How a 80 A.D. Sci-Fi Letter Saved Christianity
Christianity within Asia Minor was stuck in a complacent groove within the Roman Empire by the close of the first century. You could stand outside the marketplace and find a charismatic and gifted communicator claiming to give leadership to the church instructing the fledgling movement that since the Emperor wasn’t asking them to sacrifice a dove, lamb, goat or child to him that offering a mere pinch of incense wasn’t that bad. Considering also that if you didn’t offer up the incense to the Emperor you would not be given “the mark” and entrance into the marketplace where you could buy and sell the products you needed to meet your basic needs. (Revelation 13:16)
“You have a family to think. Besides,” the Nicholation would go on ” do we really want to upset the Emperor and our prosperity over such a trivial matter as a pinch of incense? Just look at what happened to our brothers and sisters to the south when they acted like they could subvert the government.(Luke 19:42) Christ message was one of “personal relationship.” (?) Christs message was that He would dwell in “your private lives”(?) so just offer a little sacrifice, get the mark and get back to your “public life.”
But despite the efforts of a small group of Christians in Asia Minor who thought this teaching was contrary to what the prophets and Jesus taught (Revelation 2:2), Christianity was very much on the decline. Who were people to believe? A group of poor, destitute followers of Jesus who were claiming to worship him and him alone even to the point of starvation and death or a group of affluent followers of Jesus who were claiming you could have the cake and eat it too. (Revelation 2:9) These Nicholations weren’t bad, immoral or even overtly evil people. They were competent men and women who were moving up in the Empire while “holding Jesus in their hearts.” Plus they did have a point. Everyone needs to eat. (Exodus 16:2 and Revelation 2:17)
And then came theologian Johns letters from exile. (Revelation 1:9)
It was subversive and gritty, a poetry-kaleidoscope trip into the adulterous near future. In this poem the smiling Nicolations were recast as worshipers of Jezebel (Revelation 2:20) and followers of Balaam (Revelation 2:14) who were unintentionally doing more than merely encouraging men and women to give a pinch of incense to the Emperor. According to Pastor Johns tale, giving the pinch on incense to the Emperor was equivalent to spending a night in the brothels of demons. (Revelation 2:20) It was a tale of beasts, dragons, monsters, stars, demons, angels, horses, serpents. The letter of the near future was bizarre, threatening to most, reassuring to a few and also strangely real to all. “For those with ears to hear” this story would have been like seeing the world for the first time and with its many throwbacks to the Hebrew Scriptures it would have also been like hearing the prophets again for the first time. With his ingenious use of sevens, sixes, fours, twelves and ones, Johns Revelation wasn’t just stylistically stunning; it felt like the template for a future that was breaking in upon them. A future that “was moving into the neighbored” not just in the future 15 minutes-it was the future sideswiping the listener and leaving them on their knees in either worship, repentance or confusion. Usually all three.
The letter was a desperately needed course correction. Christianity had lost the thread of devotion, obedience and sacrifice it was originally birthed with ( ). Christians were no longer worshiping a God who was beyond their comprehension, they were systematizing and compartmentalize a deity into “their private lives” so that they could avoid it all the while bowing down to a self-proclaimed deity that seemed to hold all the power. Someone needed to put the Emperors in their place, silence the Nicolations and more importantly, someone needed to grab this young movement by the scruff and yank it around-force them to look at the present moment and decipher its implications. “Let him who has ears, let him hear.”
Feeling out of options, St. John, reached for a long out of date genre for his letter. People had been complaining for decades that this particular genre wasn’t direct enough. If they couldn’t read it or understanding its meaning in 20 minutes with a simple scan of the eye they would move on to the latest “3 points and a poem” from the charming Nicolations. People criticized the genre as “fluff” and irrelevant to the worlds more sophisticated and scientific pallet. But for whatever reason, maybe John saw things alone on Patmos that could only be described with beasts, violence and mayhem. Who knows? For whatever reason John chose to write his letter as Science Fiction and the Christian church was jolted out of their slumber.
-The Genre that John wrote Revelation in is called Apocalyptic Literature. It is different than Science Fiction in that it is even more bizarre
-I left the title as similar as I could to Paolo Bacigalupis article in the June 2012 edition of Wired magazine because the post is mirrored almost completely on it. See “How the 80’s Saved Sci-Fi” by Paolo Bacigalupi, Wired 20.06