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Unholy Allegiances: Heeding…

Unholy Allegiances: Heeding Revelation's Warning

by David A. DeSilva

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This book, which represents a popularized version of his academic work, "Seeing Things John's Way: The Rhetoric of Revelation" (Westminster/John Knox, 2009), presents a wonderfully coherent reading of the book of Revelation that takes seriously the need for a consistent hermeneutic and resists the urge to "switch tactics" to fit the preferred sensational argument.

On the whole, there is much here that I agree with. I have been bothered for quite some time that futurist readings always somehow seem to find a way to "put off" the urgency of book, not recognizing its impassioned call for present faithfulness in light of imminent realities. And I think it is this particular reading strategy that comes under most direct attack in deSilva's work. Reading the book as a critique of the Roman Empire of John's day, deSilva is able to demonstrate how John both symbolically dismantles the claims of Rome while simultaneously constructing a vision of the coming Kingdom of God as the precise opposite of worldly systems' claims to power.

DeSilva is up-front about his objectives, describing in the opening chapter a series of three myths that he wishes to debunk:
1) The Revelation is about us
2) That Revelation reveals our future
3) That Revelation is written in a mysterious code

He stays true to that task and, within the confines of the book, largely succeeds.

However. His reading of Revelation is...well..."flat." The issue is not that deSilva attempts to read Revelation against its 1st-century Greco-Roman background but that he actively denies the book any other background. He doesn't simply CONNECT the book to its 1st-century context...he CAGES it there. The only connections he draws with current events are thematic and/or symbolic. Frankly, Revelation ends up simply a repetition of ideas already made abundantly clear elsewhere in the canon. DeSilva's interpretation could make one legitimately wonder at the logic guiding this book's inclusion in the canon.

What was most troubling about this move is that, in all reality, it wasn't necessary to his point. Pointing out the significance of John's prophecies to his immediate audience does not necessitate denying those prophecies' connections to future events beyond John's own time-horizon. DeSilva's unwillingness to connect Johannine predictions to current happenings dramatically undermined the power of the generic "connections" he did try to trace.

To me, it emphasized once again the importance of recognizing that Revelation does something more than simply "predict" some specific set/s of future events. Revelation shows us the overarching "pattern" of history (from both divine and human sides), a pattern that stretches back to Genesis 3 and forward to the end of the age. This means two important things:
1) EVERY generation has its Beasts and False Prophets and Mystery Babylons. Every generation must wrestle anew with what the symbols of Revelation point to in our own day.
2) History has a direction and an end-point. Each new "revolution" of the historical spiral puts us farther down the road toward that consummation point already known by God. I was reminded again as I read of the importance of envisioning God as existing not "above" history but as existing at the "end" of history, not simply watching "the world go by" from above but actively pulling the world to its only possible end, where history itself must bow at the feet of its Creator.

I want to be clear that I deeply appreciate the hermeneutical battle that deSilva is attempting to wage here and wholeheartedly agree with his negative assessments of some of the toxic readings that have skewed our view of this book. However, deSilva's unwillingness to even consider the possibility of "analogous fulfillment" of prophecies did, in the end, great damage to the force of his argument. ( )
  Jared_Runck | May 21, 2018 |
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