Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Revelation: A Survivors' Guide in Empire

When a curious form of theology turned the Book of Revelation into a flow chart of "end times" scenarios, a primary source for spiritual formation for the church to survive, even thrive under "empire" was lost. The last book of the Bible has become, for all intents and purposes, a lost book of the Bible.

Perhaps this is one reason why a major segment of the USAmerican evangelical church is blind to its own cultural captivity to empire. Like the church in Laodicea, thinking that it is healthy, wealthy and wise, this anemic segment of the church believes more in partisan politics than in the Spirit-empowered community for societal transformation, believes more in the majority vote than in the minority Christus Victor, and drowns in rampant materialism as they surround themselves with every edition of the "latest" Bible. I'm surprised there is not a Bible titled "The Republican Christian Study Bible."

John, the Revelator, gave the church "The Survivors' Guide in Empire." Revelation is a survival tool for those hiking the trails of national and international chaos. Yet, some insider, secret rapture theologians, believing the ecstatic visions of others, toyed with Revelation and it became an apocalyptic novelty comparable to a circus attraction. Emasculated of its original intent, the Revelation of John has created a cadre of people entertaining themselves to death as they long for the Great Escape. Without the formidable guide--the Book of Revelation--to shape and empower their allegiance to Jesus, a huge congregation of USAmerican believers has no direction and little encouragement to keep their loyalty to their King and his kingdom priorities. Success is not a kingdom priority. "Get'r done" is not a kingdom priority. Exporting a political ideology is not a kingdom priority. Choosing the next "American Idol" is not a kingdom priority. With the loss of Revelation, it became easy, even expected to turn the King of Kings into the Chairman of our favorite political party. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall become red, white and blue.

Don't get me wrong. I'm truly grateful for our nation. I have visited many countries (including Ukraine which I visit several times a year). I am very glad for my own country. Yet, I have had to wake up from the evangelical stupor that drinks in a-this-world-way-of-life and thinks that it is the life of the kingdom of God. Being of Cherokee descent, I'm a little hesitant to bow down to America as a "Christian" nation. Many well-known "Christian" leaders made promises to the Cherokee (and other Native Americans) and then broke them as they ravaged my ancestors in the name of Jesus. Forked tongue was an apt metaphor.

Yet, there is a hope. An intriguing light breaks the darkness. A fast-growing global community of alternative allegiance is daring to speak into all forms of empire, including the USAmerican kind. Citizens of heaven are not dead people, but living people who courageously pray "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." These loyalists to Jesus and his reign refuse to confuse the kingdoms of this world with the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. They don't wave flags and send armies as if their King needs those things to get his job done.

Amazingly, the one book of the Bible that is so desperately needed in our day has become the basis of fiction best-sellers. Fiction.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.



At 5/23/2007 5:24 PM, Blogger Denny Gunderson said...

Great content and writing, John! I couldn't agree more re. the travesty of an "American Empire" that attempts to serve as a surrogate for the kingdom of God. I like your take on Revelation--hope you'll do more writing on that.

At 5/23/2007 8:12 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

So good to hear from you! I think our Mennonite/Amish brothers and sisters are much more discerning about the place of Revelation and engaging empire. I feel like a novice.

At 5/23/2007 8:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems like we've come dangerously close to nationalizing Christianity.

At 5/24/2007 6:57 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Bingo. We are politicizing Jesus for the sake of a religious vision of this nation. Could there be any worst way to "use the Lord's Name in vain"?

At 5/24/2007 6:58 AM, Blogger Linda said...

Great post!
It is amazing what a lack of understanding of the intent of the book of revelation has created.

Perhaps an alternative fiction series is what it will take to sell real story of kingdom vs. empire.

At 5/24/2007 7:53 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Thanks. I agree that an "alternative" vision presented in good fiction might stem the tide of rapture escapism.

At 5/24/2007 9:38 AM, Blogger Adam Gonnerman said...

Very good. The Book of Revelation needs a serious re-reading without the end-times nonsense.

At 5/24/2007 10:57 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

I heartily agree with you.

At 5/25/2007 6:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am also from Cherokee descent and agree with you that although American has many good qualities, it is NOT God's gift to the earth. Our affluence is a gift from God and we have a responsibility to use this gift to bless our neighbors, i.e. everyone else. We do need a deeper understanding of Revelation to help us understand Jesus, The Church and our mission.


At 5/25/2007 8:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for opening another window to help us see the subversive landscape of the Gospel in the shadow of empire institutions.

Let me recommend an amazing little paperback book written in the early 70's by William Stringfellow. It is entitled "An Ethic for Christians & Other Aliens in a Strange Land." He uses John's Revelation as an ethical framwork for challenging the demonic powers and pagan idolatries of the American empire. Stringfellow's work remains powerfully prophetic, even after 35 years.

At the risk of making this a far too lengthy response, let me share one brief quote. "America is a demonic principality.... Enshrined in multifarious forms and guises, it enslaves human beings, exacts human sacrifices, captures and captivates Presidents as well as initmidating and dehumanizing ordinary citizens."


At 5/25/2007 8:48 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Welcome to this conversation. I'm glad you stopped by and commented. Most of my Cherokee forbears were from Tennessee. What about you?

At 5/25/2007 8:50 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Thanks for the book recommendation. I'll get it and read it. What an amazing (alarming!) quote. Will we see you at the House Church get-together this holiday weekend?

At 5/26/2007 8:25 AM, Blogger Brian said...

Somewhere I missed the connection that a series of fiction novels and end-times theology that satire and compromise the book of Revelation has compromised the church and led to America being this massive behemoth of evil and destruction.

American empire?

At 5/26/2007 8:28 AM, Blogger Brian said...

As a quick follow-up.

I am not disagreeing, but only asking because I never looked at it that way. Which I think is one of your points.

I agree with your assessment of the fact that Revalation has been used to create fiction to profit off of.

But I am just missing the connection?

At 5/26/2007 11:12 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

What America does or does not do is not my main concern.It's the USAmerican evangelical church, having been sucked into a capitalistic empire, now endorsing, propping up one of the most godless nations on the planet.

My thought is that if the Book of Revelation had never been mutated into curious, end-times charts, the USAmerican church might be more alert to the insidious values of a nation that is corrupting the church. Revelation was a clarion call to allegiance to Jesus whether or not Nero or an American political system rules out God.

At 5/26/2007 11:13 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Does that help? You explore the connection, because it is there for the exploring.

At 5/30/2007 6:27 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Sorry for the delay,

I definitley helps and it is something I never would have noticed with Revelation before. As I said already, I think that is your point.

Thanks for the explanation.

At 5/31/2007 3:37 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

I appreciate the dialogue. God bless.

At 6/03/2007 1:24 PM, Blogger Brian said...

I too think this is a really great post and brings out the nature of the Revelation quite well. It gives me much food for thought. I used to be able to lay out the Hal Lindsey et al plan of the end of the world and was one day challenged to look at it differently - much like what is in your post - and have ever since been recovering from my old ways an throughly enjoying the new out look. It just makes so much more sense.

I was wondering too what reading material you might recommend that would help me understand this more? Thanks.

At 6/05/2007 5:01 AM, Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Good word, John. This one's a keeper.

At 6/26/2007 7:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My inaugural address at the Great White Throne Judgment of the Dead, after I have raptured out billions! The Secret Rapture soon, by my hand!
Read My Inaugural Address
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