Archive for the ‘eschatology’ Category

A NASA engineer predicts the rapture in 1988. A career eschatologist declares that Christians should plan to be off the earth by the year 2000. A chorus of bloggers and ministry leaders ascribe a prophetic connection between the book of Isaiah and the violence in Syria. What separates the final group of speculators from the rest? Only that time has not yet proven them wrong. (That, and they probably have not collected their full share of publishing royalties) All speculate about news events. All look at real life, far away, violence as if it was exciting action movie. All are as committed to Christian Zionism as fish are to water.


The Bible says this civil war will lead to war in Europe. What no? ahh… well the Antichrist will arise from the German Empire. They’re our allies now? Dammit. Well the rapture will occur now that 9/11 happened… I’m sure of it this time…

Christian Zionism, broadly termed here, is the belief that events in the middle east have prophetic significance. This leads to speculation about future events. The Bible is used as if it were a crystal ball.. Why should anyone take the alleged prophecies about Syria in 2013 any more seriously than the now false prophecies about the Soviet Union or the rapture in the 1980s? It is easy for Christian Zionists to invoke 2 Peter 3:3-4. Yet this is little more than self-affirming circular reasoning. It begs the question, “what do these prophecies even mean?” While many Christian Zionists believe their method of interpretation is self-evidently true, conservative, and literal, I submit that it is none of these. More practically, the political consequences of their teachings are destructive.

On a message board years ago, a Christian Zionist once explained their methods this way: Just as Jesus’ generation was meant to watch for signs of his first coming, so must contemporary Christians must watch for his second. Specifically, any current event will help us make sense the prophecies. So when a news event (Syria) seems to match something in the Bible (Isaiah 17) than that is enough reason to believe that prophecy is being fulfilled. Of course, they are often clever enough to not nail down exact dates, but their speculations nevertheless reflect what they think the Bible teaches.

The problem with this method is that any event in history can look like a fulfillment of prophecy. The commercial success of the literature mentioned earlier proves this. Considering the list of failed predictions (and there have been a lot of failed predictions!) maybe it is a good idea to re-evaluate the method before deciding that preventible armed conflict is per-determined by God.

Many others explain that their methods are conservative because it reads the Bible literally whenever possible. This way they avoid (as LaHaye famously put it) confusing metaphors. But are they consistent? Many Zionists interpret the seven churches addressed in the opening of Revelation as seven symbolic church ages even though the letter itself gives us no reason to do so. This is only one example of the inconsistency of “literal whenever possible.”

If anyone is going to understand the Bible, especially the apocalyptic visions, we need a deeper examination. Consider the following questions when applied to Isaiah or books like Ezekial, Revelation or Daniel. What is the literary context of this verse, passage, and book? When was it written? What was the political situation of the original audience? What is the genre of this or that passage? How would someone living at that time interpret that genre? What kinds of idioms, metaphors, hyperbole, etc would these ancient people be intuitively familiar with, but are not used (and not known) in our culture? How does it compare to similar, non-canonical literature of the same genre? None of these questions can be adequately addressed in a single twitter post, a news article, a Sunday sermon, or podcast. In fact, if anyone makes you feel that understanding Isaiah 17 (or anything else apocalyptic) is intuitive and easy, they are oversimplifying. If anyone cannot answer these kinds of questions, then their interpretation is not worth your attention, time, or money.

This is not a poorly written thriller novel.

There is more at stake than mere theological disagreement. Crystal ball gazing and Christian Zionism have serious, concrete consequences. Right now, the public overwhelmingly opposes United States military action in Syria. Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, already upped the ante when he unambiguously stated that he his country would provide further support to Syria if the United States intervenes. Furthermore, there are allegations that the gas attacks came from the rebels not from the Syrian government, despite what the Whitehouse administrations says. At the time of this writing, things are smoother over via diplomacy, but the two super powers are still cold warrioring it. While Christian Zionists may look at this as an exciting, inevitable, new chapter in prophetic progress, it looks to everyone else like a conflict that can be prevented. Indeed, it is a conflict that should be prevented.

I spent my high school years in a denomination that taught the crystal ball gazing approach to scripture. I happily left it behind, especially when I learned of alternative views. The crystal ball approach makes Christians look foolish when the prophecies do not come around. We look even more silly when we revise our interpretations, rather than admit that something is wrong. Its methods of reading scripture are intellectually troubled. At best, it helps American Christians ignore the plight of Christians in the middle east. At worst, it inspires a nearly fetishistic fascination with violence in far away countries. Most notably, now, with the conflict in Syria.

To close, I’d like to ask all Christian Zionists to do the rest of Christendom a favor: please just stop. The crystal ball gazing isn’t helping anyone.


I find that some topics are more interesting than others.  More specifically, people simply like some issues more than others and there’s a stronger Facebook, Twitter, and blog comments reaction to it.  That’s not to say that popularity is the only reason why I write.  It’s not the main reason to discuss “end times.”

Why stir the pot on this issue?  Honestly, it can be frustrating subject at times.  I don’t think of myself as a blogging crusader or church-leading lay person.  I am not a Dee Dee Warren on this issue by any means.  More recently, I read a nice a article on the Internet Monk that gave me a moment to think about the smashing of metaphorical* icons, which was a timely read, because I’ve been planning two more blogs on this issue for awhile.

But eschatology is important.  It’s tied up with ethics and how we treat other Christians.  Here’s how it goes.

