Thinking Apocalyptically: Interview With David Dark (Jul-Aug 2003)

By Matt Dabbs

by Eric Quiram
July – August, 2003

 

NW: Briefly define what you mean by Apocalyptic.
Dark: The traditional definition of apocalyptic isn’t used to describe buildings falling down. That is the first dictionary definition because it is the most common but in the root sense it’s always been unveiling a world that is mostly unseen. Apocalyptic sentiment in literature is usually spoken from the oppressed to the oppressor …i.e…Jews of the Old Testament directed towards Egypt or Babylon. It’s the language that is directed toward the powers that be stating that the kingdom of God is going to flip this situation around, redemption is in process.

NW: Is there a spiritual discipline associated with looking for the apocalyptic in culture?
Dark: I pray the Lord’s Prayer often, I read somewhere that Benedictine monks read it at least 15 times a day. I try and view the world through the lens of the Lord’s prayer, through the lens of the coming kingdom of God. When you really look at the Lord’s prayer we don’t pray Lord take my soul away from this horrible planet, destroy it, and take me off to heaven. The concept of heaven as a far away place separated from creation isn’t biblical in my view. The Lord’s prayer is kind of a pledge of allegiance to God’s kingdom, and when you try and live your life in allegiance to it you’re going to see things differently. I try and view media through the idea that the kingdom is here among us but it’s also coming in a fuller way that’s going to be beyond what we can imagine. One process to consider is going the way of affirmation, looking for things you can affirm. Look for things that seem to be in line with what Jesus called his followers to be in the world. These things aren’t always going to fit what we think the Christian system of thought should be. When Paul is on Mars Hill speaking to the philosophers he doesn’t go in saying “you guys are worshipping idols and you’re totally lost and going to hell, follow me.” He says “I see that you are a very religious people, let me explain to you what you have been groping for.”

Even then he doesn’t say let me explain it as I own it but rather let me explain it as I see it. Jesus as well would often say “the kingdom of God is like” and he would take whatever was nearby and use it in illustration. I think there was a kind of improvisation going on. His parables described the kingdom that he was announcing or embodying. I think we are obligated in the same way to take the given, and bear witness to a greater reality. That doesn’t mean that just anything is good, only that good art will lend itself to goodness. If it’s a Marxist giving a homeless person some soup we have the Spirit to thank for that, it’s all God’s stuff. A tree doesn’t need to have a little message saying I exist for the glory of God, it just does! Goodness, excellence, copyright…God! So thinking apocalyptically embodies being learners of goodness and truthfulness and involves looking for these things. I think that currently the Christian community has defined themselves by what offends them and that’s just a reduction of Christianity.

NW: Do you think that response is spawned out of laziness?
Dark: Well it’s a consumerist mindset because it views faith as a kind of membership, something that you own, that you get to use to beat people up and to view yourself as superior to your neighbors. I want to say that as we enter into Christianity we surrender that right to view ourselves as morally superior to anyone. As a Christian we’re saved from that. Living apocalyptically then allows you to see goodness in all kinds of things that you didn’t have anytime for before.

NW: What is the relationship of our Christology to spiritual development? Does it matter how we understand Christ and His nature, does it affect what kind of spirituality we come out with?
Dark: If Jesus is Lord of all reality than this changes things. It’s the highest Christology I know because it isn’t just viewing Jesus as somebody who said some true things. It views Jesus as the one in whom the fullness of deity dwells. Gerard Manley Hopkins says that “All of reality is charged with the grandeur of God.” If God is Christ-like then our way of moving through the world, looking at people, telling stories, and responding to other people’s stories regardless of the medium, is changed dramatically. Frederick Beachner said that when he reads a Hindu text and it resembles something of what Jesus said he doesn’t gasp and say “Oh no what if Christianity is just one of many?” If Colossians is true and all things are made by, for, and through Christ, then of course it’s going to show up in writings like these. If we are viewing Jesus as the sage of all time then he suddenly becomes a lot more than this secret password to get you into heaven. I do believe that there is a redemption under way that is beyond our understanding. If Paul calls certain doctrines a mystery, and we start describing a theology that isn’t overrun with mystery then we’re no longer thinking biblically.

