What Africa Can Teach the North
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What Afr ica Can Teach the N or th Volume 20, Issue 2
T h e Co ntents o f o ur TA B LE
Scholars, please. No kissing in the library.
Ca ve of A dul l am
W hat Afr i ca Can Teach the N or th /
The F at i s the L or d’s /
Walled Ci ty
Peter Leithart offers Africa as the antidote to modernism (and reads several books).
Douglas Wilson blasphemes food fads.
Peter J. Leithart Forty thousand bodies flowed down the Kagera River into Uganda’s Lake Victoria. Hutu boys and men who had grown up playing soccer with their Tutsi neighbors turned on them.
Douglas Wilson It is not surprising that since eating is so important to man’s identity as God’s image bearer, God set the test before us in the form of food.
Husbandr y Childer Presbyterion Femina
Nathan Wilson feeds a snake.
Setting Priorities / Douglas Wilson Competence and Dogmatism / Douglas Wilson Are All Illnesses the Real Deal? / Douglas Wilson Respect Revisited / Nancy Wilson
Readi ng N otes fr om L ei thar t Wor l d /
J ack /
O ld Ear th /
Exor cizing Empir e:
Ben Merkle gets to pish-poshing an elderly earth.
Douglas Jones casts out imperial demons.
Peter J. Leithart Cilia, flagella, and other cellular structures are inexplicable in a Darwinian system, “far past the edge of evolution.”
Nathan D. Wilson Jack might have a mental problem (or a theological one). Or he might just be constipated from his dehydration spell.
The Ben Merkle Clearly, a chronology structured around the highly symbolic number “ten” (suspiciously preceding the giving of the Ten Commandments) should cause us to immediately realize that this text is not about “history.”
A Reading of John’s Apocal ypse
Douglas Jones You have become weary in doing well, weary in resisting a suffocating idolatry. You are cut off. Some have slid from faith.
“Things to be believed”
CAVE OF ADULL AM
A Season in Revi ew Optimism against all odds
A new church is being established in Frogtown, Kansas. It is, to use the words of the pastor, “the only church in the world dedicated to the Mustang car and Jesus Christ.” Yes, it is the “Mustang Church of America and Museum.” A painting (8 feet by 10) has been commissioned to hang behind the pulpit, showing Jesus Christ behind the wheel of a 1966 Mustang. Inside the sanctuary eight Mustangs are parked along the walls, angled toward the altar, showing us what is truly important in this vale of tears, with tables and chairs arranged in the center. If, upon hearing this report, you are not yet proud to be an American, the pastor hopes to hold Mustang blessings a couple times a year.
The ButtKicker® is an audio dealybob that enables musicians on stage to hear themselves sing, or yell, and lots of the top touring groups use it—and good for them, we say. Los Lonely Boys, Shania Twain, and The Rolling Stones are all customers. But if you go to their web site, you can also find a page dedicated to worship leaders, and this blurb graces that page: “The ButtKicker is the single greatest invention for audio applications for today’s modern worship—period.” Wish we could agree, but back in the day audio applications in worship happened a little differently. The preachers were the buttkickers. But that appears to be illegal now.
An elderly gentleman in Illinois was attacked by a homeless man while exiting a grocery store. The weapon was a box of Moon Pies, which the police appropriately confiscated.
A report in April prepared by an ethics committee for the Swiss government has determined that plants have “inherent worth” and that human beings have no right to wield “absolute ownership” over aforementioned plants. Cases must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Arbitrarily pick4
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ing a wildflower would be unethical, while a farmer mowing his field would be okay. We are glad that’s settled.
P.J. O’Rourke sums things up nicely: “The college idealists who fill the ranks of the environmental movement seem willing to do absolutely anything to save the biosphere, except take science courses and learn something about it.”
The Spectator in the UK reports that the Universities and Colleges Union is discussing whether or not Israeli and Jewish scholars should be singled out, prior to employment in British academia, in order to have their politics properly vetted. They would be required to discuss what they think about the Israeli “occupation” as they are being interviewed for their job. You can always count on some Europeans, somehow and somewhere, to do the Jew thing every forty years or so. We are right on schedule.
Dunkin’ Donuts pulled an ad for iced coffee off the air, said ad featuring one Rachael Ray, the celebrity chef. Controversy arose after conservo-pundit Michelle Malkin made an issue out of Ray’s scarf, a paisley deal that looked, if you squinted, like one of those kaffiyeh things that Islamothugs use while beheading people. That was close! Eternal vigilance! The ad was pulled, and the hapless company bleated that “absolutely no symbolism was intended.” But let us pretend for a moment that it was intended, even though it wasn’t. Shouldn’t we celebrate? Wouldn’t this be a sign that we are winning the war on terror? An American chick with bare arms and naked face, extending an iced coffee to the camera? And she is smiling, with white teeth and everything? Wouldn’t this be clear evidence that American demo-capitalism can swallow and digest anything? Like when we hear anthems of rebellion from the sixties being used on television to sell luxury automobiles?
CAVE OF ADULL AM
A new book called The Family is ominously subtitled “The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,” and is about the evangelicals who have been running this country all along, their power hidden “in plain sight” like that purloined letter in Poe’s story. “This is not a book about the Bible thumpers portrayed by Hollywood, pinched little hypocrites and broad-browed lunatics, representatives of that subset of American fundamentalism that declares itself a bitter nation within a nation.” No, it is about the evangelical infestation of Washington, with evangelical power brokers like countless termites in a once grand mansion. It is “the story of an American fundamentalism, gentle and militant, conservative and revolutionary, that has been hiding in plain sight all along” (p. 9). Just glancing at his thesis, and from long contact with the kind of people he is talking about, let’s just say it is truer than he thinks, more false than he knows, and a lot more fun than he anticipates. Heh heh heh heh . . .
Brigitte Bardot, a 73-year-old former French film sex-pot— let us call her an ex-pot—keeps getting in trouble with the authorities over there in France for insulting Muslims. She has been fined four times since 1997, with the fines ranging from 1,500 euros to 5,000 euros. This last go-round the prosecutor was asking for a fine of 15,000 euros because he was frankly getting a little tired of prosecuting Mrs. Bardot. The hate crime this time was that she had said that the Muslim community was “destroying our country and imposing its acts.”
An uproar occurred in Austria when an etching was displayed in an art museum, in which Jesus and the disciples were displayed at the Last Supper as having an orgy on the table. This kind of blasphemy is de rigueur in European art circles, but the kick in the teeth here was that the picture was displayed in a prestigious Roman Catholic museum. A chagrined cardinal ordered the picture removed, which is something, I suppose.
couple, and when the photographers politely declined, one Vanessa Willock filed a complaint against them—and here we are again. The problem was that they gave the wrong reason for declining. They should have just said they didn’t do ceremonies for ugly lesbians. Hot lesbians maybe.
Back in April a delegate for Obama resigned her position because of a dust-up she had with some of the neighbor kids. Turns out that Linda Ramirez-Silwinski was given a $75 dollar ticket for disorderly conduct because two black children were playing in a tree next to her house. She told them to get out of the tree because of concerns for their safety, and because in her view the small magnolia tree was getting damaged. Got all that? When one of the fathers of the boys said that it was none of her business, she said that “the tree is not there for them to be climbing in there like monkeys.” The mother of one boy called the cops, the ticket was issued, and she resigned as a delegate because of high levels of racial insensitivity involved. But the real issue is being overlooked. This woman is clearly an Intelligent Design agitator-plant, trying to make evolutionists look bad.
An appeal has been filed in the European Court of Human Rights located (for those who are curious) in Strasbourg, France, in which appeal the court is being asked to declare that Matthew, a 26-year-old chimp, is a person. This will just open up a can of worms, and if we open up a can of worms then somebody will want them to be all declared persons. And how do we count animal years to determine voting privileges?
The opinions expressed in these editorials and observations are drafted by the hardworking staff of The Cave of Adullam (TCOA, Inc.), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers themselves. Unless they do.
A Christian couple in New Mexico, who run their own photography business, were recently fined 6,000 clams by the New Mexico Human Rights Commission because they had refused to photograph a “homosexual commitment ceremony.” They were initially approached by a lesbian “Things to be believed”
W h at Af r ic a C an Te ach t he N or t h Peter J. Leithart
On the evening of April 6, 1994, a missile destroyed the airplane of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana as it descended into the Kigali airport. Within hours of the assassination, Hutus armed with sticks, clubs, machetes, along with the odd grenade and gun, fanned out over the country and began killing Tutsis and any Hutus who tried to protect them. By early July, when Kigali fell into the hands of the predominantly Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), somewhere between 500,000 and 2 million Rwandans had been killed, and hundreds of thousands had fled. Within a week after the RPF took control of the capital, Hutus fled from Rwanda into Congolese refugee camps that eventually gave shelter to 1.7 million Hutus. A million murdered in a hundred days: It’s believed that more people were slaughtered more rapidly in the Rwandan genocide than at any other time in human history. Forty thousand bodies flowed down the Kagera River into Uganda’s Lake Victoria. Hutu boys and men who had grown up playing soccer with their Tutsi neighbors turned on them. Women carrying babies on their backs slaughtered their neighbors and killed infants in maternity hospitals. Men ripped pregnant women open, and killed any male fetuses. Hutu men raped Tutsi women and girls, some little more than toddlers, deliberately infecting some 400,000 with HIV. Small children were dug from beneath piles of rotting corpses, too young to remember their names or their parents.
Catholic church. Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nsengiyumva joined Anglican Archbishop Augustin Nshamihigo in supporting the genocide. With two other bishops, Nshamihigo toured Kenya, Canada, England and the U. S. to assure the world that no slaughters were taking place. A former Anglican Archbishop read imprecatory Psalms directed against the Tutsis over the radio, and another bishop prayed that God would throw fire from heaven against the Tutsi “cockroaches.” “I was a deacon,” Fulgence, a white-sandaled Catholic Hutu told the French journalist Jean Hatzfeld, “the one who made arrangements for Christian gatherings on the hill of Kibungo. In the priest’s absence, it was I who conducted ordinary services.” As soon as he heard news of the assassination, Fulgence joined his friends in a killing spree. His first kill was an “old mama,” but that one did not quite count: “she was already lying almost dead on the ground, so I did not feel death at the end of my arm.” His first true kill came the next day, “the day of the massacre at the church, so, a very special day.” One Tutsi victim asked his attackers for time to pray before they killed him. “We killed God first,” was the response. What is known as the “Great Lakes” region of East Africa —comprising Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Congo, Uganda—is 90% Christian. ****
It had happened before. Shortly after the fall of the last Tutsi king of Rwanda in 1959, Hutus rampaged, driving hundreds of thousands of Tutsis from their land. In 1959, missionaries and priests defended the Tutsis. Not in 1994. Tutsis were enticed into churches, then slaughtered. In Nyamata, 10,000 people were killed while hiding in the 6
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Valentino Achak Deng was tending the fire and watching his mother cook when the muraheleen surrounded his village of Marial Bai. They began shooting and setting fire to houses. Valentino crossed the village and eventually found shelter in the church, where he watched as villagers were
herded to the soccer field or shot. The Arabs tied up boys, girls and women, tethered them to their horses, and rode away, leaving behind a few stragglers among the ruins.
are hard to calculate because the dead are dropped down wells, thrown into mass graves, or burned. Over two million people have been displaced by the war.
Valentino ran, not knowing whether his parents and relatives had survived the attack.
Valentino was among the fortunate ones. He emigrated from Sudan to Atlanta, where, years later, he learned that his mother had survived.
What is known as the Second Sudanese Civil War began in 1983, when President Gaafar Muhammed an-Nimeiry *** stated that he planned to turn Sudan into an Islamic state, imposing sharia on the predominantly Christian South. In News from Africa is usually bad, stunningly, numbingly the South, John Garang organized the Sudan People’s Libbad. When it’s not about genocide, starvation, war, saveration Army (SPLA) to resist the Khartoum government. agery, rape as a weapon of political control, or other largeThrough the middle 1980s, North and South existed in a scale disasters, it’s about pettier disasters. Riots followed suspicious state of truce, but when the National Islamic Kenya’s elections; at this writing, Robert Mugabe doesn’t Front (NIF) established itself as the Government of Sudan look like he’s planning to give up power in Zimbabwe; (GOS) in a 1989 military coup, it quickly reorganized the Christians and Muslims are fighting along the Middle Belt government to promote the neverthat cuts Nigeria into the arid Islamic north and rescinded plan to impose sharia on the the Christian jungle to the south. Dozens of enValentino was among terprising Nigerians are arrested for internet scams south. By the early 1990s, Sudan had become the cozy base of operations (who doesn’t know about these?). the fortunate ones. for Osama bin Laden. Meanwhile, with the support of northern tribesBut the news is not always bad. At over 21% men known as the murahaleen, GOS GDP growth, Angola has the fastest-growing soldiers attacked villages throughout predominantly Chriseconomy in the world, and two other African countries— tian Southern Sudan, destroying homes, plundering goods Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome and Principe—made the and cattle, slaughtering men, and taking women, children, top-twelve list of fast-growing economies in the Economist’s and boys into slavery. annual survey. In the Winter 2008 issue of The Wilson Quarterly, Stanford University journalism professor G. PasOver the course of the war, nearly 2 million Sudanese were cal Zachary reported on a new generation of entrepreneurkilled, and another 4 million driven into refugee camps. ial African farmers who are beginning to export to Europe, Most famously, the marauders from Khartoum displaced Asia, and the United States. about 27,000 orphans, mostly boys. Many were like Valentino, running and walking and hiding in the jungle as they Zachary reminds us that “the vast majority of sub-Saharan made their way toward a refugee camp in Ethiopia where, Africans neither live in war zones nor struggle with an Valentino told novelist Dave Eggers, they hoped for “oractive disease or famine. Extreme poverty is relatively rare anges on white tablecloths.” Driven from Ethiopia, many in rural Africa, and there is a growing entrepreneurial spirit of the boys walked back across Sudan to a refugee camp in among farmers that defies the usual image of Africans as Kakuma, Kenya. passive victims.” Africa is witnessing “an agrarian revolu tion,” led by the “sort of canny and independent tillers of Since 2003, the Darfur region of Western Sudan has been the land Thomas Jefferson envisioned as the foundation the site of ethnic warfare between the Janjaweed, a militia for American democracy.” drawing mostly from the camel, herding Arab nomads known as the Baggara, and a coalition of rebel groups But the really good news from Africa is about Africa’s drawn from a variety of tribes. Estimates of casualties embrace of the good news. have been controversial, ranging from the Sudanese government’s low-ball 9,000 to the Coalition for International *** Justice estimate of 400,000 killed in that conflict. Numbers “Things to be believed”
American Christians bemoan the decline of Christianity in the modern age. We think that Christianity is primarily a Western European phenomenon. Both opinions are parochial in the extreme. The early church was a Middle Eastern rather than a European creation, and Christianity retreated into the fortress of Western Europe only because of the aggressive onslaught of Islam. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Christianity was a European phenomenon, but the story of modern Christianity has been a story of steady expansion. The slur that Christianity is White Man’s Religion was true in 1550, but it ceased to be true long ago, and it now bears no resemblance to reality. Northern Christians haven’t heard, and both conservatives and liberals continue to believe the slur is basically correct. Nowhere has the church’s growth been more impressive than in Africa. At the beginning of the twentieth century, J. R. Mott told an Edinburgh ecumenical conference that Africa was falling to Islam. Lamin Sanneh notes that in 1900, Muslims outnumbered Christians 4 to 1. Since de-colonialization in the early 1960s, however, African Christianity has grown spectacularly. By 1962, there were 60 million Christians, as compared to 145 million Muslims. During the 1980s, an estimated 16,500 Africans were converting to Christianity each day.