Let’s begin with a hypothetical situation:  imagine a church that is incredibly involved in service to its neighbors and community.  God has given them a nice opportunity: a new series of homes has been recently developed in the city.  These homes are perfectly livable, but due to the housing crash many are unfinished when it comes to carpets, outside paint jobs, and even some electrical work.  Seeing this great need, the church leaders dispatch their members to fix up these homes and welcome the new neighbors.  Trucks and tools head out and eager volunteers.  The church leaders declare this a great outreach to unchurched members of the community.

On their way to fix up these homes, the volunteers drive by the houses of several families.  These houses are collapsed in rubble due to a recent tornado.  Some members learn that these families were all members of another Christian assembly whose worship center was in the next city over.  When the church members mentioned this to their leaders, the pastors gently explained that these families did not count as true Christians, because they refused to recognize the importance of welcoming new neighbors into a city by providing them with carpets, house paint, and electrical wiring.

If you think this sounds a little bit like the parable of the Good Samaritan, it’s because I’m doing it on purpose.

I write on end times for arab Christians like Munther Isaac, who represents the Palestinian Christian Church.  That is Christians in the middle east who are ignored by Christians in United States.   Even though American Christians profer unflinching financial support for Israel.  Why exactly does this happen?

Racism could be a reason.   A Palestinian Christian speaks with accent and has tan skin.  However, most of the readers of this blog aren’t racists.  It’s way too hard to live in Los Angeles and not be used to tan-skin, non-Americans, and accents.  Besides, very few American Church supports Christians in China, Korea, Africa and Latin America.  There are no doubt Christians out there who think that any pronounces the name “Isaac” with middle eastern accent is a Muslim.  But I figure people like that don’t know how to use the internet.

Also, we all know that part of the Gospel is seeing to people’s material needs.  Furthermore, all Christians understand that helping the poor and oppressed was part of Jesus’ ministry and therefore part of ours.  Anyone who disagrees with that is probably off acting silly, and not reading this blog.

So what is the issue?

Munther’s presentation is a half hour long, which is still shorter than many sermons.  His points speak to this question.  Here are the highlights:

  • When I read the New Testemant “Literally” it tells me that Christians are the heirs of Abraham.
  • God does not reject contemporary Israel.  God does not reject any nation.
  • Why do you demand that we must first acknowledge the sufferings of others, before we’re allowed to speak about our own suffering?
  • I am not anti-Semitic.  I actually *am* Semitic.
  • I am not a “replacement theologian” because I believe Israel was expanded not replaced.  “Replacement theology” is what Christians Zionists label people they disagree with.
  • Accepting Christian Zionism is not a test for orthodoxy.
  • I am very glad that Christian Zionists are here, and I apologize if I appear angry.

Why on earth does a Christian have to explain that he shouldn’t be ignored and maligned, by other Christians?  If we removed the terms “Palestine” and “Israel” and just said, “Middle Eastern Christians suffer at the hands of occupying military force” or “A minority group of Christians are unable to move freely in their own country” American Christianity would make magazine cover stories about it.  We’d invoke the parables of the sheep and goats, “I was hungry and you did not feed me… I was in prison and you did not visit me…”  We’d mobilize every non-profit and short term missions trip around that rallying point.

To bad, though, that the existence of Palestinian Christians doesn’t fit very well with dispensational futurism.  “Christian Zionism” is part of the dispensational futurist interpretation.  Yet, ignoring Christians like this wouldn’t make sense even if dispensational futurism was true.  How can there be no contradiction here?  How do you reconcile an eschatology that encourages compliance?  Aren’t there Bible verses that encourages us to care about other Christians?

So here again, are the practical consequences of an particular eschatology.  Our behavior and our ethics are (obviously) are informed by our interpretations scripture.  I have long expressed my frustrations with dispensationalism on this blog.  I guess “why I bother” is to hope that dispensationalists will re-think Christian Zionism.  It’s not that Israel should not exist, it’s that we Israel should be regarded as any other nation.  Why?  Because if we take Christian Zionism seriously we  have to pretend that Palestinian Christians don’t exist or don’t matter.  We would never endorse that policy for any other Christians anywhere else on the planet.  If we’re going to make such a radical exception, than we should at least listen to what they have to say.  After that, we better think long and hard about Christian Zionism.


*(that’s a verbal cue, for those who read this blog the way Thomas Ice interprets the Bible.  I told you that should take it metaphorically, so now you know that you should. Please assign to the word “icon” whatever prophetic significance makes sense to you)

My blogging has been lax the last few months because of time.  Also it has been lax because of lack of inspiration.  Yet I read a book recently on eschatology that inspired me.  Tensions with Iran have inspired this as well, but I’ll explain why at the end.

Before reading on, this article assumes that you are a Christian.  You may or may not have strong opinions about eschatology, but I assume that you have read the Gospels.  Thus, you probably agree that peace is preferable to war, that Jesus disapproved of economic/military oppression, and that Jesus started something called the Kingdom of God.  If this is new to you, then re-read the either Matthew, Mark, or Luke with this in mind: Rome was an occupying military power.  Many of the Pharisees were complicit with that fact, even if they hated Rome.  Simon the Zealot, one of Jesus disciples, was to the Romans what a terrorist is to the United States.

Now on to Dispensational Futurism and why we can do a lot better.

Literally whenever Possible?

