We’re moving slowly through the last book of the Bible in a class I’m teaching this fall–so slowly that as we begin week 5, we have yet to get to the actual text.
Why the snail’s pace? It’s motivated by an effort to prepare for our exploration–to acclimate the way climbers attempting to summit Everest do when they move up that mountain in stages. That, and to give us enough time to sift through the baggage we’ve brought in light of what’s ahead.
I grew up among dispensationalists, saw A Thief in the Night (and sequels), read Hal Lindsey, sang songs by Larry Norman. The students I’m with read or watched Left Behind (and its sequels), sang other songs. We’re carrying a lot.
This time through, I’m reading Revelation more as a story that’s unfurling than a code to be cracked. It’s an approach encouraged by several–like Michael Gorman, whose Reading Revelation Responsibly has been an eye opener. Richard Bauckham’s The Theology of the Book of Revelation is another fine text. These are the books I consult routinely, but my shelf is bending under another dozen volumes that widen horizons and deepen wonder. One is Craig Koester’s commentary, an 800+page whale that so far has surprised and delighted on every page I’ve consulted. Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination, indispensable when I’m reading in the OT, is close at hand, too, because John the revelator is self-consciously prophetic, and Brueggemann helps me make sense of that voice.
Next week, we’ll leave base camp for the rarefied air of chapter one, with its startling vision of the risen Christ. Consideration of Ezekiel’s vision–where that prophet sees the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God–has put a spring in our step. Ezekiel’s flat-out awe, his struggle for languaging the ineffable–these are swirling in the air like snow as we prepare for this next stage of the climb.