killing each other? One is tempted to respond with a tu quoque: The North has seen more than its share of Christians killing Christians. World War One? World War Two? Can anyone say Dresden? Besides, the charge that African theology is a mix of animism and Christianity is often the result of ignorance and prejudice. There are plenty of signs of maturity in African theology, and these signs suggest that African Christianity is not only learning, but has become a teacher for the rest of the church. Africa is teaching Western Christians how to do Christian theology without the confining restrictions of the Enlightenment. Lamin Sanneh has it right: “World Christianity is not one thing, but a variety of indigenous responses through more or less effective local idioms,” but these various responses largely share one thing: They work outside the “European Enlightenment frame.” As the gospel is “embraced by societies that have not been shaped by the Enlightenment,” the North can “gain an insight into the culture that shaped the origins of the NT church.”` The good news is not just that Africa is accepting good news. It’s not just that Africa is becoming Christian. It’s the kind of Christian it’s becoming. ***
Philip Jenkins picks up the story: According to the respected World Christian Encyclopedia, some 2 billion Christians are alive today, about one-third of the planetary total. The largest single bloc, some 560 million people, is still found in Europe. Latin America, though, is already close behind with 480 million, Africa has 360 million, and 313 million Asians profess Christianity. North America claims about 260 million believers. If we extrapolate these figures to the year 2025, and assume no great gains or losses through conversion, then there would be around 2.6 billion Christians, of whom 633 million would live in Africa, 640 million in Latin America, and 460 million in Asia. Europe, with 555 million, would have slipped to third place by 2050, only about one-fifth of the world’s 3 billion Christians will be non-Hispanic Whites. Soon the phrase “a White Christian” may sound like a curious oxymoron, as mildly surprising as “a Swedish Buddhist.”
African Christianity has a reputation for being wildly syncretistic, and the reputation is not unwarranted. The fact that much of the numbing violence in recent African history has occurred in predominantly Christian areas gives pause. How deep can faith be if African Christians are 8
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Enlightenment Christianity grows in part from scientific discoveries that challenged the medieval view of the universe, a view believed, for all intents and purposes, to be based on the Bible. Dante’s elaborate cosmology was the biblical cosmology, and Copernicus and Galileo seemed not only to be challenging tradition but revelation itself. Historians got into the fray. One of the controversial books of the seventeenth century was Isaac de la Peyrere’s Pre-Adamites (1655). Peyrere argued that Adam was not the first man but the first Israelite. What in the Bible is only a strip of white space between Genesis 1 and 2 became an alternative history of indeterminate length. The Bible’s authority in history, like its authority in cosmology, was under assault. One response to these developments, of course, was thoroughgoing suspicion of the Bible and its claims: but another solution was the dualistic option. Dualists didn’t reject the claims of the Bible, but used the concepts of “limited scope” and “accommodation” to neutralize Scripture. This was Galileo’s solution. The Bible, he suggested
in a famous letter to the Duchess Christina of Tuscany (1615), was not mistaken about scientific facts. It couldn’t be mistaken because it made no scientific assertions in the first place. Scripture has to do with salvation, spirituality, and ethics, but scientists must look to God’s other book— nature—to learn about the world. (Part of the trick here— and it is a trick—is Galileo’s assumption that Scripture requires interpretation, and thus is uncertain, while nature is transparent to the scientific gaze.) What look like scientific assertions are merely signs of God’s benevolence, as He accommodates Himself to the unscientific mind of primitive men. God knew, of course, that the sun didn’t stand still for Joshua, but instead of confusing ancient Israelites, He babbled in their infantile language. This was the theme of Benedict Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise (1670), one of the earliest works in biblical criticism. Spinoza challenged traditional claims about authorship, and claimed that the Bible was pocked with historical, scientific, factual, and philosophical errors. No matter, though: The Bible was still valuable since it taught true religion—that is, obedience—perspicaciously and consistently. Philosophy and theology are wholly separate areas of study, and the Bible is useful for the latter but hopeless on the former. Spinoza’s treatise, as his title suggests, was not only one of the earliest works in biblical criticism, but also a political treatise, one of the earliest defenses of the modern, liberal, religiously neutral state. That Spinoza combined the two in the same volume was no accident. For Spinoza and most early modern liberals, the liberal state was primarily a state in which various interpretations of the Bible are tolerated.
Africa has never had an Enlightenment.
Spinoza shows that the dualism that entered into biblical interpretation with Galileo had flowered in a more thorough-going dualism, a dualism of the Bible versus everything else. Modern Christianity accommodates itself to this dualism, happy to have a cubicle where it can parse verbs and check vowel points and carry out its quaint little course of study without having to worry overmuch about what’s going on in the other cubicles. Africans don’t believe a word of it. Africa has never had an Enlightenment. There is no African Hume, with his rejection of miracles; no African Strauss, with his “mytho-
logical” interpretation of the gospels; no African Descartes or Spinoza or Kant or Galileo or Newton. Many African Christians have suffered intensely for the faith. Most live in conditions Americans would tolerate for about seven minutes. They have much to teach us about the cross, about contentment and joy in deprivation, about sacrifice and firmness in the face of pressure. African Christians can also teach us theology. African theologians are still often trained in the North, but they are blessedly free from Northern pathologies. African theology has the makings of an antidote. *** Kenyan theologian John Mbiti remembers tearing a page of his father’s Bible as the greatest crime of his life, a crime so sinister that he never was able to bring himself to confess it. Such is the reverence that Africans have for the Bible. Philip Jenkins introduces his discussion of the Bible in Southern hemisphere Christianity with Harry Emerson Fosdick’s question, “Shall the fundamentalists win?” The answer? They are winning, massively. African biblicisim has arisen because of the revolutionary impact of vernacular Bible translations. Mbiti says, When the translation is first published, especially that of the New Testament and more so of the whole Bible, the church in that particular language area experiences its own Pentecost. The church is born afresh, it receives the Pentecostal tongues of fire. As in Acts 2, the local Christians now for the first time “hear each of us in his own language. . . we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:6-11). The Spirit of God unlocks ears and people to the Word of God, speaking to them in its most persuasive form. Local Christians cannot remain the same after that.
David Barrett concludes that the single most important factor dividing the African Independent Churches (AIC) from missionary-founded churches is a vernacular translation. As soon as the Bible becomes available in a native tongue, readers check the teaching and practice of the missionary churches against the Scriptural standard. Many find missionary churches wanting, and set out to found churches that match the Bible more closely. Gambian theologian Lamin Sanneh grew up in an orthodox Muslim family, a family of Islamic scholars. As a boy, “Things to be believed”
he was intrigued by the Qur’an’s references to Jesus, but had no access to a Bible. Eventually, he decided that Jesus was central to God’s program of salvation, and converted to Christianity. As a former Muslim, he knows how revolutionary it is for sacred books to be translated into new languages, and he sees African translations as an epochal event in the history of Christian theology. He finds analogies between the “indigenous theological domestication” taking place in Africa and the “Hellenization of theology in the early church,” concluding that “It is difficult to overestimate the implications of this indigenous change for the future shape of the religion.” Africans read the Bible in a way that is free of the rationalisms of modern method. They are not content to read the Bible as a source of doctrine, or an account of ancient history, or even as a practical manual that tells them what to do. For African believers, the Bible is a book to inhabit, a narrative to participate in. They recognize that they are part of the story the Bible tells. Given their cultural context, Africans gravitate toward books that are decidedly secondary in Northern Christianity. African pastors preach nearly as much from the Old Testament as from the New, reversing centuries of parochial Enlightened embarrassment about the primitiveness of the Old Testament. Northern readers glaze over when the Chronicler gives us chapter after chapter of genealogies, but nothing makes more sense to Africans than genealogies of great leaders. Africans reach for John or Romans to introduce the Christian faith, but they are exuberantly fond of Hebrews and James. Their world is a world of priests, sacrifice, purity, and impurity, and Hebrews’s declaration that Jesus marks the end of sacrifice is stirring news. James is popular because it imitates the style of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, which strongly resembles traditional African proverbial wisdom. Jewish “legalistic” Matthew is the most beloved of the gospels, and Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are popular books in African Christianity. Africans are not the least embarrassed by the world picture of the Bible—a world of angels and demons, of miracles and exorcisms, of the virgin birth and life after death, of heaven and hell. It’s their world. Africans know what idols are because they’ve seen them. They see and hear things in the text that are lost to jaded post-Christian readers in the North. For many Northern churches, Africa can teach the North the sheer value of Scripture. As one African Anglican 10
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bishop complained to his ECUSA counterpart, “If you don’t believe the Scripture, why did you bring it to us in the first place?” *** For Africans, Jesus is a liberator, a deliverer who delivers His people from real fears and dangers. Jesus is preeminently Christus Victor, not only the Victor on the cross and in His resurrection, but throughout His life. Jesus’ life, and not merely His death, is part of African soteriology, part of their atonement theology. The gospels are not Passion narratives with long introductions, but record the triumph Africans have no of Jesus, culminating in His use for the pansy death and resurrection.
Jesus of modern
Africans have no use for the pansy Jesus of modern liberalliberalism. ism. They want a savior with the testosterone to fight for them. No pale Galileans need apply. They sing about Jesus as “the grinding stone/ on which we sharpen our cutlasses, before we perform manly deeds.” African hymns and poems describe Jesus as “Man among men,” the “Lion of the grasslands,” the “Fearless One,” the “Chief of all strong men” and “King of the valiant.” Jesus tears the entrails of Satan, pulls the teeth of vipers. Commenting on Christological poems by Afua Kuma, Kwame Bediako of Ghana says the “honorific titles are such as were and are traditionally ascribed to the human sacral ruler. By giving ancestral and royal titles to Jesus, these prayers and praises indicate how deeply Madam Afua Kuma has apprehended the all-pervasive Lordship of Jesus, in the ancestral realm of spirit power, and in the realm of the living community under reigning kings.” For Africans, Jesus’ work is a manly work. African poems about Jesus are reminiscent of Heiland, the medieval Saxon retelling of the gospels with Jesus as a Germanic warrior. Africans give Jesus royal and honorific titles, much as the early Christians confessed Jesus using the imperial title kurios. Life in the North is softened by technological redeemers. Threatened with a difficult childbirth, we turn to epidurals and C-sections. Depressed, we take pills. When there’s a break-in, we can dial 911.
Africans have few technical protections, and in the daily threats of life they turn to Jesus. Jesus saves the poor, makes the maize grow in the fields, protects the laboring mother, tears down the barriers that divide men and makes them brothers. For Africans, the salvation Jesus brings is thoroughly “this-worldly,” the healthful kingdom of Jesus breaking into the kingdoms of malevolent powers and dangers. The dualisms of Western Christianity simply do not address the threats that Africans want to be delivered from; dualistic modern Christianity cannot answer African questions. African theology is instinctively, fundamentally anti-dualistic. Salvation is comprehensive, practical, and has a “worldaffirming” force. According to the Annang churches of southeast Nigeria, the God of the mission churches was “remote.” According to the theology of the missionaries, “Man is confronted with evils, and yet He is not interested in their destiny, He does not help. He is only interested in their souls and not in their general and total welfare, bodily and spiritual.” Africans would recognize the truth of Nietzsche’s complaint that modern Christianity is anemic, opposed to life rather than an affirmation of life. They want a Christ who gives life, abundantly. African conceptions of faith bear out this broad understanding of Jesus’ saving work. “I have faith,” Mbiti says, means “I can bear a child” and “I am healed” and “the troublesome spirits have been driven out or warded off ” or “I am protected against magic, witchcraft, sorcery” and “I entrust myself to Jesus Christ.” Faith is courage in the face of murderous persecutors. Faith is never simply assent to doctrine, but a living active stance toward all of life. A Zulu song summarizes African faith in Scripture and in Jesus: “Satan has no power/ we will clobber him with a verse.” African Christianity is fundamentally a form of Christian humanism. Gwa Chikala M. Mulago notes that in dualistic Western theology, the exaltation of man “entail[s] the rejection of God.” For Africans, there is no competition. The exaltation of God is simultaneously the fulfillment of human aspirations. Conversion, Sanneh argues, does not leave behind our humanity, but is a “re-focusing of the mental life and its cultural/social underpinning and of our feelings, affections, and instincts, in the light of what God has done in Jesus.”
Institutionally, too, African theology resists the dualisms of the modern North. African theologians sometimes lament that there is no African theological tradition. There is, to be sure, not much if we’re looking for school theology. Focusing on that misses the real action—the “grassroots” theology expressed in songs, worship, sermons, personal evangelism, etc. Theology is authentic when it is “a task, not of scholars alone, but of a community who share in a common context” and when the task is “bringing the Gospel into contact with the questions and issues of their context.” *** Because of its hostility to dualism, African theology reminds the North that “theology of culture” is not a specialty of culturally-interested theologians. Rather, all theology is theology of culture. In part, this arises from traditional African conceptions of religion. The name of God, Sanneh insists, “is basic to the structure of traditional societies”: “It forms and regulates agricultural rituals, territorial cults, agrarian festivals, the solar calendar, fertility ceremonies, mortuary observance, anniversary customs, units of generational measurement, naming rules, ethics, rank and status, gender relations, filial obligation, gift making, sacrificial offering, and so on.” Mbiti’s vision of the impact of the gospel on culture justifies Philip Jenkins’s description of Southern Hemisphere Christianity as “the next Christendom.” For Mbiti, Christianity is a total way of life, a world view, a religious ideology (if one may phrase it that way), an existence and a commitment—by individuals, peoples, cultures and nations. It involves reflection and practice; institutions and attitudes; and the creation and adoption of traditions. It means an eventual domestication of the gospel, in its wider sense, within the total milieu of a people. The gospel grows into the people and they grow into it.