Dispensational futurism is hermenutically challenged, in other words, the method of interpretation is not that great.  Dispensationalism claims that it “reads the Bible literally whenever possible.” If, and only if, there is an obvious poetic queue, should you read the Bible metaphorically.  This is a frequent refrain from LaHaye, Thomas Ice, and anyone who is familiar with Dispensationalism.

Are futurist themselves consistent with this rule?  Frequently, Dispensationalists refer to the seven churches at the beginning of revelation as seven metaphorical church ages.  So where is the poetic queue that lets us know that the churches are of church ages?  I see none.  “Literally whenever possible” seems to lead us to believe that those are seven literal churches that existed at the time Revelation was written.  The messages begin with phrases like “to the Angel of the Church in Ephesus.”  It is really no different than when Paul opens his Epistles with a quick “hello” to the Romans, Corinthians, or Galatians.

That aside, “literal whenever possible” is problematic for two reasons.  First, it assumes that the language of the Bible is either “literal” or “metaphorical” -just two ways to write.  It completely ignores the possibility of hyperbole, idiom, or even a pun.  There are more ways to speak than “literally” or “metaphorically.”  Secondly, just because something can be read “literally” does not mean it should be taken that way.  It is as if we have flawless intuition i.e. whatever appears literal to us, must have been intended that way.  Can we understand a book written in another time, place, and culture that intuitively?

Think about the phrase, “I’m full.”  What does that mean?  Well, it means that the speaker has had enough eat.  It couldn’t possibly mean anything else, because we take that to what it literally means.  There is no queue to let us know its metaphorical.  Now what if the speaker was a French woman, and said the literal French translation of “I’m full”  (Je suis pleine)?  We would intuitively think that she means she’s had enough to eat …and we would be wrong.  Je suis pleine is a French idiom.  It is a way of saying, “I am pregnant.”  Once we have that background information, we understand Je suis pleine easily.  This is an example of the flaws in our intuition, and “literally whenever possible.”

Here’s another example: “the sleeping giant awoke after Pearl harbor.”  Every American knows what that means.  But what if you translated it, and said it to a hermit in Tibet?  It would be possible for him to take it literally.  He’d ask why the giant was sleeping.  He’d probably also ask who Pearl Harbor is why he awoke before the giant did.  Did Pearl Harbor leave a window open, so that he awoke when the sun rose?  Was the giant sleeping in cave?  Maybe the giant was really tired or Pearl Harbor had a bit more energy.  You get the idea.  “Literal whenever possible” doesn’t work here because the Tibetan hermit lacks background information.   Once that Tibetan hermit -who knew nothing about American History- is given the right background information, he’ll understand the statement just fine.

Here are few more phrases.  Some are translated from other languages.

“Shake the Spot.”

“Are you holding a grudge against somebody?”

“We need more boots on the ground.”

“Why do you withhold your breathe from me?”

“May the force be with you.”

“I’m mashers.”

If even one of those phrases you did not understand intuitively, then you do not have flawless intuition.  You cannot trust “literal whenever possible” because what seemed literal to you, was not meant to be literal by the speaker.  Is this the speaker’s fault?  Should the speaker given us a clearer poetic queue?  Yes, but only if the speaker addresses us.  In the case of Revelation, we’re not the original audience.  We’re not the original audience of any book in the Bible.  No book of the Bible the addresses us!

Now, I am not saying that we can’t understand the Bible, or that we can’t understand Revelation, Daniel etc just because it was written to another people, at another time, in another place and in a different language.  Of course we can understand it.  We can understand just like Americans can understand Je suis pleine or that Tibetan hermit could understand “the sleeping giant awoke after pearl harbor.”

What we need though, is background information about the speaker or writer as well as the original audience.  Specifically, we need to know their history, political situation, religious customs, idioms and so forth.  We need to know enough about them to understand the Bible’s passages as they understood them.  We need to know what was appeared literal (or metaphorical, idiomatic, hyperbolic etc) to them rather than what appears “literal” to us.

This is something that many dispensationalists -from Scofield to LaHaye, just. Fucking. Ignore.  They therefore unconsciously read it as if it was written for modern Americans.  This is absolutely wrong.  If we’re going to read Revelation, we need to put aside our political, cultural, national, and even religious concerns.  To do otherwise is to make the Bible in our image.

An Example

Here’s a short passage that is worth interpreting:

And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; 7and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”

8 And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.” (Revelation 14:6-8 NASB)

Dispensationalist Thomas Ice asserts pretty strongly that, “The biblical text in Revelation says Babylon and to take it to refer to anything other than what it says is not consistent with literal interpretation.  If it refers to Babylon, then it has to be a future reference.”  That is then, the “literal whenever possible” interpretation.  Of course, I’d have to ask Dr. Ice why it must necessarily refers to a future event.  After all, Babylon is literally already long gone and “fallen” is a past-participle.  I’d expect the future perfect tense (will have fallen) if this was reference to a future Babylon.  I digress however.

Now, let’s erase from the mind’s eye any contemporary political, religious, cultural concerns including (for the moment) that Revelation is a road map for future events.  Let’s instead replace them relevant facts about the first century, in Jerusalem and its vicinity.  Here I am summarizing from the “Rapture Exposed” by Barbara Rossing.

