Saturday, February 05, 2005

Last Days Madness

The madness over this is mind-boggling! Popularized by Hal Lindsey's 1970's book "The Late Great Planet Earth" and the recent "Left Behind" best-selling novels by Tim LaHaye, the premise of this belief is that the Bible predicts the end of the world and the return of Christ amidst a tribulation period of worldwide suffering and plagues. Some versions like Lindsay's and LaHaye's say true believers in Jesus will be raptured (taken from the earth to heaven) before this 7-year tribulation period and escape its horrors (not all evangelicals believe this version). The problem I have is the last days mentality is at best a silly interpretation full of half-truths, and at worst a gross misreading of the Bible that promotes myths and outright lies.

There isn't enough space in this short blurb to make the case for this (see link on title for a book that carefully dissects the flaws of end-times theology). Suffice it to say that Jesus described a time of tribulation and then declared "I tell you the truth, this generation shall not pass away until all these things come to pass." Here the literalists refuse to take Jesus' words literally. The generation alive who heard Christ's words would not die out before these "end-times" events took place. That fits perfectly with the incredibly terrible times in the Roman Empire from around 64 to 70 AD when Roman legions took seige of Jerusalem, Christians were persecuted under Nero, earthquakes occured, comets were sighted, civil wars were fought, and the Jewish capital, temple, and way of religous life (e.g. sacrifical system) were utlimately destroyed. The historian Josephus describes this period in detail.

But if the overwhelming majority of end-time catostraphic events have already occured, where is the drama in that? The answer is there is none. Nor should there be in my opinion. The modern version of end-times theology with the Left-Behind-style rapture was developed in the 19th century by an Irish priest named John Nelson Darby. It was never taught by the early church.

Some claim the fruit of end-times books is people thinking seriously about their standing with God, even if the story line may not be based soundly on scripture. But it equally results in people not taking scripture or its proponents seriously. Nicholas Kristoff, a columnist for the NY Times, interpreted the "Glorious Appearing" book by LaHaye as a study in intolerance and a re-portrayal of Jesus presiding over a militant christianity. Playboy magazine, speaking on U.S. middle east policy, mocked believers as succumbing to an extraordinary delusion in believing in the rapture-style last days scenario and interpreting today's events in light of it.

The bottom line is integrity. The traditional modern fundamentailist or evangelical church view on the end-times has no scriptural or historical integrity.

3 comments:

Ashley said...

I agree. This subject was brought up in our theology class. A thought that came out of it was that if those who promoted this view could keep the masses looking off and away to a future time, that they wouldn't be focusing on the here and now.

Lavon said...

Hi Michael. Do you have an opinion or perspective on the second coming of Christ? You have expressed your opinion on "Last Days Madness" but have not shared your personal beliefs. Do the words of Christ pertaining to future events have any meaning for us today?

Michael said...

lavon,

I take a partial "preterist" view, i.e. most of the last days saying of Christ were referring to the years surrounding 70 AD. Read Last Days Madness and RC Sproul's The Last Days According to Jesus to understand the case for this view. It is compelling. Christ came in judgment in 70 AD the same way that God came in judgment several times in the OT. The book of Revelation was written before 70 AD and refers to this time according to this view (see Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating Revelation by Kenneth Gentry). However, some words of Christ and Paul seem to indicate a future coming beyond this time period, so I am very open to that. But the majority of scriptures cited to "prove" the imminent return of Christ are wrongly interpreted and refer to the generation of Christ.

A pure "preterist" would believe that ALL references to a coming of Christ refer to the 70AD time period. I wouldn't consider myself one, but have no problem with that view since the evidence for another "return of Christ" in the distant future is not overwhelming.