While the statistical growth of African Christianity will inevitably tail off, Mbiti hopes for continuing growth “in the levels of culture, social institutions, theology, liturgy, artistic expressions and ecclesiastical structure.” The end result is “a Christianity arising out of and rooted in African life, a Christianity that frames the normal way of life for the majority of the population in the southern two thirds
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of Africa.” Already (in 1986), Mbiti was seeing the development of a “folk religion,” in which African traditions transformed and completed by the gospel becomes the culture of African peoples. Though Mbiti is critical of “Christendom,” he and most other African theologians advocate a vision of the African future that sees Christianity permeating social, cultural, and political life. As Bediako says, churches “will have to continue learning to worship God and his Christ, witness to the Gospel, survive in joy, and strive for peace and justice and democratic freedom for all. Christian evangelization and nurture, and hence the Church, are essential elements in the process whereby a society’s outlook, value-systems, thought-patterns and social and political arrangements become permeated with the mind of Jesus.” Bediako crisply summarizes what was surely the vision of the founders of Northern Christendom: “the Church must manifest the victory of the Cross in the concrete realities of her existence in society.” One of the central themes of African academic theology has been to give a theological account of traditional African religions. No consensus has emerged, but many Africans regard their traditional religions as a form of preparation for the gospel, much as the church fathers saw Greek culture as a praeparatio evangelii. Africans insist that God did
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not arrive in Africa when Europeans arrived, and believe that the God of traditional African religion is the God of the Bible, present under a veil throughout Africa’s history. For Bediako, the story of the Bible is literally Africa’s story —the story of God’s creation, of a fall and God’s withdrawal, and eventually of God’s return. *** Traditional Catholic theology distinguishes between the ecclesia docens and the ecclesia discens, the “teaching church” of the clergy and the “learning church” of the laity. Since Europe discovered the mission fields of Africa, the North has been the ecclesia docens. That is bound to change, and it is changing now. Northern Christians must accept the humbler role of the ecclesia discens to learn from former students. Africa has taught the church before. Western theology is, in fact, an African export, as is much of Eastern Christianity. What would Christianity be without Hippo and Carthage, and, on the other end of the continent, Alexandria? What would Christianity be without Cyprian and Tertullian, without Augustine and Origen? Not much. Which is what twenty-first century Northern theology will be if it doesn’t take the antidote to Enlightenment now being concocted in Africa (and Asia and Latin America).
T h e F at is t h e L o r d ’s Douglas Wilson
Anyone who has been in the evangelical Christian world for any length of time at all is aware of all the various food fads that come and go. Some of them have a peculiar Christian twist (“Bible” foods) while others are simply examples of Christians following hard after whatever food fads are current in the unbelieving world. In some respects this is just part of the background noise in American expressions of the faith, as we will see shortly. But in recent years, I have noticed an alarming trend: people who have been taught well and should know better getting caught up in this kind of faddish eating. I began to write about food, and the response I received indicated that the problem was far greater than I had imagined. And so what I want to do here is establish a basic structure of texts from Scripture within which we should be doing our thinking about food (not to mention our cooking and eating). If we are simply considering different menu choices when we go out to eat together, the Pauline principle is plain: mind thine own business. But we are getting to the point where we are talking about imperialistic false doctrines concerning food, not to mention applications of those doctrines in the form of eating disorders. Many Christians have gotten into a pattern where they are wrecking their health, their marriages, and their careers. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). And bondage is the word for it. And so here it is—a primer on biblical eating. The citation of many of these texts may certainly create other questions, which can be addressed later, but for now the point of citing many of them is to see the kind of mindset they exclude. For modern food faddists, almost all these passages present some kind of problem for their agenda, and this means that they must be explained away or simply ignored.
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Man was created as an eating creature. “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat” (Gen. 2:16). Not only was Adam invited to eat from any tree but one, but he was invited to eat freely. There was also the implication that various grains were available for food (Gen. 1:11–12). And it was good. It is not surprising that since eating is so important to man’s identity as God’s image bearer, God set the test before us in the form of food. “And when the woman saw that the tree [was] good for food, and that it [was] pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make [one] wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Gen. 3:6). It is striking that the three elements that made the forbidden fruit alluring are found in the apostle John’s rejection of worldliness: “For all that [is] in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 Jn. 2:16). We were created to eat all the food in the world, and we fell by eating the one thing in the world that was withheld from us. After we fell into sin, and violence grew great on the earth, God determined to judge all humanity in a great flood. In the aftermath of that flood, God explicitly added meat to the list of man’s available choices for dinner. “And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth [upon] the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things” (Gen. 9:1-3).
In this passage, God is reiterating the cultural mandate, and that mandate was at this point expanded with regard to our
choices for food. The Lord explicitly says that anything code did—to teach the people the importance of antiththat moves is available for food—fowl, beast, or fish. They esis, the difference between this and that, between sacred are all put on the same level as the green herb that had preand profane. This was not because of any inherent probviously been given to mankind. It is interesting that though lems in the proscribed foods, but rather because the people there was a distinction between clean and unclean animals needed training in bringing every aspect of their lives under as far as sacrifices were concerned, there did not appear the authority of God’s spoken word. And once the building to be any dietary restrictions. Noah knew the difference was built, it was appropriate for the scaffolding to come between clean and unclean animals before the flood (Gen. down. Once the lesson was learned and the Messiah came, 7:2), and permission to eat meat of any kind did we were restored to the conditions not come until after the flood. When that permisthat applied to Noah. All foods are The Christian is sion to eat came, no restrictions were placed on it. open to us. All things are clean. If it swims, walks, or flies, you may eat it. God’s is taught to us in multiple prohibited from acting This approach to the question of fruit, herbs, and meat places in the New Testament. can only be described as liberal. like he is subject to “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man” (Matt. 15:11).
When the children of Israel were promised the worldly ordinances, land of Canaan as an inheritance, the same openamong such we must handedness on the part of God can be readily seen. Numerous times the land is described as “Wherefore if ye be dead with include “do not taste.” one dripping with goodness, or, as the famous Christ from the rudiments of the phrase has it, flowing with milk and honey. “Look world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; down from thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the thy people Israel, and the land which thou hast given us, commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have as thou swarest unto our fathers, a land that floweth with indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and milk and honey” (Dt. 26:15). It is worth remembering that neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying honey was really sweet and that the milk had fat in it. This of the flesh” (Col. 2:20–23). was not a low-fat operation. God promised His people good things. “He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife: “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: but he that putteth his trust in the LORD shall be made fat” another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth (Prov. 28:25). The same imagery comes out in the promise that God offers concerning the times of the New Covenant. “And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined” (Is. 25:6). God did not use foul things (feces, roadkill, etc.) in order to picture for us the loveliness of our salvation, and the greatness of forgiveness. If we start thinking and speaking about such foods as though they were foul, we are one step removed from slandering the gospel. “And the priest shall burn them upon the altar: it is the food of the offering made by fire for a sweet savour: all the fat is the LORD’s” (Lev. 3:16). The fact that God placed dietary restrictions on the Jews under the Mosaic code has been misunderstood by many. This had the same function that other parts of the holiness
despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14:1–4). For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children” (Matt. 11:18–19). “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17). “And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of “Things to be believed”
the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice [spake] unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, [that] call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven” (Acts 10:10–16).
Sometimes stringing a group of passages together has the desired effect, and sometimes it does not. In case it did not, allow me to summarize the standards of the New Covenant on this important subject. A Christian cannot be defiled by what he eats, which means . . . we ought not to worry about defilement when we eat. The Christian is prohibited from acting like he is subject to worldly ordinances, among such we must include“do not taste.” Humanistic posturing has the appearance of wisdom, but it is of no value in the process of subduing the lusts of the body. Food phobias are a lust of the body. A weaker Christian limits himself to vegetables only, and stronger Christians ought not to hassle him over it. But if stronger Christians are not supposed to give weaker Christians a difficult time over their eating frailties, how much more must we refuse to allow the weaker Christians to dictate terms to everyone else? The apostle is clear—no fighting over food. It is appropriate to fight over whether or not we will allow fighting over the food, because that is the place where the apostle draws the line. The kingdom allows for saints on the ascetic end, like John the Baptist, and it allows for saints who go to banquets, like the Lord. The kingdom of God is not about food and drink. The apostle Peter was given a vision of all the unclean animals, and he was shown that they represented the inclusion of the Gentiles into the commonwealth of Israel. And what God was declaring clean in that vision (the Gentiles) was not represented by animals that remained as unclean as ever. When the first Gentile was lawfully baptized into the Church, BLTs and clam chowder became acceptable. Now someone may want to object that all these passages were addressing the issue of the foods prohibited in the Mosaic code, and therefore have nothing to do with our modern issues of genetically modified organisms (GMOs or frankenfoods), factory farming, or putting MSG into the food to make it taste like something. This is a point that I not only grant, but want to insist on—because it actually makes the issue even more clear. If the arrival of the Christ was sufficient to set aside the prohibitions of certain foods that were explicitly prohibited by divine revelation, then how much more does the gospel exclude prohibitions that cannot be found in Scripture anywhere? 16
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Of course, if someone wants to abstain from certain foods for reasons other than trying to achieve personal holiness, that is absolutely fine. James Jordan put it this way: “It is not a serious matter for a physician to advise abstaining from foods for medical reasons, based on human wisdom. It is, however a very serious thing when men advocate abstaining from foods for religious reasons” (James Jordan, Pig Out?, p. 8). Going on a diet because your doctor doesn’t want you to have a heart attack tomorrow seems prudent and reasonable. That’s just good stewardship. If, when you walk up the stairs at your house, you have to sit down halfway up to take a breather, you might want to consider refraining from having second helpings for a while. It is crucial that we keep this distinction in mind. “The key to health is obedience and faith, not mechanical observance of health techniques. Valuable as exercise, good diet, and the like may be, they are not delineated in God’s revealed law” (James Jordan, Pig Out? p. 58). But if the menu is wide open, and it certainly is, then that means that tofu and yogurt and all their cousins are also options for us. That is absolutely right. There is no more defilement in “eating healthy” than there is in stopping by McDonald’s. The only defilement possible is a defilement that comes out of the heart, and not what goes into the mouth. However, this does create a caution for those who are heavy into “eating healthy.” To say that one food over against another puts you closer to God is false religion, and that does defile. But it doesn’t defile by means of what is on your spoon. It defiles because of the words on the page in that guru health magic mango book that you have been reading. So if you are zealous for “healthy” food, the chances are good that you are more affected by this false teaching than you know. Americans have a long tradition of thinking that we can deal with sin by means of false sacraments. “Fringe groups in American Christianity have for almost two centuries advocated dietary and hygienic practices designed to curb sin, and this is part of the milieu in which the current discussion must take place. It seems reasonable to many Americans to assume that God intended to teach Israel about diet, because diet and health are part of the popular civil religion of America today, and because dietetic theology has been a strong current in American Christianity in the past. In the nineteenth century there were prominent liberal and sectarian theologians who believed that the sinfulness of man could be curbed through diet and hygiene. John Harvey Kellogg, a Seventh-Day Adventist, invented corn flakes as
a meatless breakfast food designed to reduce the sexual drive. Control of ‘bestial sexual impulses’ was linked in the popular imagination, both sectarian and liberal, with a bland diet devoid of alcohol, coffee, tea, tobacco, condiments, and largely devoid of meat. Assumption of this diet would reduce what is today called libido, and this reduction of the ‘animal’ in man would be passed on to one’s children, who would grow up with less ‘original sin.’ Salvation through diet passed into the popular imagination through the writings of liberals like Horace Bushnell, sectarians like Kellogg and Charles Finney, and cultists like Mary Baker Eddy. As a result there is a pervasive orientation toward dietetic theology in American Christianity that colors our discussion of the Sinaitic dietary laws” (James Jordan, Pig Out? pp. 55–56)
If it tastes it must be
And from a footnote on the same pages, less original sin “was the purpose of Graham flour, developed by Sylvester Graham, and still with us in Graham Crackers. The Graham diet was used at Charles Finney’s Oberlin College to protect students against ‘vile affections.’ The Bill Gothard Institute is strongly influenced by Finney’s writings, and it is possible that the dietary aspect of their program can be traced partially to Finney’s mediation of the Graham viewpoint.” Finney, to his credit, later in his life saw the snare that the Graham approach represented. Unfortunately, a lot of modern Christians have not.
with profit. But at the foundation, at the root of all the problems, we should be able to detect a false doctrine of God. Ours is a lost generation, in the grip of a deep father hunger. Because we have not had healthy relationships with our human fathers, God, we naturally assume, is parsimonious. He is tight-fisted with His abundance. We slander Him in our hearts. If it tastes like gravel, it must be from God, so the thinking goes, and restaurants tout their “death by chocolate” concoctions as “decadent” or “sinful.” Something is desperately wrong here. God—not the devil—was the inventor of pleasure, sex, goodness, fermentation, and satisfaction. He was the designer of all our like gravel, nerve endings and our taste buds and over a million tastes, and He gave man the ingenufrom God... ity to be able to figure out how to combine all those tastes in ways that would create a trillion more. Where could we have possibly gotten the idea that He was stingy? An enemy has done this. There, then, is the role of the amateur: to look the world back to grace. There, too, is the necessity of his work: His tribe must be in short supply; his job has gone begging. The world looks as if it has been left in the custody of a pack of trolls. Indeed, the whole distinction between art and trash, between food and garbage, depends on the presence or absence of the loving eye (Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb, p. 4).
