I have never posted that many school papers here, because I felt that many of them didn't fit in the overall theme of this blog, but my recent work is a good marriage between academic pursuits and my calling regarding the local church. There will be several posts to get through this paper, but I hope you enjoy it.
This series will also serve as an introduction for some news that I will be rolling out in the coming weeks.
Attempting to write a thorough response to our intensive class on sacraments gives a wide range of application towards topic. The last year of my life has been spent in deep times of prayer and reflection towards how my two favorite theological topics, worship and eschatology, go together. This has been more of a pastoral task instead of an academic endeavor, and I believe I found some finality through our week together studying Sacramental Celebration. On the first day of class, we were prompted to express a desire about the class to someone next to us. I told my classmate that I wanted to learn to express sacraments in a more cohesive and less academic manner, in a way that shows how they are the joining glue of the Christian life. What I found through my reflections and readings was how the sacraments interact with my two favorite topics and a wonderful answer to my desire expressed on the first day. My aim below is to show how the three topics (worship, eschatology, and the sacraments) dance together to provide a fuller understanding of Christian devotion. After outlining a few concerns and directives, I will use Revelation 19:1-4 as a case study towards applying my topic.
Eschatology Versus Apocalypse
Modern Western popular culture is fascinated with the idea of an apocalypse. Through the task of modernity, the idea of a divine originator has been taken out of the universal story of the world. Instead, the belief is that the world started by chance (through the various theories of creation and evolution) and that the only way it will end is by apocalyptic chance. The church has bought into this movement as well, especially since the mid 1850’s, with the development and popularity of pre-millennial dispensationalism. Whereas the church used to have a view focused on fulfillment, it has shifted to theories of judgement and escapism.
This can also be traced to modernity and the rise of the individual. With the idea of “individual” comes the philosophy of “individual religion”. The Church shifted from the Patristic teaching regarding communal fulfillment to a concern with the individual after death bringing a preoccupation with “the multiplicity of affections and appetites that mark the spiritual progress of the individual believer.”(1) The community of God has lost its focus on the sacramental nature of community and how it serves as a beacon to the relationship that exists within the Godhead. Our eschatology bears this fact, and underpins our entire soteriology. Reclaiming an eschatological view focused on the eschaton, instead of an apocalyptic theology that bypasses a sacramental view of the end will be a primary task for the historical Christian church in the 21st century.
Understanding Sacramental Vision
Forming a postmodern eschatology is different from merely critiquing what has been done in recent evangelicalism. It would be easy to fall on modern liberal historical criticism to draw a new exegesis, and to simply interpret the apocalyptic texts of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation as fables and take a liberal preterist stance, denying prophetic realization. But this does not allow for an engagement with the Biblical text as a living breathing sacramental object. Secondly, it takes the biblical story and divorces it from an embodied, communal Christian lifestyle.
M. Robert Mulholland writes on the idea of vision in his book “Holy Living in an Unholy World”, a commentary on St. John’s Revelation. He begins the book with a lengthy section on how vision interacts within Revelation and christian life in general. Vision is a holistic experience that take up the entire human psyche and “impact the totality of the human being and go beyond the limits of human beingness. Such experiences appear to be holistic and unitive immersions of the person involved in the larger matrix of reality of which human existence is part.”(2) Admitting to the Christian life and the mystical teachings regarding the sacraments allows this type of experience, and builds an environment of worship that recognizes this aspect of the Holy Spirit in sacramental practice.
1 Colin Morris, The Discovery of the Individual, 1050-1200 (Harper and Row, 1972) pgs 139-152
2 M. Robert Mulholland Jr. Holy living in an Unholy World (Francis Asbury/Zondervan, 1990) pg 18