Evoking an Alternative Consciousness
A Response to
[a short summary]
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;
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.
(2) the ministry of understanding
the book of Revelation;
(3) the ministry of hope;
(4) the ministry of warningand
(5) the ministry of edification:
announcing the good news of God’s reign.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- What future are we looking
- What does success look
like? orhappiness? or health? or peace? or contentment? or prosperity? That
is,what is shalom?
- What do we say and do with
- How do we define and address
evil—especially"big," pervasive, systemic evil?
- Who is in charge in our
world?(Is anyone in charge?)
- How do we gain a sense
of orderin an increasingly chaotic world?
- How does God address and
deal withthis evil? How are we to approach the question of theodicy?
- When and how will God’s
purposefor the world be realized?
- How is God exercising power
andauthority in our world? What does God’s vengeance look like?
- What is our hope (in God)
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).
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
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.
- to read it alone and study
it andmeditate on it;
- to read it together with
others,to study it with them and question it. Loren has suggested several
helpfulways of reading the text and I do not need to repeat those ways;
- to read it doubting that
we reallyunderstood it the last time we read it;
- to read the book with close
attentionto how language is used and not just what words are used;
- to read the book for what
responsesit invites, and equally important, what responses are given by the
faithfulwithin the book;
- to read the book for what
it saysabout its perspective, or worldview, or what Loren has aptly called
- to read the book with an
eye forthe way the language of Revelation is rooted in the antecedent language
of the rest of Scripture, especially in the Hebrew Bible;
- to note how this book is
like anoverlay on top of a background of the Hebrew Bible;
- to appreciate that this
book issimilar to buildings made from reused stones from many other buildings.
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.]