Rome worshiped the goddess Victory (Nike in Greek), which was a winged flying goddess that streaked over a battlefield announcing the victor for a battle.  They put images of this goddess on their sculptures, statues, and so forth.  They would even put images of this flying goddess on top of depictions of the people they conquered -just in case those people forget who the winner was.   Her image as ubiquitous as a Starbucks logo and as sacred as American flag.  I emphasize that this was more than a symbol for the Romans; they believed that this goddess was on their side.  Their military victories justified their brutal control over their empire, including Jerusalem.  Rome always wins.  Do you get the message?  Good.  Now pay the tribute!

Hail Roman, Victory... or else

Hail Roman, Victory... or else

Now many of the Isrealites did not like Rome.  Many violently opposed Rome.  Others, like the Pharisees shrugged their shoulders and paid their taxes.  Still others decided that God had either abandoned them or went over to the Romans.  They responded with a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” attitude.  This is not unlike Israel’s forbidden alliances with foreign powers, which is described allegorically as prostitution/whoring.

Why is Babylon mentioned here?  By the time Revelation was written, Babylon was long gone.  However, its memory in the mind of first century Jewish world was not.    They remembered what Babylon was and what it symbolized to them.  They remembered Babylon like Atlanta Georgia remembers General Sherman, or like the Lakota remember Wounded Knee.  Babylon reminded them of oppression, exile, and subservience.  Now which nation was cause of such duress during time of Revelation?

Given all this it is perfectly reasonable to believe that the flying angel was a direct challenge to the flying goddess.  The oppressed audience was reminded that Rome, like Babylon before it, would fall.  Rome doesn’t always win.  This message was treason.  No wonder the Romans were so eager to kill Christians!

Now is this interpretation open for debate?  It wouldn’t be on a blog if it wasn’t.  But here’s the critical difference between Barbara Rossing’s interpretation and Thomas Ice’s:  Rossing is not relying on manifestly flawed intuition to tell her when to interpret something “literally” or metaphorically.  She realizes that the Bible isn’t always going to give a verbal, poetic, queue that is obvious to modern readers.  She is putting aside our contemporary mindset, finding the right background information, and letting that inform her interpretation of Revelation 14:6-8.  Thomas Ice’s article, by contrast, makes no reference to the historical context of Revelation.  Neither, in this article, does he explain why the literal past tense in Revelation 14:8 refers to a future Babylon.  Rather, he insists that because “Babylon” referred to a literal city in the historical books of the Bible, that it cannot possibly be used symbolically in arguably the most symbolic book of the entire Bible!

The main point then, is that the books of the Bible weren’t written in vacuums and we, contemporary readers, aren’t reading it with a blank, mental slate.  We have to do the extra work of getting into the mindset of the original audience, otherwise we’re bound to misunderstand it just like that Tibetan hermit will misunderstand a reference to the sleeping giant.  “Literal whenever possible” is insufficient and not even consistently applied by the very people who endorse it.

Why bother?

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that political tensions with Iran are part of what motivated this post.  If you google “Iran” and “revelation” you are going to see a lot of interpretation from a dispensationlist perspective.  Why does this matter?  Well because a lot of people make their political decisions -such as when we should go to war, antagonize a middle eastern nation, or provide military support to another etc- based on their interpretations of Revelation.  War is serious stuff.  As we all know people die, homes are wrecked, veterans are emotionally and physically scarred, sometimes for dubious pretenses.  Furthermore, the aftermath of military conflict can ripple out for decades and even centuries.

If we’re going to attach that much political power to an interpretation of the Bible, we had better be damn sure we’re getting it right.


If you are reading this, we all missed the rapture. Harold Camping and the true followers of Christ have ascended to heaven to meet the Lord in air, we are instead here mired in tribulation at missing their warnings. Woe to us, especially the Christians who attend Evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic or any other Church! We are all apostates!!

Unless of course it didn’t happen. Which, as I type this Friday night, am absolutely sure it did not.


Here is something that you may have heard already. First, let’s talk about Harold Camping and his radio show. For one, this is not the first time that he has predicted the end of the world. He did it once in 1994. After a failure like that, one should probably repent, turn off the microphone, and do a little soul-searching before speaking in public again. Instead he revised his predictions. Now, he is on record now for declaring Christianity -those who belong to the church- as apostate and his show alone the voice of salvation in the world. Incidentally, he is also on record for explicitly denying the Trinity in favor of modalism. What’s that? Well, according to Camping, Jesus is not co-eternal with the God-the-Father, but is simply another form of God-the-Father. This is like ice melting into water. That is not the Trinity, and Camping knows this.

In this blog, you are about to read something I have never posted. It is something that I do not like dishing out because it so inflammatory. Yet, it ought to be said here. Please understand, this not hyperbole. I mean exactly what it reads when I say Harold Camping is a damn heretic.

(bring out the comfy chair!!)

So what of his followers? I am sure that after quitting their jobs, abandoning responsibilities, and now looking like fools, they will probably be so mad that they’ll not only abandon Family Radio, but also burn Harold Camping in effigy. Actually, that’s probably not going to happen either, and here’s a historical precedent why.

In the book Influence Robert Cialdini related the story of a few end-times cults in the American mid 19th century. Let’s play “guess who”: A prophet made a prediction of a date and time. The prophet gathered followers who sold their land and abandoned their livelihoods. The day passed and nothing happened. The prophet revised the date. The followers did not dissipate, but instead their numbers grew. This process happened at least one more time. You know this group today as the Seventh Day Adventists.

