It’s the End of the World As We Know It – Making Friends

12Jan12

We learn quite a bit from our past…even when we don’t mean to.

 

I remember visiting the Youth Group at the Church I was raised in after several months of visiting different churches in the area. The most recent church I had visited was a large Lutheran church in a nearby town that I would ironically speak at several years later.

There was an immediate sense of distrust when I dropped by for the Sunday evening Bible Study. People had been wondering where I had been; close friends new what was going and that I just hadn’t felt comfortable at the Youth Group for several months and finally decided to Church Shop. I had begun trying to connect the theological dots and found some fit perfectly and made very pretty pictures while others left a mass of messiness that never could make a cogent picture.

That night there was a guest speaker at the Sunday night church service that preceded the youth Bible Study. This was the early 1980’s and it was all the rage to have anti-rock music speakers travel around and condemn the music of AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. The Devil was in every vinyl track, especially when you play the music backwards. We learned that the Beatles wanted to “turn me on dead man” and that Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin had Satan singing through his voice…at least backwards!

But the speaker did not stop there! His warnings continued to include “secular” bands with Christian members like the classic rock band Kansas and the new band on the scene, punk rockers U2. We were warned that they were truly Devil’s in Sheep’s Clothing and that by listening to these bands we were falling into the hands of the Devil and our eternal destiny was at stake!

More than that, well known Christian bands like Resurrection, Servant, Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Darrell Mansfield and Benny Hester were pawns of Satan and that by owning the music of these artists we had committed a grave and mortal sin. These “worldly” Christian bands were leading us into the Devil’s snare with no escape unless we destroyed their albums and repented immediately hope would be lost.

Suffice it to say, the youth group meeting that followed continued the discussion and as one would expect. The problem was I loved Christian music. I still do. In fact, my livelihood of the majority of my adult life was derived from the Christian music industry whether it was retail, sales or radio.

I attempted to defend these artists with all the eloquence a terrified 17 year old can muster. I was outnumbered. The only other person on my side was my brother-in-law who looked a lot like the Jesus paintings you see in most churches. But the onslaught of the attack was spearheaded by a Youth Pastor who wanted to rid his youth group of this evil and restore the serenity of musical choices like Amy Grant, Evie and the Bill Gaither Trio!

Eventually someone turned around and looked at me and said, “Your opinion doesn’t really count anymore, anyway. You go to a Lutheran Church. You probably don’t even believe in the rapture anymore!”

 

For the first several years that I have taught the Sunday School on eschatology I have changed the name of the class several times. But after listening to Christian pop/rock act DC Talk’s live album I found the title that has stuck ever since. On the CD DC Talk does a cover of REM’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It.” I always loved the song with it’s great and memorable hook and lightning fast verses with more words than notes.

It struck me as I was listening that the class I was teaching was in such a contrast to the popular, soon to come end the world, Left Behind ideology that the class was actually an end to that view. So, it has become “It’s the End (of the End) of the World As We Know It.”

By that I simply meant that by the time we were done with the 20 to 30 week course the students would have been introduced to a new way of looking at the subject of the end of the world and we will hopefully have enough Biblical evidence to reject the “popular” view. My hope was to put an end to view that most people embrace as the truth regarding the end of the world.

Most of the students attending these classes stayed with me up to the point that includes all of the information we have covered thus far in this book. This is about the fourth or fifth week in the class and most students are pretty comfortable with the material that has been covered and the approach that has been taken. My hope is that the reader of this book experiences the same conclusions. Most even giggled and enjoyed the list of false prognostications that will follow in an upcoming chapter.

Then the week the fan consistently got hit!

Weeks?

The fact remains that quite probably there wouldn’t have been such a consistent negative reaction if the critique of the popular Left behind view actually lasted just one week. Unfortunately the critique of Left Behind Theology normally took several weeks as fielding questions took up a great deal of time and my four favorite phrase would become, “we’ll get to that!”

One person in a recent class, after I criticized the popular timeline of events in a section called The Second Humiliation, asked if I actually believed the Bible or not? In fact his exact words were, “I guess you don’t believe then Bible then!” Ouch! It can be heard on one of the recorded Sunday School sessions on sermonaudio.com.

