Certainty is a real killer of spiritual insight. Yet, many Christians tout their certainty about everything! The spirit of certainty exposes Christian tribalism at its finest! One of my personal favorites is the certainty many people adopt regarding John’s Revelation. It features four distinct tribes of people who will defend to the . . . well . . . stopping just short of martyrdom or murder. Each tribe claiming to know something about the passage of time.
To which tribe do you belong?
Have you chosen the ‘right’ tribe? Are you certain?
Are you still searching for a tribe?
If so, a brief synopsis of tribal certainties follows:
Tribe #1: Preterit Certainty!
“The visions in the book of Revelation were fulfilled during the timeframe in which they were written or shortly thereafter! It’s all in the past! Everything can be explained by the social/political events that took place during the reign of Nero (believed to be the anti-Christ of the day) by some early followers of Jesus. And we all know that the Roman Empire was the beast! There is no other credible way to interpret John’s Revelation.”
Tribe #2: Historicist Certainty!
“The visions of John represent an unfolding of time. It’s quite obvious that the visions represent different dispensations or periods that are measurable and definable—in a number of different ways. Oh, yes! From the beginning of time, through the fall of man, to the covenants, the cross, etc. It’s all quite obvious. Various events actually prove the beginning or endings of these dispensations! Revelation isn’t in the past! We are presently living through a dispensation. There is no other credible way to interpret John’s Revelation.”
Tribe #3: Futurist Certainty!
“The book of Revelation speaks about a future time when the world will come to an end! And it’s gonna’ be bad—really bad. God is going to punish everyone who has not been saved. God’s wrath will be poured out on all of the wicked people who have been left behind after the coming rapture. Make no mistake about it! People need to get right with God before they end up in the depths of hell forever and ever! There is no other credible way to interpret John’s Revelation.”
Tribe #4: Symbolic Certainty!
“John’s visions are all explained through symbolism! Why do people insist that the visions are linked to any past, present, or future time on earth? They aren’t related to time at all. The visions represent a spiritual battle that has no bearing on real events in history, or any passage of time. Such thinking is foolish. A symbolic view of Revelation is the only credible way to interpret John’s Revelation.”
Four vastly different views.
Four chances to dig our heels into the soil of human opinion and refuse to budge.
Four opportunities to divide into camps of absolute certainty regarding the rightness of our believing.
Whole generations have built entire systems of faith upon one of these perspectives, while rejecting the other three views (and the people who might adhere to them.) Whole denominations have been established based on one view of Revelation, while denouncing the other three views as heretical! When we join a tribe, we must uphold the views of our tribe. If our tribe has more numbers than another tribe, we are easily convinced that our tribal view is the accurate view. And so it goes.
There is something of which we can be certain, however! One’s tribal perspective of John’s Revelation affects the person’s thinking, attitude, and behavior in life. It determines who a Christian might listen to, love, and respect. It determines who a Christian might ignore, reject, or dismiss. Certainty about the end of life, the end of the world, or the end of time, shapes important decisions made in the here and now! One’s view of Revelation (or what they have been taught about the book) seeps into every aspect of private and public life—including world politics and government.
Who or what controls our certainty?
Ignorance, fear, or human ego tend to play roles in the development of certainty. But, the human invention of the clock also plays a role! That little voice inside everyone’s head demands that we make sense of the passage of time! And John’s Revelation teases that inner voice. Yes. That silent voice tells many people that the past, present, and unknown future cannot be left to chance, so it’s best to be certain! NOW!
It’s unfortunate that scholars, theologians, pastors, priests, and spiritual leaders teach and preach incompatibility between the four interpretations of Revelation. It’s too bad that Christians can’t fathom embracing certain aspects of all four views of time, while at the same time rejecting the theologically questionable aspects of each view.
Wait . . . What?
You mean each perspective could contain a measure of truth, while simultaneously each view could also be terribly flawed?
If so, wouldn’t such thinking suggest that another perspective of John’s Revelation might exist? A view of time that hasn’t been considered? A view of time that validates and encompasses certain aspects of all four views? A perspective that could soften our theological certainties. A perspective that could end the war over “end times”?
If there is any truth to this encompassing theory of time, then each tribe would need to deconstruct its present theory in order to determine what to keep and what to reject.
So, here goes . . .
Tribe #1: Deconstructing Preterit Thought
Why can’t we embrace the idea that some of John’s visions really were fulfilled in the past?
But let’s not suggest that John’s visions can be explained by assigning the anti-Christ to Nero or the beast to the Roman empire. After all, don’t some people think President Obama is the anti-Christ and the USA is the beast? Pointing to such information in history is said to keep the fulfillment of John’s Revelation in its historical context. If it’s not okay to assign the anti-Christ to present political leaders, or assign the beast to present human governments, then why would we think it is okay, in hindsight, to attach those same assignments to the political figures and governments of John’s day—then call it good scholarship?
It’s easy to build a historical case that points to a specific political figure or the increasing power of man-made governments as a fulfillment of John’s Revelation. Do we really think that John’s visions were limited to such a short-lived temporal space in time? Flawed theological thinking comes about when humans put limitations on visionary content that is intended to live beyond and transcend temporal time. So, let’s throw out the limitations of historical context and expand our minds to include transcendence of time.
Tribe #2: Deconstructing Historicist Thought
Why can’t we embrace the idea that many of John’s revelatory visions really are meant to be fulfilled throughout a passage of time?
But, why cling to a man-made view of dispensationalism? Why force the unfolding human journey into time periods that fit our limited understandings? Moreover, has anyone researched the different perspectives that exist in dispensational thought? How can we take this theory seriously when there is no agreement among its adherents? Flawed theological thinking comes about when humans try to read the signs of the times and then “shrinky-dink” them into man-made categories and call them, “God’s plan.” Let’s throw out man’s preconceived periods of time and confess that God is still speaking.
Tribe #3: Deconstructing Futurist Thought
Why can’t we embrace the idea that some of John’s visions really will be fulfilled in the future?
But why retain the notion of gloom, doom, punishment, wrath, and the horror of hell as literal realities for future generations? This perspective denies the power of the holy spirit to move, motivate, enlighten, and empower whole generations of peace-seeking people as time passes. It denies the possibility that fire does not destroy, but it refines, alters, and purifies—changing the hearts of people, purifying lips, and refining minds. It denies the truth of Jesus’ parable that suggests seeds are eventually sown in good soil. Flawed theological thinking comes about when humans deny the power of the holy spirit time to work at God’s pace rather than our own pace. So, let’s throw out the doctrine of doom and gloom and give the Holy Spirit some breathing room to function.
Tribe #4: Deconstructing Symbolic Thought
Why can’t we embrace the idea that all of John’s visions really are symbolic in their descriptive state?
But why throw out the clock? The passage of time is a reality of the human journey out of darkness into the light. We don’t need to discard the clock in order to embrace a symbolic view of John’s visions. In fact, it would be helpful if we saw the face of the human clock within the symbolism of some of John’s revelatory visions. It’s a beast of an image! Flawed theological thinking comes about when we worship the beast, while thinking that John’s Revelation has nothing to do with the human clock. So, let’s insert the clock into the visionary symbolism and read the book of Revelation again.
That’s a lot to deconstruct!
But, it could rid Christianity of its certainty about John’s Revelation.
Thoughts along the way,
SUBSCRIBE Carol Wimmer is the author of the acclaimed poem When I say I am a Christian, and three books entitled: The Net—An Organizational Vision for the Church of Tomorrow; The Clock—A Timekeeping Tool for the Church of Tomorrow; and The Key—A Spiritual Language for the Church of Tomorrow