If you are like many people, you either scratching your head or screaming “what the fuck?!” right now. Yet from that book, we see that this is an example of psychological consistency and social proof. As soon as someone makes a verbal or written commitment to something, they are likely to stick with in even when that commitment is shown to be completely misguided. It is the same tendency that keeps women in abusive relationships. It was also used by Chinese captors to brainwash POWs of the Korean War. Social Proof augments this. As long the entire group keeps saying the same mantra -especially if they are led by a charismatic leader- everyone will believe that the continued behavior is right and nothing is going wrong. How powerful is social proof? Two words: Kool Aid.

So in the case of Camping and his ilk, they are almost certainly going to wash, revise, and repeat. They will likely (and this Christian will add thankfully) further distance themselves other Churches. Why will they do this? Because in order to do otherwise they would have to admit to themselves that they behaved really, really, stupidly.

Now to be clear, Camping is close to Dispensationalism so his views are similar to what many Evangelicals believe. However, Dispensationalism does not deserve to be lumped in with Camping’s little cult. Camping used numerology to come to his conclusion. As far as I know, Dispensationalist do not do this.

Despite that, I am certainly not a Dispensationalist. As far as I am concerned, there is no coming Anti-Christ, Black Helicopters, parenthetical “Church Age”, or world exiting rapture. Yes, Camping is the lunatic fringe of American religiousity. His approach to scripture is an embarrassment and a travesty. Yet, one dispensationalist told me they guess when it comes to interpreting the Bible. Is that any better than numerology?

Regardless, Camping and his ilk are likely marching on and it won’t be long before we hear the prophetic revisions. I wonder if Camping is going to claim direct inspiration from God next time, assuming he hasn’t already. While he does so, I’ll be happy to attend a May 22nd Sunday service. There, with others, we will all contemplate the intrinsic goodness of God’s creation and the saving work of Christ within it. May God’s work continue in the World!

Thanks for reading, comment, and your reposts.

Here goes, it is time to get morbid.

There have been a few funerals around my world recently. I won’t mention whose, as anyone reading this can probably guess if they know me. At these funerals, there are some peculiar practices that -if it where mine- I would probably not like. No, I think of something else entirely.

Sometimes, there is a bit sermonizing at funerals. It is usually about the need to accept Jesus so you can get into heaven when you die. Apparently, this is sometimes accompanied by a full on altar call. So after everyone remembers the deceased, there is a need for the minister to make sure everyone is going to get to heaven too. It seems to make sense. If the Gospel is about going to heaven when you die, then what better time than a funeral to make sure everyone gets to heaven when you do?

Now, don’t think that this practice is wrong. Yet, if it were my funeral, I think I would resurrect from the dead right then and give the minister an earful. I am not a fan of altar calls in general. Now altar calls at a funeral seem just plain thoughtless. It is as if evangelical ministers do not know how to do much except evangelize, and they only way they know how is via altar calls. It seems a tacky -and perhaps even manipulative- practice.

Christians believe in things other than making everyone Christian, right? We believe things beyond “go and preach the Gospel”, right? We have entire traditions of devotions, practices, and above all hope, yes? Wouldn’t some of those be more appropriate for a funeral? This leads me to my next thought…

At many funerals there is a lot of talk about heaven. The soul of the deceased is in eternity with God. The deceased may even still be with us in spirit and watching down. I am reminded of the old Family Circus cartoons in which a ghostly apparition of the deceased grandfather happily watches his grand children from the clouds. This hallmark image of heaven is what is so often invoked at a Christian funeral.

In contrast to altar calls, please do think that this is wrong. This is not what the Bible teaches. It is not what Christian hope is. This is not what Christians are supposed to believe about life-after-death. As one blogger put it, this belief is a second rate consolation prize compared to what God really has for us.

Paul speaks of the redemption of the the body (Romans 8:23) and elsewhere he talks of the raising for the dead (1 Corinthians 15). This is not some metaphor for salvation. This means that our bodies, which are now cursed by sin and will die, will be physically raised up and returned to perfection with the rest of God’s good creation some day. It is for this reason that early Christians dug catacombs for their dead, rather than burning them. Their bodies were simply to sacred to be burnt on a Roman funeral pyre.

I think of it this way: my last earthly memories of my late grandfather were when he was tired, sick, old and unable to remember our names. He was so weak that he could not swallow applesauce. But when the dead are raised, his body will not suffer anymore and stroke that so damaged his mind will be of no consequence. I do not think of my grandfather as floating on the clouds watching my life right now, but I look forward to telling him all about it when the dead are raised on the last day.

At my funeral, this is what I want people to talk about it. We can forget about an altar call. We can forget about souls floating to heaven. Whenever I die, and am buried in the dirt, I want whoever speaks to emphasize the future bodily resurrection. That is what I look forward to with the entire Christian world.

I guess that wasn’t so morbid after all, huh?

>Most folks know that I am no fan of dispensational futurism, including its dogma of the rapture. Part of the reason I reject is the outright strange impasses it creates: such as what unworthy pagan will care for your pets once Jesus takes you away from earth? After all, good Christians care for their pets.

“Why not Us?” says a clever and enterprising atheist. Businesses Week reports that wicked pagan Bret Centre has started a foundation to care for your pets as the world inevitably goes to shit during the tribulation. Futurists are at an uncertain about this, but some are paying the fee.

Yeah, it’s weird.

