Guest post by BJ Stockman
New Testament scholar, Dr. Richard Bauckham, at the end of his book, The Theology of the Book of Revelation lists eleven ways that the book of Revelation is relevant. In light of some of the recent shenanigans about the end of the world, I thought it important to post on how the book of Revelation is relevant in the here-and-now. What follows is my summary of his eleven relevant points and my attempt to make them a bit more brief. (It should be noted that particularly in #10 I add what I think to be some important clarification in light of recent one’s softening the reality of hell and judgment.)
1. It inspires, corrects, reforms, and ignites the Christian imagination. Because John’s Revelation is saturated with God’s transcendence it sparks a counter-cultural imagination that “resists any absolutizing of power or structures or ideals within this world” (159-160).
2. It drips with the truth of God. The plethora of images within the book are not used to deconstruct truth, but to reveal truth. It confronts relativism and consumerism and proclaims that the “church’s witness will be of value only if it knows truth worth dying for” (160).
3. It offers an alternative vision of the world which is God-centered at the very core. This theocentrism does not ignore humanity but “confront[s] oppression, injustice, and inhumanity” (160). A God-centered vision is ultimately for creation–humankind and the world–not against it. “In the end it is only a purified vision of the transcendence of God that can effectively resist the human tendency to idolatry which consists in absolutizing aspects of the world. The worship of the true God is the power of resitance to the deification of military and political power (the beast) and economic prosperity (Babylon)” (160).
4. It offers an “alternative future (the new creation and the New Jerusalem)” (160). God brings his kingdom to earth where righteousness alone will dwell. Man cannot and will not with money or power bring the perfected state for which it longs.
5. It brings perspective “from the victims of history” (161). “This is a standpoint taken in solidarity, rather than necessarily where John and his readers are by social and economic status” (161). Victims, of no matter what sort, matter.
6. It does not offer a theology of withdrawal and escapism from the world, but one “orientated to the coming of God’s kingdom in the whole world and calls Christians to active participation in this coming of the kingdom” (161). Christian worship is not “pietistic retreat from the public world” but “resist[ing] the idolatries of the public world” (161).
7. Its focus on the future (its eschatology) is grounded in the fact that Jesus Christ has already won, “but it cannot have reached its goal until all evil is abolished from God’s world and all the nations are gathered into the Messiah’s kingdom” (162). God’s kingdom has come and is still coming, which means that Christians are to remain “orientated towards God’s world and God’s future for the world” (162).
8. It critiques the church and not just the world. Idolatries of power and prosperity exist in the church as well as the world and must be repented of. The church is called to be a faithful witness to Christ, perpetually repenting of idolatry, and fixated on “the vision of the utterly Holy One, the sovereign Creator, who shares his throne with the slaughtered Lamb” (162-163).
9. It reveals that the church participates in establishing God’s kingdom primarily through verbal proclamation which is to be substantiated by its embodiment of the truth. Seeking power and influence as a means to bring the kingdom must always be in service to the reality that “God’s kingdom is not dependent on power and influence” (163). Christian witness “is consistent loyalty to God’s kingdom”, and “in this powerless witness the power of truth to defeat lies comes into its own” (163).
10. It is universal in the scope of God’s salvation for the world. God is reclaiming and renewing the whole world. Salvation is holistic and cosmic, not just individualistic and personal. This, of course, does not neglect the judgment that Revelation so clearly portrays. In fact, judgment serves salvation in that it eternally banishes wickedness and eternally punishes evildoers whether human or supernatural.
11. It upholds the universe’s greatest realities: the Triune God, the weighty transcendence of God which will at the consummation immanently dwell with the whole creation, the centrality of the glory of God, and sacrificial love seen by the presence of God in the world in the slaughtered Lamb and by the people of God laying their lives down in witness to the truth of God.
The greatest and “most urgent” contemporary need that the book of Revelation meets, according to Bauckham, is that “it can help to inspire the renewal of the doctrine of God” (164). In other words, what is unbelievably relevant to the church is that which the church tends to ignore and treat as irrelevant, namely, the knowledge of God.