There is much more to say about all of this, and there are many tangents and questions that might be pursued
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S e t t i ng Pr i or i ti e s Douglas Wilson Every husband and wife seeking to build a godly marriage knows what it is like trying to keep their priorities straight. In this fallen world, it is very easy to let the important things drift into neglect and to make the insignificant things into something more than what they ought to be. And so every once in a while a “priority adjustment” is necessary. In some cases, the problem is difficult to solve, but it is at least easy to understand. If a wife is going through a period of extreme loneliness, and her husband is spending every evening watching football games, followed by a movie or two, the problem is not hard to identify. He needs to repent and should start doing this instead of that. But the difficulty is that from such obvious problems like this, godly couples have sometimes drawn simplistic and erroneous conclusions. Priorities are established in our attitudes, and not by our time log. The husband who spent a couple hours watching football when he should have spent a couple hours with his wife distracts us. But the problem is not the two hours, but rather the attitude. For example, a diligent husband leaves for work in the morning to do a whole series of things that are less important to him than his wife is. And he does them all day long. If he is an accountant, he spends more time doing math problems than he spends gazing into his wife’s eyes. If a teacher, he spends more time correcting bad grammar and poor spelling than he spends over a glass of wine, visiting with his wife about the day. In such situations, the time he spends away from his wife is not competing with her—because he is doing all this for her. A man who spends eight hours a day sharing a cubicle with an annoying co-worker may exchange more words with him than he does with his wife that evening. But that has nothing to do with how his “priorities” are ordered. He loves being with his wife, and does not love being with his co-worker. Unfortunately, spending time with the cute girl you married doesn’t draw a paycheck. Because he wants to feed his family, providing for them—in short, because his priorities are right—he spends a good deal of time away from them. In this context, a husband’s love for his wife indwells everything he is doing. If he is digging a ditch, then every shovelful of dirt is a gift to his wife, not a replacement for his wife. 18
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The problem with the football-watching husband mentioned earlier is that he is loving himself when he ought to be loving someone else. The problem is not the football, but rather the straightforward selfishness. It is not the two hours away from her, it is the reason for the two hours away from her. And when a husband is taken away from his family for a time, on business or off to war, the absence is a hardship—but it is not a hardship caused by skewed priorities. It is the difference between a woman who loses her husband by death, and a woman who loses her husband because he ditched her. In both cases, the “time away” might be identical, but the second situation is far more difficult to bear because it is the result of sin, the result of perverted priorities. A boy whose father died honorably in battle is fatherless, but it is not a shamed fatherlessness. But a boy who grows up without a dad because one day his dad decided that he didn’t want to be hassled by fatherhood anymore has a double burden to bear. It is same sort of thing in marriage. The central issue is why. A husband with messed-up priorities is a husband who is being selfish. A husband whose priorities are right is not a man who considers his time to be his own personal possession to be spent as he wills it. This is why one man can disappear into his shop to get away from everybody, and everybody in the family knows it, and the effects of his disappearances are profound. Another man can disappear into his shop because he is building a cabinet for his wife’s birthday, and his absences are included as part of the gift. Another way of putting this is that a man can be giving to his wife whether he is present or absent. And the corollary is that a man can be taking from his wife, whether he is present or absent. The taking can be as potent as the giving, only in a destructive way. I first learned this many years ago when our kids were still very little. We had bought a little house, a fixer-upper, and it lived up to its status as a fixer-upper. Around that time I realized that when I was reading a book, some fine volume of theology, this was a form of work and provision that was way too abstract for my youngest daughter to understand. But when I had my tools out and was working on (say) paneling the wall of the living room, she could see exactly what I was doing. And I noticed that whenever I was working on the house, she loved to come up and give me hugs—tangible reinforcements of a “go, dad, go” variety. She took the work I was doing as a gift to her, and she responded accordingly. She could see it. In marriage, when a wife sees that you are giving to her, the gift is not taken as betraying a set of messed-up priorities. When she sees that you are doing nothing of the kind, it is a different matter.
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Compe tenc e an d Dogm ati s m Douglas Wilson Boys need and require strong fathers. And it is not possible to be a strong father without being a competent father and a dogmatic one. It comes with the territory. But competence and dogmatism both require an off switch, and if a father doesn’t figure out where those switches are, the result will be weak sons. Competence does things well, by definition. Boys, especially when they are little, do not do things well. Competence wants to step in and do what needs to be done, now, and rarely has the patience to teach someone who is going to fumble around with it. It is always easier for a competent father to “just do it himself ” than spend time messing around with two or three goes. But the end result of this is that the son can grow to adulthood without ever having learned how to do the most basic things. Someone more competent always has a tendency to step in, and it is not long before the son learns to hang back—thus exasperating the father, who wishes that the son would show more initiative. Dogmatism can be reasonable, or it can be of the blustery, bow-wow variety. Knowledge is impossible apart from dogmatism, but problems arise when a father is unhelpfully dogmatic in his household, the basis for his dogmatism not being that it is epistemologically necessary for us in order to say anything, but rather because he is the tallest in that family and has the deepest voice. He therefore opines regularly on whatever it is, and brooks no room for discussion or disagreement. His dogmatism takes up all the oxygen in the room. The end result of both these will be sons who do not know how to do for themselves, and sons who do not know how to think for themselves. At the base of this may be a worry on the part of some fathers that their paternal position will be threatened if they are not careful. A son who becomes competent might become as competent, or even more competent. A son who learns to think might come to know as much as his father does, or perhaps more. The ancient Roman orator Quintillian once commented that a son is the only man on earth that a man will gladly be surpassed by. This is frequently true, but it is not universally true. Plenty of fathers are threatened by their sons and want to keep them safely to the rear. A father who is competent and dogmatic will tend to have a critical eye. In the perennial glass half-full, glass
half-empty problem, it needs to be pointed out that both positions are exactly right. A glass half-full actually is half-empty. That is objectively true. And so when a man is competent and dogmatic in his daily interactions with his son, it should not be surprising that he will tend to be very critical with his son, and the son will (usually) withdraw in some sort of way to protect himself. Over the years I have been struck by how many strong fathers I have met who appeared to have passed on nothing but weakness to their sons. Other fathers have seen their strength of character reproduced in their sons. What is the difference? The difference is between a father who rises to meet the challenge of a potential competitor, and a father who rises to meet the challenge posed by an opportunity to die for another. In the former situation, a man wants to talk sense when someone else is talking nonsense, to do well when someone else is doing poorly, to be the center when someone else is trying to function at the center. A son reflects on his father, and unless a man is willing to be embarrassed from time to time, he will step in so that he is the one reflecting on himself, directly. He doesn’t want other people making him look bad. In the latter situation, a father just lets it go. But in this the words of the gospel are fulfilled, because what a man grasps for, he cannot have, and what he lets go of, he is given forever. So the irony is that a man who is not willing to let his son make him look bad . . . winds up looking bad. And a man who is willing to work over a period of years with his son, for his son’s benefit and not his own, is a man who is willing to look bad—but he doesn’t. A son who is suffocated with competence and dogmatism (in the negative sense I have been describing) is a son who, as he grows up, will feel like he needs to seek oxygen somewhere else. When he grows up and goes to college or joins the Navy, he finds himself ill-equipped to handle what is thrown at him. His performance is frequently poor, and this just goes to “reveal” to him and to his father that his father was right all along. But it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. And when he performs poorly like this, he is not going to want to come home for a visit. Why come home just to be reminded of the place where you became a loser in the first place? One other point, closely related. Often men like this are highly respected by their wives, and such a man cannot figure out how his wife can think so much of his abilities (which she really does) and still be worried about what a poor father it appears that he is being. But there is no contradiction here. He is stumbling over his abilities—he is muscle-bound. The choice is not between being capable and incapable. The choice, as a father brings up his boy, is between being capable for oneself and capable for another. “Things to be believed”
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A r e A ll Illne s s e s th e Re al De al ? Douglas Wilson One of the more delicate tasks facing a pastor is the situation that may be created in his congregation by ailing and sick parishioners who are perhaps not sick in the way they think they are. It is delicate for all the obvious reasons, and writing about it here is also somewhat delicate. If a pastor indicates that he believes that in some cases, some illnesses might not be what they appear to be on the surface, some people are going to think that he believes this all the time, for every case. And that will have a chilling effect on the willingness of some who really are sick to “call for the elders” (Jas. 5:14), as they ought to be able to do. So it should be said at the outset that there are plenty of mystery illnesses that are genuine stumpers, and that it is not the case that every illness that baffles the medical professionals is a case of hypochondria. In addition, as I have argued before, the established profession of conventional medicine—when it comes to widespread distrust of that profession found among many conservative Christians— has only itself to blame for this. A profession of healing that has signed off on abortion has no right to complain when people start avoiding its experts. This tragedy has naturally opened a door to various forms of self-diagnosis among Christians, some who do it quite well, and some who do not. But either way, it can create pastoral problems. If the problem stays at the level of aches, pains, and prayer requests, the obvious thing to do is simply pray. The Lord knows the situation perfectly, and committing the whole thing to Him will never cause additional problems. But if the person who is sick requires a great deal of additional practical help (meals, help getting around, child care, etc.), and the pastor strongly suspects that the cause is not physical, what should he do? The first thing he should do is sort out the possibilities in his mind. It is false to say that there are only two options—true sickness with an identifiable germ at the bottom of it or something fake in the “it’s all in your head” category. Consider the range of possibilities. First is the true malingerer and faker. He is not sick and he knows it, and he is pretending to be sick for reasons of his own, perhaps related to the avoidance of work. Then there is the person who is not sick, but who for very tangled emotional reasons, needs the reassurance that comes to him when he is injured or sick. This is not necessarily self-conscious or 20
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Presbyterion self-aware, but it can be pretty obvious from the outside. For example, take the really insecure kid in junior high who gets hurt in P.E., but who wears the knee brace on alternate knees for the next week. Then there is the person who is absolutely convinced there is something wrong with him, or that he needs to head off something because he read an article that said he was in the high risk category, and so he begins to treat himself with high levels of all-natural toxicity. His problems are very real, but they are being caused by the medicine he is giving himself. Then there is the person who has a number of genuine, presenting symptoms, and the pain or discomfort is very real. He believes that the problem is caused by something objective and external, but the pastor (for various reasons) has begun to suspect that the cause is (for example) the result of a great deal of internalized stress or guilt. The effects are real, but the cause is not something that conventional medicine (or alternative medicine, for that matter), can really get at. There are variations on this, but you get the picture. It is important to note that a person in this kind of circumstance is not necessarily lying. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, and just because it is happening in our own bodies doesn’t mean we know what is going on. The second thing a minister should do is treat every situation that comes to him with sympathy and respect. We cannot see into hearts, and we ought not to act dogmatically as though we can. If any of the above possibilities are occurring, the pastor will have to win an audience with the person he is ministering to, and that cannot be done by viewing every report of an illness with a jaundiced eye right at the outset. “Sick, eh? Prove it.” Take the reports at face value until you start to have objective reasons not to. And when you start to have those reasons, pray for an opportunity to address it with the person—in a way where the subject comes up naturally. And when it is raised, it does not need to be raised as a statement of fact from you. It can be raised as a possibility. “Have you considered . . .?” The third thing is that the pastor should work to create an understanding within the church (and particularly on the session) that this is the kind of thing that happens from time to time, often in churches. It does not happen all the time, but it does happen. If this simple truth (that it happens sometimes) is reacted to defensively by someone, and they want the church to assume that no illness can ever be in this category, then that defensiveness is a danger, one which cannot be allowed to become a cultural assumption of the congregation.
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Re spec t Rev i s i te d Nancy Wilson It’s easy to think that because I have written on a subject, I should move on to other topics. But since it is still the central command to wives, perhaps I should keep on beating the respect drum. After all, many young women are contemplating marriage, and many young wives are dealing with this for the first time as well. And women who have been married for some years can get distracted away from their central duties. So there is my justification for this redundancy. I was recently visiting with a group of unmarried, post-college women, and I reminded them how important it is to marry someone for whom they have great respect. It is relatively easy to “fall in love” with any number of men for whom you have no respect at all. Women do it all the time. But how do you recognize respect? What kind of man do you respect? How do you render it? How do you preserve it? This is one of the big advantages to the courtship model as opposed to recreational dating. In courtship, a woman has an opportunity to get to know a man and determine whether she respects him before she allows herself to become emotionally attached. If she is already deeply in love, it is a bit too late and much more difficult to begin asking the question. If she doesn’t really respect him, she may be tempted to talk herself into believing she does. Then she can end up marrying a man for whom she actually has very little respect. I don’t think women know much about respect in general. Before I was married, I certainly didn’t. I remember hauling out the dictionary to figure out just what respect meant, and what would be required of me were I to get married. This was very helpful in navigating through the confused courtship waters back in the day when I had never heard of courtship. I could recognize pretty quickly the men for whom I had little respect, but I had never met a man I really respected until I met my future husband. He pretty much defined it for me. I remember thinking, “So that is what I want in a man.” Respect means admiration, honor, looking up to. It is connected to achievements and abilities. It means treating with courtesy and deference. It is showing consideration for. So, a woman should admire a man, look up to him, and feel confident that he would be easy to follow, help, and
Femina (even!) obey were she to marry him. If she feels that he would not be up to leading her, or if she has doubts that he could lead a family in the right direction, she ought not to consider him for a minute. But knowing about respect is not the same thing as rendering it. After you are married to a man and living in close proximity, it is easy to become careless, casual, and sloppy. You see his failures, his foibles, and his mistakes. You can slip into patterns of disrespect, discourtesy, and disobedience. So how do we disrespect our husbands? Here are a few techniques: By talking about them disrespectfully, complaining about them, sharing their weaknesses and faults willy-nilly to friends or family members. By talking to them with little regard for their position and authority: interrupting, arguing, downgrading, rolling the eyes, not listening, belittling their views, ordering them about, protecting or mothering them. By treating them with little or no courtesy, failing to express gratitude for the work they do, ignoring their needs or their wishes, being unresponsive or cool. How does a wife show respect to and for her husband? By thinking right thoughts about him, praying for him, showing gratitude, speaking courteously, praising him to others, contemplating his strengths rather than focusing on his weaknesses, going to him for counsel, forgiving him, showing concern for his needs and wishes, following through when he assigns a task. The effect of disrespect on a husband is described in Proverbs 12:4 as “rottenness in his bones” which sounds a lot like spiritual bone cancer, slowly destroying him from the inside out. But the respectful wife is described as a crown of blessing (Prov. 12:4) to her husband, a source of great good to him, both body and soul. What a contrast! One of the things I appreciate about the commands to wives is the way in which they are expressed. Ephesians 5:33, says “Let the wife see that she respects her husband.” It doesn’t say, “Let the husband see that his wife respects him.” This is the duty of the wife and she is to check up on herself to see if she is doing it. And Christian women are not commanded to render respect to men in general. That would result in oppression. Rather, wives are to see that they are submissive to their own husbands, not someone else’s. What a relief that is! Where respect is lacking, cultivate it. Begin by confessing the lack, and then express appreciating for something, anything. Cut out the bad and replace it with the good. Wives are to render respect, submitting to their husband “as unto the Lord.” If it is difficult to respec the man you married, start by being civil. And when you are courteous and kind, offer it to God as a means of pleasing Him. “Things to be believed”
R e a d i n g N otes Fr o m L eit hart World Peter J. Leithart
