Friday, November 15, 2013

St. John the Divine as Theologian, Poet, Pastor

I'm reading through Eugene Peterson's Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), sort of as preparation for a church class that I'll start teaching on Revelation in a couple weeks.

Chapter 1, "Famous Last Words," describes John as theologian, poet, and pastor. This is a helpful way of looking at the author and the product of Revelation. Of course, Peterson is always good for some choice phrasing. Here are some highlights:
The theologian is never able to deliver a finished product. "Systematic theology" is an oxymoron. There are always loose ends. But even the crumbs from discourse around such a table are more satisfying than full-course offerings on lesser subjects. (p. 4)
If the Revelation is not read as a poem, it is simply incomprehensible. [...]
A poet uses words not to explain something, and not to describe something, but to make something. Poet (poetes) means "maker." Poetry is not the language of objective explanation but the language of imagination. It makes an image of reality in such a way as to invite our participation in it. We do not have more information after we read a poem, we have more experience. (p. 5)
St John is a poet, using words to intensify our relationship with God. He is not trying to get us to think more accurately or to train us into better behavior, but to get us to believe more recklessly, behave more playfully--the faith-recklessness and hope-playfulness of children entering into the kingdom of God. (p. 6) 
The pastor is the person who specializes in accompanying persons of faith "in the middle," facing the ugly details, the meaningless routines, the mocking wickedness, and all the time doggedly insisting that this unaccountably unlovely middle is connected to a splendid beginning and a glorious ending. (p. 8)

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