Category: Peace Theology

Are we living in “the Great Tribulation”? (Peaceable Revelation #3)

Ted Grimsrud—August 13, 2019
I first became interested in theology when I was in high school and began attending our small town’s Baptist church. My early education in theology included at its center the conviction that we were living in the End Times, the period shortly before Christ’s return. Virtually every sermon I heard and every Bible study I participated in touched on Jesus’s second coming. Someday I’d like to figure out why this was such a popular topic in that context.
One of the big ideas in this future-prophetic take on Christianity is the expectation of a catastrophic time just before Jesus’s return filled with massive violence and destruction. This event has often been called “the Great Tribulation.” I was taught that, happily, genuine Christians would be raptured out of their present life in order to be with God and to miss this terrible ordeal. In this view, the Tribulation would be a just act of God’s judgment against sinful and corrupt humanity—regardless of the carnage that would ensue.
I was taught to be attentive to the downward spiral of human history, looking for signs that the Great Tribulation was at hand. This was all pretty heavy stuff, and it does not surprise me that I, a young man about to head out into the big, scary world, would have taken all the teaching quite seriously. I read Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth over and over again, along with numerous other similarly themed books.
Rethinking the End Times
Then I went away to college. It was easy enough to live a kind of compartmentalized life —my fundamentalist theology in one compartment, my non-religious academic studies in another. However, that separation actually left me quite passionless about both compartments. When I was a junior in college, I found a congregation that started me on the path of bringing things together.
One of the key moments was a conversation with a mentor about our shared future-prophetic theology. With my minimal exposure to Christianity, I had assumed that what I was taught about the End Times was simply what all Christians believed. My friend said no, actually, the majority of Christians don’t believe the same thing I do. I was kind of stunned. That realization opened up everything. Almost immediately I encountered other views and soon dropped the future-prophetic schema. And during my senior year, I did find a strong passion for integrating my theology and my academic studies.
As my views about the End Times changed, I still held on to some sense that the biblical message was still linear—with a future consummation when Jesus returns. A few years after I finished college I decided to try better to understand the book of Revelation. That effort culminated in my first book, Triumph of the Lamb: A Self-Study Guide to the Book of Revelation. I wrote there about the New Jerusalem as our promised outcome that is certain to come in the future. I didn’t look for specific fulfillments of predictions given in Revelation, but I nonetheless did take the general promise of future paradise fairly literally.
Maybe we wouldn’t have a “Great Tribulation” like I had been taught, but we could still count on some kind of culmination, and it could be that things will get worse before that promised final healing.
A present-focused interpretation
I have continued to enjoy interacting with Revelation and have evolved in how I interpret it. What hasn’t changed since the late 1970s is my conviction that Revelation underwrites Christian pacifism (I have written extensively about this conviction on my website). What has changed is my gradually coming to dismiss the idea that there is anything at all in Revelation about the future—including a promise for a certain happy ending to the story.
I now think that the images in Revelation commonly interpreted as being about the future (especially those of New Jerusalem in chapters 21 and 22—but also earlier visions that seem to promise a sure downfall for the Powers of evil) are better understood as hopeful statements of what can be in the present should we live and believe rightly. The point of those statements is to inspire readers to follow the way of the Lamb in face of demands for loyalty from the nations of the world. If we are to have a happy ending, Revelation speaks of the only way that might happen—following the Lamb wherever he goes.
So, in this framework, the “great tribulation” (or, as translated in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, the “great ordeal”) is not at all about a predicted (and hoped for) future nadir of human life that will precede our destined final outcome of paradise. Rather, it’s simply a kind of hyperbolic way of talking about present historical living on earth. The “great tribulation” is another image along with the terrible plagues that are presented in three series of awful events in chapters 6 through 16. Numerous times in Revelation, we are told of the duration of these plagues—3½ years or 42 months or 1,260 days. It becomes clear as we read the book as a whole that these numbers symbolize historical time. Revelation does not speculate about how long in actual history this 3½ years will last; there is no interest in when precisely the end will come. What matters is living faithfully during this time however long it lasts.
The book hopes to empower its readers for living in the long haul. To sustain faithfulness, John suggests, requires a healthy community (such as the congregations in Philadelphia and Smyrna) and clarity about what following the Lamb wherever he goes entails (such as consistently choosing loyalty to the path of persevering love over the path of giving loyalty to the various iterations of Babylon).
Our “tribulation”
One way to characterize the “tribulation,” then is to see it as describing the on-going struggle to live with courage and creativity in the face of the clash of worldviews between the Beast and the Lamb. In our time, this courage and creativity leads to resisting those elements in our culture that make for brokenness and alienation, be it outright war and violence or the more subtle allure of living with the comforts of wealth and security while too many in our society and broader world struggle to get by.
The Beast (in cahoots with the Dragon and False Prophet) persistently seeks to gain people’s loyalty, to turn people away from the Lamb, to gather ever more allegiance to the dynamics of domination. The Lamb stands against this “worship” of the Beast (cf. 14:1-5), though at great cost. To follow the Lamb is to say no to all the various ’isms of these 3½ years. And saying “no” can indeed lead to tribulations.
Sustaining the witness
What is our best strategy (as followers of Jesus, as people of faith, as people of good will, as peacemakers) for living in our time of tribulation? A crucial point is to recognize that “tribulation” time is the same as historical time. There is no escape, no end to this time—as long as we live on earth. So, Revelation means to empower its readers to sustain their witness, not to hope for a “rapture” out of historical time. The numerous visions of worship scattered throughout the book help capture that dynamic (see 4:1–5:14; 7:9-17; 11:15-19; 12:10-12; 14:1-5; 15:1-4; 19:1-10). The worship happens in history, amidst the tribulations.
So Revelation means to emphasize the need for clarity of sight. There are two competing calls for loyalty in Revelation that the seven messages in chapters 2 and 3 make clear are vying for allegiance within the congregations. To navigate the time of tribulation (that is, the time of living in history), people need to keep the ways and commitments of the Lamb at the center and discern how the ways and commitments of the social and political status quo contradict the Lamb.
Revelation helps us to recognize the difference between religious convictions and practices that empower us to put into practice genuine justice and those that encourage us to live in harmony with empire as a way of life. Chapter 18 illustrates one key element of these two paths when it envisions judgment against the empire for how treats the fruits of creation, including human beings, as commodities to be exploited for the sake of profit. Linking back to chapters 2 and 3, we may note that the teachings of the false prophets in those chapters (e.g., such as “Balaam” and the “Nicolaitans”) surely involved affirming active participation in the economic world of the Roman Empire—unjust and exploitative as it may have been. Challenging such accommodation remains a central part of the Lamb’s message.
Revelation helps us to recognize the difference between two ways of “conquering”—the witness of the Lamb who conquers with persevering love as opposed to Babylon’s approach of “conquering” by treating human beings as commodities and relying on death-dealing firepower. The continuing attempt by those who claim to follow the Lamb also to affirm preparing for and participating in the state’s wars and other aggressions surely echoes John’s sharp condemnation of how his readers tended to join with the “inhabitants of the earth” in offering fealty to the Beast (i.e., the warring state; see 13:4-8).
Revelation does end with a powerful and inspiring vision of “New Jerusalem.” I’d suggest, though, that we should not take this as a guarantee that an all-powerful God will make sure everything ends up okay in the end. Rather, I think that the purpose of this vision is to hold before us a sense of what can be when we see reality in light of the witness of the Lamb. That is, New Jerusalem is only possible when we embody the Lamb’s way during this time of “tribulation.” And it is meant for our present, not off in the distant future.
[The “Peaceable Revelation” series of blog posts]