In his new book, Michael Behe of Darwin’s Black Box fame sets out to discover The Edge of Evolution (Free Press, 2007). Building on recent developments in molecular biology and genetics, and employing his notion of “irreducible complexity,” Behe wants to explain the power and the limits of Darwinian theory. He focuses on malaria, which has a fascinating and well-documented history and provides examples of both what Darwin can account for and what he can’t. He believes the genetic evidence points to a common ancestor, but he denies that the Darwinian processes of natural selection through random mutation can explain how that common ancestor proliferated into different species. In Behe’s opinion, Darwin was right that natural selection happens, but concludes that the effects of natural selection are more modest than Darwin, and especially later Darwinists, believe. Mutations that matter are not random, and the random mutations don’t matter much. Selection can explain things like “the development of sickle hemoglobin, drug and insecticide resistance, and cold tolerance in fish.” But the range of things that selection explains is comparatively small, and Darwinian evolution cannot explain “the kind of astonishingly complex, coherent systems that fill the cell.” Cilia, flagella, and other cellular structures are inexplicable in a Darwinian system, “far past the edge of evolution.” *** George Weigel’s latest is a typically bracing analysis of the current war against what he calls “jihadist Isalm.” Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism (Doubleday, 2007) offers fifteen lessons the West should learn from 9/11 and its aftermath, organized into chapters on understanding the enemy, realism and its limits, and having the confidence to win. Few writers combine Weigel’s grasp of policy with a recognition of the theological dimensions of the conflict 22
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between Islam and Christianity. Parts of this book read like an evangelistic tract. The notion of three “Abrahamic” faiths should be abandoned, he argues, since “the word ‘Abrahamic’ does not designate mere origin and patrimony; it includes finality and destiny—Abraham points to what God intended for humanity by choosing Abraham, and that is the gift of God’s Son through the People of Israel.” A few dozen pages later, he’s discussing the dangers of American dependence on Middle East oil. Weigel still believes the war in Iraq was a good idea, and those who doubt it will find him a formidable opponent. *** For the last decade, Margaret Barker has been publishing intriguing books about the biblical foundations of Christian worship. Her latest, Temple Themes in Christian Worship (T&T Clark, 2007), is her most comprehensive to date. Her thesis is that early Christian worship, as evidenced by the New Testament and patristic writers, derives from the worship of the temple, rather than, say, from Hellenistic mystery religions or the Jewish synagogue. Barker has some strange ideas. She thinks Jesus passed secret temple traditions to the apostles, who turned them over to the church fathers, and she claims that these secrets shaped early Christian worship. She also misses some opportunities. She doesn’t say nearly enough about the sacrificial system, and even less about 1 Chronicles in her chapter on Christian music. Still, Barker gets a lot into her book, and a lot is right. Alongside Danielou’s The Bible and the Liturgy and Jeff Meyers’s The Lord’s Service, it’s a valuable contribution to our understanding of the Old Testament roots of Christian worship. ***
James Samuel Logan’s Good Punishment? (Eerdmans, 2008) comes highly touted and has been widely advertised. Logan provides a theologically-motivated analysis of what he calls the “Prison-Industrial Complex,” and then develops, in critical dialog with Stanley Hauerwas, a theory of good punishment that focuses on “healing memories” and “ontological intimacy.” My enthusiasm dampened considerably when I flipped through the book and found virtually no discussion of biblical penology—barely, in fact, any biblical citations at all. One doesn’t have to be a raving theonomist (though it helps) to think that the Bible may have a little something to offer on the question of the methods, purposes, and standards of punishment. Charles Colson isn’t in the index either; but then, if you’re going to ignore God, ignoring Colson is small change. *** In Pictures at a Revolution (Penguin, 2008), Mark Harris recounts the story behind the five Best-Picture nominees of 1967, a watershed year in Hollywood history when old-fashioned stars like Rex Harrison (Doctor Doolittle) and Tracy and Hepburn (in their last movie, Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner) competed with the edgy sex-and-violence of The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde. Harris’s book has its gossipy side, detailing the early careers of Faye Dunaway, Dustin Hoffman, and Warren Beatty, but he also penetrates behind the scenes to tell the story of the executives and directors caught in the middle of a sea-change in American culture. The flap says that Harris’s “husband” is the (male) playwright Tony Kushner, information I could have done without, but information that doesn’t (entirely) diminish the interest of his book. Thomas S. Hibbs takes a more philosophical approach to the movies in his Arts of Darkness (Spence, 2008), a Pascalian study of American film noir. Sort of. His selection of films extends beyond noir strictly defined, and he is particularly interested in films “in which the religious quest figures prominently.” According to Hibbs, classic noir questions Enlightenment, especially American, optimism. In noir, “the American dream [becomes] a nightmare” and the city is not an image of light but of dark terror. Noir warns us that there are limits, and warns of the dangers of transgressing them. In the films Hibbs examines, however, the bleak iron cage of modernity is the starting point in a quest for meaning and redemption. Recent American movies, though, have tilted toward a nihilistic form of neo-noir, employing noir conventions to
celebrate the very transgression that classic noir shows to be disastrous. Thus, the femme fatale of classic noir becomes the amoral, irresistible, and highly successful psychopathic babes of Body Heat and Basic Instinct. Hibbs’s is a superb study of some central motifs in American popular culture. *** I didn’t much like Arthur Phillips’s first novel, Prague, so I took a pass on his second, The Egyptologist. After reading his recent Angelica, I’m going to have to correct that oversight, and I may even have to take a second look at Prague. Angelica is enthralling, beautifully written, and psychologically subtle. Constance Barton nearly died giving birth to Angelica, and this, added to her normal Victorian prudery, leaves her with a mortal fear of sex. Her husband Joseph, a convinced Darwinist who performs obscure animal experiments in a medical lab, finds both her fears and her inordinate attachment to Angelica annoying. The book opens with Joseph demanding that Constance move their four-year-old daughter out of the master bedroom to her own nursery. When Constance begins seeing blue spectral forms hovering over Angelica in the night, she consults with a spiritist, Anne Montague, who tells Constance how to rid the house of the spirit, which, she believes, embodies Joseph’s frustrated sexual desires that may even be preying on their child. The book touches on various cultural-political themes, the most interesting of which is the depiction of the Victorian sexual division of labor. Constance finds Joseph’s willingness to bathe Angelica disturbing, a bizarre intrusion into feminine territory, and Constance’s visit to Joseph’s lab undoes her. Science and spirit stand in stark contrast, and can only clash. Each of the book’s four sections recounts the same events from a different character’s perspective, and as the book fills in the past and progresses forward, we feel tiny misunderstandings stumbling toward inevitable tragedy. Phillips leaves so much unstated, though, that in the end we’re not quite sure what is misunderstanding and what is plot. Angelica bills itself as a “ghost story” on the first page, but the novel is about the far more common, and damaging, phantoms that haunt us.
“Things to be believed”
Jack N.D. Wilson
Jack won’t eat. C’mon Jack. Moron. Eat. You used to do it. You can do it again. After his first week in kindergarten-classroom-captivity, Jack ate a pinky—a tiny hairless mouse unable to do anything but lie on its side wondering why the new cage smelled like snake. That first pinky left me with a load of guilt. No more. Jack would have to eat fuzzies. At least fuzzies can spastically burrow. But after the first couple, Jack was done. The next little mouse burrowed down and died of hunger in the cage. Jack came home with us. He was, after all, my son’s bull snake—captured in rattler country, down by the train tracks along the Clearwater River. He’s more than two feet long, but thinner than my little finger. And now, in his new cage in our house, he makes friends with the fuzzies. A young, white mouse is bred in the pet store for one purpose and one purpose only. The local pet snake population needs food. We fittingly bring the soft, blind thing home in a brown lunch bag and dump it in the cage. A friend for Jackers. The mouse and the snake curl up together beside the warming pad, and the mouse sleeps happily in the snake’s coils. There is a lioness in Kenya known to adopt baby antelope. When African Bambi’s mother is killed by one big cat or another, the lioness steps in to protect the orphan, and the orphan is grateful. Other times, she simply separates the calf from the mother and leads it away to some shady place where they can lie down. She will groom it. She will protect it from other predators. The lioness is called Blessed One by the natives and Brain Damaged by some naturalists. When the calf starves to death, she will eventually find another. Five antelope (all oryx) were fostered in a single year. At times, especially early on, the lioness shows signs of 24
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aggression, struggling with her impulses, but she is strong enough to suppress them. The Blessed One has eaten only one of her foster children. Jack, is this your problem? Are you Blessed or Brain Damaged? A picture of the Eschaton or of the Fall? How about confused and delirious? Through miscommunication and accident, Jack had all too little water in his kindergarten weeks. Perhaps he’s gone crazy. But he’s drinking now and seems healthy. Except for the fact that he’s refusing to kill. Many, many children have been raised by wolves, wild dogs, apes, and even bears. There are, of course, people who deny it. There are people who deny Jack, is this everything. The bizarre situations where the predator suckles prey, your problem? where something bigger, something important supplants the desire Are you Blessed more to kill and devour, those situations are custom-made kinks in Darwin’s or Brain system. In 1920, a missionary in Damaged? Northern India heard reports of ghosts running with a pack of wolves. Being a missionary, he felt it his duty to track the pack and find out the truth. He camped out in a tree overlooking the den (a hollowed out termite mound), and that night, he watched the pack emerge. Among them were two shapes he could not at first recognize—girls sniffing at the air, howling at the moon, running on all fours. The missionary came back with hunters and took the girls from the pack by force. For years he worked to reclaim their humanity, to teach them to speak and eat their food cooked, to stretch their tendons so they
could stand upright. His success was less than minimal. Apes, goats, even ostriches, all have cared for vulnerable human young. All have abandoned the normal pattern of things and have shown odd respect and tenderness in a way many of the confused would call “unnatural.” There must be a break-down in the instinct grid, a short circuit. The maternal drive must somehow overwhelm the desire to eat. We need to get The Blessed One psychoanalyzed to find some trauma in her past that forces her to break Darwin’s laws. What is unnatural is how many of our own young are thrown away, when wolves and wild dogs show more respect for the lives of children than do their own parents. We would have more feral children in our own country, if we weren’t so efficient at killing them before the dogs even have a chance to pick up our slack. Is Jack a Jacqueline? Did this snake traumatically lose a clutch of eggs? Are the edges of her maternal instinct so frayed that even a mouse seems like a decent replacement for little slitherers? Is my son’s snake a spinster with a cat? The fuzzy doesn’t stay long. I will not let it starve to death. I want it to die quickly, so I send it next door to feed the neighbor’s snake. In another week, we’ll try again. In another week, Jack will have another friend, another buddy for a warming pad slumber party. There is a blood feud between the seed of Eve and the serpent—an old grudge. St. Patrick did his part against the lesser serpents, but the Heel had already crushed the great head. Patty was doing a lot of follow-up stomping. The Israelites had their issues with vipers in the wilderness. We have only a few snake bite fatalities in this country every year (maybe five, maybe ten), but the number of annual fatalities in Asia shoots up into six figures. Jack might have a mental problem (or a theological one). Or he might just be constipated from his dehydration spell. We give the serpent warm baths to loosen up whatever might need to come out. Nothing does. At this point, he needs to eat. He hasn’t in months. It is no longer his decision. He does not have the authority to refuse. I call my uncle—the reptile influence in my life— and we settle in on the front porch for a session of forcefeeding. Little balls of raw burger are going down this snake whether he likes it or not. The mouth is pried open, and the raw ball is tamped in with a tiny stick. Jack writhes free and manages to fling the meat away. Apparently, he’s never tasted cow. We try
again. Smaller this time. The struggle comes and fades, and then Jack sits still, with his mouth spread wide, corked with burger. Minutes pass, and finally, Jack swallows. Slowly. My uncle massages the tiny bulge down the snake’s throat. He will take no more. If the Blessed One has a mental problem, it is a mental problem that we will eventually teach every big cat. If some wolves have a bizarre respect for human children, it is a respect that will spread to every predator. Children will play with cobras. But now, with Jack still refusing mice, we have to make a decision. Should we let “nature take its course?” Should we drop him off back down by the river and let him die there, where we can’t see? After all, there is enmity between his kind and ours. Oil and water. Lions and antelope. Wolves and children. We are Eve’s seed, nursing a serpent. What Jack is to a mouse, I am to him. He is an oryx living with a family of lions. We groom him. He is protected from predators. But unlike the Kenyan lioness with her antelope, we can feed him “unnaturally,” according to an older and future nature. On the front porch again, Jack, with his skin a little loose on his bones, has a small ball of meat placed in his mouth. This time, there is no fight, there is no tamping with a stick. He works it back himself and swallows. He eats a second. A third. A fourth. This is the triumph of Man. The fruit of a bruised heel.
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CLASSICAL. CHRISTIAN. LIBERAL ARTS. “Things to be believed”
O l d Ear t h Ben Merkle
Creation/evolution debates within the church over the last decade or so have shifted away from typical six-day creationist arguments to a much more exegetically focused debate. Taking a cue from Meredith Kline’s Framework Hypothesis, much of the current debate takes no interest in discussions about the reliability of radiometric dating or the significant gaps in the fossil record, and instead focuses primarily on the exegesis of the biblical text. The question asked is—does this text present itself as something which should be taken as a literal narrative? Surely, insofar as the question about the exegesis of Genesis 1–2 has truly become the focus of the argument (as opposed to the question of whether science or Scripture has more authority on this question), this development signals a step forward in the debate as both sides start with a common and ultimately biblical allegiance. Though this shift away from pitting science against Scripture is a helpful step forward, somewhere in this transition an unhelpful presupposition has snuck in. In particular, questions about how Genesis 1–2 are intended to be taken seem to push in one of two directions—the passage is either “literal” or “poetic.” Clearly, this is ...an unhelpful a false dichotomy and, if accepted, leads to an overly presupposition simplistic reading of the text has snuck in. regardless of which answer was given. B. B. Warfield’s essay on the antiquity of man gives a sad example of what happens when such a simplistic hermeneutic is forced onto the biblical text. In this essay, Warfield discusses the chronologies of Genesis 5 and 11. Warfield notes that if the author had intended these passages to be used for the calculation of a chronology, the only information that would have been necessary would have been the age of each father at the birth of his eldest
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son. Yet, he points out, the text supplies so much more information than just that. The text tells us how many years each man lived after the birth of each son (Genesis 5 even adds the total years lived by each man). The reader is told that each man went on to have other sons and daughters after having had that first son. Since these extra bits of biographical data are thrown into the narrative, Warfield argues, it is clear that a chronology was not the sole purpose of the author. Since Warfield presupposes that the author could have only one simple purpose in writing the text, he then concludes (follow this closely) that the text is actually not intended to give a chronology at all, but rather to impress upon the reader the grandeur and greatness of those early men. The highly poetic structure of the early chapters of Genesis compels Warfield to conclude that until chapter 12, the calling of Abram, Genesis is describing a mythical history. If the early chapters of Genesis can’t be taken as historical on these grounds, one wonders what this sort of hermeneutic would do for our interpretation of other Old Testament historical prose. For instance, how do we take the description of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, as described in Exodus 1–12? To speak foolishly for a moment, let’s try this one on for size. In this text, God’s wrath against Egypt and His favor for Israel are poetically revealed through a series of highly repetitive and stylized “plague” motifs. Clearly, a chronology structured around the highly symbolic number “ten” (suspiciously preceding the giving of the Ten Commandments) should cause us to immediately realize that this text is not about “history.” And considering that the role of the Exodus narrative in the canon was to provide a story of “origins,” it is not surprising that God’s initial favor for Israel and His providential care for this special nation at its very inception would be expressed through myth. Thus, in taking this text as poetic and not literal, we are in no way capitulating to the
serious Egyptologists who give no credence to the Israelite sojourn in Egypt as described in the book of Exodus. My agreement with unbelieving scholarship is merely coincidentally convenient. But enough foolishness. It is particularly disappointing to see Calvinists such as Warfield succumb to a suspicion of a history that unfolds in a highly poetic structure. If we really believe that God has sovereignly decreed all that comes to pass, why would we be surprised to see a literary structure impressed upon the history which God has foreordained? And yet the Reformed have a significant legacy of being quick to deny the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis. Perhaps there is a tendency in the Reformed heritage to prefer abstractions over narratives? Perhaps Reformed theology’s tendency to go hand in hand with more advanced scholarship has caused it to be more significantly affected by the fads of academia? I’m not entirely certain. But I am certain that the Reformed position, with its understanding of God’s sovereignty over history, is more equipped than any other theology to take at face value the historicity of a poetically structured prose text. Unfortunately, the reaction against Old Earth attempts to explain away Genesis 1 and 2 is often equally suspicious
of taking poetically structured texts as historical. Defenders of the Young Earth position often base their defence on a purely literal/historical reading of the text which is skeptical of any interpretation of the passage which calls attention to anything other than the chronology of the first creation week. But it is important to notice that this position suffers from the same unhelpful presupposition that pushed the Old Earthers to deny the historicity of the creation narrative—namely, they struggle with reconciling poetry and history. The truth is, insofar as the history of this earth has been shaped by the sovereign Triune God, we should expect this history to be structured by parallels, types, antitypes, figures, chiasms, lists of three, lists of four, lists of seven, lists of ten, lists of twelve, puns on names, recapitulations, foreshadowings, repetitions with variation, repetitions without variations, polemical motivations, doxological motivations, and even an occasional joke. If the appearance of any of these ingredients in a narrative pushes one to question the historicity of the passage, then one’s presuppositions about God’s relationship to history need to be examined more closely.
