With catastrophes, holocaust, wars, earthquakes, famines, Blood Moons, all sorts of numerological and astronomical alignments" for 2,000 years, they've been warning us "The End is Near!" But like the Eveready Bunny, the world just keeps going and going....
Is the world soon ending? Scores of best-selling books warn us that Armageddon, World War 3, and the Rapture are coming in the next few months. "Celebrity-level" religious writers from Hal Lindsay, to Tim LaHaye, to John Hagee continue trumpeting: "Fear the imminent end of the world!" Can a Christian doubt the end is near? The assertion that these are the "Last Days" has become a creedal Profession of Faith for trendy evangelicalism. For many, those who scoff at the imminent End are either atheists or "Liberal Christians," the latter being no better than the former in their eyes. When it comes to eschatology, the gulf between Conservatives and Liberals is, well, an ocean of theological divide. My new book, End of the World Propheteers, is not a bridge to connect the two extremes; it is more of an island in the middle... or maybe a detour. It invites both extremes to look beyond the horizons of their own biases to glance at a Third Way, to consider an alternate route.
Two Biases... and a Third Way
The first bias is that Liberal Bible scholars are too quick to reject supernatural prophecy. Thirty years ago, I remember one of my seminary professors dissing End Time prophecies with a condescending tone: "The word 'Rapture' isn't even IN the Bible!" While technically true, she ignored the fact that the concept of Rapture is spelled out explicitly in the New Testament. Jesus and Paul both referred to it in detail. Jesus clearly taught that one aim of the Old Testament prophets was to predict the arrival of the Messiah. And Jesus boldly declared himself to be The One. Any scholar who denies the precognitive element of prophecies is, therefore, denying Jesus' self-identification as the fulfillment of the Messianic predictions. That bias represents a rejection of a major part of Christian orthodoxy. Many religious academics seem stuck in Newtonian science, unable to accept the quantum spirituality implied in predictive prophecy. Scholarly "higher criticism" of Scripture suffers from the disease of cynicism, and cynicism is not a friend to open-minded truth-seeking. It is, ironically, unscientific to examine the topic of End Time prophecy if one has ruled out quantum (i.e. preternatural) possibilities.
The second bias belongs to the Doomsday Conservatives, who, in reaction to post-modernity's cynicism, too quickly label anyone who challenges the End Times movement as a "godless Liberal." But many of us with liberal and moderate sympathies do indeed love God and honor the Bible, and do believe that supernatural prophecy is a part of God's message to us. We reject the popular "sky is falling" doomsdayism not because we doubt prophecy, but rather, for a host of other reasons.
The Obvious but Unanswered Question
The End of Timers never seriously answer this question: "With all the history-mulling, star-gazing, moon-counting, number-crunching Bible study employed by scores of conservative writers for centuries, why are they consistently, utterly wrong?" When each Hal Lindsey-type prediction comes and goes without Jesus' return, they still return to an identical rite of crystal-balling without ever asking the tell-tale question, "When we repeatedly use the same method and get the same failed results, is there something fundamentally wrong with our method?"
Yes. The flaws at the core of their method are manifold. End Time theories almost always:
- Fail to distinguish between literal versus figurative language. (A quick example is the current emphasis on "Blood Moon" eclipses, based on a metaphorical text from Joel 2:31--even though it is not literally referring to an eclipse.)
- Presume a pessimistic, fatalistic view of human nature and human history. They don't reconcile the principle of human Free Will with a portrayal of a God who so micromanages every country and every politician, forcing human events to happen on specific dates.
- Rely on a selective, out-of-context Bible "study" method--"proof-texting"--that cherry-picks verses favorable to their argument while ignoring contravening verses.
- Major in the minor--they carefully count the leaves on trees but offer no way to guide us through the forest. Ultimately, they do not offer us any advice about what to do with their claim that the world is ending, other than a vague, unspecified, "Get ready."
- Present a wrathful God and an Old Testament, legalistic, works-righteousness view of religion (the "Galatian heresy") rather than a New Testament doctrine of grace and forgiveness. They harken back to Judaism, putting too much emphasis on Jewish rituals, holy days and festivals, ignoring much of the teaching of Jesus and Paul, who set Christians free from the ritualistic obligations of Judaism.
All of these theological errors by End Time authors stem from their constricted, literalistic view of Scripture. To sustain their specific predictions, they must reduce Scripture to the Lowest Common Denominator. They forget that most Bible passages have double or triple meanings. The Bible is full and rippling with metaphors, historical context, poetic allusions, and multi-dimensional subtleties that they sandpaper flat, so that today's headlines can be decoupaged on top of an unwrinkled Holy Writ. This is a "double-problem." First, it misleads/misinforms people on the subject of End Times, and second, it pulls people into a false theology and a poor Bible study method that then carries over into their broader theological understanding (or lack of it).
Although I do give plenty of specific examples of their failed literalism in my book, detailing the systematic mistakes of End Time writers should not even be necessary, because their failed conclusions already indict them. Their track record is so completely and repeatedly wrong, they make "the boy who cried wolf" seem like a credible watchman by comparison. So I move to the next point: many of the "Rapure Writers" are wolves, as in Matthew 7:15: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves." (RSV) Jesus plainly stated that "no one knows the day or the hour," not even the Son of God. Jesus' departing words in Acts 1:7, when asked about His return, were: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority." But the Hal Lindseys and John Hagees of this world, in their arrogance, brush past these warning, rushing in where angels fear to tread. They purport to have more inside knowledge than Jesus the Christ. So the question is not, "Are any of these 'End-Timers' right about His return?" Jesus said plainly they cannot know, only the Father-God knows. So the question really is, "Are the End Timers arrogantly ignorant, or intentionally fraudulent?"