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Interview: Osheta Moore, Shalom Sistas

MennoNerd author Osheta Moore joins Katelin on the podcast to discuss her new book Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Brokenhearted World – which she describes as her love letter to every woman who wants to see peace in her everyday life but feels like she’s not good enough or has no idea where to begin – as well as shalom in general. Osheta is an Anabaptist, podcaster, blogger, and mom to three kids ages 15, 12, 11.  Her husband (also a MennoNerds author) is a pastor of a church and they are in the thick of moving their family from L.A. to Saint Paul. Osheta believes everything is better after a nap, brunch with girlfriends is a necessity, and nothing beats a good Netflix binge. At the top of her bucket list is dance in a flash mob—all the better if it’s to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” or Pharrell’s “Happy.” You can connect with Osheta at Shalominthecity.com.
Topics covered on this podcast include:

Some of Osheta’s journey to bring her to this point, including her first encounters with the word “shalom” (1:31)
How Osheta’s understanding of shalom has changed over time. (6:11)
Practically, what does it look like to seek shalom? (9:01)
The tension of seeing the really big peacemaking gestures and wondering how we can live that in our simpler lives (13:26)
The three aspects of shalom: with God, with ourselves, with the world (23:16)
What it means to be wholehearted in a brokenhearted world (27:56)
What is the difference between a peacemaker and a peacekeeper? (36:52)
What are shalom steps? (43:38)
How shalom interacts with other fruits of the spirit (50:22)

http://media.blubrry.com/mennonerds_audio/p/podcasts.mennonerds.com/Interview-OshetaMoore--ShalomSistas.mp3Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

BGWG 4: Nonviolence

Black Gal, White Guy discusses the events of Charlottesville within a larger discussion of how to respond nonviolently to extreme hatred.