“Things to be believed”
E xo r c i z in g E mpi r e : A Readi ng of J oh n’s A poc al y p s e Douglas Jones
The Emperor speaks to you from far across the sea, through his senators, proconsul, emissaries, and imperial priests, through statues and images and festivals, and you hear him. But the Father from heaven speaks a vision to the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, by the Spirit, to an angel, to John, a prophet who saw Christ remove the veil of life in the empire, the lie of Pax Romana. You have become weary in doing well, weary in resisting a suffocating idolatry. You are cut off. Some have slid from faith. The powers of empire grow stronger every day, and Christ is absent. Where is His victory? But you will rejoice. You will marvel at Christ’s work. You will marvel at the power of your judgment prayers over the empire. Now we do not yet see all things put under Him, but they are. The time is at hand. You must overcome the principalities and powers; you must overcome the beasts of empire and exorcise them from the earth. Moses said, if you are faithful and turn from idols, “the LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face.” Be faithful and you will see these visions come to pass. I write to seven churches of Asia Minor instead of Antioch or even Corinth because you live amid strong lust for the empire. You see the riches piling up around you more than anywhere. Your cities have begged to honor the emperor with temples, have begged to lift his name high, offering unceasing sacrifices. Of the emperor, they say, he “is a god who wrought for us this peace,” and that without the emperor’s “favor and grace no part of the whole world can prosper.” But against such blasphemy I call you to true peace and genuine grace, from the only eternal Father, the Spirit, and from Jesus Christ, the Truth, the One who lives again, even as emperors decay. Our King sacrifices and serves for us, and He has washed us in His own blood, not as in the empty rituals of your cities, where they drip blood from some useless, dead bull onto priests. 28
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Even more, Jesus Christ has lifted you all up and made you an “empire of priests,” better than ancient Israel, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people. They say the emperor is “the arbiter of life and death for the nations,” but it is Jesus Christ, alone, who has eternal dominion. The great prophet Daniel showed us this. In his vision, the Son of Man comes against the four earthly beasts, the four empires, especially the last, the beast with whom you now contend, the empire “dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong, devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling.” Yet the Son of Man overcomes it. Your own proconsul once boasted that the emperor’s birth was “the beginning of life and existence, and the end of regrets about having been born.” But in truth, Jesus Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the ruler of the past, present, and future. The First of Three Scrolls I, John, your brother in the struggle and companion during these difficult times, was just off the coast from you, on Patmos, for the gospel. On a Lord’s Day, I was communing with the Spirit of God, and I was shaken by the sound of a sharp voice behind me. He said to write to those tempted by the glory of Rome. What you see, write in a scroll and send it to these seven churches in Asia Minor: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Then I turned toward the voice, and I saw seven golden candlesticks, their candles lit with the tongues of Pentecost. There was a man in the midst of the seven candles, the empire-slayer Daniel saw, “a certain man clothed in linen, whose waist was girded with gold. His face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and feet like burnished bronze in color, and the sound
of his words like the voice of a multitude.” This revelation receive a new order. Pay special attention to the faithfulness of your poor brothers in Smyrna. Jesus Christ now unveils for His people. To the church in Smyrna, another rich city like Ephe In the vision I saw, Jesus held seven stars in His hand sus, another “Temple-Warden,” you have cut yourselves because He controls the stars, not they Him, unlike our off from its wealth through your loyalty to Me. Your city coin on which seven stars circle the emperor. And unlike houses famous temples to the goddess Roma and to the the Romans, always waving dull swords in their hands, emperor Tiberius, yet you have refused to commune in Jesus’ sword is the Spirit, “sharper than any two-edged the buying and selling that requires your fellowship with sword.” Of the emperor they say, “May this sun, which has demons. Like Me, you have given up life, and though you shed its light upon a world that had plunged into the abyss now appear very poor, you are in fact truly rich in My emand was sunk in darkness, ever shine.” But such blasphemy pire. And I know the slander against you from those Jews and arrogance would not stand against the Jesus I saw, who of the synagogue of empire who say they have no king but shone like the sun in its strength. I was overwhelmed by Caesar; their source is the same as Caesar’s: Satan. Because the vision; our emperor’s glory is unspeakable, and I fell of your strength, Satan will cast some of you into prison, as dead at His feet. He reached out and but I will cast him farther. He who overcomes the touched me and told me not to be afraid, principalities need not fear judgment. Be vigilant a thing too difficult even in His presence. Remember how and teachable. Listen to the Spirit. He identified Himself as the One who To the church in Pergamum, the city who begged you were a body conquered hell and death, and so the thin Rome to build the largest temple for Caesar in the sticks of empire are no match for Him. whole province, the city at the center of impeat the start. He told me to write about the pattern of rial rites, the city who celebrates Caesar’s birth the beast against His Church in the past, monthly, the defender of Zeus’s altar. For all this, in our time and in future times. your city is the seat of Satan. Your city sings the blasphemy To Christ’s proconsuls in Ephesus, the capital of Asia that Caesar “gave a new appearance to the whole world, Minor, the port of wealth, the center of senatorial and which would gladly have accepted its own destruction had imperial treasuries, a “Temple-Warden” of the imperial Caesar not been born for the common good fortune of cult. The Temple of Artemis stands large in your city, as all.” Your temptations are great, and you have resisted unto do temples for Caesar and the Egyptian god Sarapis. Your great bloodshed, at least the one martyr, Antipas. You have marketplace is huge, and the emperor even built you a not denied My name, and this is good, but faithfulness calls gladiator stadium. You have rightly resisted these idols, and you to more. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego they have provoked you to loyalty. You have no patience also rightly refused to deny My name, but they did more. for those who share in imperial idolatry, that school of When their Babylon tempted them with delicacies contrary “People Conquerors,” Nicolaitans, and you have even rightto my commands, “Daniel purposed in his heart that he ly rejected those who try to seduce you into it: “What harm would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s is there in saying, Caesar is Lord, and offering incense?” delicacies.” But instead of the loyalty of Daniel, you also You know their lies, and you have not fainted though it have allowed into your midst those “People Conquerors,” never seems to stop. But your fight has made you hard. that idolatry of Balaam whose counsel led My people of Your fight against idols has distracted you from the weightold to commit harlotry and bow down to Moabite gods. ier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith. If you unMy anger was fierce against Israel, and I came to them with derstand all knowledge and have all faith, so that you could my two-edged sword in the hands of Phinehas. Follow the move empires, but have not love, you are nothing. Your way of Daniel and do not think sharing in the empire’s first love is be My body, a new community wholly different meals is a light thing, or else I will come to you as Phinehas from the empire. But whoever has this world’s goods, and and run through those sharing Rome’s bed. Exorcise this sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, unfaithfulness from your midst, and eat at My table, My how does the love of God abide in him? Remember how bread, eat the manna Jeremiah hid when he hoped against you were a body at the start. You shared all things; you had his Babylon. no one in need. Repent, then, or else I come quickly, and I To the church at Thyatira, not far from Pergamum, a will extinguish your candlelight. He that has an ear, let him city full of artisans and businesses. I am the Son of Man with feet like brass, not mixed and fragile like Rome. Unhear. He who overcomes and exorcises the strongman will “Things to be believed”
like others, you are dedicated to charity, service, faith, and patience, more and more. But your compassion has opened you to listen to the prophetess there who seduces you; she is like Jezebel of old with the priests of Baal, tempting you to trust in the gods of your oppressors. Open your eyes. Why can’t you remember Daniel and Elijah and Jeremiah? I will exorcise this Jezebel, and all the unrepentant who join in her spiritual adultery with Rome. Exorcise the hosts of wickedness and them which urge you to bow to other gods, and I will give you a true empire. You will bear My own authority; you will act as My star, My king. But you have to see through the beautiful temptations of empire. To the church in Sardis, the city consumed with clothing, dedicated to producing cotton and dyes. But your beautiful clothes are soiled with the stains of idolatry. The things you glory in you fail at the most. You think you are alive but you are dead. Your city used to stand tall on the hill, and you thought yourself impregnable. But twice, enemy armies have sneaked up on you and despoiled you. I Myself will again come upon you in the night when you won’t expect it. Some of your members have not given into the seductions of the imperial gods, and they will walk with Me in white, having no stains. But you won’t get these garments from your manufacturing or from the promises of the empire. Only I can give these white garments, and I will present you before the Father, if you overcome the strong man by the Spirit. To the church in Philadelphia, set in the weakest of these seven cities. You have been destroyed and rebuilt several times. You are not the center of business or the empire. Your brothers in Smyrna have little wealth, and you have little power. But I have the key of David that opens the kingdom. Your strength is in Me, for you have been faithful, even though Caesar has tried to attach his name to your city twice. You are weak, but you are strong because you have not denied My name. Like Smyrna, you too, resist those false Jews of the synagogue of empire, who, like the Herods, trust in Caesar. They think they are so strong to stand with the empire, but I will make them bow before you. Because you have lived like Daniel and Jeremiah against Babylon, I will protect you from the judgments I am sending upon the earth to test the world. And as you overcome the strongman, I will make your church a distinct pillar in My new Temple. Since you have resisted taking Caesar’s name and resisted his city, I will write God’s name on you, My name, and the name of our city, the New Jerusalem. Listen to the Spirit. To the church at Laodicea, richest of these cities, one of the richest in all the empire, full of banks and financial 30
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institutions (even a medical school), sitting at the crossroads of trade, so self-sufficient that when the earthquake hit, you even declined all help. But you are not a source; I am the source of God’s creation. You are not a source, even your water has to be sent to you, and the hot-spring water from Hierapolis is tepid and weak when it reaches your city. This is your church too, lukewarm, terrible to drink. I spit you out. You say you are rich, loaded with goods, have no needs, all smiles, but I see you as wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. Since you like to buy so much, why not buy My pure gold, My white robes? Your city boasts of your famous eye medicine, but you need to buy my eye salve instead. I have nothing good to say to you, but even that is a sign of My love; I only rebuke those whom I love. But I am outside your church, outside the door. You haven’t created the community of love that I called you to. Listen for My voice, and if you can in any way exorcise and overcome the principalities of wealth and empire, you will enter into true fellowship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Second of Three Scrolls There is little hope for the churches of the first scroll. You have fallen for another nation; you love Caesar’s wealth and peace. You do not resist the principalities and powers like Moses, Elijah, or Daniel. You want a king like other empires. You say you do not know how to overcome the strong empire and plunder its goods. The vision shows you how Jesus Christ overcomes the strong man. I looked and behold, heaven opened, and that same voice I heard before called me up to eternal things, not things that are seen. You marvel at the spectacle of Rome, its massive temples, its priests and festivals and incense and gold. All this pales against the wealth I saw. I saw one sitting on a throne of heaven, the throne Ezekiel saw when he wrestled his Babylon. The throne shone like crystal and jewels, outshining all the dull metals of Rome. And I saw how heaven overcomes. Around this throne sat twenty-four rulers, crowned in gold, draped in white, the church redeemed and mature, from all nations and tribes, ruling earth from a heavenly worship. On earth as it is in heaven. The throne was like Mt. Sinai, full of lightning and thunder, and around the throne I saw the fullest presence of the Holy Spirit, burning. Before the throne was a golden altar and a sea of glass, like that which Solomon’s temple imitated in bronze.
Somehow, in and around the throne were also four creatures, again, like those in Ezekiel’s vision: like a lion, a calf, a man, an eagle, but with wings, and alive, not marble, and they had unspeakable eyes to see almost anything. These dedicated themselves constantly to worshiping day and night, saying “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” And when these overcame by giving glory and honor and thanks to the Eternal One on the throne, then the twenty-four elders, the church mature, imitated them and overcame by falling down before Him on the throne, submitting to Him their crowns, saying the same for earth as in heaven: “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power.” Here is how you overcome. The vision took Me deeper behind the workings of life, and I saw a scroll in the right hand of Him on the throne, a scroll sealed with seven seals, securing its contents from anyone but the rightful authority. Then an angel called for the legal recipient of the mission to come forward. What mission? Who needs a mission with Rome in rule? Those of empire say, “the existing conditions are naturally satisfying and useful for both the poor and rich, and there is no other way of living. Thus a single harmony of state order has developed which embraces all.” The angel and the church waited. But no one came forward. “Who is worthy to open this scroll?” But no one on earth. No Caesar. No one under the earth. No demon. No Roman generals came on white horses. And, I, John, began to weep because no one could obey the Father’s and the church’s call. I was hoping in the wrong direction, thinking like empire, so one of the church elders reminded me: “Why do you weep? Remember, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the descendant of King David, has overcome. He alone is worthy.” Yes, a lion, the Lion. His teeth will tear the flesh of empire. And, then, I turned to praise the Lion, but there in His place, in the midst of the throne, stood just a Lamb, a wounded lamb. But heaven doesn’t overcome like the empire. “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them. Yet it shall not be so among you.” And the four creatures and the church worshiped the Lamb; they made music to the Lamb, and they set free the prayers of the saints calling out from earth. The church sang her new song, You are worthy to take the scroll, and to break its seals, because you were not a murderer, and you have redeemed us to the Father by your blood. You have given us these crowns and white robes. You have made us a royal priesthood, a kingdom of priests, not a kingdom of murderers. And so we reign on earth.