Personally, I can’t help but have some respect for Bret Centre. I imagine he thought to himself something like this: “if members of their religion capitalize on the rapture, why shouldn’t I?” (LaHaye and Jenkins, after all, aren’t exactly living below the poverty line.) Since he never expects the rapture to come, he will never actually have to provide a service. This is, pretty much, free money. If he ever runs out of atheists to care for his pets, I’d like to volunteer myself, every other preterist, and Catholic and Orthodox Christians, who many dispensationalists believe will be left behind.

Perhaps my cynicism is getting the better of me.

In all seriousness, I wonder if this semi-overt exploitation of hysteria is going to warrant a little bit of self-reflection among those who read things like the rapture index. Futurists (like any group I suppose) can make themselves look very silly. More than once folks have racked up their credit cards or called their kids home from college because they expected the tribulation. There has been a small fortune made in selling things like rapture dog tags. Even groups like the SDA started with irrational growing popularity of an end-times prophet who kept failing in his predictions.

I have no idea how those who believe in the rapture will deal with this impasse regarding their pets. I do think, however, that Bret Centre will make a nice amount of free money.


This blog is dedicated to my cousin, Christine Apa-Gonzaga

Pardon the short departure from plans in my last blog, but I now return to my reviews of The Crow. In my last blog, I talked about the character of the Crow himself, but now I’d like to deal with the major theme. The book asks whether there are crimes that can be forgiven. Implicit in that question is a certain view of justice that leaves a taste a disappointment. I will deal with both in this blog.

Two Contrasting Views of Justice

The Crow is a revenge tragedy. In a revenge tragedy, there is a view of justice that is best called retributive justice. In retributive justice, the emphasis is on the perpetrators. Those who commit crimes or injustice must be brought to account and be punished for their wickedness. This may also be done in order to prevent them from doing more crimes, but the main purpose is that they have committed some crime and they must now pay. The scales must be balanced. Typically, the perpetrators are brought to account by an avenger who acts on the victim’s behalf, but in the Crow the victim himself rises again to overpower his enemies.

Retributive justice, whether in comic books or not, contrasts with restorative justice. Restorative justice, as far as I understand it, is part Christian theology, as expounded by Jurgen Moltmann’s In the End-The Beginning: The Life of Hope. Restorative justice does not place an emphasis on the perpetrators, but rather on victims. Justice, in this case, is not concerned about balancing scales of wrongs, but rather restoring what was lost to evil. So if a person is terribly traumatized by having a loved one taken from them, restorative justice seeks to bring that loved one back or at least heal the trauma of the victim. If a relationship between two people is broken, restorative justice seeks to repair the relationship not punish who was the wrongdoer. Moltmann takes this even further as he believes that all people are victims, including those who perpetrate evil*. The wicked man who abuses his spouse was first abused as a child.

Reprobates and Tragedy in the Crow

Is there any room for forgiveness in the Crow? Not really. The Crow is merciless and wrathful, as I mentioned in an earlier blog. Already, it is clear that J. O’barr thinks that there are things that cannot be forgiven –and one can hardly fault him for his feelings. The character of Fun Boy embodies this theme.

None of the characters the Crow kills are repentant, but Fun Boy is nearly the antithesis of repentance. The ugly criminals the Crow kills all have rotten souls, but none of them have any since of self-examination to acknowledge it. Fun Boy is different. Fun boy is fully aware of his state. He is not sorry for the crimes he has done. He knows that he is monster deserving of death. Yet at no point does he ask for or presume mercy. When the Crow kills him his dying request is not “forgive me” but only “kill that bastard slow.” (He refers to T-bird, the next person the Crow intends to kill). Fun Boy’s dying request is not forgiveness, but only more hatred, of which he is fully aware of.

Not only is there no forgiveness in the Crow, but there is not even the preceding penitence either.

After the killing of Fun Boyd, the story quickly moves into its final movement of tragedy. The Crow spends one night in his loft. He burns all of his memoirs of Shelly and then shouts out the window, “Shelly I’m coming home.” He confronts his final murderer, T-bird. The Crow’s last fight scene is long, insane, and bloody. He kills not only T-bird, but everyone who works for T-bird. T-bird dies in a panic, and the final time we see him is when the Crow veers over with holding a hammer.

After the last killing, the Crow returns to grave. The final pages of the comic are still, serene, scenes of a snow covered graveyard. The Crow is dead. He rests again with Shelly. This is the tragedy of the Crow. The avenger completes his task, and then just dies.

Happy Vengence?

I can now only speak for myself, and not what the story attempts to communicate. Is there such a thing as happy vengeance? I am not sure. In the story of the Crow, every evil doer is killed. But the hero leaves the dark world to its darkness. With justice done, he returns to his grave. The ending is sad, as it leaves the reader wanting. It is not enough to know that all the murderers will no longer murder. We all want to see the happy couple alive again and the Crow free from his mourning. Anger and wrath sprinkled with kindness leave a disappointed taste in the mouth not matter how one serves up the revenge platter. This feeling of let-down seems to go beyond the novel itself: J. O’barr admitted that writing the Crow did not prove the emotional catharsis he hoped it would become.

No one can stand in judgment of the Crow or J. O’barr for the feelings they have, least of all me. Anyone who has lost someone they love has a right to feel angry and to want the murders brought to account. Yet I cannot help but think that the let-down feeling at the end of the Crow is part of the failure of retributive justice. The grief at losing a love one to murderers is to fold: the desire for that person to be back in your life, and for the death to be avenged. It seems to me, that the first is the stronger emotion. The desire to overcome our own grief is what turns into anger and wrath directed at those wicked people who hurt us. But vengeance does not remove sadness and grief from the heart of the victim. It only adds more dead bodies.

