Interpreting the New Testament for Preaching— The Apocalypse -- By: L. Paige Patterson

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 12:1 (Fall 1994)
Article: Interpreting the New Testament for Preaching— The Apocalypse
Author: L. Paige Patterson

Interpreting the New Testament for Preaching—
The Apocalypse

L. Paige Patterson

Professor of Theology
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, NC 27587

Evangelical preaching from the Apocalypse gyrates wildly as it caroms off walls of neglect only to settle into theological opium fields where enthusiastic illusions inhaled from the fertile poppies of human imagination are passed on to bewildered congregants as insights into the minute details of the last days. Attempts to identify the Antichrist by means of numerics may smack of cabalism, but Christian interpreters have, nevertheless, wearied themselves and embarrassed the faith with relentless efforts to sort out antichrist’s identity whether it be Nero, Henry Kissinger, or Saddam Hussein. Prophetic calendars, discoveries of contemporary weaponry from helicopters to missiles, and gross literalisms of an almost infinite variety have all been part of the mishandling of the Apocalypse by its most ardent admirers.

If there is something more regrettable than the treatment of the Revelation by enthusiastic friends, it is its abject neglect by most evangelical preachers. Partly as a reaction to the unbridled sensationalism of reckless interpreters and partly as a result of intellectual and exegetical laziness, the average evangelical pastor just never gets around to the Apocalypse. If he should decide to venture into such “foreign territory,” he is most likely to bring a few messages on the seven churches or at most expound the first three chapters. As everyone quickly learns, there may be some hermeneutical mountains to climb in the first three chapters, but at least there are no Gordian knots awaiting some special interpretive sword which was never released from the seminary armory!

Did I say seminary? Ah yes, the scene is seldom any better there. Many professors secretly dread the prospects of encountering students who are sure to have some half-baked views about the Apocalypse-just enough knowledge to ask a battery of questions that are calculated to reveal cavernous lacunae in the doctor’s knowledge and induce the most intolerable form of academic humiliation. Consequently, the rule in New Testament Survey or, even in a narrower focus on the epistles, is to have so much material that the semester “regrettably” expires before the class gets to the Apocalypse. Or if one must encounter the Apocalypse, at least he can spend several days lecturing on Apocalyptic genre in Judaism, 200 B.C. to A.D. 100, drag out the first three chapters as long as possible, and pray for spring rains to bring a gully washer and wipe out enough class days to realize the

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