Skip to content

A Brief Apocalyptic Glossary

Some time ago, Dave Belcher posted a very helpful glossary on theology and apocalyptic. Given that La Perruque, sadly, is no longer active, and that Dave has retired from the blogosphere, he has kindly allowed me to repost it here for easier access. Thanks to Dave for this helpful post!

In the “Introduction” to his Christ, History, and Apocalyptic: The Politics of Christian Mission, Theopolitical Visions (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2009), Nate Kerr notes that the term “apocalyptic has enjoyed not only a wide but diverse re-emergence in the theological disciplines over the past half-century, but in the humanities more broadly as well, especially within the disciplines of sociology, political theory, history, and philosophy” (11).  He then goes on to say, however, that what is lacking in this re-emergence — and what his book specifically seeks to address — is an account of “the difference that Christian apocalyptic makes for how we see and live in history today” (12).  As a sketch of what will follow, Nate then moves on to offer five themes that orient how he uses “apocalyptic” in his own study — let me just list those briefly:

1. Christian apocalyptic stresses the otherness and the priority of God’s action (12).

2.Christian apocalyptic has its ‘centre of gravity’ in the history of Jesus Christ (13).

3. Christian apocalyptic is cosmic and historical in scope (13).

4. Christian apocalyptic is constitutive of the meaning and shape of Christ’s lordship (14).

5. Christian apocalyptic is doxological and missionary (15).

If you haven’t yet read Nate’s book, at least go check out the Introduction, where he gives a brief summary of each theme, but this thematics is really fleshed out in the whole book.  One thing you’ll notice there is that Nate relies on the work of J. Louis Martyn for certain formulations — Martyn appears in footnotes to themes 1 and 5; and, as I have been closely attuned to the work of Martyn lately, I began to reflect on the juxtaposition of Nate’s thematics with Martyn’s understanding of Christian apocalyptic as he frames it in his commentary on Galatians.  Again, just as with Nate’s book, to get the full meat of this you really need to go read all of Martyn’s commentary — and I’m serious, it’s superb in a way you cannot even imagine.  Because Martyn’s work equally lends to an understanding of Christian apocalyptic amidst this (re-)emergence of apocalyptic in the other disciplines of the arts, let me also list the pertinent entries for Martyn’s understanding of apocalyptic from the “glossary” located at the end of his mindblowingly amazing commentary on Paul’s epistle to the Galatians (the kind of mindblowingly amazing that is able to cut straight through the obfuscation with a simplicity, clarity, and depth that are of the most penetrating sort).:

[The first five definitions set up a kind of counter-apocalyptic vision, a false gospel even, to which apocalyptic is cast as not only contrast but the truth of reality -- and as I have repeated here before, apocalyptic is first and foremost about the business of God's disclosure of the truth of reality]

Counter-apocalyptic vision:

forensic apocalyptic eschatology: a specific understanding of what is wrong, and a view of the future: Things have gone wrong because human beings have willfully rejected God, thereby bringing about death and the corruption and perversion of the world.  Given this self-caused plight, God has graciously provided the cursing and blessing Law as the remedy, thus placing before human beings the Two Ways, the way of death and the way of life.  Human beings are individually accountable before the bar of the Judge.  But, by one’s own decision, one can accept God’s Law, repent of one’s sins, receive nomistic forgiveness, and be assured of eternal life.  For at the last judgment, the deserved sentence of death will be reversed for those who choose the path of Law observance, whereas that sentence will be permanently confirmed for those who do not.  This kind of apocalyptic eschatology — focused on the religious doctrine of the Two Ways — is fundamental to the Teachers’ message.

Two Ways: Various strands of Jewish and Jewish-Christian thought in the first century preserved and interpreted the ancient portrait of God’s placing before Israel “the Way of life and the Way of death.”  To obey God’s commandments is to live; to disobey them is to die…Within this frame of reference, the Teachers used the terms “blessing” and “curse” to name the two actions of God they considered to be dependent on the path chosen by the Gentiles to whom they brought their message

nomistic: legal in the sense of being derived from the Law of Sinai

religion: the various communal, cultic means — always involving the distinction of sacred from profane — by which human beings seek to know and to be happily related to the gods or God.  Religion is thus a human enterprise that Paul sharply distinguishes from God’s apocalyptic act in Christ.

the Teachers: the Christian-Jewish evangelists who came into Paul’s Galatian churches after his departure.

Christian apocalyptic vision:

cosmological apocalyptic eschatology: a specific understanding of what is wrong, and a view of the future: Anti-God powers have managed to commence their own rule over the world, leading human beings into idolatry and thus into slavery, producing a wrong situation that was not intended by God and that will not be long tolerated by him.  For in his own time, God will inaugurate a victorious and liberating apocalyptic war against these evil powers, delivering his elect from their grasp and thus making right that which has gone wrong because of the powers’ malignant machinations.  This kind of apocalyptic eschatology is fundamental to Paul’s Galatians letter.

– J. Louis Martyn, Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible, 33A (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 587-88.

In my mind, juxtaposing Martyn’s definitions with Nate’s thematics (while not collapsing them — there are differences that need to be drawn out) can provide a helpful orientation for a theological vision of apocalyptic thought, a vision which is ultimately God’s vision, as I tried to suggest in my commentaries on Apocalypse, and a vision to which I have attempted to submit my own work and thought lately.  Ultimately, engaging with Martyn’s and Nate’s work has disclosed for me the rather difficult truth that theology can be done only in a mode of doxology, which is never to be separated from mutual service to others in and through the community of faith.  Apocalyptic theology, then, operates in a mode of lived prayer.

5 Comments

  1. Dave Belcher wrote:

    Just for clarity’s sake:

    As Halden mentioned, I am indeed “retired” from the blogosphere — perhaps it is better to say that I have abandoned the blogosphere, not unlike jumping ship…so this will be my only comment on this thread.

    I just wanted to note here that I am merely calling for some interested soul to do the work of actually placing Nate’s and Martyn’s work in conversation on their respective understandings of apocalyptic — I think that would be a fruitful exercise. Which is also to say: I am not staking a position here so please do not attribute any such position to me…I’d appreciate that. Any who wish to converse with me over this post may do so by email — Halden will point you along to me. Peace.

    Saturday, May 22, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink
  2. dan wrote:

    Thanks, Halden, this is helpful. I’m currently writing two chapters on apocalyptic eschatology, Paul’s understanding thereof, and the ways in which Paul’s perspective cuts the roots out from underneath imperial variations of eschatology, which tend to be over-realized (both in the Roman ideology that dominated Paul’s world and in the ideology of contemporary capitalism that dominates ours).

    I’ve twice ordered Kerr’s book online and twice been ripped-off. I even tried to order it from the bookstore at my university and the order got lost. However, your regular postings on this topic have made it clear to me that I really need to keep pursuing this text… dangnabbit.

    Sunday, May 23, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Permalink
  3. Nate Kerr wrote:

    Halden:

    Can you make sure Dan gets a copy of this book?! Tell Cascade to put it on my bill or something. I already owe them money anyway!

    Sunday, May 23, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Permalink
  4. Nate Kerr wrote:

    But, seriously, Dan. Email me and we’ll find a way to get the book to you without you getting ripped off. nathan.r.kerr@gmail.com

    Sunday, May 23, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Permalink
  5. dan wrote:

    Thanks, Nate! I’ve sent you an email.

    Sunday, May 23, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

Switch to our mobile site