Revelation as Subversive Literature

In his book Apocalypse Recalled (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002), Harry Maier advocates taking Revelation as a “subversive piece of memory work” in order to avoid falling into the trap of extremism. The apocalyptic genre, Maier argues, looks at the present by looking back at what has already happened rather than forward to an escapist future.

revelation-bibleHe says western, post-modern culture has become, like Nietzsche’s cows, blissfully ignorant.  We no longer need to remember anything because information is so freely available.  The post-modern world, according to Maier, is a post-God world of fragmentation (24-25).  American culture tries to be “real” but it is in fact Hollywood simulation.  Maier cites Jean Baudrillard’s criticism of modern culture as well as Umberto Eco critique in Travels in Hyper-Reality. Christianity has bought into this fake culture and most Christians are comfortable in the secular culture of the West.

For Maier, several reactions are possible with respect to reading Revelation.  We could hunker down and await the rescue of the Coming Jesus who will judge this world and reward the faithful few.  On the other extreme is the Social-gospel model of working with culture to create a more Christ-like culture.  The problem with the old-style Social-Gospel is that few if any government agencies care what Christian organizations advise these days. The days of a “transformational” relationship between Christ and Culture are gone, according to Maier, all which is left for the church is to “trouble culture,” which is what John does in the book of Revelation.

In order to “trouble the world” with Revelation, Maier says we ought to read the book “as a Laodicean” By this he means we ought to read Revelation as if we were members of the church at Laodicea, rather than one of the other churches.  He argues the seventh of the letters to the churches is climactic, and therefore the most important. In order to make his point he must make the brief line in the letter to Sardis about a few without soiled clothes a “praise” (although Mounce considers Sardis under the strongest condemnation, Revelation, 109). Perhaps Maier’s point concerning Laodicea as most like the modern church should stand, despite his structure of the seven churches. The church at Laodicea thought it was rich, but it was in fact poor (spiritually thinking),

I find it somewhat ironic Maier agrees with many on the “radical edge” in describing the present church as Laodicea, since many early dispensationalists thought the seven churches told the “history of Christianity” climaxing in the apostasy of Laodicea.  Many of the writers Maier scolded for reading Revelation as a roadmap to the future also read the book through the lens of Laodicea!

Perhaps this is my criticism of the “reading as a Laodicean” image Maier invokes: all seven of the churches struggle with integration of faith and culture, with Laodicea being the most spectacular of the failures.  To me to limit the “lens” to this last church is to ignore the positive value of some of the churches, as well as the warnings given to them.  All seven of the churches ought to be the grid through which we read the rest of the book, not simply Laodicea.  But then again, when it comes down to the application of this image, Maier does invoke all seven of the churches, so he himself does not read the book solely “as a Laodicean!”

4 thoughts on “Revelation as Subversive Literature

  1. Thanks for these post on Apocalyptic lit. looking forward to reading them all together. Congrats on your 1,000,000th hit! glad to be a part of it.

  2. Interesting timing that Dr. Ted Grimsrud came up the other week. I’ve begun looking more at his work lately, while re-connecting as an old friend. It happens he just preached a great (to me) sermon last Sun. (not his normal involvement recently) on Revelation and posted it on his blog yesterday.

    It was on chapters 4-5, just ahead of where this post comments. I am inclined toward his very interpretation of this vision… and by extension, the rest of the book and Bible. I’ve come there broadly via Process theology and its biblical understanding more than looking at Revelation specifically. I think you and your readers will resonate at least in part with many of Ted’s understandings and points of emphasis. And there may be resonance with Maier’s points about resistance (“troubling culture”) to Empire (and loyalty to the Lamb, who is characterized as vulnerable, resisting – nonviolently – and then killed by Empire). The sermon/blog post is here:

  3. The lens through which something is looked at changes the way you see it. “When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change” (David Green, 2015). Maier seems to think that it is possible to look at Revelation through the lens of a Laodicean. This is impossible. Or at least, not able to be fully done. While readers today, including Maier, can do their best to read Revelation as a Laodicean, they are, and he is, sadly not Laodicean. No matter how hard someone tries to interpret something from a different perspective I believe that they always bring some of their own bias and worldview as an influencer to the table. Even if this influence is minuscule it still makes a difference.
    Furthermore, if we are to read-only from the perspective of a Laodicean then we miss out on the teachings, struggles, and lenses that the other churches bring to the table. It is interesting that Maier basically disintegrates his own perspective by taking all churches into account of application. The decision to rule out all other churches’ perspectives in the letter of Revelation is insane. Maybe even a little heretical? It basically disregards a part of the Bible which is not okay because all of it is useful to a Christian (2 Tim 3:16-17). Even if the church today seems to be more aligned with the Laodicean church it does not mean that we are. That is just an interpretation based on someone’s subjective perspective. When reading the book of Revelation we need to take everything into account and use it to better understand what the author, John, was trying to convey. Whether he was conveying it just to these seven churches or the church as a whole, then and now, this book is important and should be studied carefully without the misstep of falling to extremism. No one wins in extremism.

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