I wrote a paper for my Christian Education class in seminary on ways in which The Book of Revelation can help Christians think through the various themes we covered in the course. I had in mind Jewish apocalyptic imagery as a counter to the symbols of the pagan world that surrounded the Christians in Asia Minor. I got the idea from Richard Bauckham’s approach in The Theology of the Book of Revelation.
In the opening pages Bauckham states “As such its function, as we shall notice in more detail later, is to counter the Roman imperial view of the world, which was the dominant ideological perception of their situation that John’s readers naturally tended to share.” (p.8) One concrete way in which Roman ideology penetrated John’s communities was false teaching that legitimized eating meat sacrificed to idols (Rev 2:14,20). Some scholars suggest that believers in Asia Minor were tempted to participate in ceremonies in honor of trade deities that were a normal part of life in the Empire and an important part of maintaining the social connections necessary for economic existence. John, however, sees that behind these practices are the demonic forces that perpetuated the evils of Rome.
This idea came to mind this morning while starting James K. A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom. He argues that humans are above all desiring animals shaped by practices and cultural liturgies. He argues that we are constantly formed by “cultural liturgies” that shape our perception of the “Good life.” Implicit in these liturgies “is an understanding of the world that is pretheoretical, that is on a different register than ideas.” In other words, our theories about the good are shaped by the practices in which we participate. So, Christian worship is a part of educational and formation in the same way that a trip to mall shapes the way that we understand the world.
I think John agrees with Smith at this point. Revelation was written partially to combat the encroaching influence of pagan liturgies into the churches in Asia Minor. The act of participating in idol feasts forms a view of world in which the pagan gods were in charge of the world, even if as in Corinth, John’s readers believed theoretically that “an idol is nothing,” and needed placation in order to ensure prosperity – not simply for oneself but also for the good of the empire. John counters these images, not only with depictions of the empire as a beast or whole of Babylon, but images and hymns probably from early Christian worship (Rev 4:6-10; 5:8-10; 7:10-12; 11:15-17; 14:1-5; 19:1-4).
What role does not theoretical aspect of life such as imagination, desire, and worship play in forming how we view the world and than live?