Chapter 26

Evoking an Alternative Consciousness
A Response to Johns

[a short summary]

Ron Guengerich

Johns's observations and challenges to those of us in pastoral ministry push us to reexamine the importanceof both the opportunities and the tasks. His presentation aptly outlinesour situation. First, he identifies the central issues of ministryfacing pastors in coming to terms with the book of Revelation:

(1) the ministry of understanding your people in light of the gospel;
(2) the ministry of understanding the book of Revelation;
(3) the ministry of hope;
(4) the ministry of warningand caution;
(5) the ministry of edification: announcing the good news of God’s reign.
Second, he identifies the strategiesthat are needed to face these issues. Setting a constructive tone forour pastoral task, Johns allows us to frame these tasks as "opportunities and challenges" as we work at coming to terms with the Book of Revelation. These are not defined as "dilemmas " to solve, but more positively as the core challenges in doing insightful, nurturing pastoral ministry. His "opportunities and challenges" push us to see that the apocalyptic material can take acrucial and central place within congregational life.
    In addition to the five tasks noted by Johns, I would add one more challenge: (6) the ministry of providing an alternative "consciousness" that frames the waywe go about our lives. More fully stated, our task is the ministry ofnurturing, nourishing, and evoking a consciousness and perception thatcan serve as an alternative to those of the dominant culture around us.
    In nurturing and evoking an alternative consciousness, our task is twofold. We mustarticulate and live out a perspective that energizes us in congregationsto trust that this alternative consciousness is truthful. We must alsotrust that it reflects the ultimate realities that derive from knowingwhat it means to be a people freed from social, economic, and politicalsystems based on accumulation and control. And we must articulate in wordand deed a perspective that criticizes the dominant culture as neitherlegitimate nor truthful.
    This taskof nurturing and evoking an alternative consciousness propels Johns’s finalthree areas of ministry. The ministry of hope evokes the possibility and certainty of a new reality alternative to the dominant (and domination) realities of our world. The realities that are proposed and assumed byour culture are only one of the worldviews by which we may live. At the"edge of history" the church, which identifies with the scandal of theslain Lamb, receives the vision that their hope lies in the suffering andtriumph of the Lamb. Only the slaughtered Lamb can assure the faithful,the saints, that no dominions, principalities, or powers can expect tobed the ultimate victors.
    The ministry of caution and warning serves, as Brueggemann proposes, to criticizeand critique the dominant culture with its control and affluence mindset.Part of the pastoral task is to provide the observations and analysis necessary for dismantling the dominant consciousness. This critique is part of thepastoral task to engage God’s people, the saints, in a rejection and ade-legitimizing of the present ordering of things. As John provides suchcriticism in his scroll, so our congregations need the warnings and cautionsthat our own domination systems, which seemingly amass power and wealth,are just as false and as misleading as the systems of Egypt, Canaan, Babylon,and Rome.
    The ministry of edification is another side of what Brueggemann calls the energizing of "persons and communities by its promise of another time and situationtoward which the community of faith may move." The kingdom of God is notjust for the future, but it is also a present reality. Its alternativeperspective constructs an alternative world in which the shalomof God—the peace, contentment, health, kingdom-prosperity, and harmony—arealready tasted as an appetizer, a foretaste of the heavenly reality. Tolive in light of that inbreaking reign is to live in fervent anticipationof the newness that God has promised and will surely give.
    The apocalyptic visions of John can be misread to provide the Empire-type answers, but there is also a deeper and broader reason why we as pastors need tounderstand our people and their attraction to these apocalyptic visions.Christians today are asking many of the same basic questions that Christianswere asking at the end of the first century ce. These questions demandan answer and they must define the agenda of Christians at the end of thesecond millennium. These are big questions, basic questions about lifeand about God. Today people sense and desire the need for firmer foundationsin their lives. They are asking fundamental questions about our situationhere in the U.S. What are some of these questions? Here is a beginninglist; there are others.     Popularized premillennial dispensationalism attempts to answer all of these questions. I believe that is why the advocates of popular dispensationalism have achieved such success—not because they have answered these questions correctly orconsistently with Scripture, but because they have at least proffered answers to the basic questions people are asking.
    Too oftenpastors and those in the "academic guild" miss these basic questions. Withoutunderstanding the importance of these questions, we will not understandour people. We will become frustrated and confused about the reasons theyare turning to popularized eschatology. Pastoral ministry must know whatthese questions are and provide rooted, radical, kingdom answers. It isneither helpful nor appropriate to attempt to get believers interestedin other questions—questions that have captured ourfancy (and research).
    The ministry of understanding the Book of Revelation is a challenge that is central to pastoral ministry. Central to their pastoral ministry is the callingof pastors to teach. Johns is correct to call us as pastors back to thischallenge. Far too often we allow this part of our pastoral ministry toslide and be neglected.
    The questions our people are asking lead us to look again at the Scripture and especially the book of Revelation. One of the most helpful strategies for me in studying Scripture is asking, "What are the questions and issues that gave riseto this response? and to the literature? What itch occasioned this oracle,this saying, this story/narrative, this book, this anthology?" We are calledto read it again and again; Johns has suggested that pastors need to interpret, deconstruct, and redefine reality. I see this as a fitting summary of the challenge to pastors "on the edge of history." I applaudJohns’s conclusion as appropriate, though I think it is understated: "Pastorswould do well to preach this message as we greet the new millennium." Isuggest that pastors could do no better than to preach this message(with its alternative perspective and reality) as we greet the new millennium.

[This is but a summary of the full essay. To read thee full essay, clickhere to purchase the book, Apocalypticismand Millennialism: Shaping a Believers Church Eschatology for the Twenty-FirstCentury, edited by Loren L. Johns, published by PandoraPress of Kitchener, Ontario.]