I cannot help but see the restorative justice of the Christian Gospel as the only hope for the victims of evil, both living and the dead. The Gospel tells us that God-the-Son became a victim of horrendous evil at the crucifixion. It tells us that God the Father is well acquainted with the feelings of grief and injustice. The answer is that of a Resurrection from the dead and overcoming of evil with restorative justice. Christians look forward to a glorious future in which every victim of murder, every dead prisoner from the gulags, every refugee who was gunned down by soldiers, and every martyr who was fed to lions will one die rise again in resurrected bodies and meet their savior who suffered as they dead. Death and injustice are not avenged. Death and injustice are reversed. The feelings of anger, wrath, and trauma will likewise be defeated in the all-encompassing victory of God. There will be no need for vengeance in the new heaven’s and new earth.

Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind. –Isaiah 65:17

In that place, the Crow dances joyously with his untarnished bride, and the atrocity of their deaths never comes to their minds.

Thanks for reading.

*I can never forget that Moltmann was a German soldier in WWII and knew fully the kind of evil that infected his whole society.

>I meant what I said when I wrote that I don’t want my blog to be excessively negative. The last post, on my frustrations with dispensational futurism, was quite deconstructive. In this post, I’ll be positive instead. I will explain why I prefer preterism.

I realize that many people reading this have probably never heard of preterism. It is fairly new to me too. Briefly put, preterism is the view that many of the prophecies in Revelation and the Olivet discourse were fulfilled by the end of the first century. More information can be found a The Preterist Site or you can listen to the Preterist Podcast if you (like the Podcast’s author) are a Mac loyalist, or at least own an iPod.

As a caveat, I reiterate that I am relatively new to preterism. I missed the “Biblical Apocalyptic” class at Azusa Pacific. Eschatology in general is not my area of expertise. Additionally, I would like to make it clear that I support orthodox preterism. What this means is that I reject the kind of preterism that denies a future bodily resurrection among other essentials to the Christian faith. I find that there are those who automatically equate preterism with heresy. I hope that those reading this won’t have such a knee jerk reaction.

Here goes:

Preterism understands literal and temporal context well. If there is one fundamental reason why I like preterism, it is the fact that I never scratch my head and wonder why preterists believe what they believe. Preterists know what their hermeneutic is and they understand how it is distinct from actually interpreting the bible. N.T. Wright, who is often invoked by pretestists, spends a whole four-hundred page volume explaining his method before he proceeds to exegete the Gospels in later works. I know his assumptions, he knows his assumptions, and consequently I understand him when he gets into the story of Christ’s ministry.

Preterists, when commenting on things like the Olivet discourse or revelation are upfront with their hermeneutic and I see that. For instance, when reading through Jesus’ words at Olivet they rightly point out that condemnation of the Jewish Apostates was a major theme in Matthew, and they understand Olivet in that light. Preterists then, look to the surrounding literally context of a passage to get to an understanding of what that passage is talking about.

Preterists also get deep into the time period of when a passage is written. First, they rightly assume that when Jesus was talking about things happening “soon” and when he refers to “this generation” they ought to be understood as if they were written to another audience, in another time, and in another place –because they were (in fact!) written to another audience, in another time, and in another place.

Literal and temporal context are imminently basic to any hermeneutic of anything. Yet it seems to me the preterists are the only ones applying it to scripture.

Preterism is consistent when it comes to cultural idiom and genre. Idiom and genre are other important aspects of interpretation that preterists have a firm grasp on. Most people agree that there are plenty of idioms in the Bible. When Jesus says in Luke 14:26 that the disciples must hate their family and their own lives, most people will agree that Jesus did not want us to be hateful, but recognize that Jesus was using a cultural idiom for choosing between two alternatives. (“I love this, and I hate that.” Was a way of saying “I choose this.”). Likewise, genre is something that nobody wants to ignore. The parables of Jesus are understood in the way they are because we know their genre. We know this, and how they were understood, because lots of other people in that era spoke in parables. So we come to understand genre by comparing what the Bible contains with similar literature from the era the Bible was written in.

When preterists read phrases like “the moon will not shed its light” and “coming on the clouds” and even “[violence/tribulation] never to be equaled again” they are fully aware of the idioms and hyperbole of Jesus or whoever else might be speaking. Likewise, when looking at Ezekiel, Daniel, or Revelation I have noticed that preterists are also aware of the genre of apocalyptic literature, which they glean from other sources just like the non-biblical parables. From this, they learn to look at Revelation in a way the author likely intended.

Preterism makes the Good News sound like “Good News.” There is another thing that I’ve noticed about preterism, that may not be essential to it, but often goes hand and hand: the idea that the Kingdom of God was initiated with the coming of Jesus and continues to this day.

This is some serious good news! The idea that the Kingdom of God is a way of life, a political order, and/or liberation of the oppressed etc deserves an entire blog. Preterists take it as a given and often articulate that God has been growing the Kingdom of God like a muster seed since its inception in the time of Jesus. There is also an assumption that waiting for Christ’s coming is preparing the world for him to come. This is like how you would clean up your house for an honored guest. The Church, then, works in the world to make the world better. When preterists say, “The Kingdom of God is at hand” they mean things like “We intend to liberate slaves” rather than “Christians are going to disappear and the planet will pretty much literally go to hell.”

