Friday, February 6, 2009

A New Search for the Literal Sense of Apocalyptic Texts

Cook now embarks on the task of seeking the literal sense of apocalyptic texts, but he is careful to distinguish it from a rigid literalism that flattens the text, harming its “original idiom.” He goes on to state, “A search for the Bible’s literal sense is different. It sees apocalyptic texts as symbolically rich, inspired literature that invigorates the imagination, offering readers new orientation and resolve about the life of faith.” And later he notes, “The transcendent world is already starting to impinge on the mundane world, the world of the here and now” (p. 63). How do we develop this nuanced “Literal Sense”?

Formulate a Canonical Approach
First, the building blocks of apocalyptic literature are biblical images and ideas. The amount of quotations and allusions to the previous canonical books are tremendous. They correct some exaggerated views of some texts. Next, the literature is rich with symbols and images. It takes mythic elements from the OT or even mythic and pagan images and breathes new meaning into them that have eternal significance. It is important to note this is not to reduce apocalyptic to mythology. It uses mythology. Finally, there is a transcendental reality that connects to life on earth and this tension (or better, multidimensionality) ought not be flattened. This view recognizes that there is an historical spiral at work here. Our times may look like the end times, but it is like a road around a mountain. There may look like times when we’ll go over the cliff, but God keeps us on the road – until the time He doesn’t. That’s the end. In this way we can learn from apocalyptic whether the time is ready to end or not.

Theological Contributions of Apocalyptic Texts
Apocalyptic reminds us that salvation isn’t just an individual deal. It involves creation and even space and time. God is bringing all things to consummation. It also shows us that things aren’t going to get better; they’re going to get worse. On the other side of the coin, God’s salvation will set things right. There is a plan to all of this and God will ultimately send the forces of evil running and be shown our Hero.

Apocalyptic Texts and Liberation
There is a “setting right” of all things ecological and as pertains to oppression as well in apocalyptic. This does not mean we ought to disengage from seeking justice. Rather, we are sowing the seeds that will one day come to fruition apocalyptically.

Do these ideas adjust your understanding of apocalyptic at all? Does it bring some clarity to what was confusing, or does it add confusion to already difficult texts?

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