In the second chapter of William Stringfellow’s An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land, he continues to contrast the two cities mentioned in the latter half of Revelation: Babylon and Jerusalem. The Babylon of Revelation, he says, “is archetypical of all nations.” Those nations are principalities that, Stringfellow argues, by their very nature are anti-human; they serve themselves and work against that which is good. Jerusalem, on the other hand, is representative of Christians as “an embassy among the principalities” or as “a pioneer community”. (These phrases remind me instantly of N. T. Wright’s similar description of the Church in Surprised by Hope.)
But Revelation, says Stringfellow, cannot be read as a “predestinarian forecast”.
To view the Babylon material in Revelation as mechanistic prophecy – or to treat any part of the Bible in such a fashion – is an extreme distortion of the prophetic ministry….
A construction of Revelation as foreordination denies in its full implication that either principalities or persons are living beings with identities of their own and with capabilities of decision and movement respected by God. And, in the end, such superstitions demean the vocation which the Gospels attribute to Jesus Christ, rendering him a quaint automaton, rather than the Son, of God.
While my Calvinist friends will quibble with the thought that humans have “capabilities of decision and movement respected by God”, I find that last sentence to be a compelling thought – that the work of Jesus Christ redeeming the world is magnified if his work is redeeming free and willful men, and that if, as in the strong Calvinist view, the whole cosmic saga is already completely fixed in history, then Christ is, in a way, just one more player in a pre-defined role.