All Hail Dee Dee Warren!

I think that those three reasons are only the beginning of why I am attracted to preterism. It really boils down to one thing; even before I knew there was something besides dispensational futurism (yes, I was eye-ball deep in a church that believes it), I learned the basics of hermerneutics. When I listen to the preterists, I hear them appealing to, understanding, and applying the principles I learned. Because of this, I simply trust them a lot more than others. Additionally, the idea of end times being about regenerating and providing hope for the world is an eschatology I am instinctively drawn to.

So color me an Orthodox preterist. It was inevitable after leaving Azusa Pacific anyway.

>While it was never my intention to be overly negative or deconstructive when it comes to this blog, I think I finally need to comment on Dispensational Futurism, otherwise known as “end times” by the popular evangelicalism. Dispensational Futurism, for those of here who may not be familiar with it, is a specific understanding of the Olivet discourse in Matthew 24, Revelation, Daniel and such. It represents the popular dogmas like the rapture (when Christians disappear) the coming tribulation, black helicopters, and a world government of the Anti-Christ. It was popularized by the Left Behind series, which is a whole different blog entirely.

At this time, I not only think that Dispensational Futurism is off track, I think that dispensationalism faces quite a bit of problems; problems that I think are not easily overcome. Here are some of the reasons why I am frustrated with futurism.

Dispensational Futurism is not a “conservative” view. Dispensational Futurism is often taught in evangelical churches, and especially charismatic and very fundamentalist churches, “what the Bible teaches.” Deviations from futurism are often taught as “liberal” viewpoints to be viewed with suspicion. Dispensationalism is right because it is conservative.

The strange thing is, dispensational futurism is far from conservative. It began in the 1800s –very late by Church History standards- and it was incredibly novel of an idea even then. Most Christians, including the big names in Protestantism like Luther, Calvin, and Wesley, never knew of futurism like we know it today and would not endorse it if they knew of it now. Furthermore, when futurists first came on the scene, they snubbed ministers who they considered to intellectual (and were consequently the actual conservatives) as not having anything worth saying.

Dispensational Futurism is a liberal view. In fact, if one considers how futurists approach scripture, the positions might actually be radical. This leads me to the second point…

Dispensational Futurists are hermeneutically challenged. While I am sure that there are futurists out there who are very conscious and aware of their interpretative methods, I am beginning to think that many futurists not only do not know their own hermeneutic, but do not even know what a “hermeneutic” is.

The more I talk to futurists, the more I am convinced that they do not know the difference between an interpretive method (a hermeneutic) and the act of interpreting. Furthermore, some of the most basic principles of interpretation are outright doubly ignored, such as reading a passage in its literally context or according to the time period it was written.

I believe that the conclusions of futurism are matters of presumption, and it is a presumption they are not aware of. The parable of the Purple Cow exemplifies this problem.

Dispensational Futurism has made Too Many False Prophecies. One can pick up a book at a Christian bookstore entitled “Charting the End Times” but chances are you aren’t going to find “88 Reasons why Jesus is coming in 1988.” Most books that talked about the end of the world around the year 2000 are less than likely to available for purchase too. I also doubt anyone is reading “the Late Great Planet Earth.” Why? Because these books prophesied about then current events that turned out not to be true.

There is a serious problem with consistency here. Many Christians rightly denounce the latter day prophets of Mormonism and the Jehovah Witnesses for their failed visions of the end of the world. Rightly, people invoke the test of a false prophet in Deuteronomy 18.

For even one false prophecy made by the founders of Mormonism, your average evangelical will rightly say “away with them and their theological projects.” Why then do we tolerate the failed predictions of dispensational futurism? Is it because names keep changing every ten years or so? Failed prophecies are failed prophecies. This should be enough to make at least reevaluate futurism if not dump it completely. Sadly, people seem to have a short memory about these things.

Dispensational Futurism encourages a “fire escape” Gospel I almost entitled this section as “Dispensational Futurism has a suspicious genesis.” But I think it suffices to say this, Dispensational Futurism, since its inception, has taught that the W.A.S.P.’s are alienated people, losing control in their society, and thus will eventually be sucked away from world because they’re just that special. In other words, get on board, and get out. Many articles, like those found at the and the slacktivisit have already noted this same attitude in the Left Behind series, and I need not expound on them here.

I do not believe the Gospel, the Kingdom of God, and such is about escape planet earth and letting all God’s creation burn. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that starts small and then grows into something huge within the soil it was planted in. It is not like a soldier in a foxhole waiting for helicopter evac. Christians should not be looking to things like the rapture index to see how horrible the world is getting and looking foreward to our escape with self-satisfactory smugness, rather we should be doing the work of God in the world and preparing it for his coming.

So there it is: Four reasons why I am frustrated with futurism. It is a liberal view supported by poor interpretation. It has a bad track record when it comes to predicting the future and encourages, if only implicitly, that Christians need not care about the condition of the world around them. This is something I have been frustrated with for years.

So suck it, LaHaye.

>I must admit, that eschatology is becoming a pet hobby of mine. Also, Greg Boyd is a nice guy.

This video, Greg Boyd comments on both.

He has a very light touch on what he thinks about futurism.

How does sound to everyone out there?