NW: Does your Christology have to be there completely to appreciate apocalyptic?
Dark: I don’t know that it does. I think we are all learners of the good. Suppose you’ve got somebody who is reading about Jesus, studying his parables, and trying to follow him, and then you have another guy who says that Jesus was fully God, that he was born of a virgin, and that his teachings make us know that we are sinners and need grace. Who is the Christian between these guys? I don’t have to get into an argument over the virgin birth in order to connect with someone over why Radiohead (contemporary rock group) is good.

NW: What do you think is good posture for Christians to take toward those who don’t share allegiance to Christ?
Dark: I think it would be nice if Christians thought of themselves as learners of the truth, rather than possessors of truth. It’s madness for us to think of us as possessors of truth and it destroys the witness that we’re supposed to have. Even Paul was always saying things like “not that I have attained it.” But in a consumer driven expression of Christian faith, that part of Paul’s message is left out because it’s hard to sell. Christianity that is a process, that is seen through a glass darkly is hard to sell.

NW: What makes Christian Spirituality unique from spirituality in general?
Dark: I don’t like the word spiritual. It’s hard to define, do you mean spiritual as described by the spirituality section of the bookstore? I believe there isn’t a secular molecule in the universe. There isn’t anything or anyone who isn’t spiritual. The apocalyptic lifestyle that I’m trying to outline in the book is a full bodied, incarnate, happening in this world kind of faith. Faith made flesh, convictions made flesh, necessarily connected to befriending the least of these and loving your enemies. All the stuff that Jesus tells us to do. This is contrary to spirituality as a mere a state of mind that enables you to live unhealthily, greedily, and death-dealingly, all the while saying that spiritually you’re doing fine. I think the best selling spirituality is sometimes a relationship with a voice inside your head whereas apocalyptic lifestyle is life within the kingdom of God. To speak apocalyptically is to speak in an awareness of your own finiteness, the finiteness of whatever government is on top at this particular moment in history. The apocalyptic witness understands that the nations of our time are a drop in the bucket according to the kingdom of God. Ancient disciplines that looked at apocalyptic in culture i.e. monastic traditions looking at apocalyptic in nature or other parallels. Aquinus, Augustine, all the old guys would take Greek thought that was pre-Christian. I won’t say that they Christianized it and made it say things that it didn’t say, but they would take Plato and adopt it. Just like Paul quoted the pagan poet who said “ In Him we move and live and have our being.” When this quote was written was it talking about Jesus? Well of course not, Jesus didn’t exist when it was written, but Paul was quite happy to quote the Pagan poet. He didn’t do it to promote his agenda or purposes but started with the given that all goodness and all wisdom is from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and then went to work. It doesn’t mean that these scriptures are not inspired, it means that inspiration is often going to mean taking the language or folklore of the time and putting it to redemptive purposes.

Look for Greg Taylor’s review of Everyday Apocalypse in the October 2003 issue of Christianity Today.

 

New Wineskins

David Dark is author of Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed In Radiohead, The Simpsons and Other Pop Culture Icons and teaches English at a Presbyterian Christian Academy in Nashville. But the buckle of the Bible Belt has not restricted him from flexing his mental and spiritual muscles. A voracious reader and budding thinker David has given me a wake up call. Reading his first book has been an invitation to examine the moments in both my personal life and collective culture where God is breaking in, jolting me out of a self-indulgent slumber, electrifying the atmosphere and gracing me with a glimpse of the divine in the most unexpected places. His book sets out to reinstate the traditional use of the word apocalyptic and then examines the works of various writers, pop stars, and filmmakers, revealing the hidden redemptive messages within. I highly recommend this paradigm shifting book. The following are some thoughts he shared with me as we sat on his front porch on a particularly gorgeous June afternoon. —Eric Quiram

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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