Book Review – Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness, by Michael J. Gorman

With clarity and conviction, Michael J. Gorman offers a better framework for reading Revelation; a counter-framework to the popular “Rapture” ideas perpetuated by the Hal Lindsey’s tracts and Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series that have spilled over and stained a large host of Christian (and non-Christian) mind-sets.

Although there are a few paragraphs within the book dedicated to demonstrating the many problems with (and caused) by the ideas of a Left Behind style “Rapture theology”, the main thrust of Reading Revelation Responsibly is not to criticise but to lay-down a more solid ground-work for understanding and applying the message of this complex piece of writing.

Gorman illustrates that Revelation should be read as a Theopoetic, Theopolitcal and Pastoral-Prophetic text calling the church to be faithful to the “Lamb-Power” way of God in contrast to colluding with the way of Empire (Rome, Babylon or any other sacralised human power-house). That is, to paraphrase Gorman, instead of reading Revelation as a chronological coded-script about future events it should be read as a spiralling (repeating) script to the church, a call to faithful witness in following the Lamb into the renewal of all creation.

I should mention here that this is not a commentary to Revelation, even though the grand narrative and theme of the book (along with a good number of it’s more well-known and misunderstood scenes) are looked at closely. But what Gorman offers through his key chapters provides a better theological, literary, and historical lens in which to view this heavily symbolic text through. This I feel is important, as it’s the understanding that we bring to the text that dictates how we read it–and it is this which needs to be challenged and reshaped. For me, those key chapters are as follows;

  1. What Are We Reading? The Form of Revelation
  2. What Are We Reading? The Substance of Revelation
  3. How Do We Read It? Interpreting Revelation
  4. Conflict and Characters: The Drama of Revelation

Through the lens of these chapters, Gorman, within the remaining chapters, enables us to glimpse the text of Revelation through first century vision; seeing it’s politically loaded symbols and their referents in their original context, before drawing its relevance back into the present.

And Gorman is not on his own as he does this. Reading Revelation Responsibly draws heavily on other biblical texts, and scholars such as Eugene Peterson, Richard Bauckham, N. T. Wright and Barbara Rossing (to name a few). There’s also a good bibliography offering plenty of further reading.

In particular, I enjoyed Gorman’s consistent reminder that God is “Lamb like” and God’s way is the “Lamb’s Way”, a cruciform God, who has already won the victory through his death and resurrection. Thus, the vision of Christ which is presented in Revelation is not at odds with the suffering servant presented in the gospels. As such, aligning and nuancing the theopolitical critique of Revelation, the way in which God rules and conquers is the antithesis of the way of Empire; the blood that soaks the white riders cloak is his own sacrificial blood, not his enemies; and justice is brought with the sword from his mouth (his word), not through wielding a sword in his hand with a militaristic agenda. With this in mind, Gorman does an excellent job of helping us to de-literalise the violent passages of Revelation, seeing their symbolic significance as judgement (empire’s judgement of itself) and justice (the self-exhaustion of evil and the prevailing of God’s flourishing intent for creation).

Personally, I feel this book is profound, well written and essential reading for returning to a more biblical way of understanding this remarkable and beautiful piece of writing.

Tristan Sherwin is author of Love: Expressed – Out Now!

Love Expressed Book Board2

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