This Wednesday we celebrated the publication of The Apocalyptic Gospel at the Pacific School of Religion. We scheduled our event for the middle of the week at the beginning of the semester, and I’m so grateful for everyone who carved time out of their schedules to attend.
For my friends and family and colleagues who wanted to be there but were unable to make it, I’ve posted the speech I read from, although I did omit some material during the actual event in the interest of time.
It was an honor to be warmly introduced by my publisher, the Rev. Dr. John Mabry from Apocryphile Press, as well as the Rev. Dr. Jim Lawrence from PSR.
To get the full effect of the evening, imagine someone reading the speech below while a toddler runs around the room screaming–can you picture it? That’s exactly what happened.
Thank you for coming. Having people come together to let me talk at them about The Apocalyptic Gospel is exciting. It’s been a quest of mine to write and talk about the book of Revelation for several years.
I see tonight as an important milestone in that journey.
I see a few faces here tonight that have been instrumental in my research and my writing—my wife, of course, who has been a rock.
Norman, who listened to countless chapter drafts.
Jim, who has generously given his time and energy and instruction.
John, who has helped me navigate the exhilarating and terrifying world of publication.
Philip, who has always encouraged me to write, and helped my connect with John.
And of course, friends and family who have done the hardest part, which is picking up and actually reading a new proposition about the weirdest and probably the most dangerous book in the New Testament.
So tonight, in about fifteen minutes, I’d like to talk about three things.
First, I’d also like to tell you about the research and labor that’s gone into producing The Apocalyptic Gospel.
Second, I’d like to introduce you to its basic premises—what I am actually proposing.
Finally, I think it’s only fair to at least briefly acknowledge some of the limitations of such a book, and to indicate some constructive directions.
Researching The Apocalyptic Gospel
I’d like to describe my research process for The Apocalyptic Gospel.
The Apocalyptic Gospel is the product of over a decade of research and reading about the New Testament generally and John’s Apocalypse, specifically.
My first attempt at a commentary on Revelation, years ago, was a hot mess, an effort to comment verse-by-verse on every chapter before I had any formal training at even the college level.
When I showed my father my work, he chewed on it for awhile and then produced a book called The Theology of the Book of Revelation, by Richard Bauckham. You can find bits and pieces of Bauckham’s short, accessible, and well-crafted volume in the footnotes of The Apocalyptic Gospel.
I had two other important opportunities to develop my thoughts about Revelation.
First, as a member of an online discussion group at CCEL, an online library hosted by Calvin College which was my first experience facilitating interdenominational discourse. My favorite groups, into which I poured some real effort, focused on John’s Gospel and Revelation.
Second, after my independent studies, I returned to college-level education and ended up at UC Berkeley, where I wrote an honors thesis on Revelation for Daniel Boyarin, essentially a forty-five page paper that was well-received despite major shortcomings. He told me to keep digging.
During my graduate studies at PSR and the wider GTU, I did exactly that—I kept digging. Portions of several papers, including a major paper on the Transfiguration for my comprehensive MA exams—appear in both the footnotes and main body of The Apocalyptic Gospel.
You can gauge the general breadth of my research by my bibliography, but I’ll limit myself to mentioning two major scholars who have influenced The Apocalyptic Gospel:
First, N.T. Wright, who in his widely-influential discussion of the historical Jesus suggested that Jesus as represented in the synoptic tradition seems to have been participating in eschatological warfare. Wright has also challenged the notion that the apostle Paul was necessarily what we would call an apocalyptic literalist.
Second, David Barr, who has recently argued that, although it is written in an apocalyptic mode, the story of the Apocalypse seems to be, in some distinct way, about at least the death of the historical Jesus.
Although I depart from their respective readings in major ways, my own reading of Revelation brings these two core insights together.
First, that at least in the minds of the New Testament authors, the historical Jesus (the one represented in the canonical gospels) was waging a war against evil itself, and second, that the Apocalypse of John is heavily invested in illuminating the fuller meaning of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Drafting The Apocalyptic Gospel
I first used the phrase “Apocalyptic Gospel” to describe Revelation in an eschatology class with Bryan Kromholtz at DSPT. Fr. Kromholtz specializes in the eschatological formulations of Thomas Aquinas. “That phrase got my attention,” he said. “You’ve got something here that I think could be very valuable.” He challenged me to keep going.
The next summer I wrote about seventy-percent of The Apocalyptic Gospel, and kept fine-tuning it after classes resumed.
When I finished it after about six months, I self-published The Apocalyptic Gospel on Kindle.
That way, I figured, if I got hit by another bus, anyone could pick up my work and keep going without me.
Not long after I self-published, Philip Tanner—God bless you, Philip—connected me with a real life honest-to-God print publisher, local to Berkeley.
John’s team at Apocryphile Press put together the impressive edition that—tonight only, as a special thank you to all who were able to attend—is on sale in the back at 50% off its cover price of $20.
You can buy the Kindle edition online for a bit less, but I think you’ll enjoy the experience of reading the print edition.
The Premise of The Apocalyptic Gospel
Moving on, I’d like to introduce you to the basic premise of The Apocalyptic Gospel.
What is the basic premise of the apocalyptic Gospel? That a great majority of Revelation can be interpreted as an apocalyptic version of the apostolic gospel.