Listener question: How do we deal with the pendulum swinging too far the other way to leave boys and men behind? (0:35)
Steve’s recommendation: a meme “Racism scale: where do you fall” from the Medium article “How America Spreads the Disease that is Racism by not Confronting Racist Family Members and Friends” (image below). (11:01)
Ebony’s recommendation: A Syllabus for White People to Educate Themselves by Christena Cleveland. (14:02)
Ebony responds to Accidental Courtesy, one of Steve’s previous recommendations. (17:00)
How Christians dedicated to peace and justice can best show up in times with so much explicit hatred including neo-Nazis and the KKK. (22:23)
Whether there are any exceptions to the Anabaptist non-violence ethic. (27:20)
Ebony’s feelings on the position of non-violence. (30:39)
How Steve responds to others who will use violence toward the same goals, such as anarchists and antifa groups. (37:44)

To email Ebony and Steve, send to bgwg@mennonerds.com.
http://media.blubrry.com/mennonerds_audio/p/podcasts.mennonerds.com/BGWG4-Nonviolence.mp3Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Vlog 34: Pacifist OT

Steve asks the vloggers a tough question: how do pacifists deal with the violence in the Old Testament? Unfortunately there were no responses, except for the return of Steve to explain his view and how he differs from Greg Boyd. If you would like to dig in farther, please check out the three segments of our interview with Greg Boyd about Crucifixion of the Warrior God:

Interview: Greg Boyd, Crucifixion of the Warrior God (Part 1)
Interview: Greg Boyd, Crucifixion of the Warrior God (Part 2)
Interview: Greg Boyd, Crucifixion of the Warrior God (Part 3)

https://media.blubrry.com/mennonerds_audio/p/archive.org/download/Vlog34PacifistOT/Vlog34-PacifistOT.mp3Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Interview: Greg Boyd, Crucifixion of the Warrior God (Part 3)

Greg Boyd joins the podcast to discuss his newest book, Crucifixion of the Warrior God. In this part 3, the conversation focuses primarily on how to apply this cross-centred hermeneutic to other biblical texts where God appears to be violent. If you missed previous parts, you can check out part 1 here or part 2 here.
The book description (taken from Amazon):
Renowned pastor-theologian Gregory A. Boyd proposes a revolutionary way to read the Bible in this epic but accessible study. His “cruciform hermeneutic” stands as a challenge to the field of biblical studies and to all thoughtful Christians.
A dramatic tension confronts every Christian believer and interpreter of Scripture: on the one hand, we encounter Old Testament stories of God commanding horrendous violence. On the other hand, we read the unequivocally nonviolent teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. Reconciling these two has challenged Christians and theologians for two millennia.
Throughout Christian history, various answers have been proposed, ranging from the long-rejected explanation that these contrasting depictions are of two entirely different “gods” to recent social, cultural, and literary theories that attempt to dispel the conflict.
The Crucifixion of the Warrior God takes up this dramatic tension and the range of proposed answers in an ambitious constructive investigation. Over two volumes, Gregory A. Boyd argues that we must take seriously the full range of Scripture as inspired, including its violent depictions of God. At the same time, he affirms the absolute centrality of the crucified and risen Christ as the supreme revelation of God.
Developing a theological interpretation of Scripture that he labels a “cruciform hermeneutic,” Boyd demonstrates how the Bible’s violent images of God are reframed and their violence subverted when interpreted through the lens of the cross and resurrection. Indeed, when read in this way, Boyd argues that these violent depictions bear witness to the same self-sacrificial nature of God that was ultimately revealed on the cross.
https://media.blubrry.com/mennonerds_audio/p/archive.org/download/InterviewGregBoydCrucifixionOfTheWarriorGodPart3/Interview-GregBoyd--CrucifixionOfTheWarriorGod-Part3.mp3Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Interview: Greg Boyd, Crucifixion of the Warrior God (Part 1)

