Apocalypse and Allegiance: Worship, Politics, and Devotion in the Book of Revelation
J. Nelson Kraybill. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2010. 224 pages.
J. Nelson Kraybill, past president of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, has produced a very impressive “tour-guide” to the Book of Revelation, drawing on both years of teaching Revelation in congregational settings and his academic research (notably “Imperial Cult and Commerce in John’s Apocalypse,” 1996, his doctoral dissertation completed at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia). This book is designed for the general audience, written in a lively and accessible style.
After an introduction subtitled “Worship is Political,” the book is divided into twelve chapters. Each begins with a focal text (of which an excerpt is included), and proceeds with a commentary on the historical-political framework and symbolic significance of major images or themes in the passage. Each chapter concludes with a set of questions “for reflection,” and a contemporary story illustrating analogous issues facing Christians today, titled “living the vision.” The first chapter introduces the reader to John and his circumstances (“A Prophet in Trouble,” Rev. 1:1–20), but from there a “circuitous route” is taken to the two concluding chapters (“All Things New,” and “Long-Term Hope,” Rev. 11:1–19; 20:1–22:21). The route is planned to illuminate “most quickly” the historical and theological landscape of Revelation, and avoids getting bogged down in a consecutive, verse-by-verse format. Accordingly, chapter 2 proceeds with a discussion of “Stampeding Empires” (Rev. 12:18–13:10), followed by a presentation of “Beastly Worship” (Rev. 13:11–18).
Kraybill’s thesis and perspective is succinctly put:
Just as the letters of the apostle Paul have become God’s Word for today when the Holy Spirit breathes through them, so God uses Revelation to illuminate our theological and political landscape. Rather than starting with the expectation that Revelation will forecast events of our time, we should seek to understand the life setting of John and the believers to whom he addressed his book. With that background, we then can listen for what the Spirit is saying to the churches about faithfulness to Jesus Christ today. . . . Our focus throughout will be on worship, with the conviction that study of John’s Apocalypse should inspire devotion to the God made known in Jesus today. (22)
Especially beneficial and enlightening are the seventy-seven illustrations that dot the landscape of the text, photographs and other visuals that open up windows into the religio-political and socio-economic realities of the Roman imperial world into which John’s apocalyptic visions are cast, in part as “political cartoons” (42). The book also includes a bibliography, Scripture index, and subject index, further adding to its value. This book will serve effectively as a teaching aid, and should be put into the hands of those involved in congregational Bible study.