As an Apocalyptic Gospel, John’s “Revelation of Jesus” is written in large part to illuminate the cosmological and eschatological implications of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
The technical term for this is “kerygmatic apocalyptic”—the evangelical use of apocalyptic language to characterize the relevance of the historical Jesus.
Kerygmatic, of course, is a term derived from the Greek word for preaching, and generally denotes preaching about the historical Jesus.
Several scholars have come to recognize the use of kerygmatic apocalypticism in Paul’s writings. Some have also recognized kerygmatic apocalypticism in critical moments in the canonical gospels—but virtually no one has seriously registered this option for Revelation, although I would argue that David Barr comes very close.
Instead, as a rule biblical scholars tend to bracket the Apocalypse apart from the kerygmatic story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Most readers continue to understand John the Revelator as organic apocalyptic literalist, a mystical prophet who predicted either the imminent overthrow of imperial Rome (this is usually called preterism), or the eventual collapse of future structures (often called futurism or historicism).
In contrast, what I am arguing for, particularly in Revelation 4-20, can be loosely characterized as “kerygmatic preterism”—in contrast to the traditional academic reading we could call “political preterism.”
This is a technical way of saying that John’s primary focus is not really anti-Christian Roman persecution under Nero or Domitian or Caligula.
Rather, his theological focus is on the narrative of Jesus from Nazareth, and his war against sin and death and Satan, which led him to the cross and out of his tomb.
It is this emphasis—on Jesus Christ, and him crucified—that seems to be the reader’s essential piece of privileged knowledge.
That is to say, the crucified Christ is the image and doctrine through which readers are intended to make successful sense of John’s apocalyptic visions.
But other type of apocalypticisms are also present in Revelation.
Revelation 1-3, for example, contains seven letters addressed to individual churches.
These letters encourage congregations to interpret the kerygmatic apocalyptic narrative in order to faithfully understand their ongoing experiences of the End Times.
This invitation to interpretation keeps the kerygmatic narrative of Revelation 4-20 perpetually relevant to the ongoing life of the church.
This framework has been described—in connection to Augustine’s City of God—as “inaugurated eschatology”—the notion that the End Times were inaugurated by the pivotal events of Jesus’ ministry, and are still ongoing in the life and times of the Christian church.
In practice, this means that the kerygmatic dimensions of the Apocalypse don’t invalidate the use of Revelation as an inspired, prophetic text.
Instead, it anchors the prophetic vision of the Church in the life and times of Jesus, perpetually orienting a global audience towards the immense spiritual significance of a socially and politically marginalized peasant, one who was identified as a potentially dangerous religious fanatic before he was tortured and executed by an indifferent global government.
This early evangelical message vindicated traditionally disadvantaged peoples despite entrenched structures of social privilege in the Roman Empire.
In this sense, we can describe the evangelical project of the apostolic generation as an effort to redistribute cultural power through the reality of a crucified Christ. This apostolic vision was made real in the lives martyrs who joined the evangelical Jesus in his uncompromising triumph over death.
For them and for us, the kerygmatic events of Jesus’ life became an eschatological blueprint, one orienting readers to the inevitable clash between love and power.
Consequently, in modern readings, whether Revelation is interpreted in a millennial or amillennial framework, whether the reader is a literalist, preterist, historicist, futurist, or idealist, the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection remains not only relevant but central to understanding Revelation’s formation and application.
Of course, there is more to The Apocalyptic Gospel than all this—if I had another twenty minutes, I’d like to talk about the probable relationship between Revelation and the canonical gospels (Chapter 2), or Revelation’s exegetical approach to numerical intertextuality (Chapter 4), or the three major eschatological woes in Revelation that seem to correspond to Jesus’ baptism, transfiguration, and passion (Chapter 5). But all that is in the book, and I hope you’ll take a look.
In closing, I’d like to mention some future potential for The Apocalyptic Gospel.
Publishing The Apocalyptic Gospel has been immensely rewarding on an emotional level, because its something that has held my attention for years.
There are still things undone, however.
It remains necessary to present this perspective in fully-fledged academic terms.
To that end I’m in the long process of developing a paper for an upcoming SBL conference, which has a working group of prestigious Apocalypse scholars I would like to engage more closely with on a personal and not only theoretical level.
More importantly, I hope to test and refine this kerygmatic reading of Revelation in the real world, both at pew level and at the pastoral level.
To that end I am in the very early stages of developing a Newhall Course proposal, with the goal of teaching a class at the GTU with Dr. Lawrence.
You may also have seen my cards floating around tonight, which have my contact information. It says “Available for Bible studies and lectures” because I’d love a chance to sit down with Christians who have a constructive interest in John’s Apocalypse.
If you know a congregation that might enjoy learning more about the life of Jesus in John’s Apocalypse, please let them know that Justin from the GTU has an idea or two that might be helpful or at least interesting.
Finally, I’d like to thank all of you for coming and listening to us talk. I appreciate your attention more than you probably know.
Before a short public reading from the heart of The Apocalyptic Gospel we’ll take a break so people can refill their drinks and think about buying a book to read along with, during the interactive presentation.
In the meantime, I’ve asked Norman to help with the book raffle. Thank you all so much for coming.
May the grace of our Lord be with you all. Amen.