And just then, the voices of thousands of thousands of angels burst out, now imitating the voice of the church, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.” In heaven, as it is on earth. Then it reversed, again, and every creature now declared, “Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sits upon the throne and unto the Lamb forever and ever.” And the church around the throne took the lead and said, “Amen.” Then, in answer to this worship, the Lamb broke open the first seal on the scroll, and out of the broken seal came something like the sound of thunder, and I began to see the horses Zechariah saw, the “four spirits of heaven, who go out from their station before the Lord of all the earth.” These are the ones who once declared, “all the earth is resting quietly.” But then the Lord turned against the empires, declaring, “I am exceedingly angry with the nations at ease.” The Lamb sends forth these four spirits to possess the empire and turn it against itself. Perhaps it will repent. “If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” This is the vision the Lamb promises, if the church leads. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss.” The first horse I saw was white as a Roman general’s horse. And like empires, this horse and rider galloped off to conquer and overcome and join with the spirit of empire. This horse stretches the empire’s borders farther and farther, creating death and illusion. Then the Lamb opened the second seal, and from it came a red horse. This one doesn’t conquer new peoples but old; it causes dissension within. The Lamb did not come to bring peace on earth but a sword, that he might set an empire against itself, rebellion and civil war. Then the Lamb opened the third seal, and I saw a spirit, a black horse, and its rider held trade and money in its hand. And this spirit entered the business of empire to exacerbate it, and, the Lamb gave it power to lead Rome to disrupt the economy, creating higher prices for the goods of the poor, wheat and barley, but protecting prices for the goods of the rich, wine and oil. Then the Lamb opened the fourth seal and another spirit rode out, a pale horse, whose rider is the angel of Death that the Lamb sends to kill great numbers of the unrepentant with crime and hunger and wild beasts. But we do not see the empire dying like this. We don’t see Satan’s kingdom divided against itself. Sometimes civil war breaks out. Sometimes the empire’s economy falls into trouble. But it doesn’t last. It doesn’t destroy the empire. Some die of hunger and crime, but not a fourth of the “Things to be believed”
empire. The empire keeps going. It has too much strength. group of saints I could not number, the new Israel from “You do not have because you do not ask.” This is how all nations, peoples, and tongues, all in white robes, waving you overcome. victory palms. Then the Lamb opened the scroll’s fifth seal, and it And now this innumerable multitude cried out in a showed me the saints who were martyred, for their refusal loud voice. And all the angels and elders and four creatures to fornicate with empire. I saw them before the throne of also around the throne fell before the throne on their faces the Lamb, bowing beneath the golden altar, praying and and worshiped, and agreed, saying, “Amen. Blessing and directing the Lamb, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power You not judge and avenge our deaths on the empire?” And and might belong to our God forever. Amen.” they were given white robes, and the Lamb exhorted them And where did they come from? I suspected they were to rest for a while longer. The number of martyrs is not yet all the saints. But he told me these have come through great full. The Lamb conquers by sacrifice, and He calls on His suffering. They have been tried. Some have resisted unto saints to sacrifice their own blood to bring down empire. the shedding of blood. But all have resisted the demons of Then the Lamb opened the sixth seal, and it showed empire. Smyrna and Philadelphia have given to this group, how the empire began to fall apart and many others. Faithfulness is not a special duty because of the prayers of the saints. for the few. They are not a cowering remnant but When the principalities of old empire innumerable. Now I expected of Babylon fell, Isaiah saw the spiritual Now they serve before the throne of something greater hosts of wickedness in the heavenly God, day and night in the temple. And Father, places disturbed: “the stars of heaven Son, and Spirit dwell with them continually. They to happen. and their constellations will not give do not suffer here like they did on earth: abantheir light; the sun will be darkened doned in the heat, hungry and thirsty. But here the in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to Lamb will do what others on earth failed to do. He shall shine. I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for feed them and give them drink. Here before the throne He their iniquity.” And Ezekiel had eyes to see the Lord destroy shall wipe away their tears. But this was to have been the Egypt’s principalities and powers this same way: “I will first love of Ephesus and Thyatira and Laodicea. Cowardice shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of her place, and blindness. I will cover the heavens, and make its stars dark.” Now I expected something greater to happen. At the And this is what Ephesus, Pergamum, Laodicea, and last call, the Lamb appeared and unleashed His angels to all the churches throughout the world could then see if turn the empire against itself. Now we have innumerable they lived faithfully: everyone fleeing from the wrath of the saints, elders, and angels worshiping God. What greater Lamb, even the Roman elites – the emperors and intermedithing can possibly come from this? aries and the rich and the military officers and the terrifying Then the Lamb turned back to the scroll and opened warriors. Who would be able to stand? But you have not the seventh seal. When He opened it, the innumerable because you ask not. multitude and angels and creatures were silent for an hour. We waited for the Lamb to open the seventh seal, but it Then God gave seven trumpets to the seven lamps, the did not happen. seven spirits, the fullness of the Holy Spirit indwelling the Instead I saw four angels standing at the four corners throne, and the Spirit sounded forth judgment and life as at of the earth, holding back four winds, ready and tense to Pentecost. cause devastation. Then another angel, sealed with the In the midst of the fullness of the Spirit, that Perfecter name of God, rose from the east and instructed the angels of the prayers of the saints, another messenger arrived carholding the winds to wait until all the servants of God are rying a golden censer. He was given incense for it, to mingle sealed on their foreheads. Perhaps those few by the golden it with the prayers of the saints. The aroma rose before the altar would be sealed. But then I heard a much bigger throne of God. number: 144,000 sealed. Here was the new Israel of God, the church, like the armies of Israel, from the new tribes of And then I saw how “the effective, fervent prayer of a Israel, ready for battle. righteous man avails much.” The prayers of the saints now Then I turned and looked back at the throne, and bring judgment themselves. The angel filled the censer with there they were. Far more than a mere 144,000, a massive fire from the golden altar and threw it down onto the earth, 32
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and mountains moved by their prayers. And the fullness of the Spirit prepared to sound His seven trumpets. It was as if I had entered another time, another fight against empire, Moses against Egypt, for the Spirit sounded and there would fall hail and fire, mingled with blood, echoes of the plagues on Egypt. These plagues burnt up trees and grass. Like in Pharaoh’s time, we wait for the repentance of empire. But the empire’s heart is hard. Then the Spirit sounded a second trumpet, and the prayers of the saints moved a great mountain, a volcano, and cast it into the sea, as if it were Pharaoh’s army, and the sea became bloody, full of death, like Egypt’s water.
The time for repentance has passed. The time for judgment has arrived. The principalities of the empire are broken, cast out. And now the vision focuses on one key part of the empire, the fornication of Jerusalem with Rome. I saw another mighty messenger come down from heaven in the clouds, a rainbow about his head, his face shining, his feet pillars of fire, a Michael, a Christ. And He set His right foot on the sea and His left foot on earth, and He roared like a lion about the sins of Jerusalem, and the Spirit spoke like thunder against the rebellion of Jerusalem. I was about to write, but a voice from heaven told me to stop. Then the Michael-Christ on the sea and earth raised His hand to heaven, and took an oath to the Father, that the judgment cannot wait any longer. The Spirit must now We waited for repentance, but it didn’t come. avenge Jerusalem’s blasphemy against the Son. The Spirit sounded a third trumpet and some giant So the voice from heaven spoke to me again and alstar was cast out, exorcised from its place of authority in lowed me to take Daniel’s scroll from the hand of Michaelthe heavenly realm by the prayers of the saints. The church Christ. He said to eat the scroll: it will taste sweet, but it directs not only the Lamb; the faithful now command even will make your stomach sick. And I ate it, and this was true. the enemies of the Lamb. The great star fell, cast out of “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem.” “All day long I have stretched heaven, and, like Egypt, poisoned the waters of earth. out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” “I We waited for the empire’s repentance. have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I Then the Spirit sounded the fourth trumpet, and the could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my prayers of the saints destroyed powers just like the Lamb brethren, my countrymen.” did. But just a third of the sun, moon, and stars were dark Then he said to me, “Go and prophesy about the comened. But this is not the end. An angel declares that the ing judgment on Jerusalem.” And like Ezekiel, He gave me prayers of the saints would exert even greater control. a measuring stick and told me to measure the Temple, the The Spirit took the worship of the saints and sounded altar, and the people therein. But He told me not to meathe fifth trumpet, and they exorcised another ruler of darksure the outer court, for it is given to Babylon to ness from heaven, casting him out to the trample again. We waited for earth. And the prayers of the saints gave Everything is confirmed by two or three him a key to open the smoking, bottomless repentance, but it witnesses, and I have in Jerusalem My churches, pit, to let loose a demonic military, an army My two candlesticks, full of the Spirit, testifying of locusts, a plague to make Egypt repent, didn’t come. against the adultery of Jerusalem with the emto make the people of the empire repent. pire. My churches, my New Jerusalem, My New But unlike locusts, this army may not Moses and Elijah shall prophesy against that city, destroy the vegetation. The locusts are terrifying soldiers, and anyone who hurts them shall be struck down. and their king is the destroyer, Apollyon-Apollo, whom an As we saw in heaven, the innumerable saints, the New emperor claims to incarnate. Jerusalem have the power to shut heaven, like Elijah, and Then a voice from the throne calls on the Spirit to have the power to smite the earth with plagues, like Moses. sound the sixth trumpet and to loose the four angels When they have prophesied, the demon military from bound in the Euphrates, and they prepared to slaughter the bottomless pit shall seem to overcome them with death. a third of the powers. I heard a number of two-hundred But they are sealed, and death has no hold on them. They thousand horsemen, and they came forth with horses, as if shall lie dead in Jerusalem, that Sodom, that Egypt, in bed with lion heads and breathing fire. with Babylon. And the people shall mock them and rejoice, But, still, like Pharaoh, this empire did not turn. Its as they did at the death of the Son. But like the Son’s body, people continued to worship demons and dumb idols of the church has renewed life. The Spirit will raise them from gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood. “Things to be believed”
the dead, and their murderers shall fear. The Father will call them up to heaven, to join the others around His throne. And soon, the prayers of the saints moved the mountain of Jerusalem, and the empire turned against its old friend, and the city fell. Then with the principalities and powers of Rome broken and vanquished, and the city of Jerusalem trampled, the Spirit sounded the seventh trumpet. And heaven cheered. The demons have been cleared out. “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever.” You have cast out demons by the finger of God, and the empire of God has come upon us. “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils.” And the church bowed before God and worshiped, saying, “We give you thanks, O Lord God Almighty, because You have acted against the idolatrous persecutors of Your people, those who destroy the earth, and judged them.” The Third of Three Scrolls The vision has shown us what was, what is, and what could be if the churches are faithful. Yet the churches who are friends with the world, admirers of this empire, do not see the justice in turning a kingdom against itself. They do not see the need for the judgments and punishments against a glorious empire, Rome that has “measured out the whole earth, spanned rivers with bridges of different kinds, pierced through mountains to lay roads and everywhere introduced a cultivated and ordered way of life.” This is how you speak of Rome in Laodicea, Pergamum, and Thyatira —as “a cultivated and ordered way of life.” Like Herod, you have been seduced by empire. You do not see the justice Christ can bring through your worship because you cannot see the origin and nature of empire; you do not understand the wicked depths of empire. So the vision goes deeper in this final scroll and unveils the source of empire. On earth as it is in heaven. The temple of God in heaven opened, and the ark of the covenant unveiled. To show deeper truth, a marvel appeared in the heavens, a great, noble authority appeared in the sky—a mother, clothed with sun, the moon as her footstool, her hair arrayed in stars. She labored with child, in great pain, yearning to be delivered. Then opposite her in heaven appeared another wonder—a great red dragon with seven heads, seven crowns, 34
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and ten horns. His tail dragged a third of the stars, a great number of principalities and powers and dumped them onto the earth. Then the great red dragon stood in front of the mother about to deliver, like Herod, and he was ready to devour her child. This Eve, this Mary, this people of God labored and gave birth to a son, a king to rule all the nations, but the great red dragon could not bring an end to the son, for he was soon caught up to the throne of God. And the mother fled into safety in the wilderness for a long while. Since the great red dragon lost the child to heaven, the battle shifted there, and war broke out in heaven, with Michael-Christ and His angels fighting against the great red dragon. But the great red dragon and his angels failed to overcome, and heaven exorcised the great red dragon, this ancient devil, this Satan who is the king of lies and deception. They exorcised him and his demons out of heaven. Finally, the slanderer of all the faithful would no longer present himself before the throne of heaven. Heaven sang and rejoiced, but the great red dragon now threatened the earth. Woe to the earth and its inhabitants. Satan is full of wrath and has little time. When this great red dragon realized how he had been exorcised to the earth, he went after the mother who had given birth to the son and persecuted her. The great red dragon vomited his army of demons like a flood, filling the world with demons in order to carry away the people of God, but the kingdom cast out those demons, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the legions of evil spirits. This overcoming made the great red dragon even angrier, and so he hunted down the faithful people of God to seduce and make war on them. Then a different demonic beast appeared—a beast out of the waters, but it looked like a leopard, with the mouth of a lion and the feet of a bear. It had seven heads and ten crowned horns. Each of its heads spewed out the blasphemy of empire. The great red dragon who had been exorcised from heaven was there with the new beast, too, and it turned the scene into a pathetic imitation of the divine throne and Lamb of God, when the Lamb was worthy to take on authority. In this scene, the great red dragon came forward and transferred its spirit and principality to the blasphemous leopard beast, the Roman empire. Exorcised from heaven, the great red dragon now indwelt the empire and gave it power and great authority. Trying to imitate the Lamb, the seven-headed leopard beast created myths of resurrection, too. Caesar was killed, and yet the empire survived; Marc Antony stabbed himself and yet lived; some said Nero would return. Whatever the case, the lies
and myths of empire persist, but they work to increase the empire’s stature. Their own speak of Caesar as “a god who wrought this peace.” They call him the “father and guardian of the human race.” They say he is “god on earth.” Blasphemies all. The whole world wondered at this beast of empire. They said they’ve never seen anything like it. They called Augustus a “son of God” and think that the emperor always decided “truth, justice, and law.” Such people are Satanists; they worship the great red beast that gives power to the empire. And they believe the empire to be eternal and all powerful. They think the empire so strong that no one can war against it. They say that to resist Rome one wars “not only against the Romans but also against God.” The empire says of itself, “our enemies are afraid and crave permission to obey commands, with the bloodshed of victory and on battlefields piled high with the bodies of the dead in accordance with the majesty of a sovereign power.” Such lies. Such illusions. But then, another beast arose, different from the seven-headed leopard. This new beast came up out of the earth, and it had horns like a lamb, another pathetic attempt to imitate Christ. Like those around the heavenly throne, this false church of empire also directs everyone to worship. But instead of the True Lamb, these imperial temples and priests cause the people to worship the seven-headed leopard beast, the Caesars and their empire. This false lamb deceives the whole world with its propaganda and lies about the divinity of the Caesars and the glory of empire. They do wonders, and like prophets they think they speak fire from heaven. The imperial priests make great images of Caesar and build great temples to him. They have become the mouthpiece for Caesar throughout the empire, and they seduce people to worship the emperor through the marketplace, through joyful festivals and sacrifices. The imperial priests permeate life in the cities, and to resist is to be cut off from buying and selling. Moses called for God’s law on the people’s hands and foreheads. And Rome now demands such dominion, too. The beast causes everyone to share in its life and embrace its commands and goals. You can’t eat or work without sharing in the idols, festivals, and images of the beast. This is why Smyrna and Philadelphia are poor. They have kept themselves pure like Daniel. But to be a friend of Caesar, to embrace his image, that of a mere man, is blasphemy. “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” Throw off your fornication with empire; reject the mark of the beast.
