A month ago I threw out some ideas about Reading the Bible Better. I loved the comments and questions that it generated. It led to a short discussion about the book of Revelation – which is one of my favorite topics. I had to take some time off for the Soularize conference and some other projects but now I am back. I thought is would be good to pick up were we left off.
I first heard about Ronald Farmer in an interview with Homebrewed Christianity. His take on different ways of reading the Bible (hermeneutics) was helpful and inspiring. He has a commentary on the book of Revelation in the Chalice series.
He breaks down the different ways of looking at the book of Revelation into 4 schools: Historicist, Futurist, Symbolic and Preterist.
The Historicist school thinks that Revelation is a forecast of Western history “from the 1st century until the consummation of time.”
The Futurist school is similar to the Historicist but thinks that most of the book (chapters 4-20) is yet to happen and will start after the ‘rapture’. Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, Hal Lindsey, as well as the Scofield and Ryrie study Bibles are in this camp.
The Symbolic school thinks that the main point is God’s ultimate triumph over evil in symbolic or poetic imagery. So the ‘Beast’ would be “neither the 1st century Roman empire nor a future end-time antichrist.” It represents tyranny wherever it is found.
The Preterist school comes from the Latin for “past” (preter). “It confines the meaning and significance of the book… to the immediate circumstances of the the author’s day”.
Farmer makes an important distinction between foretelling (predicting the future) and forthtelling which is proclamation to the generation of one’s writing. Misunderstanding the nature of prophecy leads to the kind of ‘event-substitution’ that both the Historicist and Futurist schools error in. It jams the 21st century back onto the 1st century and that is never going to go well.
He then takes the Preterist and Symbolic schools and combines them in an innovative way. Looking first and how the original audience would have understood the symbols and then -and this is the innovation – explores how the text might come to mean something in our new setting that is different than what it meant in its original one.
I wanted to introduce this material because A) It is a really helpful overview for any discussion and B) it will set us up so that I can distinguish how what I am up to is a little bit different that what he ends up doing.
Thoughts so far?