Apocalypse and Ecclesia – 2008 TF Torrance Lectures in Aberdeen

A couple weeks ago Joseph Mangina gave the T.F. Torrance Lectures here in Aberdeen (details here). Mangina is both an mangina_000accomplished scholar and – gratefully – an engaging presenter. The main purpose of his lectures was to pursue the following question: What would it mean to view the church in light of the Apocalypse? In keeping with the apocalyptic angle, his lectures took the form of ‘notes on scripture’ and followed the text of revelation as a form of theological interpretation of scripture (he has a revelation commentary in the Brazos series coming out in 2009).

While our remarks certainly won’t be comprehensive of Mangina’s lectures, a couple things stood out to us:

Divine Agency - Related to his reflections on the theological interpretation of Scripture and to the nature of the book of Revelation – as the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ – Mangina’s lectures consistently registered the importance of divine agency for a theological account of the church. Mangina contended that the genitive related to Jesus in Revelation 1:1 (‘the revelation of Jesus Christ’) must be read here both as subjective and objective – Jesus is the author and the content of revelation. In turn, this impacts the way the church should read the later ‘scary bits’ in the book of Revelation related to judgment and tribulation. In reading the Revelation, then, ‘It means first’ Mangina explained, ‘that we are dealing with and beholding Jesus and secondarily (only) are we dealing with the prophetic contents of the book.’ Specifically concerning the political implications that could be drawn from Revelation, when Jesus is properly seen as the object and subject of the Revelation, ‘it provokes a horizon of divine action that does not take human politics seriously.’

Concerning the former (theological interpretation of Scripture) he said,

To read scripture theologically is to read it ecclesially, which is to read it typologically. This starts with the assumption that God is the primary author of scripture and most specifically the Spirit and that all Scripture points to Jesus Christ.

Typology presupposes that God providentially orders all creation and that Jesus Christ is the center of that ordering. It also assumes the eschatological telos is Christologically focused. He added that just such a Christological providentia is pneumatologically robust in guiding creation and working in the hearts of people.

Communion Ecclesiology - Woven through Mangina’s lectures was also a proposal for a form of communion ecclesiology. Koinenia (community) on this view is ‘not what happens when people come together around a common conviction’ but the ecclesial community must be understood in terms of the God who establishes and forms the church. Community doesn’t happen when people come together, but instead when the people of God are bound together in ecclesial communion as they are bound in God. As it relates to the applications that reading Revelation might have for the church, it seems that Mangina was arguing the following: as a church at the end of the world, she participates both in Christ’s victory over all (lamp stand in heaven) and in the not yet realized victory on earth (lamp stand in the temple) – But in both, Christ stands among them as victor.

Revelation, according to Mangina, is first and foremost, a book about the church. The seven churches offer specific particularity to the abstract universality that most interpretations fall victim to (i.e. revelation is interpreted allegorically/typologically in its entirety). Reading Revelation, therefore, is reading as those who have Jesus among them, and it is this reading that is the ecclesial reading; ‘If Christ is among us, then we must read Revelation differently.’ Because of Mangina’s insistence that Jesus is both the message and the messenger of John’s Revelation, the letter to these churches should be read as well as a letter to today’s churches.

Some thoughts…

I (Kent) found Mangina’s reading of Revelation and his thoroughgoing stress on Jesus as the divine agent of Revelation - the message and the messenger – a refreshing alternative to other forms of reading that too often dominate Evangelical environments. Rather than approaching the book as a blueprint of things to come in which portends are found in tomorrow’s newspaper, Mangina offered an ecclesially focused Christological reading through which its attentive readers find Jesus and the church’s identity in God.

What I (Kyle) appreciated was Mangina’s restoration of Revelation for the church, that we need to read this document as an ecclesial community among others (including the seven), who stand together under Christ as Lord. The peripheral issues of empire, succession of events, etc., are but shadows of the greater issue of Christ’s Lording over his people as the lamb of eschatological history.

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3 thoughts on “Apocalypse and Ecclesia – 2008 TF Torrance Lectures in Aberdeen

  1. Wow…Nice…Great…I want to read Mangina’s preface/intro to his commentary. What a different way to approach the book. I must admit I agree with you Kent in valuing this fresh approach to the tired and dusty traditional viewpoints. I believe in approaching the text in this way in recaptures the centrality of Jesus as well as contextualizing it back onto His church – as you say Kyle. I really wish I could have been there.

    As a question for you both and others in the forum community – in what ways does this reading challenge the conventional understandings of eschatology?

  2. Yes, thank you for the report on Mangina’s lecture. I would also appreciate some clarification on what is meant by `tired and dusty traditional viewpoints.’ In Evangelical circles, dispensational views seem to have assumed the dominant position, but historically, they are far from traditional. Indeed, I suspect that Mangina’s reading is closer to traditional Christian interpretation.

  3. That was certainly my intention: “closer to traditional Christian interpretation.” While my commentary will not, as a matter of fact, devote a whole lot of space to history of interpretation issues, the general Christological-ecclesial line I’m developing is at the center of classical interpretation of the book. As I said in one of the question periods, the vertical takes precedence over the horizontal, although you can’t ignore the horizontal entirely. The classic millenial interpretations (e.g. Irenaeus, Edwards), the Joachimite reading, and for that matter contemporary liberationist readings are a constant reminder of this fact.

    Thanks to all the students who attended and otherwise facilitated my lectures: it was a wonderful week.

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