A few months ago I watched a VICE on HBO show that dealt with the issue of American Evangelicals and their perceived obsession with Israel. They asked this question: what do Evangelicals believe needs to happen for end times to begin? The program followed a group led by self-proclaimed Revelation expert Irvin Baxter visiting Israel and Palestine. It was an interesting look at how one faction of evangelicals interpret a certain set of Scripture. Here's a bit of Baxter and his teaching for those curious:
The program troubled me for two reasons. First, I find the opinions that Baxter espousing to be in error. Serious error, in fact. Very soon we will get yet another Left Behind film that will support and encourage much of this same thought. Many are fascinated [if not obsessed] with this type of reading of Revelation. But, is this the best reading of the text?
Secondly, I know many evangelicals that don't support such ideas/theology. VICE painted this issue with broader strokes than are necessary. As a matter of fact, the church throughout much of our history hasn't supported this theology. Not all Evangelicals read Revelation in a similar way. What about them? Maybe those who don't read it similarly haven't taught on it enough or presented a case for alternative understanding.
After watching the program, I started talking to some friends [including the staff at State Street] about what I had watched and many, much to my surprise, had [at one point] bought into these ideas. Some even joked about how they would be terrified going into a room without any people in it wondering if their loved ones had been raptured. A few mentioned about how much fear was instilled in them because of the effects of this theology. Interestingly, most [if not everyone of them] couldn't tell you about why the early church didn't support such theology or the evolution and development of rapture theology, but they knew that many of their teachers scolded those who didn't support an identical reading of Revelation. It was [and is] an essential doctrine in many Christian movements [someone please alert those in Nicea!] So, I think it's time to deal with this giant literarily-complex, theologically-rich apocalyptic elephant in the room at State Street. The goal is not to do this series in a combative, reactionary way [though much of it was birthed from a reaction], but in a way that hopefully illuminates and brings hope to our understanding of the narrative.
My objectives for this series:
- To preach what I believe to be a proper and responsible reading of Revelation. You may not agree with such a reading, but at least you'll be familiar with other possible interpretations. Ultimately, it's fine to agree-to-disagree but it's best to fully know and understand the basis of the disagreements.
- To open up a counter-narrative interpretation of the text that combats a more modernist, dispensational reading with an understanding of the text that is, ultimately, more congruent with how the church throughout history has taught Revelation and fits better within the scope of the biblical narrative. We'll be looking at literary style, genre, functions of apocalyptic literature, etc. To make my former professors content, we'll employ a Wesleyan hermeneutic to Revelation: prima scriptura, tradition/church history, intellect, and guidance by the Holy Spirit.
- To be encouraged and made hopeful by how Christ is bringing the world back to rights [to steal a N.T. Wright-ism]. This is our peculiar Christian hope.
I hope you can join us.