Micah D. Kiel ’03 MDiv, ’09 PhD, associate professor of theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, discusses his recently published book on the book of Revelation. He says it may be the least read, and most poorly understood, book of the Bible, but he explains the features of Revelation in a way that is understandable.
Q: Tell us about your new book, Apocalyptic Ecology: The Book of Revelation, the Earth, and the Future (Michael Glazier, 2017).
A: This book attempts to harness the book of Revelation for the benefit of an ecological ethic. While this might seem nonsensical at first, given that Revelation is a book replete with destruction of the earth, I think the heart of its theological message speaks powerfully today. When properly contextualized in its ancient Roman context we can see the ways in which Revelation rejects the ideology of empire, and one of the major consequences of empire, both then and today, is ecological devastation. I also use some aspects of the history of Revelations interpretation to understand its core competencies. The book is organized according to the metaphor of a biography. In the book we meet Revelation’s ancestors, scrutinize its personality, explore its upbringing, and study its career—all with the hope of understanding its legacy today. It’s a book that has new scholarly arguments in it, but I made every attempt to make it as readable as possible, and hopefully entertaining.
I hope that this book will help people see how Revelation can kindle our imaginations to try to, with God’s lead, create a different world.
Q: Where did the idea for your book come from?
A: I embarked on a sabbatical in the fall of 2015 with a hunch that something could be done with Revelation and the field of ecological hermeneutics. I really just let the text and its various historical contexts lead me. I was lucky enough to be living and doing my research at Saint John’s Abbey, so my work was punctuated with walks in the woods, fishing, and a lot of relaxation with my family. This helped a lot! It gave me time to think, research, plan and write.
Q: What did you learn that you had not expected beforehand?
A: I had no idea how terrible the ecological devastation was in various ancient periods. One chapter of the book discusses the destruction of the environment during Hellenistic warfare. The Romans also depleted animal populations, collapsed mountainsides, polluted water sources, and deforested vast swaths of the ancient world. This destruction is in a part of the world where the author of Revelation was raised. There are many puzzling parts of the book of Revelation that seem to make a lot more sense when we understand the ecological situation in which it was written.
God is always one step ahead of us, and when we follow we do not always know where that will lead.
Q: How is your book useful to Christian leaders?
A: The book of Revelation might be the least read, and most poorly understood, book of the Bible. In this book, I work hard to explain the features of Revelation in a way that is understandable. Before sending it to the press, my friend who is a pastor read the book. His first comment was, “Wow, I learned a lot about Revelation.” This comment meant a lot to me because it was one of my main goals. At the same time, Revelation speaks powerfully to our world today. It challenges unthinking assumptions about how our world works. It offers a different vision for an ecological vocation. I hope that this book will help people see how Revelation can kindle our imaginations to try to, with God’s lead, create a different world.
Q: What advice do you have for Princeton Seminary students as they prepare to head out into the world to follow the call of God in their lives?
A: Vocation can take many different forms. A vocation also is not static. God is always one step ahead of us, and when we follow we do not always know where that will lead. We’ve got to be okay with that. Listen. Observe. Be gutsy.
“Princeton Seminary helped me think critically and understand the relationship that humanity has with religion—historically, emotionally, and spiritually.”