Greg Boyd joins the podcast to discuss his newest book, Crucifixion of the Warrior God. In this part 1, Greg talks about the centrality not only of Jesus in general but of Jesus on the cross in particular. This lens for understanding God and the Bible shapes how we view other texts and other theological questions, some of which will be discussed more in parts 2 and 3.
The book description (taken from Amazon):

Renowned pastor-theologian Gregory A. Boyd proposes a revolutionary way to read the Bible in this epic but accessible study. His “cruciform hermeneutic” stands as a challenge to the field of biblical studies and to all thoughtful Christians.
A dramatic tension confronts every Christian believer and interpreter of Scripture: on the one hand, we encounter Old Testament stories of God commanding horrendous violence. On the other hand, we read the unequivocally nonviolent teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. Reconciling these two has challenged Christians and theologians for two millennia.
Throughout Christian history, various answers have been proposed, ranging from the long-rejected explanation that these contrasting depictions are of two entirely different “gods” to recent social, cultural, and literary theories that attempt to dispel the conflict.
The Crucifixion of the Warrior God takes up this dramatic tension and the range of proposed answers in an ambitious constructive investigation. Over two volumes, Gregory A. Boyd argues that we must take seriously the full range of Scripture as inspired, including its violent depictions of God. At the same time, he affirms the absolute centrality of the crucified and risen Christ as the supreme revelation of God.
Developing a theological interpretation of Scripture that he labels a “cruciform hermeneutic,” Boyd demonstrates how the Bible’s violent images of God are reframed and their violence subverted when interpreted through the lens of the cross and resurrection. Indeed, when read in this way, Boyd argues that these violent depictions bear witness to the same self-sacrificial nature of God that was ultimately revealed on the cross.

https://media.blubrry.com/mennonerds_audio/p/archive.org/download/InterviewGregBoydCrucifixionOfTheWarriorGodPart1/Interview-GregBoyd--CrucifixionOfTheWarriorGod-Part1.mp3Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

MennoNerds Live: Greg Boyd, Crucifixion of the Warrior God

Greg Boyd joins the podcast to discuss his newest book, Crucifixion of the Warrior God. The book description (taken from Amazon):

Renowned pastor-theologian Gregory A. Boyd proposes a revolutionary way to read the Bible in this epic but accessible study. His “cruciform hermeneutic” stands as a challenge to the field of biblical studies and to all thoughtful Christians.
A dramatic tension confronts every Christian believer and interpreter of Scripture: on the one hand, we encounter Old Testament stories of God commanding horrendous violence. On the other hand, we read the unequivocally nonviolent teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. Reconciling these two has challenged Christians and theologians for two millennia.
Throughout Christian history, various answers have been proposed, ranging from the long-rejected explanation that these contrasting depictions are of two entirely different “gods” to recent social, cultural, and literary theories that attempt to dispel the conflict.
The Crucifixion of the Warrior God takes up this dramatic tension and the range of proposed answers in an ambitious constructive investigation. Over two volumes, Gregory A. Boyd argues that we must take seriously the full range of Scripture as inspired, including its violent depictions of God. At the same time, he affirms the absolute centrality of the crucified and risen Christ as the supreme revelation of God.
Developing a theological interpretation of Scripture that he labels a “cruciform hermeneutic,” Boyd demonstrates how the Bible’s violent images of God are reframed and their violence subverted when interpreted through the lens of the cross and resurrection. Indeed, when read in this way, Boyd argues that these violent depictions bear witness to the same self-sacrificial nature of God that was ultimately revealed on the cross.

Vlog 22: Peacemaking in the Time of Trump

In the wake of Donald Trump being elected to be the next President of the United States, the vloggers discuss what it looks like it to be peacemakers in a world that is quickly becoming more hostile to many marginalized groups. After Ryan opens the topic, participants include:

Deborah-Ruth Ferber, who talks about increasing polarization of culture
Micael Grenholm, who talks about what it looks like for Christian communities to live in resistance, with some focus on the need for environmental sustainability
Ebony Adedayo, who challenges us to use whatever voice we have to actively resist hatred wherever we see it

Some more links:

Shalom Book Club #8: Roadmap to Reconciliation (with some extra attention to the election), featuring MennoNerd Osheta Moore
That God Show EP38: Post Election Blues, featuring MennoNerd Benjamin Corey
The Paulcast Special Edition: Paul, Unveiled Faces & The Election, featuring MennoNerd Kurt Willems

https://media.blubrry.com/mennonerds_audio/p/archive.org/download/Vlog22PeacemakingInTimeOfTrump/Vlog22-PeacemakingInTimeOfTrump.mp3Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

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