an infinite change within the individual (though he leaves unprescriptive about the lived implications that change may bring). To what extent to do we know about the act of ‘coming out’? To what extent can it be socially articulated?
    At the fall of the great city the merchants wail ‘because no one buys their cargoes any more.’ How do we translate this?

    Friday, May 21, 2010 at 7:40 am | Permalink
  6. I am also starting to be a little haunted by John’s near idolatry (twice!) towards the end of Revelation (19:10; 22:8). To what extent can true worship only come as a gift?

    Friday, May 21, 2010 at 8:02 am | Permalink

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