Posts Tagged ‘end times’

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.

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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.

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*(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)