Suffice it to say that if the critique of the Dispensational system took more than a week to complete then the chances of limiting the critique to a single chapter in written form would be utterly impossible!

 

REMEDIAL CLASS

There is a Pastor of a Church in Southern California that over the span of several years took his Church from an association with the charismatic Four Square denomination to an alliance with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church! Now, that’s a shift in thinking.

Part of that discourse of sermons that helped the Church move in such a radical direction was a series called “Remedial Christianity.” The title was used because, despite its popular and slang usage, remedial does not mean “slow” or “mentally challenged.” Rather remedial is a process of learning in which one must, in a sense, “unlearn” what they know or believe to be true first before the new or correct information can be assimilated into ones thinking.

This comes from the fact that different theological strains will still use the same vocabulary, but will place new definitions into them. This is true of Christian Cults like Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Though they use similar terms like grace, salvation, faith and redemption, there is a tendency to pour different meanings into the words as definitions and details differ within theological and religious worldviews.

This causes great difficulty in learning and comprehending the new material. The brain will continue to associate the old definitions with the new teaching. This leaves the student confused, frustrated and eventually lacking in grasping the material as the old definitions and presuppositions do not mesh with the new information. This can also cause the student to come to radically different conclusions as to what he or she believes the teacher is trying to postulate.

Ultimately, that is why I spend so much time critiquing the popular Left Behind view. The concepts, definitions and biases are so ingrained into our current evangelical thinking that it is natural when someone hears a particular subject, word, phrase or idea to associate the previously absorbed and held definitions with the new material. This causes great confusion and perplexity.

Also, because the view is such an integral part of evangelical Christianity (even the pagans are familiar with it) it has become the status quo. Watching any popular program including episodes from the History Channel, national news magazines, Hollywood blockbuster movies and more regarding discussions of possible “end of the world” scenarios, the reader will find that the only evangelical, Biblical view expressed is the popularly held Left behind, Dispensational eschatology. As a result a remedial course is simply unavoidable to ensure some level of understanding.

If truth be told many students in the class are not so offended by the critique as they are surprised, like myself as I began my studies and paradigm shift of ideology, to discover there are other views at all. There is this level of shock at discovering not that their view is being questioned, but that the questioning includes views that are much older and historically held than their own view. It becomes the end of the end of the way they see the world ending!

This makes many quite uncomfortable.

For a radical example of how far many will go to defend their position against a Biblical critique of the Left Behind view the reader should locate a copy of “Gary DeMar Under Fire,” from American Vision. This tape series is a recording of several radio appearances Mr. DeMar has made making the case for his interpretation of prophetic text.

To hear the attacks and claims of evil deceit leveled against Mr. DeMar is quite staggering. Many not only questioned his grasp of the Biblical text, but questioned his faith and salvation. The difficulty lies, though, in the limited time allotted to completely and coherently explain a particular position while also attempting to correct possible distortions of the opposing positions. So that adds to the reasons why the critique of the Dispensational view takes up an entire section of this book.

One of the major issues is that much of evangelical Christianity assumes that the only real difference in eschatological views is in regard to the timing of the rapture in relation to the Tribulation – are you pre- mid- or post- trib? Most have no idea that there are differing Millennial positions, hermeneutical approaches, Church and Israel distinction debates and so on.

There are several reasons for this limited knowledge amongst the populace of current evangelicalism. They are outlined below.

1. Go to a local Christian Bookstore and browse the Eschatology or Prophecy section. How many books available are not written by proponents of the popular Left Behind Theology? I will argue very few. In fact for the writing of this section I visited two local Christian Bookstore and one very large on line book distribution service.

At the two Christian bookstore I found a total of two books that not Dispensational Premillennial. One book was written by the popular Pastor, author and radio personality R. C. Sproul. The second was by radio and television personality and “Bible Answerman”, Hank Hanegraaff.

2. The opposing views have not only done a poor job of distributing and marketing their books, they haven not produced all that much material to promote their case to begin with. The exceptions appear to be Amillennialist Kim Riddlebarger and Postmillennialist like Gary DeMar, Dr. Kenneth Gentry and the late Greg Bahnsen. But those books and materials have been published by small publishers (except one by DeMar) and can be quite difficult to find. The great difficulty also includes the fact that many, if not most, will not seek out materials they are going to disagree with.

