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.
He 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!”