Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ancient Christian Texts: Greek Commentaries on Revelation - Oecumenius and Andrew of Caesarea

“There is such a thing as glory and there are hints of it everywhere” (Rich Mullins).

Ancient Christian Texts: Greek Commentaries on Revelation
Authors: Oecumenius and Andrew of Caesarea
Publisher: IVP Academic
Pages: 212

Lately, a new thought has occupied my mind when reading the book of Revelation. Instead of focusing on its meaning, I want to see glory. Where else can you find such a monumental array of angels, supernatural beings, signs, wonders, dramatic events and views of God in such a condensed narrative?

A Christian friend once remarked that God seemed conceited by requiring praise and worship. Might God be too self-absorbed? That was the implication, but how could that possibly be true? Even though I knew it to be misguided, the thought troubled me. How could I justify the adoration due God? I suspect that the inability to reconcile this has a lot to do with God’s thoughts and ways being so far beyond our own. Witness Job when he realizes of what little account he is in comparison to God: “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6 ESV).

It brings me back to this idea of glory, which by definition is something weighty. I want to feel the weight of just how great, glorious and worthy of honor is God. In the book of Revelation, I have the opportunity to see it through the lens of God’s terrifying judgments and the way all of creation reacts to his pronouncements and works. I suspect that if I just catch a glimpse of God’s glory, I will better understand why those who surround Him continually fall before his throne in worship.

I’m not downplaying the importance of understanding Revelation with all of its symbols and imagery. The entrance of knowledge is light, which is another aspect of glory. Commentaries like this provide instruction that help me see more of the nature of God. Glory! I imagine that if we could know God now as we will one day know Him, thoughts like the one expressed by my friend will not even come to mind. We would more likely react like Job.

Scripture tells us that we cannot even imagine all that God has prepared for us. That same imagination cannot begin to grasp the awesome wonder of His being, but we can still aspire like Moses to see God’s glory however fleeting the glimpse this side of eternity.

This commentary is part of the Ancient Christian Texts series, not to be confused with the Ancient Christian Commentary series, which brings portions of commentary from multiple sources into one volume. This book publishes the complete text of two of the earliest known commentaries on Revelation, and this alone makes it valuable.

Oecumenius, “a layperson of high imperial rank” and “respected as a person of intellectual capacity,” probably wrote his commentary sometime between 508 and 518. This and the commentary by Andrew of Caesarea, dated to the first years of the seventh century, provide readers with a glimpse into what the earliest Christians believed about the book of Revelation. This is even more true of Andrew, who the translator notes is “governed by traditional and accepted opinions, and very little of his commentary could be called original.”

One of the distinctives of Oecumenius, which is endearing, is that he “takes every opportunity to emphasize the beneficence and kindness of God.” His conviction “that God is essentially good, merciful and beneficent tempers throughout his interpretation of the judgment scenes in Revelation.”

One place where Oecumenius is hard to follow is his unique interpretation of the opening of the seven seals. Rather than depicting something in the future, to him they represent different aspects of historical events in the life of Christ. This is where Andrew becomes helpful. In a gentle and subtle way, he often offers an alternative to Oecumenius. We could benefit by following his example of how to disagree with someone in an inoffensive way. This is one of the benefits of reading these two authors. Their thought is rich in grace.

How they write is a reflection of their time. It is not as simplified and clear as writing today, but it nevertheless conveys a godliness that is praiseworthy. They don’t go into great depth, instead choosing to give the general sense of each passage.

This is best as a supplement to one’s own study alongside modern commentaries. Reading it as a book, which I have done for review purposes, is rewarding, but it is not an easy read. Much more can be gained from interacting with the biblical text first and then gleaning from this commentary and others.

I would not recommend this as a sole source on Revelation. There are better commentaries available, but this stands out because of its early outlook and influences. Though today we may see areas where we disagree with one or both texts, they offer insights not found in modern commentaries. The manner of expression and thought is refreshingly original, which gives this a hint of glory.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I Will Praise You - Rebecca St. James

A mature Rebecca St. James returns with a solid collection of mostly original worship songs.

I Will Praise You
Artist: Rebecca St. James
Label: Beach Street Records/Reunion Records/Essential Records
Length: 10 tracks/42:46 minutes

I Will Praise You is a mature Rebecca St. James, which is reflected in the dignified photos on the CD artwork. It carries over into the words and music of each song.

Newly married after a long and public wait to meet the one to become her spouse, St. James returns with a worship recording, after focusing for several years on writing and acting. She has authored eleven titles and acted in nine films. There has not been a studio release of new material since If I Had One Chance to Tell You Something (2005). St. James is no stranger to this format. Worship God (2002) is one of her highest charting recordings.

St. James co-wrote many of the songs. There is only one well-known cover, Matt Redman’s “You Never Let Go,” and to use baseball terminology since it’s the middle of summer, she knocks it out of the park.

It’s been said that it is the life that prays. In other words, a life that is pleasing to God, not only makes prayer credible, but is like a prayer. St. James exhibits a life dedicated to God, which is an expression of worship and makes a recording like this a natural and reasonable choice. It would not disappoint me to see her continue to aspire to fresh, creative expressions of devotion.

On this release she surrounds herself with a stellar band of studio musicians that include Stu G of Delirious? and when she uses strings, John Catchings. They execute a near perfect blend of artistry and accessibility. Even the programming sounds good, which gives it that Euro flair that I associate with St. James.

In a recent interview with ChristianityToday, Matt Redman said that his aim as a songwriter is “simple but not shallow.” This recording is successful in that regard. The simplicity makes it easy to underrate, but it’s what makes it possible to sing these songs in a congregational setting. On the other hand, there is enough depth to provide substance, both lyrically and musically.

“The Kindness of Our God” sounds like a Celtic Keith and Kristy Getty hymn. A personal favorite is the closing ballad, “You Make Everything Beautiful” that adapts the first few lines of the serenity prayer.

I wonder sometimes if artists try too hard to be inventive and relevant. If so, they might benefit by following the example here, which by being well-crafted and winsome makes for pleasant and rewarding listening.

I tend to have low expectations of worship recordings because, at least in the past, they tended to be so monotonous. This was a delightful surprise. Rebecca St. James has ever reason to be satisfied.

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