It should also be noted that for the most part many books of the non-Left Behind variety are primarily critiques of the Dispensational without much that expounds upon the opposing views’ virtues and Biblical support. Most of the books that propose a particularly non-Dispensational position are very hard to find and nearly all are at a level most lay people simply cannot and do not want to attempt to tackle.

That is also a basic premise for the desire to write this book; to make the more difficult concepts easier to understand and digestible in small, soft bites.

3. Another issue is that the opposing views just don’t make for exciting fictional novel and movie plots of world domination, the forces of evil and the victory of a small band of Godly survivors against the great tyranny of  Godless world order.

Surely I jest?

Not at all.

The Left Behind view makes for better fictional novel, movie material and bumper stickers. Here’s what I mean … “In case of rapture this car will be unmanned…and yours will too since there is no secret rapture and just one general resurrection at the end of time so everyone here will be gone…” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Get Right or Get Left!”

The aforementioned Mr. Hanegraaff has crafted a wonderful series of historical fiction books that portray the prophetic passages of the Olivet Discourse and the book Revelation as it relates to the first century AD. Those books have sold marginally well, but no where near the mega-juggernaut sales of the popular Left Behind books. The evangelical public simply does not necessarily want a fictional series that demonstrates that their closely held eschatological view may be in error.

4. The Left Behind view appears to best fit the current world circumstances and mankind’s natural inclination toward embracing doomsday scenarios. The Bible has become much more enjoyable and meaningful to read for many when it is accompanied by current events found in the USA Today. Rather than examining world events within the current time context and discovering similar events in history, it is much more exciting to see these events as relating to a particular view of the end of the world.

5. Fruit Bowl Theology. If the reader recalls the discussion of the Fruit Bowl from the first chapter this is where the impact of the proposed concept show itself. To the non Left Behind theologian, eschatology is such a small, minor subset of the overall doctrinal stand that it has not garnered the attention or priority of expression that it has within the Dispensational circles. It is quite often seen as not being an important doctrinal issue and is therefore not worthy of and great and detailed discussion.

On the other hand, Those espousing the Left Behind view of eschatology place high value in the discussion since, according the Theological Fruit Bowl proposal, the eschatological implications impact nearly all other theological tenets and is needed as an integral part of the over worldview and theological construct.

6. Finally, since the vast majority of eschatological material that is available is of the Left Behind variety there is no reason for the proponents of Dispensationalism to discuss the opposition and, therefore, give the opposition a podium or hearing of any sort. The existence of the opposition can be denied by simply ignoring it. The assumption is that their audience neither knows nor cares about the opposing views and therefore it is simply not brought up or discussed.

Ultimately the fault lies with those who oppose the Left Behind view. They have done little to make their case, and in the case of one of the most popular authors, shown a tendency to spend more time critiquing the view that most closely resembles their own (Amillennialism verses Postmillennialism) that they do not critique the Left Behind view firmly enough and with the confident passion it demands.

With all this being said, the direction of this book for the next section will be a hopefully fair and non-straw man littered critique of the widely Dispensational, Left Behind position. It may make some uncomfortable as their view may be challenged and critiqued in a way that some did not believe possible. This may result in the need for a complete paradigm shift in thinking. This is difficult and many do not find it worth the time and effort.

 

…just trying to make friends…

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3 Responses to “It’s the End of the World As We Know It – Making Friends”

  1. I am the pastor of a small PCA church in southern California, and we have been going through R.C. Sproul’s video series “What is Reformed Theology” in an evening ‘service’.

    I read your blog, and it was like I was writing it! I have had the same experiences.

    As I was teaching our series on Reformed theology, I was frustrated because I found that I was spending most of my time teaching Dispensational theology, because though that was the background of 99% of the people attending (myself included–I am a graduate of Biola University) there is a severe lack of understanding what the different tenents of Dispensationalism are and how they fit together, and since R.C. contrasts the two theologies, many were lost because they didn’t have a starting point (an understanding of Dispensationalism) from which to understand Reformed theology.

    You are not alone, brother. I appreciate your posts.

    Clayton

  2. Well, you know what they say…you make friends one at a time.

  3. 3 ted patterson

    A Blessed Hope….George Elton Ladd….I believe that is his name


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