When you do that, then you will see the empire fall and Christ triumph. In the vision, I then saw the Lamb standing on mount Zion with His faithful, the innumerable fullness of true Israel. They do not bear the name of Caesar on their foreheads; they bear the name of God. And I heard music and singing from the faithful. They sang a new song, a song only the redeemed can sing. Then an angel flew above, calling all those nations and tongues and people captive to the empire to fear God and turn from idols for the empire will be judged. Then another angel followed declaring that Babylon has fallen, that destroyer of Jerusalem, that great city Rome has been judged because she seduced the nations like empires of old. “But now we do not yet see all things put under him.” We do not see Rome fallen. This is to be the work of the churches. So a third angel flew, calling the churches to faithfulness, calling on them to overcome the strong beast. And so an angel called out to the Son of Man on the clouds and directed him to Joel’s task: “Prepare for war! Wake up the mighty men, Let all the men of war draw near, Let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears; for I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, go down; for the winepress is full, the vats overflow—for their wickedness is great.” But Christ does not do this alone. He works through His body the church. He overcomes the beast and Babylon through you, His new Moses. Faithful Moses called down the plagues on Egypt, and that beast fell very quickly. And I saw seven angels ready in the heavenly temple, waiting to hear the voice of Moses, waiting for the call of the faithful. Below them, the faithful stood, on the sea of glass in front of the throne of God. They pray the song of Moses, that song that Moses sang after God cast that beast into the sea and killed it. But now the saints sing it before the judgment, for they send the angels to work. Because of this worship, the temple in heaven opened, and the seven angels flew out and were given vessels full of the wrath of God. The angels obeyed the church, and they poured out plagues on the unfaithful, fornicating with the monstrous beasts of empire. The first poured sores upon the unfaithful, as in Moses’ day, and the second poured his vessel on the sea, turning it to blood; the third did the same on fountains and rivers. The fourth vessel fell upon the sun, enflaming it to scorch those who blaspheme the Lamb and refuse to repent. The fifth poured out darkness on the seat of the beast, but like Pharaoh they still did not repent. “Things to be believed”
The sixth angel dried up the Euphrates to open the way for eastern armies. And all these plagues began to disturb the demons dwelling on the earth, and I saw unclean spirits as frogs crawling out of the mouths of the great red dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and the false prophet, legions and legions of unclean spirits. And they fled the empire to go possess other nations for war. Then the seventh angel poured out his vessel, and a voice from the temple declared, “It is done.” A great earthquake followed, and Rome, that latest Babylon, split into three parts, and other cities of the nations fell apart, and, with great hail, the angels stoned the cities to silence. But why must Rome fall? Why must we call for the destruction of Rome in all her imperial splendor? You who love Rome want to see her shine more. She is the queen of cities, the city that shines “round about on all sides with silver and gold.” She is the “common trading place for all people and the common market for the produce of the earth.” She is refined; she is wealthy; she is alluring; she is beautiful. One of the seven angels came and unveiled the truth -the great city, Rome, is a prostitute, a whore, like Ninevah: “Because of the multitude of harlotries of the seductive harlot, the mistress of sorceries, who sells nations through her harlotries.” Rome is like Tyre, about whom the Lord promised they would sing “the song of the harlot: Take a harp, go about the city, you forgotten harlot. She will return to her hire, and commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth.” God’s people are supposed to be far from these harlots. No covenant with them. No shared sacrifices. No communion with darkness. And yet the unfaithful always long for a king like the other nations. We are called to a different city. The kings of the earth, the Herods of the world, have been seduced to do her bidding. They have sold their souls for her selfish promises. They have enslaved their people for her love. They have given away their wealth for her smile. They give all their military strength for her dark deeds. She would be nothing without the Herods of the world. They have become drunk with her imperial lies. Have you so easily forgotten her blasphemies? Do you just set them aside because of the wealth she promises? Even I could hardly believe this revelation. Rome overflows with beauty, and so the angel had to rebuke even me. He woke me from my admiration to show me what was written plainly on her forehead: Mother of Whores and Abomination, the Great Babylon, that beast that returns time and again and destroys Jerusalem. Yet her emperors and kings 36
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are destined to fail. They are a kingdom divided. The ten horns on which she sits will turn against the beast. These will hate Rome, strip her and burn her as Nero burned her. For the Holy Spirit will possess them to fulfill His will, if you are faithful. So it is just and right that another angel came from heaven and repeated in a loud voice: “Babylon the great is fallen. It has become the habitation of demons, the house for every foul spirit.” She must be exorcised off the face of the earth. I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people. Do not take part in her sins so you will not receive her plagues.” RememShe is refined; she ber how Jeremiah prophesied against old Babylon: “Move from is wealthy; she is the midst of Babylon, go out of the land of the Chaldeans; alluring; she is and be like the rams before the flocks. Everyone who goes by beautiful. Babylon shall be horrified, and hiss at all her plagues.” But this, too, depended on the faithfulness of God’s people. Rome has said, I am a queen and shall see no sadness. She glorified herself and lived deliciously. All her plagues can come in one day. They won’t be able to believe that she could fall so quickly. Can she fall as quickly as Pharaoh? You have not because you ask not. Of course, all the business people and traders on the sea will weep and mourn over the whore, too. They adored the whore on the beast. Now they’ll lose out on so many sales. They will lose out on all their “necessities” of life: gold, silver, gems, pearls, fine linens, purple, silk, scarlet, ivory, brass, marble, perfumes, wine, oil, flour, wheat, beasts, sheep, horses, chariots, slaves, and the souls of men. How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. All her abominations stand out so clearly, and yet the business people can only say, “What city was ever like this great city?” And they will throw dust on their heads and weep over the destruction of Satan’s work. You cannot serve God and Mammon. She lived by the sword and will die by the sword. By her murderous reincarnation, we have lost saints and prophets of old, even John the Baptist, but also so many dead outside the covenant. But the faithful won’t wail and weep at her destruction. They have ears to hear and eyes to see. They are building a different kingdom. They seek a different woman. I heard their voice from heaven, saying, “Alleluia, salvation and
glory and honor to the Lord our God. He has destroyed the whore who corrupted the whole earth. The Lord God is far more powerful than empire. Let us be glad and rejoice. Let us look to building the new kingdom, for the marriage of the Lamb is here.” Unlike the city of empire, the wife of the Lamb dresses in fine linen, clean and white. And the angel with me said, “Those called to this wedding supper are truly blessed.” I was so overwhelmed I forgot myself again and fell at his feet and worshiped. He rebuked me because that was the way of empire. But there was still work to do. The great city had fallen, but the beasts still need to be exorcised from earth. So heaven opened once more, and I saw a Roman general’s white horse, again, but, this time, the rider on this one was named Faithful and True; His clothing was dipped in blood and His eyes aflame—the Word of God. The armies that followed Him rode upon horses like His and wore His white robes. This emperor did not fight like Rome. His sword was not metal, but sharper, more effective. On Him, He had the name written, Emperor of emperors, Lord of lords. He has come to slay the arrogance of nations with the gospel. An angel, standing in the sun, called out to the birds. He spoke as Ezekiel spoke to the birds and beasts, “Assemble yourselves and come; Gather together from all sides to My sacrificial meal, which I am sacrificing for you. You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, Drink the blood of the princes of the earth.” I saw all those demons dominating the earth—the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies ready to fight against Christ. And Christ took hold of the seven-headed leopard beast and with it, the beast of the earth—the empire and the imperial cult, and he exorcised them from the earth. Like Pharaoh’s armies and the legion at Gadarene cast into the sea, He overcame these strong beasts, this time casting them into a lake of fire. The rest He slew by the preaching and judgment of the Word of God. Then following the lead of Christ and His church, I saw an angel carrying a key and chain come down from heaven, and he, too, exorcised the source of the empire’s power, the great red dragon, Satan, and he overcame Satan, binding the strong man and exorcising him into the pit so that he could not possess the nations as he had before. But Satan is not dead or bound forever. He is a tool of Christ that can be used over and over. As the church overcomes
Satan and the beasts of empire through faithfulness, then Christ binds him for a long time to give rest to his people until they require more refining. Then Christ will loose Satan, again, to possess new kings and empires so that the church learns faithfulness, learns how to overcome the temptations of principalities and powers through the ages. In this time of rest, I saw Christ’s faithful exercise great authority—Daniel’s “thrones were put in place”—and Christ delegated the rule of the earth to those who have been tried, tempted, and remained faithful, to all those who have not worshiped empire or served Mammon, to those who have resisted unto bloodshed. These are the resurrection, the living who extend Christ’s reign by the word of His power. But each time, Christ will bring judgment to His faithful before the final end. We will know Christ’s great white throne of judgment as Daniel saw it, not at the end, but in history. But the court shall be seated, and they shall take away the beast’s dominion, to consume and destroy it forever. But finally, even these judgments of the dead will come to an end. When the church is refined and faithful, the faithful city will easily call down judgment from heaven to convert and devour the nations. And the church, the body of Christ, will finally exorcise Satan once and for all time, casting him and all empires and kings, “all rule and all authority and power” into the lake of fire. Then, in the end, Christ Himself will call all the dead before His throne, and all the books will be opened. He will judge everyone according to his loyalty. Then the last enemy that will be cast into the lake of fire will be death and hell. But what kind of church can do all this? What kind of people can rule with Christ and exorcise empires? Certainly not the compromised churches of Asia Minor. Only a church pure of idolatry can see through the temptations of empire, only a mature church can pull down principalities and powers. And the vision showed me a faithful church. I saw the new world that Christ had made at His first coming. In this new heaven and new earth, I saw Christ’s church healthy and pure, the holy city on a hill, the New Jerusalem, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. She stands forth in such contrast to the whores of empire. She is the temple of God, and God dwells within. The church is His people, and He is their God. Death has lost its sting. Tears are no longer the pattern of life. Former things have passed away. But this is not a picture of some perfect end in heaven. I saw outside her gates were still “Things to be believed”
sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie. This is not the end. But she is what churches should be. And the seven angels showed me more of this city on a hill, the Lamb’s wife. She rules from heaven, though living on earth, like the twenty-four elders and the innumerable 144,000. Her light was like the glory of God’s throne, precious gems and clear as crystal, wealth far beyond Rome’s. This church has high walls, no mixing with demons. She protects and disciplines her own, and her walls are founded on twenty-four elders—the twelve apostles and the twelve tribes of God’s people. And this city is larger than any city on earth. Its measurements go beyond the earth. For it is the church through the ages, full of those called from every nation and tongue and people. Its walls and streets were purified gold; they seemed like clear glass. She has been through much testing. And the foundations of her walls are full of all kinds of precious stones, a reminder of Eden, a wealth unimaginable. The gates were all made of pearl, and they are always open, welcoming every nation, fearless. It is the wealth of virtue and faithfulness. It is not the wealth of fraud, but the wealth of gifts. Empire steals its wealth, but to the New Jerusalem, the nations bring more and more of their wealth as a gift cheerfully given. And they showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. The city was full of trees, full of fruit, and heaven had given the church that ancient Tree of Life so that the church might heal the nations. The curse no longer dominates the church; she has no condemnation in Christ, and her servants shall serve Christ and shall bear her mark. You know that old Jerusalem has no temple now. It has been trampled, Rome against Rome. But we do not look for a new temple in Jerusalem. The church has no need for a special temple or its hierarchy of compromised rulers. You are the temple, and Christ is the temple. He provides all the light and order. And this church needs none of the old kinds of kings and powers, none of those heavenly principalities, the sun and moon. Christ is our king, and we have no need of others. We no longer long for a king or empire like pagan nations. We have no king but Christ. And the cowardly, the unbelieving, collaborators-withempire, the abominable, the adulterers, idolaters, and all liars shall be cast into the lake of fire with their leaders. The Lord confirms His words as true, and He gave this vision to show the churches how to overcome the beasts and dragons of empire. Jesus comes quickly, though. And 38
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He will bless those who obey how the vision shows us to live. Make this vision become the truth. Bring down the empire by your worship and prayer. Bring down Babylon in an hour, or she will be a testimony against you. This is a hard calling. After hearing this, I again bowed before the angel, and he rebuked me. We have much to learn before we are a city on a hill. This vision is to be open and understood. Its lesson is simple and ancient. It is the lesson of Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel. Come out from the idolatry of empire. Do not lust to have a king like other nations. This vision lies at the heart of the kingdom. Seek it first. On earth as it is in heaven. The bride says, “Come.” The Holy Spirit says, “Come and drink.” The Lord Jesus Christ comes to test you. Be faithful. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ overwhelm all your churches. Amen. ________________________ Brief Comment on this Reading: The above reading doesn’t aim to do original work. Instead, it tries to pull together in a relatively simple and popular form the fascinating and growing consensus on the book of Revelation as found in the books listed below, among others. Certainly, these authors will disagree among themselves on some issues, but their agreements are rather impressive, even if you disagree with the consensus take as a whole. I’ve emphasized the theme of exorcism and Moses more than most of these writers, but several of the authors prompted me down this path. Barr, David, Tales of the End: A Narrative Commentary on the Book of Revelation. Bauckham, Richard, The Book of Revelation: Apocalypse and Empire. Bauckham, Richard, The Climax of Prophecy. Collins, Adela Yarbro, Crisis and Catharsis: The Power of the Apocalypse. Friesen, Steven, Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John. Horsley, Richard, Jesus and Empire. Howard-Brook, Wes, Unveiling Empire: Reading Revelation Then and Now. Koester, Craig, Revelation and the End of All Things. Maier, Harry, Apocalypse Recalled: The Book of Revelation After Christendom. Peterson, Eugene, Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination. Richard, Pablo, Apocalypse: A People’s Commentary on the Book of Revelation. Schussler Fiorenza, Elisabeth, Revelation: Vision of a Just World. Thompson, Leonard, Revelation. Thompson, Leonard, The Theology of the Book of Revelation. Wengst, Klaus, Pax Romana and the Peace of Jesus.